Mary Higgins Clark, who wrote tales of women beating the odds as the reigning “Queen of Suspense” died Friday, Jan. 31, 2020 at the age of 92.
Simon & Schuster, her publisher, announced that she was in Naples, Florida when she died of natural causes.
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,” according to Clark’s longtime editor Michael Korda.
Clark was a widow with five children in her late 30s when she became a perennial best-seller throughout the second half of her life, writing or co-writing “A Stranger Is Watching,” “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and more than 50 other fan favorites.
Sales topped 100 million copies and she was honored from all over, whether a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France or a “Grand Masters” statuette from the Mystery Writers of America. Many of her books were adapted for movies and television. Additionally, Clark collaborated on several novels with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark.
Mary Higgins Clark focused on women triumphing over danger, such as the besieged young prosecutor in “Just Take My Heart” or the mother of two working in an art gallery whose second husband is a madman in “A Cry in the Night.” Clark’s goal was simple, if rarely easy” Keep the readers reading.
She learned resilience in her own life, strengthened by her Catholic faith, which she shared with her fictional heroes. Clark loved to write and started when she was six years old. By the time she was in high school, she was trying to sell her stories to True Confessions magazine.
Clark worked as a hotel switchboard operator and a flight attendant for Pan American. She married Warren Clark, the regional manager of Capital Airways in 1949. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, Clark raised the children, studied writing at New York University and began to have stories published. By the mid-’60s, the magazine market for fiction was shrinking rapidly and her husband’s health was failing. Warren Clark died of a heart attack in 1964.
Quickly, Clark was able to find work as a scriptwriter for “Portrait of a President.” The show was a radio series on American presidents. Her research inspired her first book, which was a historical novel about George and Martha Washington. In her determination, she rose at 5 a.m. writing until nearly 7 a.m. before she fed her children and left for work.
In 1969 she published “Aspire to the Heavens.” In her memoir, she recalled that the book was a “triumph” and a folly. The book received little attention because the publishing company was sold at the time of the book’s release. She regretted the title when she learned that some stores were selling her book from the religious section. Decades later, the book was re-released under “Mount Vernon: A Love Story” and t received the attention it deserved.
For her second book, Clark decided to write in the genre she liked to read: mystery. A tabloid trial about a young woman accused of murdering her children gave her an idea.
“It seems inconceivable to most of us that any woman could do that to her children. And then I thought: Suppose an innocent young mother is convicted of the deliberate murder of her two children; suppose she gets out of prison on a technicality; and then suppose seven years to the day, on her 32nd birthday, the children of her second marriage disappear,” Clark stated in her memoir.
In September 1974, Clark sent her manuscript to her agent for ”Die a Little Death,” which was later acquired by Simon Schuster for $3,000. The book was renamed “Where Are the Children?” and was released in 1975. “Where Are the Children?” was Clark’s first bestseller that began her long n of success. According to Clark, a psychic told her she would be rich and famous.
Clark wrote well into her 90s. She acquired multiple homes and she even owned part of the New Jersey Nets for a while. She remembered when she was able to say goodbye to hard times. It was April 1977 when Clark’s agent told her Simon & Schuster offered her $500,000 for the hardcover of her third book, “A Stranger Is Watching,” and Dell publishing offered $1 million for the paperback.
Clark was running her own script production company by day and studying philosophy at Fordham University at night. She was returning to New Jersey in an old car with over 100,000 miles on it.
“As I drove onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, the tailpipe and muffler came loose and began dragging on the ground. For the next 21 miles, I kur-plunked, kur-plunked, all the way home. People in other cars kept honking and beeping, obviously sure that I was either too deaf to hear the racket. The next day I bought a Cadillac!”
By Jeanette Vietti
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