front cover of The Thursday Murder Club novel

See how The Thursday Murder Club—optioned by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainmenthits the 15 Save the Cat! story beats.

Author: Richard Osman
Publisher: Penguin Books, copyright 2020
Pages: 351 + end matter (paperback edition)

Genre: Whydunit

Who wouldn’t love to retire in a quaint English village and, as a side hustle, solve a few crimes with your friends?

In addition to being an internationally bestselling author, Richard Osman, a well-known British producer and television presenter, sold the motion picture rights for The Thursday Murder Club to Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment shortly after its release. This wasn’t at all surprising, given the clever storyline of his debut novel and the immense popularity of his series. (FYI for all Osman fans, the fourth book featuring these sleuthing retirees is set to be published on September 19, 2023.)

After devouring the story in a weekend, I’m already imagining the comedy potential of this tale up on the big screen, and I’ve been mentally casting some of my favorite actors from across the pond in leading roles.

From the publisher:

Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves the Thursday Murder Club.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

I wasn’t the only one who found this mystery to be entertaining and filled with intriguing complexity. Harlan Coben said it was “Funny, clever, and compelling. Mystery fans are going to be enthralled.” Kate Atkinson called it “A little beacon of pleasure.” And the Wall Street Journal praised it for being “Witty, endearing, and greatly entertaining.”

Here’s my take on Blake Snyder’s story beats for this charming Whydunit:

Opening Image (pp. 1-8): The story begins with a few lines from a killer whose identity won’t be revealed until much later. Then, from the point of view of retiree and new resident Joyce, we’re introduced to the existence of the Thursday Murder Club when another resident—Elizabeth—asks Joyce for her opinion on the death of a stabbing victim.

Theme Stated (p. 23): Joyce reflects on the unsolved murders she’d heard about and how many of the killers have remained unpunished. “They had got away with it, as some people do, I’m afraid. The older you get, the more you have to come to terms with that.” Of course, she wishes this wasn’t so.

Set-Up (pp. 9-40): Coopers Chase is the name of the luxury English retirement village where the four pensioners reside. There’s retired nurse Joyce, Elizabeth (whose prior job she claims she cannot reveal), former psychiatrist Ibrahim, and famous trade union leader Ron. One of the original members of the club, Penny, is no longer in residence. Her dementia had worsened to the point where she now lives in a nursing home, attended to daily by her devoted husband John.

Penny, a former Detective Inspector (DI) with the Kent Police, used to bring files with unsolved murder cases to her friends. The “club” members weren’t able to officially bring the bad guys to justice, but in using their logic and specialized skill sets, they believed they’d solved a number of the cases.

Unbeknownst to them, a significant crime is about to take place in their community. Ian, a wealthy landowner and local developer, has his sights set on building a new development on former church land, which would require digging up a nearby cemetery. This is of great concern to clergy and residents alike. Not only that, Ian is greedy and wants to keep more of the profits to himself. He plans to fire his lead builder, Tony, and replace him with the less expensive and more biddable Bogdan. This decision will quickly start a cascade of crime in their little corner of England.

Catalyst (pp. 40-41): Tony, who’s infuriated with Ian for firing him, is plotting to kill his former boss when, instead, he’s killed. A photograph, which makes a connection between Tony and several other people (one of whom is actually Ron’s son), is placed by his dead body.

Debate (pp. 42-68): The Thursday Murder Club may have their first real mystery to solve! Elizabeth has hatched a plan to delve deeper into the murder, if only they can get into the police station and gain access to the case files. She and Joyce lie their way into a meeting with the young Police Constable (PC) Donna, who’s new and has been kept out of the investigation.

Elizabeth is certain that she has the connections to get PC Donna into the thick of the police action, which is where Donna longs to be, rather than merely delivering tea to the murder investigators. Elizabeth puts Ron and Ibrahim on that assignment and, within an hour, presto! Donna is part of the team. Will Donna now share with the retirees insider information to some of the case-related details? Yes, she will.

Break into 2 (pp. 69-70): Joyce notes in her diary that the four of them will be investigating the recent murder. She feels she may actually have a place here among these fancy and sometimes even famous people, despite the fact that she’s easily overlooked, not wealthy, and hardly noteworthy. Just an average older woman. But she’s calm, sensible, and ready to help solve this crime.

B Story (pp. 77-85): There is a focus on friendship here and an exploration of how we all need to be needed. Through Joyce’s eyes in particular, readers view a variety of friendships and relationships, and we see her developing confidence and comfort in her growing friendship with Elizabeth, the other members of the club, and with a widower in the retirement village named Bernard.

Fun and Games (pp. 71-163): The four sleuthing retirees set to work solving this crime in earnest. Elizabeth, with the help of Joyce’s smart and successful daughter Joanna, analyzes Ian’s financial documents, and they quickly realize he’s made millions of pounds off Tony’s death. (Hard to top that for a motive…)

When Ian is questioned by the police about an argument that several witnesses saw between him and the dead man, Ian lies, of course, but evidence against him is mounting. However, the photo that had been left at the crime scene includes a shot of Tony, a drug dealer named Bobby, and Ron’s son Jason, a famous ex-boxer who used to run with a drug gang. What’s their involvement?

