Hallie Ephron has just released her newest stand-alone novel, There Was An Old Woman. While the cover assures readers that this is a suspense novel, they will quickly realize that the suspense here is a slow-boil. This is in no way meant to be a negative, as what Ephron has created here is a rich world, populated by complex characters who reflect our own worries about life right back at us.
Mina is a 91-year old widow who lives on the Bronx shore. Like many elderly citizens, she often finds herself reading the obituaries and acting as the neighborhood busybody. Lately, however, little things have begun to concern Mina. How could she have put her purse in the refrigerator? Then she allowed her chicken dinner to burn in the pan. Her immediate concern, as it would be for anyone getting older, is whether this is normal forgetfulness or the onset of something more serious. Since Mina has watched her fellow neighbors age and pass away, she has reasons to dwell on the inevitable.
Evie Ferrante’s estranged mother is one of Mina’s neighbors. After her mother is rushed to the hospital, Evie returns to her childhood home, which she has been avoiding for years. Upon arriving, she is shocked by the squalor in which her mother has been living. Only after talking with her sister Ginger, does it become clear that this mess is a very recent development, which makes it no less of a cause for concern.
A third character quickly emerges. The neighborhood of Higgs Point, in the Bronx, is as much of a player in this story as are the characters. Readers will easily be able to visualize these houses and the view of Manhattan across the marshlands. It is a fairy-tale setting for a story that is anything but.
Various storylines cause Mina and Evie to repeatedly cross paths throughout Ephron’s novel. Their friendship grows into a true bond and readers will feel the connection between the two. So real are these characters, that readers may find themselves looking for them out on their own cul-de-sacs. It is even possible that they will see reflections of themselves in these two women. That is no accident.
Hallie Ephron seems to be writing a book that will touch all of us, regardless of age. She clearly wants us to understand and value what our elders can contribute to our lives. They hold our history in their hands and one day soon, we too will be just like them. Evie’s work as a museum curator gives her a unique vantage point when looking at the societal contributions of each generation. Mina has lived through many of the events that Evie wishes to preserve. Together, these two become the embodiment of inter-generational coexistence.
Keeping in mind that this is a suspense novel, Ephron’s themes never feel as though they are lectures. The menace that pervades the plot continues to ratchet up with each turn of the page. Seemingly insignificant details begin to take on fresh meaning as it becomes clear that things in Higgs Point are far from copacetic.
To say more would be to ruin this gem of a novel. Readers who seek out There Was An Old Woman will be justly rewarded.
Disclaimer: A bound galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books via a book-signing at Bouchercon 2012. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.