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The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman: Third Thursday Murder Club novel hits the mark

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TV host and author Richard Osman

TV host and author Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

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TV host and author Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed is Richard Osman’s third novel featuring “harmless pensioners” Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, and it succeeds in hitting exactly the same funny, daft and warm-hearted notes as its predecessors.

Former MI6 officer Elizabeth is angling to investigate the spinster in Rye who died leaving three unidentified skeletons and a suitcase containing £50,000 in her cellar, but Joyce is having none of it. “I don’t put my foot down often, but, when I do, it stays down,” she states.

And so, hot on the heels of what Elizabeth blithely terms their “last little adventure”, retirement-home sleuths The Thursday Murder Club take on the mystery of murdered local TV news presenter Bethany Waites.

Waites had been investigating a massive VAT fraud when her car was driven over a cliff in Dover. Her body was never found, nor was anyone charged. Even though Elizabeth “has read enough detective novels to know that you must never trust a murder without a corpse”, the gang get busy with Bethany’s presumed death. First stop is to invite her former friend and colleague Mike Waghorn, star of South East Tonight, to dinner at the Coopers Chase restaurant. “We’ve got a table for five thirty.” Joyce promises him. “After the rush.”

Joyce has been a fan of Mike’s for years, but her hopes of a little light flirting come to nothing. Ron is luckier. “Haven’t you got gorgeous eyes?” Mike’s make-up artist Pauline tells him. “Like Che Guevara if he worked on the docks.” While the others start snooping into Bethany’s life, Elizabeth receives a visitor who gives her a mission: to kill a former KGB agent called Viktor Illyich, with whom she has a long history. Illyich lives in London’s Embassy Gardens, famous for its sky pool, a feature she dismisses as “just engineering plus money”.

The key suspect in Bethany’s murder was Heather Garbutt, the woman behind the VAT fraud, but there was no evidence connecting her, or her boss, local crook Jack Mason, to the crime. Garbutt is in prison for fraud, while Mason remains rich and at large. Dealer Connie Johnson (whose company slogan is ‘Immediate and brutal retaliation’) is there too. Locked up pending trial, Connie has discovered that while it’s hard to run a multimillion-pound drugs gang from a cell, it’s not impossible.

Recurring characters DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas have both found love. Chris is so happy that even on a freezing beach beside a burnt-out minibus with a burnt-out corpse inside it, he notices only the beauty of the sea. Donna is dating Elizabeth’s enigmatic fixer Bogdan. He thinks he loves her. He certainly likes Donna “very, very, very much. But how many ‘verys’ turn ‘like’ into ‘love’?” Bogdan delivers one of the book’s best lines: “Everyone wants to feel special, but nobody wants to feel different.”

The fab four each have their subplots, which are handled with insight, humour and empathy. Hard-nosed Elizabeth despairs as she slowly loses her beloved husband, Stephen, to dementia (“people don’t quite make the sense they did,” he tells Bogdan). Despite her best intentions, crypto investor Joyce finds herself constantly at odds with her daughter Joanna. Reserved Ibrahim is still recovering from the assault that cost him his confidence. Gruff Ron, who would sooner talk about West Ham than emotions, is wading into the world of dating with all its attendant concerns, such as finding a restaurant “that was classy, but wouldn’t make a fuss if he didn’t know what knife to use”.

The book’s title refers to a scene involving Elizabeth, in which she appears to make a seriously out-of-character rookie error. As with the previous two in this series, the plot is knitted in cable stitch, with lots of passing over and doubling back, but the joy of this book lies in its kind, well-observed humour, not the plot: what PG Wodehouse called “musical comedy without music”.

You get the impression Richard Osman is thoroughly enjoying himself, poking fun at his TV career. The description of TV quiz show Stop the Clock is hilarious, as are the titles that vain, would-be author Andrew Everton, the chief constable of Kent, gives to his self-published crime novels: Remain Silent, Given in Evidence, Harm Your Defence.

Finally, a quiz. How many multimillion-selling books this year will have you laughing out loud repeatedly? Of those, how many will have a protagonist over 70? Your number is shrinking, isn’t it? How about four protagonists over 70? And how many will gleefully upend all manner of stereotypes about older people? When the number shrinks to one, it’s this one.

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The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

Fiction: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
Viking, 242 pages, hardcover €24; e-book £9.99

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