Shared from the 2/2/2020 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Mary Higgins Clark, 92, writer of suspense novels


Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark, 92, who as a widowed mother of five in her 40s began a long reign as one of the most successful crime writers of all time, pouring out novel after novel about resilient women befallen by unnatural deaths, disappearances, and wicked criminal deeds, died Friday in Naples, Fla.

Her death was announced on her website and by her publisher, Simon & Schuster. The cause was not immediately available.

Known to her legions of fans as the “queen of suspense,” Ms. Clark was an almost instant sensation with the publication in 1975 of her first thriller, Where Are the Children? The story centered on a mother who, not for the first time, must prove her innocence when her children go missing.

Ms. Clark, who until then had struggled alone to support her family, described herself in that moment as a “prospector stumbling on a vein of gold.”

Her output included dozens of novels that sold tens of millions of copies in hard copy, in paperback, and in translation. Few, if any, critics placed her writing in the category of high literature. But Ms. Clark had discovered a crowd-pleasing — and profitable — formula for fictional crime.

After selling her first book for $3,000, she collected $1.5 million, including paperback rights, for her second novel, A Stranger Is Watching (1977), about a kidnapping in New York City’s Grand Central Station.

In 2000, after increasingly generous advances over the years, Simon & Schuster awarded Ms. Clark a $64 million contract for five books. The deal made her, per volume, the highest-paid female writer in the world, the New York Times reported.

Her books were practically guaranteed to be page-turners from their covers, which often were emblazoned with the words MARY HIGGINS CLARK in type larger than the font used for their shuddersome titles.

They included The Cradle Will Fall (1980), about a sinister obstetrician-gynecologist; Loves Music, Loves to Dance (1991), about a killer who stalks the personal ads; Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1995), about a plastic surgeon who modifies his patients’ faces to resemble the visage of a murdered woman; and Daddy’s Gone A Hunting (2013), a dark tale of family secrets.

In addition to her novels, Ms. Clark wrote short stories, children’s books, and a memoir, Kitchen Privileges, that recounted a life marked by hardship.

Her narratives, while not often lauded for their subtlety, were highly readable.

“Elizabeth began to shiver uncontrollably at the image she could not banish from her mind,” Ms. Clark wrote in Weep No More, My Lady (1987). “Leila’s beautiful body, wrapped in the white satin pajamas, her long red hair cascading behind her, plummeting forty stories to the concrete courtyard. … If I had stayed with her, Elizabeth thought, it never would have happened. …”

Ms. Clark extensively researched the topics addressed in her fiction. She attended murder trials and confirmed medical terminology with doctors. Attempting to describe a New England murder, she contacted the Coast Guard to determine precisely where a body might wash ashore if it were dumped in the waters off Cape Cod.

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