Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark, her first of 56 straight bestsellers

Publication: Pocket, paperback, 1992 (originally published in 1975)
Genre: Suspense

Plot: Years ago, Nancy was accused of the dreadful death of her two children and was acquitted.  She moved to the other side of the country to start over, changed her name and her hairstyle, remarried, and has two more children.  She will never forget the trauma she endured but has started to heal until a terrible morning when they are playing outside and she takes her eyes off them for a few minutes.  Only a red mitten remains of Mike and Missy, and Nancy realizes her nightmare is beginning again . . .

My Impressions: It is hard to argue with Mary Higgins Clark’s formula for suspense: strong heroines who stumble into challenging situations – and killers – and try to stay true to their values while also staying alive!.  Sometimes they can save themselves but sometimes they need a strong man to help them or the amateur detective introduced in her later books, Alvirah Meehan and her husband Willy.  And sometimes these heroines trust the wrong person . . .  The first MHC I remember reading was Loves Music, Loves To Dance in the early 90s.   I don’t think it was one of her best but it was very topical because that was when personal ads were first getting a lot of attention.  I occasionally returned to her books because you always know what you are getting, which I assume was part of her appeal (over 100 million books sold just in the US), and in recent years I had listened to a handful on CD.  In addition to the strong heroines, there were usually appealing secondary characters and vividly drawn villains.

I was intrigued when a friend who was a priest at her church spoke very highly of her, and I knew she was also supportive of other authors.  In addition, her faith informed her writing: recently Catholic News Service profiled her as one of the most widely read authors in its Catholic writer series. In that profile, MHC outlined her use of strong Catholic protagonists who persevere against danger and intrigue to carry on in life’s daily struggles.  She explained her rationale for character-building: 

“As far as my use of Catholic protagonists and heroines, I attribute that to the best piece of advice I ever received as a young writer in a workshop. The professor said, ‘Write what you know,’” Higgins Clark said at the time. “I’d grown up observing examples of Catholic women who were strong figures and persevered against difficult odds. It was natural to model my characters after the people I knew.”

Soon after she died I was in the Newton Free Library and saw a librarian had created a display in her honor.  A few days later, I found Where Are The Children for sale for $.50, and here we are.  She was paid $3,000 for this book in 1975 and it was the first of 56 books that were bestsellers.   It is set on Cape Cod, which Higgins Clark loved, and captures the friendliness of the place – until everything goes wrong and everyone believes Nancy is a coldhearted killer.  It holds up well and provides some chilling moments as the reader wonders desperately if those involved will figure out what is going on in time to stop more murders.   Simon & Schuster will miss MHC as well as the revenue she generated. 

Source: Personal copy

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