Book Review: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
By Janet WebbOctober 19, 2022
The four retirees who comprise the Thursday Murder Club are wily, thoughtful of each other, and run rings around non-retirees. They live in an upscale retiree village in the bucolic English countryside (money does grease the wheels of aging).
Those lively characters, all Coopers Chase residents, are the key to the series’ success. Joyce Meadowcroft is a retired nurse who lives with Alan, an “indeterminate terrier” she got from a rescue group. Ron Ritchie had a long and public career as a trade union leader; now his main passion is football. (He has a West Ham team tattoo on his neck.) Ibrahim Arif is a mostly retired psychiatrist, thoughtful and deliberate and, if he does say so himself, a “handsome” man.
As for Elizabeth Best, as Joyce (whose diary entries form some chapters) said in the first book, “I’m not supposed to say what Elizabeth used to do for a living, even though she does go on about it herself at times. Suffice it to say, though, that murders and investigations and what have you wouldn’t be unfamiliar work for her.”
Fold in humor, pathos, the reality of aging, family relationships, and the eternal need for love and acceptance, it’s no wonder readers can’t get enough. Elizabeth is the undisputed star of the group. Her brains, her former *hush hush* spy career, plus her ability to see four moves ahead on the chess board of life result in a woman who sparkles with ferocious capability. Stephen King, referencing Netflix’s Lou, said “And how cool to see a tough older woman kick some serious ass.” Of course, Elizabeth kicks ass cerebrally and her victims don’t know what hit them.
The club has found a great new cold case. Reporter Bethany Waites’s car drove “off Shakespeare Cliff in the dead of the night,” ages ago and she disappeared, never a body found. She was meeting someone, to fill them in on “the big story she was investigating, a massive VAT [Value Added Tax] fraud.” Local television star Mike Waghorn comes to Cooper Chase to interview Ron but unbeknownst to him, he’s been maneuvered into spilling the beans on Bethany. They butter up Mike, once Bethany’s colleague, before they shake him down. One almost feels sorry for him—Mike thinks he’s “just enjoying free wine with four harmless pensioners” but he’s about to be debriefed by pros.
“Do I fancy a pint? Have I watched Line of Duty? There’s one about the story she was working on here, but from a couple of weeks before. Interested?”
“One never knows what might help,” says Elizabeth, pouring Mike another glass of red.
Mike reads from his phone.
“Skipper . . . that’s what she used to call me.”
“Among other things,” says Pauline.
“Some new info. Can’t say what, but it’s absolute dynamite. Getting closer to the heart of this thing.”
Elizabeth nods. “And did she ever tell you what the new information was?”
“She did not,” says Mike. “I’ll tell you what, this red is half decent.”
Later that night, diarist Joyce Meadowcroft ponders everything they’ve learned thus far about Bethany.
Night-time is for questions without answers, and I have no time for questions without answers. Leave that to Ibrahim. I like questions you can answer.
Who killed Bethany Waites? Now that’s a proper question.
Although it’s not necessary to have read the earlier books in the series, Richard Osman folds characters from earlier books into the mix. Like imprisoned gang boss, Connie Johnson.
It can be hard to run a multimillion pound drugs gang from a prison cell. But it is not, as Connie Johnson is discovering, impossible.
Most of the prison staff are on side, and why wouldn’t they be? She throws enough money around.
The Thursday Murder Club put Connie in jail, which she knows. “The diamonds, the murders, the bag of cocaine. She had been very skillfully set up, and her trial date has been set for two months’ time.” In a relatively short time, the club has amassed some worthy enemies.
Elizabeth doesn’t care for quiet—she craves excitement. “The simple life is all well and good, but, in this moment, with a murder to investigate, and threatening texts arriving daily, Elizabeth realizes that she has missed trouble.” Careful there. Her husband Stephen is quietly, inexorably, slipping away as his memory fades. Elizabeth cherishes their quiet walks. “She can pretend for a little while longer that all is well.” Until she spots someone out of the corner of her eye. Someone who found her because of her predictable walking regimen.
Routine gives your enemy an opportunity.
An opportunity to plan ahead, an opportunity to hide, an opportunity to pounce.
Her split-second is up. Her last thought is “Please, please don’t hit Stephen.” She doesn’t even feel the blow she knows is coming.
Elizabeth and Stephen are thrown into the back of a van and taken to an unknown destination. It’s almost a cliché. Eventually she and Stephen meet their abductor, a tall man they dub the Viking.
“You have been very busy for an old woman.”
What is the accent? Swedish?
Elizabeth notices that Stephen is scanning the shelves of the library, eyes opening in wonder from time to time.
“Now, Elizabeth,” says the Viking. “To business. I believe you stole some diamonds?”
“I see,” says Elizabeth. At least she knows where she is now. No ancient history, simply their last little adventure. It felt like she had wrapped the whole thing up with a pretty little bow, but no good deed goes unpunished.
The Viking informs her that, contrary to her belief, she stole the diamonds from Martin Lomax, which belonged to Viktor Illyich. Elizabeth knows Viktor, “The most dangerous man in the Soviet Union.” Their captor tells Elizabeth he wants her to kill Viktor. She declines the honor, saying “If I refuse, the worst you can do is kill me, which is a nuisance for you, and, honestly, I’ve had a fairly good run.” But the Viking has an ace: “So here’s my deal. Just as insurance, if Viktor Illyich isn’t dead within two weeks, I will kill your friend Joyce.” What is it they say? “Kill or be killed.” The Thursday Murder Club has a new hot case to solve. At this point, no one would bet against the Fab Four because with their track record, it’s a matter of time before they wrap things up. As Brittany muses while driving to her assignation the night she disappears, “Life is about understanding opportunities.” Another winner from Richard Osman!