All Through the Night

broken Christmas ornament
Broken ornament for a heartbroken mother.

Like her 1995 bestseller Silent Night, Mary Higgins Clark’s All Through the Night is a mystery for the Christmas season. Both novels feature a child in a pivotal role, since threats to children are deemed particularly ugly in December.

All Through the Night opens on a cold December night as a young woman leaves her newborn baby in a secondhand stroller on St. Clement’s rectory steps just as a man inside empties the offering boxes and grabs a precious chalice, setting off the alarm system.

Seven years later, the woman, who has always regretted abandoning her infant, comes to play a concert in Carnegie Hall just as the thief, who grabbed what he thought was an empty stroller to deflect suspicion, makes plans to take “his” daughter to provide cover for his lucrative drug delivery business.

Meanwhile, amateur sleuth Alvirah Meehan and husband, Willy, are trying to prevent an after-school program for poor kids from being closed and to keep their Kate Durbin from losing her home because of what they believe to be a fraudulent will.

There’s little story and less suspense in this novel, but it has snow and lights and a happy ending, which may be enough for Christmas.

All Through the Night: A Suspense Story
by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1998. 170 p.
1999 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Point of Origin

against black background, flames look like a maskPoint of Origin is another of Patricia Cornwell’s complex crime novels solved by a complex crime investigator, Kay Scarpetta, Virginia’s medical examiner.

Point of Origin begins with two seemingly unrelated events. First, a threatening letter from psychopath Carrie Grethen at Ward’s Island, New York City, is delivered to Scarpetta, to remind her that Carrie isn’t finished ruining people’s lives. Second, Scarpetta is called to the scene of a fire in which the home and stables of media mogul Kenneth Sparkes were destroyed while he was away.

Before the fire investigation is a day old, Carrie Grethen escapes from Ward’s Island.

At the fire scene, Scarpetta discovers a corpse in the second-floor bathroom. It’s a woman, throat stabbed or cut, strange bits of what looks almost like neon-pink paper in her hair. Later, Sparkes tells Scarpetta he thinks the corpse is Claire Rawley, a former girlfriend who may have had a key to the house.

Forensic analysis can’t initially explain the amount of fire damage to the property or the corpse.

Scarpetta’s investigation of the cause of death requires her to shop for restaurant-sized pots, a camping supplies, and swimming caps.

Cornwell’s plots are interesting and re-readable, but her characters are recognizably human and unforgettable.

Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell
G.P. Putnam. ©1998. 356 p.
1998 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Unnatural Exposure

body part is missing from gaping blooding woundUnnatural Exposure is a medical mystery by Patricia Cornwell featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Virginia’s medical examiner.

In this novel, Scarpetta has learned that five 10-year-old dismembered bodies found in Ireland, have the same MO as four found in Virginia. She fears that the same killer is responsible for both.

Her fear goes into overdrive when she receives a photo in her email that could only have come from the killer of a fifth recently found body in Sussex County.

The murders are not all totally consistent, however. The most recent victim was exposed to a smallpox-like virus. A woman on Tangier Island off Norfolk has apparently died from the virus and others on the island appear to be sick from it.  Scarpetta herself has been exposed to it.

To solve the mystery, Scarpetta calls on her niece Lucy, an FBI computer expert for help. Lucy enables her aunt to take a virtual tour of the room shown in the photograph from the killer.

Besides fighting to bring the killer to justice, Scarpetta has to fight for her budget, fight to keep the misinformation from the public, fight egocentric politicians, and fight her own nature when it threatens the relationships she holds most dear.

Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell
G. P. Putnam. ©1997. 338 p.
1997 bestseller #6; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Partner by John Grisham

John Grisham’s A running man casts a long shadowThe Partner is a riveting mystery story with a knock-your-socks-off ending.

The novel opens with the kidnapping and brutal interrogation of Danila Silva in a remote Brazilian town.

Silva’s real name is Patrick Lanigan. A former partner in a Biloxi law firm, he supposedly burned to death in a horrible car accident six weeks before a fortune was stolen from the law firm’s off-shore accounts.

