Pros: Well-developed characters give us a bunch of interesting suspects.
Cons: Choppy writing style.
Dancing In The Dark is my first Mary Jane Clark novel. I'm left feeling similar to how I feel after reading her former mother-in-law (Mary Higgins Clark). The story held my interest and I turned the pages quickly to find out "whodunit". But it falls into the "lightweight" category. It's a super-quick read that I won't remember by next week.
Diane is a reporter for KEY news. Her husband is serving time for a white-collar crime, so Diane is suddenly a single mother to two teenagers. When a major news story breaks out on the New Jersey shore, Diane is forced to cancel the family's vacation. Instead she arrives at Ocean Grove, with her kids, in order to write a story on "girls who cry wolf".
Leslie Patterson was found, bound and gagged, but otherwise unharmed. She tells everyone that she was abducted, held against her will for three days, and forced to dance with her abductor. But no one believes her. Why? Because she has a history of "pulling stunts". Under a therapist's care for anorexia and self-mutilation, clearly this is a girl who "acts out" for attention.
But when a second girl goes missing, suddenly Leslie's story sounds a bit more plausible. Now Diane's focus has shifted - as she's on the scene of a town that's turning to panic. While Diane is investigating the two abductions, a third victim goes missing. Suddenly, the idyllic town of Ocean Grove doesn't seem so quaint - in fact there are suspects everywhere. But which one is abducting young women - and why hasn't Diane's own son come home?
I particularly enjoyed the character development in this book. Everyone we meet is well-defined. And it's a good thing - because there are MANY characters to deal with. It seems that the strategy was to introduce us to many residents of Ocean Grove, so that we have an army's worth of suspects. There's the therapist with "interesting" techniques. There's the real estate agent who harbors a tragic past, and a grudge. There's the husband at wit's end with his wife's religious beliefs. There's the war veteran mental health patient. And there's the boyfriend of the first two abduction victims. All of these characters have their own stories, and we get to hear them. It's a lot to keep track of, but we are certainly provided with an interesting array of suspects! Throughout the story, I found myself changing my mind quite a few times about who the bad guy would turn out to be.
And I liked the fact that this book contains absolutely nothing "objectionable". No bad language or graphic violence, and absolutely no sex. Finally! A book where the author doesn't feel the need to delve into anybody's bedroom activities. The worst we have to deal with in this book are a couple of bratty teenagers who are at times a bit disrespectful to their Mom.
We do explore the sad themes of teenage girls acting out in various ways. Anorexia, self-mutilation, and the tolls these behaviors take on the girls and their families. Without becoming overly preachy, the author makes one solid point. These girls need help. As difficult as such behaviors are to talk about, turning a blind eye will not make it go away.
My only real complaint about this book is the writing style, itself. Short chapters that are sometimes only a single page, are frequently broken into subsections that might be only a couple sentences long. The thoughts come off as "choppy", rather than free-flowing.
Still, that's a minor complaint. With a satisfying ending, this is a quick-read mystery that will please the reader.
Also by Mary Jane Clark
Dying For Mercy
Hide Yourself Away