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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Before She Was Helen

Narrator: Kimberly Farr

Random House Audio

ISBN: 978-1728205120

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Publication Date: 09/08/2020

Format: Audiobook

My Rating: 4 Stars


"As Before She Was Helen opens, readers are drawn into what appears to be a light, retirement-community caper. But author Caroline B. Cooney quickly flips expectations upside-down in this deceptively dark mystery. Between old crimes and fresh murders, septuagenarian protagonist Clemmie faces an unspeakable fear that will keep readers hooked in this twisty whodunit."―Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author

From the critically acclaimed, international bestselling author Caroline B. Cooney comes a domestic thriller perfect for fans of mystery books by Laura Lippman and Alice Feeney.

Her life didn't turn out the way she expected―so she made herself a new one

When Clemmie goes next door to check on her difficult and unlikeable neighbor Dom, he isn't there. But something else is. Something stunning, beautiful and inexplicable. Clemmie photographs the wondrous object on her cell phone and makes the irrevocable error of forwarding it. As the picture swirls over the internet, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets. Can fifty years of careful hiding under names not her own be ruined by one careless picture?

And although what Clemmie finds is a work of art, what the police find is a body. . . and she was the last person at the crime scene, where she left her fingerprints. Suddenly thrown into the heart of a twisted investigation, Clemmie finds herself the uncomfortable subject of intense scrutiny. And the bland, quiet life Clemmie has built for herself in her sleepy South Carolina retirement community comes crashing down as her dark past surges into the present.

From international bestselling author of The Face on the Milk Carton Caroline B. Cooney comes Before She Was Helen, an absorbing mystery that brings decades-old secrets to life and explores what happens when the lie you've been living falls apart and you're forced to confront the truth.

My Review

Caroline B. Cooney, former YA author of The Face on the Milk Carton, returns with BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN —a gripping Southern tale when the past and present collide with decades-old secrets of a 70-something woman, for a highly entertaining read.

Clemmie Lakefield is the heroine of this witty and action-packed suspense. She is a semi-retired Latin teacher and resides at Sun City, an active retirement adult living community in South Carolina.

She is a likable neighbor, and Dom, her neighbor, has given her a key for emergencies, and they text daily after he had taken a fall previously to ensure he is ok.

When she does not hear from him, she senses something is wrong and uses the key. However, once entering, she notices an adjoining door to another unit which is occupied by a seasonal couple. Curious, the door is unlocked, and she enters.

However, Clemmie spots a beautiful glass sculpture, snaps a photo, and posts it on social media. This ignites a series of problems. Dom is nowhere to be found.

One kind neighborly act and a photo posted to social media ignite a series of events that threaten to expose Clemmie's past as Helen.

For over fifty years, Clemmie has kept hidden a terrible secret. Now a robbery, her fingerprints, and a body. Someone will find her. They have been searching.

With flashbacks of 50 years prior, we learn the tragedies of Helen and how she came to live in Sun City. She had a sad past and was a courageous woman trying to protect her past life from her family and friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I LOVED Clemmie! She is a firecracker and a heroine. As a baby boomer, I adore books revolving around strong senior women in my age range. Living in Florida, I am surrounded by seniors.

BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN is fast-paced, with several mysteries and crimes going on (in this quiet but lively retirement community) with a full cast of colorful, diverse characters involved in all kinds of quirky shenanigans.

Highly entertaining! A compelling twisty Southern mystery with loads of charm, grit, and wit. Also, if you enjoyed BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN, be sure and check out THE WRONG GOOD DEED (5/23), a continuation of Helen/Clemmie at Sun City Retirement Community and her friend Muffin, also with a dark past.

These were the first two books I have read by the author, and I look forward to reading more—a mix of authors, Elizabeth Berg and Diane Chamberlin. If you enjoyed Mark de Castrique's female senior sleuth, Ethel Fiona Crestwater, in Secret Lives, you will love this one.

