Sometimes, age doesn’t bring wisdom, and unfortunately, Buck Schatz (get it) is one of those cases. I started “Don’t Ever Get Old” hoping for humor–say, Grandma Muzar from Evanovich’s Plum series–or insight into aging, but unfortunately, I got neither.
Buck Schatz is an 87 year-old retired detective who gets drawn into a case looking for Nazi gold against his inclinations. His reluctance is compounded by painful memories from time as a prisoner in a German camp near the end of WW II.
Yes, you read that right. Nazi gold. Sigh. I feel like someone should have spent some time at Tvtropes while they were dreaming up the plot. I forgave it, a little, when I learned that Buck was Jewish, and his own memories of being a POW came out during the case. But it’s a thin plot, really more of a ‘race to the treasure’ scenario than a true mystery. The villainous twist really isn’t twisty, as I saw it coming halfway through the book, and if I’ve said it once, if I can figure out your mystery, it’s probably light on the actual mystery. The race for the gold quickly becomes complicated with a series of gory, absolutely pointlessly tortured deaths. The method of killing does not make any sense–as Poirot says, “the psychologie, Hastings”–and ended up being a deal-breaker for its quality as a mystery.
But I can live with a ridiculous plot–see aforementioned Stephanie Plum books–if the characters and tone are well done. But Buck really, really didn’t work for me. It doesn’t help that the former, aged cops I run into are generally interesting people that love to tell stories. There’s probably some bitter, unreflective ones out there, but I doubt many made detective, which usually means some kind of problem-solving ability. But mostly, I felt like Friedman was doing a disservice to the 87 year-olds I meet. Frankly, Buck is unlikable. He’s unable to express positive sentiment, insults people he’s just met, and is generally irritable with the ones he knows. What was just redeemable for me where the interlude style pages taking from his memory journal that begin with “Something I don’t want to forget.” Those were touching and humanizing, but Buck was only able to translate those memories and thoughts into reaching out to his family once.
Honestly, the reviewers who say they laughed hysterically through this… I don’t know. They must be young, or not talk very often to old people. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be funny, the irony of a gun-toting 87 year-old unable to lift his gun? I found it just sad. There’s a very sad scene leaving a casino where he tries to boss his grandson around:
“You let me do the thinking for us. I have the experience.”
“I don’t trust your thinking, Grandpa,” he said, furrowing his eyebrows and leaning forward, forcing himself into my space. “Your thinking brought us out here, because your thinking was that you can tell this guy how things work in his own house. But your tough-guy bullshit was obsolete even when you could put some torque behind a punch.”
“Listen to me,” I began.
But he cut me off. “I’m through listening to you….what the hell kind of a plan was that?”
I recoiled a little from his outburst. “I may not know law books, but I know people,” I stammered. “You don’t understand the kind of man you’re dealing with.”
My professional assessment would be that Buck is struggling with the narrowing down of his world, his physical abilities and his cognitive ones, and is not adapting well. It makes the book painful to read. I’d say the character was done well–although I’d reiterate that I don’t think I’ve met any geriatric-old cops like him (maybe the 60 year-old ones)–but he isn’t likable. I may have chuckled once or twice, but if Friedman was going for humor, he should check in with Evanovich. The shortcomings of the mystery with the unlikable man in an unlikable situation mean a skim-n-skip read.