As per my last post, I am a fan of the Mystery genre. However, there have been some changes and new aspects of the genre that have lessened my enthusiasm for these stories in the last few years. So, whenever I come across a book, film, series, or other piece of media that claims or falls into the Mystery genre, I am a bit apprehensive. Accordingly, I was not too sure what to think about The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it executed not only a real mystery, but even managed the difficult task of crafting a meta commentary and narrative around and through the story within the pages of the book.
The basic story of The Word is Murder is rather standard. British police are stumped by an odd murder of a woman. The actual killing itself is not strange or weird and seems like an everyday break in gone wrong. The hiccup is that this woman happened to arrange her funeral just hours before her untimely death. This element is what stumps the authorities, and in their desperation and confusion bring in retired Detective Inspector Hawthorne. He brings in famed television and novel author Anthony Horowitz to aid in the investigation. Thus, the pair go about interviewing witnesses and suspects, looking at crime scenes, deciphering clues and conversations, and ultimately solving the murders that transpire throughout their adventure.
As stated earlier, the actual narrative of the book is not anything particularly innovative or mind blowing. It is, however, an extremely well executed mystery story. Horowitz, both the author and narrator, leaves clues and trails that an engaged reader can pick up on and solve the overarching mystery. The killer reveal is a surprise, but it is not an unearned one, unlike so many contemporary mystery stories. Also, the misdirection and red herrings planted throughout the pages are justified and understandable as to why certain characters would follow those threads without seeming like idiots or just padding for the story. So, what makes The Word is Murder such a good mystery is that it simply focuses on being a well constructed puzzle that respects its readers and isn’t self-conscious about the possibility of its audience being smart enough to solve said puzzle.
Beyond that, the book has a certain meta element to it. The narrator is a very obvious stand in for the author himself down to the details of the man’s resume, relationships, and works. The investigative pair are an obvious play on the Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of the infamous Holmes mysteries. However, even these characters act as commentary and criticism of the pair. The character of Inspector Hawthorne is a brilliant investigative mind but this brilliance is mitigated by utter lack of interpersonal relationships, skills, friends, allies, or even a remotely healthy balance of life. Horowitz, on the other hand, is clever enough to help Hawthorne, but nowhere near his level. Horowitz though does have a successful career, a healthy marriage, friends, colleagues, and a seemingly pleasant demeanor and life. It is this fuller exploration of the contrasts and lives of these characters, along with several of the secondary cast, that sets this particular book apart from the average, even well done, mystery. It is in many ways a well crafted love letter to fans of the genre, and one I highly recommend reading, especially since it is the first in an a new, ongoing series.
So, what are some of your favorite mystery stories? And what is it about them that grabbed your attention?