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There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense Hardcover – April 2, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 245 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One-on-One: Deborah Crombie and Hallie Ephron

Deborah CrombieHallie Ephron

Deborah Crombie's most recent novels include The Sound of Broken Glass and No Mark upon Her.

Deborah Crombie: Hallie, you write such wonderful characters. Mina (the "old woman" of the title) touched me particularly. I've dealt with Alzheimer's repeatedly in my own family, so her fears were very real to me. Was Mina inspired by anyone you've known?

Hallie Ephron: I think all of us after (ahem) a certain age start to wonder whether the little grey cells are holding up. I sometimes can't remember if I've brushed my teeth without feeling the toothbrush. Once I went out to cut flowers and realized I'd brought out the wine bottle opener instead of the shears. Yes, I've forgotten to turn off the stove.

Mina, who is ninety-one for heavens sake, is used to little lapses. But when she misplaces purse and it turns up in the refrigerator, and then she loses her car, she's more than concerned. She's terrified.

DC: Are there other characters that mirrored your own experiences? (I noticed some sibling rivalry between Evie and Ginger!)

HE: Of course! Evie's and Ginger's mother is dying of cirhossis. My mother was an alcoholic who died at 57. Writing the book gave me a chance to examine the ways love and grief can get all mixed up with anger and relief, and how sisters can grow apart or together as they deal with loss.

DC: How did you discover that a plane had crashed into the Empire State Building in the 1940s?

HE: You've got to love Google. I was looking for a "historic NYC fire" for Evie to feature in the historical society exhibit she's curating. There it was: July 28, 1945, B-25 bomber crashes in heavy fog into the 79th floor. One of the bomber's engines flew off, shot across the building, and plummeted down an elevator shaft. The explosion sent one of the elevators into free fall. An elevator operator miraculously survived an 80-story drop. I used that amazing incident in the book. Hint: Mina worked in the Empire State Building in 1945.

DC: You describe the Bronx neighborhood of Higgs Point in such fascinating detail. Is it a real place?

HE: Higgs Point is a few facts fueling a lot of fiction. It's where the East River meets the Long Island Sound where a natural wetland with marsh and lagoons survives today. At the turn of the century there really was an amusement park there with a swimming pool called the Ink Well (water piped direct from the river) and a Ferris wheel that blew over. Its quirky waterfront houses, built on narrow lanes in the 1920s, have breathtaking views of marsh and Manhattan skyline. I named the neighborhood after Thomas Higgs, the man who owned the acreage before it was developed for housing.

DC: There Was An Old Woman has a truly diabolical plot. What first gave you the idea?

HE:A few winters ago my neighbor was pulled out of her house by rescuers who found her collapsed in her kitchen. No heat. No electricity. Between the fleas, cats, and mountains of garbage, they almost couldn't find her. The house was quickly sold at auction and a year later, the man who renovated it made a tidy profit. So I've always wondered, how could the house have gotten that bad if she didn't do it?

DC:What do you like about writing a standalone thriller rather than a series mystery?

HE: Each time it's a fresh start. New characters, different houses (I love to write houses), and a new answer to my favorite question: What's going on here?

From Booklist

Things are slightly askew when Evie Ferrante takes her turn as duty daughter to be with her desperately ill mother. Not only is the older Bronx home of widowed Sandra Ferrante sadly in need of repair and cleaning, but there is also the matter of Sandra’s recent unexplained influx of funds, the disappearance of vitamins from her medicine cabinet, and the mysterious message that, as she’s taken by ambulance to the hospital, she leaves with her neighbor, 91-year-old Mina Yetner. As Evie juggles family and work responsibilities as a historical society curator preparing her first major exhibit, she bonds with title character Mina, who shares some history of the community and an experience pertinent to Evie’s exhibit. At the same time, Mina becomes at risk. With retribution and greed fueling the skulduggery, Ephron’s third novel (after Never Tell a Lie, 2009, and Come and Find Me, 2011) is billed as a novel of suspense, but its level of tension remains fairly low. Enjoy it instead for the characterizations—particularly of Mina, still sharp in her tenth decade—and the nicely detailed sense of place. --Michele Leber

