The Man Who Died Twice Richard Osman Viking, € 12.99
there was a time when comedy in British literature was a thing, from Oscar Wilde (Irish, but adopted) to PG Wodehouse to Tom Sharpe and many more. Now, unfortunately, while there are still funny newspaper columnists, there is a precious little comedy in British fiction.
When was the last time you laughed in a contemporary English novel? Indeed. What makes Richard Osman’s fiction so welcome, a tumultuous and uniquely British voice in a desert with a long and anguished face. Campus novels may be the thing, but it’s refreshing to read a new book on the golden oldies.
Praise for Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was very widespread and it was endorsed by writers as diverse as Marian Keyes and Harlan Coben. Kate Atkinson, whose encomia are rare and precious things, gave this sequel her warm blessing, along with many others.
And Osman deserves that critical acclaim as much as his sales through the roof. He wasn’t afflicted with the dreaded Second Novel Syndrome and, if anything, this one is better than the first.
It all starts with Elizabeth, the retired spy, receiving a letter from Marcus Carmichael asking if they could meet and catch up. The problem is, Marcus Carmichael is dead. Since 1981, in fact. But in fact, it never existed. Marcus Carmichael was a pseudonym given to a random corpse removed from the Thames by MI5 during a top secret mission of which Elizabeth was the patron. And by the way, we’re only on page 5 here.
Meanwhile, his good friend from the retirement village, Ibrahim, is brutally assaulted and left for dead by a thug who is quickly identified and, just as quickly, leaves town.
The local copper, Chris, is on the case and he’s livid. He is also slightly distracted by the fact that he has finally found love. In his fifties. “It was still the beginning for Chris and Patrice, the time of lust and art galleries.”
Chris is trying to lose weight, but loses heart with the exercise regimen. “Six kilometers of cycling to burn a hundred calories? Six thousand ? For half a Twix?
The new relationship is further complicated by the fact that Chris’s girlfriend Patrice is the mother of his new subordinate partner in the force who is understandably rather disturbed by this romantic development.
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Of course, the Thursday Murder Club solves the Carmichael mystery with considerable poise and panache, and the deeply shaken Ibrahim gets justice as well. But it’s not just about comedic criminal jokes, it’s about old-fashioned things like honor, loyalty, duty, and friendship. And a very British sort of stiff upper lip, in which Osman excels.
Almost all of the characters are a little squeaky around the knees and hips, but the warmth and humanity of the writing makes it a double winner for Osman. Well done!