Postal Reading group
August 2022
Notes on the book The man who died twice by Richard Osman

Closely following the publication of Richard Osman’s Thursday murder club, comes the sequel, The man who died twice. I read the first book shortly after it was published, partly out of curiosity, and often wonder if I was the only one not to share the general high opinion of the book. The sequel seems very similar in style, so if you enjoyed The Thursday murder club, then there is a good chance that you will similarly enjoy this book.

Conversely, if you were one of the few exceptions who didn’t rave over the first book, then you’ll probably find The man who died twice to be something of a drag. Actually, I know that I wasn’t the only one to find the first book an anticlimax, as I had previously been warned by a friend not to bother. Did that negatively affect my own enjoyment of the book? I hope not, but, obviously I can’t rule out being biased against it. However, I recently encountered a colleague at work who shared similar opinions; perhaps its only people who know me which dislike this series?

This present book features the same four amateur sleuths from Cooper’s Chase retirement village: Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron. Elizabeth has just received a letter from an old colleague, a man from ‘the service’. He is being hunted by the mafia, following a raid on the home of Martin Lomax, one member of a local crime syndicate. As the ‘body count’ increases, the murder club must find the killer, and the missing diamonds, before the killer finds them.

To begin with, this series of books, is not really crime fiction, and perhaps this goes some way toward explaining my indifference to these books. As one who does genuinely enjoy crime fiction, especially for the intricate plots of the better written examples, the present story was always going to disappoint. Instead, this series is better described as comedy, and if you enjoy that, your own experience of this book and its predecessor will probably be more positive.

Even when considered as comedy, the humour seems to be too deliberate, and relies on too many unlikely incidents to appeal to my sense of humour, but again others will probably see it slightly differently. However, the combination of the genres, comedy and crime, really hasn’t worked here as the book lacks the plot necessary for good crime stories, and so much of it is entirely unrealistic. Likewise good crime fiction, especially ‘police procedurals’, need to be accurate and well researched. This obviously isn’t accurate, and it is difficult to see how the author could have researched this as so much of the book relies on what are obviously contrived elements.

To be fair, I believe that this book has worked slightly better than The Thursday murder club, as the plot has been better thought out, and the pacing, at least in the first part, is better as some of the important facts of the case are gradually revealed. However, the problem here is that it is still a comedy trying to look like crime fiction. Those who liked the humour of the first book may, perhaps, dislike the incursion into crime territory, while aficionados of the more traditional ‘police procedurals’ will be annoyed at the contrived plot. On the other hand, I suppose that crime fiction is a crowded market and this series does at least try to stand out.

Beyond the quite obviously made up antics of the Murder club, and the even more unprofessional behaviour of the rather hapless local police force, there are about three separate strands to the plot: Douglas, the diamonds and Martin Lomax; Connie Johnson and the drug trade; and finally Ryan and the attack on Ibrahim. Although the author does bring these three aspects together, it somehow makes the cases seem connected when they’re not. Ryan is surely little more than an opportunistic criminal trying to feed a drugs habit; Connie is doing very well running the local drugs trade, so why risk getting involved in anything else; while Martin Lomax is the only one running anything approaching a crime syndicate. Another quibble is that the breaks between different strands always seem to come when a line of investigation seems to be fruitful. Its intended to build suspense, but merely seems to be annoying. If the book were televised, then the obvious breaks for the adverts are already built in.

In summary, this book is very much in the same style as the previous book, and despite being billed as a “Thursday murder club mystery”, it should really be seen as comedy rather than crime. Although the plot development is better here than in the previous book, it remains too unrealistic to work as crime fiction. The book features many of the same characters, and there isn’t much in the way of introduction, so some familiarity with the previous book would be beneficial. Although the three threads are drawn together, the final scene with all three villains together in the same room is equally unconvincing. I feel uneasy about starting the new group off with such a negative review, but I have approached this as one who enjoys the more traditional detective stories (Inspector Morse, for example), and in that I’m clearly not Osman’s intended readership. I hope that others have more success than I did.

Comments by Nicholas Cutler