Queen of Suspense Mary Higgins Clark Dies At 92

Mary Higgins Clark encouraged the flame of inspiration and burned mysteries in the minds of generations.

Mary Higgins Clark

Popular mystery novelist Mary Higgins Clark died of natural causes in Naples, Florida, on Friday March 31, according to the New York Times.

“It is with deep sadness we say goodbye to the ‘Queen of Suspense’ Mary Higgins Clark, author of over 40 bestselling suspense titles,” her publisher Simon & Schuster announced on Twitter. “She passed away peacefully this evening at the age of 92 surrounded by family and friends.”

Higgins Clark was a widow in her late 30s with five children to support when her she published her first book. She would go on to write 56 best sellers, including Loves Music, Loves to Dance and Daddy’s Little Girl, in a career spanning over 45 years. Her book sales topped 100 million copies and she won honors like the “Grand Master” statuette from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France. Many of her books, including A Stranger Is Watching and Lucky Day, were adapted for movies and television. Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry, her last book published in November 2019, told the contemporary story of a reporter investigating sexual misconduct allegations at a national news network.

Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins was born in the Bronx on Dec. 24, 1927. The second of three children, her Irish immigrant father ran a popular pub until the Great Depression. Forced to work longer hours after cutting his staff, he died in his sleep in 1939. She worked as a hotel switchboard operator, and famously eavesdropped on playwright Tennessee Williams, before becoming a flight attendant for Pan American. She was a stewardess on the last flight allowed into Czechoslovakia before fall of the Iron Curtain. She married Warren Clark, the regional manager of Capital Airways, in 1949. She studied writing at New York University in the 1950s and early 1960s, while raising their four children: Marilyn, Warren Jr., David, and Patricia.

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Higgins Clark sold her first story, “Stowaway,” to Extension magazine in 1956. Her story “Beauty Contest at Buckingham Palace,” which was about a pageant featuring Queen Elizabeth II, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco, was published in The Saturday Evening Post. When Warren Clark died of a heart attack in 1964, Mary worked as a script writer for the radio series Portrait of a President. The job inspired her first book, Aspire to the Heavens, a historical novel about George and Martha Washington, which was published in 1969. She was paid $1,500, because the publisher went out of business. The novel was later reissued as Mount Vernon: A Love Story.

Higgins Clark sold her first successful novel, Where Are the Children? (1975), for $3,000. Inspired by Agatha Christie novels, the book told the story of a young mother who is accused of killing her son and daughter. She “changed her name, dyed her hair, and left California for the windswept peace of Cape Cod,” according to the official synopsis. “Now remarried, she has two more beloved children, and the terrible pain has begun to heal — until the morning when she looks in the backyard for her little boy and girl and finds only one red mitten. She knows that the nightmare is beginning again.”

Simon & Schuster offered Clark $500,000 for the hardcover to her third novel, A Stranger is Watching, in April 1977.

Higgins Clark’s novels featured strong women. Her formula was put to put the characters into extremely perilous situations and show how they triumph. Her recent works include collaborating with Alafair Burke on the Under Suspicion book series. She also collaborated on several novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark. She was also a part owner of the New Jersey Nets for a while.

“When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book,” Higgins Clark is often quoted as saying. That personal touch is a major reason she touched such a nerve and fulfilled what she thought her job was as a writer: “to keep people reading.”

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.

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