I am learning that it is important to stop sometimes and just have a drink and a gossip with friends, even as corpses start to pile up around you. Which they have been doing a lot lately.
This book is all about the characters. The plot is outlandish. Good fun, but completely outlandish. But Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim are why you keep reading, to see what our four septuagenarian heroes are going to do next. You just know that whatever it is, it won’t be boring! There is also a good support cast building up around them - Stephen (Elizabeth’s husband), Bogdan (builder and criminal associate), and Chris and Donna (police). We get to know all of them better in this book as Osman builds on what he created in The Thursday Murder Club.
But although the book is perfect light-hearted entertainment, the characters don’t ignore the realities of life – they all know they are growing old, that people around them are dying (some even from natural causes), or worse (Stephen has dementia and is slowly slipping away from Elizabeth), they have adult children who have problems of their own and who don’t visit as often as our characters would like, and they know there are dangers in the world. They just choose to not dwell on such things and get on with more important things, such as solving mysteries.
The point about there being dangers in the world outside their idyllic retirement village comes home to them especially hard when, early in the book, Ibrahim is mugged by some local thugs and viciously kicked in the ribs and head. Ibrahim has always been the most hesitant of the group to take action. He has spent his life being cautious, never taking any risk. By the start of this book, however, he has started to live more in the moment and wants to become more like his three exuberant friends. So he expands his world a little. He spends a day in the nearby town of Fairhaven and is feeling good about his little adventure, drinking coffee in a Starbucks, discovering self-service checkouts and contactless payments, paying for parking with a mobile phone app and browsing in an independent bookshop. And at this moment when he is feeling so alive again, he is mugged for his phone and kicked in the head when he is already lying on the ground helpless. When I read this chapter, Osman really made me care for the lonely and frightened Ibrahim, having first made me feel his pleasure at his first venture outside the retirement village in a long time. And then we have the scene of Ibrahim recovering in hospital, knowing that he will never want to leave the safety of his home again. I almost cried, it was so devastating to feel Ibrahim’s pain.
But even with this setback, Ibrahim is still able to help the other’s solve the crimes, even if he is somewhat limited in the physical action he can take. And of course, the other three plot to get revenge on the lowlife who attacked Ibrahim, as well as solving the main mystery of £20 million worth of missing diamonds and two dead spies. The scheme they come up with is pure genius: simple, effective and hilarious. It’s the type of thing all of us would love to be able to do to anyone who hurt a loved one.
The other three dive headlong into the new adventure with gusto. Elizabeth, the former MI5 spy enjoys getting back into her old life a little, casually showing off by casually mentioning her old exploits. Joyce just seems to take pleasure from every little thing that happens to them. She seems a little dim on the surface, gossiping away and seeming to not be paying too much attention to what is going on around her. But then she comes out with a devastating observation, delivered in her innocent, seeming doddery, old lady manner. Ron is the same firebrand he was in the first book, quick to anger, but loyal and willing to bend the law a little to do what needs doing. As a combined force, no one can withstand their onslaught. You even feel a little sorry for some of the bad guys, such as Martin Lomax, crime world middleman and man who has had £20 million worth of diamonds stolen from his house, as they get battered from all sides by Elizabeth, Joyce and Ron.
I loved this book. I can only identify one moment I found jarring. At one point a Covid joke is made, which is not a problem, except that there are no other references anywhere in the book to Covid: nothing about wearing masks, or restrictions on travel or on visiting people, or about any of the other things that have become part of our lives. The joke was a good one, and I can forgive Osman for including the funny line even if it struck a wrong note for me as the sole reference to something that should have been a major factor in the plot if it existed in the world of the novel. Without the joke, I could just accept that although the setting was contemporary, there was no Covid in the world of this book. But apart from this tiny point, the book is an escapist delight. If your life is getting too fraught and stressful, this is the perfect book to immerse yourself in and unwind a little. It could be read as a standalone, but it would be better to read The Thursday Murder Club first, and get properly introduced to the characters before plunging into another mystery with them. This book is highly recommended for anyone after an entertaining and light-hearted mystery.