A century and more after some fiend has strangled three young women in a seaside town, he’s back, or somebody just like him is, in the latest damsel-in-distresser from Clark (Before I Say Good-Bye, 2000, etc.).
Well-heeled attorney Emily Graham, great-great-grandniece of Madeline Shapley, the first fin-de-siècle victim, has just concluded arrangements to purchase the Shapley home in upscale Spring Lake, New Jersey, when the men excavating her yard for a swimming pool make the grisly discovery of Madeline’s skeleton lying just beneath an even more gruesome discovery—the body of Martha Lawrence, missing for over four years, and buried in the same clandestine grave clutching Madeline’s finger bone in her dead hand. In fact, the situation is considerably more dire than Emily realizes, since Martha’s killer, who’s been reenacting the 19th-century murderer’s PG-rated atrocities ever since coming across his providential diary, has already murdered a second victim and plans to make Emily his third on March 31, the anniversary of Ellen Swain’s death. Could he be a reincarnation of the original killer? The police decide to ask psychologist Lillian Madden, who often uses hypnotism to awaken her clients’ memories of earlier lives. The answer comes promptly when the murderer interrupts his surveillance of Emily to strangle Dr. Madden. The list of male suspects harboring suspicious secrets runs as generous a gamut as ever—from dotty dot-com millionaire Eric Bailey to father-hating lawyer Will Stafford to overextended restaurateur Bob Frieze to blackmailed ex-college president Clayton Wilcox—but Clark loyalists, though they may be thrown offstride by the elevated body count, won’t be fooled for a minute.
Along with a pretty transparent killer, fans will have to make allowances for an anniversary calendar of crime that won’t stand close scrutiny and a damsel whose distress is considerably more interesting than she is. As if they cared.