In her eighth novel, Mary Jane Clark spins a suspenseful story around what has become the signature element in her books --- an employee of the fictional organization KEY News encountering dire circumstances.
This time it's reporter Diane Mayfield, who is anticipating a much-needed vacation to the Grand Canyon with her kids when her boss derails the trip. Under threat of being fired if she doesn't accept the assignment, and with her sister and two children in tow, Diane heads to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, to cover a story for the television news magazine "Hourglass."
In this picturesque town on the Jersey Shore, things aren't as idyllic as they seem. Eighteen-year-old Leslie Patterson, who was missing for three days while an all-out search ensued, turns up on the grounds of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Area. She claims to have been kidnapped, held in an unknown place by a man who forced her to dance with him in the dark. (The book shares its title with a song by rocker Bruce Springsteen, who hails from Asbury Park, a town where some of the action in the book takes place.) The authorities, though, believe she faked her own abduction. Their assumption is based in part on the fact that Leslie, who has a history of anorexia and cutting, was recently dumped by her boyfriend, Shawn, and wanted his sympathy. Diane lands an exclusive interview with Leslie for a piece about women who "cry wolf" to get attention.
When a second abduction occurs --- and leads to a murder --- it appears Leslie was telling the truth. Ocean Grove suddenly seems more menacing than scenic, and the clues begin to pile up. From a resident at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Area (a summer resort where vacationers live in colorful tent homes) to Leslie's unconventional therapist to her ex-boyfriend, just about everyone is a suspect and red herrings abound.
Diane is determined to follow up on every lead and be the first to uncover the truth. But her professional and personal paths collide when a member of her family goes missing, and the stakes are suddenly about much more than scooping the competition.
Although the emphasis on anorexia and cutting at times overwhelms the whodunit aspect of the plot, Clark --- a producer at CBS News --- is adept at using short, compelling chapters and vivid writing to keep the action humming along. If you're looking for a fun, fast-paced read for the beach or elsewhere, take a turn with DANCING IN THE DARK.
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on July 21, 2005
Dancing in the Dark