Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, short stories, thriller
Pages: 272
Published by Soho Crime on October 5, 2021
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Everyone’s favorite octogenarian killer is back in this new collection of stories by Swedish crime writer Helene Tursten that is sure to have you in stitches.
Eighty-eight-year-old Maud is never looking for trouble, but it always seems to find her. First, a woman in her building met an untimely end: tragic. Then, just recently, a dead body mysteriously appeared in her very own apartment, prompting an investigation by the local Gothenburg authorities. Such a strange coincidence. When it seems suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is, Maud decides to skip town and splurges on a trip to South Africa for herself.
In these six interlocking stories, memories of unfortunate incidents from Maud’s past keep bubbling to the surface, each triggered by something in the present: an image, a word, even a taste. When she lands in Johannesburg at last, eager to move on from the bloody ordeal last summer, she finds certain problems seem to be following her. Luckily, Maud is no stranger to taking matters into her own hands . . . even if it means she has to get a little blood on them in the process.
Don’t let her age fool you. Maud may be nearly ninety, but this elderly lady still has a few tricks before she’s ready to call it quits.
*Includes cookie recipes*

My Review:

While neither as smooth nor as famous as “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” there has been a progression in this week’s reviews. First there was a book about “real” ghosts. Then fake ghosts being investigated by elderly lady amateur detectives. Today we have a story about real detectives investigating an elderly lady who might just be a serial killer. With fatally delicious cookie recipes.

Just like the previous trip through Maud’s murderous memory, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, the detectives who visit Maud are more of a catalyst than they are an integral part of the story. Inspector Irene Huss and Detective Embla Nyström still can’t quite get their minds around the idea that 88-year-old Maud might have been the murderer of the man who was found dead in her apartment over the summer. But they also can’t dismiss their instincts that say that Maud did it, no matter how frail and dotty a persona she projects.

That the detectives are still sniffing around Maud’s apartment makes Maud a bit apprehensive. I’d say nervous but Maud doesn’t seem to get nervous. Maud just removes whatever problem has come her way. But when the problem is two police detectives, she’s better off removing herself from their jurisdiction rather than employing her usual methods.

So Maud takes herself off, at 88 going on 89, on a luxury trip to a place she’s always loved. It’s been five years since her last, somewhat more economical visit to South Africa, so this time she’s going to go first class all the way. After all, she can afford it and she has no one to leave her money to, so she might as well spend some of it while she’s still capable of the trip.

The story of this elderly lady who truly must not be crossed isn’t so much a single story as it is a collection of memories. As Maud naps on the very long series of flights from Sweden to Johannesburg, her mind drifts back into the past, to the very first time she took care of business in her own inimitable-if-not-yet-deadly style when she was only eleven.

By the time that Maud eliminates her rival for a full-time teaching position, we see that Maud’s course is firmly set. She sees a problem – and she gets rid of the problem. She plans, she executes, and well, she executes someone who is in her way. Sometimes by way of a well aimed icicle, and sometimes by way of a not-so-nice recipe for cookies.

Maud gets things done.

But her trip to South Africa, besides causing her in-flight trips down memory lane, also gives her a chance to think about what she wants from the rest of her life, however short or long that might be. And it puts her in the way of one last good deed, by carrying out one more bad one.

Escape Rating A-: As with the previous book, Maud’s adventures are short but not exactly sweet. How could they be when Maud’s tried-and-true method of solving problems is to eliminate the cause of the problem – permanently.

Which makes Maud a bit of a guilty pleasure. On the one hand, I hope to be that healthy, spry and self-possessed at 88. On the other hand, Maud is a successful serial killer, not exactly a hobby to aspire to. If that’s what it takes to keep oneself young there’s a serious problem with the collateral damage. Maud is kind of like a picture of Dorian Gray that inflicts its damage on other people instead of a portrait.

I’m waxing a bit hyperbolic because of my internal conflict – although Maud has none. And probably doesn’t have a conscience either. There’s so much about Maud that’s admirable, and enviable. Her head is a very entertaining place to be. But she kills people who get in her way. Regularly. Some of them deserve it. And some are just in Maud’s way – until they aren’t.

The Ducote sisters from yesterday’s book are probably better role models for what one would want to be in their 80s. But having a drink or a meal with Maud would be fascinating – at least after I’d checked everything over for poison.

Review: Hunting Game by Helene Tursten

Review: Hunting Game by Helene TurstenHunting Game (An Embla Nyström Investigation #1) by Helene Tursten, Paul Norlén
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Embla Nystrom #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on February 26, 2019
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The first installment in Helene Tursten’s brand new series featuring the strong, smart Detective Inspector Embla Nyström.

From a young age, 28-year-old Embla Nyström has been plagued by chronic nightmares and racing thoughts. Though she still develops unhealthy fixations and makes rash decisions from time to time, she has learned to channel most of her anxious energy into her position as Detective Inspector in the mobile unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, and into sports. A talented hunter and prize-winning Nordic welterweight, she is glad to be taking a vacation from her high-stress job to attend the annual moose hunt with her family and friends.

