Book Review: The Man Who Died Twice, Richard Osman

Synopsis

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

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Thoughts

The gang are all back together!

Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron and Joyce, our septuagenarian heroes of The Thursday Murder Club are back in Coopers Chase and still causing as much trouble as they resolve. Donna and Chris are still struggling to keep up.

Osman feels a little more comfortable with this novel than the first, now that the pressure of having to introduce the characters has been dispensed with in this sequel and launches straight into the plot – or plots. Firstly, Elizabeth receives a mysterious letter purporting to be from a man who never truly existed from her days working in the Secret Services, and which turns out to be her ex-husband and fellow spy, Douglas and his handler, Poppy. Secondly, Donna and Chris are staking out a local drug dealer, Connie Johnson. Finally, Ibrahim is seen enjoying his newly discovered sense of confidence from the first book and taking a drive – and discovering the joy of parking apps – until he is mugged by a local thug, Ryan Baird

Douglas has been accused of stealing £20 million pounds worth of diamonds from Martin Lomax, a man who acts as “a bank for major crime gangs… a trusted middleman” who receives and protects deposits from criminal gangs in their investments. One of those deposits was the missing diamonds and both Lomax and the mafia to whom they belong are searching for them. Elizabeth, whom we learn is actually Dame Elizabeth, and the others are charged informally with protecting Douglas, and take it on themselves to find the missing diamonds too.

Bodies, of course, mount up.

These books are simultaneously charming and absurd and require a huge amount of willing suspension of disbelief, which their charm makes you willing to do. Let’s take Douglas, for example. A professional experienced spy who – minor spoilers – did in fact steal and secret away the diamonds he is alleged to have stolen whilst on a surveillance operation. It makes no sense that Douglas would, whilst still on site, whilst in possession of these stolen diamonds, would take off his mask because “I was hot, it was itchy, you know me, Elizabeth, and the balaclavas are synthetic these days”. But this is the sort of book where, frankly, you don’t care about that!

The charm comes from the dialogue whether it be between the Murder Club members or the delicately worded death threats from the mafia

“I was talking to a woman in Ruskin Court and she said she’s on a diet,” says Joyce, finishing her glass of wine. “She’s eighty-two!”

“Zimmer frames make you look fat,” says Ron. “It’s the thin legs.”

“Why diet at eighty-two?” says Joyce. “What’s a sausage roll going to do to you? Kill you? Well, Join the queue.”

But there is also a surprisingly deep pathos here. Ibrahim is floored by his assault, and anxiety and agoraphobia threaten him as he becomes fearful to leave his house let alone Coopers’ Chase Retirement Village. Ron’s gruff attentiveness to him, staying in hospital with him was sweet, but I loved Kendrick, Ron’s grandson, who is drafted in to help review CCTV at one point and having chewed over their favourite Romans (Brutus or Seneca the Younger) and dinosaur (a stegosaurus) Kendrick asks

“Does it hurt where they kicked you?” asks Kendrick, his eyes still clearly glued to the CCTV.

“I tell the others it doesn’t,” says Ibrahim. “But it does, very much.”

“They probably know,” says Kendrick.

“They probably do,” says Ibrahim. “But you’re the only person I’m telling for sure.”

Let’s be honest, Osman’s writing isn’t going to be in any prize lists any time soon and the way the three plots intersected (which they did) was really very forced. But, despite the violence – and there was a fair amount more violence in this novel than the first, at least as far as I can recall – these novels are as charming and avuncular and cosy as is his teatime quiz show persona and there is definitely space on the shelves for that!

What I Liked

  • Of course, the ensemble cast of characters, each of whom are given their point of view within the novel. They are charming individually and wonderful together! As Sue says, Joyce and Elizabeth’s double act is formidable!
  • Joyce as she bumbles around solving word searches, baking cakes, creating an unintentionally suggestive Instagram username (and refusing to change it), and wielding a kitchen knife in an expert overhand grip when necessary.
  • Chris and Patrice: their relationship was a delight, much to Donna’s embarrassment and Patrice seems able to hold her own against Elizabeth
  • Ibrahim and Ron: their’s is a lovely friendship, and am I the only one seeing some unexplored romantic tension between them?
  • The improbability of some of the situations that these characters end up in is wry and wonderful: a garden party hosted by an international money launderer for various criminal enterprises, wondering whether he can make a few pounds from his chocolate brownies as he mulls over death threats and the theft of £20 million pounds worth of diamonds.
  • Poppy, a sweet young girl who fell into being employed as a spy almost accidentally and who wants to be a poet even if she was a useless waitress.

What Could Have Been Different

  • Some aspects of the novel felt a little disconnected: neither Donna’s uncertainties and worries, nor the sub-plot revolving around Ibrahim felt terribly connected to either the main plot or the characterisation.
  • The more technical and shady aspects of MI5 operations and international organised crime felt a little superficial? Great fun but superficial – although that is perhaps the joy of the book: it does not try to hard and dark. But to imagine an experienced spy removing his mask in an area likely to be covered by cameras, having just purloined a bag of diamonds…?

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Page Count: 432 pages

Publisher: Viking (Penguin)

Date: 16th September 2021

Available: Amazon, Viking

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