The Last Devil to Die Author Richard Osman Wants You to Smile

the last devil to die author richard osman
Richard Osman Wants You to SmileGetty Images

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Three minutes into a Zoom call with Richard Osman, I receive excellent news. I had prepared myself for a bittersweet task: to speak with Osman about the Thursday Murder Club, my favorite book series, on the eve of the publication of The Last Devil to Die, which I believe to be the final book. But Osman corrects me: while he’ll be moving on from the Thursday Murder Club series to write a new series, it’s a pause, not a stop, with future books to follow. “By the end of this book, hopefully readers would agree that the characters deserve a year off,” he jokes.

The palpable relief I feel really gets at how much the series has captivated people. Set in a high-end retirement village, the books start four senior citizens whose very varied life experiences and careers (there’s a nurse, a therapist, a union organizer, and a spy) are put to good use solving crimes. When The Thursday Murder Club was published in 2020, it was an instant hit, selling 45,000 copies in the first three days and becoming the first debut novel to be the top seller for the week of Christmas. Plans for a movie began immediately, with Steven Spielberg set to direct and Ol Parker to write. Osman, 52, was well known to British audiences, first as a longtime television producer and then as the presenter of the game show Pointless, but he’d never before written fiction and the success he found was unprecedented. Thursday was quickly followed by The Man Who Died Twice in 2021 and The Bullet That Missed in 2022.

bestselling author richard osman
Bestselling author Richard Osman’s latest book, The Last Devil to Die, is out September 19, 2023—and despite rumors, won’t be the final installment in his Thursday Murder Club Mystery series.picture alliance - Getty Images

In many ways, it would actually have been more of a surprise if the books weren’t a hit. As Osman says, readers love crime fiction and they really love warm depictions of England. But what is truly special in the books are the characters, whose age allows for a beautiful kind of interaction. “Everyone in Britain is obsessed with class, of course. In your career it’s very easy to stay in the middle class, to stay in the working class. At school and towards the end of your life, suddenly you’re thrown in with people again,” he says, noting that the book’s core group includes two middle class characters and two that are working class. “My mom lives in a retirement community and honestly, it just reminds me of a university campus, but where no one has to do any essays so they can get up and pretty much do what they want all the time. They take different pills, but they drink just as much.”

For all the fizz of jokes and romance, the books carry with them a sense of grief and sadness which becomes much stronger in The Last Devil to Die. People die, they become widowed, they lose their memories. “I wanted to write about real people who happens to be in their eighties and can use the advantages of that in being invisible and having time on their hands. But I can’t write it without showing the darker side of it and the grief and the death and the infirmities and all that. people, when they hear the idea might go, ‘oh yeah, okay, I get what that’s going to be. It’s going to be cutesy old people, aren’t they clever? Hopefully it’s not, hopefully it’s smart, mischievous, older people who go through an awful lot of pain in between solving crimes,” Osman tells me. “I try never to veer from the truth of what it is to be a human being.”

Osman’s long career in TV has helped him understand the value of giving people what they want and in no way looking down on that. To him, what they so often want is warmth and kindness. “I can’t write about mutilated bodies and serial killers. It’s not in me, it’s not in my heart. I have to write these characters. There was a period where everything had to be very dark and everything had to be very gritty, and everything had to be very sort of ambiguous,” he says. “The cultural conversation in both our countries centers on a very small amount of TV programs or books, which are not really the ones that people actually watch or that people turn to when they’re looking to be entertained. It’s nice to be right in the middle of popular culture with a product which I love and which I’m proud of, which I hope has messages of hope for what the world might be and how we might treat each other. It’s not fashionable, but I’m very glad that it’s popular.”

The kindness is his books comes out of something greater for Osman. It’s how he wants the world to be and it’s how he thinks the world is, if only we could realize it. “I do have strong views about the way the world is going and the way we speak to each other as it was. I’m trying to write something that has a counter narrative to it,” he says. “By all means, read it as a lovely, cute, cozy crime book. But I think I’m trying to do something else as well, which is to say I think we’re probably kinder, nicer as human beings than we’re currently being given credit for.”

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His next series will star a police officer who has retired to a quiet life in a sleepy village until his daughter-in-law, a celebrity bodyguard, gets into trouble. “He finds himself in an international manhunt, finds himself on private jets, and all he wants to do is be back at home doing the local pub quiz. It is essentially them as a crime fighting duo,” Osman says. “I’ve just started writing it and it’s fun. I like his reticence to ever go abroad. Sometimes I have that as well.”

The new career Osman has found himself in is one that he hadn’t envisioned for himself and in many ways that makes it all the more enjoyable. “I’ve seen enough failure in my life, enough creative failure to take this for what it is, which is every now and again, you do something you love and that you’re proud of, and you get lucky and people buy it and like it,” he explains. “So that’s been my attitude, and my attitude now is listen, I’ll keep at it for as long as it continues, it delights me. At some point it’s going to crash, but while it doesn’t, I’ll take every day of the success of it. It’s lovely.

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