But when Embla arrives at her uncle’s cabin in rural Dalsland, she sees an unfamiliar face has joined the group: Peter, an enigmatic young divorcé. And she isn’t the only one to take notice. One longtime member of the hunt doesn’t welcome the presence of an outsider and is quick to point out that with Peter, the group’s number reaches thirteen, a bad omen for the week.

Sure enough, a string of unsettling incidents follow, culminating in the disappearance of two men from a neighboring group of hunters. Embla takes charge of the search, and they soon find one of the missing men floating facedown in the nearby lake, his arm tightly wedged between two rocks. Just what she needs on her vacation. With the help of local reinforcements, Embla delves into the dark pasts of her fellow hunters in search of a killer.

My Review:

A couple of years ago I reviewed Who Watcheth by this author for Library Journal. It was my first “real” dip into scandinavian noir, and I found the story really compelling, as well as a bit creepy. But I really enjoyed the main character, Inspector Irene Huss. Enough so that I picked up the short story collection An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good to get just a bit more of her. (She is not the elderly lady of the title, she is investigating the elderly lady of the title).

Inspector Irene Huss’ series has ended, but the author has begun a new series, and I decided to pick it up – from the beginning this time. And so we come to Detective Inspector Embla Nyström of the mobile crime unit, on her annual vacation at her uncle’s hunting cabin.

The moose isn’t the only creature being hunted. So when the human bodies start piling up, Embla finds herself back on the clock, investigating a group of men she’s known – and mostly respected – all of her life. Along with one charmer who might just be a bit too good to be true.

Only because he is.

Escape Rating B+: This isn’t so much of a whodunit as a whydunit, as has been pointed out by multiple reviewers. It is a bit obvious who must be the killer. There’s only one newcomer to this rather tight-knit group. If one of them had been a serial killer, the dead bodies would go back decades. And they don’t. Mostly.

The group, with the exception of 28-year-old Embla and the newcomer, are also middle-aged if not older. For the most part, they are successful and well-to-do. Embla and her uncle are definitely not in the same financial strata as some of the others. (Or come to think of it, I don’t think they are. We don’t actually know enough about her uncle’s situation to be certain. He does, after all, own a house in town AND a hunting cabin.)

Embla is a cop. And a good one. She’s just multiply conflicted on this case.

Not just because she knows everyone well, except that newcomer. On the other hand, she gets to know the newcomer in the biblical sense, creating yet more conflict. And this case echoes back to an unsolved and unresolved trauma in her own past.

She knows there’s something wrong, but has a difficult time putting all the pieces together. Just as with the issue in her own past, the criminal is acting out of his own unresolved trauma. This is a case that just isn’t going to be solved without digging into a whole lot of the dirty laundry of everyone involved.

Embla is an interesting character, and she’s going to be good to follow for a series. On the one hand, she is a bit of an outsider in this group. By the time the crimes start occurring, she’s both the only woman, and with the exception of the newcomer, the only person under 40.

Her profession makes her suspect everyone and everything, and at the same time it sets her apart, making some of the party members suspicious of her, because she’s a young woman in a man’s job, and in authority once the moose hunt turns into a manhunt.

As a championship boxer, she’s a woman used to and capable of taking care of herself – a skill that turns out to be necessary in the course of the story. One of the unusual things we see is that in her own small team, while she’s not the leader, she is the muscle. We don’t often see that in fiction in a mixed gender team and it’s refreshing.

Her past trauma makes this case more poignant for her, and provides avenues for the author to explore in future entries in the series. That this case is wrapped up entirely in a hunting trip and the hunting culture of Scandinavia may put some readers off. There’s a lot of detail about the process of hunting and the annual hunts. I found it interesting – not that I’d want to do it myself but just how much tradition and culture are still wrapped around it.

I certainly enjoyed Hunting Game more than enough to want to read the next book in the series when it’s translated into English. I like Embla and her team and want to see how they go.

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, short stories
Pages: 184
Published by Soho Crime on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved the title. And because I read one of the author’s previous books in her Inspector Huss series (Who Watchetch) and liked it very much. So I was hoping for more of the same, both in the style and of the character.

And I was in the mood for a mystery. I got a tiny taste of Inspector Huss – but I’m not so sure about the mystery – because we always know whodunit.

Mostly, I got a variation on Arsenic and Old Lace, with a much smaller cast and no lace. Also, the old lady administering the equivalent of the arsenic isn’t nearly so lovable. – but she’s twice as irascible.

She’s also much better at hiding her tracks.

There’s a part of me that wants to be Maud when I’m her age. After all, she’s in her late 80s in these stories, and is perfectly capable of traveling around the world by herself at a whim, as well as able to climb through her own apartment windows in order to cover up a bit of murder.

I’d want the first part but not the second. Maud’s answer to taking care of situations that bother her is just murder. And she doesn’t even seem to have much of a conscience about it.

