Osman’s first novel was a publishing phenomenon: it sold for millions and Steven Spielberg snatched the rights to the film. It was also the first installment in a series. Last year, Osman, a British television presenter, made a sequel. The Man Who Died Twice started where its predecessor left off and proved to be another skillfully constructed and brilliantly entertaining story full of action, humor and adventure.
now comes”The bullet she missedOsman’s third novel several years ago. He initially wrote: “It has been quiet for a few weeks, but Ron is pleased to have the gang back in action.” So does the reader.
On this outing, the “Four Harmless Pensioners” turned their attention to the case of Bethany White, a television reporter who one night 10 years ago, while investigating a massive tax fraud, was in a car that drove over a ramp. Her blood and clothes were found in the wreckage. She was missing, presumably dead. Such unsolved crimes bring unanswered questions. Who visited Bethany that fateful night? What new evidence have you discovered? Who was the passenger in her car? And most importantly, what happened to her body?
Determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle, the members of the Friday Murder Club begin to court key players in the case. Abraham visits drug dealer Connie Johnson in prison to request a favor – a difficult affair since he and his friends were responsible for putting her there. Ron contacts Mr. Jack Mason, a longtime master criminal who has become a lonely spirit in his old age after learning the hard way that “your minions are not true friends”. Elizabeth and Joyce tracked down Fiona Clemens, who filled Bethany’s shoes after her death. “Very ambitious,” Joyce notes, “but they only use the word ‘ambitious’ as a criticism of women, right?”
Othman weaves another thread in and around his main novel. Former spy Elizabeth receives anonymous texts. She is then kidnapped by the “Vikings” and tasked with killing Viktor Ilyich, the man who was once called “The Bullet” by fellow KGB agents. If Elizabeth does not carry out her mission within two weeks, Joyce will die. Meanwhile, the first suspect in the Bethany White case faces a fatal confrontation with a pair of knitting needles. Suddenly the stakes rose and the rules changed. Can the club solve two murders, and will Elizabeth commit one?
Osman creates a complex and satisfying criminal full of neat turns and wrong turns. But unlike most crime novelists, he ensures that the strength and momentum of his book does not stem from the plot or thrill of his writing, but rather from his elaborately formed characters. Once again, the group of foursomes make for cheerful companionship. No-nonsense, Elizabeth leads the way armed with crafts drawn from her former secret life and her trusty handbag: “A pistol, a pen, some lipstick and a crossword puzzle. Just like the old days.” Her ward, retired nurse Joyce, is filled with positive energy. Psychiatrist Abraham has a strong mind, a good ear, and a sharp suit. And former union official Ron continues to fight hard for justice – or at least as long as his bad knee allows it.
If there’s an error to be found, it’s a recurring mistake throughout the series – meaning that Osman’s two men have less than two women do, and as a result they feel like extras around the main double verb. But what a double act. The women’s exchange is filled with witty actors and reveals that Elizabeth is the Queen of Dry Reply: Joyce asks her if she’s ever been on TV; “I was in a hostage video,” Elizabeth replied. Joyce’s gossip and lively diary excerpts elicit even more smiles. However, every now and then Osman compensates frivolity with pity, not least when Elizabeth watches her husband Stephen slip further into the dark depths of senility.
Othman’s novels have been classified as a “comfortable crime”. They handle the most ferocious murder but are neither gruesome nor brave. They are not hard boiled but soft centered. On this occasion, love is in the air for several personalities. Some gang members reflect on the indignities of old age, others reflect on the value of friendship. What could have been a duo and not involved is actually warm and captivating. One of the policemen ponders: “They carried some kind of magic, the four of them.” This magic still exists in abundance.
Malcolm Forbes is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Economist, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New Republic.
Thursday’s Murder Club mystery
Pamela Dorman Books. 352 p. $ 27
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