Art Thieves at 70: A Review of The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules
Updated: Apr 3
Get Betty White on the phone! I have a movie role for her!
Hello, and welcome to Reading Has Ruined My Life. Like many people around the world, I am a Betty White stan; I mean, who isn’t. Now you’re probably wondering why I bring up the best actress of all time. Well, for Christmas my mom bought me a book entitled The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg.
It was an experience. And when I say that, I for once mean it was a good experience. Think back to late last year when I wrote a review on Ally Carter’s Heist Society. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules is just like that, but our protagonists are now elderly! What fun!
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules was originally published in Swedish all the way back in 2012. In 2014 an English translation was released over in the United Kingdom. The version I have is the North American publication that was released in 2016 with the translation done by Rod Bradbury.
Before I get into the synopsis and review though, I do want to mention that there are a few grammar errors and typos in this novel. Nothing to the level of some recent books I’ve reviewed, but I do want to mention that they exist. I do believe that these errors come from the fact that this is a translated novel though, and not from a lack of editing. These errors are few and far between, but again, they exist so be aware of that.
You can also make a drinking game with this book if you like. If after this review you go out and pick up a copy of The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, I suggest taking a shot every time the word “coup” is used. It’s there a lot, and you’ll definitely be drunk after reading this one. Please drink responsibly and only play this drinking game if you are of legal drinking age; also don’t drink and drive, don’t be that person.
Onto the review now! As always, a spoiler alert is in order.
Our adventure begins with the titular Little Old Lady herself, Martha Andersson; AKA the role Betty White must play. She begins to dream about robbing a bank, the only problem is that she can’t do this herself. Nay, nay. She needs help, she needs the help of her best friends: Christina, Anna-Greta, Brains, and Rake.
It doesn’t take long to get her friends on board. You see, they all live at the same retirement home, Diamond House, and the home’s new management sucks. The quality of food has gone down, they’re not allowed outside for walks or to go shopping, there is no form of exercise whatsoever, and worst of all, they’re only allowed three cups of coffee per day!
It doesn’t take much for Martha to convince her friends to form a robbery gang. They all hate what Diamond House has become and they want to improve how they live. Things start out small, the group begins by breaking into the kitchen of the Diamond House to make themselves better meals for example. It then turns into the group leaving the retirement home to go to the big city for commit some big time heists. Namely stealing 30-million-dollars worth of art from the National Museum in Sweden.
Sure, they may go to jail for a year for their art heist, but that doesn’t slow these five down. Their robberies only grow after their time in prison as the group comes together once again to steal millions from the mob and rob a bank to finance their new lives. And they do this all while evading the police. Please, someone, get Betty White on the phone because she needs to star in this book’s film adaptation.
We all know Betty White is a spitfire, and so is Martha Andersson. Readers spend the most time with Martha, and I do think she is a very well done character. For being nearly 80-years-old, she’s very spry. Her body and mind are active; she’s keeping herself in shape. She’s also lowkey a chameleon as she uses the frail old lady idea that society has as a disguise to get away with the crimes she commits. Martha is a lot to handle, she’s bossy, she’s a balls to the walls type person, she’s running this show; I respect her for that.
Too bad the rest of her friends aren’t up to par with her. Readers don’t spend as much time with the other four members of the group as they do with Martha, and they end up being more along the line of stock characters. I said something similar in the last review I did about a heist style book; this seems to be a recurring issue.
Basically, Martha, our most fleshed out character, is the ringleader. Brains obviously is the brains of the operation; he’s the one who comes up with inventions and technical help needed to commit the crimes. Rake used to be a sailor so he’s kinda the muscle of the group, and he’s really good at tying knots which comes up quite often in this book. Christina is the artist of the group so she’s the one to come up with the ways to cover up the crimes; she also takes up the mantel of distraction/actor while the others do the actual stealing. That leaves Anna-Greta as the one to finance their heists. On occasion she will also work as the distraction/actor more or less to give her something to do.
Some more dimension to those four would have been nice. Together though, the five of them create a good group dynamic. Each character tends to be bossy in his or her own way, and it does create quite a few arguments and issues the group must handle.
I’ll admit, these arguments can come across as redundant as it does feel like these arguments happen more often than not. I personally find them humorous though as I find it amusing to hear the elderly group arguing over who is going to be the one to pretend to trip or faint during the heist as a distraction or what charity will receive the money they make from their crime. These aren’t arguments you’d expect from a group of elderly men and women.
At the end of the day though, this is a group of five best friends. They look out for one another, they care for one another, they have decades of friendship and trust built up, and they get concerned for each other when something is off. They’re an odd family who may get on each others nerves, and boy do they argue, but they love each other. They also may or may not talk shit about one another at times which I kinda appreciate; it’s a good reminder to readers that these characters are humans and not the stealing machines that they sometimes come across as.
If you didn’t guess with that last sentence, my main issue with this novel is just how easily stealing comes to this group. These are five people who have walked the straight and narrow for 70+ years each. No one has ever committed any sort of crime before, none of them have a criminal record, yet they just sit down one day and plan a 30-million-dollar heist like it’s nothing.
This group plans a heist in one day! They get their hands on some rudimentary tools, take one look around the museum they plan to target, and steal two famous painting. I can only expand my disbelief so far, and it ends when a group of newbie criminals walk into what should be a highly guarded art museum and leave with two famous works of art.
I’m about to drop some major spoilers; you have been warned.
Our favorite elderly criminals literally cut down the two paintings they choose to steal. They then put the artwork in the baskets of their walkers and proceed to waltz right out the front door. Now, I don’t know how security works in other countries, but in America every famous art museum, at least the ones I’ve been to, have a security guard in each room; yet there were virtually no security guards in this book’s art museum.
Yeah…my extension of disbelief is long gone at this point. One time, I got too close to a piece of art and the security guard was ready to throw me to the ground. You can’t tell me that the security guards aren’t at their posts in this novel. At least one of these guards should be at his, her, or their post. Someone should be in the room to stop these five.
My extension of disbelief is even further gone when not one but two of our elderly criminals end up falling to the ground. I’m sorry, but with everyone in this group being in their late 70’s, one of the two who fell should have a broken bone. I don’t care how in shape the author claims her characters are, someone should have a broken hip. There is no way, shape, or form around that.
Through all of this though, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules remains highly humorous. I definitely smiled all the while I was reading this book. Try and tell me you wouldn’t be entertained by an Oceans-11 style heist committed by a group of elderly people. I was enjoying myself the entire time. Ingelman-Sundberg balances the humor of this novel with the severity of the crimes committed very well.
She knows when to make things high stakes and when to keep the tone more lighthearted. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the main characters; they go through many rough patches over the course of the novel. Believe it or not, these are first time criminals.
Overall, this was a fun read. It’s nothing that’s going to change the face of literature, but it was a good break from everything I normally read. Heist books always tend to be a fun ride, and The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules is no different. So if you’re looking for something light-hearted and humorous, something that feels familiar yet slightly different, then I do recommend this one.
Next week, we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled horror programing. Until then, I bid you all adieu! Please wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.