Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club was brought to my attention by Caroline Crampton during an episode of her SHEDUNNIT podcast (which, if you don’t follow, is marvellous). I’d seen it knocking around and obviously being enjoyed by many and Crampton’s recommendation made me pull it out of the gargantuan TBR.
From the back-cover blurb:
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
Not surprisingly, the blurb gets most of it right, but doesn’t quite represent the mystery novel’s originality, or complexity terribly well. Blurbs sell; they’re not there for the picky reviewer. In any case, there’s a hint of blurb cutsiness to the octogenarians that doesn’t do them justice. And for that, I liked Osman all the more.
There are many threads, way too many characters, and a mystery resolution that tries to do too much with too little in Osman’s début mystery. I definitely liked the first two-thirds better than the last. First and foremost, Osman’s octogenarians are complex, compelling, and avoid quaint, or “cozy” stereotypes. Like Miss Marple, the twinkle in the wrinkle-surrounded eye is anything but merry. It’s penetrating, perspicacious, and dangerous.
The way the characters are presented to us is in a bit of a narrative jumble. Though recounted mainly in the third person, one of the four, Joyce, relates events in the form of a first-person diary. I couldn’t see the narrative necessity for this, but it wasn’t intrusive, or jarring, and Joyce has an engaging voice.
The four Murder Club members are fascinating characters: Ron, an old union organizer (with a delightful nod to old guard socialists in the fox depicted on the cover, rescued by Ron and named “Scargill”…I sure did have a chuckle at that); Joyce, widowed and delightfully “on the make” bakes her way through Nigella’s repertory and invites octogenarian gents for dinner when she isn’t hunting murderers with the Thursday Club’s most intriguing member, Elizabeth (is her name Elizabeth? we never truly find out; I hope to see Osman reveal more about her in the next books). Without giving too much of the game away, let’s say Elizabeth is a LeCarré’s reader’s dream. Ibrahim is pure reason and control, wise and exacting, a retired psychiatrist. He holds vast numbers of “files” that go towards helping the Club solve murders. Parallel to the Club and working in tandem with them are two cops: Chris Hudson and Donna De Freitas, smart and burrowers for truth and justice themselves. I loved these characters and already have the next book on order…*drums fingers impatiently*
What didn’t work as well was the murders’ (oh, yes, murders, there’s a body count here) many-threaded resolution. At first, utterly compelling, we watch while an unethical land developper, Ian Venthem, he who owns the retirement village, cuts his partner out of the business. Witnesses are the Murder Club, among other retirement village denizens. Said partner, Tony Curran, is murdered an hour later. What ensues is a revealing of crime and complicity going back twenty years, in time, yes, and geography, as the pursuit of Tony’s killer ends up in Cyprus and involves a Cypriot detective. Other mysterious characters show up: a priest who is and isn’t a priest, a florist whose past isn’t rosy (couldn’t help myself), a Polish handyman who plays chess like Kasparov. The end, however, was a mess: with too many melodramatic notes struck, which veered into the personal lives of what at first appeared to be minor characters and a resolution that meandered and had so much underlying it that it lost all meaning. BUT, I loved Ron, Elizabeth, Joyce, and Ibrahim and I want to see them solve another murder.