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Literature / On the Street Where You Live

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On the Street Where You Live is a 2001 crime suspense novel by Mary Higgins Clark.

Criminal defence attorney Emily Graham has been having a difficult year. Not only did her cheating ex-husband attempt to sue her after she came into $10 million worth of stocks, but she was terrorised by a stalker who was only recently caught, revealed to be the son of a murdered woman whose accused killer Emily helped acquit. Desperately needing a change of scenery, Emily takes a new job in Manhattan and uses her unexpected financial windfall to purchase the Shapley house, a recently-renovated Victorian house located in the sleepy seaside town of Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Emily has a personal connection to the house: she is directly descended from the original owners, the Shapleys, and grew up hearing her grandmother's tales of how Emily's great-great-aunt, Madeline Shapley, disappeared without a trace at the age of 19 on September 7th 1891, with the mystery remaining unsolved for over a century. In the present day, Emily's peace is disrupted by a much more recent crime when the renovations of the Shapley house unearth the body of Martha Lawrence, a 21-year-old Spring Lake resident who vanished four-and-a-half years ago on September 7th. In a bizarre twist, a second and much older skeleton is also found in the grave, whilst Martha's body was buried clutching a skeletal finger wearing Madeline's ring.

Emily is convinced that Martha's murder is somehow connected to the disappearance of her ancestor, especially with their disappearances occuring on the exact same date nearly a century apart, and sets out to uncover what really happened to both young women. But when her stalker seemingly begins targeting her again and more bodies turn up, Emily starts to realise that Martha's killer may intend for her to meet a grisly end, too.

Tropes found in this novel include:

  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • Bob Frieze's second wife Natalie is much younger than him (he's in his late fifties, she's in her early thirties). It's clearly more of a Marriage of Convenience than one of love; Natalie married Bob because he's rich, Bob married Natalie to get an attractive young Trophy Wife. After five years there's no warmth or passion left in their marriage.
    • Back when he was president of Enoch College, Clayton Wilcox had a brief affair with Gina Fielding, a 20-year-old scholarship student; Clayton's marriage wasn't going well due to his wife's controlling and overly-critical behaviour, while according to Clayton, Gina was a "very worldly twenty-year-old". When Clayton realised how foolish he was being and broke off the affair, Gina threatened to report him for sexual harassment, saying she'd tell everyone that Clayton coerced her into a relationship by threatening to take away her scholarship. Clayton paid Gina $100,000 to stay quiet and resigned from his job, claiming health issues, to avoid any potential scandal.
    • Less than a year after his first wife died, Richard Carter remarried twenty-three year-old Lavinia Rowe, mentioned as being half his age. Despite the hastiness of the marriage and the large age gap, the townsfolk wished the couple happiness, especially after Richard suffered through his first wife's long illness and death, and his son's death (big age gaps between couples also weren't as unusual in the 19th century). Richard died thirteen years later and Lavinia wasn't exactly heartbroken, writing a friend that she felt she and her daughter would be better off because Richard's coldness had made things so dysfunctional at home. The large age gap between the couple is also a hint that Richard had an unhealthy fixation on much younger women.
  • Awful Wedded Life:
    • Clayton and Rachel Wilcox are both miserable in their marriage; Rachel finds fault with everything Clayton does and constantly tries to pick fights (including bringing up petty issues that happened years ago), while Clayton just tries to placate her and silently endures her rants. Their marriage has been bad for years, with Clayton once cheating on Rachel, which only made things worse when Rachel found out; she's never let him forget how it resulted in him having to give up his cushy job at Enoch College, but she also never considered leaving the marriage despite her obvious contempt for him (nor she does ever acknowledge her own failings in the relationship). Rachel moves out when Clayton's cheating scandal becomes public knowledge, with many people predicting it will finally motivate them to get divorced. Clayton isn't too upset about it, seeming relieved more than anything.
