I Heard That Song Before
At the center of her novel is Kay Lansing, who has grown up in Englewood, New Jersey, daughter of the landscaper to the wealthy and powerful Carrington family. Their mansion -- a historic seventeenth-century manor house transported stone by stone from Wales in 1848 -- has a hidden chapel. One day, accompanying her father to work, six-year-old Kay succumbs to curiosity and sneaks into the chapel. There, she overhears a quarrel between a man and a woman who is demanding money from him. When she says that this will be the last time, his caustic response is: "I heard that song before."
That same evening, the Carringtons hold a formal dinner dance after which Peter Carrington, a student at Princeton, drives home Susan Althorp, the eighteen-year-old daughter of neighbors. While her parents hear her come in, she is not in her room the next morning and is never seen or heard from again.
Throughout the years, a cloud of suspicion hangs over Peter Carrington. At age forty-two, head of the family business empire, he is still "a person of interest" in the eyes of the police, not only for Susan Althorp's disappearance but also for the subsequent drowning death of his own pregnant wife in their swimming pool.
Kay Lansing, now living in New York and working as a librarian in Englewood, goes to see Peter Carrington to ask for permission to hold a cocktail party on his estate to benefit a literacy program, which he later grants. Kay comes to see Peter as maligned and misunderstood, and when he begins to court her after the cocktail party, she falls in love with him. Over the objections of her beloved grandmother Margaret O'Neil, who raised her after her parents' early deaths, she marries him. To her dismay, she soon finds that he is a sleepwalker whose nocturnal wanderings draw him to the spot at the pool where his wife met her end.
Susan Althorp's mother, Gladys, has always been convinced that Peter Carrington is responsible for her daughter's disappearance, a belief shared by many in the community. Disregarding her husband's protests about reopening the case, Gladys, now terminally ill, has hired a retired New York City detective to try to find out what happened to her daughter. Gladys wants to know before she dies.
Kay, too, has developed gnawing doubts about her husband. She believes that the key to the truth about his guilt or innocence lies in the scene she witnessed as a child in the chapel and knows she must learn the identity of the man and woman who quarreled there that day. Yet, she plunges into this pursuit realizing that "that knowledge may not be enough to save my husband's life, if indeed it deserves to be saved." What Kay does not even remotely suspect is that uncovering what lies behind these memories may cost her her own life.
I Heard That Song Before once again dramatically reconfirms Mary Higgins Clark's worldwide reputation as a master storyteller.
Mary Higgins Clark, Queen of Suspense
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Reading Group Guide
1. "It may be that I've set my standards too high, but ever since I was young, I've been into the classic love stories of the Brontë sisters" (page 29). Discuss any similarities between Kay's story and the stories of the Brontë sisters.
2. The novel alternates between Kay's first-person narration and the third-person omniscient narrator. What did you like or dislike about this format?
3. When Kay finds Peter sleepwalking from the pool, she asks herself, "why, in that altered state, did he go through the motions of trying to push something into the pool or pull something from it?" (page 50). What is the answer to Kay's question?
4. Of the following quotes, which, if any, do you feel is the main theme of the novel:
• "There are none so blind as those who will not see" (page 153).
• "Money! That's the cause of most crimes, isn't it? Love or money"(page 220).
• "But even when you're crazy about someone, at some point you can have enough" (page 289).
5. "But to anticipate something, and then to see it actually take place, is the difference between nightmare and reality" (page 99). Is Kay brave or naïve for standing by her man? Explain your answer.
6. The Carrington mansion itself is an important part of this story. What is its role and what does the house symbolize?
7. "I never forget the fact that I am their employee, but I am als see more