In Praise of Seasoning

Thank you, Michele, and Miss Demeanors, for having me on the blog today!

Let’s start with a confession. These days, I’ve been spending most of my time with older sleuths. Murder She Wrote is one of my favorite television go-tos, as are Diagnosis Murder and Matlock. All feature protagonists over fifty.

During the pandemic I became a huge fan of audio books, and listened to one of my favorite (maybe my favorite) series twice through. Barbara Rosenblatt narrating the Amelia Peabody series–does it get much better for this Elizabeth Peters fan? I didn’t think so. Amelia Peabody starts the series in her thirties, and by the end she’s hovering around seventy. As anyone who’s read the series knows, she gets better with age.

An “also recommends” on Audible suggested another series read by the same narrator, the Mrs. Pollifax series. I’d seen the Roz Russell 1971 movie, Mrs. Pollifax–Spy. I’d also seen the 1999 Angela Lansbury movie, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. Both were–fine. But then I listened to The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, and the rest of the series. Dorothy Gilman was a delightful storyteller. (Truly delightful. I’ve become a huge fan.) And Mrs. Pollifax is a wonderful character–at the beginning of the series she is a widow who feels useless and is depressed. By the end of the series she’s a master spy, but she’s still Mrs. Emily Pollifax from New Brunswick, New Jersey. That’s her true superpower–she brings a lifetime of common sense to a world that underestimates her because of her age.

To be upfront, my Garden Squad series, which I write as Julia Henry, centers around sixty-five year old Lilly Jayne, her gardens, and her friends. When I was thinking about the series, which leans more toward the cozy end of the spectrum, I was thinking about gardening. Suddenly Lilly Jayne popped up in my imagination. She’s a recent widow who favors wearing full skirted dresses and sneakers, has unruly white curly hair, and does not suffer fools gladly.

She’s also seasoned. She knows how the world works, but that doesn’t mean she likes it. At this stage in her life, she doesn’t ask for permission, she asks for forgiveness. Or, to be honest, she doesn’t ask for forgiveness, she just fixes what’s wrong because she has a good sense of how that fix needs to be done and the determination to get it done.

That seasoning blend? It’s a combination of a deep understanding that time is finite, that the world isn’t inherently fair but could be made a better place with effort, and caring very little about what other people think. Add a dash of crankiness, achy knees, and stubbornness and you’ve got the spice that makes Jessica Fletcher, Amelia Peabody, Emily Pollifax, Jacqueling Kirby (another Elizabeth Peters series), Ben Matlock, Mark Sloan, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and others the sleuths that so many love.

I’ve been working on a new project for the past few months–a story about three fifty-something women who work together to help other people get revenge. I wish I could explain the joy of spending time with these characters. I am in the seasoned part of my own life, and love characters who understand the journey, but create their own unique path. Life is short. As a reader, a watcher, and a writer, I prefer spending time with characters who know that.

How about you, dear readers? Any older sleuths in your life?

Julie Hennrikus writes the Garden Squad series as Julia Henry. The fifth book in the series, The Plot Thickets, will be released in November. Julie is also the executive director of Sisters in Crime, and hosts The Sisters in Crime Writers’ Podcast. JHAuthors.com @JHAuthors on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

19 comments

  1. I love this, and I love the Garden Squad series! And I can’t wait for the new project to be in print.

    So far in my books the older characters are close relatives who serve as sidekicks and sometimes sleuths, and they are some of my favorite people to write.

    1. There is something fabulous about writing older characters. They really don’t care what other people think, and that’s so freeing.

  2. JULIE: Fun post!
    I LOVED reading the Mrs. Pollifax books in the 1980s.

    I also discovered audiobooks that I liked last year that feature elderly sleuths. The 4 sleuths in Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice are in their 70s, and each one is distinct and a delight. They all live in a retirement house in England. At first, they tried solving cold cases as recreation but then real murder(s) take place close to home and their assist the local police to solve the crimes.

  3. LOVE your books! Having just finished the latest of the Garden Squad books, I anxiously awaiting to hear from Lilly Jayne again. Also super excited about this new series too.

    As one that’s seasoned myself, I enjoy and appreciate the wisdom of age, the ability to prioritize so as to not to sweat the small stuff and enjoy the characters in books and on TV to have the same advantages. Guess that’s why we watch the shows you mentioned on a daily basis and why I look for them in the books I read. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kay! I agree with everything you said about the wisdom of age. I think we need a new round of TV mysteries centered on older sleuths, don’t you?

  4. How nice to meet another fan of Mrs. Pollifax! I just found a stash of them at a used bookshop and scooped them up. Yes, they’re a bit dated, but Mrs. Pollifax – her humanity, common sense, and yes, her seasoning – shine.

    1. Shari, I so agree. And they’re dated, but not in a terrible way. Interesting the way she used book time. There were 30 years between the first and last books, each was set in current day to when it was written, but only a few years lapsed between first and last.

  5. Yes….. the wisdom of having a few years under the belt. In a way these sleuths deal with real life with the perspective of real life, those years of seeing the ebb and flow of events. Congratulations on your latest release.

  6. Julie, I am so happy you joined us today. I like to call myself “a writer of a certain age.” I find aging is liberating and I think that’s why sleuths of a certain age end up being not only creative and feisty, but also likeable. Thanks for sharing about your characters and others.

  7. I’d have to say Jackson Lamb from the Slough House series is my favorite sleuth of a certain age: doesn’t tolerate fools, doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, but deeply cares about loyalty and justice.

    Thanks for visiting, Julie!

  8. Hi, Julie. Thanks for joining the Miss D’s today. I agree with your post. It’s nice to have a character to root for who isn’t worried about superficial stuff, and just gets things done. And so many books published today are focused on ditsy twenty-five year olds. (True confession. Fin Fleming, my main character, is twenty-five, but she is a reasoned, seasoned professional.) I’m going to track down the Mrs. Pollifax books. They sound intriguing.

  9. I love Mrs. Pollifax. I read the books years ago and haven’t thought about them in a long time. Since I’m looking for some light (not serial killer) mysteries in audiobooks, I might check out The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

    Nice to have you on Miss Demeanors.

  10. Thanks for joining us! My own protagonist, Maggie Dove, is 62 and is trying to make sense of the world. She has a lot of opinions! Can’t wait to read about your Garden sleuths.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.