The Blurb On The Back:
Four unlikely friends.
A shocking new murder.
It’s the following Thursday.
Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with who she has a long history. He needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster and a very real threat to his life.
As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?
But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can the Thursday Murder Club find the killer, before the killer finds them?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s shortly after THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB.
Joyce Meadowcraft, Elizabeth, Ron Ritchie and Ibrahim Arif are still living in Cooper’s Chase and holding their regular Thursday Murder Club meetings, trying to solve cold cases. Joyce has taken to knitting friendship bracelets, which she hands out in exchange for a donation to charity and has her eye on getting a rescue dog (something that Ibrahim thinks is an unwise thing to do). Elizabeth is still hiding her husband Stephen’s worsening dementia but is helped by local builder Bogdan Janowski, who plays chess with Stephen and is willing to help out at the drop of a hat. Ron is looking forward to a visit from his 8-year-old grandson, Kendrick, while Ibrahim is trying to get out of his comfort zone and be more spontaneous in his daily life.
DCI Chris Chris Hudson is currently dating PC Donna De Freitas’s mother, Patrice, and has taken to eating more healthily and taking more exercise. Donna is trying to avoid her boss telling her anything about the relationship – especially anything sexual – partly because her own dating life is a wasteland of woe. Both are currently carrying out surveillance on Connie Johnson, a recent entrant to Fairhaven’s drug dealing scene who is not adverse to brutal violence and nasty threats if her business interests are interfered with.
Then Elizabeth gets a mysterious letter from a recent arrival to Cooper’s Chase, inviting her to a meeting. Douglas Middlemass is 10 years her junior and an old colleague from her secret service days. Handsome, daring and completely untrustworthy, he’s also an ex-husband who she’d much rather not have to deal with. But Douglas is in pickle. £20 million pounds worth of diamonds went missing when he and 2 other secret service agents broke into the house of Martin Lomax. Lomax is a professional middleman who brokers payment between criminal organisations by keeping hold of down payments on transactions (sometimes cash, sometimes diamonds, sometimes livestock or art) until both sides fulfil their obligations. Lomax was holding the diamonds on behalf of a New York mafia family and unfortunately for Douglas, he has evidence that it was Douglas in his house at the time the diamonds went missing and is demanding their safe return or he will have Douglas killed.
Douglas swears blind that he didn’t take the diamonds and is now in hiding at Cooper’s Chase under the protection of Poppy, an MI-5 handler who also helped with the break-in. Elizabeth isn’t sure if she believes him, but she does love a mystery and given the favours she pulled in to solve the killings in THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB, she owes the Service a freebie in return.
Just as the pensioners get stuck into working out who took the diamonds, however, they also find themselves having to deal with an attack on one of their own when Ibrahim is mugged by a teenager and left with some nasty injuries. With Ibrahim’s confidence knocked, the Club is determined to get justice, even if that means roping in Chris, Donna and Bogdan to achieve it.
This time, though, the Club may just find themselves out of their depth. Lomax and his business associates are ruthless, violent and utterly without mercy and it won’t be long before the body count starts to mount up …
The second in Richard Osman’s THURSDAY MURDER CLUB SERIES is another thoroughly entertaining crime novel that draws on Elizabeth’s espionage past but has something to say about finding love in middle age and the fears that come with old age. The plot slightly strains to unite its various strands at the end but Osman pulls it off with aplomb while providing some laugh out loud moments such that I’m already very keen to get book number 3.
I enjoyed THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB – mainly because of Osman’s narrative style, which manages to be conversational in terms of drawing in random thoughts and observations but at the same time not so as to distract from the main thrust of the story – so was interested to see if he could live up to it with the sequel.
The good news is that I think THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE is actually better, mainly because the pacing of the mystery worked a lot better for me, with Osman seeding motivations and possible solutions a lot earlier on. The investigation element is also helped by the fact that here Elizabeth has direct contact with Douglas’s MI-5 handlers – Sue Reardon (who’s like a younger version of Elizabeth and was in overall charge of the mission to break into Lomax’s house) and Lance James (a former Special Boat Service operative turned MI-5 dogsbody who was the third man in the break-in). As a result, we see a bit more the resources that she has access to and, of course, her own career means that she knows exactly how to cooperate with them and how to hide things from them.
