Speaking of crime fiction, I've been thinking lately of how some characters in popular crime fiction have aged. Or haven't, as the case may be.
Robert Parker's Spenser, for example, is still roughing people up. Early in the series, Parker established that Spenser fought in Korea. Let's say he lied about his age, enlisted at 16, and fought in the last year of that war. That still makes him at least 71 at this point. Now, my Dad is still quite fit at a year older than that, but he's not getting into fisticuffs with any cold-eyed sociopaths. Parker has written a few nods towards aging and fallibility, but they have more a middle-aged sensibility than a later-in-life sensibility.
Or take Robert Crais. His character Elvis Cole — who is very like Spenser in many ways, but (I would argue) executed in a far superior fashion — fought as an 18-year-old in Vietnam. Unless he was engaged in some post-Paris-Peace-Accord shenanigans, that makes him at least 53. Again, he's not written that way. I'm not saying 53 year olds can't be vital. I'm not so far from that age myself. But 53-year-olds do not, by and large, experience the sort of physical abuse that Elvis does and keep quipping. And he's clearly written younger.
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch is in the same boat. He was a tunnel rat in Vietnam. Now he's got to be in his 50s. I think Connelly does the best of this group in writing his character as old as he really must be, both in physical description and in terms of his capabilities and thoughts. More to the point, he uses the process of aging to make Bosch more interesting, and less of the indestructible superhero that mediocre detective fiction can produce. Harry is definitely older in the latest books than in the first ones.
When you've got a character that you like and your readers like, you want to keep him alive. And you want to expose him to new situations — often ripped from the headlines type things. That's going to give you continuity and credibility problems sooner or later. I'd love to see if Parker could pull off making Spenser interesting from an armchair, or a hospital bed, when he breaks a hip after trying to sucker-punch a thug.
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