Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman is a funny thriller featuring a feisty retiree who can still kick some serious butt (available May 22, 2012).
I can’t think of a more unlikely hero than Baruch “Buck” Schatz. Okay, so he spent decades in the Memphis PD and was quite the hotshot detective—that ended in 1973. And yeah, he had what it took to survive as an American GI in a German POW camp—but that was more than sixty years ago. The guy is eighty-seven years old. Should he even still be driving a car?
Here’s how Buck sees himself:
Rose and I buried our only son six years ago. He was fifty-two, and he’s gone. We’re still here. Dragging that reality around gets exhausting. I was a hard man, once. Immovable, like the face of a mountain. But wind and rain can erode even granite if they have enough years to do it. No matter how tough you think you are, if you live long enough, eventually you get all squishy.
When Jim Wallace, once a prisoner in the POW camp with Buck, lies dying in the hospital, his family begs Buck to come to visit Wallace. Buck never considered Jim a friend, so he refuses, but Buck’s wife, the ever-wise, Rose, insists that he go. Moments before death, Wallace confesses that, at war’s end, the SS officer who ran their prison camp, Heinrich Ziegler, survived the war and escaped punishment with bars of gold. How does Wallace know this? Because, for a bar of gold, he helped Ziegler escape.
Disgusted by this news, Buck decides to try to find Ziegler and the fortune he stole. Soon Buck is running around with a .357 magnum, chasing Nazi gold. He may not have the physical prowess and mental acuity he once had, but, Buck has attitude and plenty of it. At Jim Wallace’s funeral, Buck lights a Lucky Strike. The church pastor, Doctor Kind, introduces himself and objects to the cigarette.
“I minister to the souls of this flock, yes.” He beamed at me, and his reptile face filled with God’s boundless love. I thought I felt a chill run up my spine, but it could have been just poor circulation.
“Well, you’ll know where to find me an ashtray around here, then.”
Kind frowned. “Buck, you can’t smoke in here. I hope you’re not going to make this difficult for me.”
“Not having to care about making things easy for anyone else is one of the three best things about being old,” I told him. “The other two are smoking and telling people what I think about them. I never go anywhere that I can’t do at least two out of three.”
Buck is annoyed that he can’t get the Memphis Police Department to give him a hand and decides to move forward with the help of his NYU law student grandson, who has the unlikely nickname of Tequila. Buck immediately trips over Jim Wallace’s family members, loan sharks, scholars, an Israeli agent, and other unlikely folks. And, of course, there is murder afoot.
This book reflects back to a serious and dreadful time in world history and yet, Buck is so funny in his approach to life, that I laughed my way throughout. For the sheer joy of it, I re-read the part where Buck and Tequila are in the bank, trying to open the safety deposit box, three or four times. It was that irresistible.
I had a grand time reading this book and you will, too.