Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Before She Was Helen

Before She Was Helen is a dark comedy of errors by Caroline B. Cooney. Released 8th Sept 2020 on Poisoned Pen Press, it's 336 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a well plotted, off-kilter murder mystery which kept me off balance and guessing throughout. Titular character Helen, a semi-retired Latin teacher, is a woman with a hidden past and another name. When Helen/Clemmie is involved in a series of coincidences, she's dragged into conspiracy, drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder. She's a kind and resilient soul with a tragic past and I found myself really rooting for her throughout the book. 

The pacing here is intentionally uneven and coincidence piles on coincidence. There's quite a lot of black humor involved (Helen's neighbor drops off a macaroni casserole for Helen and the scary psychotic bad guy winds up sitting in Helen's kitchen eating the casserole whilst threatening death and destruction). The dialogue is well written and the story is one of the most ridiculously twisty I've ever read. I did enjoy reading it, but the book does contain some potentially triggering material: rape, violence, and unwilling forced adoption. 

It was a somewhat uncomfortable read for me because the book is never clearly supposed to be humorous (though it is) or serious (though it is that as well). I always felt off balance. The author is adept enough at the craft that I've no doubt the effect is 100% intentional; it just felt uncomfortable. 

Four stars. I would recommend it to fans of Daniel Friedman's Buck Schatz myseries. Not exactly the same (Friedman's sleuth is an elderly detective still solving crimes - and Helen/Clemmie's trying to keep her past hidden and get on with her life). 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

No comments:

Post a Comment