The Grandmother Plot

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I read Caroline B. Cooney's Before She Was Helen a few months back and liked it quite a bit. (It was nominated for an Edgar Award, after all.) I said that Ms. Cooney "has a real knack for suspense and humor", and this book confirms that. I like her style, she seems like (to a first approximation) a female Elmore Leonard.

Two protagonists here, Freddy and Laura. They both have relatives in Middletown Memory Care, described on page one as "an institution that was not in fact caring for memories." Instead, it's caring for Alzheimer's patients; Freddy's grandmother is one, and Laura's aunt is another.

Freddy, as it happens, is a pothead, and an artist working in glass. He loves to make beads and bongs. He's also gotten roped into a money-laundering scheme with a guy nicknamed "The Leper", who threatens bodily harm unless Freddy maintains his part. Freddy can't go to the cops due to other relatively minor illegalities he's into, most notably, Social Security fraud; he's living mostly off his late mother's checks. At some point he acquires a dog named "Snaps" (see cover), so-named due to his love of biting people.

In comparison, Laura's relatively normal: just her proclivity toward hoarding large musical instruments. She has an odd proclivity for "smashed brass": bugles, tubas, what have you, "looking as if an elephant had stepped on it."

An additional complication crops up: somebody's murdered one of the more helpless patients at Middletown Memory Care. There are a lot of suspects, and any likely witnesses are in the throes of dementia.

Ms. Cooney does a great job with an intricate plot, and draws her characters with depth and sympathy. I'm a sucker for books that draw you in, keeping you interested in what happens. This has that quality in spades.