“This is my child! I didn’t give birth to her, of course, but that’s totally unimportant.”
That’s one of the passages that stayed with me ever since I read Moonlight Becomes You by the great Mary Higgins Clark for the first time, a book that went on to become one of my favourite works of fiction.
Maggie Holloway, a successful photographer from New York City, goes with a date to his family reunion party. While the date quickly leaves her to her own devices after arriving, entirely by chance, Maggie runs in to her former stepmother, Nuala Moore. The closeness the two women had shared in the past, some twenty years ago, when Nuala was married to Maggie’s now deceased father, is immediately rekindled as Nuala recognizes “her child”, and the two piece together the circumstances that lead to them falling out of touch. The themes of family, always present in Clark’s novels, as well as family ties forming outside of blood connections, are opened as Nuala embraces Maggie and the two look forward to once again being a part of each other’s lives.
Sadly, the mutual happiness of the two women is cut short. Shortly after meeting, Nuala is murdered.
In pure genre tradition and with Clark’s unmatched skill for threading suspense like beads on a wire that becomes more taut with each page-turn, Maggie makes the decision to follow the trail of troubling questions filling her mind and becomes embroiled in the search for Nuala’s murderer.
The terrifying opening of the novel, almost suffocating in its depiction, grips readers, and grips them hard, not letting go. A classic, tested tactic, yet despite being a first-class whodunit, as all of Clark’s novels are, there is so much more to this book than just the finely executed components of a classy suspense thriller.
Maggie is a creative, sensitive, resourceful and independent heroine, whose own personal history unfolds throughout the book, giving the reader insight in to the reasons for her decisions, desires and actions with Clark’s trademark empathy and non-preaching descriptions. Anyone who has experienced the joy of being creative, the irresistible pull of molding the ideas in your head in to something tangible, will relate to Maggie’s literal molding of clay as she tries to make sense of the weight on her mind and in her heart.
Then there’s Neil Stephens, one of the love interests. Despite being successful, independent, well-raised and having a wonderful relationship with his parents, Neil apparently has some romantic involvement issues. These issues influence not only his treatment of women, but also, ultimately, their treatment of him, something he runs up against with Maggie. While Neil is never disrespectful, rude or uncaring towards his dates, Clark once again manages to examine an ever-present societal development. While Neil’s parents are proud of him, and their happiness when they see their son leaps off the page, they don’t pull any punches. Clark lends voice to Neil’s sympathetic mother, who hits the nail on the head in a conversation which is not necessarily entirely about marriage, but in the context of the first-time romantic brooding Neil is going through, she couldn’t have put it better.
“You know, Neil, a lot of the smart, successful young men of your generation who didn’t marry in their twenties decided they could play the field indefinitely. And some of them will – they really don’t want to get involved. But some of them also never seem to know when to grow up.”
Add the clearly meticulous research of a chilling historical topic and the lovely seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, and you’ve got yourself a book I was (re-)reading slower on purpose. Moonlight Becomes You is another memorable masterpiece I will be coming back to again and again.