Killers of a Certain Age
by Deanna Raybourn
Published September 6, 2022 by Berkley
Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have been elite assassins for the past forty years, working for a clandestine company known as The Museum, an extra-governmental organization devoted to making the world a better place by eliminating bad people– Nazis at the beginning, then drug kingpins, human traffickers, dictators, and other targets The Museum’s board determines should die. Though they’ve been successful and loyal their entire careers, their tactics are now considered to be old school. Now in their sixties, the women are given an all-expenses-paid cruise to celebrate their retirement. But when they spot another, younger Museum assassin on the boat with them, they quickly realize that they are now targets and that The Museum isn’t going to just let them go peacefully off into the sunset. Lacking their usual resources and armed with only their wits and their friendship, the four women must find out why they’ve been targeted for death and turn the tables on their former employers before their retirement gets a little too permanent.
In Western societies, it’s an all-too-familiar story for a woman who is supposedly “past her prime”: she is overlooked, underestimated, seen as even weaker than ever, and it is assumed that she won’t understand all the new technologies that seem to be changing society every six weeks. But while it’s true that a mature woman’s knees might ache more and eye makeup gets a little trickier to apply, it’s also true that age and treachery will often overcome youthful exuberance. In Killers of a Certain Age, bestselling author Deanna Raybourn plays with these elements, creating a story that counters the thriller genre’s expectations, where the hero is normally a gruff man in his thirties. Here, though, we have four female friends who have been together since the beginning of their long and rather unorthodox careers and have had each others’ backs through marriages, spouses’ deaths, and home renovations. These friendships– often completely overlooked in media– are at the heart of Killers of a Certain Age, and while each woman has her particular skill set, they’re strongest when they work together, complementing and complimenting each other as they develop plans, select their targets, and lay traps for the people who want to kill them– all while using society’s assumptions about older women to their advantage.
Raybourn– known for her Lady Julia Grey and Veronica Speedwell mystery series– is at the top of her game as she guides the narrative back and forth through time, showing the reader how Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie went from average-seeming twenty-somethings in the early 1970s to elite assassins with long and storied careers who maintained their friendships (not an easy thing to do for even normal adults) through the decades. The humor is wry and on-point; the four women trade off-color insults the way only long-time friends can do, and Billie, the viewpoint character, has plenty to say about society’s expectations (or lack thereof) of women of a certain age. There’s plenty of action, too. The fight scenes are crisply written, fast-paced, and they don’t outstay their welcome.
But again, the heart of this book is the female friendships, a factor that is usually passed over by media of all kinds– especially when it involves older women. Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have had their flings and marriages over the years, but they always come back to each other and rely on each other when the going gets tough. These kinds of friendships are important in every woman’s life, and it’s a shame that their richness is so often disregarded by modern storytellers of all kinds.
Though some might balk at the notion of cheering on professional assassins– especially older female assassins– fictional stories like Killers of a Certain Age (along with all the true crime stories out there) provide us with a place to safely indulge in our darker sides. And if nothing else, this particular book serves as a good reminder that one shouldn’t underestimate the little old lady you see walking down the street or sitting at the next table at the restaurant. There might be more to her than meets the eye.
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for providing me with a free egalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.