The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Penguin| 16 September 2021| 422 pages| Review copy| 1*

I don’t want to say much about this book. If you’re expecting crime fiction that exercises your ‘little grey cells’ this is not the book for you. Granted it is complicated and there’s lots going on, plenty of murders, drug dealers, spies and mobsters etc, etc. But essentially it is light easy reading,with the sort of humour that makes you groan in despair, and a great deal of waffle and tedious wittering on.about various mundane matters. As you can see I’m not the target market for this book and with nearly 8,000 ratings on Amazon, 96% of which are 5 and 4 stars, I am definitely in the minority. I was hoping I’d enjoy it more than his first book, The Thursday Murder Club, but sadly I think it’s worse.

Here’s the synopsis:

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them? 

My thoughts:

It follows on from Richard Osman’s first book about four residents of Coopers Chase retirement village, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim, four septuagenarians, who call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth is a former MI5 agent and this book reveals a lot about her life as a spy. Needless to say she is clever, with the answers to all the problems that are thrown at her when her ex-husband appears on the scene, having stolen 20 million pounds of jewellery from the Mafia.

As in The Thursday Murder Club, the text is written in the past tense interspersed with extracts from Joyce’s diary written in the present tense. Joyce is an irritating character, and her diary is where most of the waffling and wittering on is found. She also explains what has been happening as though having read it already the reader is too dim to understand it. Then we are treated to DCI Chris Hudson’s cringey romance with Patrice, PC Donna de Freitas.

Overall the characters are rather stereotypical, and the plot is over complicated and unconvincing. Richard Osman’s type of humour does not match mine, so I doubt very much that I’ll be reading any more of his books – I see he has another one in the pipeline!

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I hung back a while from buying The Thursday Murder Club because of all the hype it has received, but in the end I gave in to my curiosity and I listened to the audiobook (one of my Audible trial books) rather than reading an e-book or a paperback. Currently it is no.1 on the Amazon UK best sellers chart and it has been on the list for 26 weeks. When I started listening to it it had over 41,000 reviews and by the time I finished it there were 42,679 reviews – the vast majority being 5 and 4 stars reviews.Unfortunately, I don’t think it lived up to the hype and I can only give it 2 or maybe 2.5 stars.

Blurb:

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ finds themselves in the middle of their first live case.

The four friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, might be pushing 80, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

My thoughts:

It’s read by Lesley Manville, who is so good at bringing the characters to life.The estimated listening time is 12 hours and 25 minutes, but I listened to it over 7 days with increasing impatience. It begins well but the labyrinth-like plot is expanded with so much unnecessary padding and digressions into the characters’ backstories that the story soon dragged. More murders follow the first and I was curious to find out who did what to whom, so I persevered. You do have to suspend your disbelief at the way the police, PC Donna De Freitas and DCI Chris Hudson, carried out their investigation and shared information with the four friends.

I did have to rewind several times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything as it’s so easy to get carried away, listening to the chatty style of narrative. There are 115 short chapters, alternating between a third person narrative and the diary of Joyce in the first person. This makes the narrative rather disjointed as it follows several storylines, with each chapter ending at the point where you want to know more, but you have to wait whilst Joyce reads from her diary or until another storyline continues, before you can back to each one. The action is far too slow for me, and the ending, when you finally get there, is a bit of an anti-climax.

I liked the characters, some more than others and in the main they are convincing and believable. But despite all the detail of their life stories I still wondered what Elizabeth’s job really was, although there are hints that she was a spy. She had travelled all over the world and had lots of useful contacts for solving a murder mystery, far too coincidentally useful I thought. She is the leader of the group, an organiser and very bossy. Elizabeth’s husband Stephen is a minor character. He is an enigma; he has dementia but plays a good game of chess.Then there are Penny, who is a retired police officer, now in a coma, and her husband, John. Penny could have explained a lot, but that’s not revealed until just before the end of the book. Joyce is quiet and unassuming, but the waffle in her diary hints that there is more to her than the obvious insignificant old lady she appears to be. She likes Bernard, another minor character, who sits on a seat overlooking the Garden of Rest. Finally, there is the enigmatic Polish builder, Bogdan, who I grew to like as the story progressed.

This is a ‘cosy’ mystery, quietly humorous in parts – not laugh out loud funny, but it did make me smile in a few places. The murder mystery element is over complicated with far too many twists and turns, suspects and false trails. I was glad to finish it. Except when you get to the end of the audiobook it hasn’t finally finished as there is chapter 116, which is a conversation between Marian Keyes, who loved the book and found it much funnier than I did, and Richard about the novel and his experience of writing his debut book.

Well, with so many reviews full of praise and glowing endorsements from numerous other authors and professional reviewers it certainly doesn’t matter much what I think. But I am left wondering just what Ian Rankin meant when he wrote: “So smart and funny. Deplorably good” – surely that’s an oxymoron? And why he is described as “Ian Rankin, New York Times bestselling author of Westwind“? What about his Rebus books ….

Sadly, this didn’t turn out to be as good as I’d hoped, but maybe a film would be better – Steven Spielberg has bought the film rights to the novel – that should be good.