Title: Before She Was Helen
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Release Date: September 8, 2020
Pages: 320
Book Source: Netgalley

“When Clemmie goes next door to check on her difficult and unlikeable neighbor Dom, he isn’t there. But something else is. Something stunning, beautiful and inexplicable. Clemmie photographs the wondrous object on her cell phone and makes the irrevocable error of forwarding it. As the picture swirls over the internet, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets. Can fifty years of careful hiding under names not her own be ruined by one careless picture?

And although what Clemmie finds is a work of art, what the police find is a body… and she was the last person at the crime scene, where she left her fingerprints. Suddenly thrown into the heart of a twisted investigation, Clemmie finds herself the uncomfortable subject of intense scrutiny. And the bland, quiet life Clemmie has built for herself in her sleepy South Carolina retirement community comes crashing down as her dark past surges into the present.” – Amazon

Kim’s Review

I was torn with my rating for Before She was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney. I kept going back and forth between three and four stars. The four star rating won out just because it features a group of elderly people, and I feel more suspense books and thrillers need to be written with older people and not only those in their 20’s and 30’s.

Cooney did a very good job switching between two different timelines, from Clemmie’s youth and college years to present day. I was enraged at the circumstances during her youth and even though nothing like it has ever happened to me, it made me feel a bond towards the character in regards to being a woman.

Then coming back to what is happening in the retirement currently, the mystery was executed very well. The combination of a comedy of errors (although it wasn’t funny what was happening) and lots of characters keeping secrets made me want to continue reading to find out how it was all going to end.
Now for the reason I was going to give it three stars, I felt like Cooney was often talking down to the reader. I know she’s written a lot of young adult novels (I even remember reading and enjoying her Face on a Milk Carton series when I was a kid), but that type of writing didn’t translate well into an adult novel.

It felt like Grandma was talking to her grandkids and continually saying, “In the 1950’s this happened, unlike what is happening with the whipper-snappers of today’s youth.” It would have been fine if it happened a couple of times, but it was repeatedly.

I would try reading another new, adult novel by Cooney, but if it was more of the same I know I would not end up finishing it because there are just too many other great books out there.

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