Our hero Maud, or shall we say “anti-hero,” is back! Did you miss her? Do you want to know MORE about her? Here we turn your attention to the prior collection of short stories, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good. Read them both! They are delightful, succinct and BOTH together cost less than your usual admission to a novel. We are charmed into rooting for this murderous rascal. Frankly, she puts Tom Ripley to shame! An enjoyable and successful reverse engineering of the crime fiction genre.
Just when things have finally cooled down for 88-year-old Maud after the disturbing discovery of a dead body in her apartment in Gothenburg, a couple of detectives return to her doorstep. Though Maud dodges their questions with the skill of an Olympic gymnast a fifth of her age, she wonders if suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is. The truth is, ever since Maud was a girl, death has seemed to follow her.
In these six interlocking stories, memories of unfortunate incidents from Maud’s past keep bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, certain Problems in the present require immediate attention. 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.
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|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||4.18(w) x 6.24(h) x 0.88(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
Maud let out a loud sigh of relief as she sank into her comfortable seat on the plane. She surprised herself, because she rarely showed her feelings. She stole a glance at the passenger next to her, a young man in a suit who was busy trying to stuff his elegant black carryon into the overhead bin. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t manage to close the door. Good. He probably hadn’t heard her little burst of emotion, which had come straight from the heart. The last few months had been extremely taxing, but now she felt as if the worst was over. At long last she could relax and look forward to a wonderful trip to South Africa.
The group would be accompanied by a Swedish-speaking guide throughout. They would travel around, seeing and experiencing much of what the country had to offer. Five-star hotels, fine dining, five nights at an exclusive lodge in the Kruger National Park, including a safari with the promise of seeing the “big five”: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. There would be visits to vineyards, plus a trip to the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to see the Victoria Falls, followed by a cruise along the Zambezi River. The final week would be spent in Cape Town. Maud had been to South Africa twice before, but on those occasions she had traveled alone, as she always did, staying in simple but clean hotels and using buses or trains to get from one place to the next. However, the distances were considerable, and she hadn’t seen a fraction of what she’d had in mind. And she certainly hadn’t been able to afford a safari at the time.
The idea of a luxury trip had grown on her during her summer vacation on the coast of Croatia. Why shouldn’t she treat herself to the experience of a lifetime? She was almost eighty-nine years old, fit and healthy, with no family. She had to admit that age was beginning to take its toll to a certain extent. To be perfectly honest, she wouldn’t be able to carry her luggage in the oppressive heat, even though she preferred to travel light.
The flight she had just boarded would take her from Gothenburg to Copenhagen, where she would join the rest of the South Africa Grand Tours group. It was still dark outside the window; in the floodlights of Landvetter Airport she could see big wet snowflakes slowly drifting down. As soon as they touched the ground they melted, forming big puddles on the runways. In three days it would be Christmas Eve. How wonderful to escape the cold and all the nonsense associated with the festive season. And those annoying police officers.
The thought of the two detectives who’d turned up on her doorstep a few days ago made Maud’s heart rate increase. She hadn’t expected to see them again; she’d assumed the case had been shelved. The tall woman, Inspector Irene Huss, had politely asked if they could have a few words with her regarding “the unfortunate incident back in August.” Behind her stood the younger officer, Embla something-or-other, her face totally expressionless. However, her blue eyes had bored into Maud with an intensity that made Maud take an involuntary step backward. The two women had interpreted this as an invitation to come in, and before she knew it, they were standing in her hallway.
Maud had automatically reverted to her best defense: the confused old lady. Unfortunately she realized she wasn’t wearing her fake hearing aids, which she used when she wanted to give the impression that she was particularly hard of hearing. At first this made her feel anxious, but then she thought she could use it to her advantage, reinforcing the image of a slightly addled senior citizen.
“Why . . . Why are you here? Has something happened?” she asked anxiously.
Irene Huss had quickly reassured her. “No, no, nothing new. Inspector Nyström and I just wanted to talk to you again about the murder of the antique dealer William Frazzén. He was found dead in your home, so we thought we’d check whether you’d remembered anything . . .”
“What? Dead? Who’s dead?” Maud asked loudly.
“Frazzén, the antique dealer who was killed here . . .”
Maud didn’t let her finish the sentence. On the verge of tears and with her voice breaking, she said, “No, no! I can’t even bring myself to think about . . . that terrible . . .”
Inspector Huss had smiled warmly. “Could we sit down for a quiet chat?”
She sounded friendly, but Maud wasn’t fooled. She found a handkerchief in the pocket of her bobbly green cardigan, and dabbed at her eyes with a trembling hand. Sniffing quietly, she led them into the kitchen and gestured toward the three chairs around the small table. She didn’t offer them anything to drink; she certainly didn’t want them to feel welcome and stay longer than necessary.
When they were all seated, Irene Huss cleared her throat and gazed steadily at Maud, who immediately brought the handkerchief up to her eyes once more.
“It’s been four months since Frazzén was found in your father’s smoking room,” Irene began.
“Gentleman’s room. It’s a gentleman’s room,” Maud muttered into her handkerchief.
“Forgive me. Gentleman’s room. If I can just run through what happened in August, to refresh your memory. The whole building was covered in scaffolding and tarps because the façade was being renovated, which, of course, made things easier for the intruders. Frazzén had an accomplice with him, who climbed up the scaffolding and got into the smok—gentleman’s room through a window that had been left ajar. The accomplice then let Frazzén in through the front door. The keys for the security lock are kept in a key cupboard in the hallway. The two men went straight to the gentleman’s room and began to remove the silverware from a display cabinet, but for some reason they had an argument, and Frazzén’s accomplice attacked him from behind. Frazzén was found lying facedown, with a significant wound to the back of his head. The weapon was beside his body: a poker that’s usually kept next to the stove in the same room. He’d fallen onto the fender, and one of the pointed turrets had penetrated his eye and gone straight into his brain. According to the pathologist, death was instantaneous. It looked as if he and his accomplice had been in the process of stealing the silver collection. We found a bag containing a number of artifacts in the middle of the room. There was a large pool of blood from the victim’s head injuries, and it was possible to make out the partial impression of a shoe. There were bloodstains on the windowsill and on the planks outside the window, which suggests that the accomplice had both entered and left the apartment by that route. Presumably he panicked, since you assured us that nothing was missing.”
