Can I resist a mystery series about a quartet of septuagenarians at a peaceful retirement village solving crimes? No, I cannot.
The Thursday Murder Club
Coopers Chase is a posh retirement community nestled amidst the rolling hills of Kent. It’s a bustling place with many activities for the residents to engage in, including the Thursday Murder Club, established by two ladies with a background in law enforcement (one as a detective and the other seemingly as some sort of top-secret government agent). When Penny (the detective) becomes seriously ill and is transferred to the on-site nursing home, Elizabeth (the government agent) approaches new resident and former nurse Joyce with a question about one of Penny’s cold cases and thus, Joyce becomes the newest member of the Thursday Murder Club. As the book progresses and the Thursday Murder Club offers their assistance in a murder investigation connected to Coopers Chase, Joyce’s diary entries are regularly interspersed throughout the narrative.
One reviewer described The Thursday Murder Club as “utterly charming and very, very clever,” and on the whole I must agree. The four members of the Thursday Murder Club—which also includes fastidious Ibrahim and impassioned Ron—are very endearingly drawn, each with their own set of strengths and foibles. I didn’t anticipate that the police characters would also be endearing, but they are! Donna is ambitious and funny and Chris, overweight and extremely self-critical, was a particular favorite. I loved a certain twist about their relationship that comes at the end of the book; with a 25-year age difference I was a little concerned how I’d feel if they got paired off romantically, but happily I needn’t have worried on that score.
The book also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the inescapable fact of mortality, as Elizabeth tries to cope with her husband’s gradual decline and grief-stricken widowers or soon-to-be widowers figure prominently. You also get passages like, “Many years ago, everybody here would wake early because there was much to do and only so many hours in the day. Now they wake early because there is much to do and only so many days left.” So yes, this book is amusing, but it is also sometimes bleak. At the same time, however, it’s not without hope. These characters are capable and useful and there are some things they can do and get away with precisely because of their age.
The actual mystery itself is rather unnecessarily convoluted, and there were a couple of minor characters whose actions in the past didn’t exactly correlate with their actions in the present. One was simply, “If Joyce’s daughter thought her mother moving into Coopers Chase was a bad idea, then why did she purchase her flat for her?” but the other tied into the murder itself. Also, I didn’t really get why the Thursday Murder Club was going to notify the police about one person but were content to not notify the police about another person. However, I didn’t guess the final solution and was successfully lulled into forgetting about something introduced early on, so kudos there.
In the end, I enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club very much and look forward to not only the sequel but the movie in the works.
The Man Who Died Twice
When Elizabeth’s ex-husband Douglas arrives at Coopers Chase seeking protection from the money launderer from whom he has stolen diamonds worth 20 million pounds, the Thursday Murder Club is thrust into a case that’s equal parts murder (Douglas promptly turns up dead), mafia, inexpertly knitted friendship bracelets, and scavenger hunt.
Until nearly the end, I felt that The Man Who Died Twice was actually a stronger book than its predecessor. Early on, Ibrahim is mugged by some teenagers in Fairhaven, and I appreciated both his subsequent psychological state and that his friends were determined to exact revenge on his behalf. There were some pairings or groups of characters we hadn’t seen before—I quite liked Donna going to talk to Ibrahim about her loneliness—and though the mystery was largely solved by Elizabeth, Joyce had a not insignificant part to play. We learn more about Elizabeth’s background in MI-5, and I was glad this was addressed now rather than continuing to drop hints about it indefinitely. And of course there was the blend of amusing writing and poignant reminders about death and dementia.
But things unraveled just a bit towards the end. The Thursday Murder Club executes their plan to deal with the money launderer, the mafia, the teenager, and the local drug queenpin that Chris and Donna have been trying to nab, and I was surprised by who the killer ultimately turned out to be. But there were also some things that bothered me. One moment, Ibrahim is insistant that he will never leave Coopers Chase again. The next, he’s driving Joyce to go adopt a rescue dog. What did she say to him to change his mind? It had seemed like this was a world without a pandemic, a choice I’d wholly support, but then COVID is mentioned in a joking aside. If you introduce COVID and your protagonists are septuagenarian residents of a retirement community, then that opens up a lot of questions that were totally ignored. Lastly, while the diamonds’ ultimate fate was satisfying, I did wonder why they were not seized as evidence.
On the whole, though, I enjoyed this sequel as much as the first book and eagerly anticipate book three, which looks like it might be out in the fall.