Book review and synopsis for The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, a jaunty and lighthearted murder mystery set in a retirement village.
The Thursday Murder Club is a jaunty and light-hearted cozy mystery focused on four friends living in a retirement village called Coopers Chase who enjoy getting together on Thursdays to investigate and solve cold cases -- the Thursday Murder Club.
One day, just before a large new development is soon to break ground in Coopers Chase, the main builder is murdered, with the killer leaving a photograph let next to the body. The Thursday Murder Club immediately gets on the case, but when another body is found, the plot thickens and the group knows they need to find the killer before it's too late!
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of The Thursday Murder ClubQuick Plot Summary
The one-paragraph version: Just after a new development is announced at the Coopers Chase retirement village, the lead builder (Tony) is killed and soon after the landowner (Ian) is killed as well. Four retirees (Elizabeth, Ron, Ibrahim and Joyce — the Thursday Murder Club) investigate the murders. Then, when construction begins on the new development, an extra unmarked set of bones dating from the 70s is found at the graveyard on the land. It’s eventually revealed that Tony’s murder was to settle a score associated an old drug-related killing. Ian’s murder was to derail the new development in order to prevent discovery of the bones. The bones belong to Peter Mercer and was a vigilante killing (by Penny, who is a former police detective and former founding member of the Thursday Murder Club before she got dementia) because Peter had gotten away with murdering his girlfriend.
Part One introduces the Thursday Murder Club, a group of four retirees — Elizabeth, Ron, Ibrahim and Joyce — at the Coopers Chase retirement village who get together to investigate unsolved cases. The group was originally founded by Elizabeth (whose former occupation can’t be disclosed) and Penny (a former police detective). Joyce is the newest member, who joined to replace Penny (who now has dementia).
Coopers Chase was once a convent housing the Sisters of the Holy Church. Now, it is owned by Ian Ventham, an unlikeable and unscrupulous man, who developed it into a retirement village along with his lead builder, Tony Curran. Ian has plans to purchase the land next to it as well, but the current owner Gordon Playfair doesn’t like him and doesn’t want to sell to him. Instead, Ian has been reminding Gordon’s daughter Karen of the large amount of money her father would be paid if she can convince Gordon otherwise.
As the story opens, Ian Ventham has called a meeting to announce “the Woodlands”, a new development on the lands. This announcement raises a lot of ire, especially because it will disturb the Garden of Eternal Rest cemetery where all the nuns from the former convent were laid to rest. Father Matthew Mackie shows up to voice his concerns about the cemetery. Ian also fires Tony Curran, replacing him with his main contractor Bogdan Jankowski. Later that day, Tony Curran is murdered.
By the next morning, the Thursday Murder Club has gotten wind of Tony’s murder and begins to investigate. Elizabeth first hatches a plan to get Police Constable Donna De Freitas (who they are friendly with and who is frustrated with doing low-level police work) assigned to the case by having Ron (who witnessed an argument between Ian and Tony) refuse to talk to anyone else. In exchange, Donna will provide them with some insider police information.
Next, Elizabeth gets her hands on Ian’s financial documents. They ask Joyce’s daughter Joanna (who works in private equity or something like that) to look at them, which shows that Ian made millions off of Tony’s death since Tony’s equity reverted to Ian when Tony was killed. They also establish that Ian could have gotten from Coopers Chase to Tony’s house in the time Ian was last seen (by Penny’s husband John at 3:00 PM) to the time Tony died (3:32 PM).
Meanwhile, the police (Chris Hudson and Donna) look into a photograph that was left by the killer next to Tony’s body. It’s an old photo that depicts Tony Curran, Bobby Tanner (a drug dealer many years ago) and Jason Ritchie (Ron’s son, a famous ex-boxer). They are sitting at a pub table that’s covered in cash. The three of them used to be involved in the drug trade together — with Tony running the show.
Soon, Ian sends some construction trucks to begin digging up the graveyard (to relocate the coffins) to prepare for the Woodlands development. In response, the residents of Coopers Chase find out form a human barrier to prevent the trucks from accessing to the cemetery. Instead, Bogdan goes in through the back trail and manually uses a shovel to begin digging up the graves. Elizabeth finds him there and questions him. Afterwards, he discovers one plot that contains an extra, unmarked skeleton.
Back in front of the gates, Ian has called the police (Chris and Donna) to have them clear out the crowd. However, when he sees Father Mackie show up, Ian loses his temper and he shoves Father Mackie. As a result, Chris tells Ian to leave. Before Ian reaches his car, he collapses and dies.
In Part Two, the police establish that Ian died of fentanyl poisoning as a result of a dose administered in the moments prior to his death. That means the possible suspects are limited to people who were at the gates of the cemetery that day.
Meanwhile, the police determine that Tony received three untraceable calls from the same number the morning he died. The security footage also shows that a car was stopped somewhere in the vicinity of Tony’s house for 10 minutes during the timeframe he was killed. Donna recognizes the untraceable number as Jason’s number which he had given her. The car also belongs to Jason. Donna and Chris soon question Jason, but he’s tight-lipped.
Afterwards, Jason pays a visit to Le Pont Noir, a gastropub that used to be The Black Bridge, the bar where the photo the killer left was taken. The photo was taken by Turkish Gianni, who used to be the fourth member of their gang. Jason recalls how in 2000, there was an incident where Tony had shot a young drug dealer, and they’d all seen it. There was one witness, a taxi driver, who Gianni killed in order to tie up loose ends. After the shooting, Jason and Bobby Tanner had both exited the drug business. No one knows where Bobby went. Gianni disappeared soon after as well.
