Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An old dog needs no new tricks

By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers

I've always loved Bond movies, especially the earlier ones with Sean Connery as the smooth and sophisticated, much younger James Bond. I love all the gadgets, the speed, excitement, the fast cars.
When I went to watch Skyfall earlier this month, I wasn't sure what to expect. Bond is no longer a young man, and his superior, M, is even more silver-haired. I settled into my seat with a little concern and an open mind. Was an older super agent about to ruin my enjoyment?

Bond has been around for years. In an article posted on Reuters, I read comments on the topic of relevance, especially in a world where technology has replaced the old style sleuthing the earlier Bond used to do. I found this most interesting, because I have an aging detective in my Jackson mystery series.

When I wrote MADNESS AND MURDER, I planned it as a stand alone. I never intended to write a series - ever. I rarely read books in a series, so why write one? Then I got feedback from readers. They loved Jackson and sought his return. I wanted to give them what they requested, but I had a bit of a problem - Madness and Murder spans 20 years, which means Jackson is in his early 60's by the end of the book. How much crime-fighting life could there be left in the old dog?

Back to Bond - Daniel Craig came on the screen in Skyfall as a scruffy, unshaved, silver-streaked agent who looked closer to retirement than a new mission. Oh, dear. Where was the suave, sophisticated super spy of the past? I shifted in my seat, thought "I'm not going to like this" and pitied the older Bond. I wondered what everyone else thought - and the movie theatre was packed. The first show was a sell out and I had to wait for the second showing of the night. For everyones sake, I hoped Bond still had it.

A short way into the movie (after Bond had a shave and smartened up), I relaxed. There were fewer gadgets, fewer women, and a great plot. The show was a success and fulfilled my expectations. The older spy appeared more vulnerable, more humble, wiser, and...well, better. Far less cocky and still relevant. As mentioned in the Reuters article, older values are evident, and Bond's loyalty and courage are tested. I liked this. It was more realistic.

I realize my fictional detective is also still relevant. He honors old fashioned values, where his younger counterparts might not. Something about that is appealing. His age causes tension, but his experience more than compensates. He talks to people in person, rather than using modern technology to communicate. He may be physically less fit, but he is mentally stronger.

Older cops are more complicated, more layered, and more interesting. Weakness in a tough role adds depth to their character - a crucial element to good fiction. The dangers they face are greater. And, as with Bond, older agents can still be sexy. I'm less concerned about more stories with my aging fictional detective than I was. Even though I hadn't planned it, I see he has a future.

Readers: what's your take? Do you enjoy reading crime fiction with an older cop, an aging amateur sleuth, or an older protagonist?


  1. Jen, I love that you were worried about whether the rest of the audience would like the movie. Did you think them capable of revolt if they didn't?

    As far as the aging protagonist, I like them. Perhaps it's because I, too, am aging, but I'd like to think it's because they're not bringing in any swagger that they haven't earned. You feel that you're in the company of someone who has seen it all and knows what to do and all will be well.

    (Full disclosure: my own protagonist is 50, so I admit to some prejudice.)

  2. I'm with Gayle. I also think that readers in general are aging, and they like to be able to identify with characters.

    A woman sitting next ot me on a plane not too long ago asked me to consider writing stories using older protagonists—she was talking 70's, I think—that were NOT patterned after Miss Marple.

  3. Great post, Jenny! Four of my favorite thriller heroes, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole, are all over 40-45, and Reacher and Harry Bosch are over 50, and they use their wealth of experience to their advantage.

    And as you say,"Older cops are more complicated, more layered, and more interesting. Weakness in a tough role adds depth to their character - a crucial element to good fiction. The dangers they face are greater."

  4. I think as long as any character has depth, he or she can be relevant and interesting. In the age of supermodels and airbrushed perfection, it's nice to see an older character who isn't chiseled and perfect.

  5. I'm happy to see that "older" is acceptable, if not better. My debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, out next July, features a sixty-something ex chief of police whose wife has just died. He feels old and irrelevant, and in the course of the novel becomes reinvigorated. I like his pithy observations and his realization that what he may lack in strength he makes up for in cunning.

  6. Hey jenny, nice post. Personally, I get bored by the perfect protagonists who have no flaws. I like my characters flawed a bit and Bond sounds like he's developed nicely. One of these days I'll have to catch that movie! While I always enjoyed the younger Bond movies, this sounds like one I'd enjoy even more.

  7. I am interested in protagonists of all ages & good writing. Older characters give a writer a chance to share bits of stuff about aging those not at age x will not have thought/known of. Enjoyed the new "Don't Ever Get Old" quite a lot. Protagonist in his late 80s.



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