Book Review: The Thursday Murder Club
Famous Five and Secret Seven with octogenarians
I was about 8 years old when I read my first Secret Seven book and about 10 when I read my first Famous Five book. Ever since then, I have wanted to have this clique of friends with whom I can solve mysteries. Naturally real life was never as cooperative. It was really difficult to find any mysteries that needed to be solved (there’s only so many missing spoons and buttons one can find in a month). Regardless, I personally feel like becoming a detective has been on everyone’s bucket list at one point or another. So, when you read a book about a rag tag group of 70 (and 80) year olds going on to solve mysteries, it’s a real punch in the gut to your unfulfilled dreams. Not to mention far-fetched. It’s like imagining your grandparents interrogating someone. And I don’t know about you, but my grandmas can barely intimidate me when they’re on the case of the missing food.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a seemingly outlandish thriller. It’s both mystery and fantasy, courtesy its protagonists. The four protagonists- Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim are a group of once successful, now retired senior citizens, living in a quaint village in the UK. In their pursuit of adventure and thrill they have formed the Thursday Murder Club. Along with two detectives from their local police force, they go on to solve their first live case as opposed to old cold storage cases that they’ve previously dabbled with.
Right off the bat what caught my eye about this book is the fact that it switches between first and third person. The first-person perspective is by Joyce through her diary. I’ve seen a lot of people shy away from mixing perspectives in a book but I think this book is a good example of how to do it well. It tells you that the author wants to make you work harder to keep up, which is fascinating and very rewarding as you go on.
The degree of crimes here is far grittier that the simple days of Famous Five and Secret Seven but there is a certain wide-eyed innocence and excitement that’s largely provided by the diary entries by Joyce. She is just happy to be included in something so fantastical. Then there’s Elizabeth with her network of favors and wit, who manages to get in everywhere and get everything. Ibrahim and Ron form the ‘muscle’ of this group using their respective skill sets to get a lot of the groundwork done. We also have two police officers in the story, Donna and Chris who play pivotal roles in making the story move forward. Donna is the ambitious but sidelined constable while Chris is the indulgent Senior Officer who has to take Donna under his wing. A well executed trope!
The first third of the book also brings to light why any of them are doing this in the first place- to be wanted and be important again. The sheer simplicity of the motivation was heart warming to me. Unlike their co-inhabitants of the village, exciting past lives like theirs can’t culminate in the drudgery of parking committees and tending to gardens. The club gives them the platform to relive their glory days and find purpose. It’s validation at its finest.
The story is fast paced and the layer after layer to the case is very fascinating. One of the major highlights of the book is that it sets the scene very well. The surroundings are described vividly and you can feel yourself transported to this village in the UK, something which mystery novels sorely lack because they’re focussed on the action and adrenaline. The story also takes advantage of character backgrounds very well especially because these people have had such long, full lives. Ignoring that would have been a great loss of potential but the author milks it completely to his advantage. The personalities of the characters are well developed, and you can see their individualities come through as well. You have empathy for Joyce while you’re intrigued by Elizabeth. You’re intrigued to know more about Ibrahim while Ron’s relationship with his son warms you up a bit.
The book has its flaws too. Firstly, it sets up too many characters in the first 50 pages. Considering this is the first book of what is being developed as a series, this could be counted as fair. However, as a reader before I am fully invested in the story, I have had a barrage of names hammered on me, several of whom are then mentioned another 100 pages later, by which time I’ve forgotten them. While this too could be the writer’s way of making the reader work hard, it can be a turn off at times.
My second problem with the book is its convenience. While this isn’t a major problem that I have, I do see how a lot of the things just appear or happen and it’s all credited to one character’s brilliance (trying my best to avoid a spoiler) or skill set. I do hope that in future books of the series we get to see some diary entries/first person perspectives from this character to really see how they do it. Joyce’s perspectives while entertaining, sometimes trot around her personal backstory which contributes little to the plot and which can feel like a drag especially when they culminate into a slightly non-essential end in the final diary entry.
The Thursday Murder club has everything that one expects from the genre. Its fast, its entertaining, its characters have an interesting banter, and it makes good use of its geography and setting. It’s a great read for a weekend and considering how there is a sequel in the offing, I’m sure it’s only going to get better now that the set up of things is done! Despite its few flaws the book provides the reader with a very wholesome journey of mystery, thrill, individual identity and friendship.
I’d give this book a solid 3.5 out of 5. Its definitely worth the time!