I have never visited a nursing home, but have always pictured them as these dreary, lifeless prisons, where the inhabitants are living out the last leg of their lives, quietly waiting to be claimed by dementia, arthritis or simply death.

To me, the concept of such a place has always served as a reminder of how old age and frailty act as cruel equalisers, blind to all identity and status markers. A place where the dizzying madness of life comes to a standstill. That’s why, in Richard Osman’s series set in an elderly care facility, I’m glad to have found books that challenged my worldview.

The members of the Thursday Murder Club refuse to give in to our ageist mentality. The four protagonists of Osman’s debut novel of the same name are Elizabeth Best, Ron Ritchie, Ibrahim Arif and Joyce Meadowcroft — an odd bunch with eccentric pasts, living out their 70s in Coopers Chase, a luxurious retirement community, designed for the elderly folks of their town.

Every Thursday, the four meet up over copious amounts of tea, wine and snacks to discuss murder cases gone cold. It’s much like a book club, except with case files substituting for books. Things take a turn for the very real when, one day, they are confronted with a murder on their doorstep.

Excited at the prospect of having an active murder case to solve, the four team up to pool all their resources, wits and charms to solve the mystery. In the process, they stumble upon startling truths about their seemingly innocuous retirement village.

The second novel in a detective series set in an old-age care facility is a wonderful blend of drama, humour, thrill and sentiment

The Man Who Died Twice is the second novel in the series and places this squad of amateur detectives in unfamiliar and far more dangerous waters when Elizabeth receives a rather cryptic and strange letter from a former colleague, asking for her protection.

Diamonds worth 20 million pounds have been stolen from a well-known broker with international criminal dealings. Lives are at stake, and the squad soon finds itself dealing with no ordinary thug, but a very enraged mafia don and British intelligence agents, all of whom are willing to go to unspeakable lengths to locate the precious stones. Soon, the Thursday Murder Club is staring at multiple murders and a risk to their own lives.

While the plot may sound like something out of a James Bond film, what lends the book its charm is its colourful ensemble of characters. Ron is an ex-firebrand labour union activist who still has an affinity for troublemaking, fiery speeches and large crowds. Ibrahim is a psychiatrist who can turn a conversation about something as mundane as adopting a pet into a philosophical debate.

Joyce is a former nurse and likes to hand out friendship bracelets to practically every person she bumps into. Elizabeth is the club’s resident Sherlock Holmes and her former profession — even though kept under wraps for the first book — is not hard to guess from the graceful ease with which she navigates the world of cops, mobsters and murderers.

In a community of 70-year-olds killing time with Zumba dance classes and crossword puzzles, the quartet stands out like a bunch of comical misfits.

Not one of them a stickler for rules and law, these senior citizens believe that it is not always wise to let justice take its course. Each brings a unique skill to the table and has their own tricks up their sleeve. A gripping incident that illuminates this well is the scene

The Thursday Murder Club has concluded its latest meeting. This week they have been looking at the cold case of a Hastings newsagent who murdered an intruder with a crossbow. He’d been arrested, but then the media had got involved, and the consensus was that a man should be allowed to protect his own shop with a crossbow, for goodness’ sake. He walked free, head held high. — Excerpt from the book

where Ibrahim ventures out of town by himself and ends up getting mugged. The experience rattles him considerably and his furious friends leave no stone unturned in avenging him when the police fail to punish the thug.

Be it taking on a drug dealer, tricking MI5 agents or nicking CCTV footage, the group is always courting trouble and finding itself in one amusing fiasco after another. Their deviant approach to murder-solving also sees them befriending two local cops and a Polish gangster.

Osman’s writing kept me hooked till the end, eliciting a new emotion with every turn of the page. Clues and hints lurk right under the reader’s nose while the plot builds up at a sweet pace, with well-timed revelations. Every little gesture, conversation and seemingly inconsequential event, person and act make themselves instrumental to the story’s resolution.

The only first-person narration is offered by Joyce’s journal entries. The jolly-natured Joyce is more than just a foil to the steely Elizabeth. Her observations offer rare glimpses into the world of their old age home, where each person is dealing with unresolved grief or past trauma in one form or another, and where death is often greeted as a friend. “I imagine if you could hear all the morning tears in this place it would sound like birdsong,” she writes.

The Man Who Died Twice is a wonderful blend of drama, humour and thrill. By the time I finished, I had laughed, gasped and maybe even shed a tear or two. More than a whodunit, the book is an endearing portrait of old age and the importance of building lasting partnerships. A third instalment is slated for publication next year, and I am excited to see what else the Thursday Murder Club has in store.

The reviewer is a Lums graduate, currently working at a policy think tank. She tweets @maneehaa 

The Man Who Died Twice
By Richard Osman
Viking, UK
ISBN: 978-0241425435
420pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 6th, 2022

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