The Thursday Murder Club (Richard Osman) **
Perfect Prey (Helen Fields) ***½
Somewhere, in a very British and very sedate retirement village, a group of seniors get together in the jigsaw room where they solve unsolved crimes. They’re pushing eighty, they have opinions on which type of cake is better (walnut). They are Ron (former commie rabblerouser, scourge of the Thatcher era), Elizabeth (former detective with a fantabulous past full of the sort of intrigue James Bond could only have dreamed of), Ibrahim (former psychiatrist and master of manipulation) and Joyce (just Joyce). Then, the property developer responsible for their gated community is found dead and they have their first live investigation. But will they solve the mystery before the bodies begin to pile up?
I don’t know the answer to that question, because I never finished this book.
I really wanted to like it. I know many of you did. But it was just so bloody twee, so in-your-face British. I don’t mind the Britishness, but I do mind the twee. I never understood why Midsommer Murders is as popular as it is. That endless saminess of “it was the director of the Amdram with the putter-upper in the conservatory, now let’s have us a cup of tea while we await the next butchering.” I am willing to admit that the fault probably lies with me, but it grates.
Truth is, this is probably not a bad book. And no, I don’t hate old people. I do hate Joyce. I’m fully aware that she was meant to be an everybody we can relate to. I like vegan brownies. I like tea. I hate Joyce. Joyce is bloody grating. And yes, the novel is not all twee, and no, there are probably many things about it that I missed. Yes, the end is probably fantastic.
I’m fully ready to admit that this book is probably better than I am giving it credit for, and I reserve my one star reviews for books that I find completely loathsome. But after making it about halfway through I found myself struggling so much that I quit, which I rarely do. I’m glad this series exists because there’s obviously a market for it, but I’m giving it a pass.
A book I did like completely against my better judgement is Helen Fields’ Perfect Prey, part two in her Callanach series, and it is the opposite of the Thursday Murder Club in almost every way. The murders are violent and brutal. The plot is completely outlandish. The characters are not all that great. I still loved every minute of it.
At the start of Perfect Prey, an Edinburg social worker is brutally knifed to death during a music festival. Though the attack occurs in a throng of people nobody can identify the killer. On the same day, a palliative care worker is deliberately crushed to death in her own house. Lead investigator Luc Callanach grapples to find a motive, a connection between the victims, anything to help him stop the killer before he strikes again.
There is also a lot of back and forth between his will-they-or-won’t-they colleague Ava. Luc and Ava struck up a close (and platonic-but-obviously-not-for-long) friendship in the first book; in the second, her asshat ex is back in town and Luc’s relationship with her is strained as they struggle to work together to simultaneously combat a vicious killer and police bureaucracy.
There are many things to dislike here. Most of the characters are thin, though Callanach himself is intriguing, imperfect but not so imperfect that you wonder how he’s still functioning (so many detectives from this genre should probably be considered a public menace). Ava and the other colleagues are mostly plot devices, but they do have some depth and personality. The main focus of the novel, however, is on the mystery, and though I thought it was ludicrous and over the top the way the investigation is conducted, full of dead ends, is compelling.
There’s a lot to dislike here, from the cartoonish bad guy to the clunky wish-fulfillment ending. Though it’s a fairly hefty tome the writing is incredibly fast-paced with little patience for flourishes and, well, imaginative prose. It teeters on the verge of gore porn (gorenography?). Normally, those things would make me dislike a book, but somehow Callanach the character is intriguing enough, the mystery complex and the investigation compelling, and I keep coming back to these books. I’m looking forward to reading the next couple of books in the series.