    • Bob and Natalie Frieze married for purely shallow reasons and after five years it shows; they hardly ever spend time together, when they are together it tends to devolve into arguments about Bob's poor financial decisions and how much Natalie hates living in Spring Lake, Natalie indicates they've stopped having sex and they both rather blatantly flirt with other people. In the second half of the novel, they start seriously contemplating divorce as they're both sick of each other; they can't even discuss this civilly, with both of them threatening each other.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: Emily recalls that she'd just arrived home in Albany after visiting her parents in Chicago and walked into the house with her suitcases, where she found her now ex-husband Gary and ex-best friend Barbara canoodling. Emily simply picked her cases up, walked right back out the house and checked into a hotel.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • During one of their many conversations, Will mentions to Emily that his mother is originally from Denver and that she moved back there with him after getting divorced. It seems pretty innocuous until the climax, where Emily reads an old diary entry mentioning that Richard Carter's second wife and their daughter moved from Spring Lake to Denver following Richard's death. Emily realises this could mean Will is related to Richard, who she has also determined was a serial killer, thus making Will a prime suspect in the continuation of his ancestor's crimes. Will soon confirms Emily's suspicions.
    • It's mentioned that Natalie gave up smoking when she married Bob five years ago, something she found difficult and frustrating, and she would sometime sneak cigarettes behind his back. On the night Martha Lawrence went missing and the scarf used to strangle her was taken from the Lawrence house, Natalie had slipped outside to the back porch for a smoke where the party guests couldn't see her. Consequently, she saw Will leaving by the back entrance, headed in the same direction as the boardwalk where Martha liked to take her evening jogs. Upon recalling this, Natalie realises that Will is likely Martha's killer; unfortunately for Natalie, Will realises this too.
  • Clothing Combat: Martha Lawrence is found buried with a piece of scarf - silvery-grey in colour with metallic beading - which was used to strangle her. Rachel Wilcox owned an identical scarf, which went missing at a house party the Lawrences threw the night before Martha went missing. Carla Harper was also strangled with the scarf, with another section being buried with her. The detectives note it looks like there's a third section of scarf still unaccounted for, meaning the killer likely intends it for a third victim. The killer attempts to strangle Emily with the scarf piece in the climax and is still clutching it when he's shot.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • When Natalie threatens to tell the police she suspects Bob of being the killer if he doesn't cough up enough cash in a divorce settlement, Bob grabs her arm hard enough that it's left bruised and swollen, and aggressively states that she should be more worried about herself. Natalie later confides in Will she's now genuinely afraid of her husband and what he might do to her. When Natalie is murdered, Bob becomes the number one suspect after admitting they'd argued and even he can't be certain he didn't do it because of his black-outs (he didn't).
    • The police and Emily speculate that Richard intentionally upped his first wife's laudanum doses and lied to her about things she'd seen or heard to hide his crimes from her.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Madeline's killer wrote in his journal that she fought for her life when he fatally strangled her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Emily learns that Douglas Carter, Madeline Shapley's almost-fiance, committed suicide a few years after her disappearance; it's said he blamed himself for what happened as he'd been travelling from New York to Spring Lake to propose to her, but he missed his train and had to catch a later one, during which time Madeline went missing. It later turns out that he was actually killed in a fight with his father and his death was made to look like suicide.
  • Extremely Cold Case: Emily Graham and to a lesser extent the local police start investigating the disappearance and likely murders of three young women, Madeline Shapley, Letitia Gregg and Ellen Swain, who all vanished in Spring Lake over a hundred years ago in the 1890s (Madeline in 1891, Letitia in 1893, Ellen in 1896). It's evident that these cold cases are somehow related to the much more recent disappearances of Martha Lawrence (in 1996) and Carla Harper (in 1998), especially with Martha's body being found alongside Madeline's. Emily believes Martha and Carla's killer found out who killed Madeline, Letitia and Ellen, and that solving the older crimes will help the solve the modern ones; it's also personal for her as Madeline was her great-great aunt. Emily relies on old town records, newspaper articles, letters and diaries from the 1890s and early 1900s, plus her grandmother's recollections of things her own grandmother (Madeline's younger sister) had told her, to piece together clues.
