The Man Who Died Twice
Richard Osman

You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers. Other reviews in this series can be found here.

“I’ll read the first three books before I decide if I want to take the series onto Kindle,” I said, and then I finished book 2 and downloaded all four Thursday Murder Club books during the Amazon book sale, and long story short I am now planning to collect this series in digital format. I don’t quite have the shelf space for series of indefinite length, so the longer ones are getting digitized, except Shady Hollow, which is the precious. All of which is to say that I really don’t know why it took me so long to get from the first book to the second, to the point that I had to reread the first book because I had forgotten everything. This series will do that to you, even if it is stuck in an endless loop between past and present.

It’s a Thursday. (All the days so far have been Thursdays.) The Thursday Murder Club has just gleefully wrapped up its first real murder cases, and 75% of its members – Ibrahim Arif, Ron Ritchie, and Joyce Meadowcroft – are still riding that high. In the time since the last murders, the cautious Ibrahim has started pushing against the borders of his comfort zone, even venturing into the world beyond Coopers Chase in the car he borrows from Ron. Ron is, of course, still Ron; and Joyce has recently gotten into making ugly friendship bracelets, which she distributes to everyone she meets while charging them retroactively (with all the proceeds going to the charity of her benefactees’ choice). She has also started an Instagram account under the username @GreatJoy69, and she’s even begun to toy with the idea of adopting a dog. Outside of the main quartet, DCI Chris Hudson and PC Madonna “Donna” De Freitas have progressed from near strangers to BFFs, though Donna has recently begun to regret her rash decision to set up the lonely Chris with her mother, Patrice. Despite Donna’s raft of second thoughts, Chris has been very happy of late; he has been taking care of himself and getting back into shape after several years of weight-related struggles, and he’s beginning to think he might actually be in love with Patrice.

The remaining 25% of the Thursday Murder Club is Elizabeth Best, who already has other problems: her husband Stephen is suffering from worsening dementia, and she’s just received a cryptic letter from cocky MI5 playboy Douglas Middlemiss, who also happens to be her second ex-husband. Having swiped £20 million worth of diamonds from Martin Lomax, a freelance financier for criminal organizations around the world, Douglas is now on the run and under the protection of his MI5 handler, a bafflingly incompetent young woman named Poppy. The pair of them are supervised by operatives Sue Reardon and Lance James, each with their own reasons for wanting to find the diamonds, aside from the line of duty. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Douglas’s theft did not go unnoticed, which is how he ends up in a temporary safe house in Coopers Chase, begging Elizabeth for her protection because, you know, she’s Elizabeth. Before she can squeeze a straight answer out of him, however, his location is compromised, and he and Poppy are forced to relocate to another safe house, where they are both shot dead by an unknown assailant. Blame naturally falls on Lomax, but that road leads nowhere.

Despite appearances, Elizabeth smells a rat and suspects that Douglas has faked his death and murdered Poppy in order to flee with the diamonds. This theory is debunked when Elizabeth and Joyce track down the diamonds, proving definitively that Douglas never retrieved them, and is therefore dead. If that seems like a weak argument, he absolutely would have absconded with the diamonds if he’d still been alive to do it. With that avenue eliminated, Elizabeth reasons that Poppy must have killed Douglas – in spite of Poppy’s utter inability to do anything requiring any sort of malice – and run off with the diamonds herself. Meanwhile, Chris and Donna have their hands full trying to pin local drug magnate Connie Johnson with any sort of crime, but they are constantly foiled by a lack of hard evidence and menaced by Connie’s network of professional stalkers. The case takes a bit of a detour when Ibrahim is robbed and beaten by Ryan Baird, a teenager with a god complex and a long record, though the police have never been able to charge him either. With no legal channels available in the case against Ryan, Chris and Donna appeal to Elizabeth, who has no ethical qualms about sending Ron and the ever-handy Bogdan Jankowski to frame Ryan for a staggeringly expensive cocaine purchase.

