The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman: Ingenious plotting, lashings of skulduggery, and a cast of the most delightful characters – book review –
But when the elderly sleuths start to unravel an audacious and highly dangerous plot involving fraud and smuggled heroin, they discover that they might just have put themselves in the firing line.
Not since the days of the sublimely clever Blackadder Goes Forth TV series has comedy, pathos and gritty reality been blended with such wizardry, and it’s all thanks to the creative genius of the irrepressible Richard Osman.
With ingenious plotting, lashings of skulduggery, and a cast of the most delightful characters who have become like family to readers, these are stories that often move beyond cosy crime but still retain that genre’s wit and charm.
And with the film rights to the Thursday Murder Club sold to Steven Spielberg, who is already working on the movie, and five million copies of the books sold in the UK alone, it will be no surprise to learn that Osman’s highly anticipated fourth outing delivers top class entertainment from start to finish.
Stars of the show are unlikely friends Elizabeth, a tough former spymaster, scheming retired nurse Joyce, Ron, an opinionated ex-union activist, and mild-mannered psychiatrist Ibrahim who all live in peaceful retirement village Coopers Chase in Kent.
Here we find them relaxing on Boxing Day and still unknown to them, a dangerous package is being smuggled across the English coast and when it goes missing, chaos and menace are unleashed.
As a consequence of the failed deal, Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim and Ron soon learn that the victim Kuldesh Sharma, an old friend who works in the antiques business, had for some unknown reason been protecting the parcel which contained a stash of heroin.
For the first time, the gang’s canny and competent leader Elizabeth is unable to take pole position in the race to dig out the truth because her beloved husband Stephen is becoming increasingly incapacitated by his Alzheimer’s and now barely recognises her.
As the sprightly sleuths – this time led principally by the unflappable Joyce – spring into action to hunt down Kuldesh’s murderer, they encounter art forgers, online fraudsters and drug dealers, as well as dealing with the heartache that is happening close to home and their own painful life events.
With the body count rising, the package still missing, the clock ticking down and a killer heading to Coopers Chase, has their luck finally run out... and who will be the last devil to die?
Red herrings, deadly dramas, and secrets – whether that’s deeply personal revelations from our ageing detectives or those hidden in the dark corners of crime – spill out across the pages of this audacious murder mystery like an unstoppable force.
But this is a series that has always had its poignant moments, with touching reminders of the fears, discomforts and harsh realities of ageing, and The Last Devil to Die moves into another emotional gear as Osman explores the devastation wreaked by Alzheimer’s disease and its cruel toll on the nearest and dearest.
As millions of fans will testify, there can be fewer more satisfying reading delights than a visit to Coopers Chase and spending quality time with unorthodox pals Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim as they share their thoughts and employ their combined detection skills on a new case that is perilously close to home.
And as always Osman juxtaposes violent crime, the best of British comedy and heartwarming compassion with his trademark aplomb, reminding us all that real and fictional life are not always separate and are wont to converge in the unlikeliest and most endearing ways.
However, there’s a final word of warning to Thursday Murder Club devotees that their next visit to Coopers Chase might be longer than usual as Osman is working on a new crime series featuring a father-in-law/daughter-in-law detective duo… a pause which will undoubtedly be worth the wait!
(Viking, hardback, £22)