  • Finally Found the Body:
    • Martha Lawrence disappeared without a trace over four years ago, but her family and the police have accepted that she's dead given how long she's been gone and how out-of-character it would be for her to run away. While builders are excavating the Shapley house garden for a pool, they uncover a young woman's body wrapped in plastic; forensic tests confirm the remains are Martha's, although everyone already knew it would be her. The identity of the other skeleton in the grave is less obvious, though, given it's been in the ground much longer.
    • The second skeleton found buried in the Shapley garden is confirmed to Madeline Shapley, a young woman who disappeared from the family property 110 years ago in 1891. The fact Martha was buried alongside Madeline - with Martha holding Madeline's fingerbone and ring - suggests Martha's killer somehow found out who killed Madeline and where she was buried all this time.
    • The killer anonymously sends a postcard to Emily revealing where Letitia Gregg, a young woman who disappeared in 1893, and Carla Harper, a young woman who vanished two and a half years ago, are both buried. The police search the property indicated and indeed find the bodies.
  • Has a Type: Richard Carter had a predatory attraction to much younger women. He had a wife his own age, but he was no longer attracted to her, especially as she was often heavily dosed with laudanum due to her health condition (it's also implied he was mostly with her for her fortune). Richard was attracted to Madeline Shapley, his 19-year-old neighbour and his own son's intended bride, and Madeline's friend 18-year-old Letitia Gregg; he didn't take it well when both women rejected his advances. After his first wife died, he quickly married a 23-year-old, Lavinia Rowe, when he was 46; Emily finds a diary entry from Lavinia's friend mentioning that Lavinia was secretly relieved when Richard died just over a decade later, due to how cold and off-putting he was after the wedding.
  • Hates Their Parent: Will has been estranged from his father for decades; when his father turns up at his office trying to build bridges, Will gives him a furious "Reason You Suck" Speech and screams at him to Get Out!. Will explains to Emily his father was always emotionally distant and that he resented him for cheating on and divorcing his mother. The incident where Will was charged with vehicular manslaughter when he was 15 cemented his hatred for his father; Will's father refused to believe his son was innocent and wouldn't even hire a decent lawyer for him despite money not being an issue. That said, the revelation that Will was actually put away for attacking a girl and has displayed psychopathic traits from an early age casts doubt on his claims about his father, though either way he hates the guy.
  • If I Can't Have You…:
    • Emily considers the possibility that Alan Carter murdered Madeline Shapley; he was said to be smitten with her but she was planning to marry his cousin, Douglas Carter. Alan also lived close to the Shapley house and didn't have a strong alibi for her disappearance. Emily later realises that Madeline and her friend Letitia were killed for turning down a Carter's romantic advances, but the culprit wasn't Alan but his uncle Richard; he murdered Madeline and Letitia not just for rejecting him, but also because he knew his reputation in town would be ruined when his actions inevitably came out.
    • Eric Bailey's obsessive thoughts towards Emily and visible anger at the suggestion of her being with another man suggest he's thinking of killing her, after she'd gently turned down his suggestion they go on a date (she's clueless he's infatuated with her). When Eric sees surveillance footage of the local serial killer breaking into Emily's house and lying in wait for her, he sits back to watch the impending murder, never once considering trying to save Emily or alerting the police.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: While a police detective is interviewing Ned about why he showed up at Emily's house with a knife, Ned said he just wanted to see Emily look as frightened as his mother did before she was fatally stabbed (with Ned blaming Emily for getting the man charged with the murder acquitted). Something about the way Ned says it bothers the detective. The detective digs deeper into why Ned knew what his mother's last expression was – especially as for all he knew she was caught off-guard and never saw her killer coming) and gets Ned to confess that he killed his mother, so he would've known exactly how his mother's final moments played out.
  • Jerkass:
    • Emily's ex-husband Gary White is a massive tool; Emily's grandmother thought she was making a mistake when she married him and in hindsight Emily agrees, seeing as Gary turned out to be a selfish, greedy jerk who cheated on her with her best friend, made their divorce as difficult as possible, then had the audacity to try and sue her for millions of dollars three years after the divorce was finalised. He's not even with his affair partner anymore, instead dumping her to go off with other women. He's also known for being terrible with money, mostly leeching off his family's wealth (even they are unwilling to let him work for them due to his incompetence), hence why he pettily tried to sue his ex-wife when she came into money. The police consider the possibility that he might be Emily's stalker, or is at least copying the stalker's modus operandi, purely to spite her.
