“In life you have to learn to count the good days. You have to tuck them in your pocket and carry them around with you. So I’m putting today in my pocket and I’m off to bed.”
Many thanks to Richard Osman and Penguin Books for the chance to read this ARC, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Oh this was a delightful little book!
The cosiest of cosy detective stories! Wrapped up in the warm woolen blanket, put the fire on, grab a cup of tea and settle in for pure and simple comfort with warm and pleasant characters, a beautiful setting and a gentleness that belies what would otherwise be a rather high body count!
So, Osman – yes, him off the television and Pointless – sites our tale in the Kent countryside which is “picturesque if you like dappled hedgerows….” and was also where I grew up, which lent its own nostalgic warmth to the novel. And specifically in the Coopers Chase Retirement Village – not home but village.
“The old convent dominates Coopers Chase, with three modern residential developments spiralling out from this central point. For over a hundred years the convent was a hushed building filled with the dry bustle of habits and the quiet certainty of prayers offered and answered… the west-facing side of the convent is now entirely glazed to accommodate the residents’ swimming pool complex”
Within the village, in addition to the swimming pool complex and gym and sauna and jacuzzi and “contemporary upscale restaurant” as well as a range of activities and committees run by cabals of residents – as well as the chapel, the Willows nursing home and the cemetery, the Garden of Eternal Rest. The community of Coopers Chase is elderly but incredibly active with Zumba and Pilates, jigsaw clubs and parking enforcement as well as the eponymous Thursday Murder Club comprising our four main characters who carry the novel.
So who are these aging retired heroes? Meet Elizabeth, whose past is shadowy and sinister and something the residents are not supposed to know or discuss, “even though she does go on about it herself at times”, but it was a life where “murders and investigations and what have you wouldn’t be unfamiliar work for her”. As a founding member of the Thursday Murder Club, she is at the heart of the investigations into old unsolved cases. The group also includes Ron, erstwhile political agitator and left wing campaigner, Ibrahim, a dapper psychiatrist and stickler for details, and finally Joyce our every(wo)man character. Yes, there are cliches at play here – or perhaps being played with here is a better description – but it is so much damn fun!
Fairly quickly in the novel, the builder and borderline criminal and part-owner of Coopers Chase is murderer, bludgeoned in his own kitchen, and the Thursday Murder Club take up the case with an ill-disguised under-stated sort of glee. Throw in Donna, a PC longing for adventure, and Chris Hudson, a DCI who’s personal life has ceased to exist, and the main cast are ready. Bodies pile up. Elizabeth pulls strings and calls in favours. The timeline of Curran’s death is established via day time television shows. Bickering car journeys are undertaken to time whether alibis were credible, fuelled by mini cheddars. Joyce bakes compromising cakes. Ibrahim calculates. Ron is called on to be insensitive and blunt when necessary.
And of course as the novel progresses, more bodies are discovered and secrets unravelled, many of them rather close to home. I’ll not say more – it would be unfair to deprive you of the pleasure of discovery.
We alternate between a third person omniscient narrator – and very omniscient and a little knowing at times – and extracts from Joyce’s diary within the novel, and we jump between the Coopers Chase residents and the police detectives. I found the shifts in point of view a little jarring at times and might have preferred longer with one focus before slipping to another character. But they were all rather pleasant characters to spend time with.
It would be easy with this sort of cosy mystery to become silly – or indeed rather patronising to its protagonists – and Osman never gets to that point. Elizabeth remains both formidable and vulnerable – wracked with worries about her husband Stephen whom she thinks she is losing to Alzheimers and her fears that she may succomb too to “the bogeyman that stalked Coopers Chase. Forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, muddling up names”. Those moments in the novel are painful and full of pathos: Elizabeth’s early warning system where she opens her diary to two weeks ahead, every day, to write a question that she has to answer in a fortnight’s time; Stephen’s getting up to work and write each day, work which turns out to be nothing more than “a piece copied from his newspaper, repeated over and over, but most often it is stories about Emily, or for Emily. All in the most beautiful handwriting”.
And of course physical frailty, illness and disease are ever present. For every joke about Waitrose delivery vans which “clink with wine and repeat prescriptions” and characters’ unfamiliarity with fitbits, satnav and tinder, there is a Penny lying insensate in the nursing home, there are ghosts of lost wives and husbands and lovers and children, and there are the characters’ own physical limitations.
These are heart aching moments which punctuate an otherwise fun story, and they are beautifully judged and balanced.
So, overall, I really liked this! And the best news: there is certainly scope for further installments and a series may be in the offing!
Plot / Pace:
Publisher: Penguin Books, Viking
Date: 3rd September 2020