Mary Higgins Clark Essay - Critical Essays


Mary Higgins Clark, whose book titles frequently come from those of songs, builds suspense quickly, with action moving forward rapidly as a sympathetic heroine rescues herself (and others) from a deranged killer. Amid the suspense, Clark often comments on relevant social topics: dishonest fertility specialists (The Cradle Will Fall, 1980), greedy health maintenance organizations (HMOs) profiting at the expense of patients (We’ll Meet Again, 1999), the failures of the federal witness protection program (Pretend You Don’t See Her, 1995), and financial/pharmaceutical conspiracies (The Second Time Around, 2003). In her novels, she typically establishes a chain of responsibility involving blackmail and silence—fear of losing one’s job, intimidation, and pride in knowing secrets—that makes more than one individual culpable.

Clark’s characters are everyday people trapped in frightening situations amid the commonplace: a newlywed who discovers her husband’s terrible secrets, a woman who finds the contractor building her new house is not what he seems, and a grieving stepdaughter who is buried alive. The psychological and philosophical are vital to her creative method. Her heroines may be a photographer and amateur sculptor (Moonlight Becomes You: A Novel, 1996), a Manhattan real estate agent (Pretend You Don’t See Her), the owner of an exclusive boutique (While My Pretty One Sleeps, 1989), a radio psychologist investigating disappearances (You Belong to Me, 1998), or just ordinary homemakers and mothers, but they all undergo a test of strength and prove extraordinary in their ability to endure and overcome adversity. Often they discover links between their private lives and a murderer, always an unquestionably deranged monster, whose evil lies hidden behind a respectable facade (such as the plastic surgeon who puts the beautiful face of a murder victim on patient after patient). A typical Clark heroine is Celia Foster Nolan (No Place Like Home, 2005), who as a child was falsely accused of murdering her parents. Her husband buys her family’s house and presents it to her for her birthday, unaware of its special terrors. She becomes haunted by the past, especially when her parents’ real killer stalks her and her son. A less common protagonist is the serial killer in Nighttime Is My Time (2004), a former geek once tormented by his high school classmates who seeks revenge by targeting members of the popular crowd at his twentieth reunion.

Clark is a master at conveying the back story and relevant facts through dialogue, multiple perspectives, stories within stories, and simultaneous episodes, while maintaining suspense and moving the action forward. Sometimes the suspense comes from uncertainty about the villain’s identity or what the known killer will get away with before the heroine realizes the truth; sometimes there is a countdown to disaster; frequently, Clark leads readers’ attention one way while she slowly builds a set of clues to implicate a far less obvious character. Daddy’s Little Girl (2002) and The Second Time Around experiment with a first-person narrator.

Clark writes about the psychological (personality disorders in Loves Music, Loves to Dance; multiple...

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