Cerebral Crime & Punishment:
Anthony Horowitz on “The Word is Murder”
Interview by John B. Valeri for Suspense Magazine
Anthony Horowitz is one of the most prolific and celebrated writers working today. The author of last year’s megahit, “Magpie Murders,” his impressive oeuvre also includes the New York Times bestseller “Moriarty” and the internationally bestselling “The House of Silk”—two new Sherlock Holmes novels commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate—as well as the venerable Alex Rider series for young adults. As a television screenwriter, Horowitz created Midsomer Murders and the BAFTA-winning Foyle’s War, both of which were featured on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery; further, he penned episodes of several popular TV crime series, including Poirot, Murder in Mind, and Murder Most Horrid. Horowitz regularly contributes to a wide variety of national newspapers and magazines, and in January 2014 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to literature. He makes his home in London.
Horowitz’s new novel, “The Word is Murder,” is the first book in a prospective series from Harper in which the author himself (or a somewhat fictionalized version) plays the Watson-like narrator to disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne. Their first case involves the baffling death of Diana Cowper, who was strangled in her home six hours after having visited a funeral parlor to plan her own services. The title is one of the most anticipated of summer, and has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly; Booklist praised: “Actually, the word is not murder, it’s ingenious….a masterful meta-mystery.”
Now, Anthony Horowitz reveals the origins of this cerebral crime caper…
John B. Valeri (J.B.V.): “The Word is Murder” immediately strikes as both fresh and familiar. In what ways did you intend for the book to pay homage to the “golden age” of detective fiction while also maintaining a contemporary vibe—and how is this reflective of your own reading tastes?
Anthony Horowitz (A.H.): Thank you for your kind comment! The sort of detective fiction I like veers much more towards what you might call the cerebral—Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, etc. I’m less interested in police procedure and forensics. For me, the perfect whodunit should move at a more gentle pace than modern life perhaps allows. If you get your information instantly, via your cell phone or whatever, you lose some of the pleasure that comes with the cool consideration of a crime. That said, TWIM is very much set in modern times and tries to reflect modern attitudes. So I suppose I’m trying to have the best of both worlds.
J.B.V.: You are a “reluctant” character within the story. What appealed to you about melding the facts of your life and career within a fictitious creative canvas—and why do you think that an essence of truth often appeals to readers more than a literal (non-fiction) truth?
A.H.: I love the whodunit format but when I started thinking about a new series, my first thought was that I wanted to do something completely new. It suddenly occurred to me that by making myself the narrator, I would be turning everything on its head. Normally, the author stands on a mountain with a view of everything that is going on. But being inside the novel, I know nothing. Worse than that, I’m entirely dependant on my detective, Hawthorne, to provide a solution or I won’t have a novel at all.
It also allowed me to do something which has tempted me for years: to write about writing. I’ve always loved William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and Stephen King’s “On Writing.” In a way, this is my version. There’s very little of my private life in the book (it’s not about me) but there are quite a few thoughts on the life of the writer.
As to your question of truth, all fiction depends on it whatever form it may take. If readers feel they’re being lied to, they will very quickly disconnect.
J.B.V.: Daniel Hawthorne is, arguably, the Sherlock Holmes to your Watson. In what ways did you envision the characters as counterbalances to one another—and how does the mystery of Hawthorne amplify the story’s overall suspense?
A.H.: As I sit here now (April, London) I’m hoping that TWIM is the first of a ten or eleven book series—and what makes that exciting, for me, is that it will give me the opportunity to investigate Daniel Hawthorne and to discover what forces have turned him into the rather difficult human being he has become. It’s a case of the sidekick, the Watson, becoming a detective in his own right.
TWIM was inspired, to an extent, by the relationship between Holmes and Doyle. Here you have a brilliant writer who creates the greatest detective in the world. But what does he do? He gets annoyed and throws his creation off the Reichenbach Falls! I find it so bizarre that Doyle really did not like his character, but then Fleming had serious misgivings about Bond, so it’s not unique. From the very start, I knew that Hawthorne and I would not exactly get along. I’ll be interested to see if that dynamic changes.
J.B.V.: Beyond the whodunit/whydunit elements of the narrative, you subtly satirize the publishing industry. How similar are “fake” Tony’s experiences and emotions to your own—and what notions of the author as a glamorous being did you want to dispel?
A.H. Since the book was published in the UK, many readers have told me that they’ve gone to Google and Wikipedia to work out what’s true and what isn’t. But since you ask, I will tell you that pretty much everything I write about myself is based on fact…at least, to an extent. The life of the 21st century writer is so bizarre in so many ways that I’m delighted to be able to go backstage, as it were, and show the reality, at least in so far as I’ve experienced it. Glamour? Of course we have our moments and I’m not for one minute complaining. But it’s also a very odd way to earn a living.
Oh—and referring back to your question, I hate being called Tony.
J.B.V.: In addition to novels, you write for television and film. What is transferable between these disciplines, and how do they differ? Also, have you found that writing in one format can be influential in how you approach the other?
A.H.: Basically, I write stories and these transfer easily between different genres. When an idea comes into my head, my first job is to decide: is it a novel, a short story, a play, a film? I don’t put on different hats for different sorts of writing. Some of the rules may be different but the basic impulse is the same. I love the sweep of narrative, the surprises that hide behind corners, the rush towards the climax.
It is true that one format does influence another. I personally believe that although I grew up in a literary world, my audience today is much more visual and cinematic. In a way, the opening paragraph of TWIM is actually a camera shot. We start high up, watching Diana Cowper, crossing the road. We zoom in for a close up, looking at the rings on her fingers. Then there’s a reverse angle to show were she’s heading. Christopher Isherwood got it in one: I am a camera.
J.B.V.: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?
A.H.: I’m already on Chapter 7 of “Another Word for Murder.” You may remember the English divorce lawyer, Richard Pryce, who was beaten to death with a bottle of wine that turned out to be worth $2,500. And he was a teetotaller! It was against my better judgement to get involved but I never seem to learn…
To learn more about this incredible talent, check out his website at www.anthonyhorowitz.com.