Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Deanna Raybourn does tend to stick to the historical genre for the most part, but her forays outside of it often bear some remarkable fruits, as is the case with Killers of a Certain Age. The novel tells the story of Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie, four assassins with over forty years of experience behind their backs. In a world where no one values their skills anymore, they find themselves targeted for termination by their own order, but needless to say, it turns out to be a huge mistake.
Table of contents
Deanna Raybourn Assembles the Old Guard
The world of today is moving faster than ever, causing generational gaps to grow wider and wider by the minute. People born and moulded in the world of yesterday are often looked down upon as holders of obsolete knowledge and skills, quite erroneously I should add. In Deanna Raybourn‘s Killers of a Certain Age, the top-level members of an assassin organization is about to find that out the hard way.
The story opens by introducing us to four once-valued members of the Museum, the afore-mentioned organization. Billie, Mary, Helen and Natalie have been a part of it for a long time, with over forty years of service under their belts. Forty proud years of under-the-radar assassinations, which ironically-enough, got easier and easier as they became older and more disarming.
Unfortunately, they live in a world where nobody really appreciates the people skills they’ve come to acquire over the decades. Today, it’s all about technology, and their talents simply don’t mix with modern standards. It’s time for them to retire, and the four are sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to celebrate the occasion.
However, soon enough, on of their own targets them for assassination, naturally failing in the process. Knowing only the Board – that is to say, the leaders of the Museum – is aware of their true identities and can authorize the termination of field agents, the four women quickly come to the inevitable conclusion they’ve sentenced to death.
Naturally, they’re not about to put down their weapons and go quietly into the night, opting to stick together and put their allegedly-obsolete talents to use one last time. Having only each other and their experience to rely on, Billie, Mary, Helen and Natalie are about to show the young’uns they’ve just made the biggest mistake of their relatively short lives.
An Exercise in Absurdity with Killers of a Certain Age
To begin my Killers of a Certain Age review, as you might have gathered from the very nature of the premise itself, this isn’t the most serious story you’ll come across this week, having, in my opinion, more in common with a work of comedy than anything else. That isn’t to say other elements aren’t present as well, but I’ll discuss them later on, largely because they felt secondary to me.
Deanna Raybourn does her best to ensure a humorous atmosphere permeates through Killers of a Certain Age from start to finish, even during the more serious and dramatic sequences, interspersed here and there for meaningful moments. There’s always something quite jovial about the way in which our four main characters view the world, perhaps even absurd.
The superposition of old women with elite assassins is a relatively unique one, and having an entire story centred on this concept makes for quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. It certainly allows the author to explore some ideas and topics which we normally seldom have the chance to look at in murder mysteries and thrillers.
Naturally, the comedic overtones in Killers of a Certain Age with which our main characters colour the story aren’t simply limited to their profession. Each one of our old ladies has a unique and memorable personality, instantly recognizable and important in how it contributes to the story overall. Additionally, I should mention that I’m not even sure calling them old is entirely correct, with them still being in their early sixties and more than ready for relatively extreme adventures.
The further I got into the story though, the more I felt as if the author decided to dial down on the comedy a little bit, focusing more on the rather serious situation the four women are facing, being marked for death and all that. While the comedic connotations are certainly present until the end, I though it was a good idea to shift the focus towards some of the other elements this story has to offer. Namely, I’m talking about watching old women outmanoeuvre an organization of assassins.
The Bitter Fight Against Obsolescence
Stepping away from the story for just a second, I think the idea of obsolescence is one many of us are concerned with, especially when looking towards the future. Whether it’s due to how fast the world is changing or simply our age getting higher and higher, we’re all bound to end up, one way or another, essentially useless. This basic fear of the modern human condition, I believe, plays a huge factor in making the story hit closer to home, and making us root for our protagonists.
As I watched them outplay their opposition time and time again, dig into their deep well of knowledge and resources to lay cunning traps and strike from the most unexpected places, I couldn’t help but cheer them on and feel a certain warmth wash over me with their every success. There’s just something truly inspiring about the old guard demonstrating the often-forgotten advantages of experience.
Of course, our four ladies are far from perfect, and the flaws which come with old age have quite apparently settled in them for the rest of their lives. As someone with a good amount of experience working with the elderly, I was pleasantly surprised at Raybourn‘s realistically-optimistic portrayal of what life is like at that age. Despite the ravages of time, we would do well to remember even sixty-year-old people can be quite capable and full of life.
Even though, as I’ve said it before, this might be a work of comedy, it doesn’t mean there are no other elements for the reader to enjoy. As funny as it is, it is also a murder thriller, one with a fair bit of blood spilled, as you can imagine would result from assassins being pitted against each other. Thankfully, Deanna Raybourn is always tasteful about it, never over-indulging in descriptions of gore and violence.
This was another point which I wanted to discuss: just how calm of a duel it is, considering its nature. I think we’ve all read books and seen movies pitting the deadliest killers against each other, and naturally, it always devolves into grandiose action scenes. Not so in this case, which is understandable, considering our protagonists who can only work with subterfuge and trickery. In my opinion, this approach makes Killers of a Certain Age immeasurably more interesting and exciting than its peers.
|368||Berkley||Sept. 6 2022||978-0593200681|
The Final Verdict
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn is an absolutely fascinating mixture of comedy and thriller, pitting some unconventional protagonists against professional assassins like themselves, and in the process teaching us a thing or two about the timeless benefits granted by decades of experience.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced novel with solid humour, a plot which only grows in excitement, and led by a memorably cast of sexagenarian killers, then you’ve definitely found the right book to read over the weekend.
Deanna Raybourn is an American author primarily specializing in historical fiction and historical mysteries. She has most notably authored the Lady Julia Grey Mysteries series, with titles such as Silent in the Grave and Silent Night, as well as the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries series, including A Curious Beginning and A Murderous Relation. She also has some standalone works to her name, with some of the more recognized being City of Jasmine and Killers of a Certain Age.