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. . . in a place where Clemmie wasn’t supposed to be, and where she left her fingerprints. Suddenly, 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.
The description of this novel didn’t give me a clue of the confusion that came along with it. Because Clemmie is only Clemmie in her own thoughts and in her memories. She goes by Helen in her life and that’s what everyone knows her as. And her niece and nephew are clueless and selfish and get her into heaps of trouble with their thoughtlessness—but who would ever have suspected “Helen” was hiding secrets like this?
I liked the idea of this “helpless” little old lady being a disguise for someone who went through a terrible ordeal fifty years ago, but it just wasn’t very realistic to me. And the busybodies at the retirement community…no, thank you. I’d have moved just to escape from them.
Caroline B. Cooney started writing stories when she was in the sixth grade. Before She Was Helen is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Poisoned Penn Press in exchange for an honest review.)