Mary Higgins Clark Reading Spree: What I Learned

Besides the fact that I can accomplish the things I set my mind to?! Again! Hair flip! Another TICK on the list! Drumroll! All that good stuff. Using bookmarks like I mean it and reading standing up between the parts that making breakfast consits of. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride.

But in all seriousness. . . This is one of my favourite writers I’m talking about here. Her books have accompanied me multiple times from my early teens in to adulthood, each time providing new viewpoints both on the novels themselves and life as I was experiencing it at the time.

This year I set out to reread all the suspense novels she had written so far that I had on my bookshelf, starting with the terrifying debut Where Are The Children and finishing with one of her latest, All By Myself, Alone. The novels span several decades of publishing, from the mid-seventies to today. After spending time with 34 books from January to mid-November, what have I learned?

Mary Higgins Clark has the gift. Her prose is seamless, structured, not overloaded, her descriptions are spot-on and her storytelling skills are mesmerizing. She knows how to draw a reader in.

Stand-out qualities in the pages she has written include a steady, continuous sense of sincere empathy – there are words and descriptions you simply cannot fake. There’s also a clear distinction between right and wrong, even good and evil, if you will. She writes with honesty and precision, but without preaching, deftly interweaving and examining complicated issues within the story.

Her books are a compliment to the intelligent reading experience, with plenty of visibly solid research that becomes an integral part of the story without reading like a lecture or textbook even when something needs to be explained. The experts in her novels are believable, and readers end up ecoming curious about various topics not just due to the strong plot. From American history in various regions to actual famous murder cases, to burial customs. to reincarnation, to biblical scholarship, the palette is a colorful one.

It’s refreshing to have an author, and a bestselling one at that, who writes about relatable and likable heroines who are still as compelling and complex, just as much as any other. Their likability makes us see ourselves or someone we know in them, and this is part of the reason we get hooked. The “good girl” also has a place in literature. Most of us have known or know women like those who are at the center of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels. Many of us are like them, hard-working, at times struggling, faced with hard circumstances and loss, holding on to values and integrity, even sanity, loving with fear and sincerity at the same time and fighting for a sense of self in a difficult world.

I have discovered something for myself in every novel, but as in most cases of continued reading, a few already well-thumbed favourites that I know I will pick up again and again are on my list. These are Remember Me, Moonlight Becomes You, On The Street Where You Live, Daddy’s Little Girl, No Place Like Home. Some of the reasons for these gems topping the list include heroines with creative professions, among them writing, a house with a tragic past, sisterhood, parenthood, family ties and dealing with loss, developing love stories. And heck, the crime.

Mary Higgins Clark is turning 90 this year and in a recent interview she made it clear that she has no intention to stop writing – YES! People will still ask her why she does it. She loves it and gets paid well for it! I want to punch the air and say Atta girl!

Now I have to go buy her newest novel Every Breath You Take, which came out while I was busy finishing my reading spree. The journey continues!

 

 

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On The Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark

The first entry was dated, September 7, 1891. It began with the words “Madeline is dead by my hand.”

Now doesn’t that chilling quote just make you immediately want to pick up the book? On The Street Where You Live is yet another masterpiece by Mary Higgins Clark and one of my favourite novels among all that I’ve read so far.

Similar to Remember Me, this book also contains an impressive amount of historical research from life in the state of New Jersey in the late nineteenth century, specifically a real town called Spring Lake, which exists to this day and retains many of the features that make you understand particular descriptions in the novel. Coastal, charming, attractive, based on a quick YouTube search it does look like the kind of place that combines a restful retreat with the possibility of hidden stories from the past just waiting to be discovered.

