Wasn’t digital Bloody Scotland marvellous? Obviously not as madcap as the real thing, but the online festival gave a really good impression of why it’s the festival crime writers attend to enjoy themselves. Crime at the Coo, Fun Loving Crime Writers, anyone? ** As for the Neverending Panel, I switched on for a quick peek at about 12:30 and stayed with it until it inevitably ended. I thought it an inspired idea, and one that probably wouldn’t work live. What they couldn’t give a flavour of was the annual England vs Scotland football match, or the quiz.
Ah, the quiz. I have fond memories of last year’s quiz at the Albert Halls where Richard Osman stole the show. He was the crime festival equivalent of a buzzer-hogging University Challenge brainbox, The other contestants might as well have been not there. What a seriously clever guy! That performance – not the hype – interested me in his debut novel.
Well I wasn’t expecting it to be so delightfully offbeat, charming, suffused throughout with dry wit. I’ll just cut to the chase and ask when will #2 be published?
The Thursday Murder Club (TMC) consists of 4 elderly residents of a retirement village in Kent, who gather together on Thursdays to go over cold cases. (Files obtained from a friend.) When Tony Curran, the business partner of the retirement village owner, is found dead with a crushed skull, they suddenly have an active case on their hands. Of course, the police are involved too, but Elizabeth, the undisputed TMC leader, is a resourceful woman with a shadowy background. She is not to be gainsaid. Neither is Joyce, often overlooked but her powers of persuasion – involving (gluten-free!) cake – are also formidable. The two ladies are joined by Ibrahim, a retired psychiatrist, with an eye for detail and a logical brain, and Ron, Red Ron as he was known in his union days, provides impatience and menace.
The police team consists of PC Donna de Freitas (whom Elizabeth has managed to wrangle on the team) and DCI Chris Hudson, keen to establish his authority and keep the TMC firmly in its place. However, in my favourite scene, DCI Hudson is clearly shown the pecking order, as he is firmly wedged between Ibrahim and Ron on the sofa, whilst trying to negotiate a cup of tea and two generous slices of Joyce’s delicious bakes When it comes to interrogation techniques, Elizabeth is the expert. DCI Hudson is going nowhere until TMC have extracted what they need from him.
And to be fair, the TMC are helpful. They are in situ, no more so than when Ian Ventham, the retirement village owner, is murdered in broad daylight during an otherwise sedate (yes, that is the operative word) protest over the destruction of the neighbouring graveyard. So close are they to the action, they are also suspects. More complications and a conflict of interest is added when Red Ron’s son, Jason, becomes a suspect. Not to mention the discovery of a third corpse!
Osman’s character-building is so enjoyable and the pace is perfect. As for Joyce’s chatty journal … her digressions are pure gold. Talking of the ongoing educational programme …
Karen Playfair, from up on the hill, is coming to give us a ‘Coopers Chase Breakfast Masterclass’ talk on computers. The last newsletter said she’s coming to give a talk about tablets and that caused some confusion, so they had to print an explanation this week.
In addition to attempting to stay one step ahead of Elizabeth (pointless*), the reader can also track intertextual crime references. I spotted a namecheck to Mark Billingham, whom Osman thanks for his encouragement in the acknowledgements, and a veiled reference to Abir Mukherjhee’s Raj novels. Interestingly I read both authors over the course of this summer (I have been in need of story), and will review just as soon as I can find my AWOL kindle with its highlighted text and notes. Where’s Elizabeth when you need her?
* Gratuitous UK cultural nod.
** Bloody Scotland 2020 now available online until October 30th. Do not miss Jeffrey Deaver’s event!!!