All of these tangled threads finally come together when Elizabeth and Sue arrange a neat trap, wanting to lure Poppy into the open while also ensnaring Martin Lomax and Frank Andrade Jr., the very angry owner of the diamonds. Though Chris and Donna technically have no jurisdiction in an MI5 operation, all agree that they can still be onsite if they just happen to receive a tip that Connie Johnson will be at the sting with a case full of cocaine. (Luckily for them, Connie has a massive crush on Bogdan, who invites her to the sting, and thus is easily baited.) The sting mostly goes off without a hitch – Lomax and Andrade Jr. die, as Elizabeth intended, while Connie and Ryan Baird are arrested – but, in its aftermath, Elizabeth kicks the hornet’s nest when she confronts Sue, having come to realize that Poppy was never the mastermind in the diamond heist. Sue confirms that she and Douglas were lovers who had planned to run away with the diamonds, and that she murdered Douglas and Poppy upon realizing that Douglas was still in love with Elizabeth; however, as she had no idea where the diamonds were hidden, she used Elizabeth to find them. She does eventually learn that the diamonds are cunningly concealed in Joyce’s microwave because the teakettle proved too inconvenient, but she doesn’t even get close to them before Bogdan shoots her in the shoulder, allowing the authorities to apprehend her.

With all the diamond-related kerfuffle finally laid to rest, Connie is carted off to jail enraged, humiliated, deeply heartbroken, and swearing every kind of vengeance against Bogdan. (Bogdan couldn’t care less, and resumes his regular visits to Elizabeth’s apartment, where he plays chess with Stephen.) Two of the diamonds are quietly pocketed by Lance, who uses the money to buy his apartment from his ex and to treat his thinning hairline; Elizabeth cashes in the rest, and anonymously donates all £20 million to a charity called Living With Dementia. Elsewhere, Chris tearfully confesses his love to Patrice, and finds it completely reciprocated; Donna, meanwhile, crosses paths with Bogdan, sparking a mutual interest. Back at Coopers Chase, Joyce – who had felt a connection with Poppy – memorializes her with a sweet little poppy tattoo, then cheerfully overrides Ibrahim’s renewed fear of the outside world and drags him off to the animal shelter, where she happily adopts a dog named Alan.

If I’d had a thousand years and a thousand guesses, Donna x Bogdan would never have come up on my Thursday Murder Club bingo card. Needless to say, I love it. I love Donna and I love Bogdan, and I love the idea of them making absolute chaos together. Donna would be chaotic good and Bogdan would be chaotic neutral, but either way I have a feeling they’ll fit together like two peas in a pod. That was a treat I really did not anticipate, and I bless Osman’s good heart (assuming, of course, that the relationship pans out, which if it doesn’t then those blessings are going to turn into cursings real fast). I have a good feeling about them, though. While I do still dearly love the first book, I have really enjoyed the character progression in this book. I love that Chris is finally taking care of himself and coming out of his shell, and I love Donna’s cautious willingness to become vulnerable around people she trusts. Her unofficial therapy session with Ibrahim – who himself was hurting substantially – was so lovely. Likewise her evolution as she begins to break free of her current dating cycle, in which she keeps ending up in one-night stands with men who have nothing in common with her, just for a temporary break from her general loneliness. I think she and Bogdan will be good for each other, though I look forward to the conversation in which they discuss Bogdan’s actual career.

Speaking of Bogdan: he might be my favorite character. I love his stoic pragmatism, and I love how gentle he is with his elderly friends, particularly Stephen. He’s a killer through and through, but he’s such a teddy bear, even when he’s losing at chess and cursing Stephen to the winds. At the same time, he can be shockingly oblivious when faced with, say, a drug dealer who’s thirsting after his muscular Polish ass. All of his interactions with Connie are absolutely hysterical, and I would not have objected to just a little bit more of that. My other favorite is Joyce, a sweet old lady with nerves of ice. She is dotty and kinda pervy – she thirsts after almost every man she encounters in this book, and, upon learning the meaning of 69, refuses to change her IG handle – but she is also a steel-spined former nurse who can be so completely savage that it almost beggars belief. Out of a literal multitude of amazing Joyce moments, this one might be the best.

Sue Reardon groans again, a guttural cry. “Please, I need to go to the hospital.”

“I think Bogdan might have used up all the ambulances,” says Elizabeth.

“We’ll give it a couple of hours,” says Joyce. “I’ll make sure you don’t die. It’ll be much more fun to see you in prison. Would you like some painkillers?”

