Who doesn't want to be The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules? I certainly don't want my epitaph to read She Always Followed Directions, so a book about a group of pensioners who break out of their austere-to-the-bone retirement home and take up a life of crime had a certain appeal.
The action takes place in modern Stockholm where Martha, Christina, Anna-Greta, Brains, and Rake are all longtime friends and sang together as members of a choral group, The Vocal Chord. When they first moved into Diamond House Retirement Home the food was delicious, there were plenty of outings, and everyone was happy. But then the director Ingmar Mattson and Nurse Barbara (who soon became his mistress) started rationing the number of cups of coffee the residents could have in a day, took away the pastries, and began handing out little red pills that made them all lethargic.
Martha has had enough. She proposes that they quit taking those little red pills and start building up their physical stamina in the gym (they had to sneak in as even that was off limits now). Then, under her leadership, the gang — The League of Pensioners — comes up with a plan to rob the rich to help out the elderly.
This involves much planning, quite a few twists and turns, a couple of first-time-to-crime mistakes, more than a few glasses of champagne, a trip to Helsinki, and eventually prison terms for all which lead to only more adventures in crime.
This tale should be a movie. It is sort of Ocean's Eleven meets The Golden Girls. I can see Judi Dench as the ringleader with Betty White and Cloris Leachman as the other two females. Robert Duvall and Michael Caine would be perfect as Brains and Rake.
I enjoyed this madcap caper but will have to say that it ran on a bit long (400 pages). As it is translated from the original Swedish, its prose doesn't exactly wax poetic. Something always gets lost in translation. But the chapters are short, the action moves along, and the characters ring true.
Besides the fun that the author has writing her characters in and out of crime caper corners, she also takes a stab at the attitudes toward and treatment of older citizens.
There are two more in this series by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg: The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again finds the gang in Las Vegas, and The Little Old Lady Behaving Badly takes the group to sunny St. Tropez.
Believe me, if I ever decide to take up a life of crime, this series will serve as my procedure manual.