Audio Book Mini Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good was written by Helene Tursten and translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. The audio book is read by Suzanne Toren and runs 180 minutes, so it’s a short one! At my library, Tursten’s novel is advertised as a mystery. Um, there’s no mystery, but that’s okay!

Maud has been living in the same apartment her whole life — all 88 years — and she’s not going to let anyone interfere with her existence. In an unusual circumstance, Maud lives in the apartment rent free. Her family seemed well-to-do, but when her father died of a heart attack, it was discovered he had no money. An apartment building they owned was sold for capital, but the lawyer added an agreement that said the widow and two daughters (no future dependents) could keep one apartment, regardless of how many times the building sold, at no charge. Who would have thought Maud would live another 70 years after her father died? While the story of the apartment is important and informs the listener of Maud’s history and her present circumstance, the true crux is how quick Maud is to murder someone!

I know it says “stories” right on the cover, but I didn’t notice that. I got myself an e-audiobook, so I never looked too closely at the cover. Thus, I was surprised to discover An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good has five stories. Typically, I don’t listen to short stories on audio because I’m commuting and don’t want to have to pause a story in the middle, work all day, then try to remember where I left off. But Helene Tursten’s stories don’t function like that. They’re all about Maud, and Maud is always ready to kill someone. She can pass off herself as a doddering nana — use a walker, hunch over, make her voice vulnerable, purchase cheap hearing aids to play deaf — but next thing you know she’s releasing a cement penis chandelier to smash a celeb who’s got her eye on Maud’s apartment, or climbing down a fire escape ladder to confuse police who start to suspect she’s offed an antiques dealer eyeballing her 18th century silver.

While the stories were similar — Maud feels threatened and kills someone — I found each one delightful. The way Tursten plays with this elderly character, relying on society’s stereotypes about the elderly, made the tales unique and fresh despite their similarities. Suzanne Toren reads the book beautifully, crafting individual voices that fit the characters, and has a hard, elderly-lady sound for the narrator’s part. Given that this is a Swedish translation, and I’ve never been able to say a Swedish geographical location in my life, I appreciated hearing the names. (Hearing the names and feeling immersed in the country was a stark contrast to my “how do I say that???” experience reading the text version of The Room by Jonas Karlsson).

Although a short collection, I really enjoyed An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good and highly recommend it. I push readers toward the audio not only because the book is a translation from Swedish, but because Suzanne Toren reads it so well and the audio quality is excellent. There was never a need to turn the volume up or down due to poor modulation, and the sound was crisp.

16 comments

  1. Well you were right, I absolutely adore the sound of this one. Old ladies getting up to no good? Count me in! She’s like a devious Jessica Fletcher with bad intentions. I lespecially love the idea of her buying hearing aids to confuse people, what a great plan! I need to remember that in my later years…

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  2. “While the stories were similar — Maud feels threatened and kills someone — I found each one delightful.” HA! That made me laugh. If it isn’t a mystery, what is it? A thriller? Putting these kinds of labels on books is so hard for me. Nothing ever seems to fit in a category. Whatever way it’s classified, this set of short stories sounds wonderful.

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    • Probably best classified as black humor. You’re laughing when you shouldn’t! What with all those Swedish murder books that people love, it seems like Tursten decided to play with what he country is known for these days.

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  3. Haha- this sounds super fun! I wonder — does your library shelve mysteries, thrillers, and horror together? My local library does just because their selection is so small. Perhaps whomever shelved this read “murder” and assumed one of those genres? How would you shelve this book?

    I love how the Swedish are so open and accepting of death as a natural order of things. So many of the books I’ve read translated from Swedish openly discuss death in a great way– though this sounds quite humorous. I’ll definitely check it out.

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    • The library where I work has a separate mystery section, but thrillers and horror go in general fiction. I would shelve An Elderly Lady in general fiction. There is no mystery (Maud obviously kills everyone), it’s not a thriller, and it’s not scary/horror.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, it always makes me happy to see the translator’s name on the cover! Too often it seems they don’t get proper recognition for their work. I’m not sure this book sounds quite to my taste but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Challenging stereotypes in a fun way is always a plus!

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