Mary Higgins Clark: Where are the Children?

wherearethechildrenShe’d come to Cape Cod because she’d always heard that New Englanders and Cape people were reticent and reserved and wanted nothing to do with strangers, and that was good. She needed a place to hide, to find herself, to sort it all out, to try to think through what had happened, to try to come back to life.

Ray and Nancy Eldredge live with their two children Michael and Missy in an authentic old Cape Cod house. Ray is an honest realtor and Nancy is a model wife, and it would all be very cosy if it weren’t for the skeleton in Nancy’s closet. A few years ago, under the name of Harmon, she narrowly evaded the death sentence for killing her first two children.

She got off because the star prosecution witness fled the draft and crossed over the border to Canada. Her hold on a normal life is threatened by the ever-present possibility of his return.

There is another cloud on the horizon. A very bad neighbour watching the Eldredges through a telescope, and he is plotting to take Michael and Missy. But first he reveals Nancy’s true identity to the newspapers.

When Michael and Missy vanish from her back garden, Nancy’s finds herself at the centre of the police investigation. Only her husband, a local lawyer who just happens to be an expert in her case, and an old psychologist friend of her mother’s believe in her innocence. And while the police dredge the lake, the childrens’ kidnapper has them drugged in one of Ray’s vacant properties.

Honestly, I’m a bit squeamish about books where children are put in danger. It seems like quite an easy button for a writer to push and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

John Kragopoulos was glad to be driving. A great restlessness had come over him in the room with that hideous man. There was something too slimy and sour-smelling about him. And that scent of baby powder in the bedroom and that incredible toy in the tub. How could a grown man need such trappings?

Having said that, the suspense is built very efficiently, with different people knowing different parts of the story – if only they’d put them together it would all be okay and the children would be saved…

“It’s the mitten!” Dorothy cried. “It’s Missy’s. She was wearing it yesterday when I took her out for ice cream. She must have left it in the car. I guess I kicked it out when I got out of the car before.

The villain’s back-story seems a little risible in the cold light of day. Even in the late 60s it must have been quite difficult to just assume another identity – especially on the spur of the moment – and what does he do for a living, exactly? And why has he waited so long? But as a pantomime bad guy he works.

More pantomime: Much of the action takes place during a winter storm, meaning the electricity fails, meaning whole scenes are lit by lamplight for extra drama.

I read Where are the Children? as a 1975 book for Crimes of the Century. So how 1975 is it exactly? Here’s a taste:

I can cite you examples of guys who won’t let their wives handle a dime except for food money. I know one who won’t let his wife drive the family car. Another never lets his wife go out at night by herself. This kind of thing is common all over the world. Maybe that’s why that Women’s Lib bunch have something to beef about.”

Mary Higgins Clark
Where are the Children?
First published in 1975 in the US
This edition Simon and Schuster
190 pages in print
This edition: Kindle

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Crime fiction of the year challenge, Crimes of the Century, Suspense, Witness Statements and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Mary Higgins Clark: Where are the Children?

  1. neeru says:

    Not for me. First, I am also squeamish abt reading anything bad happening to children. And secondly, Clark is, to me, an over-rated writer.


  2. For such a lot happening, it seems like a rather short book (190 pages). I am not sure I want to read it after the weaknesses you have just pointed out, but it does sound like a lot of suspense and drama.


  3. Saw the TV Movie version, I think but you are not exactly selling this to me Rich …


  4. Anonymous says:

    Most popular fiction written in the 1970s were “rather short books”. Geez. People seem to have no memories beyond a few years. Frankly, I wish we could return to those days when novels ran between 175 and 225 pages long.

    I read this when I was a teen and I read a few others by Clark until I realized she was basically rewriting the same plot over and over. She pretty much reinvented the Mignon Eberhart formula for the 1970s housewife reading audience playing on all sorts of timely fears (child endangerment and predatory exes, especially). For that she gets some credit. And this debut (it was her first book) is something of a landmark for that reason.

    As for your gripes about the hoary plot devices — winter storm, electricity failing, new identities, revenge plots– they’re ancient, Rich! I’ve never heard them compared to “pantomime”, but we don’t have that form of theater over here. And I can cite TRAGEDY OF X as a prime example (along with about twenty other books if you give me the time to look up all the reviews on my blog) of another villain who waited years to launch his revenge. It’s nothing new and nothing worth deriding Clark for.


  5. Pingback: The ‘salivating male audience’: The #1975book round-up | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

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