- - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE WORD IS MURDER

By Anthony Horowitz

Harper, $24.95, 400 pages

When a celebrated screenwriter and a disgruntled detective decide reluctantly to collaborate on a mystery what results is an often unfriendly fencing match.

Such is the case in this book. Anthony Horowitz has an established and well-earned reputation stemming in part from his work on the grim and brilliant television series “Foyle’s War” and the macabre yet humorous and hugely popular “Midsomer Murders,” which has been running on two continents for years.



He has to his own surprise agreed to partner a fictional version of himself with the fictional Daniel Hawthorne, a controversial yet talented homicide detective who doesn’t get along with anyone, especially his colleagues. However, they respect him enough to engage him in difficult cases, and this is one of them.

The plot concerns Diana Cowper, a wealthy woman who walks into a funeral manager’s office one day to write her will, which is more appropriate than she may know since she is about to be murdered the same day. It is this case of a woman strangled in her own home about which Hawthorne contacts Horowitz, who has met him on a previous case when he didn’t like him.

In fact Horowitz recalls Hawthorne as reminding him of a fictional detective he had written about who was “borderline racist, menacing, chippy and aggressive.” He states that to be fair Hawthorne was none of those things but he was “extremely annoying.” As Horowitz sees him, “We were complete opposites.” Yet he also concedes that Hawthorne was very good at his job in law enforcement from which he had been dismissed, although he was still called on for what he called “sticky” murderers who were difficult to track. As Horowitz describes him, “He had the same silken quality as a panther or a leopard and there was a strange malevolence in his eyes.”

This is the man who wants to work with Horowitz on the Cowper murder and also share 50-50 the profits of any book resulting. The question in the reader’s mind may be whether this is fictional and that is some thing they can find out as they read. What is surprising is that Horowitz goes along with Hawthorne in the investigation of Cowper’s murder despite the fact that the detective rejects the screenwriter’s first chapter of the book.

That is the beginning of a partnership often laced with anger, and the anger is Horowitz‘s. He acknowledges how good Hawthorne is as a detective, but it often drives him crazy that he picks up on what Horowitz has missed and makes no bones about dismissing the screenwriter’s ideas as failures.

Nevertheless, the plot plods on and is sharpened by another vicious murder and the revelation that the murdered woman years earlier had killed a child in a car accident caused because she was not wearing her glasses, and a sympathetic judge helps her get away with not only the death but the cropping of the dead child’s brother. And there is the story of Damian, the son of the dead woman who has achieved considerable acting fame and struck it rich in Hollywood.

The odd partnership continues with Horowitz still chafing at Hawthorne but it is the screenwriter who suddenly sees the truth and the killer. What is fascinating about this book, without giving anything away, is that the early chapters carry the kind of clues that both Horowitz and Hawthorne should capture. And it is Horowitz who almost winds up dead after he has nailed down what really happened. Hawthorne doesn’t give him much credit, but he does save his life. And they do write the book, although they aren’t speaking.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun

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