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (April 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062117602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062117601
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,342,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tina Says VINE VOICE on January 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Hallie Ephron's There Was An Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense is set in a section of the Bronx full of history as an aging neighborhood is being overtaken by a company intent on demolishing its homes.
When Sandra Ferrante is hospitalized, her daughter Evie comes home to clean up her mother's home, only to be confronted by a mess beyond her wildest dreams. In addition to the alcoholism that is killing her mother, it now appears that Sandra Ferrante has become a hoarder. Evie reacquaints herself with her mother's neighbors, especially Mina Yetner, whose nephew is encouraging her to move to a nursing home. There are a lot of secrets in this small neighborhood and Evie is thrust into the middle of them as tries to determine who she can trust.
Although there is suspense to this story, it centers more around the future of the neighborhood. There Was An Old Woman is not the creepy, scary story I imagined, nor is it the terrifying web of deception and madness the back cover advertises. I enjoyed Ephron's writing, which was easily readable, and only wish that some of her plots - especially the subplot centering around an historic event that Mina witnessed were more developed.
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I could hardly put it down. Creepy, tension filled, elegantly crafted, filled with emotional turmoil and characters that seem to rise from the pages and sit beside you while you read. Not a mystery in the usual sense, not a novel of slam-bang adventure with bodies dropping on every other page. This elegantly crafted suspenseful novel demonstrates a mastery of story-telling, of how to feed tidbits of information to the reader in a way that not only keeps one glued to the book, but step-by-step, raises gut-wrenching questions of life and death and reality.

Somehow, Ephron has plumbed the dark recesses of the mind of an elderly woman named Mina Yetner. Independent still at ninety-one, and living in a small New York City neighborhood on the edge of a salt marsh, she's sound of mind if physically frail and she's determined to live out her life as she has always done, to the very end. Mina is a wonderful fresh character and readers shouldn't be surprised if her voice comes, unbidden to mind while they turn the pages.
In this time of aging baby boomers, of rising concerns about privacy, rampant mortgage offers, retail development, and uncertain government, here is a universal crime novel that should be read by just about everybody on the planet.
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I rather object to Hallie Ephron's novel being subtitled, "A Novel of Suspense." A suspense novel, by my lights, implies violence, or at least spy-catching, or something other than a "WTF is going on here?" mystery. I'm afraid that a "suspense" label may chase you away from reading this book, and that would be a crying shame. Because this is a really great story, written by an author who is superb at creating characters whom I utterly believe in. Even though the novel does not pigeonhole easily.

There are two main characters: Evie and Mina. Evie's been estranged from her alcoholic mother, but is called back home when Mom goes into the hospital -- only to be astonished by just how awful the situation has become. How could the house have fallen into disrepair so quickly? Mina, the next-door-neighbor who Evie had thought of as ancient even when she was growing up, is trying to cope with a nephew who wants her to move into a nursing home -- to become, as Mina considers, someone people talk to, not talk with.

Oh dear. That sounds incredibly depressing. But really, it isn't a downer. As she did in the marvelous, geek-friendly Come and Find Me, Ephron creates people who are stuck in yucky situations and somehow manage to pull themselves together. I won't say that the characters are heroic, exactly, but in a sense they behave with honor, the way you and I like to imagine we would respond. She also does not take the easy way out; a few things happened that I did not see coming.

I really liked this book. If you enjoy character-based stories with a twist, I think you'll like it too.
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This is the second book by Hallie Ephron that I've read. I can't say she's getting better with age but she is consistent. This book is hard to describe because it doesn't truly fit into any sort of genre. It is described as a "taut psychological thriller..." Ummm, not so much. It has some moments of suspense but it doesn't totally qualify fully. It also has a hint of romance, a touch of family drama, a smidge of environmentalism, and a dash of regional history. None of these areas were thoroughly investigated and the reader is left with a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions.

That said, the novel was interesting enough and it moved at a quick pace. The characters were well-drawn, for the most part, barring the neighbor and the nephew, and I could identify with the main character's reluctance to step back into her previous life. I just wish there was a bigger ending and more depth to the overall plot. I just finished reading it the other night and I'm having difficulty recalling many details. This is kind of a light, throwaway novel that I doubt I'll ever think about again.
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