In present day, Jason also received a copy of the photo in the mail a few days before Tony was killed. Concerned that he might be in danger as well, Jason reaches out to his father and the rest of the Thursday Murder Club to enlist their help in tracking down Bobby and Gianni, since he suspects one of them sent it to him.
Meanwhile, Bogdan tells Elizabeth about the extra skeleton he discovered. She has a friend of hers analyze the remains for them. He soon reports back that the remains belong to a male and that they date back to the 1970’s. The Thursday Murder Club suspects that the recent murders could have been for the purposes of stopping the new development in order to prevent the discovery of these bones.
Soon, Elizabeth manages to track down Bobby, who is now a florist going by the name of Peter Ward. Peter is able to prove to them that he was at his store when Tony was killed. As for Jason, Peter says he that he’s a “teddy bear” and wouldn’t have killed Tony. Peter also tells them that he thinks that Tony snitched on Gianni (about killing the taxi driver), which is why Gianni might’ve killed him. Gianni also made off with 100K of Tony’s money when he skipped town.
As for Gianni, Chris takes a trip to Cyprus, where Gianni’s family is based. He meets with Gianni’s father Costas Gunduz, to ask if he’s seen Gianni. Costas doesn’t answer. Instead, Joe Kyprianou, a Cypriot detective, tells him that the Gunduz family is in the drug trade and still very powerful here. He thinks that Gianni could have feasibly gone to the UK and back to kill Tony Curran. When Chris returns, he also questions Steve Georgiou (who knew Gianni and the rest of the gang back in the day), who is also tight-lipped, but Steve implies that Gianni recently returned.
Back at Coopers Chase, Ron and Ibrahim go to question Bernard, a fellow resident who Joyce has been spending time with and who is often seen sitting at a bench at the cemetery. Bernard claims he’s only there because he misses his wife. The next morning, Bernard has killed himself. In his suicide note, he writes about how he buried his wife’s ashes temporarily in the cemetery and planned to move them, but they constructed the bench over the same spot. Instead, he’s been going to the bench to visit her. Now, he’s ready to join her.
Around the same time, Donna and Chris learn that Father Mackie isn’t really a priest. Instead, he’s a former doctor. The Thursday Murder Club also go to visit Gordon Playfair who has been in the area for a long time. As they look through his photos, they see an old one of Father Mackie which shows that he was living in the area in the 70’s.
Elizabeth soon confronts Father Mackie, and he ends up telling her his story. He wasn’t a real priest but was living in the area and performing the functions of a priest at the convent (taking confessions, etc.) since they didn’t have one. He fell in love with one of the nuns, Sister Margaret (“Maggie”). However, Maggie got pregnant and killed herself (and their unborn child) after one of the other nuns ratted her out. She was laid to rest in the cemetery, which is why he was adamant about not letting her remains be disturbed.
Meanwhile, the group learns that Gemma Ventham (Ian’s wife) has sold Coopers Chase to a company called Bramley Holdings and that Gordan Playfair has sold his land to them as well. When the Thursday Murder Club next convenes, Jason offers them gifts for their help in tracking down Bobby and Gianni. He also pursues his own theory of who killed Ian Ventham. Jason confronts Karen Playfair, suggesting that she killed Ian to get him out of the way so that her father would sell the land. However, it soon becomes clear from Karen’s reaction that this is ludicrous.
Despite the murder accusation, Karen and Jason end up having a nice time together. Karen then remembers that John (Penny’s husband) had been her vet many years ago. Elizabeth goes to talk to John, and he admits that he and Penny had been in the area in the seventies. He also confesses to killing Ian in an attempt to prevent the bones from being discovered. Before Penny’s dementia had fully set in, she mentioned a case she’d investigated as a junior detective. She’d been certain that a young man, Peter Weber, had killed his girlfriend and had gotten away with it. So, Penny killed him in an act of vigilante justice and she hid the bones in the convent cemetery.
Despite their friendship, Elizabeth lets John know that she intends to turn him in the next day. John takes the opportunity to inject both himself and Penny with life-ending drugs before then — killing both himself and Penny.
As this is going on, Bogdan is playing chess with Elizabeth’s husband Stephen who has some type of brain fog/dementia in his old age. As they chat, Bogdan makes his own confession — he was really the one who killed Tony. He also killed Gianni a long time ago. The sole witness to Tony’s shooting at the Black Bridge in 2000 had been his best friend, Kazimir (the taxi driver). Tony had ordered Gianni to kill Kazimir to keep him quiet. In retribution, Bogdan killed Gianni and made it look like he fled the country. Steve helped him kill Gianni (which is why Steve let Chris believe that Gianni was still alive). Bogdan also took the 100K of Tony’s money that Gianni had been holding for him.
Since then, Bogdan has been waiting for the right time to kill Tony without getting caught. Bogdan recently helped Tony install the security system at his home, and so it presented Bogdan with the perfect opportunity to kill Tony.
Soon, John and Penny are buried. The police still have an international arrest warrant out for Gianni. Meanwhile, Joyce realizes that Joanna’s company is the one that bought Coopers Chase under the name Bramley Holdings. After Joanna inspected the books, she realized it was financially sound and decided to acquire it. Joanna reassures Joyce that she’ll make sure the cemetery is not disturbed. The book ends with Elizabeth slipping a note underneath Joyce’s door on a Thursday, which Joyce assumes means there will be more Thursday Murder Club shenanigans in store!
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.