A Mystery Wrapped with a Pretty Bow

My mother-in-law bought me this audio book for one of my long driving trips to and from Roseville and Eureka. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that this was an abridged copy of the novel, so it was only three hours of listening time for $9.99. Still, it was better than nothing, and I did enjoy the nostalgia feeling derived from reading a Mary Higgins Clark book. I used to be a major fan when I was in middle and high school, and I remember reading and solving these mysteries easily.

You Belong To Me was no different from others that I have read. I knew who the perpetrator was early in disc one, which did lessen the enjoyment somewhat. After all, you want a puzzle that keeps you guessing and second-guessing until the very end. Despite this flaw, the story was still interesting purely because the protagonist and heroine Dr. Susan Chandler was a complete buffoon whose inability to consider the consequences of her actions led to the deaths of many innocent people. As I listened to the audio book, I couldn’t help guessing who would die next because of Chandler’s fumbling.

The story takes place in New York City, and the majority of the action involves Susan Chandler’s talk show Ask Dr. Susan . Chandler uses her show to investigate the disappearance of females who took world cruises and never returned home. In the audio book, it’s a little difficult to understand why Dr. Chandler gets involved in these missing women cases. During one of her segments, Chandler invites Dr. Donald Richards, a criminologist/psychiatrist/author to talk about his book Vanishing Women and the plight of lonely women who are preyed upon by calculating killers. During this segment, the reader learns that Chandler is specifically obsessed with the latest disappearance of stock analyst Regina Clausen. This is when reading the abridged version limits the listener because, as it turns out, Clausen helped Susan with an investment that made her a lot of money. Thus, she feels indebted to the missing woman and wants to solve the crime for Regina’s mother. These and many other “non-pertinent” details are left out in order to keep the pace of the read brisk for an abridged audio book.

There are quite a few characters, and most of them end up dead. The important ones are all the men who want to date Susan Chandler and the ones working for Jane Clausen, Regina’s mother. In the abridged book, all the development is superficial. I didn’t really care about any of the characters, not even Susan. I did enjoy the interactions between Susan and her sister Dee, who is a terrible sister! Considering that Susan is an ex-district attorney turned psychologist, you would think she could analyze the behavior of her sister as well as the man abducting the women better. Instead, she bumbles around relying on her “feelings” to solve the crime. To be honest, I was very surprised that she had a job let alone a successful talk show.

There were no specific themes, motifs, or literary elements used in this read. It’s your typical mystery that follows a generic plot. The only interesting aspect was the changes in narrative perspective. Some chapters are told from the third person perspective of Susan Chandler while other chapters are told from the third person perspective of supporting characters. I did enjoy the use of the song “You Belong to Me,” and it’s incorporation as part of the mystery. Unfortunately, there was no fancy singing production version included in the audio book, probably because of copyright reasons or the costs to obtain licensing. A very minor character sings part of the refrain, which helps Susan solve the mystery, but it’s not the same quality or feel as one of the more well-known singers performing the song.

I did a little research about the lyrics of “You Belong to Me,” purely because the book sparked an interest in the song. It was originally a country record. It was covered by many artists including Jo Stafford, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Gene Vincent, to name a few. The Duprees had a hit with it in 1958, and it’s the version alluded to in the novel. The reason for the use of the song in relation to the missing girls is all mixed up in the abducter’s strange and crazy logic, which I won’t spoil here. You’ll have to see if you can solve the mystery on your own.

There was no unique message to this novel. It’s purpose is simple– to entertain. It somewhat accomplished this fact for me. It’s a thriller, suspense, mystery novel that is supposed to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Maybe I am too familiar with Clark’s writing style/formula to ever be surprised. This aspect didn’t bother me as much as the abridgment did. One of the biggest downfalls of this copy is that the characters are even less developed than usual. To begin with, Clark doesn’t go into a lot of depth when it comes to her characters, and many important points were cut out. This makes certain tense relationships difficult to follow or even understand why the relations are so stressed in the first place, such as Susan and her mother, Susan and her sister, or Susan and her father and stepmother. Luckily, the constant changes in perspective for each chapter makes it easier to overlook this failing. The plot and scenery of New York City (traffic, crowds, taxis, restaurants, stores, etc.) make the novel fun, especially for someone who’s never been to this city.

This book is very similar to Mary Higgins Clark’s other novels. There was even a film made about it, but it’s not rated very well online. I haven’t seen it myself, so I can’t compare the two, but after reading the book, I do think it would make a better film than novel.

The audio book reader is Jayne Atkinson. As far as my experiences with readers, Atkinson was rather boring. She spoke in a quiet, almost psychologist doctor voice, probably emulating Dr. Susan Chandler. It was a novel idea at first, but I got rather bored with that voice as the story progressed. Atkinson didn’t make a big effort to change the other characters’ voices, minus a couple of Brooklyn or New Jersey accents for some female side characters. A more creative reader would have made this audio book more enjoyable.

Overall, I got what was paid for. There is only a small amount of suspense in You Belong To Me by Mary Higgins Clark and no actual “thrill” factor. I would categorize it as a predictable mystery read. I don’t recommend this version of the audio book–please purchase the UNABRIDGED copy! I do recommend the unabridged version to anyone who enjoys mysteries in which the plot moves the story, not the characters. A nice feature of all of Clark’s books is that loose ends are usually tied up by the end of the novel (not the case with the abridged audio book).

Don’t expect too much from this audio book other than a fast read.