I did not include Mary Higgins Clark’s latest in my Books and Brownies round-up of the winter’s best reads, as while I enjoyed it, I detected a slight difference in style with this one. I noted that she had dedicated it to the memory of her late husband (2018) and thanked her son who was with her every sentence of the way, which along with the six months delay (she usually publishes around Mother’s Day), I wrote off as being due to the inevitable life crises which sooner or later affect us all. So I was surprised to see from an in-memoriam display at my local library that she had passed away on Jan 31 at the age of 92 of natural causes. As she has blessed us with decades of good reading, this month’s literary salon will pay tribute to the original Queen of Suspense.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Her Highness delivers as usual, her latest and unfortunately her last. R.I.P.
About the Author: Mary Higgins Clark was born in 1927, of Irish descent. Her family owned an Irish pub and was fairly prosperous but fell on hard times at the end of the Depression after her father died. She worked as a secretary, copy editor and airline stewardess before marrying and having five children. A gifted storyteller right from the start, she took writing classes at NYU, and started selling short stories to supplement the family income, and later turned to mysteries after being widowed in 1964 at a young age. First published at 43, she had her first bestseller in 1975 with Where Are The Children,which she sold for the low price of $3000. Six months later when the paperback rights went for $100,000, she quit her day job at an advertising agency and devoted herself to writing full time. She sold her second book for $1.5 million and was at one time the highest paid female author in the country. Her net worth is estimated at 140 million and over 100 million of her books are in print in the US alone, plus many international translations. She has written 56 books, 38 of them suspense novels, four collections of short stories, a memoir (Kitchen Memoir), five books with her daughter Carol and six with Alafair Burke – the Under Suspicion series. All I might add, with the same publishing company Simon and Schuster, and the same editor Michael Korda – here’s a link from S&S and for more on her story see Wikipedia link.
Why I Read Her Books: While the market today is saturated with psychological thrillers, for a long time Mary Higgins Clark was the designated Queen of Suspense, and the only suspense novelist I read. (I was never a fan of Agatha Christie). She was popular, and while considered fluffy formula writing by some, her books were immensely readable and you were always guaranteed of a happy outcome. Her main protagonist was usually an independent young woman no older than 35, and while there was often the suggestion of a romance, it was not the main course. While suspenseful, there were no gory forensic reports or ambiguous or surprise endings – nor were her books so creepy that you went around double-checking the locks at night. She was dependable – her books could be counted on for a good light read.
I remember when Maeve Binchy died in 2012, and she was only 70. When you are used to reading a favorite author every year, it can be upsetting to realize there will be No More Books! Although Maeve’s husband continued to publish a few short stories which hadn’t seen the light of day and a biography, it just wasn’t the same as having a new novel to crack open. I wonder if that will be the case with Mary Higgins Clark, (although having seen the final episode of last weeks PBS Sanditon mini-series, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s last unfinished manuscript, sometimes it’s better if things are left undone). While I’ve read a few of her early short stories, including one about her experience as a Pan-Am stewardess dealing with a stowaway on board, I’ve never read any of her earlier books including Where Are The Children or A Stranger is Watching, so these will have to do next summer when I need a M.H.Clark fix at the beach.
What does it take to produce an annual bestseller like that? Maybe it came easy to her, (Danielle Steele once said she could knock off a manuscript in a weekend), in which case she was lucky, but I suspect it took a fair degree of dedication and determination and a lot of hard work and perseverance. As she aged into her 80’s, it amazed me that she was still churning them out – her books stayed up to date, with cell phones/gadgets and modern settings and plots. Her last book concerned the #metoo movement, and another, a murder at the famous MET gala costume ball. She had a passion for writing and a zest for living until the very end. Maybe that’s what everyone needs when they get older – a reason to keep on going. I hope she is up there in the big library-in-the-sky (which is how I like to think of the afterlife for book lovers), resting in peace and reading her heart out….and maybe sending some gentle plot suggestions to a few of us earthlings looking for guidance.