Before She Was Helen

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The second book I've read this year set among old people in a retirement community. (First one was The Thursday Murder Club.) I guess this is a sign of something I don't want to think too much about. I put it on my get-at-library list because it was nominated for a "Best Novel" Edgar Award back in April.

It starts innocently enough: little old lady Clemmie lives in the leftmost of three connected villas, and she checks up daily (as old people are obligated to do) on her unpleasant neighbor, Dom. But Dom isn't responding to her texts, or her knock at his door. Could he have had an accident or worse? So she uses the key he's given her to enter his villa and … nope, no Dom. But, ho, what's this? An illegal connecting door between Dom's villa and the third, rightmost one? Which the Coglands own, but seldom visit, treating it as a motel when they visit the kids.

Well, maybe Dom's over there. So she crosses over. And doesn't find Dom, but does find a beautiful "glass tree dragon". She takes a picture with her phone, sends it out to her young relatives, and, whoa, then the trouble really starts.

It's not long before we notice that everyone in the retirement community calls Clemmie "Helen". And she carries two phones, careful not to confuse them. And she's really worried about the fingerprints she's left behind in the other villas. So she's got secrets of her own. And, oh yeah, a body turns up.

There's a lot of time-jumping back and forth, mostly between Clemmie's present-day retirement and ("before she was Helen") the unpleasant (horrific, in fact) days of her youth.

Caroline B. Cooney has a real knack for suspense and humor.