EDGAR AWARD NOMINEE FOR BEST NOVEL
"As Before She Was Helen opens, readers are drawn into what appears to be a light, retirement-community caper. But author Caroline B. Cooney quickly flips expectations upside-down in this deceptively dark mystery. Between old crimes and fresh murders, septuagenarian protagonist Clemmie faces an unspeakable fear that will keep readers hooked in this twisty whodunit."--Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author
From the critically acclaimed, international bestselling author Caroline B. Cooney comes a domestic thriller perfect for fans of mystery books by Laura Lippman and Alice Feeney.
Her life didn't turn out the way she expected--so she made herself a new one
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.
From international bestselling author of The Face on the Milk Carton Caroline B. Cooney comes Before She Was Helen, an absorbing mystery that brings decades-old secrets to life and explores what happens when the lie you've been living falls apart and you're forced to confront the truth.
- ISBN-13: 9781728205120
- ISBN-10: 1728205123
- Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
- Publish Date: September 2020
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Page Count: 320
Whodunit: May 2020
Two genre stalwarts, a surprising genre-bender and a promising debut top the list of this month's best new mysteries.
★ Shakespeare for Squirrels
Nobody writes mystery novels quite like Christopher Moore. In one of his books, the protagonist is helped and plagued in equal measure by the Navajo trickster spirit, Coyote. In another, a prehistoric sea beast is aroused from a long sleep and emits a pheromone that inspires uncontrollable lust in anyone within range. His latest, Shakespeare for Squirrels, is the third in a series, following Fool and The Serpent of Venice. Each entry is roughly based on a play by William Shakespeare and features a main character named Pocket, who is a Fool—as in, a court jester. The bones of the story resemble Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although in much the same way that a dinosaur skeleton resembles a living, breathing dinosaur chasing you through a prehistoric field. From that loose starting point, Moore builds relationships that didn’t exist in the original work, fleshes out conversations that Shakespeare only alluded to and creates from whole cloth some conversations that were never had (with verbiage decidedly bawdier than in the original). And as hilarious as A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to begin with, Moore adds a contemporary dose of sly humor that I think would impress the Bard.
Before She Was Helen
It’s not often that I read a suspense novel in which the protagonist is older than I am, so I was delighted to meet Clemmie Lakefield, the feisty and likable 70-something heroine of Caroline B. Cooney’s clever new mystery, Before She Was Helen. Clemmie harbors a secret so big that it required a midlife identity change. But when you’re trying to hide from your past, you never know what random occurrence may blow your cover. She was just checking on a shut-in neighbor, using the key he had given her, when she saw an unusual door and, naturally, opened it. It led into an adjacent neighbor’s home, where Clemmie feasted her eyes upon a beautiful glass sculpture. She sent a photo of it to her grandnephew, who ran a Google image search and discovered that it had been stolen. So he posted a note to the artist’s website, saying: “Your rig is sitting on a table in the house next door to my aunt.” When the police find a body in situ and Clemmie’s fingerprints nearby, her carefully constructed secret identity is threatened—with potentially lethal consequences. Half cozy Miss Marple vibe, half gritty murder mystery, this genre-bender works better than I would have ever expected.
Editor’s note: Before She Was Helen was originally scheduled for publication on May 5, but its publication was delayed until Sept. 8 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Silence on Cold River
Early on in her debut thriller, Silence on Cold River, author Casey Dunn describes rural Tarson, Georgia, as “more like a morgue than it was like Mayberry.” It will prove to be a prophetic characterization as three people from wildly disparate lives rendezvous with destiny on a rarely traversed mountain trail: Ama Chaplin, a successful defense attorney; Michael Walton, Ama’s former client, erroneously acquitted of animal cruelty; and Eddie Stevens, returning to the scene of his daughter’s disappearance one year later, gun in hand, suicide in mind, to ensure that his daughter’s case is never forgotten. But life has other plans for Eddie. When he notices that Ama has not returned to her car after a reasonable time, he sets off into the woods to make sure she’s OK. An abduction and a shooting follow in quick succession, and one person lies on the forest floor, bleeding out. Enter police detective Martin Locklear, tentatively distancing himself from his demons and eager to prove his worth once again. From there, Dunn ratchets up the tension with each successive chapter en route to a satisfying conclusion. Silence on Cold River doesn’t feel like a suspense debut but rather the work of a genre veteran. Read it, and you will be on the lookout for whatever Dunn writes next.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Casey Dunn on fate and the importance of perspective.
Dead Land is Sara Paretsky’s latest mystery featuring the inimitable V.I. Warshawski. One of the major themes in the series is the political cesspool that is Chicago. Time and time again, Warshawski is drawn into investigating the shady dealings of Windy City businessmen and politicians. This time, those dealings still persist (hey, it’s Chicago, of course they do) but with international implications that date back to the repressive Pinochet dictatorship in 1970s Chile. A homeless folk singer is the link. Her deceased boyfriend, killed apparently at random in a mass shooting, was once an anti-Pinochet activist, and the repercussions echo forward to present day. As always, Warshawski is a dyed-in-the-wool, capital-L Liberal, and I suspect that her positions may ruffle a few capital-C Conservative feathers. But it’s only when our feathers get ruffled that we stand any chance of being motivated to rethink our positions on things. Paretsky might just be the Ruth Rendell of her era. Each time she releases a new book, it is invariably better than all the others that came before, and Dead Land continues this tradition with aplomb.