    • Rachel Wilcox is generally unpleasant, to the point her own husband can barely stand her. She's a sour and sanctimonious grudgeholder, who constantly finds something or someone to complain about and insists on always being right. When Martha Lawrence's body is finally found, Rachel only briefly expresses her sympathy for the family, then quickly moves on to complaining about the inconvenience of the police questioning her and her husband about the case, and berates her husband for losing her favourite scarf at the Lawrences' house (which at this point was over four years ago).
  • Karma Houdini: Richard Carter went to his grave with no one knowing he was responsible for the deaths of Madeline, Letitia, Ellen and his own son, and indirectly hastened his first wife's death; although he died of illness in his late 50s and wasn't fondly remembered by his widow, he still died a rich man, remarried and became a father again, and got to live a relatively full life (more than can be said for his victims), with no one knowing of his crimes until over a century later.
  • Lethal Eatery: While calling it lethal is going a bit far seeing as no one has actually gotten food poisoning, the food served at Bob Frieze's The Seasoner is repeatedly described as mediocre at best and extremely overpriced, which is a big reason why the restaurant is haemorrhaging money.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Emily views Eric, a former client she successfully defended and became friends with, as being like a younger brother to her. Eric is actually infatuated with Emily, to the point of dangerous obsession. Emily is shocked and disturbed when she finds out, especially as she had truly cared for Eric in a platonic way.
  • Matricide: It turns out that Ned Koehler was the one who killed his own mother; Ned had unthinkingly left the door to their apartment open, allowing opportunistic burglar Joel Lake to simply walk in. As this wasn't the first time this had happened, Ruth began berating Ned for his carelessness. Ned lost his temper and fatally stabbed his mother with a kitchen knife that was lying nearby.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Emily states she doesn't believe in reincarnation, let alone that Will was the reincarnation of his murderous great-grandfather Richard (as he believes). There's also a perfectly mundane explanation for how Will knew of his great-grandfather's crimes: he found Richard's journal detailing everything when he was fourteen. However, in the ending Emily does find it extremely eerie when she sees a photograph of Richard holding a long scarf with metallic beading; Will used a very similar scarf to commit his crimes, but it's unlikely he ever saw this photograph as it was stashed in the attic of the Lawrence house.
  • Middle Name Basis: This forms an important plot point. Emily finds references to Douglas Carter in old letters and diaries confusing, because the only Douglas Carter she knows of died in 1892, yet one person states her suspicions that Douglas murdered Madeline; he seemingly had an alibi for Madeline's death and he couldn't have murdered the other missing girls, who were likely killed by the same person. There's also a diary entry dated 1911, where it's mentioned that "Douglas" died a year ago, leaving behind a wife and young child. Emily's grandmother explains that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common for fathers to name their sons after themselves and go by their middle names to avoid confusion: Douglas Carter's father was also named Douglas Carter (as was his father before him), but typically went by his middle name, Richard.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Will Stafford confides in Emily that when he was nearly 16, he was riding in a car with his friend, who was drink driving. His friend crashed the car and persuaded Will to take the blame, as he'd probably get a lighter sentence due to being too young to be tried as an adult. However, they later learned that Will's friend had fatally struck a 15-year-old girl when he crashed; Will tried to tell the truth but he was blamed for the girl's death, with his friend lying on the stand and Will's own father refusing to believe or support him. Will subsequently got a year in a juvenile detention centre and has never forgiven his father, although due to being a minor his record was sealed and didn't prevent him from becoming a real estate lawyer. It's later revealed this isn't true. He was rightfully sentenced to three years detention for assaulting a 15-year-old girl, who he'd intended to kill; he was interrupted when others heard the girl's screams.
