There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0062117601
Hardcover, $25.99, 304 pages
Either way, I'm glad I read this unique novel. The book opens with Mina reading the obituaries in the Daily News. She spies the name of one of her neighbors and adds the name and date to her notebook. (The neighbor is number 151.)
Mina hears an ambulance and discovers another neighbor being taken out on a stretcher. The neighbor tells Mina to call her daughter Ginger and then says, "Please tell Ginger. Don't let him in until I'm gone."
And with those cryptic words she is loaded into the ambulance. Mina calls Ginger, who calls her sister Evie and tells her it is Evie's turn to care for their bitter, angry, alcoholic mother. Evie reluctantly agrees and, after seeing her mother in the hospital, heads to her mother's house and is shocked by what she sees.
The house looks like an episode of Hoarders: garbage everywhere, a broken window, rotting food, dirty dishes and empty cat food tins. But her mother doesn't have a cat. And where did she get the brand new big flat screen TV on the wall?
There is a neighbor whom Evie doesn't know who has been hanging around her mother, and Evie doesn't trust him. Evie goes to visit Mina, and Mina tells her that several homes in their Higgs Point neighborhood have burned, or been sold and torn down. A developer is trying to buy up all the property on the cheap.
Evie stops in to the local neighborhood store and sees that it is run by the son of the owner. He tells her that he has formed a non-profit to try and save the neighborhood from the developers, and encourages her to join him.
Mina's nephew wants to move her into an assisted living home so that he can get his hands on her home. Strange things start happening to Mina- she loses important papers, leaves the stove on, gets knocked down by a car backing up. Is her nephew up to no good or is it too much for her to continue to live on her own?
Mina and Evie are curious to find out what is going on in the neighborhood and who is behind it. They make a great team and their characters are so appealing. Evie feels guilt about not keeping in touch with her mother (who doesn't make it easy) and I think many readers will relate to her.
But for me, Mina is the real star. I love this character! She seems like the neighbor we all know, with her fastidious ways and fierce independence. She misses her beloved sister, whom she lived with for many years, but she continues on with her life.
The mystery keeps you guessing, and although I thought I knew who did it, I didn't know the all-important why. The writing is crisp, and this is the perfect book for a rainy day read.
rating 4 of 5
Hallie Ephron's website is here.