From Nancy Drew to Nancy Droop

Aging Baby Boomer here. And maybe because I am so old, I’m noticing a trend to take commercial/literary advantage of “women of a certain age” like me. And I’m all for it. I have been reading more books with older protagonists lately and enjoying them.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not discriminating against Nancy Drew, although I was a Judy Bolton girl. Youth may be wasted on the young, but they have rights, too. However, I am definitely in my Miss Marple phase. Give me the pearls and twinsets and sensible shoes.

Numerous actors have portrayed Jane Marple on the big and little screens, the radio, and there is even a Japanese anime series featuring her and Poirot. Would Agatha approve? Probably. I think she liked to keep current. And make money.

There are 32 Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth, written from 1928 to 1961. Miss Silver, a retired governess-turned-detective, gives Miss Marple a run for her reputation. Both are elderly, physically unprepossessing spinsters who are easily underestimated until they catch the crooks. I have not read all 32 and probably won’t, but they are fine examples of Golden Age mysteries.

I have raved here before about Richard Osman’s three Thursday Murder Club books, set in a posh retirement village in the UK. Four very diverse residents have banded together (on Thursdays) to look at cold cases, and some very hot cases as well. The supporting characters are equally compelling, and I look forward to the fourth book coming in September.

A Spoonful of Murder by J.M. Hall bands three retired teachers together to investigate the death of a former colleague over their weekly coffee date. Elly Griffiths’ The Postscript Murders has a dead 90-year-old and her somewhat younger neighbors who help solve her murder. One of the heroines in Robert Thorogood’s The Marlow Murder Club is a mysterious Crossword clue-setting septuagenarian who swims in the Thames daily (shudder). Deanna Raybourn’s recent Killers of a Certain Age features four sixty-somethings who try to quit the spy business, but their agency has other—deadly—plans. None of these characters are in any way doddering, which I appreciate. (Even if I’m a bit doddering on occasion.)

I am on Season 10 (out of 12) of Vera on BritBox. At the beginning of the series in 2011, Vera was a close-to-retirement Detective Chief Inspector with a newly diagnosed heart condition. In real life, star Brenda Blethyn is now 77, and I’m wondering if a Season 13 is planned for the future. It’s probably time for Vera (and Brenda) to throw away her awful hat, retire, and go to Spain for a holiday like any proper British pensioner. Blethyn is wonderful in the role, though, and has cute young detective sergeants to do the jumping over fences to chase the criminals.

In my own new cozy mystery series (yet to be published), the heroine May (my tribute to Auntie Mame with a dash of Miss Marple) would never admit to her age, and the hero Charles is a ready-to-rusticate Scotland Yard detective. In the words of May’s niece: One has merely to catch a glimpse of Aunt May to know one is in the presence of an Original. It’s not just that she is well-preserved for a woman her age (whatever that may be—she has struck the exact year out of the family Bible with an “accidental” thumb smudge), but her personality is, to put it mildly, forceful.

Sometimes I think she is far more modern than I am. She has plucked her distinctive eyebrows and shingled her currently auburn hair. From a distance, at twilight, she could pass for one of the Bright Young People who motor down from London to drink themselves blind at the week-end in one of the converted weavers’ cottages.

The Bible-fudging is a nod to my own red-headed great-aunts, a few of whom somehow blotted out the years they were born in my great-grandmother Mary Hester Hardwick Miller’s Bible. They were known collectively as “the beautiful Miller sisters.” I don’t know about their beauty, but their waists look impossibly small.

My grandmother Ruth, second from left, and some of her sisters

Ruth Hardwick Miller Lanman

Does age matter? Do you have a favorite geezer-series?

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16 Responses to From Nancy Drew to Nancy Droop

  1. John Clark says:

    No particular favorites as I favor YA, but I have given considerable thought to a couple aspects of being older. 1 is you tend to wear out worrying and the peripheral ‘chatter’ associated with it so you can think more and emote less when facing a challenging situation. The other is one I need to spend more time contemplating. I call it the piston syndrome because the older you get, the closer to the end of everything you are, much like a piston in a cylinder, so life gets compressed. How to deal with that is the part I’m still working on.

  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    Thank you for all the new suggestions. Now I have even more authors to catch up with. I do enjoy the Thursday Murder Club series. Haven’t heard of Miss Silver. Will have to chase her down. I’ve never understood the whole hide your age thing. It is what it is and up to you to make the most of it.

  3. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    I’ve been able to download a couple of free/cheap Miss Silver books. Comfortable and old-fashioned!

  4. Louisette says:

    My first series, taking place here in Farmington, is also an older protagonist amateur sleuth. Started over twenty years ago, the series depicts an active sixty something retired widowed paramedic woman. Who knew that would eventually become a “thing”

  5. kaitcarson says:

    I love the Thursday Murder Club! And yes, I like aging sleuths. Wouldn’t it be fun to do a real-time aged Nancy Drew book. Maybe an anthology where aged Nancy had to figure in the stories, but not necessarily be the protagonist. Hum…..

  6. Katherine Vaughan says:

    May sounds delightful and I look forward to seeing your books in print! I’m writing a set of mysteries with a genealogical theme that bring their youthful amateur sleuth (a Nancy Drew of sorts) into relationships with a variety of lively, intelligent, outspoken older folk, particularly women. The elderly can become invisible in our youth-obsessed society, and these stories, and those you mention, try to right that ship. I love Vera too! Thank you for posting!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Genealogy is fascinating. I’ve recently been in touch with some cousins I never knew existed. Your premise sounds great!

      • Katherine says:

        Thank you for the encouraging words! Working hard on pushing 1-3 along the road to publication and finishing a first draft of #4. Have been much inspired by the contributors to this blog to redouble my efforts!

  7. anonymous says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series featuring 92 year old sleuth Victoria Trumbull by Cynthia Riggs. Takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Ooh, I don’t know that one! Funny, because Trumbull is a family name for me, my dad’s middle name.

  8. Shelley Burbank says:

    Age matters much less than attitude…always! I like protagonists of all ages. I even started watching some old Murder She Wrote episodes, though Jessica Fletcher seems younger and younger to me all the time, haha. Enjoyed this post!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Thanks, Shelley! I remember when you weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30. I am definitely untrustworthy, LOL.

  9. Cathy L Counts says:

    Oh, I so much enjoyed this article on women detectives of a certain age. Thank you so much for making me smile.

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