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Richard Osman’s “twee and pleasant land”

Bound to be a Waitrose nearby. Castle Combe, Wiltshire. Getty

Richard Osman has a decent claim to being Britain’s “incumbent national novelist”, says Anna Leszkiewicz in The New Statesman. The 52-year-old’s Thursday Murder Club series has sold over five million copies; the second and third installments were among the fastest-selling novels in Britain since records began; the fourth, released this week, may do better still. The film rights have been bought by Steven Spielberg. How on earth has Osman done it? What makes his books – about four residents of a retirement village solving crimes – sell so well?

Osman’s murder mysteries belong to the genre of fiction known as “cosy crime”, a category that also includes the likes of Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton. And boy, is it cosy. His England is a “twee and pleasant land”, where farm shops and Waitroses are “nestled between dappled hedgerows and golf courses”. It is a world without poverty, politics or pandemics. Even the violence is soft touch: “Murderers buy their knives from John Lewis and fist fights break out over the Call the Midwife Christmas special.” The whole thing seems designed to “provoke a mild chuckle of recognition from middle-class readers”. Given Osman’s pedigree in puzzles – he conceived and co-hosted the daytime TV favourite Pointless – it’s surprising that the plots aren’t more enigmatic. But he appears to have learnt something else from his small-screen success: “find something that works, and give it to your audience again and again”.