A Stranger is Watching
by Mary Higgins Clark
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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In 48 hours, Ronald Thompson will be put to death for a murder he says he did not commit. Steve Peterson has appeared on television in support of the execution. Sharon Martin takes a stand against capital punishment, and is desperately fighting for a stay. On television, Steve and Sharon fight in opposite camps. In private, they are in love.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Steve's wife, Nina, was murdered. Their son, Neil witnessed the crime and has been haunted ever since.

In a New York hotel room, a man plots his crime. That evening, he kidnaps Neil and Sharon while Steve is gone. He hides them in a secret abandoned room below Grand Central Station. The ransom he plans to ask for will fund his escape after he's rid of his victims. His method of disposal? A bomb planted in the room that will kill his targets and anyone in the station.

Can Steve find Neil and Sharon before it's too late? Will the State of New York execute Ronald Thompson? And is he even guilty of killing Nina Peterson? Can these questions be answered before the bomb goes off? The kidnapping and the hours leading up to the execution are chronicled in A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark.

This is an early work by the best-selling author. The story takes place in the late 1970's. Many of Clark's works share similar characteristics and this early one is the same. The New York setting, 28-32 year-old leading lady with media job, horrifying situation and convenient ending has been written before. And before that, too.

Clark doesn't give much background on the bad guy. Readers must accept that great hatred exists for his victims and proceed from there. Several near misses and coincidences move the predictable plot along as well. There was some suspense in the tale. However, Clark's cookie-cutter writing formula all but guaranteed her trademark ending.

A handful of sympathy cards are played as Clark weaves this tale. Readers are required to feel sorry for sickly Neil and dull Sharon as they endure their horrid confinement. At the same time we're supposed to believe good Ronald Thompson would be put to death so swiftly for a crime he committed when he was 17. Everyone who has any influence in the justice system turns a deaf ear down to the wire. It has to be that way so or Clark's story won't work.

As mentioned, A Stranger is Watching is dated, so don't laugh when any of the characters refer to the CB Murders. There is a positive side to the old story, though. The authorities don't have cell phones and computers to aid in there investigation. They have to rely on good-old fashioned detective work and a conveniently-startling realization from some old lady that breaks the case wide open.

A Stranger is Watching is a so-so read, ideal for mindless entertainment. It would be a lot better if Mary Higgins Clark didn't stick to the same predictable formula for every single book. Still, the veteran author cranks out the novels while loyal fans snatch them up. Perhaps I am the only one that sees the similarities all the stories. Perhaps I am the only one that craves originality.

Mary Higgins Clark's Books That Have Been Reviewed at TheBookHaven.net

The Anastasia Syndrome and Other Stories

Before I Say Goodbye

Where are the Children?