  • Never My Fault: Tabloid journalist Reba Ashby writes and publishes an article revealing that Bernice Joyce thinks she saw who took the scarf used to strangle Martha Lawrence and Carla Harper. When Bernice is soon murdered before she can go to the cops, Reba quickly reassures herself that it couldn't possibly be because of what she wrote.
  • Never Suicide: Emily starts to wonder if Douglas Carter really killed himself out of grief over Madeline Shapley, or if he was actually murdered because he'd found out who killed Madeline. It eventually turns out Douglas had realised his own father killed Madeline and had confronted him with a gun; there was a struggle and Douglas was killed, with Richard successfully making it look like suicide. It's unclear from Richard's journal entries if he intentionally killed his son or if it was an accident.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: When the police arrest Eric for stalking Emily, they discover he's watching a live feed from inside Emily's house, where she's currently at the the mercy of the serial killer. This alerts the police to what's happening, enabling them to get to the house to save Emily just in the nick of time.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A few years back, Emily agreed to defend Eric Bailey pro bono when he and his tech company got in a legal battle with a larger company. She won the case, saving his company, and happily accepted the $10 million worth of tech stock he offered her as thanks, while continuing to use his services such as buying security systems off him. Eric turns out to be the one who has been stalking Emily for over a year, resenting her for not returning his romantic feelings and even irrationally blaming her for his company's financial troubles because she chose to sell the stock he gifted her.
  • Not Good with Rejection:
    • Joel Lake was attracted to Emily Graham and tried to put the moves on her. Emily was quick to shut it down, both because as his defence attorney it was incredibly inappropriate and was because he wasn't remotely her type. Joel didn't take it well, mockingly suggesting to Emily that he was guilty of murder after she got him acquitted to mentally torture her. The police also investigate whether he's been stalking Emily. Joel hasn't been stalking Emily and he is actually innocent of murder, admitting he only suggested otherwise purely to get back at Emily for rejecting his sexual advances.
    • Part of Eric's motive for stalking and tormenting Emily for over a year is her turning down his romantic advances; Emily actually doesn't realise Eric has romantic feelings for her, thinking he was joking when he asked her on a date and lightly saying they shouldn't ruin a good friendship; Emily genuinely does see Eric as a friend and he's never outwardly given her another impression, while privately he seethes over her rejection and his belief that Emily doesn't see him as 'good enough' for her.
  • Not Me This Time:
    • Joel Lake is a sleazy career criminal and he did rob Ruth Koehler's house, but it turns out he actually didn't kill Ruth and so Emily was morally in the clear when she got him off on the murder charge. Joel had mockingly told Emily after he was acquitted that he might've killed Ruth, but he only did that to make her uncomfortable after she turned down his sexual advances.
    • Ned Koehler was the one who actually killed his mother Ruth, but he's also telling the truth about not stalking Emily Graham (he only went to her house once, on the night he was arrested for stalking her).
    • Eric Bailey is revealed to be Emily's stalker, but he has nothing to do with the murders in Spring Lake.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Richard Carter was an especially sinister example towards his would-be daughter-in-law Madeline. He was still married to Douglas' ailing mother and knew his son intended to marry Madeline, but it didn't stop him from trying to force a kiss on Madeline and suggesting she become his mistress. When Madeline furiously rejected him, Richard strangled her to death so she could never tell anyone what he'd done.
  • Posthumous Sibling: Douglas Carter was this to his much younger sister, Margaret Carter; several years after Richard Carter lost his son Douglas and his first wife, he married again and had a baby daughter, Margaret. Margaret turns out to have been Will Stafford's maternal grandmother, making him Richard's great-grandson.
  • Practically Different Generations:
    • Emily Graham mentions that her two brothers are ten and twelve years older than her and they jokingly call her "the afterthought", implying she was the result of an unplanned pregnancy.
    • Richard Carter's daughter Margaret - from his second marriage - was born in 1900, over twenty years after his son Douglas was born; he'd died by an apparent suicide several years earlier (with Richard's first wife dying a few years after their son's death).
