The New York Times
No Place Like Homeby Mary Higgins Clark
In a riveting new thriller from America's Queen of Suspense, a young woman is ensnared into returning to a place she had wanted to leave behind forever her childhood home. There, at the age of ten, Liza Barton had shot her mother, trying desperately to protect her from her estranged step-father, Ted Cartwright. Despite his claim that the shooting was a
In a riveting new thriller from America's Queen of Suspense, a young woman is ensnared into returning to a place she had wanted to leave behind forever her childhood home. There, at the age of ten, Liza Barton had shot her mother, trying desperately to protect her from her estranged step-father, Ted Cartwright. Despite his claim that the shooting was a deliberate act, the Juvenile Court ruled the death an accident. Many people, however, agreed with Cartwright, and the tabloids compared her to the infamous murderess Lizzie Borden, pointing even to the similarity of their names.
To erase Liza's past, her adoptive parents change her name to Celia. At age twenty-eight, a successful interior designer in Manhattan, she marries a childless sixty-year-old widower, Laurence Foster, and they have a son. Before their marriage, she reveals to him her true identity. Two years later, on his deathbed, he makes her swear never to tell anyone so that their son, Jack, will not carry the stigma of her past.
Two years later, Celia is happily remarried. Her peace of mind is shattered when her new husband, Alex Nolan, surprises her with a gift the house in Mendham, New Jersey, where she killed her mother. On the day they move in, they find the words little lizzie's place beware painted on the lawn, splotches of red paint all over the house, and a skull and crossbones carved into the door.
More and more, there are signs that someone in the community knows Celia's true identity. When Georgette Grove, the real estate agent who sold the house to Alex, is brutally murdered and Celia is the first on the crime scene, she becomes a suspect.
As Celia fights to prove her innocence, she is not aware that she and her son, Jack, are now the targets of a killer.
The New York Times
NEW YORK TIMES
'Clark plays out her story like the pro that she is ... flawless'
- Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Twenty-four Years Later
I cannot believe I am standing in the exact spot where I was standing when I killed my mother. I ask myself if this is part of a nightmare, or if it is really happening. In the beginning, after that terrible night, I had nightmares all the time. I spent a good part of my childhood drawing pictures of them for Dr. Moran, a psychologist in California, where I went to live after the trial. This room figured in many of those drawings.
The mirror over the fireplace is the same one my father chose when he restored the house. It is part of the wall, recessed and framed. In it, I see my reflection. My face is deadly pale. My eyes no longer seem dark blue, but black, reflecting all the terrible visions that are leaping through my mind.
The color of my eyes is a heritage from my father. My mother's eyes were lighter, a sapphire blue, picture perfect with her golden hair. My hair would be dark blond if I left it natural. I have darkened it, though, ever since I came back to the East Coast sixteen years ago to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. I am also taller than my mother was by five inches. Yet, as I grow older, I believe I am beginning to resemble my mother in many ways, and I try to distance myself from that resemblance. I have always lived in dread of someone saying to me, "You look familiar..." At the time, my mother's image was splashed all over the media, and still turns up periodically in stories that rehash the circumstances of her death. So if anyone says I look familiar, I know it's her they have in mind. I, Celia Foster Nolan, formerly Liza Barton, the child the tabloidsdubbed "Little Lizzie Borden," am far less likely to be recognized as that chubby-faced little girl with golden curls who was acquitted -- not exonerated -- of deliberately killing her mother and trying to kill her stepfather.
My second husband, Alex Nolan, and I have been married for six months. Today I thought we were going to take my four-year-old son, Jack, to see a horse show in Peapack, an upscale town in northern New Jersey, when suddenly Alex detoured to Mendham, a neighboring town. It was only then that he told me he had a wonderful surprise for my birthday and drove down the road to this house. Alex parked the car, and we went inside.
Jack is tugging at my hand, but I remain frozen to the spot. Energetic, as most four-year-olds are, he wants to explore. I let him go, and in a flash he is out of the room and running down the hall.
