Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spunky Senior Author, Lesley A. Diehl, Likes and Writes About Senior Sleuths

Lesley A. Diehl

Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York.  In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport.  Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse.  When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.  

She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (to be released late in 2012).  She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder.  For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth.  Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping.  She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website.


Agatha Christie, Dorothy Gilman and Me By Lesley A. Diehl

I’ve been reading several of the Mrs. Pollifax books, ones I never got to before.  I love the character.  She wears well over the years as does Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.  Both, in their individual ways, could be considered spunky senior sleuths.  Perhaps they age so well because the boomers are getting older and can identify with them more easily now than when they were younger, yet I read and loved Miss Marple in my teens and twenties and Emily Pollifax in my thirties.  What is it that makes these women so appealing to young readers and older ones alike?

Christie did a magical thing when she took the image of the meddlesome old spinster in town and turned it on its head to create Miss Marple.  This is a woman who resides in the idyllic English village, quaint shops, narrow streets, one doctor, an old stone church.  Peaceful, yet murder often comes to visit, and Miss Marple welcomes the challenge of solving the crime.  She’s not meddlesome, rather she’s observant and brilliant, but more than those qualities, she possesses kindness and the ability to listen.  People confide in her, often young  people.  Criminals underestimate her, assuming age to be an infirmity to deduction,  while she proves it only adds to her arsenal of reasoning.  She’s a spry elder who gets around the village with ease.  Those whom she does not know in the town, she knows of or can learn about through her other contacts.  She’s the woman you want living next door to you if you’re not a criminal.  She provides  better security than an alarm system. 

The village, the manners and the customs of Miss Marple’s life take us to a time we may find had more charm and face-on encounters than the present does.  It’s a transporting read, away from the stress of our own, more fast-paced lives.  The escape value of the stories alone is reason to read Christie, yet there is also something timeless about the character in her likeability, her intelligence and her ability to defy our own prejudices about what older people are like.

Gilman’s Emily Pollifax takes the best of Miss Marple and adds other dimensions to her.  Younger than Miss Marple and part of a larger community, Emily Pollifax is a woman who refuses to let life leave her behind.  She has taken karate lessons and sometimes uses them to fight off the bad guys.  Although she dresses in keeping with her age, she loves hats for example, sensible shoes, of course, Gilman gives her a most unlikely avocation, spy for the CIA, and takes her detective off on assignment to countries from old Bulgaria to a rebellion-torn African nation to Syria.  Emily Pollifax is no less a brilliant problem-solver than Miss Marple, but where riding a bicycle in the village might be the most physical Miss Marple might get, a karate-chop and 
a ride on a camel would not be unlikely for Emily Pollifax. 

The world has become Emily’s village, yet these two women sleuths share similar personalities.  Both inspire confidence.  Young people share secrets with Emily Pollifax much as they did with Miss Marple.  Both look their ages, making them fit in where a younger sleuth might be noticed or seen as suspicious.  Who would suspect a little old lady of being a CIA operative?  The bad guys still can’t believe a grandmotherly type could outthink them.  These women surprise many who know them as well as those who dismiss them.  They are perfect sleuths.  They are senior sleuths.

I don’t think a writer can improve on the formula used by Christie and Gilman, but I have tried to update the senior sleuth a bit.  Emily Rhodes, my protagonist in Dumpster Dying, the first in my Big Lake mystery series(the second Grilled, Chilled and Killed is due out soon from Oak Tree Press) is a retired preschool teacher who winters in rural Florida.  Her life partner has died leaving no will, and everything is in his name.  To support herself, Emily takes on a bartending job at the Big Lake Country Club where she discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the dumpster.  

I’ve tried to adhere to what I think works in Christie and Gilman.  My protagonist is retired, in her fifties, and was a preschool teacher, someone who wouldn’t be perceived as a threat to any bad guy.  In addition, I made her small in stature, only about five feet in height, not likely to frighten off any killer.  She’s smart, but does  most of her reasoning on her feet.  I’ve also made her the kind of person others confide in.

There are differences between my senior sleuth and Christie’s and Gilman’s.  She’s a bit bolder than Marple and Pollifax, and sometimes she takes foolish chances.  Although Mrs. Pollifax marries again in the Gilman books, there’s not much romance in them.  I give my protagonist the attention of two men, one a detective, the other a bass fisherman.  Several plot twists involve family secrets.  I think these departures from the Christie and Gilman approach make the book read more contemporary and quicken its pace as well as make the plot more complex.  I also have ramped up the grittiness of the setting by making the wilds of rural Florida figure into the plot.

I am no Christie or Gilman, but I think writers can do well examining what has worked in favorite books and emulate some of that in their own work.  I hope what I’ve used from these mistresses of crime and the differences I’ve introduced make my books both enjoyable and novel reads.

My website:


The threat of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a controversial technique to extract gas from shale, invades the Butternut Valley .  Hera Knightsbridge and her fellow brewers fear it will pollute the brewers’ most precious ingredient, water, as well as destroy the beauty of the valley.  And then murder visits her brewery.  When Jake is called away, Hera must find the killer on her own and confront a murderer as well as ghosts from her past.


Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall head first onto a dead body in a dumpster.  Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state.  They’re more like pot metal to Emily, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster.  With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer.  She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer. 

Buy link for all my books on Amazon:

Lesley's website:

Please welcome Lesley A. Diehl by leaving a comment.


  1. I loved Dorothy Gilman--I actually used a line from one of her books in one of my own. (In the name of Jesus Christ, go away.) Your series sounds great!

