Finishing Off Scandinavia & Murder With Maud

Have any of you yet met Maud?  Such a sweet old lady and perfectly safe . . . most of the time . . .

As my post’s heading indicates, I’m covering two topics today:  a brief recap of my Nordic reads for January (I did read a few other things but didn’t bother posting about them) and a series of murderously entertaining short stories featuring Maud, a most unusual protagonist.  I’ll be covering these in reverse order, so if you’re interested in one but not the other, you may want to skip.

As #NordicFinds month draws to a close, I find that I can’t quite leave Scandinavia without saying a word or two about Maud, an octogenarian resident of Gothenburg, Sweden.  If you like twisty tales laced with black humor and mayhem, well, she’s definitely worth checking out.  Because I actually read these books last fall (Up To No Good was a re-read to refresh my memory before indulging in Must Not be Crossed)  they aren’t eligible for my Reading Europe Challenge.  They do, however, fit nicely into the #NordicFinds and #ReadIndies months.  Although I read them last year, I couldn’t resist including them on the final lap of this year’s Scandi-journey, particularly as I haven’t previously reviewed them and they provide such a perfect finish for my idiosyncratic little survey of contemporary Scandinavian fiction.  Aside from their content, which provided me with some very happy reading hours, you can see that both books are handsome little volumes, with interesting artwork.  One has a brief but interesting afterword by the author, the other two recipes, one naughty and one nice, for gingerbread cookies.  A word to the wise — if you’re allergic to nuts, don’t eat any of Maud’s baked goods!

Both these little volumes (Marlaine Delargy tr.) are short story collections by the Swedish crime writer Helene Tursten, perhaps best known for her franchise detective Irene Huss, a detective inspector in Gothenburg’s Special Crimes Unit.  If you’re a fan of Irene Huss or Embla Nyström (the protagonist in another Tursten series) you’ll be pleased to learn that both make most entertaining appearances in a few of these stories (first and most notably in “The Antique Dealer’s Death” from Up To No Good).

The collection of stories featuring Maud was born when Tursten, facing a deadline for a Christmas story for one of Sweden’s largest publications, began to panic.  As she explains in her afterword to Up To No Good:

then, she came to me:  Maud.  She was 88 years old and looked like most old grannies.  But inside she was quite special.  Her age was a perfect disguise for a criminal!  Even . . . a murderer.  I wrote the first story, “An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmas,” in just three hours, and I enjoyed every minute of her company.  But let’s just say I would not like to have her for a neighbor or a relative!”

Although Tursten knows Maud best, I think she’s a little hard on her creation.  I’d feel perfectly safe living next door as long as I minded my own business, didn’t make too much noise (particularly at Christmas) and kept my animals under control.

Although the books are independent of each other and the stories are still quite enjoyable if you skip around (my usual method for reading a collection), you’ll get the most out of them by beginning with Up To No Good and reading the stories in the given order, as Tursten discloses Maud’s character and background in bits and pieces as the stories proceed.  This slow reveal is in fact a very clever and effective way of tying the collections together.  Maud’s habits are another connecting thread.  She loves to travel & has been “virtually all over the world” (Up To No Good, page 44); is an avid surfer of the net (she considers her laptop, which she ripped off from a Silver Surfers IT course, “indispensable”) and really, really likes to be left alone.  When Maud was eighteen her father died of a sudden heart attack and her once wealthy family discovered the money was gone.  Although Maud’s widowed mother was forced to sell the apartment building that was the sole remaining asset, a clause in the contract gave her and her two daughters the right to live rent free in the nicest set of rooms as long as they wished.  Seventy years later mother and sister are dead, the building is now an ultra fashionable address and Maud, to the frustration of the housing board (its lawsuit to dislodge her was unsuccessful), continues to enjoy her rent free life style.

Maud’s unusual living arrangement is at the center of the plot in  “An Elderly Lady Has Accommodations Problems,” the first of Up To No Good’s five stories.  Life has been peaceful for Maud until the advent of Jasmine Schimmerhof, celebrity child of famous parents (the subjects of Jasmine’s tell-all bestseller), a would-be sculptor and the latest new tenant in Maud’s building.  As Jasmine explains in her blog, Me, Jasmine:

I despise sovereignty and the patriarchy.  I have grown up under that kind of oppression, and I know how terrible it is.  I want to give the finger to all oppressors and tell them to go to hell.  In October, I will be putting on an exhibition at the Hell Gallery.  At the moment I am working on Phallus, Hanging.  It’s going to be a kick in the balls for all those bastard men!

