The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

The Word is MurderThe story…

Renowned fiction author Anthony Horowitz is approached by an old acquaintance, a jaded and disagreeable investigator, with an idea of a new, true crime novel. A particularly perplexing murder has just been committed, and Hawthorne is convinced the story could be a big hit, providing they can solve the case.

My thoughts…

This book has one of the most unique concepts of all the books I’ve ever read. Even now I’m still slightly baffled by it. Leaving aside the story for the moment, the idea of having Horowitz write himself as a character in his own novel is very odd. There are so many personal details in the book that must be autobiographical – for example, detailed descriptions about his own past as a scriptwriter for TV programme Foyles War. In addition to this, the fictional murder storyline is entwined into these real life details. At least, I assume that this storyline is fictional – even now I’m not quite sure.

Horowitz’s relationship with Hawthorne, the detective, and the issues that he comes up against while writing a true crime novel – such as the tendency to cut irrelevant details and airbrush Hawthorne’s character into one that would be more relatable for his readers – also form a key part of the narrative. It’s a perspective that takes some getting used to, and means that the book we get isn’t a crime novel, it’s a book about someone writing that crime novel.

The main plot of the novel focuses around the murder of Diana Cowper, which is made all the more unusual by the fact that she had visited a funeral parlour that very same day to plan for her own death. There’s a rich and varied cast of characters and suspects, each of whom is hiding something. There’s also a traumatic accident in Diana Cowper’s past, a self-obsessed Hollywood actor son and a disgruntled housekeeper – in short, everything that makes a good crime novel.

As Horowitz is writing this book after the events took place, he is an omnipresent narrator, and occasionally drops in little hints and reflections on events as the story progresses. This also makes him inherently unreliable, as he makes executive decisions on what details he should leave out or make more palatable to his audience. As readers, we’re playing catch up, attempting to read between the lines and decipher the truth about what happened before the big reveal at the end.

In conclusion…

Just as in his previous novel, Magpie Murders, the book is filled with hidden clues and elaborate red herrings. Overall, despite the unusual style, which I must admit that I did find a little distracting, I did enjoy this book. I failed at identifying the murderer and his motives, which I always think is a sign of a good detective novel.

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Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersThe story: When she first starts reading the manuscript for crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel, editor Susan Ryland has no idea what’s coming. On the surface, the new book is bestseller material – a vintage whodunit set in a quiet English village featuring Alan’s well-loved fictional private investigator, Atticus Pund. The book will change her life.

My thoughts: Magpie Murders has a totally unique format that I’ve never come across before. It is essentially a book within a book. The first half is Alan Conway’s fictional manuscript – which is pure Agatha Christie, a traditional whodunit in a quintessential English village, full of red herrings and suspicious characters.

I loved the traditional setting and that this half of the book is set in the 1950s – which creates a totally different atmosphere to most crime/detective novels that are set in the present day. This is back to the good old days of handprints under windows, squeaky bicycle wheels and big dramatic reveals. It’s comforting in a way, like settling in to watch an episode of your favourite period drama or (if you’re from the UK) Midsomer Murders.

The second half of the book is then the story of Susan and her attempts to get to the bottom of a real life mystery concerning Alan Conway (the fictional author), along with her realisation that the fictional novel may hold a deeper meaning and clues to help her solve her current conundrum.

I’m finding it hard to review this book without giving away spoilers, and I honestly think that it’s better as a reader to come at this book without knowing too much about it. I can say that I loved the way this book was written. It comes together on so many levels, with clues hidden within clues and hidden references throughout. If you love vintage crime, great mysteries and clever links, you’ll love this book.

In conclusion… All in all, this was a really enjoyable read from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read Anthony Horowitz’s next novel.

Top 5: My most anticipated summer reads

The Good Daughter
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publication date: 13 July

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – Pikeville’s notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself – the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again – and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised – Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case which can’t help triggering the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried for ever…

Why I’m looking forward to it: Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to crime writers and one of the few that I auto-buy. She’s great at writing gripping stories with plot twists that I don’t see coming.

The Word is Murder
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publication date: 24 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral. A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

(So far, so enigmatic! But then I saw this blurb on Horowitz’s website…)

Summary from Horowitz’s website: It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split. The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot? Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?

Why I’m looking forward to it: This sounds really interesting – Anthony Horowitz has actually written himself into this novel as a character. I recently read and really enjoyed Magpie Murders, which featured a book within a book, and this seems like it will be equally unique. I’m hoping that this latest novel lives up to my high expectations!

