Today is a sad day for Nancy Elredge. Her 32nd birthday should be a cause for celebration. Instead the date marks the anniversary of when her first two children were murdered years ago.
She was accused and tried for that crime, though she says she didn't commit it. The entire country thought she was guilty. Carl Harmon, her first husband, even testified against her. Juror misconduct provided a mistrial. A disappearing prosecution witness prevented a retrial. Nancy Harmon, sentenced to death for the murder of her children, was a free woman.
Years later, Nancy has rebuilt her life and changed her name. Her wonderful second husband, Ray, has provided a safe haven for Nancy and their two small children. Ray believes it is time to move on and stop worrying about a retrial that may never happen.
There are plans for a party in the evening. Ray goes off to work and Nancy begins her daily chores. She sends the kids out in the yard to play. Upon opening the local paper, Nancy sees that she is on the front page. Her past life has been discovered.
Nancy burns the paper and runs to get her kids, but they are gone. The only movement is a slow-moving swing. Nancy's worst nightmare is coming true. Her first two children drowned. Could Michael and Missy suffer the same fate?
Later, Nancy is found at the lake side with a single child's mitten. The police are called, but suspicion points directly at Nancy, who just happens to be incoherent. Could Nancy have killed Michael and Missy? Is it possible she did the same horrible thing years ago? The police, her husband and even the residents of Cape Cod are asking Nancy Eldrege Where are the Children?
Readers know where the children are and who has them. The bad guy's plan is to kill the children and frame Nancy for the crime. We don't know who the man is, but he must be caught before he goes through with the act.
Unfortunately, Nancy is perceived as a suspect and she's too distraught to care, which makes her look even more guilty. It will take the faith of her friends and husband to solve the mystery and save Michael and Missy.
Thank goodness for friends, huh? Nancy's friends just happen to be a top attorney and a doctor, so she's got great legal representation AND quality medical care right on Cape Cod. But wait, there's more! Fortunately, there's some truth serum available at the local Cape pharmacy. That means we get to hear all the deep dark secrets being repressed by the former Nancy Harmon (again, thank goodness that doctor got there!)
Is my sarcasm coming through loud and clear? I hope so. I don't mean to sound so cranky, but Where are the Children is such a silly book. It's like someone printed a recipe for a basic suspense novel and Clark carefully follows it, opting not to add and drop of originality on her own.
First we have poor Nancy. She's such a good victim. When she's accused of killing her children, she just gives up without a fight. I can forgive her for leaving her first kids in the car while shopping (it was 1975 after all). Lesson learned, right? Then why in the heck did she let her second kids play unsupervised (near a lake no less!) daily? (Answer: so Clark could write this story.)
The townsfolk are helpful as well. They are clueless about Nancy's real identity for six years. Then, they get total recall when it comes to suspicious activity around the town. However, Clark can't have them catch on too quickly or there wouldn't be a story. There are lots of near misses with the kidnapper before the conclusion.
My favorite character in the story is a handy nor'easter that blows in just in time for the climax. The storm knocks out all the phones and power, making it hard for everyone to establish contact and making it easier for the bad guy to do his deeds. Oooh, scary!
The biggest complaint of this book can't be discussed without spoiling the story. I know I am in the minority when it comes to my opinion of this author, so I won't ruin the fun. I'll just say that the killer's identity is discovered by a gigantic, glaring clue. Didn't anybody pick up on this beforehand? Of course not or we wouldn't have Where are the Children?
This book was originally published in 1975 and it was Clark's first bestseller. Since then, she has enjoyed much success and readers eagerly devour her suspense novels. Her works are quick reads ideal for a weekend vacation. Though I find Clark's books quite predictable, her writing does manage to hold my attention and keep me occupied.
Still, I simply can't recommend Where are the Children?. Nancy is just plain helpless and pathetic. The other members of the cast simply exist to drive the story forward. I rolled my eyes when I read how the bad guy was discovered and the "horrifying" climax literally made me laugh out loud.
There are better suspense novels out there, trust me. If you want to stick to Mary Higgins Clark, that's fine. This is an early novel of hers and her later work is a little better. Skip this one and move on.
In case you are wondering Where are the Children? my guess is that they ran away in embarrassment from being in this silly story.