by Jean Henry Mead
I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who like to read in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Periot, who were wise and perceptive, but never seemed to have any fun. That’s not true of today’s seniors who are less inclined to retire to their rocking chairs than previous generations.
A senior writer, Pat Browning, said: “A St. Martin's editor gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: ‘Be careful not to turn your characters into cartoons.’ I try to picture older characters as they are--the same people they always were, only older. This is especially true when it comes to romance and sex. For all the jokes about senior sex, it is a very real part of senior life, and it's no joke to those lucky enough to have a romantic partner late in life.”
I agree. Not unlike Janet Evanovich’s character, Grandma Mazur, who is eccentric enough for a cartoon character, most seniors have the same interests they’ve always had, with the possible exception of roller blading and downhill skiing. On second thought, I once interviewed Buffalo Bill’s grandson Bill Cody, who learned to donwhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.
Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His first novel features his octogenarian protagonist, “who is short on memory but has a sense of humor and love of life. He accepts his ‘geezerhood,’ solves a mystery and enjoys romance along the way "with a young chick of 72.”
My first senior sleuth mystery, A Village Shattered, takes place in a California retirement village. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor but none of the seniors resemble cartoon characters, although a couple come close, a redneck Casanova and love starved widow. Diary of Murder followed and I portrayed the two 60-year-old protagonist widows as quite capable of traveling the country in their motorhome as well as chasing down killers who happened to be drug dealers. The third novel in the series, due out later this month, Murder on the Interstate, takes place along I-40 in northern Arizona, and involves homegrown terrorism.
Another senior writer, Beth Solheim, spent years working in a nursing home and says she loves the elderly and their “humorous, quirky insight to life, love and longevity.” Her protagonists are 64-year-old twins in her humorous, paranormal cozy series, The Fifi Witt Mysteries.
Chester Campbell, an octogenarian, writes the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. He said, “My friends in this [age] bracket are out going places and doing things. Some, like me, continue to work at jobs they enjoy. I chose to use a senior couple in my books who are long married, get along fine, and do a competent job as private investigators. Greg, who narrates the books, is aware of his limitations from age and makes up for physical shortcomings by outsmarting his adversaries. My hope is to dispel some of the absurdity of the stereotypes about seniors that are all too familiar. Like the old song says, "Anything you can do I can do better." Chester also has another series featuring 59-year-old private investigator Sid Chase.
Like so many other novelists, I write what I enjoy reading. My readers are mainly retirees and baby boomers who number over 78 million. Some 8,000 boomers are moving into the senior column every day, the fastest growing potential book buying market on record.
We’re experiencing the graying of America. What better subgenre to write for?