Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Authors: Pat Russo & Pete Conner
Part of my own marketing plan involves reading mysteries featuring older adults (65-plus) in major roles. There have been a couple of successful series set in retirement homes that I categorize as “amusing capers.” They are not my favorites. Another Vanishing Act , a collaborative effort of a veteran writer and his jokester father-in-law, who lives in a senior apartment building, goes beyond antic entertainment. It is a thoughtful application of general observations about aging to anchor a string of comical sketches inspired by late-in-life group living.
The episodes that comprise the chapters introduce residents of the fictional Excelsior Senior Apartments – curmudgeons, complainers, compulsives, and lonely hearts. One occupant, “Simon,” is an out and out schemer, threatening the downfall of the novel’s narrator, a somewhat younger man named “Dan” who is the new building manager and activities director. In short time Dan also becomes the night watchman, bus driver, persona non grata with the chairman of the board (and a few residents), and, most importantly, reluctant accomplice to Simon in his dastardly deeds. That’s on top of his owing five grand to a bookie back in the city he just hastily left. Dan would run from trouble again except that he’s fallen for a very nice younger-older lady who lives in the building. Betty is a sweetheart who comes up with an idea to lift the spirits of the place – and it makes matters for Dan even worse.
There are tons of guffaws in this story, but very few clichés. These co-authors are inventive. Even reaching back into memories, they avoid sappiness, though a couple of references have a short shelf life, as soon no one will be around to remember television test patterns or Prince Albert in a can. In a blog interview, Russo (the writer) said of Conner (a retired engineer): “Working with him on the story was like collaborating with Henny Youngman. He came up with one gag after another and I had to keep reminding him that we had to fit them into a storyline.
It is the ingenuity of the plot that impresses me the most, especially as it poses an important question: How deep into deception should a decent man go to avoid being bumped off for not paying his debts? I also like the authors’ uses of the technical world: garbage compacting, copiers, dating websites, electronic banking, and toilets that explode from built-up water pressure. Dan’s learning a lot at this job, but his electrifying situation swiftly develops, and choices have to be made. Good writing! Compelling narrative. I hated to put the book down at bedtime when my 76-year-old eyelids got droopy. And I kept wondering, after I found out what sinister fund-raising Simon had going on, if I (the reviewer) should say the novel is “humorously shocking” or “shockingly humorous.”
Dan engages the reader by his own underlying niceness. In spite of his weaknesses, this guy really has a gentle spirit. And while his creators like to present themselves as wise-guys and goof-offs, they seem also to have good hearts. In Another Vanishing Act they have turned out a tenderly-shocking, hilariously touching read.