Alex is standing a little behind me. Without looking at him, I can feel his anxiety. He believes he has found a beautiful home for us to live in, and his generosity is such that the deed is solely in my name, his birthday gift to me. "I'll catch up with Jack, honey," he reassures me. "You look around and start figuring how you'll decorate."
As he leaves the room, I hear him call, "Don't go downstairs, Jack. We haven't finished showing Mommy her new house."
"Your husband tells me that you're an interior designer," Henry Paley, the real estate agent, is saying. "This house has been very well kept up, but, of course, every woman, especially one in your profession, wants to put her own signature on her home."
Not yet trusting myself to speak, I look at him. Paley is a small man of about sixty, with thinning gray hair, and neatly dressed in a dark blue pin-striped suit. I realize he is waiting expectantly for me to show enthusiasm for the wonderful birthday gift my husband has just presented to me.
"As your husband may have told you, I was not the selling agent," Paley explains. "My boss, Georgette Grove, was showing your husband various properties nearby when he spotted the for sale sign on the lawn. He apparently fell in love with it immediately. The house is quite simply an architectural treasure, and it's situated on ten acres in the premier location in a premier town."
I know it is a treasure. My father was the architect who restored a crumbling eighteenth-century mansion, turning it into this charming and spacious home. I look past Paley and study the fireplace. Mother and Daddy found the mantel in France, in a chateau about to be demolished. Daddy told me the meanings of all the sculptured work on it, the cherubs and the pineapples and the grapes...
Ted pinning Mother against the wall...
I am pointing the gun at him. Daddy's gun...
Let go of my mother...
Ted spinning Mother around and shoving her at me...
Mother's terrified eyes looking at me...
The gun going off...
Lizzie Borden had an axe...
"Are you all right, Mrs. Nolan?" Henry Paley is asking me.
"Yes, of course," I manage, with some effort. My tongue feels too heavy to mouth the words. My mind is racing with the thought that
I should not have let Larry, my first husband, make me swear that I wouldn't tell the truth about myself to anyone, not even to someone I married. In this moment I am fiercely angry at Larry for wringing that promise from me. He had been so kind when I told him about myself before our marriage, but in the end he failed me. He was ashamed of my past, afraid of the impact it might have on our son's future. That fear has brought us here, now.
Already the lie is a wedge driven between Alex and me. We both feel it. He talks about wanting to have children soon, and I wonder how he would feel if he knew that Little Lizzie Borden would be their mother.
It's been twenty-four years, but such memories die hard. Will anyone in town recognize me? I wonder. Probably not. But though I agreed to live in this area, I did not agree to live in this town, or in this house. I can't live here. I simply can't.
To avoid the curiosity in Paley's eyes, I walk over to the mantel and pretend to study it.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Paley asks, the professional enthusiasm of the real estate agent ringing through his somewhat high-pitched voice.
"Yes, it is."
"The master bedroom is very large, and has two separate, wonderfully appointed baths." He opens the door to the bedroom and looks expectantly at me. Reluctantly, I follow him.
Memories flood my mind. Weekend mornings in this room. I used to get in bed with Mother and Daddy. Daddy would bring up coffee for Mother and hot chocolate for me.
Their king-size bed with the tufted headboard is gone, of course. The soft peach walls are now painted dark green. Looking out the back windows I can see that the Japanese maple tree Daddy planted so long ago is now mature and beautiful.
Tears are pressing against my eyelids. I want to run out of here. If necessary I will have to break my promise to Larry and tell Alex the truth about myself. I am not Celia Foster, nee Kellogg, the daughter of Kathleen and Martin Kellogg of Santa Barbara, California. I am Liza Barton, born in this town and, as a child, reluctantly acquitted by a judge of murder and attempted murder.
"Mom, Mom!" I hear my son's voice as his footsteps clatter on
the uncarpeted floorboards. He hurries into the room, energy encapsulated, small and sturdy, a bright quickness about him, a handsome little boy, the center of my heart. At night I steal into his room to listen to the sound of his even breathing. He is not interested in what happened years ago. He is satisfied if I am there to answer when he calls me.
