Do sleuths wrinkle?

In my search for mysteries featuring seasoned-yet-sharp minds, I have found mostly “capers,” usually in or around retirement homes. Someone goes missing; someone else is seen darting in and out of others’ apartments at night; a neighbor drowns in the bathtub and the daughter buys a new house – that sort of thing.  This morning I opened an E-book starring a bunch of old ladies who live in a hotel owned by a 31-year-old sleuth. It’s bound to be comic, but it’s not my idea of fun.

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In dealing with more serious crimes, occasionally an older person, typically a busybody, assists the police in their inquiries. I read one recently that pivoted on the observations of a “busybody” who had nothing to do but sit in her window all day. Age has its advantages.

Series detectives kept alive by success have to age sometime, don’t they? Often, the only way you know is by the ages of their children. My husband and I are reading Donna Leon’s newest, The Golden Egg, in which the Commissario’s offspring, Raffi and Chiara are growing into adulthood. Still, the youthful vitality in the parents’ marriage is sustained, it seems, by Paola’s verve, supported by her aristocratic ancestry. My husband recalls: “Didn’t Brunetti have a thing for Senorina Elettra?” Some books ago. It appears now that Guido is past the dangerous age.

I struck gold in “The Two Widows” series, where mother and daughter, both attractive to men, hang out their shingle in Seattle, to conduct private investigations. Millie, the younger, is 50; her mother Margaret is thus 70-75.  Mom is the one who does a lot of canoodling with a boyfriend. Millie’s big thrill is dressing in disguise. In “The Misdirected Message” she infiltrates a white supremacist group by pretending to be dumpy “Verna.”

After getting off to a slow start, what I liked best about “The Misdirected Message” is the way the author, Ruth Ross, developed the relationship between the two women. Millie, recovering from a bum ride with a cad, has grown accustomed to having her widowed mom around again, but the mom is being courted by a gentleman named Mitch. Mom represents her own generation – she has hardly ever been independent. Now she must find a way to satisfy her own desires without leaving her daughter in the dust. Luckily, Mitch has money and puts the two in business together. What’s his motive? His gray-haired love might be sliding into dementia, and he wants to keep his eye on her.

This is the new family, or at least one kind of new domestic arrangement. It could just as easily be Margaret who, like the younger Paola, has the money to bail her man out of misery.

Another thing about older heroines: they can be very wise. Millie says, “There is nothing more invisible than a middle-aged woman.” That’s a downer. But she also says, “There’s nothing quite as fragile as high school dreams….” — and that’s gender-free.

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