The Lavender Ladies Detective Agency@Minna Lindgren

Chapter 1

Every morning Siiri Kettunen woke up and realized that she wasn’t dead yet. Then she got out of bed, washed, dressed and ate something for breakfast. It took her a while, but she had the time. She read the newspaper diligently and listened to the morning radio shows. It made her feel like she belonged in this world. She often went for a ride on the tram around eleven o’clock, but she didn’t feel like it today.

The bright institutional lighting gave the common room of Sunset Grove retirement home the atmosphere of a dentist’s waiting room. Several residents dozed on the sofas, waiting for lunch. In the corner Anna-Liisa, Irma and the Ambassador were playing rummy at the cloth-covered card table. The Ambassador was absorbed in his own cards, Anna-Liisa was keeping up a running commentary on the other players’ hands, and Irma was looking impatient at the slow progress of the game. Then she saw Siiri and her eyes brightened.

‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ she crowed in a high falsetto, waving with a broad sweep of her arm like a train conductor. Irma Lännenleimu had taken singing lessons in her youth and had once sung the Cherubino aria to piano accompaniment at the conservatory matinee, and since student performances were reviewed back then, a newspaper music critic had praised her voice as supple and resonant. This crowing call was Irma and Siiri’s customary greeting. It always worked, even in the middle of a noisy conversation or on a busy street.

‘Guess what?’ Irma said, before Siiri had even sat down at the table. ‘The Hat Lady in C wing isn’t dead after all. And we’d practically finished grieving for her!’ She laughed until her plump body jiggled and her voice rang even higher. Irma always wore a dress, preferably dark in colour, and even on ordinary days wore earrings with many-faceted stones, a string of pearls around her neck and two gold bracelets on her left wrist. When she spoke, her exuberant gestures made the bracelets jangle pleasantly.

Last week the flag at Sunset Grove had been flown at half mast, and since they hadn’t seen the Hat Lady for several days, they’d thought she had died. But yesterday she had reappeared, wearing her broad-brimmed turquoise hat and playing bingo like she always did. She’d just been out getting a spare part for her heart, and in the process had nearly died of a cardiac infarction.

‘She says she may live for ten more years, poor thing,’ Irma said.

Siiri laughed, her grey eyes twinkling. Irma made the woman’s medical recovery sound like an extended sentence, which, of course, it was.

‘It wasn’t a spare part for her heart, strictly speaking,’ Anna-Liisa said in that no-nonsense way she had of correcting any errors or discrepancies of meaning. It was an obsession with her. Siiri and Irma thought it was due to the fact that Anna-Liisa had once been a Finnish language and literature teacher.

‘I got a red three!’ the Ambassador shouted but that didn’t stop Anna-Liisa.

‘Angioplasty is the vernacular, the most commonly used term for it. They use a thing called a stent, a sort of mesh tube, to hold the artery open.’

Anna-Liisa was a tall woman with a deep, full-throated voice. She knew everything you could possibly know about angioplasty, replacement parts, local anaesthetic and arthroscopic surgery, but they never paid any attention to her explanations. Having worked as a teacher, however, Anna-Liisa was used to not being listened to.

‘It’s sheer lunacy to get spare parts at the age of ninety,’ Siiri said. Everyone else agreed.

‘Do you think you’ll live to be a hundred, girls?’ the Ambassador asked, laying his cards down on the table and straightening his tie. He always dressed correctly, as befitted a former diplomat, in a smart shirt, tie, brown smoking jacket and straight-legged trousers, which was nice, since many of the men at Sunset Grove shambled around in ugly tracksuits. On important days and Sundays the Ambassador wore a tidy suit with an oak-leaf veteran’s insignia on the lapel.

‘It’s not as if it matters what we think,’ Siiri said, because that’s what she thought. ‘I wouldn’t want to be that old, though.’

‘If it wasn’t the Hat Lady who died last week, I wonder who it was,’ Irma said. She was very curious and always on the lookout for gossip at Sunset Grove. Her information on this event had been proved wrong, and so, understandably, she was a little upset about it.

‘It was that boy, the cook. Tero, I think his name was,’