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Children's Book Reading Challenge...For Adults!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Has the "Queen of Suspense" Lost Her Touch? Sadly, Yes.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On a dark November night in Long Island City, the buildings that house Connelly Fine Art Reproductions erupt into flames.  The blaze destroys everything—including a museum filled with priceless antiques—leaving a 75-year-old former employee dead and the owner's adult daughter in a coma.  Pointed questions are being asked:  Who caused the mysterious fire?  Why would someone want to burn the venerable family-owned furniture business to the ground?  And what were the elderly man and the young CPA doing in the building that late at night?  Both had been heard joking about setting a match to the entire place—did they carry out the dastardly deed together?  No one knows the answers.

While 30-year-old Kate Connelly lays comatose in a hospital, her sister starts digging into the cause of the fire.  Hannah knows her older sister cannot possibly be guilty of arson—the trick is proving it.  She's not exactly Nancy Drew, but she can't concentrate on her fashion design career with her family's reputation on the line.  Hannah has to do something.  The last thing she wants to do is confront her self-centered playboy of a father, but as the owner of Connelly Fine Art Reproductions, he's the logical place to start.  Even if his drinking and carousing around were the very things leading to the bankruptcy of the business his father built from scratch.  Her dad needs a steady source of cash to fund his excessive lifestyle—did he set the fire in the hopes of collecting a thick wad of insurance money?  Or was it Gus, a disgruntled employee?  And then there's the homeless man who was secretly living on the property and is now in the wind—what does he know about the crime?  Hannah's so confused she can hardly see straight.  She will put all the pieces together, but can she do it before the arsonist comes for her?  Or will she become his/her next victim?

Mary Higgins Clark's romantic suspense novels used to blow me away with their intensity.  I spent plenty of mornings dragging myself to my high school classes after staying up way too late trying to finish one of her books.  Maybe Clark's losing the touch in her twilight years (she's 83!) or maybe I've just matured as a reader, but I have a hard time reading her now.  While I appreciate that she writes fast-paced, mostly-clean mysteries that can be enjoyed by both teens and adults, I've realized she's not just the "Queen of Suspense," but also the queen of telling not showing; flat-as-a-piece-of-paper characters; and predictable outcomes.  Her newest, Daddy's Gone A Hunting, is an excellent example (although I was surprised to see that it broke with Clark's time-honored formula of alternating chapters narrated by a murderer and his next intended victim, aka The Heroine).  It's just not that great.  I mean, it's not the worst thing I've read lately, but it's far, far from the best.  And yet, it probably won't keep me from picking up the next Clark book.  Why?  Because I've loved this author for so long that I refuse to give up on her.  Even though I probably should have a long time ago.  Le sigh.   

(Readalikes:  Other novels by Mary Higgins Clark)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and very mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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