Four residents in a luxury retirement village in England meet once a week to contemplate cold murder cases, when they’re confronted with a killing that’s awfully close to home. That’s the plot of The Thursday Murder Club, a clever cozy mystery by Richard Osman, the British TV personality and creator and cohost of the U.K.’s Jeopardy!-like television quiz show Pointless. The new novel has soared up the Brits’ best-seller list, and is likely to charm American readers as well.
Enjoy this excerpt, where one of the new amateur sleuths, Joyce, introduces us to her fellow club members in the form of a diary entry.
I first kept a diary many years ago, but I’ve looked back at it, and I don’t think it would be of any interest to you. Unless you’re interested in Haywards Heath in the 1970s, which I am going to assume you’re not. That is no offense to either Haywards Heath or the 1970s, both of which I enjoyed at the time.
But a couple of days ago, after meeting Elizabeth, I went to my first ever meeting of the Thursday Murder Club, and I have been thinking that perhaps it might be worth writing about. People love a murder, whatever they might say in public, so I’ll give it a go. Like whoever it was who wrote that diary about Holmes and Watson.
I knew the Thursday Murder Club was going to be Elizabeth, Ibrahim Arif, who lives in Wordsworth, with a wraparound balcony, and Ron Ritchie. Yes, that Ron Ritchie, so that was something else exciting. Now that I know him a bit better, the shine has worn off a little, but even so.
Penny Gray also used to be part of it, but she is now in Willows — that’s the nursing home. Thinking about it now, I fitted right in. I suppose there had been a vacancy, and I was the new Penny.
I was nervous at the time, though. I remember that. I took along a nice bottle of wine (£8.99 to give you an idea), and as I walked in, the three of them were already there in the Jigsaw Room, laying out photographs on the table.
Elizabeth had formed the Thursday Murder Club with Penny. Penny had been an inspector in the Kent Police for many years, and she would bring along the files of unsolved murder cases.
She wasn’t really supposed to have the files, but who was to know? After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.
I’m not supposed to say what Elizabeth used to do for a living, even though she does go on about it herself at times. Suffice it to say, though, that murders and investigations and what have you wouldn’t be unfamiliar work for her.
Elizabeth and Penny would go through every file line by line, study every photograph, read every witness statement, just looking for anything that had been missed. They didn’t like to think there were guilty people still happily going about their business, sitting in their gardens, doing a sudoku, knowing they had got away with murder.
Also, I think that Penny and Elizabeth just thoroughly enjoyed it. A few glasses of wine and a mystery — very social, but also gory. It is good fun.
They would meet every Thursday (that’s how they came up with the name). It was Thursday because there was a two-hour slot free in the Jigsaw Room, between Art History and Conversational French. It was and still is booked under the name Japanese Opera: A Discussion, which ensured they were always left in peace.
There were certain favors both of them could call upon, for different reasons, and all sorts of people had been brought in for a friendly chat over the years. Forensics officers, accountants and judges, tree surgeons, horse breeders, glassblowers — they’d all been to the Jigsaw Room. Whoever Elizabeth and Penny thought might be able to help them with some query or other.
Ibrahim had soon joined them. He used to play bridge with Penny, and had helped them out once or twice with bits and bobs. He’s a psychiatrist. Or was a psychiatrist. Or still is, I’m not quite sure. When you first meet him you can’t see that at all, but once you get to know him it makes a sort of sense. I would never have therapy, because who wants to unravel all that knitting? Not worth the risk, thank you. My daughter, Joanna, has a therapist, although you’d be hard-pressed to know why if you saw the size of her house. Either way, Ibrahim no longer plays bridge, which I think is a shame.
Ron had all but invited himself, which won’t surprise you. He wasn’t buying “Japanese Opera” one bit, and he walked into the Jigsaw Room one Thursday, wanting to know what was afoot. Elizabeth admires suspicion above all else and invited Ron to flick through the file of a scoutmaster found burned to death in 1982 in woodland just off the A27. She soon spotted his key strength — namely, he never believes a single word anyone ever tells him. Elizabeth now says that reading police files under the certain knowledge that the police are lying to you is surprisingly effective.
It is called the Jigsaw Room, by the way, because this is where the bigger jigsaws are completed, on a gently sloping wooden table in the center of the room. When I first walked in, there was a two-thousand-piecer of Whitstable harbor, missing a letterbox of sky. I once went to Whitstable, just for the day, but I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Once you’ve done the oysters, there’s no real shopping to speak of.
Anyway, Ibrahim had put a thin Perspex screen over the jigsaw, and this is where he, Elizabeth, and Ron were laying out the autopsy photos of the poor girl, the one who Elizabeth thought had been killed by her boyfriend. This particular boyfriend was bitter at having been invalided out from the army, but there’s always something, isn’t there? We all have a sob story, but we don’t all go around killing people.
Elizabeth told me to shut the door behind me and come and take a look at some pictures.
Ibrahim introduced himself, shook my hand, and told me there were biscuits. He explained that there were two layers, but they tried to finish the top layer before they started the bottom layer. I told him he was preaching to the converted there.
Ron took my wine and put it by the biscuits. He nodded at the label and commented that it was a white. He then gave me a kiss on the cheek, which gave me pause for thought.
I know you might think that a kiss on the cheek is normal, but for men in their seventies it isn’t. The only men who kiss you on the cheek are sons-in-law, or people like that. So I had Ron down straightaway as a quick worker.
I first found out that the famous trade union leader Ron Ritchie lived in the village when he and Penny’s husband, John, nursed an injured fox back to health and called it Scargill, named for the 1980s miners’ union leader. The story had been featured in the village newsletter when I first arrived. Given that John had been a vet and Ron was, well, Ron, I suspected that John had done the nursing while Ron had simply been on naming duties.
The newsletter, by the way, is called Cut to the Chase, which is a pun.
We all crowded around the autopsy photos. The poor girl, and that wound that should never have killed her, even back in those days. The boyfriend had bolted from Penny’s squad car on the way to a police interview and hadn’t been seen since. He had given Penny a belt for her troubles too. No surprises there. If you hit women, you hit women.
Even if he hadn’t run off, I suppose he would have got away with it. I know you still read about these things all the time, but it was even worse back then.
The Thursday Murder Club weren’t about to magically bring him to justice; I think everyone knew that. Penny and Elizabeth had solved all sorts of cases to their own satisfaction, but that was as far as they could go.
So Penny and Elizabeth never really got their wish. All those murderers remained unpunished, all still out there, listening to the BBC Shipping Forecast somewhere. They had got away with it, as some people do, I’m afraid. The older you get, the more you have to come to terms with that.
Anyway, that’s just me being philosophical, which will get us nowhere.
That Thursday was the first time it was the four of us. Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron, and me. And, as I say, it seemed very natural, as if I was completing their jigsaw again.
I will leave the diary there for now. There is a big meeting in the village tomorrow. I help to put all the chairs out for these sort of things. I volunteer because it makes me look helpful, and it gives me first dibs on the refreshments.
The big meeting is a consultation about a new development at Coopers Chase. Ian Ventham, the big boss, is coming to talk to us about it. I try to be honest where I can, so I hope you don’t mind me saying I don’t like him. He’s all the things that can go wrong with men if you leave them to their own devices.
There has been quite a hoo-ha about the new development, because they’re chopping down trees and uprooting a graveyard, and there’s a rumor of wind turbines. Ron is looking forward to causing a bit of trouble, and I am looking forward to watching him do that.
From now on I promise to try to write something every day. I will keep my fingers crossed that something happens.
From THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman, published by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 Richard Osman.