I’m a cover whore – that’s the main reason I bought this book. I’m also always looking for an engaging cozy mystery, so one more reason to get myself this lovely little gem of a ‘cozy’. Looking at the cover, you may understand why I noticed this book: a touch of vintage, the promise of a new series, and recommendations regarding its humor. I just HAD to get it. Though I have no idea who Richard Osman is – some TV personality from the UK? – I can tell he is funny and it seems that he had a lot of fun writing this book. At least I sure had a lot of fun reading it.
Love at second sight
Though not the first time round. When I started reading it, I got slightly depressed. Maybe it was because both my grandmas live in care facilities and are miles away from happy-go-lucky pensioners out and about solving murders. Seeing them suffering from dementia and cancer (the younger one) and immobility (the older one), I’m feeling sorry for them. And I fear growing old myself.
On the surface, Osman’s septuagenarians and octogenarians seem to enjoy their life like there’s nothing to worry about. However, it’s never that easy, not even in a cozy murder mystery. Osman doesn’t shy away from mentioning fading mental and physical capacities, thereby making it clear that growing old isn’t for sissies. Like the following quote from one of the main characters, Joyce, recounting how she and her friends used to regularly go to London by train:
We used to go three or four times a year if we could. There were four of us. We would do a matinee and be back on the train before rush hour. On Marks they do a gin and tonic in a can, if you’ve ever had that? We would drink them on the train home and giggle ourselves silly. The gang has all gone now. Two cancers and a stroke. We hadn’t known that Jersey Boys would be our last trip. You always know when it’s your first time, don’t you? But you rarely know when it’s your final time.
Or the following:
Every so often you would wake at night in cold dread. Of all the things to lose, to lose one’s mind? Let them take a leg or a lung, let them take anything before they take that. Before you become ‘Poor Rosemary’ or ‘Poor Frank’, catching the last glimpses of the sun and seeing them for what they were. Before there were no more trips, no more games, no more Murder Clubs. Before there was no more you.
Which was something I couldn’t handle the first time around. No idea why.
I took a break around page 60. Two weeks later I returned to Joyce, Elizabeth, Ron, and Ibrahim and ended up having a great reading time.
Let’s meet the Thursday Murder Club gang
So what’s this Thursday Murder Club about? Who are they? And what’s going on in the English countryside?
Initially founded by Elizabeth, whose former profession is obscured, and Penny, a former police officer, at the time we join them the Club consists of Elizabeth, retired nurse Joyce, retired psychiatrist Ibrahim, and former trade union leader ‘red’ Ron, who reminds me of several characters from a Guy Ritchie movie. These four are our main characters.
Aged between 75 and 80, they live in a retirement village close to Fairhaven (which is below Blackpool, I guess – I’m not from the UK) and pass their time revisiting cold crimes.
The supporting cast surrounding them is manifold and numerous. Even though I’m not good with names I could always remember who is who thanks to Osman’s catchy characterizations. With the initial murder happening fairly early on, a plot unfolds that opens the stage for additional dead bodies and international crime (in a way at least). In the midst of this is our foursome, using their age to their advantage in the best ways imaginable. They are supported by two charming police officers, Donna and Chris, who don’t always appreciate the way Elizabeth & co. handle their case(s), but – this being a cozy mystery – never let their anger get the best of them. Especially Elizabeth can be very convincing, as seen here:
“At the end of the evening you might try and explain to the CPS that four people in their seventies and eighties have failed to report digging up a body. For what reason? With what evidence, other than the inadmissible confession that you’ve taken from us this evening? And with four suspects, all of whom are quite happy to go to court, smile happily and pretend to mistake the judge for their granddaughter and ask why she doesn’t visit often enough. The whole process is difficult, costly and time-consuming, and achieves nothing. No one is going to prison, no one is getting a fine, no one’s even going to be picking litter by the roadside.”
This is Elizabeth explaining to their police friends what will happen if they decide to cross their paths. Did I mention that Elizabeth puts James Bond to shame? Or Jason Bourne? Or Ethan Hunt? Or any other of these interchangeable action hunks that waste hours and energy with unnecessary brutality when all it takes is some brainpower and good connections.
In short chapters the focus of the third-person narrator switches between various characters, with Joyce being the only one who shares a first-person perspective in her diary. This contributes to the pace of the narration, jumping from one person to the other to complete a sort of puzzle, though all threads come together at the center of the Thursday Murder Club and especially Elizabeth.
The magic of ‘the cozy’
Osman’s tone is light, but he does not shy away from mentioning the not so cozy or charming sides of getting older. In doing so, cracks are opening and what would otherwise be just another cozy mystery series gets a little edgy at the sides. Of course, his protagonists are cliche – it’s a cozy murder mystery. You don’t read a ‘cozy’ if you want profound analyses of the world with all its ups and downs (to put it mildly). Finding some analogies, a hint of reality with a dash of pixie dust? Oh yes. Meeting quirky characters that could be real but are simply too good to be true? Hell yeah. Escaping difficult times and stressful events for just a few pages, chapters, a night? Definitely.
So let’s not question the fact that compared to Elizabeth James Bond seems like an absolute beginner. That the police pretty much accept everything our lovely foursome is doing as well as sharing confident information with them. Or that only those get murdered who ‘deserve’ it. The setting is idyllic albeit stereotypical and I guess it’s safe to assume that the English countryside is not as charming picture-perfect as Osman paints it to be. On the other hand, referring to the history of some of the protagonists, it doesn’t seem as if Fairhaven doesn’t have a fair share of seedy underground. Not like some story out of Criminal Minds, but also not like Cabot Cove. At the risk of repeating myself, The Thursday Murder Club has everything an engaging cozy mystery needs – and it’s also quite funny without ever feeling stilted or awkward.
Would you enjoy The Thursday Murder Club?
If you’re looking for something lighthearted and fun to read, love a story set in the English countryside, and can take references to aging and the transitoriness of life better than I can, this book could be for you. Prior knowledge regarding cozy mysteries is not necessary albeit convenient. It may provide a smoother reading experience without questioning less than logical or realistic conclusions and simply accepting the laws of the ‘cozy’.
And at the risk of sounding too cautious: don’t read this book after losing a loved one, especially not grandparents or parents. While overall being a lighthearted read, as I said before Osman does not leave out the sad aspects of getting old and/or sick. At the wrong time, this might prove a bit too much for some. It did for me – and I haven’t even lost someone recently.
So much for the first adventure of the Thursday Murder Club. There seems to be a second installment of The Thursday Murder Club in the making, but we’ll see. I enjoyed spending time with Elizabeth, Joyce Ibrahim, and Ron, and I’m definitely looking forward to meeting them again.