The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules- Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

(Reviewed by Pat Luboff)

If I needed to sum up this book in one word, it would be “delightful!”

The setting is a retirement home in Sweden. The main characters are five elderly residents in their 70s and 80s. They are long-time friends and former members of the same choir. The greedy manager of the “Diamond House” is cutting back on coffee and buns and they meet to discuss the worsening of conditions. After seeing a TV show on Swedish prisons, they decide they’d be better off in prison and plot together to do a big enough crime to land them there!

Because my husband’s father married a wonderful Swedish lady in 1973, we have had the good fortune to visit Sweden on several occasions. Swedish people do things that are right, just because they are right. Not in an uptight, rigid way; but right because it’s beautiful, harmonious and good for all. They don’t drink and drive, not even one glass of wine on an island where there is no possibility of being caught by police. They don’t yell at or hit their kids. When I saw how everyone was treating their children, I had to ask what was up. The reply, “There is a law, we must be kind to the children.” Another fact, one in every ten Swedes is a member of a choir. It was this choral paradise that attracted my husband’s father, Norman Luboff, to Sweden, where he met and married said wonderful Swede!

So, I might understand the Swedish cultural personality more than the average American, and I recognize some of the multisyllabic names of places in this book. But I don’t think you need all that background to enjoy this book thoroughly.

Over some cookies and brandy and after singing some choral pieces together, the gang, now calling themselves the League of Pensioners, plan a crime big enough to land them in prison. They check into the Princess Lilian suite at the posh Grand Hotel and charge a lot of food and champagne to a bill they don’t intend to pay. From there, they launch their heist. They “kidnap” two Impressionist paintings, a Renoir and Monet, from the National Museum with the intention of demanding ransom money. They make off with the paintings in a Zimmer frame (we call them walkers). That just the beginning. There are a thousand surprising and funny twists to the plot. As Martha, the leader of the gang understated, “Things don’t always go exactly to plan.”

They confess to the crime and attain their goal of being put in prison, where they get ideas from the resident criminals and plan an even better crime when they’re let out. (I guess prison terms in Sweden are short!) There’s lots more to the plot and sub-plot and every sentence fairly drips with a gentle humor that had me smiling the entire time I was reading it.

Highly recommended! And if you want more Swedish humor, check out the movie, “The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” Don’t let the Rotten Tomato score influence you. I laughed so hard watching this, I beat my thigh black and blue! In Swedish with sub-titles.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_100_year_old_man_who_climbed_out_the_window_and_disappeared

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