Review: Archie Henderson
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman (Viking)
Richard Osman’s first two novels, with a third on its way, are a bit like Famous Five Go On Pension. There are only four of them, however. They have grown up, grown old, ditched Enid Blyton and been taken on by an author who has given them Blytonesque adventures, touched with the wisdom of age and not a little violence.
Readers were introduced to the four in Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club. They were a disparate lot that Blyton could never have dreamed up: a retired nursing sister for whom the glass is always half full, a dyed-in-wool trade unionist who thinks Arthur Scargill was something of a wuss and who is also a West Ham supporter so is used to being a loser, a retired psychiatrist from Egypt and a steely former spy.
With a cast like that, you can’t go wrong, but it takes skill to keep them all in check in a coherent story. In The Man Who Died Twice it becomes especially difficult with plots and sub-plots and a wide variety of characters. Osman deftly manages them all, then delivers a final chapter that is as unexpected as it is delightful.
Osman has a sympathetic touch, especially for old people. It’s likely that he had his mum in mind when writing these characters. She was a single mother and he is clearly devoted to her (as he is to his own children). He treats them with respect, which is a strong theme of the story. The four live in a retirement home in what seems to be a wonderful part of the English countryside which was saved from brutal exploitation in the first book. Things have settled nicely in the second book, but there are still some bad people around and it will give the reader great satisfaction to see how the four conspire to ensure they get their comeuppance.
In the latest novel, they are confronted by a vicious banker for international criminals, a cold-blooded drug dealer who was once a school teacher, a dislikable young goon, and the old spy’s ex-husband, who is an untrustworthy schemer but still in love with her. Sadly for him, she is devoted to her second husband, who is suffering from early dementia but can still play good chess. On the side of the good guys are two police officers who will charm you and a Polish immigrant who is their muscle. All in all, a brilliant cast, expertly handled.