An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good
Helene Tursten
Originally Published 2018

Eighty-eight year old Maud is not the sort of person you would look at and think they were dangerous, let alone a killer! She is physically quite frail, tries to keep herself to herself and seems to live quite a comfortable lifestyle.

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good collects five stories that feature the octogenarian committing murders. Given that we know who, the mystery lies in understanding why she wants someone dead or how she will accomplish the task.

The murders themselves range in credibility from some which take quite mundane approaches to extinguishing life to the outrageous one featured in the first story in the collection. Heads being pierced or crushed is a recurring theme so those who are sensitive to such things, be warned!

As usual with short story collections I provide thoughts on each individual story after the break below but there are some general points I’d like to make about the book.

Firstly, I found the collection to be about the right length. As much as I enjoyed the character and the premise, I think that it would stretch credibility to have her commit many more murders at her age.

Maud is an interesting creation and I enjoyed the little glimpses we get into her past. While some of those character moments are interesting, I do feel that the bigger mystery of how she evolved into the killer we encounter in these stories ought to be told and I do think this feels like its biggest omission.

All in all, I think the collection is a strong one. Its darker elements may not appeal to everyone but I admire its creativity and think it does a surprisingly good job of selling the idea that this elderly lady could commit these murders.

An elderly lady has accomodation problems 

The most outrageous and darkly comedic of the stories in the collection, this sees a wealthy heiress who fancies herself a provocative artist move in to a flat on the floor below Maud.

I don’t want to spoil why Maud decides she needs to die, nor the means she uses to do it. It’s grotesque but really pretty clever and I think this story is one of the stronger efforts in terms of presenting a credible motivation for her to behave the way she does.

An elderly lady on her travels

In her youth Maud had been engaged to a young man who called things off when he discovered that her family was not as wealthy as they claimed. When Maud learns that he, now ninety, has become engaged to a much younger woman she books a holiday at the spa that they are staying at to see them for herself.

Somewhat bizarrely this story takes place almost immediately before the first (it is clearly established in that story she has just returned from a spa holiday while we are told that she is making her first spa visit here). I suspect that the reason that they are presented in this order is because the murder here is less amusing and creative, though I still found it to be a very well-told story.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I found this to be the most credible murder that Maud commits in the collection both in terms of how it was executed and also how she gets away with it. There are no outlandish elements to be found and unlike the other stories, here we see her planning out the murder rather than devising it on the spur of the moment which only adds to its credibility.

I particularly appreciated the way this story fleshes out Maud, providing us with details of her youth and of her family life. While it’s probably the least funny of the five short stories, I think it does strike a balance between its elements very well.

An elderly lady seeks peace at Christmas time 

Though this story is the third in the collection it was actually the first to be written. In it Maud finds her Christmas Eve preparations are disturbed by the sounds of violence coming from her neighbors on the floor above and determines she will do something about it.

While this story is set at Christmas the festive trappings are really kept to a minimum. I did enjoy some of the business that takes place at the start however where Maud goes in search of items for her Christmas meal and deals with a disrespectful store clerk. That sequence does a good job of establishing her character and giving us a sense of her instincts and personality.

I was not particularly engaged with the murder aspect of this story however, finding it to be the least interesting of the collection. The method is perhaps a little more creative than the previous story but the explanation reads a little awkwardly and it feels like it repeats an idea. In fairness I suppose this story was written first but I think that one does a better job of conveying a sense of the action.

The antique dealer’s death 

One of Maud’s neighbors who writes crime novels returns from a holiday to discover the Police are in the apartment block. They are there investigating a dead body that has been found in a room in her home though the body has been dead for some time and Maud has only just returned from a holiday.

This story is rather an odd one because while it is a complete narrative account of a character’s experiences of a crime it does not tell the entire story. In fact when you get to the end you will not know exactly what happened in the flat or how Maud was involved though you will learn the narrator’s ideas. Before you get too frustrated by this, rest assured that you will learn the truth in the following story in the collection.

I found this story to have an interesting premise and it certainly left me curious to learn more about what happened. The idea of using a first person narration style had promise although I think it might have been more effective had this been Maud’s first appearance. Unfortunately the restrictions of the word count are felt here and I think the narrator is never really established as a character.

Fans of Tursten’s series characters Embla Nyström and Inspector Huss may get a kick out of their cameos and while it would not stand alone well, I appreciate that it pairs very effectively with the story that follows…

An elderly lady is faced with a difficult dilemma

The final story in the collection returns us to a third person narration style and recounts the events of the murder from the previous story, this time allowing us to follow Maud as the murder is committed.

Unlike the previous story, I think this one can be read independently and provide a satisfying experience although I certainly think they benefit from being read together. The scenario described is clever and feels quite different from the first three murders in the collection. Here, rather than focusing on the events leading up to the murder we instead concentrate on understanding what she does afterward to cover her tracks.

The result is an interesting story that I think does justice to its concept and its protagonist, concluding the collection on a really high note.

4 thoughts on “An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy

  1. Everyone needs a hobby, especially if they live alone. And while the internet is great for seniors, there is no substitute for the personal touch. Simply unfriending doesn’t satisfy, does it?

    Like

  2. I just finished this, my first mystery read in 3 months. I did like it, Tursten can be droll, but I thought the last two linked stories not as good as the first three, pretty much the opposite of your reaction. I liked Maud’s other casual bits of misbehavior along the way.

    Like

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