Queen of Suspense and fixture on best-seller lists dies
Mary Higgins Clark, a fixture on best-seller lists for decades whose more than 50 novels earned her the sobriquet Queen of Suspense, died Friday in Naples, Florida. She was 92 and had homes in Saddle River, New Jersey, Manhattan and Cape Cod.
Her death was announced by her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, also a mystery novelist.
Mary Higgins Clark, whose books sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone, was still writing until recently, her daughter said, and had a book published in November.
Legions of readers were addicted to her pageturners, which popped up on the market one after another. She wanted to create stories that would make a reader say, “This could be me. That could be my daughter. This could happen to us,” she told Marilyn Stasio in a 1997 interview in the New York Times.
Higgins Clark’s heroes are most often female, her villains, male, and she said repeatedly that she wrote about “nice people whose lives are invaded.”
Stasio wrote that “Mary Higgins Clark writes to a simple formula that entails putting a woman in peril and letting her figure her own way out.” Although that formula is “repetitive and predictable,” she wrote, “it always works because Ms. Clark is a natural-born storyteller.”
It certainly worked for fans. Masses of followers flocked to her Facebook page and showered her with praise and questions, and she kept them informed about her projects.
In her memoir, “Kitchen Privileges” (2002), Higgins Clark described herself as “aching, yearning, burning” to write, certain that she would succeed but needing guidance. Eventually, she found it in a writing class at New York University. The professor suggested his students seize upon a situation they had experienced or read about and begin by asking the questions “Suppose … ?” and “What if … ?” It is a recipe Higgins Clark said she stuck to, with the addition of the question “Why?”
There are, however, two things you will never find in her books: sex and profanity, and that choice was deliberate.
In her first successful novel, “Where Are the Children?” (1975), which Higgins Clark sold for $3,000, a young mother accused of killing her son and daughter changes her identity, finds a new husband and builds another family, only to have her second set of children disappear.
Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins was born Dec. 24, 1927, in the Bronx. When she was 11, her father, Luke, an Irish immigrant who had owned a thriving pub before the Depression, died, leaving her mother, Nora, with three children. A few years later, she lost her beloved older brother.
Each loss meant Higgins Clark had to work harder. To help pay expenses after her father’s death, she got after-school jobs, one as a switchboard operator at the Shelton Hotel in Manhattan, where she eavesdropped on inhabitants, including Tennessee Williams, who, she noted in her memoir, had the cheapest room in the hotel, at $30 a month.
In listening to his conversations, Higgins Clark wrote, “I didn’t hear anything that fascinated me.”
“Years later,” she wrote, “when a mutual friend gave Williams a copy of the manuscript for ‘Where Are the Children?,’ which had just sold to Simon & Schuster, his comment was, ‘I have a lot of friends who can write better than that,’ so I guess I didn’t fascinate him either. We’ll call it a draw.”
Her first novel, “Aspire to the Heavens” (1969), was not about a murderous psychopath or a jealous friend bent on bloody revenge but rather about George and Martha Washington. It failed to make a splash but was republished in 2002 as “Mount Vernon Love Story” and joined the other Higgins Clark titles on the bestseller lists.
Simon & Schuster became her primary publisher. Her second suspense novel, “A Stranger Is Watching” (1978), brought in enough money to buy a Cadillac.
Mary Higgins Clark