The Last Devil to Die. (Image: DC)
In 2020, the respected and popular English television personality, Richard Osman, published his first novel, The Thursday Murder Club. It became the bestselling book of the year and the only book to have sold a million copies in the year of its publication. Osman turned The Thursday Murder Club into a series. Or, rather, into a global franchise.
The second novel, The Man Who Died Twice, was one of the fastest selling novels ever. The third, The Bullet That Missed, became the fastest-selling adult fiction hardback from a British author since records began, the New Statesman reported. Over five million copies of Osman’s books have been sold since the first novel appeared, meriting the publishers’ tagline of ‘The Multi-Million-Copy Bestseller’ emblazoned on the top of the cover. And now, the latest, The Last Devil to Die, has been published. Film rights have been bought by Steven Spielberg. There is no telling what kind of monster hit the new novel will be.
The series is set in the affluent Coopers Chase Retirement Village in the prosperous south east of England. It is a quintessentially English setting: a stone bridge over a river; pots of tea and lemon drizzle cake; "a tiny, wood-clad bus stop"; "dappled hedgerows"; "a place to make you feel part of something slower and something gentler". You must be over 65 to be able to move into the village.
At the heart of the action are four pensioners, all pushing, or above, 80 years old. Elizabeth, a former MI6 agent. Ron, a former fiery trades unionist leader. Ibrahim, a still intermittently practising psychiatrist. And Joyce, a retired nurse. The four friends set up something called The Thursday Murder Club and, as a pastime, try to solve cold cases from old police files.
One day, though (and all of this is in the first novel of the series), they come across a real murder and become involved in getting to the bottom of it. From then on, in book after book, the gutsy pensioners solve crimes that often elude the local police — be it a Value Added Tax (VAT) scam or stolen diamonds.
The Last Devil to Die involves a stolen box of heroin (spoiler alert: the box is more valuable than the heroin), the killing — in the prologue — of an antiques dealer, and then a steadily increasing body count as murder follows murder. Osman’s pacing as well as building of suspense and tension is pitch perfect. As is his razor sharp dialogue. He is also warm, humane and laugh-out-loud funny, the last being a rare attribute in contemporary crime fiction.
Osman can be tender and poignant as well. Given the age of the central characters, the shadow of death and illness hangs over all of them. They are all acutely aware of this fact. Everything they do, therefore, comes with the heightened sharpness of the knowledge that it may be the last thing they do.
The first novel introduces us to the dementia Elizabeth’s husband, Stephen, is suffering from. And The Last Devil to Die offers us a heartrending portrait of a renowned scholar, whose business was to deal in words, on the brink of slipping away into nothingness. And then actually slipping away. (No more spoilers.)
Osman has said that his next two crime novels will focus on a new set of characters: a father-in-law and daughter-in-law duo. But The Thursday Book Club series will be back. As it ought to be. I can’t wait for the fifth instalment.
If you have not yet read Osman, consider yourself lucky. Because you have four novels, each of them a treat, waiting for you. Get to them.
Soumya Bhattacharya is the author of six acclaimed books of fiction, non-fiction and memoir, the latest being the novel, Thirteen Kinds of Love
The Last Devil to Die
By Richard Osman
pp. 422, Rs 799