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by Hallie Ephron
William Morrow, April 2013
304 pages
ISBN: 0062117602

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Evie Ferrante is a career-oriented professional who is struggling to balance her professional and personal lives and who usually is able to pass off the care of their ailing and alcoholic mother to her sister, Ginger. However, when their mother is taken to the hospital Ginger stands her ground and insists Evie help with their mother. For once, she has to leave the city to go home to care for her mother who, after a series of minor health scares, is gravely ill.

Upon first glance, it appears that her mother has simply - at long last - drunk herself to near-death, but things at her house are quite strange. Evie expected the place to be the wreck it actually is, but their mother's money problems seem to have been replaced by packets of money and new expensive items like a new big screen television. Overwhelmed by the situation, Evie reconnects with her mother's nonagenarian neighbor, Mina, who tells her of strange real estate happenings in the neighborhood as well as a handsome young lawyer-turned-store manager who's leading an environmental project in town.

Upon talking to her mother's doctors who confirm that her mother is terminally ill, Evie learns that she has been poisoned by far more than drink and she begins to investigate strange happenings in her mother's neighborhood that are leading to the condemnation and destruction of several properties in the area. At the same time, Evie is trying to help Mina fend off her greedy nephew who is trying both to have her committed to a nursing home and to get her to invest in yet another of his hare-brained financial schemes. In due course, Evie seeks to find out what is really going on in the neighborhood and suffice to say it is not what the reader is expecting on any number of levels.

Evie and Mina's relationship is the heart of the novel in many ways and the bond they form over the course of the novel is quite moving and revealing of the nature of both characters. THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is primarily a suspense tale, but succeeds on several different levels and often to a greater degree on the emotional rather than the suspense side of the story. While the sense of suspense is present throughout, Ephron's work functions better as a tale of families, the past, and how memory functions rather than a straight suspense tale. As a result, the book does suffer a bit from being mis-marketed with a title that suggests that the book is something that it is just not - namely a tale about a strange elderly lady that may border on horror. This minor qualm about misdirection in marketing aside, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is a highly accessible and entertaining novel that succeeds both as a suspense tale and as a well-crafted piece of general fiction about the nature of families and the past, as well as social commentary. I could not recommend it more highly.

Ben Neal is a public librarian in northeastern Tennessee and likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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