She fell silent and looked at Maud, who had spent the entire time dabbing at her eyes and nose. When there was no response, the inspector continued:
“The accomplice appears to have gone up in smoke. We have no idea who he was.”
Maud’s brain was working overtime. Had the police come up with fresh evidence? Had she missed something? Left traces of DNA, in spite of how careful she’d been? Best to keep quiet, wait and see.
“Have you remembered when you opened the window in the gentleman’s room?”
“What?” Maud cupped a hand behind her ear.
Patiently Irene Huss repeated the question. Maud merely shook her head and muttered something unintelligible into the handkerchief.
“No idea at all?”
Maud shook her head again.
“Since that was what facilitated the intruders’ entry into the apartment, it would be helpful if you could try to remember.”
“Entry? Are you talking about a competition entry?”
The inspector couldn’t hide her irritation when she repeated the question.
Maud cleared her throat several times before answering. “Oh, they came in through the window . . . I haven’t been into Father’s room . . . he doesn’t like us going in there . . . I mean . . .”
She let out a sob and shook her head yet again. She heard one of the detectives—presumably the younger one—sigh. Good. The sooner they got tired of this, the better.
“I wonder if you’d mind putting in your hearing aids? Or one of them, at least. I seem to recall that you had one in each ear the last time we spoke,” Irene said with exaggerated politeness.
“Hearing aids . . . I’m not sure where they are. I’ve been looking for . . . Charlotte’s probably taken them . . . No, she can’t have done . . .”
“Charlotte? Who’s Charlotte?”
“My sister. She’s eleven years older than me.”
“Eleven years . . . So she must be almost a hundred. She doesn’t live here, does she? Is she in a home?”
“No, she’s dead. She died almost thirty-nine years ago. November twelfth,” Maud replied without the slightest hesitation.
Irene and Embla exchanged a glance and both sighed.
Irene tried again. “You must have opened the window at some point before the break-in.”
Maud’s eyes filled with tears as she looked from one officer to the other.
“The apartment was hot and stuffy when I got back from Split. We were in the middle of a heatwave. I must have gone around opening windows . . . Although I don’t really remember,” she said, her voice trembling.
“Including the window in the gentleman’s room?”
“I don’t remember. Maybe.”
“Frazzén’s body lay there for eight days in the heat. It was the smell that alerted you to the fact that something was wrong, and that was when you found him.”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Maud exclaimed, bursting into tears. She blew her nose loudly, the sound reverberating around the kitchen. The two detectives gazed at her in silence for a little while.
“You called Chief Inspector Persson almost three weeks later,” Irene said eventually. “You’d suddenly recalled bumping into Frazzén on the street and talking to him about your father’s silver collection. You told him you wanted to sell it.”
“Did I?” Maud’s eyes opened wide.
“That’s what you said to Chief Inspector Persson.”
Maud made an effort to look as if she was thinking hard. In fact, she didn’t need to think at all; she knew exactly why she’d made the call. She’d been worried that someone might have seen her talking to Frazzén and showing him the silver goblet. They’d arranged for him to come and see the collection later that evening, but no one could have overheard that conversation. They’d been alone on the street outside his antique store—but someone could have seen them from a distance, or through a window.
“Yes . . . that’s probably correct.”
“Did you give him your address?”
“I’m not . . . I don’t know.”
Silence fell once more as the two officers stared at her. With a shudder she realized that they actually suspected her, even though she’d been so careful. That snake got what he deserved! she thought with a sudden spurt of rage. Coming here and trying to fool me, stealing my silver so he wouldn’t have to pay. Although she hadn’t meant to kill him. It was unfortunate that he’d fallen onto the fender. Her brain was working fast, but she maintained the same bewildered expression.
Irene Huss raised her voice. “Did you really not hear anything during the night when the crime took place?”
“Don’t shout at me. I’m not deaf!” Maud snapped.
Irene looked as if she would like to do a lot more shouting, but she took a deep breath and calmed herself. Before she could repeat the question, Maud replied in her shakiest voice:
“I’d come back from Croatia that afternoon. The flight took nine hours—I had to change twice. It was so stressful! We left Split very early, but—”
She was rudely interrupted by Irene.
“We know all that, but I’d like to go over what happened when you arrived home.”
“When I arrived home . . . I went out to buy something for breakfast. I always do that when I’ve been away for a couple of weeks. There was nothing in the refrigerator. I’d been to Croatia. There’s a little hotel just outside Split where I usually—”
“We know that too.”
“Do you? It’s a lovely hotel, isn’t it? Do you know the owner as well? She’s . . .” Maud fell silent, as if she’d lost the thread. Irene Huss was beginning to look a little weary, while the younger woman continued to stare intently across the table.
“Was that when you met Frazzén—when you went shopping?” Irene asked.
“It . . . I suppose it must have been, but I don’t remember.”
“And you didn’t hear anything unusual during that Friday night?”
“No. I was so tired . . . the journey . . . the heat. I took a sleeping pill as usual, because otherwise I wake up at two or three o’clock, and then I can’t get back to sleep. So I always take a tablet. They’re very good, my doctor . . .”
Maud had never taken a sleeping pill in her life; she slept very well, but she had no intention of sharing that information with the police.