Posts Tagged ‘Richard Osman’

Two book reviews in one post today – partly in a bid to catch up a little. The Man who Died Twice by Richard Osman published to some anticipation this year – and The Invisible Host by the married writing duo Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning – first published in 1930 – reissued recently by Dean Street Press. Two very different mystery styles – written more than ninety years apart – each of them very engaging in different ways.

Before I get to the books though, I wanted to explain why the blog feels a bit erratic and all over the place at the moment. I know I am posting on days I don’t usually post – (it used to be Mondays and Thursdays but…) and there have been a couple of posts featuring more than one review – not something I have done in the past. I know I have said it before but I am struggling to keep going at the moment – blogging takes some time and effort – and while I am not ready to give it up – I know I’m not able to pay it the attention I once did. So please bear with me – I am trying to get myself back on track. I have been ill quite a lot lately – the joys of immunosuppression – and have just started a new role at work. Anyway… on with the books.

The Man Who Died Twice – Richard Osman (2021)

I was ill the weekend I read this – and I hope it doesn’t take anything away from the book if I say it was the perfect ill book. Undemanding, a page turner with some chuckles thrown in – the four hundred pages or so zips along at such a pace, I found I flew through it. That’s not to say that this book is entirely cosy – there’s some pretty dark goings on here, liberally laced with Osman’s recognisable wit. There are bodies, several sticky endings dealt out to various ne’er-do-wells. Everyone who gets bumped off is pretty nasty – so that’s ok then – and Osman doesn’t get graphic so it all becomes a bit like Tom and Jerry. I think The Man Who Died Twice – is more cohesive than the first book – and less overly complicated in terms of plot.

“It is 3 p.m., and Elizabeth is carrying flowers for Marcus Carmichael. The dead man. That drowned body, suddenly alive as you like and living at 14 Ruskin Court. The man she saw lowered into a grave in a Hampshire churchyard, now unpacking boxes and struggling with his new Wi-Fi.”

Readers of Osman’s first book The Thursday Murder Club will already be familiar with the engaging cast of characters – four elderly friends at the Cooper’s Chase retirement village; Elizabeth, Joyce (whose diary entries form part of the narrative) Ibrahim and Ron – four more lovable characters it is hard to imagine. We also meet up again with police officers Chris and Donna – Chris is now all loved up, dating Donna’s mum, Donna is still single – and pretty grumpy about it. The marvellous Bogdan also returns – a fabulous creation, and a character I definitely want to know more about.

Former spy Elizabeth gets a mysterious letter from a man from her past – he’s in trouble and needs her help. This ends up involving the gang in the hunt for twenty millions pounds worth of stolen diamonds – some very grumpy Organised crime boss types – MI5 officers and murder – but they all take it in their stride – and there’s usually a flask. Plenty of twists and turns and questions over who’s being genuine etc keep the reader guessing – though a lot is tongue in cheek too which I really appreciated.

“Revenge is not a straight line, it’s a circle. It’s a grenade that goes off while you’re still in the room, and you can’t help but be caught in the blast.”

Meanwhile poor Ibrahim is violently mugged while out one day – and is horribly affected by the incident – vowing never to leave the retirement village from now on. Bogdan and Ron – two men who are very good at getting things done hatch a plan to get justice for Ibrahim.

There are already so many reviews for this one out there – I didn’t see the point in replicating them all – if you enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club, then chances are you will enjoy this too.

The Invisible Host – Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning (1930)

I don’t think I can say too much about the plot of The Invisible Host for fear of spoilers – but it is very readable indeed – a really quick read, and pleasantly baffling too.

One of the most interesting things about this novel though is the possibility that it may have inspired the queen of crime herself, Agatha Christie. First published in 1930 – the basic premise of The Invisible Host, bears a striking resemblance to And Then There were None – which was first published in 1939 under another title.

This novel is set in New Orleans – though we never really see outside the penthouse apartment where the action takes place. Eight people all receive invitations to a special dinner party at the said penthouse – each is told the party is to be held in their honour. Each of the eight guests easily believe they are deserving of such a party – none of them being especially modest. None of the guests are told who their host is – yet each have their suspicions who it could be. The guests are a mixed bag of society types, and include a famous doctor, a rather dodgy lawyer, an actress, and a respected society hostess. Once all eight people are assembled in the penthouse the doors are locked and electrified to prevent their escape. At which point, the radio springs to life with a rather sinister message from their invisible host.

“…I invite you to play a game with me, to pit your combined abilities against mine for suitable stakes. I warn you, however, it has long been my conviction that I should be able to outplay the most powerful intellects in our city, and to-night I shall work hard to prove myself – and you. For to-night, ladies and gentlemen, you are commanded to play an absorbing game a game with death.”

The mysterious host is confident they can out smart each of their guests – and as each one loses they will pay with their life. At first the eight guests can’t even be sure whether to take all this seriously – it’s too incredible – and yet soon enough the deadly seriousness of the situation is grimly revealed as the first party guest dies.

