When Buck Schatz, senior citizen and retired Memphis cop, learns that an old adversary may have escaped Germany with a fortune in stolen gold, Buck decides to hunt down the fugitive and claim the loot. But a lot of people want a piece of the stolen treasure, and Buck's investigation quickly attracts unfriendly attention from a very motley (and murderous) crew in Daniel Friedman's Don't Ever Get Old, nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
About the Author
DANIEL FRIEDMAN is a graduate of the University of Maryland and NYU School of Law. He lives in New York City. Don't Ever Get Old won a Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and Lionel Wigram, the producer of four Harry Potter films and the Sherlock Holmes sequel, is both producing and writing the script for the movie version.
Read an Excerpt
In retrospect, it would have been better if my wife had let me stay home to see Meet the Press instead of making me schlep across town to watch Jim Wallace die.
I’d known Jim since back when I was in the service, but I didn’t consider him a friend. So when Rose interrupted my programs to tell me she’d just got a call from the hospital and that Wallace was in intensive care and asking for me, I said I’d have plenty of time to see him at his funeral.
“You have to go visit him, Buck. You can’t ignore a dying man’s last request.”
“You’d be surprised, darling, by what I can ignore. I got a long history of being ignorant.”
I capitulated, though, after I lodged my token objection. I saw no point in fighting with Rose. After sixty-four years of marriage, she knew all my weak points.
Jim was downtown at the MED, too far away for me to drive. It was getting hard to remember where things were and how they fit together, so my world had become a gradually shrinking circle, with the house in the middle of it. But that excuse wouldn’t save me; Wallace’s daughter, Emily, offered to come and pick me up, even though I’d never met her before.
“Thank you for doing this, Mr. Schatz,” she said as she backed her car out of my driveway. “I know it must seem weird that Daddy is asking for you, but he’s nearing the end, and they’ve got him on a lot of stuff, for the infection and for the pain, and for his heart. He’s sort of drifting back into the past.”
She was a couple of years past her fiftieth, I guessed; the flesh around her jawline was just beginning to soften. She was wearing sweats and no makeup and looked like she hadn’t slept in a long time.
“He’s not so coherent all the time, and sometimes, when he looks at me, I’m not sure if he knows who I am.” She stifled a sob.
This was shaping up to be a real swell morning. I made a grunting sound that I thought might seem sympathetic and started to light a cigarette.
Her face kind of pursed up a little. “Do you mind not smoking in my car?”
I minded, but I let it slide.
Visiting people in the hospital was a pain in the ass; I knew going in that they wouldn’t let me smoke, and I always worried a little that they wouldn’t let me leave. I was eighty-seven years old and still buying Lucky Strikes by the carton, so everyone figured I was ripe to keel over.
Jim Wallace was in the geriatric intensive care unit, a white hallway full of filtered air and serious-looking people. Despite all the staff’s efforts to keep the place antiseptic, it stank of piss and death. Emily led me to Jim’s room, and the glass door slid shut behind us and sealed itself with a soft click. Norris Feely, Emily’s overweight husband, was sitting in a plastic chair, staring at game shows on a television mounted on the wall above the bed. I thought about asking him to switch it over to my talk program, but I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I was willing to stay for very long.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Schatz,” he said, without looking away from the screen. “Pop has told us a lot about you.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. His fingers were plump and sweaty, and he had more hair on his knuckles than he did on his head, but his nails were manicured and coated with clear polish, so they stood out like little pink rhinestones stuck onto some hirsute, misshapen sausages.
A weak voice from the bed: “Buck? Buck Schatz?” Wallace was hooked up to an IV, a heart monitor, and something I thought might be a dialysis machine. He had a tube in his nose. His skin had taken on a waxy yellow pallor, and the whites of his eyes were brownish and filmy. His breath came in slow rasps and smelled like disease. He looked horrible.
“You look good, Jimmy,” I said. “You’ll beat this yet.”
He let out a rattling cough. “Reckon not, Buck. I suppose I’m not too long for this world.” He waved a feeble hand, a mostly unsuccessful attempt at a dramatic gesture.
“I wish things were different,” I said, which meant that I wished Jim had been kind enough to die without bothering me about it.
“God, how’d we get so old?”
“If I’d seen it coming, I’d have got out of the way.”
He nodded, as if that made a lot of sense. “It means so much that you’re here.”
I didn’t see why it was so important to Jim to share his final hours with somebody who thought he was kind of an asshole. Maybe he found comfort in familiarity.
He pointed a quivering finger at Norris and Emily. “Go away for a minute,” he told them. “Gotta have some old war talk with Buck, in private.”
“Dad, the war was sixty years ago,” said Emily. Her nose was running, and her upper lip was damp with snot.
“Don’t tell me when’s what.” Jim’s eyes seemed to slide out of focus for a moment, and it took him a couple of deliberate blinks to regain his bearing. “I know what I need to say, need to say to Buck. Get.”
“Daddy, please.” Her voice trembled as she spoke.
“Maybe I’d better go home,” I said hopefully. But Jim had gotten hold of my wrist, and he was hanging on with surprising strength.
