‘Where Are the Children Now?’ by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke is a sequel to the seminal psychological thriller ‘Where Are the Children?’

It’s not often that a sequel is written over four decades after the first book, but in “Where Are the Children Now?” that’s exactly what Alafair Burke has done with Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where Are the Children?” which was published in 1975. While some readers might want to reread the first book, it’s really not necessary as Burke does a masterful job cluing us in as to what transpired all those years before, while making the sharing of that backstory completely natural and a part of the story.

The first quarter of the book moves at a leisurely pace as we are introduced to the characters, and we realize the trauma Melissa and her brother Mike went through when they were young children. We find Nancy, their mother, whose tragic life was the basis for the first novel, grieving the death of her second husband, Mike and Melissa’s father. But we are happy that she had a wonderful, loving life with her husband and finally was able to enjoy life with her new family. We learn about her controlling, abusive, amoral first husband who killed their two children and framed her for the murder. And after Nancy was able to move across the country, change her name, and start a new family, her two children from that new family were kidnapped. She was the immediate suspect. The true killer was her first husband, who had faked his death and decided on revenge.

Mike and Melissa are still dealing with the trauma of what happened in their childhood. Melissa’s method of dealing with it was to repress all memories, but now those memories are starting to surface. It’s interfering with her “choose happiness” motto, and she becomes angry when her brother mentions that terrible time. So when Melissa is struggling after the death of her father and she meets Charlie, a widower, at a group grief counseling session, the attraction is immediate. She also is enchanted by his two-year-old daughter Riley. Within a year he proposes, and at the beginning of the novel they are planning their wedding. The only sticking point is Rachel, Charlie’s sister, who refuses to attend the wedding after not having been at all welcoming to Melissa.

When Mike expresses concern that the whole thing is happening too quickly, and he’s suspicious about the speed with which they are getting married, Melissa is hurt and a bit angry. She dated her last boyfriend, Patrick, for six years before he broke off their relationship. That rejection was heartbreaking for Melissa, and she thought she’d never find someone she could trust with her heart. Charlie seems like the perfect husband. Loving, attentive, thoughtful. She thinks so, and we do, too.

When Riley is kidnapped after we strongly suspect Melissa was drugged, the atmosphere of the story changes. Just like the characters, we are on high alert. It brings back all the horror of Mike and Melissa’s kidnapping, and their mother Nancy is reliving the stress and heartbreak that the disappearance of any child might bring—but it feels personal to her, happening all these years later. Does this have something to do with what happened to Mike and Melissa all those years ago? And we wonder why the author is bringing in all these other characters who seemingly have nothing to do with the story. Is Riley’s kidnapping a deed aimed at Charlie or Melissa, or is it something else?

As we struggle along with the characters to figure out what happened and who is responsible for the kidnapping—and a possible motive—Burke surprises us with the actual perpetrator and the motive. We’ve been looking in one direction for the motive while the actual reason is coming up on us from behind. And the final twist at the end is one that only the most hardened thriller aficionado will have seen coming. I certainly didn’t. This sequel is extraordinarily entertaining and a wonderful thriller that does, indeed, stand on its own.

This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.