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The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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Every once in a while a true gem comes along that perhaps brings back your faith in a genre you had grown tired of, or introduces you to something so new that you are encouraged to read something else.

This book was, unfortunately, not one of those.

When I was first told about this book, the friend who mentioned it just gave me this look. She, like me, dislikes spoilers, so it is partly with her in mind that I started doing spoiler-free reviews. So, what was I to determine from her expression when I later mentioned that I had purchased the book and was going to read it? Nothing at all, because she wasn’t giving away anything.

This book ended up being the fastest-selling adult crime debut ever. It was part of a 10-way publishing house bidding war, was the Christmas best-seller of 2020 and has been optioned by Steven Spielberg.

All of that sounds great, but then is it? Does all of that actually make it a good book? 

If you came here thinking that I would a) give away the murderer or b) gush about this book because the author was famous before the book was released then you are going to be disappointed.

The Thursday Murder Club, the first novel by TV presenter Richard Osman, does it deserve all the hype?

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?

In a sleepy little retirement village called Coopers Chase, which I am guessing is somewhere in Sussex if the towns and cities mentioned are anything to go by, is a group of four unlikely friends who, every Thursday, meet in a communal room to solve cold cases.

The story has two different narrators, one is Joyce, the new girl, who is just learning how things work and still getting to know the people who have brought her into their group. The second is third person, the impartial observer. However, without one of them, things would probably be less clear.

Anyway, our first narrator, Joyce Meadowcroft is a relatively new member of this unusual group. Only joining after Penny the founding member, suffered a stroke (or at least that is what I have to assume given the details are incredibly vague, despite constant mentions of Penny and how wonderful a person she is). 

It is through Joyce’s diary entries that we get to know a little more about each of our core characters, Elizabeth Best, Ibrahim Arif and Ron Ritchie – the other members of the Thursday Murder Club. Then of course there is the collection of potential victims, because what would a murder club be without a murder? And the police, because where there is a totally competent amateur investigator there will always be a bumbling police force, in this instance that is made up of Donna De Freitas – who is about to get her first big case – and Chris Hudson, a lonely more experienced DCI.

As well as these very necessary characters for a murder mystery, there are quite a few extras added to the roster and for me, they were a little too much – but I’ll get into my reasons for that much later.

Our central characters live in a retirement village that was built by a rather slimy and opportunistic partnership between two men who very clearly don’t have a good relationship, Ian Ventham and Tony Curran. I have to be honest, when I started reading the book and the field of potential victims was introduced my immediate instinct was to point a finger at Ian Ventham and say ‘He’s going to get it first’. I was not correct!

There are so many motives introduced at the beginning of the book and so many potential murderers that it feels a little overwhelming and also confusing at the same time. However, all of these motives seem to be pointing at Ian Ventham being the murder victim…When this proves to be something of a red herring I was more than a little disappointed. Especially when a character who was only really introduced as a peripheral character with a bit of a dodgy past and an association with Ventham, Tony Curran, is bludgeoned to death in his kitchen.

Of course, as with every other cosy crime novel, our intrepid investigators seem to be ahead of the game when it comes to getting closer to the murderer and the motive, and they lead the police on a merry chase. Each member of the group has a lot to offer, with a lot of experience courtesy of their different jobs. 

I may have missed it being specifically mentioned, but it’s obvious Elizabeth’s past is connected to some kind of MI5 role, perhaps as an agent. Whatever it was, she knows a lot of people in a lot of places and she can get a great deal of information about whatever she’s looking into.

Ibrahim Arif is a retired psychiatrist, but being retired doesn’t mean he’s lost the skills that made him very good at his job. He understands people and when investigating a murder that is a very useful ability to have.

Ron Ritchie is an ex-union boss with a celebrity boxer son. He knows how to get things done, how to encourage people to support a specific cause and despite definitely rubbing some people up the wrong way, he knows his way around the law.

And then, of course, we have Joyce Meadowcroft. She’s a retired nurse, part of the narration team and there are subtle hints about her partner Gerry that make me believe that Gerry is more likely Geraldine than Gerald – but to be honest, that doesn’t play much of a part in the story as it’s being told, it’s merely something that makes up a character, it has no effect on her role as a narrator.

Aiding the Thursday Murder Club we have Donna and Chris, two members of the local constabulary. This is Donna’s first case and she is far more receptive to the help she is offered by Elizabeth, Joyce and the others when compared with most official investigators when it comes to novels like this. You only have to look at the way DCI Wilkes acts when Agatha Raisin appears on the crime scene in M.C. Beaton’s novels to see a huge contrast.

