Author Hallie Ephron’s third novel of suspense, There Was an Old Woman, hits all the right notes. As a respected mystery book reviewer for the Boston Globe and one of a talented literary foursome with sisters Amy, Delia and the late Nora Ephron, Hallie Ephron knows just how to tingle the spine or raise the hair on the back of your neck.
After Evie Ferrante’s alcoholic mother is hospitalized after yet another fall, Evie reluctantly travels from Manhattan to clean up her mother’s cottage at Higgs Point, where Evie and her sister grew up. It’s a spit of land at the southern tip of the Bronx between the East River and Long Island Sound, and Ephron atmospherically describes the marshy, semi-wild area in a gripping tale that skillfully connects past and present events.
Hallie Ephron knows just how to tingle the spine or raise the hair on the back of your neck.
Even as Evie notes the impoverished atmosphere and derelict condition of the house, she knows that something else is amiss. She finds an envelope with nearly $2,000 stashed among her mother’s possessions, and what’s with the case of expensive liquor—not the cheap kind her mother always buys? Looking beyond the front yard, she sees a growing number of empty lots where homes used to stand, and learns that some of the owners, though elderly, appear to have met a somewhat unexpected and premature death.
As Evie gets reacquainted with her mother’s elderly neighbor, Mina, the two form an unspoken alliance that will eventually uncover the lies and deception that have held the neighborhood hostage and led to its neglect. The beautifully drawn character of Mina portrays both the vulnerability and wisdom that comes with age, with many memorable portions written from her point of view. Mina’s long-held secrets provide a key to understanding the puzzle at Higgs Point, and she forges an important link with Evie’s life in the present.
Evie runs into Finn, an old childhood flame, and the attraction is rekindled. He adds another twist to the plot, as he is the leader of the Soundview Watershed Preservation neighborhood group that’s working to save the marsh and retain the area’s rural character. An aura of menace pervades, throwing into high relief the ongoing battle between the forces of preservation and those of unfettered development. There Was an Old Woman combines a unique storyline with characters that will stay in your mind long after you’ve put the book down.