Married 30 years and in their late 60s, Palo Alto residents Barb and Bernie Silver are retired insurance investigators who now run their own detective agency, Silver Investigations.
Accepting only cases in which "age is an edge," their sleuthing has taken them from the top of Nob Hill to the jungles of Indonesia to a dank cell beneath Florence's Uffizi Gallery, where they discovered a stash of excellent Mona Lisa fakes.
The intrepid — but fictional — Barb and Bernie are the creations of Palo Alto resident Ron Katz, who took up comedic mystery writing after retiring from a 45-year legal career.
Like many baby boomers, Barb and Bernie Silver are "struggling to find meaning in retirement," and the same could be said of Katz.
After decades as a litigator and sports lawyer, Katz had planned to engage himself with kids, sports and academics when he retired, but he switched gears after studying mystery novel writing in a Stanford course during the summer of 2016.
Inspired by Dashiell Hammett's characters Nick and Nora Charles in "The Thin Man," Katz set his sights on writing stories featuring a mystery-solving couple who are baby boomers.
He completed the Stanford class with little more than a concept and a title, "The Mystery of the Missing Reading Glasses." He found he usually got laughs whenever he mentioned the prospective title to friends of a certain age — Katz himself owns about a dozen pairs of reading glasses.
The idea simmered while Katz wound down his law practice. In 2019, he drafted a 5,000-word short story based on that title. In the story, Barb and Bernie go undercover as new residents of an assisted living facility to investigate suspicious opioid deaths.
Subsequently, in "The Mystery of the Perfect Profiles," the two bust an online scammer by posing as singles seeking love on the senior dating sites "The 70-Year Itch" and "Chardonnay at Sunset."
Later, the Silvers travel to Moscow, Helsinki and Paris while investigating the underbellies of philanthropy, wealthy donors and the high-end art market.
Boomer humor ensues.
While not on assignment, Barb and Bernie enjoy sipping watermelon Bellinis in their Palo Alto home, schmoozing with Stanford professors, relaxing with Snowball, their white terrier mix, and going for hikes near their Lake Tahoe condominium.
The sleuthing pair, Katz said, "are composites of everyone I know. I'm interested in my demographic, and I know a lot of Barbs and Bernies.
"They have a good relationship, they're a good professional team — and they know each other's foibles, of which there are many," he said.
Katz so far has published 12 stories on his website, thesleuthingsilvers.com, as well as in the online publications Mysterical-E and Scarlet Leaf Review. Barb and Bernie have garnered 2,800 followers on their Facebook page and also operate a Twitter account. Katz recently worked with two professionals to develop a pilot he aims to submit to streaming platforms.
He checks frequently on reader feedback, particularly relishing comments such as: "I'm so happy to finally see people of my age as heroes."
Advertising on Facebook, he said, has been remarkably effective in targeting and building the heavily female audience for his brand of "cozy mysteries" — typically set in a small city like Palo Alto, having a prominent female character and containing minimal graphic violence, sex or obscenity.
"It's more than a mystery — it's a comedy of manners and it's about lifestyle," Katz said.
"I'm interested in snappy dialog and moving things along; quick cuts from scene to scene. People started telling me, 'This really looks like a TV show.'"
Whatever happens, Katz intends to keep generating new escapades for Barb and Bernie.
"This will last as long as I live — I'm absolutely having a ball," he said.