When Jasmine begins a sustained campaign to woo Maud and win the seemingly senile old lady’s good will, Maud becomes suspicious and turns to the internet to discover that Jasmine is rather unwisely hinting on her blog that she may soon be moving into a much larger apartment that currently belongs to an elderly neighbor.  What’s that elderly lady to do, except protect her home?  I won’t say anything more, except to note that Maud helps the patriarchy to strike back in a most unusual way.  The book’s other four stories, in which Maud deals most efficiently with noisy neighbors, a thieving antique dealer and a gold-digging soft porn actress with designs on Maud’s former finance (Maud retains fond memories despite being jilted when her family went broke) are equally entertaining.  Who could imagine that murder could be so funny?

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed follows a similar format but is not quite more of the same.  Deciding that it’s best to clear out of Gothenburg for a bit after the antique dealer, Maud embarks on a luxury safari to South Africa, financed by the sale of a family heirloom or two.  Tursten skillfully uses the exotic setting to broaden the stories, and to deepen and soften Maud’s character as we learn more of her backstory.  Although I enjoyed Must Not Be Crossed and would definitely recommend it for an enjoyable afternoon of reading, I preferred Up To No Good.  I suspect it doesn’t speak well for my character that I prefer my murders undiluted by humanitarian impulses.

Midnight approaches here in Gulf Coast Florida and that’s enough of Maud.  As I noted above, these books are part of my Scandinavian journey, undertaken as part of Annabel’s #NordicFinds month.  They are also eligible for Lizzy & Kaggsy’s #ReadIndies month, as they are published by Soho Press, an independent publisher located in Manhattan.  Soho Crime specializes in atmospheric international fiction and has an impressive backlist of authors.


Proceeding to the second part of my post, I’d like to do a wrap-up of the books I read for #NordicFinds.

The four additional books I completed for #NordicFinds, one each from Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

In participating in the read-along, I tried very hard to push my boundaries by reading books that were, to varying degrees, outside my comfort zone either because of genre (memoirs, for example), style or subject.  As a result, I think my journey through Scandinavia was enlivened by books that were quite different from each other.  I also chose books written by authors from the countries where the books were set, rather than books by English speakers about the various countries, if that makes any sense.  By a happy coincidence, #NordicFinds overlapped with the beginning of the Reading Europe Challenge and #ReadIndies, so most of my books were twofers and a couple, oh happy day, qualified for all three events.  In addition to Tursten’s Elderly Lady collections, my choices included:

Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy, a beautifully written and intense set of memoirs by the noted Danish writer;

Dag Solstad’s Novel 11, Book 18, a piece of avant-garde fiction from Norway in which a very ordinary man experiences an existential crisis and decides that he, rather than chance, will control his fate;

Antti Tuomainen’s Dark As My Heart, where the king of Helsinki Noir tells the dark story of a decades long search for justice;

Oddny Eir’s Land of Love and Ruins, a genre-defying, autobiographical novel set in Iceland and mixing philosophy, eroticism, history, archaeology and bird watching.

And then, of course, there’s the one that got (temporarily) away:

After reading a few pages, I decided to postpone reading Smirnoff’s novel, set in Sweden, until later in the year. Not to worry! It’s part of my Reading Europe Challenge; I’ll finish when I’m next in a noirish mood!

So that’s it for Scandinavia, folks!  Now on to the next adventure:

Percy wants to depart the frozen north for warmer climates  . . . .

30 thoughts on “Finishing Off Scandinavia & Murder With Maud

    1. Hi Ali–I think you’ll enjoy them (although as the Gerts point out in their comment, the stories do follow a bit of a formula). Not the least of their attractions is that they go very quickly and are extremely easy to read between other works; almost like like little palate cleaners.


  1. Hi Gerts! I must agree that the stories do follow a bit of a formula (IMO a lot of crime fiction does as well); it’s pretty clear when someone crosses Maud’s path what’s coming down! These worked for me as light reads for a weary mind (think I read them between a Virginia Woolf & Arnold Bennett last fall) and, I must admit, served a certain wish fulfillment function. Do you remember a scene from one story, where Maud stabbed the rude young store clerk who called her “an old bat” with her safety pen & HE got the blame for creating a scene with a helpless old lady? Honestly, haven’t you positively LONGED to do something like that on occasion? Maud’s character gets softened in the second book, which still worked, but . . . . I liked the totally amoral Maud better.
    I do hope you like Ms Eir’s very interesting novel. It isn’t for everyone but I think there’s certainly some good stuff there. I’d love to hear your reaction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved Maud and, although it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen in all these little tales of merry mayhem, will read them again at some point.
    And thanks for the kind words about the list. #NordicFinds was just the incentive I needed to get moving AND — there are Indies as well. I think my next one may be from Melville House . . .


    1. Thanks Liz! If you do get to Love & Ruins, I’d love to hear your reaction; I think it’s the kind of book that’s hard to be neutral about. As for the old comfort zone, well, I’m afraid that Stefannson trilogy you reviewed was way outside of mine!
      I’ve enjoyed my little trip around Scandinavia very much but . . . for several days now I’ve been wallowing in the comfort of Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood! Hopefully I’ll be organized enough to review it later this week (spoiler alert — I loved it).