I purchased the audiobook narrated by Kimberly Farr for an engaging and fun listening experience.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Sept 8, 2020

My Rating: 4 Stars


"Caroline Cooney's Before She Was Helen is a clever whodunnit featuring an immensely likable septuagenarian heroine with a tragic past. Cooney is deft at weaving together the mysteries of a fifty-year-old cold case murder and a still-warm body at a retirement community, slowly unveiling a slew of possible motives and suspects for both crimes. Loaded with action, fast-paced, and offering a series of emotional punches, this book will leave mystery lovers wanting more."

― Carter Wilson, USA Today bestselling author

"Caroline B. Cooney has a genius for skewering culture, crime, and society. As once she demonstrated to the world a pressing level of danger we needed to understand, now she whips millennial angst, recreational drug use, and one feisty, heroic retiree into a thrilling, toxic brew that will leave readers cheering by the end. Retirement villages never seemed so mysterious and exciting! Under Cooney's deft hand, hidden dangers emerge, and the ties that bind us, young and old, just may save us in the end."

― Jenny Milchman, USA Today bestselling author of Cover of Snow and Wicked River

"As Before She Was Helen opens, readers are drawn into what appears to be a light, retirement-community caper. But author Caroline B. Cooney quickly flips expectations upside-down in this deceptively dark mystery. Between old crimes and fresh murders, septuagenarian protagonist Clemmie faces an unspeakable fear that will keep readers hooked in this twisty whodunit."

― Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author

"Caroline B. Cooney is a master of taking a small, common moment―seeing a face on a milk carton, posting a harmless photo―and turning that moment into a thrilling story. In this mystery, Cooney gives us Clemmie―a senior citizen living a long deception, who fights back with intelligence and courage against dangerous foes, both present and past. Before She Was Helen is an emotionally rich page-turner about the lives we want―and the lives we make"

― Jeff Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Never Ask Me

"[A] solid mystery."

― Publishers Weekly

"[M]ore Columbo than Miss Marple…A fine mystery from a highly regarded YA author."

― Booklist

"A good fat traditional mystery of about 300 pages, with spicy insight, and a perfect distraction from the stresses beyond the doors. Take the passenger seat with this remarkable lady under fire." ― Kingdom Books

"I recommend BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN written by Caroline B. Cooney if you really want to read a mystery with a lot of twists and secrets. Every chapter is a new finding."

― Fresh Fiction

"Half cozy Miss Marple vibe, half gritty murder mystery."

― BookPage

The Wrong Good Deed

By: Caroline B. Cooney Narrator: Mary Boyer Dreamscape Media

ISBN: 9781728269863 Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press Publication Date: 05/02/2023 Format: Paperback My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC) MAY 2023 MUST-READ BOOKS Caroline B. Cooney, beloved international bestselling author, captures the technicolor complicated human heart in this literary Southern mystery about one secret afternoon in 1964 when a young wife barreling down a dirt road in her station wagon chooses not to be a bystander.

Until this Sunday, Muffin never looked back. 1964: Christaphine is twenty years old, newly married, and determined to make a home and a life for her and her husband, Tommy. But when Christaphine discovers Tommy and his friends on the verge of committing a horrible crime, she does what she has to do to stop them. Afterward, she knows she can't ever go home again―so she disappears...until this Sunday.

About the Author

CAROLINE B. COONEY is the bestselling author of teen suspense, mystery, and romance novels that have sold over 15 million copies worldwide, including The Face on the Milk Carton.

I was born in 1947 in Geneva, NY, and grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. I went to several colleges (I’m still going to college! I love taking classes; I still daydream more than I listen.) but graduated from none.

I have three children: Louisa, Sayre, and Harold, and four grandchilden: Lizzie, Maggie, Max, and Simon.

I’ve lived in several places, but now I live in South Carolina where it’s warm and sunny. I love the sun. WEBSITE







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