When I was in elementary school, my carpool would take turns reading Nancy Drew mysteries aloud. My sister and I owned the full set, all 56 yellow-covered hardbacks, and whoever was reading would have to use their loudest narrator voice to drown out the rest of us swearing we knew the culprit by approximately the third chapter. Usually we were wrong.
Since then, I’ve been a most-annoying mystery-novel reader. I want to be kept in the dark until the last possible moment. If I guess who committed the crime before the author outs them, I count it as a loss.
Because of this, I was skeptical when recommended “The Thursday Murder Club,” the debut crime novel of comedian Richard Osman. Luckily for someone who prefers not to know the answer, my skepticism was proven unnecessary. I could not guess the truth until I saw it in ink.
Osman maps out three murders and a host of other engimas across the nearly 400-page book. Readers follow a group of senior citizens as they investigate unsolved crimes, both old and new. The book starts and ends with a cold case from the files of now-comatose Penny, a former cop and resident of the Coopers Chase retirement village. New bodies, possibly related to the crime, begin to appear, leaving the senior citizens as both suspects and investigators.
Most of the story is told from the perspective of Joyce, the most recent addition to the Coopers Chase murder club — a group of four that meets every Thursday to talk crime in the retirement village recreational room. Joyce is a former nurse and a current septuagenarian.
The tone used in the book is spot-on old lady. I realize fiction writers must have a certain aptitude for creating identities out of nothing, but I’m always impressed when an author writes a first person narrative from a persona opposite his or her own.
Osman, a 51-year-old British man, lends his writing to the energetic, quick-minded Joyce. The other members of the crime-solving club include its founder, Elizabeth, who was probably a spy, psychiatrist Ibrahim Arif and the rebellious, loud Ron Ritchie.
The group gets into shenanigans, hijinks and misadventures, as any “determined septuagenarians, octogenarians, and even one nonagenarian, who missed Second World War call-up by a day and had regretted it ever since” might.
They compete with Police Constable Donna De Freitas and Detective Chief Inspector Chris Hudson, who are both quite likeable professionals, though they’re typically two steps behind the Thursday Murder Club participants.
I laughed out loud approximately once each chapter, and Osman slides in irony like it's his job (disclaimer: as a professional comedian, I suppose it is, in fact, his job).
The novel does have a slow start and could stand to cut some superfluous details. But for a debut, I have to give credit where it is due.
Osman’s protagonists are no Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew — at least, not yet — but they have potential.
His prose is strong, though not particularly extraordinary on a first read. His mystery, though, kept me tallying clues to no avail, so I’d deem this debut successful.
“Life goes on, until it doesn't,” Osman concludes. So, too, do mysteries, and Osman beat me to cracking the case in “The Thursday Murder Club.”