B-List: You’re never too old for crime

As any Agatha Christie fan knows: Gray (or white) hair doesn’t disqualify one from being a top-notch investigator. Age may slow a detective, but it doesn’t necessarily blunt a sharp nose’s knack for sniffing out clues.

Christie’s iconic Miss Marple, the village spinster often seen knitting or sipping tea, has plenty of proverbial snow on the roof, yet still has the observant eyes of a hawk and a mind sharper than a tack. Murderers and sundry criminals underestimate her at their own peril.

In “Father Brown,” the titular hero is something of a menace on a bicycle – and equally dangerous to any local ne’er-do-wells who dare to think they can kill, blackmail or steal with impunity in the 1950s Cotswolds. Brown is a forgiving priest, a seasoned veteran and fully capable of figuring out whodunit long before the less-astute (and much younger) police inspectors.

And though the schlubby Lt. Columbo may’ve only been in his 40s when he was introduced in 1971, he was still “one more thing”-ing murderers 30 years later, driving them into furious confessions or fatal missteps with a crooked smile, just as rumpled and smart as ever.

Truly, you’re never too old to suss out a crime – or commit one. And if you, like me, love seeing spirited septuagenarians get to the bottom of a mystery, you need to pick up:

4. “Only Murders in the Building”

This delightfully quirky Hulu series follows three neighbors — Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) — who are thrown together when another resident of their glamorous building, the Astoria, is found dead in his apartment. The police say it’s a clear case of suicide, but the curious trio suspect otherwise.

Besides a shared love of a true crime, Charles, Ollie and Mabel seem to have nothing else in common. Charles is a washed-up actor whose claim to fame was a 90s police drama. Oliver is a failed Broadway producer desperate to turn their investigation into a hit podcast in order to keep his creditors at bay. And the mysterious Mabel has plenty of tragedy in her past specifically connected to the Astoria.

But the unlikely investigators have a knack for bumbling over vital clues and uncovering dark secrets, culminating in some shocking twists …

“Only Murders” is a charming mixture of zany comedy and dark mystery, driven by interesting, likable characters. It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen episode-to-episode, and there are cool creative stylizations — texts appearing on screen as they’re being written; an entire episode from a deaf character’s perspective that has no spoken dialogue, only subtitles — that sets it apart from mainstream procedurals.

The core trio of misfits are singularly fun but absolutely hysterical together, and Martin, Short and Gomez have surprisingly great chemistry together. It’s especially entertaining seeing the two elderly gents try to connect to jaded Millennial Mabel. “Don’t call her, text her, the kids are all about texting these days,” says Ollie at one point, which makes Charles struggle to come up with the perfect salutation for his message (he settles on “Aloha, Mabel!”).

I confess I have yet to watch any of the second season; I prefer to wait until all of the episodes are available and then binge it all at once. But given how great the first season was, with its myriad twists and turns and stellar supporting cast (which includes Sting and Nathan Lane), I’m sure season two will be just as solid.

3. “The Marlow Murder Club” by Robert Thorogood

Judith Potts is 77, lives in a wonderfully messy mansion and creates crossword puzzles for newspapers. She’s extremely happy with her life, which is heavy on the whisky and freedom and light on interfering men who might tell her what to do.

But then one night, during a nude swim in the Thames River, Judith witnesses a horrible murder. The police don’t believe her — surely her old eyes were playing tricks on her; should she really have been out swimming that late at her age? — so Judith, never one to tamely subside when a man patronizes her, decides she’s going to catch the murderer herself.

Of course, she is an elderly lady, and she’ll need some help, so she enlists dog walker Suzie and the primly polite vicar’s wife, Becks. Together, the three ladies are the Marlow Murder Club.

And when another body turns up, proving there is in fact a serial killer on the loose, the Club may be the only hope Marlow has …

This is another mystery that’s propelled by its colorful characters. The investigation/story itself is decent enough, but the real draw is Judith, Suzie and Becks, who all have their own unusual personality quirks and previously unrealized talents that come to the fore as they track down the killer.

2. “The Thursday Murder Club” and “The Man Who Died Twice” by Richard Osman

Murder Clubs are clearly the in-thing these days, huh? At a luxurious retirement village, four pensioners — Elizabeth, Ron, Joyce and Ibrahim — meet in the Jigsaw Room every Thursday to discuss unsolved crimes. When you figure that, between them, they have more than two centuries’ worth of knowledge, experience and various connections to draw from, solving these puzzles should be a breeze.

Then a local property developer is found dead, a mysterious clue left beside the body, and the Club find themselves with an active case on their hands. The organizing Elizabeth is quick to mobilize the others, and the sprightly quartet dive head-first into the investigation.

And in the first sequel, the Club is approached by a man on the lam, wanted for stealing diamonds he swears he didn’t touch. Soon enough, a body turns up, and the Club land themselves in a killer’s crosshairs. However will they get out of this sticky wicket?!

Osman is a bit of a celebrity in the UK, where he hosts quiz shows. And you can really see that background in these fast-paced, tightly-plotted, witty capers constructed around four larger-than-life oldsters.

There’s definitely a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required, and the protagonists and their police allies do some squiffy things that aren’t exactly legal, all in the name of stopping a murderer, so these books aren’t entirely guilt-free pleasures. But still: these have more bite than most cozy mysteries without entirely losing their comedic, frothy vibe.

1. “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” by Helene Tursten

Now let’s shake things up a bit and go in the opposite direction. Rather than a do-gooder senior trying to catch a killer, how about a seemingly sweet spinster who thinks murder is the answer to all of life’s little problems?

Enter 88-year-old Maud, the Anti Miss Marple. Maud would like nothing more than to be utterly undisturbed for the rest of her years, cozy in her rent-free apartment in downtown Gothenburg, where she’s lived alone since her father’s sudden death when she was 18.

An avid armchair traveler, Maud may be a shut-in, but that doesn’t mean she’s a pushover. Woe betide anyone who encroaches on her peace — a local celebrity, a former lover and pesky neighbors all underestimate her to their great (yet short-lived) sorrow. But when a body on her floor brings in the authorities, will she be able to elude suspicion?

Penned by Swedish author Tursten, “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” is a tiny book that packs a punch, a brief collection of short vignettes that can be devoured in a single sitting. Maud is an absolute riot, and her reasoning for her violent actions is so calmly, logically stated that you’ll probably nod sagely in agreement as she bumps off the rude and interfering. As the Merry Murderesses of “Chicago” say: “They had it comin’.”

So don’t let blue-hair and wrinkles fool you: any grandma/grandpa on the street could be a cunning crime-solver, or an equally clever miscreant in disguise. Because you’re never too old for crime, true or otherwise.

ANGIE BARRY is a contributing columnist for Shaw Media. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at newsroom@mywebtimes.com.