Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Pretty photographer Maggie Holloway begins Clark's latest (after Silent Night) lying in a coffin buried in a grave, pulling desperately at a string that leads to a bell with no clapper. How she got there is the essence of a convoluted tale of a ritzy Newport, R.I., retirement home whose well-heeled residents seem to die with alarming frequency, leading to high-profit turnover of their apartments there. Latest to shed her mortal coil was Maggie's much-loved stepmother, a fact that led intrepid Maggie to take an unwise amount of interest in the deaths-and also to question why several of the graves seemed to have little funerary bells on them. As usual with Clark, there is a stalwart admirer whose love does not immediately speak its name, and a surfeit of suspicious characters, including a scholarly funeral nut, a shady investment broker, a venal lawyer, a drunken, inept doctor and a nosy nurse. There's some fun in the sprightly Newport oldsters, and the many scenes and characters are shifted around smoothly and with a practiced hand. The bells gimmick seems no more than that, however, and the book is light on thrills-though there's nothing to put off Clark's myriad fans. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild main selection; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection; paperback rights to Pocket Books; author tour. (May).
More scary stuff from one of America's best-known suspense writers.
Mary Frances Wilkens
Professional photographer Maggie Holloway revisits the best part of her childhood after she runs into her former stepmother, Nuala Moore, at a Manhattan party. Nuala seems edgy, but Maggie never finds out why, for only days into their reunion, she finds her beloved Nuala murdered. Maggie is the unexpected inheritor of Nuala's Newport home, for which Maggie receives curiously generous, even overpriced, offers from several parties. Nuala had at one time planned on selling the property in order to move into a ritzy retirement home but had suddenly and without explanation changed her mind only days before her death. When Maggie also decides not to sell the property, she becomes the one squeaky cog in an otherwise well-oiled machine of fraud, murder, and deception. At Maggie's side are two suitors: the wealthy Liam, who suddenly begins paying more attention to her after Nuala's death, and the seemingly indifferent Neil, a kindhearted investment banker. Clark has written a clever story with interesting characters, particularly Liam's macabre, death-obsessed cousin, Earl. Though this is not her finest book, Clark's popularity will surely put "Moonlight" on the lists.
The arresting opening tableaua young woman buried alive in a satin-lined coffinis a perfect image for the sleekly cushioned menace Clark dispenses in her 13th novel (Silent Night, 1995, etc.).
Flashback 20 days to the night photographer Maggie Holloway meets her long-ago stepmother, Nuala Moore, and Nuala invites her to visit her place in Newport. Before Maggie's arrival, thoughand, more crucially, before Nuala can carry out her plan to move into the nonpareil Latham Manor ResidenceNuala is killed and her house ransacked, and Maggie finds to her astonishment that Nuala's will leaves the Newport house to her. Why would anybody want to kill an inoffensive old lady like Nuala? Well, somebody might be trying to pick up her house for a song (somebody like Nuala's attorney Malcolm Norton or shady broker Douglas Hansen); or somebody might be after the fat deposit the next applicant for Nuala's new suite would have to pay Latham Manor (somebody like incompetent director Dr. William Lane or nosey nurse Zelda Markey); or somebody might need to shut Nuala up about her knowledge of several other suspect deaths, with another still impending, of Latham Manor residents (whoever may have helped those residents into the great beyond); or somebody might be just a little obsessed with the whole subject of death (somebody like wild-eyed funeral expert Prof. Earl Bateman). As usual in her recent work, Clark ends up tying all these threats in together, so that the land grab, the nursing-home deposit scam, the investment fraud, the sinister messages sent by a series of funeral bells, and the Latham Manor murders all turn out to be the work of a single diligent soul, who (don't forget) has the same wicked designs on Maggie as on Nuala.
About average for Clark's G-rated thrillers, as if you were countingwith enough material on funerary customs to make you resolve to live forever.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Nine
Except for that uptight art director, it had been a good week, Maggie reflected as she turned off Route 138 in Newport. Both photo shoots this week had turned out exceptionally well, especially the one for Vogue.
But after the meticulous attention she had to give to noting how the camera was capturing every fold of the astronomically priced gowns she was photographing, it was a distinct joy to put on jeans and a plaid shirt. In fact, with the exception of a blue silk print blouse and matching long skirt she planned to wear tonight for Nuala's dinner party, everything she had brought to wear on this vacation was quite casual.
