When She Was Helen ~ by Caroline B. Cooney

At first this feels like a cozy but there’s another side – there are several threads and they only start kind of sweet and funny.  They turn suspenseful and bloody with a strongly sad and criminally serious side.  Cooney wrote Young Adult novels for a long time, but made a deliberate break last year and won an Edgar Award for her efforts.  It’s mostly fun but there’s a tension riddled underside. The protagonist is a kick.  

When She Was Helen
by Caroline B. Cooney
2021 /
Read by Kimberly Farr 11h 13m
Rating: A / crime

At first this feels like a cozy but there’s another side – there are several threads and they only start kind of sweet and funny.  They turn suspenseful and bloody with a strongly sad and criminally serious side.  Cooney wrote Young Adult novels for a long time, but made a deliberate break last year and won an Edgar Award for her efforts.  It’s mostly fun but there’s a tension riddled underside. The protagonist is a kick.  

Clemmie Lakefield is a 70-something retired Latin teacher who currently lives alone in Sun City, South Carolina where she now works at playing cards, pottery and visiting neighbors.  One day she checks in on her unpleasant neighbor, Dom,  because she hasn’t heard from him for awhile and she keeps his spare keys. So she goes to see about him and finds he’s gone but she while investigating she sees a strange shortcut through his garage to his other neighbor’s home.  And there she finds a seriously beautiful and mysterious object.  

She takes a photo of the object and using her smartphone sends it to a niece and nephew and it gets passed on.  Word spreads and that spells trouble and eventually a body shows up. 

Besides – people have pasts. Even people in senior parks have pasts.

There is a fair amount of material dealing with life in the 1950s and early ‘60s when Clemmie was in school.  It’s done pretty much the way I remember it although there are a few things which stretch credulity. It might be eye-opening for young people today.  The narrative switches back to Clemmie’s younger days to get her from then to now.   

Cooney does a really good job with foreshadowing.  It’s light but parts have a solid impact.  

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