After my virtual stroll, I can picture vividly what it felt like for the novel’s protagonist, criminal defense attorney Emily Graham, to walk the streets of Spring Lake as it gradually moved towards summer, as well as her reactions and admiraton of buildings and houses in the town. Houses play a particular role in On The Street Where You Live, as in several other of Mary Higgins Clark’s books. A house, a home, is a smaller world unto itself, and Emily enters one when she repurchases a house that belonged to the family of one of her ancestors who mysteriously vanished in 1891. Yep, that ancestor was the very Madeline mentioned in that cold-blooded note at the beginning of the novel.

We, the readers, learn of Madeline’s fate before Emily does, and wait with baited breath until Emily herself starts searching for the truth as she makes increasingly frightening connections about not only Madeline’s murder, but the disappearance of other young women, both from the past and the present…

Worlds within worlds spring up cunningly in this confection of a suspense thriller. On one hand present-day Spring Lake emerges as Emily is coming to know it, on the other the ghost of the town from the 1890s is constantly moving parallel to us, becoming more visible through the book within a book Emily is reading to get aquainted with the past and try reconstructing the chain of events that led to Madeline’s disappearance and death. It is eerie, but in a delightfully addictive way, how 1890s Spring Lake becomes almost as alive for the reader as Emily’s Spring Lake. The insistent, almost mystical idea that past and present are imminent of colliding in some way is successfully rooted in our minds by the author and doesn’t let go until the very last words of the book.

Last but not least, the diary of a serial killer, while not overdone, is a disturbing world of its own as well. In fact, the results of writing are represented prominently in On The Street Where You Live, and this is done in contrasting ways. There’s the factual reporting in newspaper articles from the past, the dark aforementioned secrets written down for posterity with perverse dilligence and the nostalgic, absorbing memoirs from a girlhood spent in Spring Lake in the 1890s. The fascination and power that the printed word can evoke is displayed within a novel that in itself is a testament to both.

 

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark

“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.

Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark

Menley had always wanted to live in a house. As a little girl she drew pictures of the one she would have someday. And it was pretty much like this place, she thought.

Mary Higgins Clark has been my favorite writer for so long and I have re-read all her books so many times that I can’t remember which of her numerous suspense novels I read first. This is a rare case for me. But it doesn’t really matter, because each of her works takes me on a trip to yet another world that always yields a new discovery even if I’ve been there before. It’s like taking your favorite long walk, and knowing for sure that it’s never truly the same, for all its familiarity. As we grow, as we change, as we learn, so do the literary works that accompany us in life find their way in to the crevices of our evolvement. And so do we identify anew with characters, situations, language and actions. That is the mark of a great author.

The tried and tested, yet irresistible plot formula of a heroine beset by tragedy and struggling to find her way out, while being pulled in to a murder mystery, is, of course, present here too. And it’s not just the main heroine – plenty of characters in the novel carry burdens with them. For some these burdens lead to disastrous life choices, for some they lead to battles of resistance and self-discovery. Mary Higgins Clark’s characteristic empathy and sincerity permeates Remember Me like a warm breeze without being cloying. Serious subject matter is handled with grace and dignity – a refreshing trait. While the topics of murder and death are not presented in a graphic way, as compared to most Scandinavian thrillers, for example, the just right balance of words and description is enough to send a chill down your spine, as well as evoke the feelings of sadness characters are going through.

The next summer they’d lost Bobby. And after that, Menley thought, all I knew was the awful numbness, the feeling of being detached from every other human being…

Mary Higgins Clark has the unique gift of seamless, unburdened prose, which by no means make it simple, but lets it hit right at the heart of the story and the characters’ thoughts.

Though each of her novels is special in its own way, Remember Me stands out for particular reasons. The novel draws the reader in to the story within the story, the writing within the writing, as Menley Nichols herself is getting more and more drawn in to the research of the history of the house she and her family are staying in during their summer in Cape Cod. The feeling of something about to come to a head grows stronger and stronger throughout the novel, as we wonder along with Menley whether the alleged murderer is innocent, if her heart will heal after loosing her first child, and just how deep her connection to the centuries-old story of the former owners of the house is.

Suspense, no other word for it. And first-class writing about life.