When I looked back over the books I've read this year, it struck me that the ages of the protagonists covered quite a wide range. The youngest is, or are, since there are two who get equal billing, just fourteen years old; that's Daisy and Hazel in the latest in Robin Stevens's delicious Murder Most Unladylike series: technically Young Adult, but over-16s, even over-60s, will get just as much fun out of it. The oldest is probably in the one I'm reading at the moment: Becky Masterman's third case for Brigid Quinn, incorrigible retired FBI agent with more attitude than a long haul jet plane, who has to be sixty-plus.
The rest fall between the two, but mainly seem to occupy a fairly narrow band between twenty-five and thirty-five. It appears that the good guys in crime and mystery novels are generally (though not exclusively, as noted above) old enough to have outgrown youthful indiscretion but young enough to remain fit and active. And I suppose that makes sense, though I freely confess to a soft spot for the occasional Brigids, who can show the young whippersnapper Johnny-come-latelys a trick or two when push comes to shove – which it does, frequently, in this genre. There are always situations in which experience has the edge, but a flexible body which still does what you want it to can be a distinct advantage when the situation gets physical or requires swift departure. Though given the paucity of Brigids, maybe I should be a little surprised that more protagonists don't match the typical bookbuyer demographic – women aged between forty and seventy. When I used a gym instead of a daily walk to stop my joints seizing up, that demographic seemed to apply there too, so staying in shape isn't the problem.
Having looked over the protagonists and drawn a conclusion or two, I next turned my attention to the authors, of both books I've read and the ones still on my wishlist. And oh, what a difference. As far as I can ascertain, there isn't a single one under thirty; in fact, a substantial majority are well past the half-century mark. (And my goodness, doesn't it make you feel old if you're past that point yourself, especially when it's referred to it in those terms?)
So what conclusions can be draw from this age-gap between authors and their creations?
An obvious one is that the older an author is, the longer he or she has been producing books. True in a lot of cases. Longevity can also be a measure of success; in these fiercely competitive and ruthlessly businesslike days, an author whose work doesn't sell in sufficient quantity soon finds publishers' doors no longer open as easily. Or at all.
But maybe the most positive and encouraging conclusion I reached was this: writing needs time, and at certain junctures ordinary life has a way of filling up every waking hour and a few that should be spent asleep. Sure, well-known authors tell stories of typing with one hand and steadying a series of breast-feeding babies with the other, or spending a couple of hours at the keyboard before the rest of the world, or at least family, has emerged from slumber. But earning a half-decent living takes up hours and fills up mindspace, and trying to nurture a parallel career as a bestseller isn't always the easiest of endeavours. So maybe a lot of successful authors don't get started until the kids are launched and the mortgage is paid and there's space in the day.
The writing was never quite on hold, but now there's more room for it to expand into.
Which means there's hope for the past-the-half-century-mark late starters. All we have to do is keep a tight hold on the mindset of those late-youth characters with the physical vigour required to see off the bad guys. And who knows, maybe the life experience (dare I add and wisdom?) we've garnered over the years will find its way into their heads, and they'll get the best of both worlds.