There’s a lot to like about “Don’t Ever Get Old,” starting with Baruch “Buck” Schatz, who has gotten old. He’s 87, he’s Jewish, he’s a retired homicide detective in the Memphis Police Department and he still smokes Lucky Strikes. He and his wife, Rose, have been married for decades, have lived in the same house for about as long, and suffer from the sorts of things that people who aren’t old worry about suffering from.
Buck’s irascible and inconsiderate, but likeable anyway. He’s feels betrayed by his lawn, but not because it won’t grow. Rather, having doted over it for years, he’s upset because it continues to turn green every spring even though he delegated care of it to hired help. And he smokes at funerals. When he lights up a Lucky at the funeral of a former Army buddy who’d been in a Nazi POW camp with him, the pastor, the Rev. Lawrence Kind, asks him not to smoke in his mega church, Buck asks for an ashtray. When the reverend asks him not to make things difficult, Buck does. “Not having to care about making things easy on anyone else is one of the three best things about getting old,” he tells the reverend. “The other two are smoking and telling people what I think of them. I never go anywhere that I can’t do at least two out of three.”
Buck didn’t want to go to that funeral. That’s because the friend, in his dying words, had told Buck that a prison guard who’d tortured Buck during the war was still alive. When Buck asked how he knew that, the friend said just after the war he taken a bribe – a gold bar – from the guard who was trying to escape in a Mercedes laden with hundreds of pounds of gold bars.
If you thought “Don’t Ever Get Old” was just about getting old, think again.
It’s about Buck’s search, with his grandson – a bright, smart-mouthed college boy – for the prison guard, whose name was Heinrich Ziegler but who was living his last years as Henry Winters in a St. Louis nursing home.
Buck’s grandson is nicknamed Tequila – if you can have Buck Schatz, you can have Tequila Schatz – and between Buck’s detective savvy and Tequila’s electronic skills, they make a good pair.
They weren’t, however the only people after the old Nazi and whatever gold he might have left. The good Rev. Kind also wanted in on the action, as did the daughter and son-in-law of Buck’s late POW buddy. The Israelis even coveted the gold, which they reasonably assumed had once been the property of Jewish Holocaust victims. And though no one is even sure whether there is any gold to be had, it doesn’t long for some of the individuals in the hunt, as well as some innocents, to get killed off So now Buck doesn’t just want to face his old torturer and solve the mystery of the gold, he also has to find the killer before the killer finds him.
Buck knows his days are numbered, but he’s just not ready to go. In fact, though his lawn torments him, he’s not even ready to give up his house. Not to worry. Buck and his son survive the adventure, a bit battered but also a bit wiser. Buck retains most of his stubbornness – it’s served him well - but he knows to listen more attentively when Rose says they’re not as young as they used to be.
“Don’t Ever Get Old” is Daniel Friedman’s first novel. It doesn’t ever get old.
Walt Braun is the Manhattan Mercury’s editorial editor.