COSY CRIME: New Books by Richard Osman, Lori Rader-Day and Mike Ripley
After a recent overload of action thrillers, I have turned to more cosier reading for the start of October.
Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club was one of those books which greatly divided the crime fiction fraternity. Lots of people really enjoyed it, while others disliked it with a passion.
I have to admit that I was in the camp that liked it. I found it engaging, witty, good fun and one of the few books that made me laugh out loud in 2020. It wasn’t a deep book, but it had a decent mystery plot, some astute observations and was certainly entertaining.
Not surprisingly, Richard Osman does not tamper much with the successful formula of The Thursday Murder Club with his second book The Man Who Died Twice (Viking, September 2021).
Set immediately after the first book, The Man Who Died Twice finds the septuagenarian members of the Thursday Murder Club on the track of a murderer and a cache of diamonds, when one of Elizabeth’s old nefarious colleagues, who she thought was dead, turns up looking for help. The former colleague was also once her husband, and Elizabeth’s interest is piqued when he talks of running foul of a dangerous English mobster after stealing a bag of valuable diamonds and securing them in a secret hiding place. Now someone is after the diamonds and the Murder Club find themselves back in business.
The Man Who Died Twice captures the fun and mystery of the first book and is a very entertaining tale. The plotting is clever and Osman gradually reveals more details about his aged sleuths, especially the fascinating Elizabeth. The pacing is good and there is plenty of retirement village wit and wisdom:
“‘Zimmer frames make you look fat,’ says Ron. ‘It’s the thin legs.'”
The whole thing is wrapped up nicely and I am sure that another adventure will be heading our way soon.
Four stars out of five!
The Man Who Died Twice was released in mid September 2021
Striking a more serious pose is Lori Rader-Day’s Death At Greenway, (Morrow, 1 October 2021)
April 1941 and the Blitz is raining down death on London. Trainee nurse Bridey Kelly makes a terrible mistake at
St Prisca’s Hospital and is dispatched in disgrace to the English countryside with a group of children who are being evacuated to safety away from the horrors of the bombing. Their destination is Greenway House, the beloved holiday home of Agatha Christie on the English coast. It is supposed to be safe, but Greenway House is too close to the English Channel for comfort and when a body washes ashore near the estate, it seems that the Germans are not the only ones threatening the household. A murderer is on the loose and Bridey finds herself caught in a web of secrets and lies, including her own, as she tries to keep her young charges safe.
This is a richly written and very engaging novel. The opening sections are a little slow, but once underway Lori adroitly builds up the suspense and mystery, as the book weaves its way to a clever and surprising conclusion. The characters are convincing creations, especially the flawed and fragile Bridey, and the description of the small community during the war is evocative and moving. Lori does a superb job of subtly entwining nuggets of historical detail into her story, and she seems to have nicely captured the emotions and concerns of the time:
“Frank had been thinking a great deal about which men had gone to war and which had not and what they were saying in town about God’s own punishment for the ones left to face their neighbors, whose sons hadn’t gone, who might have gone themselves if the conscription ages had been lowered even a few years. Heart trouble and the like for men who had been as fit as bulls, or had seemed it.”
At centre of the story is Greenway House itself, with its scattered curios, dark rooms, a generous library stacked with books about murder and its collection of suspicious guests and staff. It is very evocative and Agatha Christie herself also makes some brief appearances.
The only false notes are the references to the Mass Observation project, which seems unlikely in the circumstances, but it does provide an important impetus for the story. This is a small complaint and overall I really enjoyed Death At Greenway.
Four stars out of five.
Death At Greenway was released in Australia on 29 September 2021 and will be released in the United Kingdom on
12 October 2021.
Mr Campion’s Wings by the always entertaining Mike Ripley contains elements of the Osman and Rader-Day books, with its dollops of humour and sharply realised historical portraits of England.
Mr Campion’s Wings is the ninth book in Mike Ripley’s seamless and enjoyable continuance of the Albert Campion novels by Margery Allingham, and once more features Mike’s marvellous sense of humour and his love for history.
In recent books Ripley had taken Campion into the 1970s, but with Mr Campion’s Wings he goes back to 1965 and involves Allingham’s detective in a bit of Cold War spying. The story opens in Cambridge with a honorary doctorate ceremony for Albert Campion’s wife, Lady Amanda, who is a leading aviation engineer. The ceremony takes a dramatic turn for the worse, however, when she is arrested by Special Branch for breaking the Official Secrets Act. Never before having taken much interest in his wife’s work in cutting-edge aircraft design, Campion sets out to discover more about the top-secret Goshawk Project in which Amanda is involved in. He quickly realises he is not the only one keen to learn about the secrets of the project, and when a badly mutilated body is discovered at the Goshawk Project’s hangar he is drawn into a turbulent mix of industrial espionage and possible matters of national security.
Mike Ripley’s Campion books are always a good source of light fun and mystery, and Mr Campion’s Wings is another enjoyable romp. The story moves along at a pleasant cantor and there are some good surprises and the occasional gunshot. Campion is always an engaging character and there are plenty of amusing observations and witty asides. Interesting bits of historical detail are nicely scattered throughout the book and the depiction of Cambridge, and England, in the 1960s seems credible to an outsider like me.
Fans of the original Campion books will probably appreciate the references to earlier escapades and characters, and Ripley also skillfully weaves into his book subtle references to 1960s British spy and adventures novels.
In all, an entertaining hark back to the Golden Years of British detective writing.
Four stars out of five!
Mr Campion’s Wings will be released by Severn House in the United Kingdom on 28 October 2021