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AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED
by Helene Tursten and Marlaine Delargy, trans.
Soho, October 2021
272 pages
$14.99
ISBN: 1641291672


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When we last saw Maud, the titular old lady of last year's AN ELDERLY WOMAN IS UP TO NO GOOD. she was being interviewed by a pair of policewomen, Irene Huss and her partner, Embla. Then Maud believed that her perfect imitation of a frail old lady teetering on the brink of dementia had deflected the police interest in her involvement in the death of a man found in her apartment. But this time around, they are back and clearly suspicious. Maud trots out her senility act once again and Irene and Embla finally leave, but Maud, worried that they will come back, decides to leave town. And she is doing it in a big way.

She books a flight to Johannesburg where she will join a luxury tour of South Africa. To make herself comfortable on the long flight, she consumes a rather alarming array of (free) alcoholic drinks and at last sinks into a deep sleep. Her sleep is not deep enough to suppress her remembrances of those moments in her long life when she had acted decisively to right a wrong or protect her own well-being.

The first she recalls is her intervention when she was still in school to protect her disturbed elder sister Charlotte against the bullying kid who lives in the same building. Charlotte is some ten years older than Maud, but her mental condition has reduced her to a shivering child. Later on, after the death of their parents, Maud will take care of Charlotte single-handed; this episode is where it all begins.

Her next challenge is also related to Charlotte as Maud not only protects her but has become her sole financial support. So when, after the war, she has to give over her full-time teaching load to a returning colleague, she needs to find some way of ensuring that she can get her old position back. Needless to say, she concocts an elaborate trap that does the trick. Up to this point, there has been no moral ambiguity about Maud's intervention. This time brings her closer to the Maud of the first set of stories. It all gets even more disturbing in the next recollection, in which Charlotte meets her end. We're on firmer ground thereafter however, when Maud first intervenes as only she can to protect her neighbour from her succubus of a son and then, finally, in Africa when a rapist gets what he deserves at her hands.

The final chapter at times seems more like a travel diary than an account of the fiendishly clever doings of an elderly lady of whom we cannot quite approve but certainly do enjoy. Still Maud does get to work, and quite properly, if a bit abruptly, at the end.

Readers whose moral sense has been somewhat disturbed by Maud's ruthless approach to solving problems may be reassured by the ending. As a woman of a certain age myself, I cannot resist cheering her on, especially when she sends up the cliche of the frail old lady. But murder...? Well, you be the judge. I can guarantee at least that you'll enjoy the chance to decide. And just to sweeten the experience, there are two cookie recipes la Maud at the very end.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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