  2. Welcome to Spunky Senior Authors and Talents, Lesley. I love that book title, Dumpster Dying!

    Morgan Mandel
    Twitter: @MorganMandel

  3. Hi Lesley, Thanks for sharing your thought on Dame Agatha. I cut my teeth on her mysteries. She paved the way for future amateur sleuth writers like us. I haven't read Dorothy Gilman in a long time; thanks for the reminder. Your Emily Rhodes series is such a hoot.

  4. How absolutely delightful to meet an author who writes about older main characters. I love it. I'm now following your blog and this blog and am SO glad I found you. I have read many Agatha Christie novels but not for years! Now I want to read them again. I can't wait to buy one of your books.

  5. I'm so glad I wrote about Gilman and Christie and reminded you about their wonderful sleuths. These women just do not grow old or stale for me.

  6. Thanks for reminding me of the Mrs. Pollifax series! I've been looking for a series to re-read in place of my you-know-who books I keep reading over and over. I read the Mrs. P's years ago and adored her. I love Miss Marple too, but Mrs. P sounds just perfect for that time between working on OTP's books and going to sleep.

    Now back to work on Grilled, Chilled and Killed....

    Billie Johnson
    Oak Tree Press

    1. Oh, lovely. You have my permission to take a break from Grilled, Chilled and Killed and read Mrs. Pollifax. I introduced my husband to her this week and he loves the series.

  7. Applauding your retired preschool teacher character.
    Also, I second our decision to enoy winters here in the Sunshine State.
    Thirdly, I like the theme of this blog - thanks for bringing me to it via a listserv mention.

    If you have any North Florida questions, give a ring or e-blast - I'm with the Sisters in Crime, too.

    Jan Annino
    Twitter: Bkseedstudio

  8. Hi Lesley,

    Congratulations on your releases, and especially that 3-book contract - WOOT!

    I came to mystery writing by way of romantic suspense. With my science training my stories fit better in the mystery genre. Consequently, I have looked to writers like Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart, among others, as writers I like to emulate. The consistent thread I found in their work - to keep the reader guessing. Also, I found that these writers strongly used setting as a character, which always added interest to me.

    My goal is to aspire to their greatness.

    Nice job on the blog post!

  9. There are writers I love, but could not emulate their work because they write so differently from me. Cristie and Gilman write sleuths so well that they are worth studying for ideas on how to construct protagonists that inspire.

  10. I think there's a perception about who is going to read and like Ms. Marple or older characters in general. I was in my early 20s when I came across her. I was a big, young guy with long hair and a motorcycle, and I loved her novels. Good writing is good writing, and readers love it. That's why I know you characters translate to all sorts of readers too Lesley!

  11. I think you're right on target when you say that those of us in the Boomer generation are aging and identify with more seasoned sleuths.

    But I think younger readers are rediscovering the classic senior citizen characters, too.

    Now with the Kindle, NOOK, and other electronic devices, more people of all generations seem to be reading. Hallelujah!

  12. I started reading Christie in my 20s, and have read almost all of them twice. As I head into my third reading, I find I stick to Marple, she is my favorite, but Mr Parker Pine is fine too.
    I believe it is the under-estimation that is appealing. We can feel that many times in our lives, and I think Marple shows us how to overcome that.

  13. Wow! Quite spunky!! Very cool. I'm loving the blog today. I always enjoy your stuff. Don't say anything, but I'm a BIG fan of older women characters :-). Thanks for this awesome write up.

  14. Hi Lesley, I'm not familiar with Emily Pollifax, so thanks for the intro. I'll have to checkout some of those books. And your books sound good, too. How nice to have a female protagonist who does more than buy shoes!

  15. Excellent post! I only discovered Dorothy Gilman less than ten years ago, and I ended up reading book after book after book. I enjoyed Emily so much. And, don't sell yourself short because I'm hooked on your books as well.
    Marja McGraw

  16. Lesley,
    I used to love listening to the Mrs. Pollifax mysteries as I drove around doing my errands. And I've probably read all of Agatha Christie's novels. In fact, I've written a mystery called MURDER A LA CHRISTIE, which will soon be published. My sleuth leads a mystery book club, and the members discuss AC novels. The murderer is revealed when all suspects are present a la Christie.

  17. It's so good to hear how many of you love Christie and Gilman, and for those of you that have not been introduced to Mrs. Pollifax, you'll find her delightful too. And, as John pointed out, you never can tell who will find these seniors sleuths appealing. If he did in his twenties, young people today may too.

  18. Miss Marple has always delighted me. Peter Wimsey once remarked on the waste of detectival talent among women of a certain age. Miss Marple doesn't waste her experience and observation, and the result is a lesson for the bad guys.

    The first time I met Mrs. Pollifax, I was hooked, probably because I always wanted to be a spy myself. That's why my (I hope) series character works for the Agency.

    I enjoyed your post, Lesley. Now to find where I stacked Mrs. Pollifax. Shall I read the Moroccan one or the Sicily one?

  19. I share your appreciation of Dorothy Gilman's character, Emily Pollifax. I read so many of her stories a few decades ago when I, too, was younger and wondering what life could be like later.

    I'm happy to hear that your ghost is a helpful soul.

    Looking forward to reading your books! When I do, I will review at Amazon, Goodreads, and

    1. I'd be delighted to have you review the books. The newest one in the Big Lake mysteries should be out in Dec.

  20. I have long been a fan of Miss Marple and Emily Polifax. Sometimes I even reread some of their books. Nice post, Lesley. I enjoyed it.

  21. I'm sure I'm going to read both of these women again and again just as I continue to watch Poirot and Marple on video although I've seen most of them about ten times each.

    It was so much fun posting on spunky seniors. I got so many spunky replies!


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