Published: 3rd September 2020
Trigger warnings: Grief, suicide
This was my fourth buddy read with Ellie, and our first which was not a Karen M. McManus book. We both enjoyed the discussions and it gave us lots of laughs, so thank you so much to her for reading it with me.
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?
As mysteries go, this one is unique in terms of both storytelling and atmosphere. It is cosy and even at times relaxing, containing a whole host of thoroughly endearing characters and more than the occasional laugh, yet at the same time giving the reader plenty to think about with a quietly complex plot which generates numerous potential suspects.
Everything about the book and the way it is written makes it feel very welcoming, and a lot of this is down to the characters, who are memorable for a variety of reasons. There are some powerful themes hiding away beneath all the ambience and the humour, although the narrative never veers away from its gentle, inoffensive approach which suited the story just right.
Cooper’s Chase is a retirement village in rural Kent and home to the Thursday Murder Club, a group of four elderly residents who come together every week in the Jigsaw Room to discuss a cold case. It is made up of widowed diarist Joyce, former socialist campaigner Ron, the analytically minded Ibrahim, and the irrepressible Elizabeth.
When someone is murdered nearby, the club have a live case to investigate and quickly make their presence felt, working closely with the local police. With Elizabeth pulling all the strings, they take it upon themselves to track down important witnesses and uncover vital pieces of evidence, often by very extravagant and audacious means.
The investigation reveals a link to Cooper’s Chase and the area’s history, with at least one of the residents and people associated with it withholding closely guarded secrets. At the same time, there is a minor dispute over the sale of the adjacent land, and those involved also come under suspicion as more incidents start to occur.
It starts off serenely, placing a lot of emphasis on establishing the characters and setting the scene, which was the perfect way to make me feel invested in the story. A murder takes place, but at first it almost feels secondary to the residents of Cooper’s Chase and their amusing escapades. The light tone remains throughout, however the attention does shift rather more towards the mystery as it edges closer to the end.
The book is mainly written in the third person present tense, switching between the lives of various characters in a method of storytelling that makes the author feel like a narrator in every sense. The rest is made up of Joyce’s diary entries, which are always entertaining to read and really bring out her personality.
Arguably there are too many characters, but on the bright side a lot of them bring so much to the story. It is impossible not to like Ibrahim, who is extremely scientific in his amateur crime-solving technique, while I enjoyed his unlikely double-act with Ron, who is much less sophisticated but also has his uses.
The best character of all is undoubtedly Elizabeth. She almost defies description, very crafty and calculated and always one step ahead of the police. Everything she does is more extraordinary than the last, and you are made to wonder what she is going to do next. To top it all off, she is absolutely hilarious, both in terms of investigating the murder and for her grasp of modern technology.
As for the police officers, they are actually very likeable and down-to-earth, with the focus being very much on who they are as characters rather than the procedural elements. The one person I did not like was Ian Ventham due to his ignorance and lack of care for others, while the priest Matthew Mackie always seemed worthy of mistrust.
The setting is right in keeping with the book’s laid-back vibe. Cooper’s Chase is more comfortable than luxurious, but it definitely comes across as the kind of place where one might want to spend their retirement – as long as there are no murders, that is. The nicest thing about it is the ever-present sense of community that resonates from it.
For anyone who knows Richard Osman as a television personality, the writing contains many of the things you might expect. It is witty and conversational, with some chapters in particular that stand out as being very funny indeed, and never the slightest bit distasteful. There are though some moments that are more thought-provoking, with eloquent passages on the subject of life and death.
The high number of characters meant an increasingly complex mystery, so there was always going to be a lot to resolve in the end. There was one revelation which I did not see coming at all, but I felt that the circumstances could have been explained a little better as the sequence of events was tricky to get my head around. Apart from that, the execution was good.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable read and a departure from many of the intense mysteries and crime thrillers which adorn our bookshelves. It combines a clever plot with engaging writing and characters that you just cannot help but love, ensuring that it rarely goes wrong. There is to be a sequel, and I shall certainly be here for it.
Richard Osman has had a long career a television executive and producer, but he did not become widely known until 2009 when he began co-hosting the BBC’s popular early evening quiz show Pointless alongside Alexander Armstrong, where contestants win cash prizes for naming the most obscure answers in general knowledge categories.
From its inception watching Pointless became a part of my evening routine after school and although I rarely catch it now, I do own two of the books that Osman co-wrote as a spin-off from the show, along with The World Cup Of Everything which was published in 2017.
Now a familiar face on British television and radio with shows such as Two Tribes and Richard Osman’s House Of Games, The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel.
A very charming, funny read with great characters that also happens to contain a mystery. Recommended to anyone who loves a relaxing book.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