Donna appears to be slightly out of her depth when it comes to the murder investigation. I would go so far as to say that she is nervous and unsure of herself even though she is keen to prove herself and her investigative abilities, and what better way to do it than solving a murder case? 

DCI Hughes is less positive about receiving help from the curious older generation. He is still proving himself in his role and the key focus when it comes to his part in the story is more to do with his desire to lose weight – he has a very cliche issue with doughnuts – and he also is looking for Ms Right, a fact that hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice and is a matter that Donna helps to resolve.

Before anyone has any kind of chance to solve Tony Curran’s murder, or even find any kind of real motive other than animosity in a business relationship, a second murder occurs. This one is far more subtle and sophisticated than the first. A quick injection of fentanyl and the character I believed would always be the main murder victim in the book, Ian Ventham, is dead.

For me, the highlight of reading a book like this is putting together all the plot points and seeing if I can figure out the guilty party correctly before the characters in the book come to their conclusion.

From a personal perspective, I saw good and bad in this book. 

This book is based in an area that I am familiar with, and I have to admit that it was quite nice to read about locations that I have visited regularly since I was a child, and not in connection with a location where a character in an Oscar Wilde play was abandoned as a baby!

That having been said, we do also get an impromptu trip to Cyprus and occasional travels outside of Sussex. However, it was apparent that the mostly coastal county was the central location for all of the exciting events that had The Thursday Murder Club moving outside their comfort zone.

I previously mentioned that I spoke with a couple of friends who have also read this book and their comments were not exactly the most complimentary. One of my friends stated that her biggest issue with the book was the stereotyping of the older characters – who make up the core of the book. She felt that they were lazily written and in some ways the author’s interpretation of them was condescending. 

Having now read the book, I can see where she’s coming from. These characters were all incredibly competent, skilled in their previous careers and thrived on being busy, but for me, there was something in the way that Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, as well as people like Steve, Bernard, Penny and John were portrayed that felt almost as though they had been created using a blueprint. Especially when they were hosting tea and there were repeated mentions of Taste the Difference – was the author being paid by Sainsbury’s for every single mention he managed to include in a short scene?

There also appeared to be a considerable number of moments where the characters were focusing on their glory days. Even when they were in the midst of a current murder investigation.

We have four strong, well-educated and accomplished adults who are intrigued by unsolved murders. This club they have established is the sort of thing I would probably want to join if I was living day to day waiting for family to visit and reminiscing about the way things were in my heyday. Though, being honest, I would be a seat filler because I have zero experience of worth when it comes to crime-solving!

I have to be honest, I know a lot of people who are in their 60s and 70s and this is where my frustration with the characterisation comes in.

Elizabeth and her cohorts are anything but frail and fragile, they are determined and aren’t going to let anything get in their way now they have the bit between their teeth and have to solve this murder.

Unfortunately, so much of the book is filled up with irrelevant intricacies, such as family visits, cake brands and other things that offer nothing but filler when what I really want is backstory! All of this felt like an unnecessary distraction from the core plot, something that is resolved so quickly it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss the motive!

The murder and its resolution felt almost like an after-thought, it was tied up so quickly that the book could likely have been about 100 pages shorter. As for the motive? Well, I’ll let you read it for yourself to decide on that one.

Of course, my issues with The Thursday Murder Club didn’t end there. My biggest one was not with the characterisation, or the story. No, what annoyed me most was the unbelievably ridiculous number of chapters that it had.

I am not a fan of really long chapters, but equally, I am not a fan of short ones either. Yes, I am Goldilocks!

The paperback version of this novel, which I read, is 377 pages long. So, a frequent reader would assume that a book of this length would have between 25 and possibly 40 chapters, right? At least in my experience. Mr Osman presents us with 115 chapters and some of them were less than a page long!

I really wanted to like this book, I love the genre and I had heard mostly good things, though there were some bad. I think that Osman is an intelligent man and wanted his writing to reflect that, unfortunately, for me, it missed the target. The concept was great, the characters are colourful, but this story felt like it should have come about 10 books into a series, not be the introduction. 

Cosy crime is quickly becoming one of my favourite easy-read genres. After all, what’s better than reading about a sleepy town that is all beautiful, peaceful and kind on the outside, but dripping with venom when you cut it open and watch all the secrets seep out?

Positives

  • Likeable central characters
  • Familiar terrain
  • Police aren’t 100% inept

Negatives

  • Too many very short chapters
  • Murder and motive were an afterthought
  • Tried to make cosy crime too complicated, ended up making it a frustrating read
2.5 star rating

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