His captors have spent four years and $3.5 million finding him.

What did Lanigan do that makes finding him worth that expenditure of time and money?

The interrogation doesn’t reveal where the money went, but it does alert the FBI to Lanigan’s whereabouts. They move in.

Lanigan hires an old pal from law school, Sandy McDermott, to represent him.

By showing the burn marks from the interrogation, Lanigan manages to get himself confined in a hospital room instead of a prison cell.

Despite his unpopularity with his former law partners and his “widow,” Lanigan has a lot of people who like him. The judge at Lanigan’s first court appearance drops by his hospital room for pizza.

Lanigan has planned his caper well,  but Grisham’s plotting of The Partner is even better.

The Partner by John Grisham.
Doubleday. ©1997. 366 p.
1997 bestseller. 1st place (tie)
my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwall

a diver is just visible in murky water
Visibility is limited here.

Although her earlier novels met with critical acclaim and built her an audience, Cause of Death is the first of Patricia Cornwell’s mysteries about forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta to make the bestseller list.

Scarpetta is middle-aged, smart—she has a low law degree as well as medical credentials—feisty, compassionate, and a great cook.

In Cause, on New Year’s Eve a caller who gives the local weather station as his contact number calls Scarpetta to investigate the scuba-diving death of reporter Ted Eddings in the Elizabeth River at the Inactive Ship Yard.

Scarpetta knew Eddings, who was a favorite with people in her office. She finds the cause of death readily enough. The question is why Eddings was diving in that place at that time.

She has barely started her investigation when another suspicious death is reported. This corpse is Danny Webster, found shot to death in a wooded area of Richmond. Danny worked for Scarpetta and was using her car that evening.

Cornwell crafts a tense, complex mystery around very believable, human characters. Readers may not find the answers to life’s perplexing questions in a Cornwell novel, but they’ll certainly get a better understanding of the questions and why they matter.

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell
G. P. Putnam. ©1996. 348 p.
1996 bestseller #9; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Airframe by Michael Crichton

title AIRFRAME is blurred on globe crisscrossed with flight lines Michael Crichton’s Airframe opens with a couple and their infant daughter flying back to America from on a charter flight. Nearing Los Angeles, the plane goes into convulsions.

When the shaking stops, the pilot radios for 40 ambulances to stand by. Two people are already dead.

Norton Aircraft, which built the plane, is in negotiations to sell $8 billion worth of aircraft to China. Bad publicity could kill the deal.

Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance representative on Norton’s Incident Review Team, is promoted to a VP position and assigned to manage the investigation, which normally would take a year or more. Casey is given one week to do the it. By the time she gets the assignment, the charter’s crew have already flown out.

Internal politics make Casey’s situation even more complicated. Union workers are fighting mad over  secret plans to move the company’s most profitable work off-shore. In addition, Casey has been saddled with an assistant who is related to Norton’s owners, has no relevant experience, and thinks he knows everything.

Like Crichton’s earlier bestsellers Disclosure and The Lost World, Airframe is can’t-put-down reading packed with information that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot.

Airframe by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1996. 351 p.
1996 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Vanished by Danielle Steel

cameo of child at center of gray and black dust jacket
The child is gagged.

Vanished is a totally atypical, can’t-put-down mystery from the queen of romance novelists, Danielle Steel.

The story is set in 1938 just after Kristallnacht in Germany and while the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was still fresh in American minds.

Marielle Patterson is the devoted mother of four-year-old Teddy, and dutiful wife of multi-millionaire Malcolm Patterson, for whom she had worked briefly as secretary. Both parents adore Teddy and are polite to each other.

Just hours after Marielle had accidentally run into her ex-husband at a church on the anniversary of the accident in which they lost their just-walking son and unborn daughter, Teddy is kidnapped from his bedroom.

Marielle’s ex-husband, Charles Delauney, is charged with kidnapping. Marielle doesn’t believe Charles could be the kidnapper, but all the evidence points to him.

