In a sleepy village just outside London, a group of octogenarians with a penchant for detective work find their latest victim much closer to home. When the owner of their retirement village is found dead at his lavish residence, the Thursday Murder Club are on the case, manipulating the police and gathering information by ever more immoral and altogether delightful means.
To the world, this is a wonderfully charming book about a group of old folks who investigate unsolved murders. To the childless community, this is a book about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is sassy, bold and fierce. A founding member of the Thursday Murder Club, she loves to keep her mind sharp by practising the skills and experience garnered through a career in…well, we aren’t sure, but something akin to ‘spy’ would be my guess. The club is the result of a number of similarly vivid characters coming together to look through old murder investigations as a way of passing the time; it keeps the residents’ minds quick and offers a social gathering of sorts for the retirement village’s biggest and best brains.
Whilst most of the characters have adult children, Elizabeth stood out from the very beginning for me for the absence of this element. It’s not 100% clear that she is definitely childless (although there is a quote, “She thinks this is absolutely the sort of son she would like to have had” that indicates she certainly doesn’t have a son). I have tried contacting Richard Osman to get some clarity on this before the rest of the books are released but sadly he’s just far too busy to respond to my wittering Twitter comments! And rightly so, he’s just released a record-breaking debut novel.
The book can be family-centric in its majority with many references to children and grandchildren but this is far from the main focus. A couple of the characters’s adult children are central to the plot and give a good multi-generational perspective to the whole thing. There is a thread of feminism throughout with the female characters facing adversity due to their gender (Penny in the police force) and, in my humble opinion, I felt the childless characters were made of stronger stuff than their parental counterparts. There is also the very poignant angle of a childless man who openly (albeit through his internal monologue) wonders about his own circumstantial but involuntary childlessness. In fact, there are two.
One of my favourite parts of the book is a chapter in which we see the perspective of the local pastor, looking over the headstones of the nuns who previously lived in the grounds that later became Coopers Chase retirement village. It’s a small paragraph, but one that reverberates as it reels through all the achievements of the (childless) women buried there and the events they lived through. A beautiful tribute to an oft-forgotten and depleting group of women.
There is a sub-plot in the book which involves the suicide of a pregnant woman. The perspective of the childless man is given again here, which I felt was managed in a very sensitive and respectful manner; not that I’d expect anything less of one of England’s great treasures.