New York Times bestselling thriller writer Mary Higgins Clark isn't called the Queen of Suspense for nothing. Each of her 51 books has been a major commercial hit, and each of them is still in print, an astonishing feat.
Her latest, As Time Goes By, is the tale of Delaney Wright, a young Irish American news reporter in search of her birth mother who is coincidentally assigned to cover a sensational high-profile murder trial of a woman accused of killing her wealthy husband.
Wright, a talented reporter on the verge of the big time, is finally slated to appear on the 6 p.m. news in the kind of high profile career break that should delight her, yet we quickly discover that her quest to locate her birth mother is what's really consuming her thoughts.
“All of my main characters, I hate the word heroines, are of Irish descent,” Higgins Clark tells the Irish Voice. “That's because I know what an Irish gal thinks, I know what her mother told her, so I know her inside the minute I start the book. I'm always grateful for my story telling ability, based I always say on my Irish heritage.”
On trial for murder as the book begins is Betsy Grant, the widow of a wealthy doctor who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for eight years. It looks like it's an open and shut case and so her lawyer urges her to accept a plea bargain, but Betsy refuses. She will go to trial to prove her innocence.
“They were alone in the house, the alarm was on, Betsy seems to be the only person who could have done it. It looks very bad for her,” Higgins Clark adds, underlining the high stakes for the two main characters.
The details of the case are particularly convincingly rendered, which is no wonder since Higgins Clark brings a lifetime of legal experience to her plots.
“I used to go to trials all the time, I loved them,” she confides.
“Now I'm too well known to go because people ask, ‘Are you here to write about this trial?’ In fact my daughter is a judge and one day after she charged a jury one of alternates raised her hand and said, ‘Is it true your mother is Mary Higgins Clark?’ My daughter said yes but that has nothing to do with this trial. The woman said, ‘Well, I'd like to get her autograph.’ It's hard for me to go now because of things like that,” she adds.
Having two judges in her immediate family is certainly a plus when it comes to achieving accuracy in her novels, and in As Time Goes By the author’s deep knowledge of the lever of American crime and punishment comes to the fore.
“Delaney is so sure that Betsy is innocent that she goes out on her own – she has to resign from her job -- to see if there is anything she can discover. It's a race against the clock because Betsey is well on her way to a murder conviction,” Higgins Clark says.
After 51 novels you might expect that Higgins Clark has discovered a successful formula that she knows will work. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
“You're starting at square one every time and you don't assume that it's going to be a good story,” she says.
“I mean it's always as if it's my first story. The first 50 pages are torture. John and I have been married for 20 years and the first year we were married he said to one of my daughters, ‘I'm so worried about your mother, the plot doesn't work, the characters are stiff, she might as well throw it out the window,’ and my daughter Patty said, ‘Oh for God's sake, we've heard that for 20 books.’”
As Time Goes By also introduces us to Betsy’s stepson Alan Grant, who is growing increasingly anxious as the trial continues. That's because his inheritance is suddenly in question, and behind him waits his ex-wife, his children and a host of angry creditors.
But as the damning evidence against Betsy piles up, Delaney is convinced that Betsy is not guilty and she frantically tries to prove her innocence.
“I'm delighted with the great reviews the book's getting,” says Higgins Clark, who knows that she's number one and plans to stay there.
A high tension page turner, As Time Goes By doesn't put a foot wrong from start to finish and will only add to her long list of successes.