The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Metafictional crime writer drawn into real crime: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

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The Word is Murder is a whodunnit thriller with a metafictional twist from the acclaimed author of Alex Rider and a variety of crime and thriller stories. A former police detective draws a writer into the case of a woman who walked into an undertakers and planned her own funeral only hours before she was murdered. The deal is, the case is written about by the writer and the profits split 50/50. Before they can worry about that, however, they have to solve the case, following a trial of clues that lead around theatrical celebrity and an old car accident. The thing is, the writer is Anthony Horowitz, and he’s never wanted to get involved with a real crime before.

Horowitz has already written Sherlock Holmes and James Bond stories, proving that he can take other people’s characters and fit them into his own books, but in this novel he takes himself, his own writing life, and plenty of other real life details and turns them into a self-aware detective story. After the initial chapter that describes the murder, it becomes quickly apparent that the narrator is Anthony Horowitz, following in a writing tradition of fictionalising yourself and your own life (not dissimilar to Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, though that gets a lot weirder by the end). The narrator is unreliable from the start, describing the process of gathering information, deciding what makes it into the book, and cutting out things from endless expletives to boring and unnecessary detail.

The detective character, a former policeman turned consultant for both investigations and the writing of crime drama, is set up not so much through his personality, but by how difficult it is to make him a likable character. Other elements, such as the famous young actor whose roles are a mash-up of the big names from British acting in recent years, add to the meta quality, keeping a vague sense that this could almost not be fiction. These quirks give The Word Is Murder a fresh feel, though it still has a complicated whodunnit plot to keep it gripping too.

Horowitz has created a novel where he plays a modern day Watson, a crime writer caught up in a real investigation and making a few faux pas along the way. Maybe the conceit will seem unnecessary to some, but The Word Is Murder will undoubtedly exhilarate not only crime and Horowitz fans, but anyone who enjoys the sense of metafiction and fourth wall breaking found in books by authors like Lemony Snicket, Bret Easton Ellis, and Martin Amis amongst others.

Quick book picks for August

Another month, more new books coming out. Not as many this month, but they’re quite a varied selection with a lot of metafiction in there. Expect the full reviews for some of these later in the month, but for now here are my August book picks with links to reviews on here or Goodreads where posted.

  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – A horrific and absorbing novel about a fourteen year old girl brought up by an apocalypse-obsessed father who is forced to fight to survive, with a writing style that impressively gets across her troubled mindset.
  • Murder in Montego Bay by Paula Lennon – Procedural crime novel set in Jamaica, featuring an outsider Scottish detective, local politics, and questionable police practices. An enjoyable read that uses different regional dialects and language to depict its characters and hierarchies.
  • Christopher Wild by Kathe Koja – An unusual novel split into three parts, that tells the story of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe in his own time and then reimagined in two other settings. Very transformative and will appeal to Marlowe fans for sure.
  • The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz – A metafictional whodunnit from the acclaimed author of the Alex Rider books and various Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories, combining crime fiction and the art of writing itself.
  • The Book of Luce by L. R. Fredericks – A literary mystery as a meta book featuring a mysterious messiah rock star figure.