“An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good” by Helene Tursten

Five quietly sinister and entirely plausible tales of a woman in her eighties who discovers she can get away with murder

his is a delightfully mischievous read, especially at Christmas, when one of the stories is set.

In Maud, Helene Tursten has produced as an intriguing villain: an old lady, happily solitary and financially secure, for whom other people are not entirely real, except in so far as they help or hinder her in taking care of herself. When people become problems, that is they pose a threat to her or those she cares for or disturb her peace or attempt to steal from her, Maud is happy to solve the problem permanently with a little bit of well-managed violence that results in a death the either looks accidental or cannot be reasonably attributed to Maud herself.

I can see that Maud’s actions show her to be a psychopath but I still found myself cheering for her. The people she killed seemed to me to deserve killing. I’d certainly have thought of doing what Maud did but I wouldn’t have had the nerve or the emotional distance to act on my impulse. I’m hoping that my admiration for Maud is a sign of the power of Tursten’s writing and not my own incipient psychopathy.

I admired the way Maud could, when it served her purpose, turn herself into the not-quite-all-there, harmless-old-dear that people expect to see. She uses the way the young see the old as both camouflage and as a weapon. I’m more than twenty years younger than Maud but I can already see how my perceived age changes how I’m treated unless I act against type and I can imagine the glee of being a predator disguised as someone seen as so low threat that they’re almost invisible.

The book contains five stories:

  • An elderly lady has accommodation problems 
  • An elderly lady on her travels
  • An elderly lady seeks peace at Christmas time 
  • The antique dealer’s death 
  • An elderly lady is faced with a difficult dilemma

With each story, we learn a little bit more about how Maud came to her present circumstances. We don’t get an explanation as to why she is as she is, rather we get a picture that her circumstances rather than he character have changed She now has the independence and the protective camouflage available to her to be herself and get away with it.

The last two stories are two different perspectives on the investigation into the death of an antique dealer. Tursten uses the antiques dealer’s death to bring Maud to the attention of both of the detectives she’s currently writing series about: Irene Huss, with ten novels in a series that started in 1998, and Embla Nyström, Huss’s protegé with two revels in a series that started in 2014.

I tried “Inspector Huss” the first book in the series a while ago and abandoned it. My encounter with Maud was much more fun. The difference may be down to the twenty extra years that Tursten had practised her craft between the two books but I suspect that it’s also to do with a change of translators and to listening to the audiobook version. So, I’ve decided to try the second Inspector Huss book, “Night Rounds” as an audiobook, in the hope of finding another series to read.

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