Saturday, November 13, 2021

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney


Caroline B. Cooney was my jam in middle school, so obviously when I found out that she was writing mysteries for adults now, I smashed that buy button. BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN is set in a retirement community. The main character is a woman named Clementine ("Clemmie"). When the book opens, Clemmie is checking on one of her neighbors, a recluse and partial invalid named Dom. Dom hasn't been seen for several days and she is suspicious. When she uses his spare key to get in, however, she notices that he has a garage built into his neighbor's (illegally and against code) and sees what appears to be a unique art piece that she thinks her great-niece and -nephew will enjoy. She sends them a picture without a thought that ends up embroiling her in an intrigue that will dredge up memories of her past.

When you start out reading a YA author and they make the transition to adult fiction, it can be weird. But Cooney managed to keep everything I loved about her style intact while graduating to a surprisingly edgy adult thriller. I liked that the heroine was older (in her seventies), as a lot of mysteries usually feature characters who are in the 20-40 age range. I also thought her past was SO sad (major triggers there, but they're spoilers so I don't really want to go into detail; abuse is involved). I actually wasn't expecting this book to be as dark as it was, so that really took me off guard.

I liked BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN. The fact that it was set in a retirement community was novel and gave it a sort of small village feel, which is one of the things I love about British mysteries. There were a lot of characters to keep track of and I am still not entirely sure I managed to sort out who was who by the end, but it's a really great plot, even though the ending lacked the closure I wanted (if you read the book, you'll understand what I mean-- would it really hurt to have had an epilogue??). I'll definitely be checking out any more adult mysteries she writes, though!

3.5 out of 5 stars

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