Don’t Ever Get Old

By Daniel Friedman

(Minotaur, $24.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Daniel Friedman is not one of those authors whose every life experience, including what he ate for breakfast this morning, is available on the Internet. But here are some facts about him: He was born in Memphis, just turned 32, is a graduate of the University of Maryland and NYU School of Law and now lives in New York City. And his debut mystery novel, “Don’t Ever Get Old,” has won him a slew of very enthusiastic reviews, many of which are comparing him to that master of wry mayhem, Elmore Leonard. Not bad for a first novel, not bad at all.

What is this book about?

The book’s unlikely hero is an 87-year-old retired cop, who is both Jewish and from Memphis – not the most common combination. Baruch “Buck” Schatz was an American prisoner in a German camp in World War II and has never forgotten the horrors. When he learns that a cruel camp guard made it to the United States with a treasure of stolen gold, Buck recruits his grandson to join him in a hunt for the guard and the gold. Along the way, he encounters various other players in this drama that mixes hilarious and sardonic dialogue with a serious underpinning and plenty of action.

Why you’ll like it:

As mentioned above, reviewers are comparing Friedman to Elmore Leonard, and those of you who know Elmore’s books or watch TV’s “Justified” know that is high praise. The book is realistic about old age and sparkling with gritty wit. Here’s what Friedman himself told  about Buck Schatz, and about Elmore’s influence on him:

“I’ve been reading Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens books lately, and I think it’s real cool how Raylan stands there with his fingers hooked into his belt, waiting for the bad guys to make their move before he draws and shoots them. But I can’t really see myself acting that way in the same circumstances, so I write a different sort of character. Buck Schatz is more interested in getting home in one piece than in maintaining a sense of fair play. He figures that if he gives the bad guys a chance to draw on him, sooner or later, one of them is going to be faster. I don’t think he would ever shoot an unarmed man, but if he’s facing an armed suspect, he’d probably shoot without warning.

Even though Dirty Harry is an obvious influence for me, if Buck has the drop on you, and you’ve got a gun tucked in your waistband, he’s not going to ask you if you feel lucky. Your luck has already run out.”

 “. . . Being young is about hope and about expectation. Tomorrow you’re going to run faster or lift more weight. Next year you’re going to find true love. Within five years, you’ll have that promotion, and you’ll make more money. But at a certain age, the expectation that things will get better reverses on you. That’s what Buck is facing in “Don’t Ever Get Old.”

 They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but it isn’t true. Invasive surgeries don’t make you stronger. Hypertension doesn’t make you stronger. Arthritis doesn’t make you stronger. Buck Schatz is a war veteran and a retired police detective. His identity and his idea of virtue is based on being tough and self-reliant. A big part of the story is about how he struggles to cope with becoming increasingly frail and dependent on others. And a lot of older people are having to deal with the same kind of circumstances.”

What others are saying:

Says Booklist in a starred review:

“The title of this knockout of a book is misleading. Ninety-ish, retired Memphis homicide cop Buck Schatz makes coot-dom look like a riot. Buck is an abrasive old party with not an ounce of codger cuteness. He has trouble remembering; his skin has grown papery; he can’t push his lawn mower anymore. But his cop’s watchfulness is intact. He keeps his .375 Magnum close by. He’s a death-camp survivor — his real name is Baruch — and right off, he learns that the sadistic guard who brutalized him is likely still alive and the possessor of much stolen Nazi gold. To honor the Nazi’s victims and maybe grab the gold, Buck and his chatterbox grandson go on a quest. But who are these people who suddenly come out of the woodwork — a loan shark, a scholar, a pretty Israeli soldier? And why does everyone start dying? In prose as straightforward and tough as old Buck, the plot reveals its secrets with perfect timing. It’s a shock when the killer’s identity is revealed. But, then, we think eventually, who else could it be?”

“Short chapters, crackling dialog, and memorable characters make this a standout debut. With his curmudgeonly lead, Friedman ensures his intergenerational detective story maintains a pitch-perfect tone. The underlying theme of revenge balances a wacky plot that evokes Elmore Leonard, “ says Library Journal.”

“…The real prize here, however, isn’t Nazi treasure but Buck’s what-the-hell attitude toward observing social pieties, smoking in forbidden venues and making life easier for other folks. As he battles memory loss and a host of physical maladies, it’s great to see that he can still make whippersnapper readers laugh out loud. A sardonically appealing debut for a detective who assures his long-suffering grandson, “I care about people. I just don’t like them.., “says a starred Kirkus review.”

“It’s a pitch-perfect debut novel, expertly balancing comedy, gritty crime drama, absurdity, and genuine poignancy. It’s also one of the most assured debuts in some time… Highly recommended,” says Mystery Scene.

“Daniel Friedman is the Jewish Elmore Leonard. Friedman is a master storyteller who can speed your heart up and stop it on a dime,” says Andrew Shaffer for

When is it available?

Get this book now at the Barbour, Dwight or Goodwin branches of the Hartford Public Library or request a copy to be picked up at the downtown library.

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