Book of the week : Kaffe med rån - Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Life at Diamond House Retirement Home in Stockholm isn’t turning out to be as much fun as 79 year old  Martha Andersson and her friends expected. The meals are awful, they’re never allowed out and bedtime is 8 o’clock. In fact if TV documentaries are to be believed, they’d be better off in prison! When the management introduce even more cut-backs, Martha and her friends decide it’s time to take action. Fuelled by Martha’s secret stash of cloudberry liquor, they hatch a plan to break out of the care home and live life to the full, even if it does mean taking to crime….

“The next day, while the guests, or the ‘clients’, as they were now called, at Diamond House were drinking their morning coffee in the lounge, Martha thought about what she should do. In her childhood home in Österlen, down in the south of Sweden, people didn’t just sit and wait for somebody else to take action. … The murmur of voices rose and fell all around her as she surveyed the rather shabby lounge. The smell was decidedly reminiscent of the Salvation Army and the furniture seemed to have come straight from the recycling depot. The old grey 1940s building, with its asbestos fibre cement cladding, was like a combination of an old school and a dentist’s waiting room. Surely this wasn’t where she was meant to finish her days, with a mug of weak instant coffee to go with a plastic meal? No, damn it, it certainly was not! Martha breathed deeply, pushed her coffee mug aside and leaned forward to talk to her group of friends.
‘You lot. Come with me,’ she said and gave a sign to her friends to follow her to her room. ‘I have something to talk to you about’”

Martha tells her four friends her plans - and they’re all in!  The first thing is to escape the home though. This achieved, they hole up in a couple of suites in the Grand Hotel, where they plan to rob the rich clientele. Having worked out that this won’t generate enough dosh, instead they hatch a clever plan to ransom a valuable painting or two from the city’s art museum. Everything is planned to the last detail; Derren Brown, who used a gang of OAPs to steal a painting in his TV special before Christmas would be proud of this lot

They realise that they may end up in prison, they’ve seen on the telly that in prison they wouldn’t be treated any worse than in their home, and at their age … The caper proves to be so much fun, even when things don’t go totally according to plan, that they get a taste for it and decide to grow old disgracefully!

There’s plenty to chortle about, especially in all the character traits of the quintet. Martha, the bossy one, is the natural leader, Brains (real name Oscar) is the - er- brains of the outfit, and inventor.  Rake, a former seaman, is stylish and very much a lady’s man. Then there are her two lady friends, Anna-Greta who is very thin, very tall and very old and Christina, the youngest, who was used to high standards and needs to be persuaded they’re doing the right thing.  Add to them, the sadist Nurse Barbara, an assortment of other criminals, and the bungling police inspector, and our rich cast is near complete

So, if you thought all Nordic crime novels were grim and gritty, think again. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, by Swedish author Catherina Ingelman-Sundberg  is a delightful, fun tale of pensioners fighting back and refusing to accept that old age brings a life of monotonous passivity, sipping weak coffee glued to daytime TV

If you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson then you’ll enjoy this novel. This is primarily because the two books have the same translator, Rod Bradbury, and the English editions thus share the same writing style

However, despite the fact that the (different) publisher went for a lookalike cover for The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, it’s really quite different. The LOL is gentler than The 100 YOM. There are no hilarious and ingeniously gory deaths, for instance.  It’s also told all the in present, there are no flashbacks to earlier in the gang’s lives – they’re rebooting their lives in the here and now

You just might never see your old granny in the same light again!

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