“No, Buck stays,” he wheezed as he jabbed a finger in his daughter’s direction. “Privacy.”
Norris draped a protective arm over Emily and guided her gently out of the room. The sliding door clicked shut behind them, and I was left alone with the dying man. I tried to pull my arm out of his sallow claw, but he held tight.
“Jim, I know you’re a little confused, but the war was a long time ago,” I said.
He sat up a little, and his whole body shook with the effort. Those sunken yellow eyes were bulging in their sockets, and his loose jowls twisted with anguish. “I saw him,” he said. Phlegm rattled in his throat. “I saw Ziegler.”
Hearing that name was enough to knot my guts up. Heinrich Ziegler had been the SS officer in charge of the POW camp where we were stuck in 1944 after our unit got cut off and overrun in southern France.
“Ziegler’s dead, Jim,” I told him. “Shot by the Russians during the fall of Berlin.”
“I know he wasn’t so good to you, Buck, when he found out you was Jewish.”
Without thinking, I rubbed with my free hand at the ridges of scar tissue on my lower back. “He wasn’t so good. But he’s dead.” I was sure this was true. I’d gone looking for Ziegler after the war.
“Probably dead. Probably by now. But I seen him. Forgive me.”
He was still hanging on to my wrist, and I was starting to feel nauseous, either from what Jim was saying or from the stink coming off him.
“What do you mean?”
“I was working as an MP, manning a roadblock between East and West in 1946, and he rolled up in a Mercedes-Benz.”
“No.” I felt a lump rise in my throat. “Not possible.”
Jim’s stare was fixed on the wall, and he didn’t seem to hear me. “He had papers with a different name, but I knew him when I saw him,” he said. “Lord help me, I let him go.”
“Why?” My mouth had gone dry. Side effect of all the damn pills I took. I swallowed, hard. “Why would you do that, Jim?”
“Gold. He had lots of those gold bars, like in the movies. I remember, the whole back end of the car was riding low from the weight of them. He gave me one, and I let him get away.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“We didn’t have no money. Never had none growing up. And we wanted to buy a house. We wanted to start a family.”
I didn’t say anything. I tried to wrench my arm away from him, but his grip held. One of the machines next to his bed started beeping louder.
“Forgive me, Buck,” he said. “I’m going over, very soon. I’m scared to die. Scared of being judged. Scared I’m going to hell for the bad things I’ve done. I can’t carry this weight with me. Tell me it’s all right.”
I tugged my arm a little harder. I had to get out of there; I was going to be sick. “Forgive you? You knew what kind of a monster Ziegler was. You saw the things he did to our boys. You saw the things he did to me, for God’s sake. All a man’s got is his integrity, and you sold yours, Jim.”
I gave a sharp yank, trying to extricate myself from his grasp, but he hung on, looking at me with pleading eyes. I gave up on getting away and, instead, leaned in close to him. “If there’s a hell, the two of you belong there together.”
He must not have liked that, because his whole body convulsed, his back arched, and the heart monitor started screaming. Two doctors and a nurse ran into the room, and through the open door, I could see Emily in the hallway with tears streaming down her face.
“He’s coding,” shouted one of the doctors. “We need a crash cart.”
The other doctor pointed at me. “Get him out of here.”
“I’d be happy to go, Doc, if he’d just let me.” Jim’s hand was still wrapped around my wrist.
But the doctor was already pounding on Jim’s chest and squeezing the respirator bag over his mouth. The nurse came over to me and pried the clenched fingers off my arm. She pushed me back, out of the way, as the doctor hit Jim with the electric paddles. Jim’s body jumped. The doctor with the paddles looked to the nurse.
“Anything?” he asked.
The machine was still wailing.
“Gonna hit him again,” said the doctor, turning the voltage knob on the defibrillator.
“Clear.” The body seized up again, but the line on the monitor had gone flat.
The other doctor kept working the oxygen bag. I rubbed at my wrist; purple bruises were blossoming out from where Jim had squeezed. A couple of years back, my doctor put me on Plavix, a blood thinner, to keep me from having a stroke. The stuff made me bruise like an overripe peach.
I pulled out my pack of Luckys and flicked at the silver Dunhill cigarette lighter I carry around, but my hands were shaking so much, I couldn’t get the damn thing to spark.
“You can’t smoke in here,” the nurse told me.
“He don’t look like he minds much,” I said, gesturing at Jim.
“Yeah, well, his oxygen tank probably minds, mister,” she said, and she swept me into the hallway. The sliding glass door clicked shut behind me.
Norris was leaning against the wall, his face a slackened, puffy mask; Emily was pacing the floor, crying.
I touched her arm.
“There’s nothing more you can do for him,” I said. “But I need a ride home.”
Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Friedman
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read an advance copy of this book over a year ago, and have been counting down the days until the rest of the world could read it. I don't normally read a lot of noir or thrillers, but Friedman won me over with his crackling storytelling. If you read only one novel featuring a gun-toting, wise-cracking, octogenarian protagonist this year, make it "Don't Ever Get Old." Friedman is a master storyteller who can speed your heart up and stop it on a dime.
