Obituary Note: Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark
(photo: Bernard Vidal)

"Queen of Suspense" Mary Higgins Clark died on Friday at age 92. In a career that lasted 45 years, she wrote 56 books, all bestsellers. They were mostly suspense novels, some written with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark and others with crime novelist Alafair Burke in the Under Suspicion series. She also published a memoir, Kitchen Privileges, and several children's books. More than 100 million copies of her books are in print in the U.S. alone.

A lifetime dream of hers was to be a published writer, and after being widowed at age 37 with five children, she famously wrote at her kitchen table before dawn before commuting into New York City for her job. Her writing career started in 1975, when she was nearly 50 and published Where Are the Children?. Among her best-known work are A Stranger Is Watching; The Cradle Will Fall; Loves Music, Loves to Dance; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; and Daddy's Gone A Hunting. Her most recent book, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry, appeared last November. (Exactly a month ago, Shelf Awareness published a Reading With... column with her. Our favorite part of that: Q: "How technology has altered the way a mystery is written." A: "If in your story you want to put a body in a dumpster, it's hard to find one that doesn't have a camera pointed at it.")

Clark acknowledged having a formula. Speaking with CNBC, she said once, "In my case, it's always a woman, a young woman. Smart, intelligent, and something happens. She's not on the wrong side of town at 4 in the morning. She's living her life and something crosses it. And by her own intelligence, she works her way out of it."

In an announcement of her death, Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Clark's publisher for 45 years, called Clark "simply, a remarkable woman who overcame an early life of hardship and challenges, never doubting her ability as a natural-born storyteller (and she was one for the ages), and who persevered through trial and rejection until she at last achieved her Holy Grail of being a published author.

"Those of us who are fortunate to have worked with Mary--and at Simon & Schuster, that is multitudes--know her as a person of tremendous loyalty and dedication: In this day and age it is exceedingly rare for an author, especially one as prized as Mary, to remain with a single publisher for an entire 45-year career.

"She was similiarly devoted to her readers, until very recently going out of her way to meet them while on tour for every one of her books, and drawing tremendous energy and satisfaction from her interactions with them, even though she long ago could have pulled back from that part of being an author. She was, too, a generous member of the literary community, especially toward new authors, and was well known beyond the publishing world for her support of innumerable philanthropic and civic causes."

Reidy quoted Michael Korda, S&S editor-in-chief emeritus, who said, "Mary and I have been dear friends, and worked together since 1975, during which time we never had a cross word between us, which surely sets something of a record for author-editor relationships.

"She was unique. Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did; she understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read--and, perhaps more important, what they didn't want to read--and yet she managed to surprise them with every book. She was the Queen of Suspense, it wasn't just a phrase; she always set out to end each chapter on a note of suspense, so you just had to keep reading. It was at once a gift, but also the result of hard work, because nobody worked harder than Mary did on her books to deliver for her readers. She was also, unfailingly, cheerful under pressure, generous, good humored and warm-hearted, the least 'temperamental' of bestselling authors, and the most fun to be around. I feel privileged to have enjoyed 45 years of her friendship, and saddened that I will no longer be able to pick up the phone and hear her say, 'Michael, I think I've figured out how to make this story work.' She was a joy to work with, and to know."

Clark's legacy includes the Mary Higgins Clark Award, an annual prize given by the Mystery Writers of America to the year's best suspense writing.

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