Is living in prison better than living in a penny-pinching retirement home? Martha Andersson and her friends, Brains, Rake, Christina, and Anna-Greta, have been friends since they began singing in a choir many years ago. They vowed they would all live in the same retirement home when the time came. That’s exactly what they are doing and living happily with good food and fair treatment until Ingmar comes along and purchases the retirement home, changing its name to Diamond House and cutting back on quality and quantity of food. With Nurse Barbara’s help, Ingmar gives the residents pills that reduce their appetites and other pills which keep them drowsy and lethargic.
Martha realizes what Nurse Barbara is doing, so she rebels by flushing and then gathering her comrades in her room to strategize about how they can improve their lot. In truth, the story begins with Martha in the bank handing the teller a note: “This is a robbery.” Unfortunately, the teller does not take Martha seriously, nor does the bank’s manager. The two usher Martha out the door telling her the pensions are not due until the next day, so Martha squares her shoulders and grips her Zimmerframe, see the picture above, and marches out the door, not a penny richer!
Shortly after the incident at the bank, Martha happens to watch a documentary about Swedish prisons and how well the prisoners are treated. Martha’s wheels begin to turn. What if the gang of five committed a robbery and went to prison where they would have better and more plentiful food than Diamond House is serving? Prisoners also have opportunities to exercise, go outside, and attend workshops, all activities Ingmar and Nurse Barbara have removed or restricted heavily.
After her aborted attempt to rob the bank, Martha determines that better planning will result in success. With that in mind, she gathers Brains, Rake, Christina, and Anna-Greta in her room to have some cloudberry liqueur and chocolates while they develop the perfect robbery plan. Brains is an expert with electronics and tinkering with existing machines and objects; he and Martha have a close relationship, but the affection between them remains unspoken for the moment. Brains readily agrees to Martha’s plan that they commit a robbery of some kind in order to have enough money to live well. Not long after Brains declares he is ready for the robbery, the others join as well.
Soon, the five have a foolproof plan. Brains cleverly disguises their notes in his plan book by drawing diagrams and adding other remarks so that anyone who sees the plan book could not understand he has drawn a plan for the perfect crime. The Old Age Pensioners, as they call themselves, determine they will go to the Grand Hotel and spend several days enjoying themselves before they commit the robbery. The plan is that they will kidnap some paintings from the National Museum, located conveniently near the Grand Hotel, and ransom the paintings for ten million kroner. Once they have the money safely in hand, they will return the paintings, go to prison, and all will be well.
The five determine that they will not pay for the treat of staying at the Grand Hotel, but they forget that in order to register, they must present a credit card, so Anna-Greta agrees to use her card to secure the rooms and services, all the while planning not to pay. Obviously, the flaw in that plan is that the hotel has Anna-Greta’s name, address, and credit card information. Before completing the kidnapping of the paintings, the five decide they will rob safes in the spa at the Grand Hotel. Brains figures out how to knock the safes off the electronic surveillance and unset the alarm so that spa users will leave their valuables with the spa attendant, making the robbery easier to complete. All goes according to plan. The electricity to the safes goes off, the cameras are obscured, and Brains manages to steal the valuables. However, once in their rooms, the Old Age Pensioners discover their haul has not brought them much of value. Meanwhile, the five continue to enjoy the Grand Hotel with all of its amenities, good food, movies, and spa.
At this point, the scheme to kidnap the paintings becomes paramount. The five put their heads together again and go over the plan, one detail at a time. They determine how to avoid the security cameras until they can block or cover the ones they need. All goes well, and the five take the paintings out of the museum with only a hiccup or too, nothing serious. They arrange for the money to be delivered to a cruise ship.
The five take a day trip to Finland on the cruise ship. They plan to return and then pick up their ransom money off the ship’s dock. As often happens, the plan does not go quite as smoothly as the Old Age Pensioners have hoped. They lose one of the suitcases of money, not knowing exactly what has happened to it, but they do retrieve one suitcase full of five million kroner notes.
Then the group discovers the paintings they have cleverly hidden in plain sight—does “The Purloined Letter” come to mind—have disappeared from the ladies’ room. Where could the paintings be? Who could have taken them? The story becomes more complicated when the five are apprehended and sent to prison. They have failed to realize that the gang will be split up, with the two men, Brains and Rake, going to separate men’s prison while the women will go to separate women’s prisons. Brains encounters a mean Russian mafia member named Juro who wants Brains to help him commit a robbery once they are both released because Juro realizes that Brains has expertise in electronics. Brains gives Juro some ideas about how to foil the police and steal the money he wants without involving Brains in the scheme.
Meanwhile, Martha meets Liza, a hardened, but youthful, offender in her prison. Liza wants Martha to tell where the paintings are so that Liza can share in the money when they both get out of prison. Liza refuses to believe that Martha does not know where the paintings are.
All five Old Age Pensioners are released from prison and they return to Diamond House. Martha learns that Dolores, one of the residents has a black suitcase just like the one they lost holding the five million kroner notes. She also learns that Dolores’ son works on the cruise ship the gang has taken to Finland on the day cruise. Dolores is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, so no one believes her son has given her a suitcase full of money. No one, except Martha, of course!
Suffice it to say, the Old Age Pensioners plan another even more daring robbery. This time, they engage Christina’s son Anders in their plot. What do the Old Age Pensioners plan to steal? How to they plan to get out of the country with the money? Will they escape from Juro and from the lazy police Inspector Strombeck?
Read The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules to discover the answers to these questions. Then you can follow more adventures with the Old Age Pensioners: The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again and The Little Old Lady Who Behaved Badly.
Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg began writing her series featuring Martha and her friends in 2012. The books have been published in twenty-eight languages. Kirkus Reviews calls the books “a merry, lighthearted caper.”