Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa" by Helen Tursten

I started reading An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed in early March of 2022, and reported on the the first five stories in the book in late March. (See link here.) There are only six stories in the book, and I finished the last one recently. It is novella length, about one hundred pages in this small format book. 

An Overview of the Book:

Maud is an 88-year-old Swedish woman with an ample income, a loner who is content with her life. But she has no concerns about eliminating anyone who gets in her way. When Maud is presented with a person who is causing problems in her life (or that of her family or friends), she looks for a way to fix that problem, by whatever means available. The solution doesn't always end in death, but she is fine if it does. 

I enjoyed reading the first book of stories about Maud's exploits in An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good. But for some reason I was less comfortable reading the first five stories in this book. The stories were a bit depressing. 

On the other hand, the writing is very good and the character is interesting. I like the structure of the book. Most of the stories go back to earlier times in her life, her family and especially her sister, who she had to care for after her parents were gone. I think these stories provide some context about how Maud became who she is. The first story is titled: "An Elderly Lady Begins to Remember Her Past."

Specific comments on "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa":

Maud has decided to take a luxury trip to Africa:

The group would be accompanied by a Swedish-speaking guide throughout. .... 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. 

A good portion of this novella is a straightforward story of Maud's trip. We meet the guide and other members of the tour group. The activities have a lot of flexibility and Maud has plenty of opportunities to take side trips alone, which she likes as she is extremely private and avoids social interaction. On this trip, however, she surprises herself by becoming friendly with some other members of the group. 

Before the group begins the cruise along the Zambezi River, there is time for individuals to visit the local area. Maud goes out briefly, and the guide and some others in the group go out for longer walks. When they return, two of the men have injuries, one due to a fall, one bitten by an animal. After the cruise is completed and returns to the starting point, the tour group is delayed for several hours while each member is interviewed by the police, because a crime had occurred in the area they visited. They are released and the tour group goes on to the safari portion of the trip.

When the group arrives in Cape Town, Maud is able to visit areas she had seen on previous trips, and renew an acquaintance with the owner of the small hotel she had stayed at before. On that portion of the trip, Maud witnesses an attempted rape and is able to help out in a solution to that crime. 

This story does have a lovely ending and it left me with an improved opinion about the book as a whole. 

The luxury trip to South Afrika takes place over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, although that doesn't have much impact on the mystery plot. There is at least one other story in the book that is set around Christmas, and features gingerbread cookies. The author has included two recipes for gingerbread cookies, so you could save this book for reading at Christmas (or even give it as a Christmas present).


Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you found the writing was good in this one, Tracy. I like Helene Tursten's work a lot, but haven't yet tried her short stories. I'm glad to hear that they're well-written.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was looking at her books on the library shelf yesterday. She is very represented. I was trying to find a book by Turnbull and she sat right next to him.

Todd Mason said...

It's a tough balancing act at times, the ruthless antiheroine or antihero. Seems like she was more on the side of the angels in the novella.

Lark said...

I still need to read her first book. Sigh. So many books on my TBR list, so little time to read them all.

TracyK said...

Margot, I read (and enjoyed) the first two books in the Inspector Huss series by this author. I have more of them to read. I like Inspector Huss's normal home life in those books.

TracyK said...

Patti, I did not think that she would be so well represented in US libraries. Her novels are very different from these stories. It has been a while since I have read one.

TracyK said...

Todd, I had the same problem with Lawrence Block's books of short stories about Keller, the killer for hire. I liked the first book a lot, but when I read the second one, I got soured on the stories and the making of killing into a business, just to get someone out of the way. Don't know why I took the second book more seriously than the first one (in both cases).

TracyK said...

I have the same problem, Lark. I have many books on my shelves bought with good intentions but still sitting there unread.

The first book in the Inspector Huss series is good, and I liked the second one even better.

George said...

This sounds like the female version of Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley who dispensed with people who got in his way--without remorse.

TracyK said...

You are probably right, George. I still have not read any of the Ripley books so I cannot make a comparison. I do plan to read the first one at least. My expectation is that I will find it much more tense than Tursten's stories about Maud. Which I why I keep putting it off.

Kathy's Corner said...

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good. Has there ever been a better title for a book? I had a smile on my face the moment I saw that title and the follow up titles too! Have yet to read the books though. Maud is quite the character and yet I agree that ultimately these books can get a little depressing because, well, she sounds sociopathic and a character like that it's hard to root for them.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I wish I could figure out why I found the first book charming and then the second book of stories just seemed depressing to me... except for this last story in the book.

I certainly sympathize with Maud in some ways. She is very private and doesn't like social interactions and I have the same characteristics. But many people loved this book just as much as the first one, so you may enjoy it too.

Cath said...

This African story sounds excellent, a shame that the rest are a bit depressing. I'm not doing 'depressing' at the moment. With Peter just out of hospital and still very fragile I need cheering up so I'm reading one of the Lady Hardcastle books by T.E. Kinsey.

TracyK said...

It was an excellent story, Cath.

I am sorry to hear that Peter did have to go into the hospital, that must have been traumatic in many ways. I am glad to hear that he is back home. I hope reading a Lady Hardcastle book does cheer you up, and I agree that is just the right kind of story.

I am in the mood for cheerful books now too. The one I just finished, The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn, was mostly cheerful, had the happy ending I was looking for. I have purchased the third Lady Hardcastle book as a Kindle, and may buy the 4th in trade paper edition.