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August 19, 2012 / John Sheridan

Review: Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

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Not many novels feature an eighty seven year old geriatric as their central character, yes you read that right 87!, so you know right from the start this is going to be a little bit different to the majority of crime & mystery novels out there.

Buck Schatz is a Jewish ex-soldier from WW II that subsequently worked as a homicide detective for the Memphis police department that is pointed in the direction of a former Nazi concentration camp guard long thought dead by a former army colleague (you would call him an army buddy if not for the fact that they hated each other).

Wallace was hooked up to an IV, a heart monitor and something I thought might be a dialysis machine. He had a tube in his nose. His skin had taken on a waxy yellow pallor and the whites of his eyes were brownish and filmy. His breath came in slow rasps and smelled like disease. He looked horrible. “You look good, Jimmy,” I said. “You’ll beat this yet.” He let out a rattling cough. “Reckon not, Buck. I suppose I’m not too long for this world.” He waved a feeble hand, a mostly unsuccessful attempt at a dramatic gesture. “I wish things were different,” I said, which meant that I wished Jim had been kind enough to die without bothering me about it.

Of course, when you have the likes of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying Israel’s existence is an “insult to all humanity” and a “cancerous tumour that must be wiped out” it does give you food for thought as to whether we have really progressed as far as we thought from those dark days so you will be rooting for them as they embark on their quest to find this Nazi.

A death bed confession reveals that his erstwhile colleague had let the Nazi in question through a checkpoint in exchange for gold but now belatedly regrets not telling Buck, who had of course suffered grievously at his hands, sooner. Back story reveals he was a hotshot detective but that he did have a way of alienating people which ultimately puts paid to any hope of assistance from current members of the police department and also is maybe why his own grandson describes him as an “ornery, senile, half-crazy old f*ck.”

Cue a long cast of characters all conniving to get their hands on the Nazi gold covering his son-in-law, his gambling addicted pastor, the pastor’s wife, the police detective, the former employee of the Wiesenthal centre not to mention the heavy from the casino seeking to cover the good pastor’s debts. It doesn’t take long in this kind of situation for the bodies to start piling up nor for Buck and his grandson to start attracting suspicion even though as he is suffering from many ailments he is quite infirm and not able to wield his gun with quite the same abandon as he did when he was on the police force. Indeed as we are frequently reminded paranoia is an early symptom of dementia in the elderly but what do you do when you are actually being followed and people wind up dead soon after meeting you?

We were long on paranoia and had no evidence of anything. My doctor had told me paranoia was an early symptom of dementia in the elderly.

Throughout the novel we can rely on the pure contrariness of Buck to lighten the mood.

Rose recently made me give a family friend, a heavyset lady who doesn’t drive anymore, a ride to her doctor’s office. When this woman climbed into my Buick, the whole passenger’s side of the car sank toward the pavement. Which is probably why GM went into Chapter 11.

“We haven’t got any ashtrays, sir, because people don’t smoke in our restaurant.” I took a long drag on my Lucky Strike, disproving his contention.

One of the few books where I have laughed out loud on public transport – not a particularly good idea incidentally, people do seem to consider you a bit strange. A pleasant light hearted read that nonetheless prevented me from successfully guessing the identity of the murderer until it was revealed. My rating is 9 out of 10. You can always check out this excerpt if you’re interested. It received starred reviews from the major trade review publications.

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