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Friday, September 30, 2022

Deanna Raybourn Puts Power in the Hands of Older Women

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Why should young people hog all the heart-pounding adventure, not to mention the shelf space reserved for world-class assassins?

Deanna Raybourn’s best-selling thriller, “Killers of a Certain Age,” flips the script we’ve memorized from “La Femme Nikita” and “Ocean’s 8,” introducing women who are veteran killers in their 60s, equipped with all the perspective and perspicacity that comes with life experience. A quick tour of Amazon reviews shows an overwhelmingly positive (even grateful) response. “We spend our lives nurturing precious life — our children, our grandchildren,” wrote one reader. “We have never actually killed and do not wish to, but oh, the vicarious satisfaction in following these four Valkyries as they battle arthritis and hot flashes to once again don their super-assassin personas and act.”

Raybourn, who made a name for herself writing historical mysteries, said the idea of writing about, shall we say, seasoned characters originally came from her publisher, Berkley. “They had apparently been sitting around chatting in the office one day saying, ‘Why don’t we have more books about older women doing kick-ass things?’” she said in a phone interview. Her editor suggested that Raybourn get on the case. “I came back a week later and said, ‘I would want the characters to be 60s,’ and the company loved that idea. I said, ‘I want them to be killers,’ and they loved that idea. And then I said, ‘I want to write my first contemporary,’ and that was kind of the needle-scratch-on-the-record moment. It was very much a gesture of faith on their part that they thought I could do it. This was the hardest book I’ve ever written, but it was also the most fun.”

And why was Raybourn so set on writing about women in their seventh decade of life — not elderly, by any stretch, but also not what many would consider the “prime” of life. (For the record, I believe this word should only apply to steak.) “It’s one of those interesting stages,” Raybourn said. “It doesn’t look like what it used to look like. I remember watching Diane Lane in one of the Superman movies and she’d be doing this gorgeous job playing Clark Kent’s adoptive mother and I was like, ‘OK, now where’s her cape?’ Let’s just widen the field a little bit, as to what these action-forward characters can look like.”

Raybourn, now 54, joked that she is not ruling out the possibility of becoming an assassin in her next decade. One thing she knows for sure: “The idea of just kind of turning our faces to the wall and saying, Well, now I’m old? I can’t imagine anything more depressing.”

Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

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