Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mary Higgins Clark: She's A Hard Habit To Break

You know how they say "Old habits die hard?" That seems like the only explanation for why I keep reading books by Mary Higgins Clark. My dad introduced me to the author when I was in junior high, and I couldn't get enough. I'd stay up late, even though I had school the next day, just to see her mysteries through to their heart-pounding conclusions. I still pick up her new books, but I just don't find them that thrilling anymore. Inevitably, the plots are formulaic, the characters are flat as pancakes, and the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Mary Higgins Clark is one of those authors who can sell a book based on her name alone, which seems to mean she no longer really has to try.

The good news is that Clark writes a nice, clean mystery. Murder and mayhem abound, of course, but it's not graphic. Her books never have sex scenes, excessive profanity or the kind of blood-and-guts descriptions that haunt your nightmares. That's why my dad first recommended her, and that's why I still read her despite the fact that her writing abilities seem to be deteriorating with age (She's 81, after all). Or maybe I'm just (gulp!) growing up.

I do have to give Clark props for changing up her formula a little in her newest mystery, Just Take My Heart. The story involves beautiful assistant prosecutor Emily Wallace, who lands the case of her career: Natalie Raines, a beloved Broadway actress, has been found shot in her home, allegedly at the hand of her husband, Gregg Aldrich, whom she was divorcing. Much of the case is based on hearsay - a career criminal, not exactly a concrete witness, says Aldrich hired him to kill Natalie. When the man chickens out of the job, it's supposed that Aldrich took things into his own hands. Despite a lack of evidence, Natalie believes her jailbird client and works hard to convict Gregg Aldrich. The more immersed she gets in the case, however, the more she begins to wonder if she really has the right suspect. Is there someone else out there who has reason to want Natalie dead and Gregg in jail?

The trial isn't Emily's only worry - there's also her weird next-door-neighbor, who seems oddly interested in her comings and goings. Unbeknownst to her, he's got a dangerous obsession that's spiraling out of control. What, if anything, does he have to do with Natalie's murder? And, why does Emily feel such a kinship with an actress she never knew? The answers come fast and furious as the book zooms toward its exciting (though predictable) end.

Like I mentioned, this book follows a somewhat different format than other Clark mysteries, which might make it a little confusing for longtime fans of the author. It basically follows two different storylines (the trial and Emily's problems with her neighbor), and whether they converge or not is part of the mystery. So, the story's a little confusing; it's also pretty predictable, a little farfetched and a bit stale. Clark's all about telling over showing, which makes the writing weak and dull. Her characters could use some serious rounding, and the dialogue definitely needs some spice. Probably the thing that drove me the craziest, though, was the characters' tendency to use each other's names in every sentence, even when only two people were involved in the conversation! Seriously annoying.

On the plus side, this is a mystery you wouldn't be embarrassed to share with your grandmother (mine is a big Clark fan). There may be a hell or a damn in there, but that's it for language. Some violence is involved, but like I said, it's not graphic at all. As far as mysteries/police procedurals go, this is about as tame as you're going to get. Just Take My Heart is pretty predictable, but it's not a horrible read. It's fast-paced and interesting, just not as well-written as I would have liked. I did like this one better than her last effort, however.

So, despite the fact that The Queen of Suspense seems to be losing her touch, I'll keep reading her. Like any habit, this one would be just way too hard to break.

Grade: C-

2 comments:

  1. I didn't know she was still writing new books. I haven't read any since high school. :)

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  2. My dad introduced me to this author when I was in high school too!! But like Mari I haven't read any of her books since then. I only read the occasionaly mystery novel now.

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