Thursday, September 17, 2020

SIXTY IS THE NEW FORTY: Guest Post by Robert Dugoni

This article by Robert Dugoni originally appeared in The Mystery Readers Journal: Senior Sleuths (36:3) Fall 2020

Robert Dugoni: Sixty is the New Forty 

More than twenty years ago, I wrote the first draft of my first novel, The Jury Master. As is often the case with authors seeking publication, I threw every great idea and great character I’d ever thought of into that book, uncertain I’d get the chance to write another. The Jury Master, featuring attorney David Sloane, was published in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller. In the novel, Sloane meets Charles Jenkins, a Vietnam Veteran and former CIA officer living in seclusion on Camano Island in Washington State. 

Many readers contacted me wanting to know more about Jenkins, an African American who abruptly left the Agency and went into seclusion. They asked me if I’d given consideration to writing a Charles Jenkins series. Truthfully, the real Charles Jenkins was my law school roommate—though he never served in Vietnam or the CIA, at least not to my knowledge. I had once promised to put him in a novel and make him larger than life; no easy feat given that Chaz is 6’5” and built like a linebacker. 

The years passed and I wrote more David Sloane legal thrillers, with Charles Jenkins becoming his private investigator. In 2018, I was contacted by a man who had read The Jury Master, and was particularly interested in Charles Jenkins’s role as a former CIA officer. He told me he had a story to tell. In the interest of time and brevity, this man’s story gave me the idea to bring back Charles Jenkins in his own novel, The Eighth Sister. I came up with a story line I thought would be both timely and intriguing, a story in which Charles Jenkins is drawn back into the CIA and sent to Moscow under false pretenses. When he realizes he has been duped, Jenkins foils plans to kill him in a life or death chase across Russia, Turkey, Greece, and ultimately back home. 

I write much like an impressionist painter, adding layers to the plot and the characters with each new draft of the story. During one of those rewrites it dawned on me that we had celebrated the 50th year anniversary of the start of the Vietnam war which, doing the math, made Charles Jenkins a year or two beyond 60. Uh-oh, I thought. Big problem. How many protagonists exist in thriller fiction, or action/adventure films who are older than sixty? Not many. 

I lamented about this for several days and it dawned on me that I too am almost sixty! Yikes. Though certainly no spring chicken, and unable to do some of the physical things I could once do as a young man, I also don’t consider myself old and decrepit. I can no longer run for exercise—a new hip (degenerative arthritis) prevents it, but I do golf several times a week, swim, take long walks, do Pilates, and ski in the winters. I have friends who have done much more than that— they’ve climbed Mount Rainier in their sixties, run marathons, and competed in Ironman triathlons. 

Charles Jenkins could be one of these men. With a younger wife and a new family to raise, he would be motivated to stay in great shape, as he had done as a younger man. He’d certainly be aware of his age and maybe a little self-conscious, but on a day-to-day basis, how many healthy men and women stop to consider their age? Age, I decided is nothing but a state of mind, and certainly not something one considers when he is trying to outwit and out run Russian FSB agents. 

Besides, shouldn’t a protagonist avoid stereotypes and clichés? Shouldn’t he be unique and interesting and intriguing? An African American, former CIA Officer in his sixties certainly meets those requirements, as the backlash in Hollywood over the dearth of actors of color nominated for Academy Awards certainly attests. 

So I pushed on. 

My editors at Thomas & Mercer greeted the story with applause, and not a single question about Charles Jenkins’s age. In fact, after reading The Eighth Sister, my editor and I hatched a plan to write a sequel, The Last Agent, as well as an untitled third novel, and perhaps a series. The Eighth Sister also garnered significant attention from Hollywood because Charles Jenkins is unique as a lead character. But, alas, the subject of his age did come up, though not out of concern that Jenkins couldn’t physically do everything I had tasked him with in the novel. The concern was the limited pool of African American actors his age making action-thriller motion pictures. 

We culminated a sale to Hollywood of both The Eighth Sister and The Last Agent, and we discussed a possible continuing television series. While we did discuss making Hollywood Charles Jenkins younger—an Iraqi veteran instead of a Vietnam veteran—that inquiry was more a product of finding an A-List actor to play the part. Time will tell whether the concern is legitimate, or simply a misconception about actors, and the age of the characters they can play. 

In the interim, I tell anyone who will listen that sixty is the new forty, both in literature and in real life. At least I hope that’s the case. 


Robert Dugoni is the bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series, the Charles Jenkins Series and the David Sloane series. His books are published in more than 25 languages and has sold more than six million copies. THE LAST AGENT, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on September 22, 2020. Visit him online at

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