The Readymade Thief
Author: Augustus Rose
Publication date: 10 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run, alone on the streets of Philadelphia. A fugitive with no money, no home and nowhere to go, Lee finds refuge in a deserted building known as the Crystal Castle. But the Castle conceals a sinister agenda, one master-minded by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.

Aided by Tomi, a mysterious young hacker, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web of the men she’s trying to elude. Aware that the lives of those she cares for are in increasing danger, it is only when Lee steps from the shadows to confront who is chasing her that she discovers what they’re really after, and why.

Why I’m looking forward to it: I haven’t read a good thriller in ages. I also love a conspiracy plot. This sounds like a cross between I Am Pilgrim and The Da Vinci Code, and a perfect summer read.

The Music Shop
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publication date: 13 July

Amazon/Goodreads summary: 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind…

Why I’m looking forward to it: I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and while I wasn’t as keen on Perfect, I still think the Rachel Joyce is a really talented author. She has a real skill in creating characters and settings that leap off the page. This sounds like it could be a really interesting story and I’m excited to read it.

The Last Tudor
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publication date: 8 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days. Using her position as cousin to the deceased king, her father and his conspirators put her on the throne ahead of the king’s half-sister Mary, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her crown and locked Jane in the Tower. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block. There Jane turned her father’s greedy, failed grab for power into her own brave and tragic martyrdom.

‘Learn you to die’ is the advice that Jane gives in a letter to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and find love. But her lineage makes her a threat to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and, when Mary dies, to her sister Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a potential royal heir before she does.  So when Katherine’s secret marriage is revealed by her pregnancy, she too must go to the Tower.

‘Farewell, my sister,’ writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary finds it easy to keep secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After watching her sisters defy the queen, Mary is aware of her own perilous position as a possible heir to the throne. But she is determined to command her own destiny and be the last Tudor to risk her life in matching wits with her ruthless and unforgiving cousin Elizabeth.

Why I’m looking forward to it: Philippa Gregory is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m a history graduate who wrote her dissertation on the evolution of the Royal Family – and I’ve always been fascinated by this turbulent period of history. I also love how Gregory’s books always give us a unique (and female) perspective on historical events.

What are your most anticipated summer releases? Did any of mine make your list?

Blood Wedding – Pierre Lemaitre

Blood WeddingThe story: Sophie is convinced she’s losing her mind. She forgets things, has erratic mood swings and there are stretches of time that are complete blanks. Her carefully ordered life has fallen apart. Things come to a head when she’s working as a nanny,  and one morning finds her six year old charge brutally murdered – and all the evidence says it was Sophie that did it. Fleeing the scene, she must find a way to survive while she tries to come to terms with what’s happened.

My thoughts: Sophie as a narrator is as unreliable as they come. While she has fragments of memories that convince her of her own guilt, she cannot explain her actions, even to herself. She has a natural instinct to survive and evade capture, but to do so she must go to places that she never thought she could. She thinks she’s lost her mind, and maybe she has. But then again, maybe she hasn’t.

Pierre Lemaitre specialises in switching up viewpoints mid-way through a story and turning everything we thought we knew completely on its head. He’s done it before, in Alex, and he does it again here superbly. I can’t go into detail or it would completely spoil the story, but there are some intense scenes of psychological torture and violence. It’s very dark and very twisted. It’s like Gone Girl on steroids.

Not everything is as it first seems. We get a unique insight into the minds of two main characters, who are each seeing events from a different point of view and force us to re-examine everything we’ve been told in a new light. Whether or not you believe Sophie is guilty of murdering her charge, she certainly crosses numerous lines as the novel progresses – playing with our concepts of responsibility and blame.

As much as I appreciated the clever plot and the masterful character development that we see in Sophie throughout the novel, I personally found the subject matter to be a bit too intense. I’d like to point out that I read a lot of crime fiction and psychological thrillers, including a number of other books by Pierre Lemaitre (Alex and Camille), and I’d say that generally I’m not too squeamish. However, the more I read of Blood Wedding, the more disturbing I found it. Sophie’s thought processes and experiences are deeply troubling, and I found it a really uncomfortable read.

I still think that Pierre Lemaitre can write a cracking psychological thriller to rival the best in the genre, but this one wasn’t for me. I’m not going to let it put me off reading his books in the future though.