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Julé — a fellow Maud fan, so exciting! I can’t remember how I found the first book; stumbled on it I believe and couldn’t resist the title. What I find most appealing is the humor and seeing just HOW Maud is going to take care of the problem (there’s no real suspense, is there, about exactly what’s going to happen, is there?) I enjoyed the second book (which again, I found by chance) but not quite as much. Although the increased amount of backstory was interesting and certainly rounded out Maud’s character, Tursten started (I think) smoothing down the amorality, which is one of Maud’s main attractions for me.
      I, too, have thought I might give one of Tursten’s “straight” series a try but I have so many unread books right now it won’t be happening anytime soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Maud stories sound pretty entertaining–a totally new author to me, so I don’t know her other series characters either. Would I be better off starting with one of her, umm, more traditional crime series? Though Maud does sound delightfully like a completely inverted Miss Marple.

    Nice start on Europe, too! I utterly failed at the Scandinavia tour this year, though I still have the opening post open in another tab…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a GREAT review. I am still laughing at “murders undiluted by humanitarian impulses” and it’s implication on your character! I really feel like I have been living on another planet to have missed this collection? What was I thinking???!!! I have to read this; I like Maud and I think I will become a devotee! Have you read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? While not a murder mystery; it is one riot of a book with some gems about post WW politics. Alan, the said 100 year old man of this novel, sounds like Maud and I think you will enjoy his company and adventures. Atleast I think you will; recommendations can be tricky, I know! But I am super impressed at the variety of your reading through the Nordic event! Way to go!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So glad you liked the review, Cirtnecce, and I hope you can get better acquainted with Maud. I’ve actually been a little surprised that not more people have read these two little collections and I suspect that it may be because the publisher, Soho Press, is an Indy. Soho, however, seems pretty big and has an international distribution, so — who knows? These stories are indeed short & amusing and are ideal to read when you want a break from more serious works.
    Thanks so much for the info about The Hundred-Year-Old Man. By sheer chance, I was looking at this the other day but was in a rush and didn’t pay it much attention. I will definitely investigate!


  6. I love Soho Press and have a post scheduled for later this week about one of their other authors…but I’ve been curious about this series for awhile now. Good to know that it’s proven to be as enjoyable for you as I’d hoped it would be. What a heroine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marcie — I suspect I’ve read a few of Soho’s titles without realizing it (#ReadIndies month has certainly raised my consciousness regarding publishers). I was amazed when I browsed Soho’s site and saw its list of authors. Its focus on international crime is really tempting and I suspect I’ll definitely be reading more from it in the future. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for your post later this week.
      As a woman of — ahem! a certain age — I do find Maud’s zest for enjoying life (her own, that is) quite inspiring, if not QUITE an example to follow in every respect . . .


  7. Tursten’s Maud took my fancy! As a writer or a reader it’s a wonderful thing to discover a character you’d like to spend time with. And look what a deadline can do! Btw navigated here after seeing and agreeing with your comment on Paula’s latest Winding up the Week


    1. Hi Maria — glad you liked Maud; I’m quite fond of her myself. I was a little disappointed (but only a little) to find that in the second book she might actually have a glint of gold in that hard little heart of hers.
      It IS amazing what a deadline can do, as I discovered myself in a couple of my jobs. Unfortunately my output wasn’t nearly at the level of Tursten’s.
      Paula’s Winding Up is great, isn’t it? It’s such a treat; I always find a huge amount to savor. I can’t remember my comment but it probably related either to Elizabeth Taylor or to Maria Gainza’s new book, which I’ve pre-ordered thanks to Paula (I can be pretty self indulgent in that regard).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Started Childhood, Youth, Dependency last night. What voice, what language. Thank you so much; it’s 100% my kind of book. Delicious pleasure at thought of returning to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michelle — I’m so happy that this wonderful book found a “home” with you! (book recommendations are chancy things) Ditlevsen does have a wonderful style (I’m amazed at how lyrical she is with so few words) and voice. I found Dependency quite different from Childhood; I’ll be interested to see your own reaction.
      I’m now dying to read one of Ditlevsen’s novels, which are purportedly very autobiographical.


      1. Talking of autobiographical. The back of Childhood, Youth, Dependency has it as fiction. But the blurb calls it memoir. Also received today, delicious package from independent book store containing Ulysses and Miss Iceland. Bliss, heaps of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Michelle: I had noticed a slight difference of opinion on this point (fiction or memoir); I do think Ditlevsen inserted/altered some facts. Auto fiction maybe? fictionalized autobiography? I think I decided it didn’t matter too much!
        Re your new books: bliss indeed! I loved Miss Iceland, although it took me a little time to get into it (read it last year but didn’t review). As for Ulysses — I am in awe! I’ve never had the nerve to attempt it. Maybe someday . . .

        Liked by 1 person

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