” Time was running out. Somebody would buy this house and he wouldn’t be able to rent it again. That was why he’d sent the article to the paper. He wanted to still here to enjoy seeing her exposed for what she was in front of these people . . . now, when she must have started to feel safe. ” (Prologue)
My first Mary Higgins Clark book happens to be her first suspense. It’s listed right in the middle of the Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time by the Mystery Writers of America. It’s a competently written thriller with serviceable characters without much depth, but help propel the tightly written story. The premise is simple but intriguing: A prowler is in Cape Cod stalking a beautiful young mother. Nancy Elderage is formerly Nancy Harmon who, seven years ago, was convicted of willful murder of her two children. The case was dropped only because the only prosecuting witness, one Rob Legler, had vanished.
Nancy reinvents herself, changes her name, leaves California for peaceful Cape Cod, remarries and starts a new life. But she realizes she can never be rid of their past when the two children from her second marriage disappear. She is confronted by the prospect of another murder trial hanging over her head.
Clatk crams a lot of characters into a short space. There’s Dr. Lendon Miles, friend of Nancy’s mother who died in a car accident on her trip to visit Nancy in college. Nancy has blamed herself for the loss. The doctor is savvy of Nancy’s trauma and proves of be valuable in helping her recall the details of her first marriage and the disappearance of the children. Jonathan Knowles is a retired lawyer who is writing a case study book on famous murder trials—and the Harmon case would make the most interesting chapter. He’s the one who first perceives Nancy’s true identity.
The book is very well-paced, suspenseful, with a great twist. The current disappearance of the two children gradually shines light to the case seven years ago, to what really happened and what afflicted Nancy. For it becomes obvious that Nancy, whether she was in hysterical amnesia or just plain dishonesty, never told all she knew about the disappearance of her children from the first marriage. When the truth comes out, it was incredibly outrageous for 1975 when the book was written. Clark manages to insert just the right dose of creepiness in her villain and into the situation without resorting to gore. It’s a gripping suspense and nail-biter.
288 pp. Simon & Schuster. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]