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

Into the WaterThe story: The drowning pool in Beckford has claimed many lives over the centuries. Originally the chosen place to drown witches, it’s now a notorious suicide spot. Most recently, Nel Abbott either jumped, fell or was pushed to her death, depending on who you believe. Nel’s daughter Lena’s best friend, Katie, walked into the pool with pockets full of rocks months earlier. And 30 years before that, Lauren Townsend threw herself from the cliff. It soon becomes clear that all of these deaths are connected in more ways than one, and that the people in Beckford are hiding many secrets that they don’t want brought to light.

My thoughts: There are a large number of narrators in this book (around 11 in total) which I initially found confusing. After a while though, I’d managed to get everyone straight in my head and didn’t find this to be too much of a problem in terms of following the story.

As each section is written in the first person, we spend a lot of time in people’s heads hearing their inner monologues. Each of these narrators is also biased to their own point of view and influenced by their own experiences and beliefs. Many of the things they think are true are distorted by false memories, heightened emotions or a misinterpretation of the facts. This creates an atmosphere where we as readers are never quite sure of the facts. Nothing we find out is solid, and truths seem to fall away like an eroding river bed as things are slowly revealed.

While in general I quite liked the descriptive writing style, having so many narrators did mean that we often heard the same events from several points of view, with a new perspective to throw things into a different light. This got a bit repetitive at times. In my opinion losing a few of these characters – Nickie, the psychic, or Josh, Katie’s younger brother, for example – wouldn’t have taken anything away from the overall plot, and we could have easily kept up to date on their stories through their interactions with others.

The character I cared the most about was Lena. She makes some questionable decisions and often lies, but she’s fifteen and grieving. She’s allowed to make mistakes and her motivations are understandable. She’s struggling under the weight of a huge secret, and she doesn’t know how to fix the mistakes that have been made in the past. I really felt for her and wanted her life to take a turn for the better.

The pace of Into the Water is definitely slower than Paula Hawkin’s first novel, The Girl on the Train, and as a result the twists and reveals felt like they had less impact, and I also had a good idea of what the final twist might be. I also wasn’t keen on a particular subplot that delves into the supernatural – it wasn’t needed in my opinion. While I did enjoy Into the Water, it didn’t keep me gripped as much as others in this genre have recently.

 

Buy it here: Amazon UK

I’m Travelling Alone – Samuel Bjork

I'm travelling aloneThe story: The body of a young girl is found, with the number 1 etched into her fingernail and a sign around her neck that reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. Baffled, the police turn to detective duo Holger Munch and Mia Kruger to stop the killer before any more girls are murdered. As the case progresses, things turn more personal, and with no solid leads, it soon becomes clear that more people will suffer before the perpetrator can be stopped.

My thoughts: Holger Munch and Mia Kruger are the archetypal troubled detectives, a version of which you can find in many other books in the genre, and they each come with their own set of personal issues and past mistakes to overcome over the course of the case.

Despite being slightly cliched, I thought Mia in particular was a really interesting character. We first meet her as a suicidal drug addict, and when she’s pulled into the case she struggles to cope. She’s clearly gone through a major trauma and is finding it difficult to reconnect to the person she once was. This not only affects her relationships with her team and superiors, it also affects the way that she works and her natural ability to read people and situations.

Mia’s personal story and recovery is interwoven with the main case, but in my opinion takes up too much page space. The same goes with the other key characters that we meet. I’d have preferred more of an emphasis on plot and less on backstory, especially as this is clearly intended to be the first in a series, so we have plenty of time to get to know the characters.

While the story was a little bit long winded in points and could have done with more focus, there were plenty of twists and turns and it kept me interested. The plot was complex and there are a few big red herrings. This helps to give a rich picture of events and police procedure, although some of the storylines did feel a little far-fetched.

Overall, I think there’s better Scandinavian crime fiction out there (Lars Kelper’s Joona Linna series is great). However, I did enjoy it and will be continuing with the series.

Let the Dead Speak – Jane Casey

Let the dead speakThe story:
When eighteen year old Chloe Emery returns to her house to find it covered in blood and her mother missing, and DS Maeve Kerrigan and the murder investigation squad are called to investigate. While investigating the various shady neighbours living on the street, all of whom seem to be hiding something, they uncover a complicated web of lies, deceit and deeply buried secrets.

My thoughts:
If you’ve read the previous books in the series, you’ll already be familiar with the main players. As always, the investigation, processes and team dynamics were totally believable. Maeve’s own relationship with Derwent and the rest of the team has also evolved from the earlier books in the series. She’s now a Detective Sergeant and an integral member of the team with a junior to manage. Continue reading