As he reaches me, I bend down and catch him in my arms. Jack has Larry's light brown hair and high forehead. His beautiful blue eyes are my mother's, but then Larry had blue eyes, too. In those last moments of fading consciousness, Larry had whispered that when Jack attended his prep school, he didn't want him to ever have to deal with the tabloids digging up those old stories about me. I taste again the bitterness of knowing that his father was ashamed of me.
Ted Cartwright swears estranged wife begged for reconciliation...
State psychiatrist testifies ten-year-old Liza Barton mentally competent to form the intent to commit murder....
Was Larry right to swear me to silence? At this moment, I can't be sure of anything. I kiss the top of Jack's head.
"I really, really, really like it here," he tells me excitedly.
Alex is coming into the bedroom. He planned this surprise for me with so much care. When we came up the driveway, it had been festooned with birthday balloons, swaying on this breezy August day -- all painted with my name and the words "Happy Birthday." But the exuberant joy with which he handed me the key and the deed to the house is gone. He can read me too well. He knows I'm not happy. He is disappointed and hurt, and why wouldn't he be?
"When I told the people at the office what I'd done, a couple of the women said that no matter how beautiful a house might be, they'd want to have the chance to make the decision about buying it," he said, his voice forlorn.
They were right, I thought as I looked at him, at his reddish-brown hair and brown eyes. Tall and wide-shouldered, Alex has a look of strength about him that makes him enormously attractive. Jack adores him. Now Jack slides from my arms and puts his arm around Alex's leg.
My husband and my son.
And my house.
Copyright © 2005 by Mary Higgins Clark
The Grove Real Estate Agency was on East Main Street in the attractive New Jersey town of Mendham. Georgette Grove parked in front of it and got out of the car. The August day was unusually cool, and the overhead clouds were threatening rain. Her short-sleeved linen suit was not warm enough for the weather, and she moved with a quick step up the path to the door of her office.
Sixty-two years old, Georgette was a handsome whippet-thin woman with short wavy hair the color of steel, hazel eyes, and a firm chin. At the moment, her emotions were conflicted. She was pleased at how smoothly the closing had gone on the house she had just helped sell. It was one of the smaller houses in town, its selling price barely breaking the seven figure mark, but even though she had split the commission with another broker, the check she was carrying was manna from heaven. It would give her a few months' reserve until she landed another sale.
So far it had been a disastrous year, saved only by her sale of the house on Old Mill Lane to Alex Nolan. That one had caught her up on overdue bills at the office. She had very much wanted to be present that morning when Nolan presented the house to his wife. I hope she likes surprises, Georgette thought for the hundredth time. She worried that what he was doing was risky. She had tried to warn him about the house, about its history, but Nolan didn't seem to care. Georgette worried also that since he'd put the house in his wife's name only, if his wife didn't like it, she, Georgette, might be wide open to a non-disclosure suit.
It was part of the real estate code of New Jersey that a prospective buyer had to be notified if a house was a stigmatized property, meaning one that might be impacted by a factor that, on a psychological level, could cause apprehension or fears. Since some people would not want to live in a house in which a crime had been committed, or in which there had been a suicide, the real estate agent was obliged to make a prospective client aware of any such history. The statute even required the agent to reveal if a house had the reputation of being haunted.
I tried to tell Alex Nolan that there had been a tragedy in the house on Old Mill Lane, Georgette thought defensively as she opened the office door and stepped into the reception room. But he had cut her off, saying that his family used to rent a two-hundred-year-old house on Cape Cod, and the history of some of the people who lived in it would curl your hair. But this is different, Georgette thought. I should have told him that around here the house he bought is known as "Little Lizzie's Place."
She wondered if Nolan had become nervous about his surprise. At the last minute he had asked her to be at the house when they arrived, but it had been impossible to change the other closing. Instead she had sent Henry Paley to greet Nolan and his wife, and to be there to answer any questions Mrs. Nolan might have. Henry had been reluctant to cover for her, and in the end she had been forced to remind him, rather sharply, not only to be there, but to be sure to emphasize the many desirable features of the house and property.
