Let’s get this out of the way: yes, it’s the same Richard Osman who hosts the TV show House of Games on BBC. No, the book isn’t an autobiography, nor is it about game shows. I’m happy to say that The Thursday Murder Club is as advertised: it’s a murder mystery novel, and a good one at that.
Amateur Senior Sleuths
The titular club is a group of friends who meet every Thursday to discuss unsolved crimes, taken from police files provided by a member who happens to be a former police officer. What was just a club pastime becomes real when a local developer is found dead in their vicinity. As the group somehow insinuates itself into the murder investigation, they find themselves entangled in an even deeper mystery as bodies start piling up.
You’re probably already familiar with the trope: The Amateur Sleuths Who Meet in a Treehouse and Help the Police Solve a Crime. Except in The Thursday Murder Club, the sleuths are a group of pensioners, and their treehouse a retirement village. And the former police officer? She’s comatose.
It’s a good bet you won’t be seeing any of them getting involved in a high-speed chase, getting shot at by goons. The closest you’d get is when the club members took a field trip, driving at under 30 kilometers—sorry, kilometres—per hour and arguing with each other all the way. Among the people aiding the Club are two small-town cops, a local priest, and the town handyman who seems to know a lot more than his job entails.
Jolly Good Murder
Readers who are looking into a good murder yarn will find much delight in The Thursday Murder Club. The narrative is told through a revolving door of limited third-person points of view, which makes everyone both suspect and unreliable narrators. One character’s narrative is told through diary entries, which adds an epistolary element to the book’s structure.
Small-town murder novels are nothing new, but they usually feature a Philip Marlowe-esque archetype, or some unusually smart teenagers who are basically Hardy Boys retreads. The seniors in the Club provide a far more interesting take on the genre. In addition to their fixation on unsolved murders, the members keep themselves occupied with things that are a bit more mundane, like keeping up with the local rumor mill and getting a grip on things like Skype and Tinder. You know, old people stuff.
To Be Continued?
The Thursday Murder Club is advertised as the first of a series, and I think Richard Osman has a good thing going here. It’s not a good mystery novel “for a first-time novelist” or “for a celebrity writer,” no; it’s a good mystery novel, period. There is also small-town intrigue and some British humor, along with good pacing and a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.
The club members seem to have interesting backstories—particularly their leader, Elizabeth—which I hope the author would delve into in future stories. Without giving away too much, I would say that she could have rivaled Emma Peel or Velvet Templeton in her day. Will we see more of these senior sleuths? I bloody hope so.