Book review: “An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed”

Memories flood your brain at the oddest times.

They’re spontaneous and unbidden, random and fleeting. You may be tinkering in the kitchen, and thoughts of a childhood friend pop into your head. Raking leaves, and Grandpa’s car enters your mind. Reading a book like the new novel “An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed” by Helene Tursten, and you remember the people you’ve killed.

At almost eighty-nine years old, Maud figured it was time to have the trip she’d always dreamed of taking: a tour of South Africa, a safari, shopping, fine dining, the works. Of course, she’d been to South Africa before, but not with these kinds of luxurious accommodations.

Not with this kind of reason to avoid the police.

They were still trying to figure out how William Frazzén died in Maud’s “gentleman’s room” some months ago. Obviously, he was trying to steal Maud’s silver, but how did he gain entry and why was the room suddenly empty? 

The answers were easy: Maud invited him in and killed him because he was a “snake” and the room was empty because she needed money for her trip. But they’d never know that. The police, Maud’s neighbors, everyone in Gothenburg thought that Maud was a sweet, slightly-addled little old lady, confused over Frazzén’s demise.

That made Maud chuckle. Sweet? Right. 

As she settled in to the plush First Class seat on her flight, her mind drifted off…

First, there were neighbor boys that teased Maud’s older sister, Charlotte, who “wasn’t entirely well.” They didn’t die for their cruelty, but Maud made sure they were gone for good. The teacher who tried to reclaim her job died by icicle, and that took some real work on Maud’s part. There was Frazzén, dead from greed and a fireplace iron. Charlotte, well, clumsy Charlotte fell down the stairs. And technically, the neighbor’s good-for-nothing son killed himself; Maud had only baked those allergen-laced cookies…

It was all “necessary,” she thought to herself. 

“Certain Problems have only one solution. That’s just the way it is.”

Though it’s not quite as hilarious as the first in this so-far-two-part series, “An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed” still has plenty of humor buried between its small covers. Also, plenty of cold-blooded murder, just as you’d expect in a fine mystery.

The thing is, it’s murder done out in the open, often with witnesses, but author Helene Tursten’s main character is crafty; with Rube-Goldberg-esque contraptions and contrivances, there’s a different method to Maud’s madness every time and she’s deliciously, curmudgeonly gleeful about literally getting away with murder. Even better, inside the body of Tursten’s senior citizen, there’s a true and talented actress with steely nerves, a delightfully twisted mind, and absolutely zero patience for fools – making this dark novel clever and very, very fun to read.

You don’t have to have the first Tursten novel to enjoy this one, but you’ll want it when you’re finished. If you’re looking for something sharply sinister, “An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed” must be remembered.

“An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed” by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy

c.2021, Soho Press $14.99 / $18.99 Canada 261 pages

Author Helene Tursten