Elderly Sleuths Kill Stereotypes
I’m reading mysteries featuring elderly sleuths, and I’m looking for descriptions that allow the elderly to be whole, able, and alert. No other will do. My own cozy mystery series features the 90-year-olds at Whisperwood Retirement Village, and my characters are able, alert, and active as are many 90-year-olds and 100-year-olds.
As the critique group of my first manuscript read and commented on it, I was appalled at what they said. They wanted me to present the elderly, or rather, the perennials, using all the stereotypes of the elderly, when I am pulling for a better reality. Have you seen 90-year-old Dick Van Dyke dancing with his wife on YouTube?
So I began collecting articles about people in their 90s and 100s who are running marathons, winning tennis matches and canoeing races, even learning how to read for the first time. I also googled elderly sleuths. I found one cozy mystery site that listed 104 authors who write mysteries featuring an elderly sleuth. Some of the elderly sleuths are well-known like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Polifax, and Donald Bain’s Jessica Fletcher. I’m starting my way down the list to read at least one of each series. First up is Peter F. Abresch who writes the James P. Dandy Elderhostel (Elderhostel is now called Road Scholar) Mystery Series.
Abresch’s book, Killing Thyme, is an enjoyable read with plenty of detail about Baltimore where Jim Dandy and his significant other, Dodee Swisher, meet for an Elderhostel cooking class. They hope to spend time together, get to know each other better and learn about what makes a great chef. Unfortunately, the great chefs are being knocked off one by one. Then a wealthy Elderhosteler is killed in a traffic accident that turns out to be murder.
Abresch knows Baltimore, the scenes are authentic, and the puzzle grows more complex with a climactic ending. A lot of mouth-watering descriptions of chef offerings but, thank goodness, no recipes. I look forward to reading his other novels, including the rest of the Elderhostel series.
Jim Dandy and Dodee are probably in their 60s and references are made to Viagra, but on the whole, the two come off as real people and not stereotypes of decrepitude.
Another enjoyable series features Mrs Jeffries, auburn-haired, middle-aged housekeeper for Inspector Gerald Witherspoon of the London Metropolitan Police Department. Written by Emily Brightwell, this old-fashioned mystery set in Victorian England puts a new spin on the “upstairs-downstairs” class distinctions of the time.
In Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-Up, a fire in the servant’s hall interrupts a high tea for the wealthy upper-class friends of Daniel and Elena McCourt. Daniel plans to show off the newest addition to his collection of Asian artifacts. As the guests flee the fire, Daniel runs to his precious collection where he is murdered by two sword whacks to his throat. He is found under the mistletoe.
While the inspector and Constable Barnes investigate the murder, his household staff, including a cook, two maids, coachman, and a footman, headed by Mrs. Jeffries, conduct a parallel investigation to aid Jeffries. They focus on the household staff of the McCourts’ upper-class friends. Unbeknownst to the inspector, Barnes is also working with the household staff, feeding the information gathered to the inspector as if he’d just thought of it.
In the end, Mrs. Jeffries solves the mystery and casually leads the inspector to the correct solution. It’s a satisfying mystery, and all the characters are treated with respect regardless of age or station in life.
Eileen has ridden a camel in the Moroccan Sahara, fished for piranhas on the Amazon, sailed in a felucca on the Nile, and lived for three years on a motorsailer, exploring the coast from Annapolis to Key West. Eileen has many years experience writing, editing and designing all manner of publications for nonprofits and professional associations. She is now co-owner of Summit Crossroads Press, which publishes books for parents, and its fiction imprint, Amanita Books. The inspiration for her 90s Club mystery series springs from meeting a slim, attractive woman at a pool party who was the only one actually in the pool swimming laps, and she was 91 years old. Since then, Eileen has collected articles about people in their 90s—and 100s—who are still active, alert and on the job. She often speaks at retirement villages on “Old Dogs, New Tricks.”