At Nolan's request, the driveway had been decorated with festive balloons, all painted with the words "Happy Birthday, Celia." The porch had been draped with festive papier-mâché, and he also had asked that champagne and a birthday cake and glasses and plates and silverware and birthday napkins be waiting inside.
When Georgette pointed out that there was absolutely no furniture in the house, and offered to bring over a folding table and chairs, Nolan had been upset. He had rushed to a nearby furniture store and ordered an expensive glass patio table and chairs, and instructed the salesman to have them placed in the dining room. "We'll switch them to the patio when we move in, or if Celia doesn't like them, we'll donate them to a charity and take a deduction," he had said.
Five thousand dollars for a patio set and he's talking about giving it away, Georgette had thought, but she knew he meant it. Yesterday afternoon he had phoned and asked her to be sure there were a dozen roses in every room on the main floor, as well as in the master bedroom suite. "Roses are Ceil's favorite flowers," he explained. "When we got married, I promised her that she'd never be without them."
He's rich. He's handsome. He's charming. And he's clearly devoted to his wife, Georgette thought as she stepped inside and automatically glanced around the reception room to see if any potential clients were waiting there. From half the marriages I've seen, she's a damn lucky woman.
But how will she react when she starts hearing the stories about the house?
Georgette tried to push the thought away. Born with a natural ability to sell, she had progressed rapidly from being a secretary and part-time real estate agent, to founding her own company. Her reception room was a matter of special pride to her. Robin Carpenter, her secretary-receptionist, was positioned at an antique mahogany desk to the right of the entrance. On the left, a brightly upholstered sectional couch and chairs were grouped around a coffee table.
There, while clients sipped coffee or soft drinks or a glass of wine in the early evening, Georgette or Henry would run tapes showing available properties. The tapes provided meticulous details of every aspect of the interior, the exterior, and the surrounding neighborhood.
"Those tapes take a lot of time to do properly," Georgette was fond of explaining to clients, "but they save you a lot of time, and by finding your likes and dislikes, we can get a very good idea of what you're really looking for."
Make them want it before they set foot in it -- that was Georgette's game plan. It had worked for nearly twenty years, but in the last five it had gotten tougher, as more and more high-powered agencies had opened in the area, their young and vigorous brokers panting for every listing.
Robin was the only person in the reception area. "How did the closing go?" she asked Georgette.
"Smoothly, thank God. Is Henry back?"
"No, I guess he's still drinking champagne with the Nolans. I still can't believe it. A gorgeous guy buys a gorgeous house for his wife for her thirty-fourth birthday. That's exactly my age. She's so lucky. Did you ever find out if Alex Nolan has a brother?" Robin sighed. "But on the other hand, there can't be two men like that," she added.
"Let's all hope that after she gets over the surprise, and has heard the story of that house, Celia Nolan still considers herself lucky," Georgette snapped nervously. "Otherwise, we might have a real problem on our hands."
Robin knew exactly what she meant. Small, slender, and very pretty, with a heart-shaped face and a penchant for frilly clothes, the initial impression she gave was that of the air-headed blond. And so Georgette had believed when she applied for the job a year ago. Five minutes of conversation, however, had led her not only to reversing that opinion but to hiring Robin on the spot and upping the salary she had intended to pay. Now, after a year, Robin was about to get her own real estate license, and Georgette welcomed the prospect of having her working as an agent. Henry simply wasn't pulling his weight anymore.
"You did try to warn the husband about the history of the house. I can back you up on that, Georgette."
"That's something," Georgette said, as she headed down the hall to her private office at the rear of the building. But then she turned abruptly and faced the younger woman. "I tried to speak to Alex Nolan about the background of the house one time only, Robin," she said emphatically. "And that was when I was alone in the car with him on our way to see the Murray house on Moselle Road. You couldn't have heard me discussing it with him."
"I'm sure I heard you bring it up one of the times Alex Nolan was in here," Robin insisted.
"I mentioned it to him once in the car. I never said anything about it to him here. Robin, you're not doing me or, in the long run, yourself any favors by lying to a client," Georgette snapped. "Keep that in mind, please."
The outside door opened. They both turned as Henry Paley came into the reception room. "How did it go?" Georgette asked, her anxiety apparent in the tone of her voice.
