Reading a murder mystery by an unfamiliar author is like entering a sparring match with a new opponent, or sitting down to play chess with a stranger. It’s a time to get the lay of the land and make guesses and start feeling out just how much the author will end up surprising -- or disappointing -- you. For the jaded mystery reader, this also means trying to predict which Agatha Christie twist the author will try to pull. Will it be an Orient Express? A Roger Ackroyd? And Then There Were None?
As you read The Thursday Murder Club, you might start feeling disappointed. And then that disappointment will give way to surprise. And then disappointment. And then surprise. And then you’ll have finished the book, and you’d feel thoroughly satisfied.
The titular murder club is composed of four elderly residents living at the quiet and luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village. Coopers Chase is a small upscale community somewhere in England. There’s a swimming pool and a sauna, and Zumba. There are clubs for solving jigsaw puzzles, for discussing art history, and for conversational French.
Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron meet every Thursday to discuss unsolved murders. For two hours every week, they would go over the evidence and invite over witnesses to conduct interviews. Justice would probably never be done, but to them, it’s a worthwhile exercise -- something to keep them busy as the days fly by.
Soon after Joyce -- the most recent addition -- joins the group, a local builder gets whacked dead by a wrench. This, much to the annoyance of the local police, sets the club on a trail to investigate a real-life current murder.
As we get introduced to the main and supporting characters, we get a chance to size up the mystery being presented to us: the suspects, the motives, the alibis, and the inevitable red herrings. At this point, The Thursday Murder Club begins to work its magic, weaving connections and planting seeds of doubt for the reader to consider.
The mystery itself is fantastically plotted -- the kind that gets tangled up in all sorts of segues and dead ends, but makes absolute sense in the end. The journey to the finish is made easy by the dry, humorous writing (“What kind of woman would bludgeon someone? A Russian woman, but that’s about it.”) that lends a very specific quality to the proceedings. Just like the protagonists, who have lived their lives and have nothing more to prove, the narration and the world don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, there is a vegan cafe in the nearby town of Fairhaven called Anything with a Pulse.
This just makes the poignant moments all the more effective when they come. The Thursday Murder Club maintains a light tone -- comfortable at times -- but murder is murder, and it does go to some dark places as the plot strings unravel.
The characters that surround the main four are just as interesting: the spouses, the neighbors, the frustrated (but endearing!) police investigators, and the despicable landlord with shadowy ties. They are sketched out in broad but clear strokes, and as you start knowing them and identifying with them, your familiarity may soon develop into alarm as the evidence begins pointing every which way. Who’s guilty, who’s innocent, and who simply has secrets to hide?
A final caveat: as with many things, your own mileage will vary depending on how seasoned of a mystery reader you are and how much satisfaction you derive from recognizing the clues and the red herrings. Mystery-solving aside, however, The Thursday Murder Club is a fine novel that will entertain just about anyone. It simply holds much more for those with just the right amount of genre-savviness. Final verdict: read it!