The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Published by Penguin Books Ltd

A Crime Caper That’s Anything But Cute

I wouldn’t have thought that activities undertaken in one’s twilight years would involve pouring through the old case files of unsolved homicides, but who am I to judge, to each their own. If crosswords, jigsaws and brainteasers are encouraged to keep the mind sharp, then troublesome cold-cases just crying out for the missing link to be discovered to crack the case, must surely serve a similar purpose.

Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron and Joyce are a quartet of seniors living out their days in a luxury retirement village somewhere in bucolic England. A shared interest in solving crime unites them, using the files of fellow enthusiast and former detective inspector Penny, who has vacated her spot in the club due to deteriorating health.

When an actual murder occurs right on their doorstep, it only seems right that the team use their skills to help the police in their investigations. As they dig deeper, a world of shady developers, underground crime and forbidden love unfolds, and when a further death happens not long after the first, the whole case is blown wide open.

The Thursday Murder Club is a truly charming read, with witty dialogue and wry humour belying the darker elements of the story. Cosy has been a widely used word to describe it, given the setting, which I find as patronising as calling President Michael D. Higgins ‘cute’. Older people being cutified is a rising endemic, and really there’s nothing particularly cute or cosy about the principal characters (bar perhaps Joyce, who has a distinct touch of the Miss Marples about her).

The former profession of De Facto leader Elizabeth is never explicitly revealed, yet it’s suggested that she’s a retired secret agent. Ibrahim is a gentle, mild mannered psychiatrist, Joyce is a former nurse, whose diaries we’re privy to, and Ron is a tattooed union leader, who’d arguably prefer to be burned at the stake than described as cosy, cute or sweet.

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Maybe I’m defensive of our senior members of society being written off as cute and cringe at the thought of well-meaning but patronising head-patting by the younger generations, because one of my greatest ambitions is to join their ranks when the time comes.

Life in the affluent retirement community of Cooper’s Chase sounds truly aspirational. Wine flows in abundance, classes and hobby groups are ten a penny, there’s a world-class restaurant on site. Sounds like my kind of place, but since you have to be over 65 to take up residence I’ll have to settle for living vicariously for now.

When the building contractor who had worked on the retirement development is found dead, alarms are instantly raised; this was no accident. The victim isn’t someone you’d necessarily sympathise with – yes, The Thursday Murder Club has more heart and humour than your average gritty detective drama, but it certainly revels in fleshing out horrible characters and gleefully giving them their comeuppance.

Darker elements are also explored as periphery stories to the main narrative, and red herrings that are followed in an effort to get to the truth are often revealed to be quite sad episodes of doomed love and elder loneliness that result in gloomy outcomes.

However, overall The Thursday Murder Club is a cracking read, funny and observant and with a host of characters that author Richard Osman clearly had great fun sinking his teeth into. Apart from the club members there’s policewoman Donna and her supervisor Chris, competent detectives who are only slightly put out by the club’s interfering.

There are also various relatives, currently upstanding citizens with decidedly murky backgrounds and other residents of the retirement community to get to know, all mostly getting well-crafted personalities, no matter how short their time on the page is.

The four core characters are distinct and likeable, and when a late twist comes to point the finger of suspicion on one of them I felt a genuine disbelief and consternation at the thought that they may have had a hand in the crime, a reaction only achieved when you grow affection for well-written fictional characters.

A book for a rainy day, this one will have you pleasantly occupied for a, yes, cosy afternoon or two.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 14.10.20

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