Richard Osman on ‘The Bullet that Missed’: ‘They are like The Beatles’

Richard Osman says the septuagenarian sleuths are equal protagonists in the story; the four quadrants of a classic gang 

March 13, 2023 01:58 pm | Updated March 15, 2023 06:23 pm IST

Author, producer and television presenter, Richard Osman

Author, producer and television presenter, Richard Osman

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, the ageless sleuths in the swish retirement community of Coopers Chase, who form the Thursday Murder Club, have their work cut out for them in their third adventure, The Bullet That Missed (Penguin Random House). “It is set in the world of television,” says Richard Osman over a video call from West London.

A producer and presenter, Osman says television is a world he is familiar with. “The book is about a local news reporter who was investigating a fraud and suddenly her car is driven off a cliff. Ten years later, the Thursday Murder Club team up with the reporter’s co-presenter to find the killer.”

The interesting titles come from Osman’s fondness for those that make you think. “The first book, The Thursday Murder Club wrote itself, it had a nice rhythm to it. I like titles that ask a question even before you start reading, that sound like they could be Agatha Christie or James Bond.”

Both sides

One of the most heartbreaking stories in the books is the one about Stephen, Elizabeth’s husband, who is struggling with dementia. “I write about people in their 70s. I write about their wisdom and hunger for new adventures, how they’re still mischievous and love a drink.”

That is a lovely view of old age, of freedom and wisdom, Osman says. “If I write about that, I have to write about the other side as well, which is when you are older, you are around dementia, ill-health, grief and death.”

His grandfather suffered from dementia, says Osman. “Stephen is a character I love. He has the arc that any dementia patient has, it does not get better. While I love to write books that make people laugh, and have a mystery at their heart, I want to write about truth and reality as well.

Best friends forever

In the second book, The Man Who Died Twice, Ibrahim decides to venture out and is mugged. “After that, he says, ‘I’m not going out, I’m too frightened.’ He is, however, surrounded by friends who know he is going to be unhappy shutting himself away. Their job is to look after him, to support him and find ways to make sure he goes out and regains that confidence. That story is about friends who look out for us.”

All four— from former spy Elizabeth, ex-union leader Ron, psychiatrist Ibrahim to retired nurse Joyce — are equally important, says the author. “I think of them like The Beatles, everyone has got a different skill. They each have different ways of looking at the world and one of them will find the solution for whatever I throw at them. They are equal protagonists in this story. They are the four quadrants of a classic gang.”

Leadership role

Elizabeth might think she is the leader, Osman says. “She is definitely the Alpha. If aliens were to come to Coopers Chase and say, ‘Take us to your leader’, Elizabeth will be the first to stand up. I try and make sure Elizabeth gets stuff wrong sometimes and anything she misses, Joyce or Ibrahim or Ron spots.”

Despite being over 70, one does not find the fab four harking back to the good old days. “As you get older, I am 52 now, you realize you’ve lived more than you are going to live. When we are in our 20s and 30s, we are ambitious. We are thinking about what is going to happen next, where am I going to be in five years, things I can do… Later, you have more to look back on.”

Going forward

Memories are very real and present and a natural state of being as you get into your 70s, says Osman. “What I want to do is throw a grenade into that and suddenly their futures can be full of things and their brains are looking forwards again. As human beings we need forward momentum. You can see that in the lockdowns when people were missing a sense of the future.”

Though there was a passing reference to COVID-19 in The Man Who Died Twice, the pandemic does not figure in The Bullet that Missed. “I don’t want Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim or Ron to have to explain the lockdown and how they felt about it. It is just not where I want them to be.”

Realising that as a society, we wanted to move on as well, Osman made the decision to keep the pandemic out. “In my mind, all the books are post pandemic.”

For all who are worried about the end game for the Thursday Murder Club, Osman says, “I know you are not supposed to put your cards on the table like this, but I don’t want to kill any of them. It is like a car losing a wheel. I want the four of them to stay together for as long as possible.”

Beating heart

Planning to take a break after book four, Osman talks about everyone’s favourite handyman, Bogdan. “He has a big story with a side of romance in The Bullet That Missed. We see a slightly different side of him. He is an immigrant to the UK and the more you find out about him, you realize what an honourable man he is. He is the beating heart of the story.”

The intergenerational friendships in the books are one of the things Osman enjoys exploring. “Age is always used to divide us. We know about mothers and daughters or granddaughters, fathers and grandfathers but to have a woman who is 80 and a man in his early 30s have a genuine friendship is beautiful. And of course there are Stephen’s chess games with Bogdan.”

Police partners

Though the books are not police procedurals, where there is a crime, there should be police and Osman has created lovely characters in officers Chris and Donna. “I didn’t want one of those stories where the amateur sleuth outwits the dim-witted detectives. Very early on in the first book, Chris and Donna accept the Thursday Murder Club for who they are.”

Chris and Donna are not working against the gang, Osman says. “They’re not saying ‘you’ve got to stop meddling’. They’re saying ‘you make my world a better place. I love being around your magic’. The police officers also give an opportunity to write about different generations, stories and perspectives.”

Movie time

The movie based on The Thursday Murder Club (Steven Spielberg’s Amblin has bought the rights) has reached the final draft stage. “The cast is absolutely not up to me and nor should it be. I leave all of those things to Spielberg because he is much better at making films than me.”

About whether it would be a movie or a show, Osman says, “Who knows? The world of television and cinema has changed so much in the last five years. I trust Spielberg and his people to know what’s the best way to get the most people to watch it and for them to make the most money. I await instructions.”

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