The Blurb On The Back:
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.
But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.
Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Joyce Meadowcraft is a widow and retired nurse who has lived in the Coopers Chase Retirement Village (a luxury retirement village in Kent located near Tunbridge Wells and Fairhaven and built on the site of a former convent) for several months when she’s approached by Elizabeth (a former spy married to Stephen, an expert on Middle-Eastern art and her third husband) for her views on stab wounds.
Joyce’s expertise is enough to get her an invitation to join the Thursday Murder Club, a society that looks at cold cases that Elizabeth founded with her best friend Penny (a former detective inspector whose slide into dementia has seen her hospitalised, tended to by her devoted husband John). The other members of the Club are “Red” Ron Ritchie, a former trade union firebrand who still likes to stir things up in the village and whose son Jason is a former world class boxer turned Hollywood hard man and now a reality TV star and 80-year-old Ibrahim Arif, a retired psychiatrist turned yoga and swimming enthusiast.
Coopers Chase is owned by Ian Ventham (a wheeler dealer with an eye for a fast buck) and built by his business parter Tony Curran (known for his dodgy past and dangerous connections) and Ventham has plans to expand Coopers Chase, including digging up and moving the cemetery and persuading neighbouring farmer Gordon Playfair to sell his land. When Curran is found murdered in his home shortly after Ventham has unveiled his plans to the Coopers Chase residents and was seen arguing with Curran, the Thursday Murder Club is excited to have a real life case right on its doorstep.
The Club has competition though in the form of 51-year-old DCI Chris Hudson, who is officially in charge of the murder enquiry and 26-year-old PC Donna De Freitas who recently moved to Fairfield from London and is desperate to get into Hudson’s team and away from delivering security advice to the elderly residents of local retirement villages …. Still, Elizabeth’s former life has given her an array of contacts she can rally to their cause while each of the Club’s members has their own skills, expertise and people they can reach out to and when there’s a second death in the Village, they’ll discover that they need every single one of them …
Richard Osman’s debut crime novel (the first in a series) is a wry and twisting delight that combines MIDSOMER MURDERS with LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE. Some of the supporting characters are very broadly drawn but Joyce and Elizabeth have a depth that promises much for future books while the narrative voice carries you through a couple of minor fumbles in the weaving of the various plot strands, such that I very much look forward to the sequel.
I’m not normally one for celebrities-turned-authors, but I picked this up because I have always enjoyed Richard Osman’s TV appearances and had heard positive things about his debut novel. If, like me, you’re a celebrity author skeptic, then I have to say that I found he is one of that select breed who can actually write and for fellow fans, one of the big selling points of the book is that you can really hear his voice in the narration (which is divided between Joyce’s diary entries and third person narration from the point of view of various of the other characters). There are some lovely one-liners and dry, wry observations throughout the book but I also think he did well at showing the relationships between characters (notably Elizabeth and Stephen but also Penny and John) and the anxieties of growing old while also giving Elizabeth and Joyce hidden depths that help to flesh out their characters.
Joyce and Elizabeth are the two main characters in the book in terms of driving the action. Joyce is the “quieter” of the two, content to be in the background and focusing on being agreeable but Osman gradually reveals that she isn’t passive, knowing how to manage people to her advantage and thrilled to be part of the group. I enjoyed how she frets over her relationship with her successful daughter Joanna and how she sets her cap at the widower Bernard (a plot line that plays out in a very moving way). Elizabeth is essentially George Smiley’s counterpart, with a history of some kind of espionage work (exact details are not provided but the flashbacks give strong hints) and a network of powerful and useful connections. I enjoyed her relationship with husband Stephen and how she has been keeping secret his deteriorating mental health, in part because she sees what’s happened to her best friend Penny. Towards the end of the book she develops a friendship with Polish builder Bogdan who is much more than he seems and I will be very interested to see if and where Osman takes this in future as there’s a lot of potential there.
In contrast Ibrahim and Ron are much more broadly drawn – Ron the left wing firebrand who knows his powers are fading but who still loves kicking up a scrap when it suits him and Ibrahim the careful, considered psychiatrist who guards former patient’s secrets and takes his own health very seriously. They do both get moments of depth – Ron when dealing with his famous boxer son and Ibrahim when pondering his own age – but not as much as the ladies, although this is just the first book so no doubt there will be more in the future. I was intrigued by Donna, a black police officer who fled London due to a relationship break up (which I have to say I didn’t quite buy on the information provided but again, early days) and is regretting the lack of action in Fairhaven. Chris is also interesting – good at his job, happy to collaborate within reason and also a bit of a sad-sack, middle-aged man in denial about his willingness to address his weight and other issues – the friendship that develops between him and Donna is nicely played out and again, offers much for future books.
In terms of the plot lines, there were times when I wasn’t quite convinced by the investigations and Osman relies heavily on dropping a lot of information into the back of the book to wrap up loose ends and make it all hang together. This did irritate me a little because I actually guessed part of the resolution very early on (no special credit on my part, I just read a lot of crime fiction) but wanted the why element to be seeded earlier than it was. It also meant that one of the plot lines lost a lot of the power that it should have had in part because the explanation needed more time to be seeded. This issue aside, the pacing otherwise works well with Osman cleverly using short chapters to keep the action and I thought it was canny to switch between Joyce’s diary and third person narration as it keeps you interested in what’s going on.
All in all, I thought that this was a strong debut novel and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.