Monday, December 27, 2010

All Around the Town

I haven't read a new Mary Higgins Clark book in about a decade.  I haven't re-read one of her books in quite a while either - after several years 'on probation,' I stopped buying new books and donated my backlist to the Book Corner.  She writes good beach books, but she fell into a rut of writing one of the same two books over and over again, and I got tired of them.

Last month, I noticed that the coffee shop where I buy my morning bagel and cocoa had a copy of All Around the Town, so I picked it up and worked my way through it in 5-minute intervals.  The story is fairly typical Clark (young, pretty, well-dressed woman from a world of casual affluence - an 8,000 square foot house in the 1970s, and an assistant prosecutor with a designer wardrobe? -  finds herself in mortal peril and saves herself seconds before the dashing hero completes the rescue).  The book starts with the kidnapping of 4-year-old Laurie Kenyon by an aspiring gospel singer and his wife.  When she's returned to her family two years later, her sister can see that she's been abused but their parents can't cope with the idea and shut it down.   

Fourteen years later, their parents die in a car accident and this trauma brings out the multiple personalities Laurie developed to protect herself from her abuser.  One of these personalities may or may not have been having an affair with a professor married to a gold-digging travel agent.  Naturally, when the professor is murdered, Laurie is the prime suspect.  Her sister, now a prosecutor, resigns from her office to take up Laurie's defense.  In the meantime, Laurie's abuser has become a top televangelist and rekindles his obsession with the girl.  It's a delicately balanced plot, with almost as many near-miss meetings as a screwball comedy but it works, and part of why it works is that the televangelists make minor mistakes which aren't caught because they're buried in conversations.  

There's another reason why I have a bit of a soft spot for All Around the Town.  In the late 80s and early 90s, I frequently ate at the Kenyon Diner in Willow Grove.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with my parents, and on Friday nights with my dad.  We'd sit in the back room where some older guys talked baseball and one of my proudest moments was when, at about 18 or 19, I got a "good point" response to one of my infrequent comments - a response which was my invitation to the ongoing discussion.  One of my solo visits to the Kenyon was on a Sunday morning, with a copy of All Around the Town.  An hour and about 75 pages later, I was approaching the quick-cut finale and there was a line forming at the door.  My waitress came by and refilled my coffee cup instead of asking if I was ready to leave.  That's why the Kenyon is in my personal Diner Hall of Fame.

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