62 pages 2 hours read

Anthony Horowitz

The Word is Murder

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


The Word Is Murder is a murder mystery by prolific author Anthony Horowitz, published in 2017. It is the first entry in the Hawthorne & Horowitz series, which combines the detective novel with metafiction. Horowitz functions as both author and character, accompanying the fictional Daniel Hawthorne on his investigations. Their investigation blends the mystery genre with meditations on the creative process, the nature of plot, and what makes a character likable or relatable.

Horowitz first achieved fame for his Alex Rider series, which depict the adventures of an adolescent spy. He transitioned into writing for adults with the 2011 publication of his authorized Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. His television work has often involved the mystery genre, most notably Foyle’s War, a BAFTA-award-winning series set on Britain’s home front of World War II.

This study guide refers to the Amazon Kindle edition of the 2018 publication.

Content Warning: The source material features depictions of death by suicide, discussions of death and injury to children, and some graphic descriptions of blood and violence.

Plot Summary

The work opens with a description of Diana Cowper and her decision to plan her own funeral service in advance. From a vantage point in the future, well-known mystery writer Anthony Horowitz, referred to as Anthony, then explains that Diana died that same day and that he is drawing on personal evidence and knowledge of the case. While he is deciding on a new career direction after the publication of The House of Silk, he receives an unexpected telephone call. He is surprised to hear from former police detective Daniel Hawthorne, who was once the expert consultant for a television project of his. Anthony had found Hawthorne difficult to work with. He rejects Hawthorne’s suggestion that they publish a book together about his new case, the murder of Diana Cowper.

Anthony reconsiders when a woman at a literary festival suggests that works grounded in reality would improve his stature. Anthony finds it difficult to visit crime scenes and determine what is important, as he is accustomed to fictional worlds of his own design.

He discovers Hawthorne has a supporter in his old department, though another colleague, Charlie Meadows, officially assigned to the case, dislikes him intensely. He is tempted to abandon the project entirely, but Hawthorne tells him more about the murdered woman: She hit twin boys (Timothy and Jeremy Godwin) with her car 10 years earlier, killing Timothy and permanently injuring Jeremy, which may explain why Diana’s final text mentions meeting someone who was “lacerated.”

The two visit the funeral home to learn about Diana’s plans there, meeting the unassuming director, Robert Cornwallis. Hawthorne confuses Anthony by asking detailed questions about Diana’s movements during the visit, and he angers Hawthorne by asking about the Godwin case. They learn from other witnesses that Diana was anxious about her lost cat and had recently lost money in a theater production. In the course of interviews, Anthony realizes Hawthorne harbors a deep anti-gay bias. He considers dropping the case due to Hawthorne’s unsuitability as a protagonist. He ultimately feels obligated to Diana and continues, resolved to critique Hawthorne’s bigotry. He is captivated by the Godwin family tragedy as a possible motive.

They interview Diana’s son, Damian Cowper, who is a fictional composite of other well-known British actors, so his career highlights include real shows and films, such as Homeland. Anthony decides to skip Diana’s funeral to meet with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson about a screenplay. Hawthorne interrupts, however, and the two attend the service, where Damian gives an egocentric eulogy. The burial is suddenly interrupted by music from the coffin, a sentimental recording of “The Wheels on the Bus.” Damian storms off, and as they interview witnesses at Diana’s wake, Hawthorne suddenly realizes he has missed a vital clue. He rushes Anthony to Damian’s residence, where they find his mutilated corpse.

Hawthorne takes Anthony to interview Cornwallis about the coffin prank, and he tells them a man called to ask about the funeral schedule, which leads them to Alan Godwin, the father of the twin boys. Godwin admits to loathing Diana and asking her for money, as well as sending her a threatening note, but denies harming her cat, who has been missing since before Diana’s death. Before traveling with Hawthorne to the scene of the Godwin tragedy, Anthony interviews Meadows, who informs him Hawthorne was fired for injuring a pedophile in his custody.

As they investigate the Godwin tragedy and the judge in the case, Anthony struggles to connect with Hawthorne and understand his theory about the case. When Hawthorne expresses his distaste for the judge’s sexuality during an interview, Anthony confronts him, and Hawthorne suggests he should have consulted with another author.

One witness to the Godwin accident recalls a man who mysteriously fled the scene. In a staged meeting with Godwin and the family’s nanny, Hawthorne reveals that Alan Godwin was having an affair with her. He was seen in town by his sons, and they were in fact running to him when Diana’s car struck them. Hawthorne surprises Anthony by being eager for the news that Diana’s cat, Mr. Tibbs, has been found alive.

Their next interview subject is Grace Lovell, Damian’s partner. She tells them all about his rise to stardom after playing Hamlet when another actor became ill, revealing the high-pressure environment of drama school. After another argument with Hawthorne, Anthony decides to investigate on his own, visiting a drama instructor and suddenly recognizing someone in a cast photo along with Grace and Damian.

He makes an appointment with Robert Cornwallis, who, it is revealed, was a classmate of Damian’s at RADA, then going by the stage name Dan Roberts, reversing his first and middle names. Anthony realizes he cannot move: Cornwallis has drugged him. Cornwallis gives an extended monologue blaming Damian for ruining his life, since he lost the role of Hamlet due to a trick Damian played. This, he claims, ruined his entire future. He killed Diana knowing this would put Damian in his reach. Hawthorne arrives to rescue Anthony, and Cornwallis dies by suicide.

Anthony is briefly hospitalized, and Hawthorne explains the case to him, including that he always suspected Cornwallis, who had avoided any mention of his past. He explains, finally, why he has constantly asked about Diana Cowper’s cat: The loss, along with her funeral plan, indicated that she had planned to die by suicide. Cornwallis stole her credit card to have a pretense to return to her home, and she recognized him from his role as Laertes in Hamlet, which her phone autocorrected to “lacerated.”

Anthony visits Hawthorne at his home, happy to have more details for the novel, and the partnership seems to have reached a harmonious stage. Everything changes suddenly when Anthony sees a photograph in the home. The woman in it, Hawthorne’s former wife, is the same person who convinced Anthony to take on the project at the literary festival. Angry and betrayed, he storms out, coming to a decision about his future but ending the text before he explains.