When last we heard from retired Memphis Police Detective Baruch “Buck” Schatz, the hysterical Jewish octogenarian in novelist Daniel Friedman’s 2012 debut novel, Don’t Ever Get Old, he was taking a break from watching Fox News, considering his bowel progress, and smoking Lucky Strikes while an escaped Nazi war criminal tried to kill him.
In Friedman’s new sequel Don’t Ever Look Back, the sarcastic, ballsy, and unabashedly outspoken former POW is now eighty-eight and living with his wife in an assisted-living facility that doesn’t feel even a little bit like home. At least he still has his .357 Magnum, which he likes to carry down to the cafeteria, tucked into his pants. Lacking even the tiniest molecule of a warm-and-fuzzy constitution, he is incapable of comforting his wife Rose, who misses her home and who spends the anniversary of their son’s death without a single kind word from the emotionally unavailable Schatz.
Still recovering from injuries sustained during his sleuthing foray in Don’t Ever Get Old, Schatz spends his days considering his mortality, making mental notes of creaking body parts, and dreading what amounts to a regular physical drubbing at the hands of his physical therapist. Then an ancient con man, a Holocaust survivor named Elijah who got the better of Schatz during a brilliant 1965 bank heist, shows up at Valhalla Estates and corners Schatz at breakfast. Telling the retired detective that he expects to be dead within 48 hours, he adds, “I need you to keep me safe as long as you’re able, and if I am killed, I want you to rain vengeance upon my enemies.”
Decades earlier, Elijah had hoped the two men’s shared religion would persuade Schatz to join him in the bank robbery, simultaneously offering the crook some protection from within the Memphis Police Department. Schatz is no more sympathetic to the con man now than he was then: “You didn’t need to make a special trip out here to tell me you’re going to die,” he tells his former nemesis. “You could have just sent a save-the-date for the funeral, or something.” Undeterred Elijah argues the point, but Schatz makes what he believes is an airtight case for remaining uninvolved: “First, I’m eighty-eight years old. Second, I’m damn near crippled. And third, I don’t like you.” In the end, of course, he can’t resist the chance to chase bad guys, and bullets start flying all over the pages. It’s up to Schatz to muster as much of his geriatric investigative instincts to solve the mystery that transpires.
Daniel Friedman is an attorney in New York City, but he grew up in Memphis and still has family there. (Buck Schatz is loosely based on Friedman’s grandfather, Buddy Friedman, a Memphis native and World War II veteran.) Friedman’s comic genius is enviable, and his writing style is both refreshing and entirely different from that of other crime novels. Don’t Ever Grow Old received starred reviews from all four pre-publication literary tastemakers (Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist), and his new book has generated almost as much enthusiasm in the literary community this time around.
For so-called “hybrid” readers, who enjoy both electronic books and the dead-tree versions, Don’t Ever Look Back and Don’t Ever Get Old are titles you’ll want on the shelf so that when you start losing your memory, Buck Schatz-style, his character will be there to make you laugh again. In the meantime, we can all hope the old fart lives well into his nineties.
Liz Garrigan is a senior editor at Worldcrunch, which delivers global journalism to English-language readers. Formerly the editor of the Nashville Scene, Garrigan now lives in Paris, France.