Get ready for more investigative shenanigans by the quartet from Coopers Chase and some mutual sharing of information with the police.

Midpoint (pp. 164-166): Ian, who thinks he’s getting away with his plans to start work on the new development and wants to start breaking ground at once, finds he’s got opposition in the form of both the church (the local priest doesn’t want the sacred grounds of the cemetery disturbed) and quite a few residents of Coopers Chase. They collectively block the entry of the excavation trucks so there can be no digging, although Ian’s man Bogdan finds a way around this.

Ian loses his temper with the human barricade and shoves the priest. The cops tell Ian to leave. In a shocking turn of events, Ian does walk away… but his brain becomes strangely fuzzy. He collapses and dies before he gets to his car. With their prime suspect unexpectedly dead (false defeat), there are now two murders to solve!

Bad Guys Close In (pp. 167-261): The police discover that Ian died as a result of fentanyl poisoning. How did that happen? Elizabeth discusses the case with John and Penny. John, who’s a retired veterinarian, suggests that it’s most likely Ian’s killer got the drug online, rather than at a pharmacy. Elizabeth and Bogdan interact, and he shows her the two sets of bones he dug up at the cemetery on the day Ian died. One set of bones wasn’t in a coffin. This is surprising and strange.

Ron’s son Jason is reminded of a murder that happened years before involving a boy that Tony shot during their drug gang days. Elizabeth manages to track down one of the gang: Bobby aka Peter, who’s now a florist. The past resurfaces in several areas, revealing a complicated history of drugs, murders, and betrayals within the lives of many of the characters.

PC Donna “meets” Penny, although the mind of the latter doesn’t allow for a true connection. Donna wishes she’d known her police predecessor in her better days, but she’s inspired by Penny and hopes she’ll someday be able to make the former Detective Inspector proud.

All Is Lost (pp. 262-263): Bernard, a fellow Coopers Chase resident, a strong supporter of keeping the cemetery free from Ian’s development project, and a new friend of Joyce’s, stuns everyone by committing suicide. Before his death, he leaves an envelope on his door for Joyce.

Dark Night of the Soul (pp. 264-272): Joyce reads the letter with her club friends standing by for support. Ron, Ibrahim, and Elizabeth have truly been there for her, and their genuine friendship helps her, despite how emotionally traumatic it is when she reads Bernard’s confessions about his beloved wife and his guilt over her burial. It’s a literal “dark night” for Joyce because she can’t sleep afterward. She’s tremendously sad about Bernard but, also, there’s a name that has turned up—Bramley Holdings— during the murder investigations, and it rings a bell. Try as she might, though, she can’t place it.

Break into 3 (pp. 273-274): The quartet of retirees go back to investigating, but with more insight and knowledge than they had before.

Finale (pp. 275-344): More hidden stories from the past emerge, including a shocking confession from the local “priest,” who’s actually a doctor, not a man of the cloth. Other tales are revealed as well, leading to a pinball game of connections—bing, bing, bing!—as the twists are straightened, the prior lies corrected, and the motivations behind all the obfuscations and secrets explained.

Spoiler alert: Penny, in a vigilante move during her time with the police force, killed a man in the 1970s who’d gotten away with murdering his girlfriend. (His were the bones in the cemetery that weren’t placed in a coffin.) The girlfriend was the stabbing victim Elizabeth asked Joyce about in the opening scenes. There had been something odd about that case, and it was left unsolved by the police. Penny, however, guessed the truth and took it upon herself to rid the world of that man. Penny’s husband John killed Ian for persisting with the land development because John hadn’t wanted anyone to discover the bones of the man his wife had killed. There are repercussions for these actions.

Meanwhile, as revenge for a completely different murder, readers learn that Bogdan killed Tony for having shot that kid 20 years ago and, also, for having an innocent cab driver killed, who’d been a witness to that early crime. The cabbie had been a good friend of Bogdan’s back then. Thus far, there haven’t been repercussions for his actions. Only two people know Bogdan’s secret, and one of them is Elizabeth’s husband, who is swiftly losing his memory.

Joyce and her friends were able to confront the novel’s theme and, against all odds, reverse it. Despite being older, they weren’t helpless to circumstance. They did not have to get used to people getting away with murder. They were clever enough to solve the crimes… well, most of them anyway.

Final Image (pp. 345-351): Joyce reflects in her journal one more time, tying up several of the loose ends for the reader, including the mysterious Bramley Holdings, which had perplexed her. It turns out that Bramley Holdings is a company that belongs to Joyce’s daughter Joanna, who secretly bought up Ian’s landholdings after the investigations began. Thus, Joanna and her partner now own Coopers Chase and the surrounding area.

The decision to do this was, in part, because there was money to be made, but the deeper reason was that Joanna recognized that living in this retirement community had brought her mother the kind of joy and friendships the older woman had been missing.

Joyce admits she’s already looking forward to the club’s next meeting on Thursday.