We're going to have such fun, she thought. Two uninterrupted weeks in Newport. Nuala and I really will have a chance to catch up with each other! She smiled at the prospect. It had been a surprise when Liam called to say that he would be at Nuala's tonight, as well, although she should have realized he spent a fair amount of time in Newport. "It's an easy drive from Boston," he had pointed out. "I go there fairly regularly for weekends, especially off-season."
"I didn't know that," she had said.
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Maggie. Maybe if you weren't out of town so much..."
"And maybe if you didn't live in Boston and use your New York apartment so little..."
Maggie smiled again. Liam is fun, she thought, even though he does take himself too seriously much of the time. Stopping at a red light, she glanced down and rechecked her directions. Nuala lived just off the fabled Ocean Drive, on Garrison Avenue. "I even have a view of the ocean from the third floor," she had explained. "Wait till you see it and my studio."
She had called three times this week to be sure there were no changes of plan. "You are coming, Maggie? You won't disappoint?"
"Of course not," she had assured her. Still, Maggie had wondered if it was only her imagination or was there something in Nuala's voice, an uneasiness that perhaps she had detected in her face the night they had dinner in Manhattan. At the time, she had rationalized that Nuala's husband had died only last year, and she was starting to lose her friends as well, one of the nonjoys of living long enough to get old. Naturally a sense of mortality has to be setting in, she reasoned.
She had seen the same look on the faces of nursing home residents she had photographed for Life magazine last year. One woman had said wistfully, "Sometimes it bothers me a lot that there's no one left who remembers me when I was young."
Maggie shivered, then realized the temperature in the car had dropped rapidly. Turning off the air-conditioning, she opened the window a few inches and sniffed the tangy scent of the sea that permeated the air. When you've been raised in the Midwest, she thought, you can't ever get enough of the ocean.
Checking her watch, she realized it was ten of eight. She would barely have time to freshen up and change before the other guests began to arrive. At least she had phoned Nuala to let her know she was getting off to a late start. She had told her she should be arriving just about now.
She turned onto Garrison Avenue and saw the ocean in front of her. She slowed the car, then stopped in front of a charming clapboard house with weathered shingles and a wraparound porch. This had to be Nuala's home, she thought, but it seemed so dark. There were no outside lights turned on at all, and she could detect only a faint light coming from the front windows.
She pulled into the driveway, got out, and, without bothering to open the trunk for her suitcase, ran up the steps. Expectantly she rang the bell. From inside she could hear the faint sound of chimes.
As she waited, she sniffed. The windows facing the street were open, and she thought she detected a harsh, burning smell coming from inside. She pressed the doorbell again, and again the chimes reverberated through the house.
There was still no answer, no sound of footsteps. Something has to be wrong, she thought anxiously. Where was Nuala? Maggie walked over to the nearest window and crouched down, straining to see past the lacy fringe on the partly drawn shade, into the darkness inside.
Then her mouth went dry. The little she could see of the shadowy room suggested it was in wild disorder. The contents of a drawer were strewn on the hooked carpet, and the drawer itself was leaning haphazardly against the ottoman. The fireplace was opposite the windows and flanked by cabinets. All of them were open.
What faint light there was came from a pair of sconces over the mantel. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, Maggie was able to pick out a single high-heeled shoe, turned on its side in front of the fireplace.
What was that? She squinted and leaned forward, then realized she was seeing a small stockinged foot, extending from behind a love seat near where the shoe had fallen. She lunged back to the door and twisted the handle, but it was locked.
Blindly, she rushed to the car, grabbed the car phone and punched in 911. Then she stopped, remembering: Her phone was attached to a New York area code. This was Rhode Island; Nuala's number began with a 401 area code. With trembling fingers she punched in 401 911.
When the call was answered, she managed to say "I'm at 1 Garrison Avenue in Newport. I can't get in. I can see someone lying on the floor. I think it's Nuala."
I'm babbling, she told herself. Stop it. But as the calm, unhurried questions came from the dispatcher, with absolute certainty Maggie's mind was shouting three words: Nuala is dead.
Copyright © 1996 by Mary Higgins Clark