When the case comes to trial, Marielle’s past marriage, divorce, and the mental problems after losing her children are made public. Malcolm blames Marielle for the kidnapping.

Without family or close friends, Marielle comes to rely on an FBI special agent for emotional support through an ugly trial in which the prosecutor tries to make it look as if Marielle is to blame for the kidnapping.

Steel wraps up the story in manner both hopeful and realistic.

Vanished by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1993. 304 p.
1993 bestseller #6; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

All Around the Town

bloody handprint on a curtain on open sliding doorIf you’ve watched television in the last 50 years, you’ve seen pieces of the plot of All Around the Town many times in old movies.

The plot’s container is the tale of Laurie Kenyon, a college student accused of murdering her English professor. Her fingerprints are all over his bedroom.

Laurie was kidnapped at age 4 and sexually abused for two years before the kidnappers abandoned her. When she is arrested for murder, the four personalities she developed to cope with her trauma emerge.

Laurie’s sister, a lawyer, takes on her defense, aided by a handsome, unmarried psychiatrist.

When they abducted Laurie, Bic and Opal Hawkins were tavern entertainers. Laurie’s arrest coincides Bic hitting the big time as a TV evangelist. Using their TV names, Rev. Bobby and Carla Hawkins, they pose as buyers for the Kenyon sisters’ home, which allows them to wiretap it so the reverend can get rid of Laurie if one of her personalities names him as her kidnapper.

Mary Higgins Clark mashes all these implausible elements together, sweetening the mix with even more implausible elements.

In the end, the implausibilities don’t matter. No sensible reader could care about any of these characters. They’ll be relieved at the story’s end when Laurie goes off to play golf.

All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1992. 302 p.
1992 bestseller #10; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Loves Music, Loves to Dance

A high-heeled shoe stands in a puddle of bloodLoves Music, Loves to Dance explores the dark side of media-mediated dating 1990s.

Two college friends work in New York. Erin Kelley is recognized as a rising star among jewelry designers. Darcy Scott is carving a niche for herself as decorator for the budget-conscious.

The two women are helping a third friend, a TV producer, with research for a documentary by placing and responding to personal column ads and keeping notes on the experiences.

One Tuesday evening after she was to meet a guy from an ad, Erin disappears. Later, her body is found on an abandoned pier. She’s wearing her own shoe on one foot, a high-heeled dance shoe on the other.

A cop tells Vince D’Ambrosio, FBI investigator specializing in serial killers, about Darcy’s unsuccessful attempt to file a missing person report on Erin.

Vince springs into action, investigating red herrings Mary Higgins Clark has sprinkled through the novel like ice melt in January, missing the clue that practically stands up and yells, “CLUE.”

At least Clark has the sense not to pair Darcy off with Vince.

With its big print and lavish use of white space, Loves Music, Loves to Dance will occupy readers for a couple hours before they toddle off to an early bedtime.

Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1991. 319 p.
1991 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford

a red ribbon tied on the b in remember is cover artBarbara Taylor Bradford sets the opening of Remember in 1989 China where TV reporter Nicky Wells and photographer Cleeland Donovan cover the student protests.

Friends before Tiananmen Square, Nicky and Clee become sex partners afterward. Clee loves Nicky; she’s not sure she loves him.

Nicky has never recovered from losing Charles Devereaux, who is believed to have committed suicide—he left a note for his mother—but whose body has never been found.

One day, Nicky sees on a TV news broadcast from Rome, a man who she is sure is Charles.

Nicky goes into investigative reporter mode to find out why he faked suicide. She suspects he might have been involved in drug trafficking or illegal munitions sales: His international wine business plus his aristocratic connections would have provided ample cover for either.

Each of the trails Nicky follows ends in a dead end, until she learns details about his parents.

The Tiananmen Square details and the European travelogue is interesting, but Nicki’s pursuit of the truth about her ex-lover has all the drama of reporting on a zoning board application.

Although the dust jacket promises readers will never forget Remember, I had forgotten most of it the morning after I’d read it.

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Random House. ©1991. 381 p.
1991 bestseller #9; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni