New mysteries with older main characters
What can be more enjoyable than reading mystery novels with relatable characters? Their situations may be far-fetched, but, for retired readers, older protagonists add familiar elements to the storylines.
The Eighth Detective: A Novel, by Alex Pavesi, 304 pages, Henry Holt and Co. hardcover, 2020; Picador paperback, August 2021
On a remote Mediterranean island, solitary isolated resident and retiree Grant McAllister is visited by book editor Julia Hart. Her firm plans to publish his long-forgotten, decades-old short story anthology. She is on assignment to write the author profile.
Grant posits a theory that all murder mysteries revolve around seven core plots. Each of his short stories is an example of one of these scenarios. The Eighth Detective presents the seven murder mysteries written by Grant. Each one is followed by a chapter describing Julia’s reactions, criticisms and discussions with the author about the preceding story. Discrepancies and contradictions occur in all seven mysteries. Is there a sinister overarching explanation?
Seniors will relate to Grant’s physical limitations, his faulty memory and his chagrin at the young woman pointing out the flaws, however minor, in his writing. The cliffs, treacherous rocks and winding paths on an island with few inhabitants create a haunted backdrop to the tale.
The Eighth Detective is the first novel by Alex Pavesi, a software engineer who lives in London.
The Last Trial, by Scott Turow, 470 pages, Grand Central Publishing paperback, 2021
Many of us can empathize with the last weeks preceding retirement, the last project, the very last day. Emotions are raw, and soon-to-be-retired workers may have second thoughts about their decision. We may ourselves have experienced the poignancy of closing a family enterprise.
The Last Trial tells the story of 85-year-old immigrant attorney, twice-widowed Alejandro (Sandy) Stern and the riveting account of his final case. A further element that adds depth to the story is the interplay between generations, spouses, colleagues and friends.
Once the verdict and trial have concluded, loose ends remain unresolved. Stern continues to pursue all of them, including what he believes was an attempt on his life. He finds companionship and help from his granddaughter Pinky.
As his long legal career ends, the protagonist realizes that justice must be tempered with forgiveness. That is the most important of life’s lessons.
Septuagenarian author Scott Turow portrays the emotional life of his characters with superb artistry. He has been practicing law for four decades and has sold more than 30 million books.
Death in Her Hands: A Novel, by Ottessa Moshfegh, 272 pages, Penguin House paperback, 2021
This psychological thriller is a first-person narrative by a recently widowed childless woman. Vesta Gul is 72 years old. Her only companion is Charlie, a puppy she acquired after her husband Walter’s death. Walter was a university professor, an epistemologist whose rational, scientific approach contrasted with his wife’s emotional and spontaneous personality.
Vesta leaves her memories behind and embarks on her solitary life by moving across the country to New England. Vesta lives without telephone, TV or internet on a secluded, rundown 12-acre lakeside tract. Her only links to the outside world are her radio, the mail delivery and her car. Vesta must drive to the gas station three miles away to use the phone. Every Monday, she drives further into town to do her shopping. When she wants to go online, Vesta uses the local library’s computer.
Like many a solitary soul, Vesta daydreams about the past. She interprets Charlie’s moods with what she presumes is perfect clarity. She creates imaginary stories about the townspeople she encounters in passing.
Vesta finds a mysterious note left at a remote site along her daily walk in the woods. Her innate curiosity impels her to attempt to solve the mystery behind the note. Vesta finds an outlet for what she assumes are her keen powers of observation honed by her time spent alone. The actions that ensue make Death in Her Hands a memorable tale.
Author Ottessa Moshfegh is 40 years old. Decide for yourself whether her depiction of this septuagenarian is pure fiction or grounded in reality.