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.