  • Predecessor Villain: Whoever was responsible for the disappearances of three young women in 1890s Spring Lake, including the protagonist Emily's great-great aunt. While the culprit would be long dead by this point, his actions continue to cast a shadow over the town and directly influence the crimes of a modern serial killer. Emily believes identifying the 1890s killer could help identify and stop the current killer, given the latter clearly knows a lot about the 1890s killings. He's revealed to be Richard Carter, Madeline's would-be father-in-law and great-grandfather of the current killer.
  • Reincarnation: The serial killer believes himself to be the reincarnation of the man who killed three women in Spring Lake in the 1890s; due to the similarities between the crimes, the media also start spreading stories of a reincarnated serial killer. While most of the characters dismiss the reincarnation theory as woo woo (and even some people who do believe in reincarnation point out it doesn't match common beliefs around reincarnationnote ), it's undeniable the modern killer strongly identifies with his 19th century predecessor. It's revealed that Will Stafford is a direct descendant of Richard Carter (he's his great-grandson) and discovered his ancestor's crimes via a secret journal he found during a visit to the ancestral home.
  • Retail Therapy: To cope with her strained marriage and her frustration over being stuck in a small town where she's not well-liked, Natalie regularly splurges on designer clothing and makeovers. Unfortunately, this only worsens matters because her husband gets stressed and argues with her about spending so much on unnecessary luxuries when his finances are in poor shape, nor does it improve the townsfolk's opinions of her.
  • Serial Killer: It becomes evident that a serial killer is operating in Spring Lake, fatally strangling a young woman every few years to match up with the disappearances of three young women back in the 1890s (who were also apparently victims of a serial killer). Based on his modus operandi, the police and media predict that the killer will strike again by the end of March.
  • Serial Spouse: Will tells Emily that his father left his mother to marry his secretary when Will was twelve and that the secretary turned out the be "the first of three successive spouses".
  • The Shrink: Dr Lillian Madden is a psychologist who specialises in regression therapy and believes in reincarnation, including the belief that pain or unresolved issues from past lives can affect a person's current well-being. While her beliefs around reincarnation are perceived as a bit kooky by some, she appears to be a decent therapist (given how busy she gets) who genuinely cares about her patients and she gives lectures on the subject. She's deeply concerned when the media bring up the possibility of a reincarnated serial killer continuing his killing spree from the 1890s, especially as she recalls briefly treating a patient several years back who, under hypnosis, claimed to believe he was the current incarnation of a 19th century Spring Lake murderer.
  • Signature Item Clue: Many people believe the 100+ year-old skeleton found buried with Martha Lawrence is that of Madeline Shapley, given it's the skeleton of a young woman (Madeline disappeared at the age of 19 in 1891) and it was buried on the property where Madeline lived. Emily, her modern-day descendant, agrees to submit her DNA for testing, though it's all but officially confirmed that the remains are Madeline's when Emily hears a ring was found in the grave and confirms with the police that it's a sapphire and pearl ring with a gold setting: Madeline was gifted such a ring on her sixteenth birthday and Emily had heard her grandmother describe it many times (based on her own grandmother's recollections).
  • Stalker with a Crush: Eric Bailey is revealed to be Emily Graham's stalker (besides the serial killer also targeting her), motivated by obsessive infatuation and revenge. He feels slighted that Emily turned down his romantic advances and blames her for his company's impending bankruptcy (even though it's absolutely not her fault). He spent a year following her in secret, taking candid shots of her and then sending the photos to her, and spying on her via the security cameras she asked him to install for peace of mind. After another man was imprisoned for the stalking, Eric waited a while and then started up the same stalking campaign again at Emily's new house in Spring Lake, including installing hidden cameras and microphones inside her home.
  • Stalker without a Crush: For a year, Emily was being stalked by someone, who kept sending her photos of herself taken without her knowledge and phoning her at night without saying anything; she also suspected the stalker had broken in on a few occasions, but had no hard proof. Eventually, a security camera caught Ned Koehler trying to break into Emily's house with a knife; Ned blamed Emily for helping acquit the man charged with murdering his mother during a burglary and despite insisting he wasn't stalking Emily, Ned was convicted and institutionalised. However, someone begins stalking Emily again, sending photos of Emily and threatening postcards directly to her new address. It turns out that Ned wasn't Emily's stalker and only went to her house once. And it turns out the stalker sending Emily postcards and the stalker sending her photos are two separate people.
