An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten Review by Patty Crane
Helen Tursten is a Swedish mystery writer with two very successful series featuring detectives. However, when asked to write a story for a Christmas anthology she decided to explore the other side of the law and Maud was born.
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is a collection of five short stories featuring Maud, a wily, self-contained octogenarian. Maud leads a quiet solitary life in Gothenburg and that is just the way she likes it. Her large apartment is rent free and with shrewdly amassed savings she is able to live comfortably and travel when and where she wants.
The stories revolve around her determination to keep her life just as she wants it. In the first Maud finds herself the focus of a new neighbor, Jasmin Schimmerhof. Jasmin is the daughter of Swedish celebrities and has turned much of the space in her new apartment into an art studio. Her 450 square foot apartment doesn’t allow much room for the large sculptures she creates. After breezing her way in, it appears she thinks Maud’s spacious 1000 square feet is more suitable for her masterpieces.
When Maud’s father suffered a fatal heart attack the only thing he left of value was the apartment building they lived in. When it was sold the lawyer added a clause that allowed the widow and her two daughters, Maud and Charlotte, to keep their apartment and live rent-free for the duration of their lives. Maud is the only one left and has been triumphant in any challenges to her rent-free status. Jasmin seems to believe that the elderly Maud can be manipulated. To her peril she doesn’t realize what Maud is capable of in defense of her coveted thousand square feet.
Maud is not only protective of her space but also the people she loved. Before her father’s death, she was engaged to Gustaf and very happy. When her father died and was not the rich man he appeared to be, Gustaf’s family ended the engagement. He eventually married and was widowed.
In the second story, ‘An Elderly Lady on Her Travels’, Maud (who has always kept track of Gustaf) learns that he, now 90, is about to marry a woman 35 years his junior. Zazza, the bride-to-be, was once a student of Maud’s and she suspects that love is not the reason Zazza is marrying Gustaf. The wedding will take place at the Selma Spa. Maud has never been to a spa but immediately books a visit. The spa’s amenities are much to Maud’s liking and as it turns out provides her opportunity to ensure Zazza won’t be taking advantage of Maud’s former fiancé.
Maud is very resourceful in how she deals with problems. In story three the problem is her upstairs neighbors. The husband is abusive and all that yelling, crying and thumping is very disturbing. After the wife needs to be hospitalized for ‘falling down the stairs’ things are quiet for a few months. When the abuse begins again, Maud devises a simple but appropriate plan to make sure the abuse stops and quiet is restored.
The last two stories are connected. The first, ‘The Antique Dealer’s Death’, begins with Maud’s discovery of a dead man in her father’s study. It unlike the other stories is not told by Maud but by the neighbor who identified the body and by the police. It appears the deceased may have been in the act of stealing the silver when he was attacked. He is identified as the local antique dealer. How did he know about Maud’s collection and if he had an accomplice, who is it?
The final story, ‘An Elderly Lady Is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma’, is back in Maud’s voice. We find out just how and why Frazzen, expert in gold and silver, came to be in Maud’s home. We also witness more of Maud’s cunning, ruthless style.
This a small book and a very quick enjoyable read, especially if you like unusual characters. As the author says of Maud, “I enjoyed every minute of her company. But let’s just say I would not like to have her for a neighbor or a relative!”