The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

It’s usually a mistake to confuse the novel with the writer but this joyous funfest seems to reflect the image of Richard Osman that comes across so well on the TV – bright and friendly, a natural born entertainer. This is murder but murder with charm, The Thursday Murder Club will leave you with a warm feeling. Laughter is good for you and you will laugh out loud reading this novel, it’s quintessentially British in character, lightly mocking of some the tropes of the genre and has a little pop at the prejudices of society, particularly, ageism.

The Thursday Murder Club makes Miss Marple look like a callow youth, these sleuths are all octogenarians. Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim and Ron are residents of the exclusive Coopers Chase Retirement Home, none of them intend to settle into life’s gentle twilight; sing alongs, jigsaw mania and bingo nights. They are intrigued by cold cases, mostly for their own amusement, that is until a real life, (if you see what I mean), murder lands right in their lap.

The only way to judge a book is to read it and I have to be honest this novel set me straight on a couple of prejudices I was harbouring before taking to the page. I’m suspicious of celebrities turned writer and not happy with the vast advances their titles can command. Two strikes against Osman in my sceptical and slightly cynical view but what matters is the quality. The Thursday Murder Club is top notch entertainment. I was won over, big time, clearly Osman is an intelligent person but he also has a literary bent, a certain flair ideally suited for comic cosy crime writing. This is an homage to the golden age of crime, the author is clearly a lover of Christie and, even, Sherlock, but this is no mere pastiche, it’s rich with modern sensibilities and twists, a knowingness that doesn’t show up but informs the novel. The plot has its mini mysteries, red herrings, crafty clues and entraining asides. The cast of characters is delightful, these pensioners have their intriguing personal lives too, quirky and endearing, even when irascible and proud. Overall the experience of reading The Thursday Murder Club is pleasurable, once begun you won’t want to put it down. The various strands of the story pull together very nicely, this is an impressive debut.

Joyce is our guide to proceedings. A few months ago she was inducted into The Thursday Murder Club. The invitation came after a lunchtime discussion of knife wounds and the length of time it might take to bleed out given a certain set of circumstances. Joyce’s opinion being relevant since she used to a nurse, it prompts Elizabeth to ask:

‘Are you ever free on Thursdays?’

The group had a vacancy since Polly, a former police officer, was moved from Coopers Chase Retirement Village to the nursing home. Of course, The Thursday Murder Club was more about proving things to their own satisfaction than nailing a murderer. It began with Elizabeth and Polly, who supplied the murder files, Ron and Ibrahim soon joined.

PC Donna De Freitas would like to be hunting serial killers (with a gun preferably), perhaps in time, for now she delivers safety talks to the public. Today it’s the Coopers Chase residents but they have other ideas, they’ve heard all about the man from the gas board and the need for locks on windows.

‘I’d welcome a burglar. It would be nice to have a visitor.’

So what to discuss? Elizabeth suggests institutional discrimination against women in the police force, Ron wants to discuss Mark Duggan’s shooting and senior officers complicity in the killing. PC Donna enjoys herself so much she stays for lunch.

Ian Ventham, the big cheese behind Coopers Chase, is due to meet the residents to consult on plans to double the size of the development, (for consult read tell). The new building will mean sweet talking the council, relocating a cemetery and buying a farm from a very reluctant farmer. Ventham has a partner, Tony Curran, a developer who owns twenty five percent of Coopers Chase, (he made Ventham an offer he couldn’t refuse, think Tony Soprano school of negotiation). Ventham has plans to dump Curran, Curran wants to kill Ventham. Other people want to kill Ventham, he doesn’t like settling his bills, he owes Bogdan £4,000 for a start. But now is not a good time to die, Ventham is rich but he’s about to be minted.

When the man is bludgeoned to death in his own kitchen Elizabeth rounds up the troops. The Thursday Murder Club has a murder to solve. PC Donna is on the periphery of the DCI Hudson’s investigation, ie. they let her make the tea. As she’s not fully on the police inquiry why not help out The Thursday Murder Club, they’d love her to have her. Of course, everyone from the police to the killer are going to underestimate the pensioners, it one of their secret weapons, that and playing the helpless card. Things are not necessarily going to go as you think they might.

The juxtaposition of expectations of the octogenarian Thursday Murder Club and what they get up to makes for a wild ride, they are skilled, cunning, and resourceful. Richard Osman is famous for Pointless and as a director of Endemol was responsible for Deal or No Deal and a host of other shows. It won’t be long before he’s famous for The Thursday Murder Club too. Encore, encore.

Personal read   4½*
Group read       5*

Viking Penguin, ISBN 9780241425442, Hardback, 3rd September, 2020.