“Yes, please,” says Sue, the anguish etched onto her face.

“Shame,” says Joyce. “I don’t have any.”

Then there is, of course, the rest of the club, who are all so wonderful. Elizabeth is still a badass. I love Ron’s habit of calling everybody “old son”; I don’t know why, it just tickles me. While I was fine with Ron in the last book, my affection for him really took off here, partly because he’s more active but mostly because his adorable twelve-year-old grandson came to visit. I swear my heart grew two sizes when Kendrick started breaking through Ibrahim’s reinforced barriers after Ryan’s assault, first inveigling him into Minecraft and later watching security footage videos with him, and even discovering a clue that led to a major breakthrough. I hope we see more of Kendrick in later books. I can see how he bonded with Ibrahim, whom he addresses as “uncle.” They are both such sweethearts. With all due affection for my own grandfathers, both long gone, Ibrahim is the grandpa I would want to adopt. I’m glad Joyce pried him out of his apartment; I don’t want him to live in fear for the rest of his life, however short it may be. (Though of course, like any good adoptive granddaughter, I want him to live to at least 150.)

As for the MI5 agents, I have a complicated relationship with Sue. I wanted to love her because she was set up as a younger Elizabeth surrogate; I also never really trusted her, or Lance or Poppy, for that matter. I was especially suspicious of Poppy, who was so deliberately inept that she triggered every red flag from her very first scene. Of course, having now read the ending, I am sorry I suspected either her or Lance. I’m withholding judgment on Lance, but he seems all right. Based on the amount of time we’ve spent in his head, I suspect he will turn up in future books. If he does, I hope that hair surgery goes well for him. If there was one character I didn’t love, it was probably Douglas, who was fine but not particularly interesting. He was gone before I really knew him, and his character never settled for me, though he did have his moments.

I did end up knocking half a star off my final rating because Osman still doesn’t know the difference between past and present tense, and it’s driving me a little bit crazy. Let’s assume moving forward that the writing in these books – or at least the helter-skelter skewing between past and present – is going to disappoint me. With that out of the way, I am also uncomfy with the general slide in ethics, though with Elizabeth ethics tend to go out the window. As satisfying as Ryan’s first arrest was, it was slightly ruined by the willingness of the police to encourage operations that are most definitely not legal. Maybe this happens all the time. I don’t know. And maybe in the end it doesn’t really matter, because Ryan is still undeniably guilty; he just doesn’t happen to be guilty of the specific crime for which he was finally arrested. The result is the same, but I am still faintly dissatisfied. The one saving grace is that it doesn’t actually work, and Ryan still has to be dragged back after fleeing to Scotland, and his second arrest is much more solid. I am assuming, however, that Chris and Donna are going to grow more dependent on the indefatigable law-bending Thursday Murder Club, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Only time will tell.

All of this does make me wonder about the longevity of this series. With a series like this, as with the Shady Hollow series, I would love at least ten books. But I don’t know how well that’s going to dovetail with the protagonists, whose average age is about eighty. I am also mildly concerned about the sudden spike in the murder rate – for various reasons, it’s true, but still. Surely there can’t be that many murders per year in this previously peaceful corner of the country. All of the local murders can’t just conveniently center themselves around the one nursing community that happens to house a former MI5 operative and her crime-obsessed friends – right? I suppose I can grant a pass in this instance, since Elizabeth was the reason the victims came to Coopers Chase in the first place, but I’m curious how the next two books will go. Is this series meant to continue indefinitely? If so, how long can this gimmick continue to bear fruit, when the protagonists regularly acknowledge that any day could be their last?

Ultimately, of course, I still love the book and the series. I will be keeping an eye out for future reprisals from Connie, even if from prison; I hope Bogdan watches his back. He undoubtedly will. I am more concerned about Patrice, who actually was under some level of threat and may still be. This is only book two, so it’s impossible to say how much will get carried over to the next book. I don’t have the pattern yet, but I will. I doubt if there’s anything anybody could do to turn me off the series at this point. The first two installments have been so much fun, even if they can also be so heartwrenchingly sad, and I cannot imagine a more endearing cast of characters, old or young. I love them all, and I will most definitely be seeing them again in the next book.