Great health, lousy ethics. Not that the people that we see her eliminate aren’t due for a bit of trouble, but murder seems a bit drastic. Most of the time.

The stories in this collection that are the most interesting are the two at the end, The Antique Dealer’s Death and An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, because they show the same crime from two rather different perspectives.

In The Antique Dealer’s Death Inspector Irene Huss is called to Maud’s apartment, The elderly lady has found a dead body stewing in one of the unused rooms. We see Maud at her best, pretending to be confused and frail, but by this point in the collection we know it’s an act.

The police, however, do not. They take the old lady’s behavior at face value, which is always a huge mistake. Maud’s behavior can never be taken at face value. We watch both the police and even an amateur detective who gets roped into the scene fix their sights on the dead antique dealer having an accomplice who killed him and scarpered when they attempted to rob the old lady. And we know they are all barking up the wrong tree – or scaffolding.

But in the companion story, An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, we see Maud in all of her excellent health, equally excellent planning, and slightly sociopathic glory as she discovers the antique dealer in the process of robbing her and decides not just to kill him but also how to fool the police.

As she does, and does well. The Inspector does figure out at the end that the only logical conclusion to the crime is that Maud did it, but she is also aware that there is no way to prove it.

Maud is just too good when she is up to no good.

Escape Rating A-: Lesson to be learned, never take an old lady for granted, she may be more than she seems. Maud’s “adventures” make for grisly fun, and a quick read if you’re in the mood to dip into a bit of Scandinavian noir.

Review: Who Watcheth by Helene Tursten

Review: Who Watcheth by Helene TurstenWho Watcheth by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargey
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: Inspector Huss #9
Pages: 304
Published by Soho Crime on December 6th 2016
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He watches the women from the shadows. He has an understanding with them; as long as they follow his rules, they are safe. But when they sin, he sentences them to death. A woman is found dead in a cemetery, strangled and covered in plastic. Just a few days before her death, the victim had received a flower, an unintelligible note, and a photograph of herself. Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues on the Goteborg police force have neither clue nor motive to track in the case, and when similar murders follow, their search for the killer becomes increasingly desperate. Meanwhile, strange things have been going on at home for Irene: first the rose bush in her garden is mangled, then she receives a threatening package with no return address . . .

My Review:

The title of this suspense thriller is a play on a very old Latin quotation: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” That meaning is only part of the story in Who Watcheth. In this case it also carries the connotation of watching from the shadows. In other words, stalking.

And while the stalker from the shadows forms the bulk of this case, in the end, the question of “who guards the guards?” is the one that is left hanging in the reader’s mind, quivering with possibility. And tragedy.

The story here is one that has been told before, in multiple suspense thrillers. There’s a serial killer on the loose. At first the police, in the person of Detective Inspector Irene Huss, don’t know that the murders of women in their 40s are connected. But as the bodies begin to stack up, the investigators hunt both backwards and forwards, to see if they can determine where the crime spree began, and try to zero in on the man the newspapers are calling “the Package Killer” for the way he leaves his victims neatly bundled up.

The conundrum for the investigators is that the killings appear random. The victims are roughly the same age, and are all unmarried, but otherwise they don’t seem to have much in common. It’s begins to seem as if they all work or at least shop at the same mall, but then, so do thousands of other people. It’s not much of a link.

And it doesn’t help them even when they zero in on a possible suspect. Daniel Borjesson is seriously creepy, but creepiness alone is not a crime. Unfortunately. He gives everyone who deals with him a serious case of the heebie-jeebies, and with good reason. But as much as the man touches off every single investigator’s gut instincts, no one can find a real connection between Borjesson and any of the victims, nor can they find any evidence that the man has access to either the car necessary for transporting his victims or the secure and out-of-the-way premises required to prepare his “packages” so meticulously.

Cop shop politics and the bureaucratic obsession with finances force the detectives to let him go. Their mistake is going to be extremely costly in the end. But for whom?

Escape Rating B+: This is a chilling thriller. It is also a very compelling read. I kept going long after the lights were out, which is a mistake. While this isn’t gory, the atmosphere of creeping menace makes for a tough read when the only light in the house is your iPad. But I absolutely had to finish.

This is the 9th book in the Inspector Huss series and is also part of the current wave of Scandinavian crime fiction. My exposure to that particular wave consists of seeing a few Wallander episodes, and this was my first introduction to Huss, but I still enjoyed the book a great deal, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not having read the rest of the series.

On that other hand, the atmosphere of the cop shop and Huss’ relationship with her family reminded me surprisingly of the J.D. Robb In Death series. The investigator’s personal life does find echoes and resonances in her cases, and there are bits about the cop shop and the group dynamics that felt similar across time, place and culture.

In the end, whodunnit is not a surprise to the reader. Much of the compulsion in the narrative revolves around putting the pieces together, and whether the detectives will manage to do so in time. Before the killer strikes again.

And the ending is a stunner.