There’s nothing like a good book to escape into and Mary Higgins Clark sure knew how to write them. She was the Queen of Suspense just as Agatha Christie was the Queen of Mysteries. As soon as you start reading one of her books you are hooked into the story line and can’t put the book down.
Mary honed this art of hooking the reader during her years of writing short stories and radio plays. Writing was not just her art but her bread and butter. She had to write to support herself and her young children after her young husband died suddenly.
Mary’s books were and still are bestsellers
Writing novels came later for Mary, at the suggestion of her agent. Her debut suspense novel, Where Are the Children? became an instant best seller and is in its seventy-fifth printing. I am reading this novel at the moment and had to tear myself away from it to tell you about amazing Mary.
Sadly, Mary Higgins Clark is lost to the world now. She died in 2020 at the age of 92. She had written 51 books and each of them was a best seller and is still in print. That is a very impressive achievement. So, let’s find out a little more about Mary Higgins Clark.
Mary’s family of Origin
She was born Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins in 1927 in The Bronx, New York on a wintry Christmas Eve. She was the only daughter of Irish immigrants and had two brothers. Her father ran an Irish pub and they were well off until The Great Depression of the 1930s hit. Mary’s father helped many of the jobless and homeless by providing food and shelter.
Rumours of his kindness and generosity spread. Men and women came knocking. But his regular clients also hit hard times and were unable to settle their bar tabs. The stress and long hours took their toll. Mary’s father died, leaving the family with little.
Hard Times for Mary
One brother joined the Navy but died in service and the other had an accident that crippled him. Mary and her mother struggled to survive. They lost their house and had to move to a small apartment. Mary’s natural beauty and talent opened doors for her. She became a fashion model alongside the, unknown at the time Grace Kelly, Mary also did copy work for the novelist Joseph Heller, besides working as a stewardess for Pan American Airways, a glamorous job at the time.
She married Warren Clark and was unable to work as a married women. Mary returned to writing while she raised five children. Her short stories and radio scripts supplemented the family income and taught her to write succinctly and dramatically.
What if? Why? and Suppose
When Warren died suddenly, she at least had a skill to rely on unlike her own mother who had floundered after her father’s death. She took a course in writing where she learnt a well-used skill, her tool for writing suspense. She would track news stories and ask the questions, ‘What if?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘Suppose?’ to tease out a plot line for her stories.
All through the 1960s and 70’s, Mary wrote, obviously quite feverishly, to publish so many novels, more than one a year. She turned to novels when short stories were no longer a fashionable or popular staple in magazines. Her novels were an instant success and the rights for her second novel sold for millions of dollars in the late 1970s.
A Second Marriage
Mary used the money to educate her children well. By then both her mother and remaining brother had died. She was the only member of her original family alive.
She dated during these years and described her second marriage (1978–1986) to Raymond Ploetz as “disastrous,” and had it annulled. In 1996 Mary married John J. Coheeney, a businessman. They lived in Saddle River, New Jersey, John dying at age 89 on October 8, 2018. Through it all Mary kept writing at her usual pace. In fact, she kept writing up until the year before her death at 92. Her last novel ‘Kiss the Girls and Make them Cry‘ was published in 2019.
Legacy and Fame
Mary’s novels were popular not only in America where they consistently topped the best-seller lists, but in Europe as well. Many of her books have been made into French films and series and she was awarded with three prestigious French literature prizes and honours. Worldwide, Mary Higgins Clark has attracted so many awards they are too numerous to list here as are the titles of all her books. Here is the link if you want to know more about talented Mary.
Mary Higgins Clark was a beautiful and talented woman who was also resourceful and resilient. She found ways to deal with life’s curveballs, reinventing her craft to suit popular taste, so she could support herself and her family. Her children matured to be a credit to her. Two became judges, two successful business entrepreneurs and her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark followed her mother to also write suspense novels.
She will long be honoured and remembered by those who read her books and watch the film versions. Mary had stories to tell, and she wrote them so well. I’m rushing back to her book now….Thanks for reading.
Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash
Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.