Warning: This is not a book for my usual Christian fiction readers. Not because it isn't an interesting book and not because it isn't as inspirational as the books I usually review. I loved it. But, it involves some pretty ugly murders and what I think may be typical police language, including the four-letter words not found in family fiction. Okay. So if you're still reading you may wonder why I read the book in the first place. Actually, it was by mistake. I get most of my books free from several Christian publishers and when I received an email about this book, I assumed the message was from one of the regular publishers. Then, by the time I figured out it wasn't, it was too late. I had to read the rest of the book to find out what happens. This story is about an eighty-seven year old Jewish retired policeman by the name of Baruch Schatz, who goes by Buck Schatz. The advanced age and the Jewish angle are both important because Buck and his friend Jim Wallace were prisoners of war in World War II. On his deathbed, Jim Wallace confesses to Buck that he had accepted a bribe from Heinrich Ziegler, the SS officer in charge of the POW camp where Buck and Jim where held. After the war, Buck searched for Ziegler to get revenge for the way he had been treated. Jim, while working as a guard, allowed Ziegler to pass through a road check for a gold brick. Before his death, Jim asks Buck for forgiveness. The rest of the book is about Buck and his grandson Tequila tracking down Ziegler, who is now living in the United States. Tequila and Jim's son-in-law, Norris Feely, as well as Jim's pastor, Larry Kind, are mostly interested in what gold may still be in Ziegler's possession, but Buck would still like to find him for revengeful reasons. Buck, who has been retired from the police force in Memphis for more than thirty years, knows nothing about computers and the latest investigative techniques. But, he still has his instincts for finding criminals. The gold worth millions is an incentive for all sorts of evil human behavior and this takes the story off in that direction. But, Buck is not distracted by the treasure. As a story teller, I've worried about making my main character too old out of fear of limiting my readers to people of a certain age. But as I read this book I realized it didn't matter how old the person is. What matters is his or her character. Buck is a one you'll not soon forget. I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
Great Characters! I loved this book. Buck, with all his foibles and supposedly deteriorating mental acuity is a real kick in the pants. And the reader just knows that Tequila is sure to one day become as interesting as his grandfather. The mystery is good, but it’s the characters who make this book. Author Friedman brings them to life with sharp dialogue and just the right amount of description.
Busk Schatz is an old man, who lived a long and active life that included fighting Nazis in WWII and thirty years as a police detective. Now, in his late 80s, he just wants to be left alone, but when his old army buddy calls him to his deathbed, his wife forces him to go. His buddy tells him that he let the prison camp commander that tried to kill Buck, escape, taking a gold bar as payment. Buck looses his temper and refuses to forgive Jim, causing Jim to die. Unfortunately, Jim told others about the gold the Nazi was carrying, and now everybody thinks that Buck is out to find the gold, along with his old enemy. I laughed. I cried. I loved this. It is definitely not Christian, nor is it clean. Buck is Jewish and there were several words I had to look up, along with the language that coincides the job of police detective. So, be prepared for a little profanity. It is great to see a hero that is a geriatric patient, too, but the way he blasts through life saying what ever he wants and doing whatever he wants is definitely good for a laugh. His fear of being put in a rest home is palpable. Great, fun read for mature men and women who like a mystery. Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in that movie Grand Torino, not for the faint of heart.Received Galley from NetGalley.com.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book which is easy to read and holds the attention throughout. Buck is a retired police officer who served in the second world war who, at the same time as fighting his ageing is also getting mixed up in the hunt for a nazi war criminal who tortured and maimed Buck at the pow camp he was interred in. This isn't so much about seeking revenge though, it;s about the stash of nazi gold bars which Buck discovers is in a safe-deposit box. The adventures come thick and fast after he and his nephew start to hunt it down.I like the way the author narrates through Buck's thoughts. His insights into his own ageing process is just as entertaining as the plot. I would greatly recommend this book.
DON'T EVER GET OLD is a remarkable story. Buck Schatz is a wise-cracking, foulmouthed, cigarette smoking, eighty-seven-year-old, Jewish curmudgeon. The story is captivating, but I’m not sure if one reads because one needs to follow the story or because one needs to see what Buck says next. God, do I want to be like him when I grow up!
Excellent storytelling. Unique. Entertaining. What a great idea for a detective story. And we'll told. I keep checking back to see if Book 2 is out yet. I can't wait.
We are so accustomed to our cop heroes being young and tough, or middle-aged and tough. So it's a unique experience reading about a cop who's retired - and 87 years old. Buck Schatz is a feisty veteran who as a Jewish soldier in WW II, managed to survive brutal treatment at a POW camp run by the Germans. And he'd still like to get his hands on the Nazi officer who beat him nearly to death. When the opportunity comes, it brings a whole new set of complications, involving millions of dollars of gold bars stolen at the end of the war. Not surprisingly, once others learn of it, they want a piece of it, too. Murder and mayhem ensue as Buck and his grandson Tequila try to stay one step ahead of both criminals and the law. A totally different kind of book - with the most cantankerous, unrepentant protagonist you'll ever meet - and the most unforgettable.