Age really is just a number.
I know 60- and 80-year-olds who think and act as if they are still in their 20s; conversely, I know 20- and 30-year-olds who might as well be in their 90s since they are squandering their youth.
Gray hair and wrinkles have little to do with a person’s real age, even though we live in a youth-obsessed world. How else to explain why NBC is thinking of dumping Jay Leno whose ratings have never been higher for a younger host? (And for the record, I like Jimmy Fallon a lot.)
While mysteries also tend to focus on characters who are younger characters, more novels are showing the vitality and abilities of older detectives.
Take the absorbing Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman about a former FBI Special Agent who also is 59 years old. Brigid Quinn’s years in the FBI were spent dealing with violence and her obsession with her career and capturing murderers left her little time for a personal life. While her retirement came after she shot an unarmed criminal, her real career low was not capturing a serial killer whose case was dubbed “the Route 66 murders.”
While retirement has not been an easy fit for Brigid, she has found happiness in her new marriage to a former college professor. But Brigid is drawn back to the violence when a man confesses to the killings.
No matter what age Masterman used for her heroine, Rage Against the Dying would be an intriguing thriller, filled with realistic characters who elevate the solid plot. But Brigid’s age brings a new depth to the story as Masterman shows that the skills that Brigid had as a young agent have only increased and matured, making her even more valuable.
Masterman, of course, isn’t the only author to show that detectives over the age of 50 have the vitality of their younger counterparts.
James Swain wrote several intriguing novels about Tony Valentine, a retired Atlantic City cop turned casino consultant. A widower who lived in a retirement community, Tony was 63 years old when the series began. Tony found his consulting business was a way to gain respect, which he took for granted when he was a young cop. The worst part about getting old, Tony says, is that “People don’t think you count anymore.”
Michael Connelly and Sara Paretsky have both aged their detectives in their long-running series.
Connelly’s Harry Bosch was 11 years old in 1961 when his mother was murdered and he was 18 years old when he joined the Army and served in Vietnam. The LAPD detective is now in his 60s and retirement is looming for Bosch, who figures he has about three more years on the job, a situation explored in The Drop, published in 2011. Retirement may be creeping up but there is no doubt that Connelly keeps Bosch vital, sharp and at the top of his game.
Likewise Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski—was born around 1950, according to the timeline of the novels. Yet the private detective still prowls the streets of Chicago, seeking justice. V.I. keeps up with current events and the novels reflect the changing times.
Still, we worry how long Charlotte “Lotty” Herschel will be around, since she is a Holocaust survivor.
While neither a cell phone or the Internet existed when Paretsky or Connelly began their series, V.I. and Harry both embrace technology and use it to their advantage.
Of course, Agatha Christie knew decades ago that age didn’t diminish a detective’s observation skills. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot were foiling criminals far into their golden years.
Do you have a favorite fictional detective who is over the age of 50?
Justified’s fourth season ended last night with a bang of a finale, full of unexpected plot twists and character relevations.
For those of you who have not yet seen the finale of this series on FX, I offer this promise:
DO NOT WORRY IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FINALE.
I GIVE NOTHING AWAY.
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS BLOG WITHOUT FEAR OF SPOILERS. (And if you missed this finale it will be On Demand soon and there will be reruns.)
OK, now that we got that out of the way.
No matter what the plot involves—moonshiners, the Detroit mob, the destructive nature of Big Coal—each season has really been about the thin line that is ever shifting between good and evil. It’s no coincidence it also is a recurring theme in Elmore Leonard’s novels. Justified is based on Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole.
Justified entertains with its own 50 shades of gray areas as good people do bad things and criminals show they can be heroes, of a sort.
The fourth season of Justified revolved around the search for Drew Thompson, who was involved in an international cocaine deal more than 30 years ago and who faked his own death.
But the heart of Justified continues to be the story of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (played to perfection by Timothy Olyphant, left) and the criminal Boyd Crowder (also played to perfection by Walton Goggins).
The two men grew up together and know how each other thinks.
As each is fond of saying, “We shoveled coal together,” a phrase that may not mean anything outside of Kentucky's hills but implies a code of mutual obligation for those who live in Harlan County.
Each man could easily have turned the other way and each knows that.
We root for Raylan, of course, but we also want to see Boyd succeed.
Ironically, Raylan has his problems with relationships, but Boyd and Ava Crowder, his girlfriend and partner in crime, have an extremely strong bond.
It is obvious that Boyd and Ava (the wonderful Joelle Carter) not only are in love but respect each other and treat each other as equals. And if you don’t know why Ava has the same last name as Boyd, then go back to season one.
Season 4 also gave us more of a glimpse into the backgrounds and personal lives of Raylan’s co-workers, Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts).
And that also played into the season's other theme--the search for identity, whether it was Drew, Raylan, the other deputies or the prostitute Ellen May.
One of the highlights of this fourth season was watching Constable Bob Sweeney (played by comedian Patton Oswalt) step up and show his mettle. Bob has often been treated as a buffoon by the other officers and by Harlan County residents. And, Bob has often acted like a clown.
But don’t underestimate this cop.
Justified has been renewed for Season 5—the network executives would be foolish not to—but we will have to wait until early 2014 to see what else awaits Raylan, Boyd, Ava and the rest of the crew.
Sounds like a good time to rewatch all the seasons.
PHOTOS: From top: Timothy Olyphant; Joelle Carter and Walton Goggins; Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel; Olyphant and Patton Oswalt. FX photos