  • Starter Marriage: Will Stafford states he married his ex-wife straight after he graduated law school and that within a year "we both knew it was a mistake". Emily Graham remarks that she could've saved herself a lot of pain if she'd caught on so quick about her own disastrous marriage, which also occurred right after she finished law school.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The police think that Will Stafford must've been unhinged from an early age; he was fourteen when he found his great-grandfather's journal detailing his murders, but rather than be horrified and show it to an adult, Will found it fascinating and secretly kept the journal, strongly identifying with his great-grandfather. Nearly two years later, Will attacked a 15-year-old girl and admitted to Emily he'd been trying to kill her to replicate his great-grandfather's crimes
  • They Know Too Much:
    • Contemporaries of Ellen Swain believe she might've been murdered in 1896 by whoever was responsible for the disappearances of her friends, Madeline Shapley and Letitia Gregg, as shortly before she herself vanished Ellen had been asking a lot of questions related to the disappearances. It's later confirmed she was murdered by Richard Carter when she came round to the Carter house asking questions and got suspicious of him.
    • The killer murders Dr Lillian Madden and trashes her patient records to prevent her telling anyone he'd once visited her as a client and discussed his belief he was a reincarnation of a serial killer from the 1890s.
    • Subverted in the case of Bernice Joyce; a tabloid reports that she thought she might remember seeing someone stealing the murder weapon, a scarf, from the Lawrences' house the night before Martha was killed. This prompts the murderer to kill Bernice before she can tell the cops; however, as he's strangling her, Bernice chokes out that she was wrong about what she saw and "didn't think it was [him]". The killer admits to Emily that Bernice didn't have to die.
    • Will tells Emily he killed Natalie because she was starting to recall seeing him slipping out of the Lawrences' house and heading to the boardwalk where Martha Lawrence went missing; Natalie had sneaked out to the porch for a cigarette. Killing Natalie was also a good way for Will to throw off the cops and let him get away with killing his true target: Emily.
  • Two-Timing with the Bestie: The catalyst for Emily's divorce was her catching her then-husband cheating on her with her closest friend Barbara Lyons, whom she'd known since college. Emily was quick to end her friendship with Barbara along with her marriage; she mentions being aware Barbara had a bit of a crush on Gary, but never imagined Barbara would seriously act on it or that Gary would reciprocate. Three years later, she still feels hurt Barbara betrayed her like that.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance:
    • Emily Graham bears a noted resemblance to her great-great aunt, Madeline Shapley; like Madeline, Emily has dark brown hair with auburn highlights, wide brown eyes with long lashes, a similarly-shaped mouth and a tall, slender build. The serial killer even ponders if Emily could be her great-great aunt's reincarnation, though he notes that Emily is not as naive and unworldly as Madeline was (understandably, considering Madeline lived in a small town in the late 19th century and died when she was just 19, while Emily is a defence attorney in her early 30s who grew up in the late 20th century).
    • Upon seeing a photograph of Richard Carter, Emily and the police note that he bears a striking resemblance to his great-grandson Will Stafford, who also shared his proclivity for murdering young women.
  • Unequal Pairing: Clayton Wilcox's affair with Gina Fielding is an example of how this can backfire even if one person isn't actively trying to take advantage of the other. Clayton had an affair with Gina, a 20-year-old student at the college he was president of. He soon realised it was a mistake and ended the affair, but Gina then blackmailed him into paying her thousands of dollars not to tell the faculty he'd used his position to coerce her into an intimate relationship. Twelve years later, Gina tries to blackmail Clayton for more money, threatening to tell the media that he sexually harassed her and took advantage of her youth. Although the police agree that Clayton acted inappropriately, they also think it's clear Gina knew what she was doing and wasn't really an innocent victim, now or then.