As a spy novel geek, I really enjoyed how Osman weaves the tradecraft elements into the story but also how Elizabeth’s familiarity with the Service and spy craft can also be a weakness that’s used against her. It helps to keep the reader on their toes too because the way Osman lays out various possibilities plus the element of bluff and double-bluff means that it’s harder this time to guess who the responsible party is than in THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB. (Not that it’s impossible, I should add, as I did guess the culprit, albeit not the whole reason).
We get much more on Elizabeth and Joyce’s background and characters here than in the first book. I particularly enjoyed the nuggets that we get on Elizabeth’s former loves and her relationship with Stephen, which I found very moving. Osman uses the unexpected and black humour that can come from dementia for comedic effect but also stays true to the sadness and loss that it brings as well – the hints that Elizabeth is finding it difficult to control Stephen’s behaviour and the vulnerability that this gives her makes her relatable while also not boding well for the future books.
Similarly, there are hints at a darker side to Joyce’s nursing career and she also reveals that she has some insights of her own that help her rise above being merely Elizabeth’s sidekick. I especially liked the spikier scenes between the two where Joyce calls Elizabeth out on her secret keeping because it makes their friendship seem more solid. Indeed, Osman makes a point of including a scene that shows Elizabeth’s feelings about friendships and how she’s been without genuine ones for so long that she doesn’t really know how to open up with people – again, it’s good character development and the fact that Joyce recognises this difficulty in her makes them both seem more real.
I was concerned about the broader brush approach to Ibrahim and Ron’s characters in THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB. We do get a lot more development of Ibrahim in this book as he has to deal with being the victim of a crime and the impact that has on him. Osman is particularly clever in this because Ibrahim has been established as a very intellectual man and, as a former psychiatrist, a man who understands emotions. So to see him working through his own reluctance to go out and the honest conversations he has with his friends as he recognises the devices and ways they are using to try and get him out is moving and effective. I particularly liked the closeness he has with Ron here with Osman ramping up their chalk and cheese natures given that Ron definitely does not like to talk about feelings but does show how much he cares. Also good is a scene between Ibrahim and Donna, which draws out Donna’s own loneliness and emotional turmoil as she struggles to deal with the move to Fairhaven and the lack of connection she has with people while also revealing mor of Ibrahim’s internal thoughts.
Ron remains slightly too broad brush for me as a standard working class trade unionist who’s proud of his family. There are hints of something going on with his son and daughter and I enjoyed the scenes with his grandson Kendrick (a scene between the two involving ice cream has a lot of charm). I was worried that he was going to be side lined in this book because so much of the main investigation involves Elizabeth and Joyce, but he is integral to the events at the end and also to the Ibrahim storyline and I cheered on his righteous fury about what had happened to his friend so while I do not remotely condone the lengths that the Club go to given that it’s all about self-admitted revenge, it’s still very entertaining.
Similarly broad-brush is the mysterious Bogdan, who is essentially moving into the fixer role for the Club. There are hints of his background here though and I enjoyed his friendship with Stephen and his respect for Elizabeth and the other pensioners. Osman ends the book with a development that will make for some interesting tensions in future books given what we already know of him.
Chris has moved on from being a bit of a romantic sad sack and found happiness in his relationship with Patrice. Some of the funniest moments come from the uncomfortable disclosures he makes to Donna about it but Osman has something to say about Chris being a man in his 50s who’s still uncertain about dating and slightly insecure in his looks that keeps him relatable, although I didn’t believe some of his actions towards the end of the book given that he is a police officer.
I wasn’t sure how Osman was going to pull together the various plot strands here and while there is a slight strain towards the end as he works to shoe horn everything in. Nevertheless, I think that he pulled it off well and in a way that left me satisfied as a reader – certainly there were no real loose ends and it all fit neatly with what had already been established.
Some minor criticisms aside, I really did enjoy this book. It’s entertaining, has plenty of twists and offered some laugh out loud moments together with some serious character development, all of which bodes well for book 3 in the series and I am waiting on tenterhooks to place my pre-order.