Review: There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron

There Was an Old WomanThe Edgar-Award-nominated author of Never Tell a Lie and Come and Find Me returns with a penetrating novel of psychological suspense, in which a young woman becomes entangled in a terrifying web of deception and madness involving her elderly neighbor.
“Don’t let him in until I’m gone.” That’s what Mina Yetner’s neighbor whispers to her just before the EMTs take her to the hospital. Mina writes down the message-at nearly ninety, she has to write down most things lest she forget-and calls Sandra’s daughter Ginger, telling her that once again her mother needs help.
Evie Ferrante is dismayed when she gets the call from her sister: this time it’s Evie’s turn to see what their mother’s done to herself. But when Evie arrives home-where she hasn’t been in months-she’s shocked by the state of her mother’s house: it’s in terrible disrepair, much worse than Ginger led her to believe. And as Evie cleans and organizes, she finds things that don’t make sense: expensive liquor in the garage, pricier than their mother’s usual brand, a new flat-screen television on the wall. Where was her mother getting all this money?
The blessing and curse of small neighborhoods is knowing everything about your neighbors, and Evie, suspicious and concerned about her mother, rekindles a relationship with Mina. Mina’s been having episodes she can’t explain lately, herself, and her nephew Brian is trying to convince her to move to a community that will provide her with some help. Though Mina’s resistant, Evie isn’t certain that isn’t a bad idea. But before any decision is made about Mina, Evie needs her help figuring out what’s been going on with her mother-and the more Evie digs into what her mother’s been up to over the past few months, the more a bigger-and more sinister-story begins to unfold.” – Goodreads

When I picked up There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron, I was expecting a sinister psychological thriller involving a creepy old woman running (hobbling?) around murdering people… Well, not so much. But while this novel doesn’t have the usual sinister intensity that is found within psychological thrillers, the genre still fits. This is a slow and steady story that moves resolutely toward it’s climax and then shocks you with a twist you never expected. Ephron has fashioned likeable and well-developed characters – well, not all likeable; there are the ever-present “villains” hovering in the background, waiting to be discovered.

Our story begins as 91-year-old Mina Yetner is sitting on her porch, making a list. Mrs. Yetner – independent and feisty – loves to make lists – she forgets things easily, and keeping her lists comfort her and help her remember things. Her favorite list is the one of people she knows who have passed away. As Mina sits and writes, her attention is drawn next door. Her middle-aged neighbor, Sandra, is being taken from her home by EMT’s to a waiting ambulance. As a chronic alcoholic, this is not the first time Sandra has been carted away. She motions for Mina to join her on the lawn, and as Mrs. Yetner comes closer, Sandra begs her:

Please, tell Ginger,’ Sandra said, pulling Mina close. ‘Don’t let him in until I’m gone’”

Ginger is one of Sandra’s daughters, and while she doesn’t come to help, her sister, Evie, does. Unfortunately, Mina cannot remember the message she was asked to repeat. When Evie arrives to aid her mother, she is shocked and dismayed that in the short time since she last saw her, Sandra’s health and home have dramatically and inexplicably deteriorated. The house is stuffed to the brim with trash and clutter, including piles of cat food tins – odd, because Sandra doesn’t even have a cat. Incongruously, a large flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall; Evie also finds several envelopes stuffed with hundred dollar bills. In the garage sit boxes and boxes of expensive vodka and cigarettes. Upon further investigation, Evie discovers that her mother’s large credit card bill has been paid in full, yet no money has been withdrawn from her bank account. Evie soon learns from her mother’s doctors that it wasn’t just alcohol that has contributed to Sandra’s condition – she has overdosed on acetaminophen – yet Evie cannot find any acetaminophen in Sandra’s home. What, Evie wonders, is happening here?

While cleaning up Sandra’s home, Evie reconnects with Mina Yetner, whom she knew as a child. She becomes aware of some odd things occurring around Mina’s home, as well as more strange happenings within the small Bronx neighborhood. It almost seems as though the elderly are being targeted somehow. Meanwhile, Mina’s nephew, Brian, is trying to convince her to move into an assisted living facility and sell her home. He keeps trying to convince her to sign some papers, which she loses before Evie has a chance to review them… It is a race against time as Evie and Mina struggle to get to the bottom of things – and just when you think they’re there, you’ll be in for a shock you never expected.

Although there are spots where things seem cobbled together a bit, Ephron has taken a cast of characters led by two strong and intelligent women and built a story full of depth and richness. It was a frightening glimpse at how the elderly can be taken in and scammed so easily. This was not written without a personal touch – Hallie Ephron has shared that Sandra’s alcoholism was close to her heart, as her own mother died of alcoholism. As a side note, Ephron is the sister of the recently passed Nora Ephron. Hallie Ephron is the author of two other novels {Never Tell a Lie and Come and Find Me} and the co-author of five novels in the Peter Zak mystery series. Based on my experience with this novel, I definitely plan to take a look at the other two suspense novels she has written.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries Digital Downloads

3 thoughts on “Review: There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron

  1. Kelly says:

    Wow, great review! I hadn’t heard of it before (and actually had no idea this was Nora Ephron’s sister either). My curiosity is piqued…going on the TBR for sure.

    • Pathologically Literate says:

      Thank you! I know, I never made the connection with Nora either, until I did a little research on Halllie Ephron. Her parents and siblings are/were all screenwriters; she is the only author in the bunch. She was actually a teacher for years; she didn’t begin writing until she was in her 40’s. I will stop with the nerdy author facts now…

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