"I would say that Mrs. Nolan put up a very good act of seeming to be delighted by her husband's birthday surprise," Paley answered. "I believe she convinced him. However, she did not convince me."
"Why not?" Robin asked before Georgette could frame the words.
Henry Paley's expression was that of a man who had completed a mission he knew was doomed to failure. "I wish I could tell you," he said. "It may just be that she was overwhelmed." He looked at Georgette, obviously afraid that he might be giving the impression that he had somehow let her down. "Georgette," he said apologetically, "I swear, when I was showing Mrs. Nolan the master suite, all I could visualize was that kid shooting her mother and stepfather in the sitting room years ago. Isn't that weird?"
"Henry, this agency has sold that house three times in the last twenty-four years, and you were involved in at least two of those sales. I never heard you say that before," Georgette protested angrily.
"I never got that feeling before. Maybe it's because of all those damn flowers the husband ordered. It's the same scent that hits you in funeral homes. I got it full force in the master suite of Little Lizzie's Place today. And I have a feeling that Celia Nolan had a reaction like that, too."
Henry realized that unwittingly he had used the forbidden words in describing the house on Old Mill Lane. "Sorry, Georgette," he mumbled as he brushed past her.
"You should be," Georgette said bitterly. "I can just imagine the kind of vibes you were sending out to Mrs. Nolan."
"Maybe you'll take me up after all on my offer to back you up on what you told Alex Nolan about the house, Georgette," Robin suggested, a touch of sarcasm in her voice.
Copyright © 2005 by Mary Higgins Clark
Meet the Author
Mary Higgins Clark, #1 international and New York Times bestselling author, has written thirty-four suspense novels; three collections of short stories; a historical novel; two children’s books; and a memoir, Kitchen Privileges. With her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, she has coauthored five more suspense novels. Her books have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone.
- Saddle River, New Jersey and New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- December 24, 1929
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- New York University; B.A., Fordham University, 1979
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book as I listened to it on a 12 hour drive -- it kept me engaged and awake throughout. Additionally, since I grew up near the area in NJ in which the book is set, I had a great time picturing the roads, establishments, and the people as the backdrop of the book. I've shared it with several of my NJ relatives who I'm sure will also get a kick out of it.
When I read about the book online, it caught my interest but I thought oh I'll only read a little bit and get bored. On the contrary, I read this book in 2 days, I couldn't put it down. I had to see what happened next. The end was not a huge surprise to me though, throughout books if you pay enough attention to little details you can figure it out. That's what I love about her books, they do make you think about what you read.
This is only the second MHC novel I have read (the first being Two Little Girls in Blue). I completely enjoyed reading this book. The storyline and the twists it took were wonderful and never in my wildest thoughts could I have guessed the ending... Excellent book!!
Kept me riveted! Great pace with good twists.
Typical Mary Higgins Clark. Unfortunately I think I have read to many of her books and had it figured out half way thru the book. however I still enjoy her novels.
I overall enjoyed this story however I did get annoyed with everyone hiding information when it seemed more natural to share some things in an investigation and especially leaving crime scenes. That part made it seem less plausible to me. It was difficult at times to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I liked the ending and the resolve that followed. It made sense to me.
This is a great suspense book.
I liked this book, though it was only the second I have ever read(The first being Daddy's Little Girl). I will definitly read more MHC books in the future.
My first book of hers wow she has me hooked for sure. Can't wait for my second read.
Barnes & Noble online support and general customer service on the other hand is the worst. I will be a kindle owner in the very near future.
I haven't read a MHC novel in a while, and it's good to know that she has not lost her touch. I pretty much had the culprits figured out, but the final twist was definitely a shocker ... great book! I would definitely recommend if you're into thrillers/suspense type readings.
As always, M. H. Clark has kept me reading well past the time I wanted to stop for the night. I enjoy trying to guess the outcome and reading to the end to find out if I was right. I don't know how she does it, but I hope she keeps on doing it! Anyone who loves mysteries will enjoy this one. I'll keep reading as long as she keeps writing.