Friday, August 6, 2010

What's Beind the Rise of Senior Sleuths

By Chester Campbell

The subject of senior sleuths has grown in popularity in recent years. Being a certified senior writer who now has five books about a detective couple far from being spring chickens, I was tapped for a panel at the 2010 Killer Nashville conference titled "Grow Old Along With Me: The Aging of Crime Fiction Protagonists." It got me to thinking about what prompted this new fascination with old age.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that everybody is headed in that direction, and we find it comforting to read about people who do a great job of dealing with the problems older generations face. Some writers go for the caricature approach, painting old-timers as slow and bumbling, perhaps in an effort at comic effect. I'm more interested in showing them as productive citizens whose views are enhanced  by years of experience. These are the seniors I know.

I have nothing against using a muddling character when the plot calls for it, but not as an example of elderly people. In my new book I used a character who is shabby and shiftless but there is nothing to suggest that he is particularly old.

Sleuths in the senior ranks, commonly thought of as over sixty, bring many years of experience to the job. They don't see a lot that surprises them. When they face a problem, they can usually relate it to something they have encountered in the past.

Older detectives do encounter problems, but they're aware of their shortcomings and know how to compensate for them. They're no match for a younger guy in a foot race. When it comes to physical struggles, their timing is a little off, and unless they work out regularly they won't have the stamina of years past.  If they're smart, and that's the only kind of people I write about, they use their brains to outsmart their opponents.

Younger investigators tend to be tough guys, ready to use their fists and quick to drasw their guns. Older detectives use persuasion and logic and depend on their weapons only when there's no other way. I think readers live vicariously with the slam-bam types but feel admiration for the older protagonists who tend to be more like people they know.

How do you feel about seniors as sleuths?

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Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think it is nothing more than niche marketing----just like there are more scrap book mysteries, quilting mysteries, etc. In an effort to chase readers, publishers continue to split the market into smaller and smaller niches.

In the long run, I am not sure this niche marketing of mysteries is a good thing.

Chester Campbell said...

You may be right, Kevin, but with small publishers, the area I'm involved with, they're only interested in good stories. If there's a market out there for older protags, I'm sure the publishers will go for it.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

The small publishers are doing the niche thing as well. For some of them the niche is their sole reason for existence.

Terry Stonecrop said...

My MC is young, thirty-four. In reading, I like both older and younger protagonists.

Look at Miss Marple and so many other old, old favorites.

Besides older people seem younger today than they did maybe twenty or thirty years ago. Sixty is the new forty, some say. So keep going:)

Ricky Bush said...

Us 'Baby Boomers' have to have someone we can relate to, don't we? And there are a LOT of us out there.