Throughout the evening the host communicates with their guests through the radio, the voice becoming ever more sinister to the assembled company. As the bodies are removed to the waiting coffins outside on the patio (from which escape is also impossible) the guests becoming increasingly suspicious and paranoid about who is behind the voice – and how this has all been achieved. The ending is very clever, and satisfying, and I didn’t guess the who – though I rarely do.

This is certainly a fun, page turner of a novel – though I do think that whatever the truth of where Agatha Christie got her ideas for that one particular novel – she is the better writer by some margin.

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Every now and then a hyped book comes along that is really worth the fuss that has surrounded it. The Thursday Murder Club is the much anticipated first novel by TV presenter/quiz show host/producer Richard Osman. Anyone who has seen Richard Osman on TV will know he is a very witty, intelligent man, but is he also a good writer? – well yes he is. This is the first book in a projected series of at least four I understand, and it is full of Osman’s sharp humour – witty asides and amusing observations; unexpectedly poignant and heart-warming.

“Karen has been on some bad dates on Tinder. But this was the first time that someone had accused her of murder.”

The film rights for this have already been sold to Steven Spielberg, no less – so I think we can already count this a major success.

“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.”

I knew immediately upon starting that this was a book I was going to enjoy – and the characters were instantly people I wanted to spend time with – that is always a good sign.

Coopers Chase is a very nice retirement village in the Kent countryside – residents enjoying the privacy of large self-contained flats – but able to access a raft of social activities as well in the communal areas. Built on the site of a former convent, by developer Ian Ventham, it has an extensive graveyard and farmland around it which Ian is desperate to develop too, seeing a potential goldmine in the extension of Coopers Chase. Of course, not everyone is happy about Ian’s plans, although Ian really doesn’t care if he ruffles a few feathers. He has been working with a local builder Tony Curran – Tony clearly has a bit of a colourful past – and quite the reputation if crossed. Only now Ian has decided to dump Tony in favour of Polish builder Bogdan, Tony will be furious.

On Thursdays, septuagenarians Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron meet in the jigsaw room as the Thursday Murder club – though they don’t let on to anyone else that that is the nature of their Thursday meetings. They meet to discuss cold cases from files that once belonged to another friend (a retired police officer) who is now sadly in the Willows – the nursing home attached to Coopers Chase. Each of these four members of the Thursday Murder club bring something different to the table from their past lives. Joyce was a nurse, Elizabeth was a spy, Ibrahim a psychiatrist and Ron was a rabble rousing union leader. Joyce is the newest recruit, and she is the narrator of some chapters – the rest is told in the third person. Joyce is a joy, frequently and unintentionally hilarious, she is a widow whose daughter is a hedge fund manager – though Joyce doesn’t really know what that is.

When a real murder occurs, the Thursday Murder club put away the old files and decide that they will solve the case. They have recently met young PC Donna De Freitas, who came to Coopers Chase to do the usual security talk, only the Thursday Murder club weren’t very interested in that – and decide to utilise their new friend in getting to grips with the case. Donna has recently transferred to the local police station from London, it was a bit of a hasty decision, and now she is regretting it. What she would really like is to be a real investigator – catching the really bad guys, not delivering security talks to pensioners or primary school children. Donna is excited therefore to find herself seconded to the murder investigation, working alongside DCI Chris Hudson’s team. Rather unexpectedly, Donna and Chris become rather good friends, Donna can’t help but notice that he is need of some advice about clothing, and she encourages him to get a bit healthier – for Chris would really like to find a nice woman to share his lonely middle age.

“Chris has been to retirement communities before and this is not at all what he had been expecting. This is a whole village. He wanders past a bowls match, wine chilling in coolers at each end. One of the players is an extremely elderly woman smoking a pipe. He follows a meandering path through a perfect English garden, flanked by three storeys of flats. There are people gossiping on patios and balconies, enjoying the sunshine. Friends sit on benches, bees buzz round bushes, light breezes play tunes with ice cubes. Chris finds the whole thing deeply infuriating. He’s a wind-and-rain guy, a turn up the collar-on-your-overcoat man. If Chris had his way he would hibernate for the summer. He has not worn shorts since 1987.”

As DCI Hudson and Donna De Freitas begin the investigation, the Thursday murder club get stuck in too – and DCI Hudson can do nothing to stop them he realises – and in the end gives in and answers their frequent summons to Coopers Chase to discuss their latest findings. A second death occurs, and a decades old secret unearthed as the case becomes more complex – a case satisfying enough for most crime fans I should imagine, though nothing gruesome or gratuitous I am happy to say.

Alongside the murder cases that are at the heart of this novel – Osman explores the love that exists between people who have lived together for a long time, and even more poignantly that which still exists when one partner is no longer there. It is a fabulous portrait of older people, one that recognises that people can still have a lot to offer in later life – drawing on a wealth of experience and maintaining an energy and enthusiasm for more than daytime TV and comfy slippers.

I am already looking forward to the next instalment of this series – not to mention wondering who will play the various characters if that film is ever made.

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