In the world of suspense novels, Mary Higgins Clark is in a class all her own. With over 100 million books sold in the U.S.—all 31 titles New York Times bestsellers—she has richly earned the nickname “Queen of Suspense.” Her mystery books draw out the tension, keeping us guessing while moving the story swiftly along. Yet it’s not just masterful plotting that keeps us reading Mary Higgins Clark books. Women relate to her strong, courageous and resourceful heroines.
Born in the Bronx in 1927, Higgins Clark loved to write from an early age. In high school, she churned out stories with an eye for publication. Even after she became a wife and mother of four, she never lost her dream of writing bestselling mystery books. When her husband, Warren, died in 1964, she took a job writing four-minute radio scripts, which honed the crisp writing style required for good suspense novels. Higgins Clark’s life-long dream was realized when the first of her mystery novels, Where Are the Children? (1975), became a New York Times bestseller. That, and such Mary Higgins Clark books as A Stranger Is Watching, The Cradle Will Fall and Loves Music, Loves to Dance have been adapted for film or television. Now her daughter, Carol, is a popular author of bestselling mystery books, too, sometimes sharing the New York Times bestseller list with her famous mom. Along with her suspense novels, numerous awards and honors fill this Mystery Writers of America Grand Master’s home, which she shares with her husband, John, in Saddle River, New Jersey.
I'll Walk Alone
Father Aiden O’Brien was hearing confessions in the lower church of St. Francis of Assisi on West Thirty-first Street in Manhattan. The seventy-eight-year-old Franciscan friar approved of the alternate way of administering the sacrament, that of having the penitent sit in the Reconciliation Room with him, rather than kneeling on the hard wood of the confessional with a screen hiding his or her identity. The one time he felt this new way did not work was when, sitting face-to-face, he sensed that the penitents might not be able to allow themselves to say what they might have been confided in darkness. This was happening now on this chilly, windswept afternoon in March. In the first hour he had sat in the room, only two women ha shown up, regular parishioners, both in their mideighties, whose sins, if any had ever existed, were long behind them. Today one of them had confessed that when she was eight years old she remembered telling a lie to her mother. She had eaten two cupcakes and blamed her brother for the missing one. As Fr. Aiden was praying his rosary until he was scheduled to leave the room, the door opened and a slender woman who looked to be in her early thirties came in. Her expression tentative, she moved slowly toward the chair facing him and hesitantly sat down on it. Her auburn hair was loose on her shoulder. Her fur-collared suit was clearly expensive, as were here high-heeled leather boots. Her only jewelry was silver earrings. His expression serene, Fr. Aiden waited. Then when the young woman did not speak, he asked encouragingly, “How can I help you?” “I don’t know how to being.” The woman’s voice was low and pleasant, with no hint of a geographical accent. “There’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t already heard.” Fr. Aiden said mildly. “I…” The woman paused, then the words came rushing out. “I know about a murder that someone is planning to commit and I can’t stop it.” Her expression horrified, she clasped her hand over her mouth and abruptly stood up. “I should never have come here,” she whispered. Then, her voice trembling with emotion, she said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I confess that I am an accessory to a crime that is ongoing and to a murder that is going to happen very soon. You’ll probably read about it in the headlines. I don’t want to be part of it, but it’s too late to stop.” She turned and in five steps had her hand on the door. “Wait,” Fr. Aiden called, trying to struggle to his feet. “Talk to me. I can help you.” But she was gone. Was the woman psychotic? Fr. Aiden wondered. Could she possibly have meant what she said? And if so, what could he do about it?
On Monday morning, Olivia Morrow sat quietly across the desk from her longtime friend Clay Hadley, absorbing the death sentence he had just pronounced.
For an instant, she looked away from the compassion she saw in his eyes and glanced out the window of his twenty-fourth-floor office on East Seventy-second Street in Manhattan. In the distance she could see a helicopter making its slow journey over the East River on this chilly October morning.
My journey is ending, she thought, then realized that Clay was expecting a response from her.
“Two weeks,” she said. It was not a question. She glanced at the antique clock on the bookcase behind Clay’s desk. It was ten minutes past nine. The first day of the two weeksÑat least it’s the start of the day, she thought, glad that she had asked for an early appointment.
He was answering her. “Three at the most. I’m sorry, Olivia. I was hoping . . .”
“Don’t be sorry,” Olivia interrupted briskly. “I’m eighty-two years old. Even though my generation lives so much longer than the previous ones, my friends have been dropping like flies lately. Our problem is that we worry we’ll live too long and end up in a nursing home, or become a terrible burden to everyone. To know I have a very short time left, but will still be able to think clearly and walk around unassisted until the very end is an immeasurable gift.” Her voice trailed off.
Clay Hadley’s eyes narrowed. He understood the troubled expression that had erased the serenity from Olivia’s face. Before she spoke, he knew what she would say. “Clay, only you and I know.”
“Do we have the right to continue to hide the truth?” she asked, looking at him intently. “Mother thought she did. She intended to take it to her grave, but at the very end when only you and I were there, she felt compelled to tell us. It became for her a matter of conscience. And with all the enormous good Catherine did in her life as a nun, her reputation has always been compromised by the insinuation that all those years ago, just before she entered the convent, she may have had a consensual liaison with a lover.”
Hadley studied Olivia Morrow’s face. Even the usual signs of age, the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, the slight tremor of her neck, the way she leaned forward to catch everything he said, did not detract from her finely chiseled features. His father had been her mother’s cardiologist, and he had taken over when his father retired. Now in his early fifties, he could not remember a time when the Morrow family had not been part of his life. As a child he had been in awe of Olivia, recognizing even then that she was always beautifully dressed. Later he realized that at that time she had still been working as a salesgirl at B. Altman’s, the famous Fifth Avenue department store, and that her style was achieved by buying her clothes at giveaway end-of-the-season sales. Never married, she had retired as an executive and board member of Altman’s years ago.
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