A review of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
If you are looking to write a modern-day cosy murder mystery, where do you set it when country houses that host weekend parties are few and far between and the design of railway carriages rules out the impossible murder? Richard Osman’s solution is to set his engaging mystery in a retirement village, no stranger to death for sure as the residents see out their final years in some luxury before shuffling off this mortal coil.
Four of the residents have formed a club that meets every Thursday in the Jigsaw Room, in a slot between Art History and Conversational French, to pore over files of old, unsolved murder cases purloined from the archives of the local police forces by Penny. Penny, a former police officer, is now hors de combat, her appointment with the grim reaper imminent, and her place has been taken by Joyce, whose thoughts and observations in the form of a journal, are interlaced by Osman into the narrative. Elizabeth is the ring leader, a tour de force in her own right, who gets things done and she is ably assisted by Ron, a former union agitator, and Ibrahim, a rather fastidious Egyptian psychiatrist. They have great fun, a welcome relief to struggling with a crossword puzzle or completing a Sudoko puzzle.
Their cosy world is disturbed when a real murder darkens their door. Plans are afoot to extend the village development and first the developer’s sidekick, Tony Curran, is bludgeoned to death in his own kitchen. The sleuthing quartet have seen Curran in a heated discussion with developer, Ian Ventham, shortly before his death. Then Ventham is involved in a scuffle with protestors who are trying to prevent the destruction of the graveyard of the former Convent on the site, during which he is given a lethal injection. This manna from heaven is too good an opportunity for the four amateur sleuths to pass up.
One of the book’s key strengths is Osman’s ability to bring his characters to life. He takes the time to introduce his protagonists and for the reader to understand how they tick. As a result, the narrative potters along, moving almost distractedly from one perspective to another, from one scene to another, in short bursts of action, as if consciously aping the actions and thought processes of its septuagenarian protagonists.
The quartet strike up an unlikely relationship with a young policewoman, Donna de Freitas, whom they first met giving security advice but then for whom they finesse a place on the murder investigation, providing a valuable source of intelligence. If the murders of Curran and Ventham were not enough, another body is unearthed in the convent’s graveyard. This is a tale of drug cartels, illicit love, unwanted pregnancies, the brutal realities of a world that hardly penetrates the twee surroundings of Cooper’s Chase.
In truth, the plot depends too much on coincidences for my taste and while the attentive reader can determine who the culprits are, Osman does not entirely play fair with his cluing, key pieces rather slipped into the narrative at the last minute. There are also enough loose ends to convince that this will be the start of a series, even if I did not have The Man Who Died Twice jostling for pole position in my TBR pile.
However, it would be churlish to judge this book against the standards of The Detection Club. This should be read as it is presented, a cosy, entertaining, at times, enthralling piece of detective fiction. It has no pretentions to be other than what it is and, for that, it is a hugely enjoyable read, well worth investing a few hours of your time on.