A Conversation with Mary Higgins Clark about Two Little Girls in Blue
Two Little Girls In Blue, your new suspense novel, is the story of twins being kidnapped with only one child returning home. Is this based on a real kidnapping or a combination of cases?
Two Little Girls in Blue is totally fiction. It evolved from all my research on the almost mystical bond between some identical twins, as well as our partnership with HMHB.
How did you view the idea of twin telepathy before you wrote this novel and how did it change throughout your writing process?
Psychic phenomena has always been an interest of mine. Then over the years I have read articles about the bonding between twins and have been fascinated by the fact that even separated at birth and raised in totally different environments, there were still remarkable similarities in the way they dressed, the colors they used in their homes. In some cases they even married men with the same first name and called their children the same names. Then when I read about the telepathy between some identical twins, a story started to form in my mind.
How did the song “Two Little Girls in Blue” become part of your story?
I love to use song titles or a line from a song as a title for my books. For some reason a very old song, “Two little girls in blue” always stuck in my mind. When I decided to write the twin story it just seemed appropriate to use the title of this song for my book.
Having reached the pinnacle of success, could you visualize a life of leisure?
No — never. Somebody once said, if you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, love what you do. That’s the way it is for me — I love to spin yarns.
How has your recent re-marriage affected your life?
My marriage to John J. Conheeney in November 1996 greatly expanded my family. In addition to my five children and six grandchildren, there are now his four children and ten grandchildren. Soon there will be an eleventh. John’s daughter, Trish, is adopting a baby from Kazakhstan.
What are your children doing at present?
My daughter, Carol, is the author of nine suspense novels: her newest one is Hitched. My daughter, Marilyn, is a superior court judge, and my daughter, Patty, an executive assistant at the Mercantile Exchange. My son, Warren, a lawyer, is a municipal court judge; my son, David, is president and CEO of Talk Marketing Enterprises, Inc.
You are known as “The Queen of Suspense.” What do you consider the essence of your talent?
Being a storyteller. Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was a dedicated suspense reader, made a simple, but profound observation on receiving the Mystery Writers of America award as Mystery Reader of the Year. He said that a writer must think of himself or herself primarily as a storyteller. Every book or story should figuratively begin with the words ‘once upon a time.’ It is true now as it was in the long ago days of wandering minstrels, that when these words are uttered, the room becomes quiet, everyone draws closer to the fire and the magic begins.
Your books are world-wide bestsellers. What is the secret of your popularity?
Readers identify with my characters. I write about people going about their daily lives, not looking for trouble, who are suddenly plunged into menacing situations.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I knew it as a child. The first thing I wrote was a poem, when I was seven. I still have it. It’s pretty bad, but my mother thought it was beautiful and made me recite it for everyone who came in. I am sure the captive audience was ready to shoot me, but that kind of encouragement nurtures a budding talent. From the time I was seven, I also kept diaries. I can read them now and look back at what I was like at different ages. I still keep diaries; they are a great help to my novels. No one has seen them — they are locked in a trunk.
What early experiences influenced you?
I grew up in the Bronx, where my father was the owner of Higgins Bar and Grille. When I was ten years old, I had a terrible shock. Coming home from early mass one morning, I found a crowd of neighbors outside the house. My father had died in his sleep. My mother went on to raise me and my two brothers alone. When I had said goodnight to my father, I didn’t know it was for the last time. His sudden death jolted me into awareness of the fragility of life. My mother’s example taught me resilience. The characters in my books are resilient and resourceful. When calamity strikes, they carry on.
How did your father’s death influence the course of your life?
Our whole existence changed. My mother tried to get a job, but at that time it was practically impossible for women in late middle-age to return to the job market. She took babysitting jobs and, while I was in high school, I worked as a babysitter and switchboard operator. After graduating from high school, I went to secretarial school, so I could get a job and help with the family finances.
So you had to sacrifice your college education?
Only postpone it. I went to college after my children were grown and I was already an established writer. In 1979, I graduated from Fordham University at Lincoln Center summa cum laude with a B.A. in philosophy. To celebrate, I gave myself a graduation party. The card read: “this invitation is 25 years overdue — help prove it’s not too late.”
What happened in the years before you became a professional writer?
After completing secretarial school, I worked for a couple of years in an advertising agency. Then, one day, a friend — a Pan Am stewardess — spoke seven words that changed my life: “God, it was beastly hot in Calcutta.’ I decided that I, too, wanted to see the world and signed up as a Pan Am stewardess. My run was Europe, Africa and Asia. I was in a revolution in Syria and on the last flight into Czechoslovakia before the Iron Curtain went down. I flew for a year and then got married to Warren Clark, on whom I had a crush since I was 16. He was nine years older than I and a friend of my brother Joe’s.
When did you start your writing career?
After I got married, I signed up for a writing course at New York University. There, I got advice from a professor which has always served me well. He said: “Write about what you know. Take a dramatic incident you are familiar with and go with it.” I thought of my experience on the last flight to Czechoslovakia and gave my imagination free rein. “Suppose,” I reflected, “the stewardess finds an 18-year old member of the Czech underground hiding on the plane as it is about to leave.” The story was called “Stowaway.” It took six years and 40 rejection slips before I sold it to Extension magazine in 1956 for $100. I framed that first letter of acceptance.
You were widowed at an early age, with five young children. Did that discourage you from pursuing your goal?
No, on the contrary. To help fill the gap, I decided to concentrate on writing. My children ranged in age from 13 down to five. Because of his heart condition, Warren wasn’t insurable, so I had to work. Just a few hours before he died of a heart attack, I had called a friend who did radio script writing. She had often asked me to join her company in writing for radio and I began writing radio shows. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I wanted to write books.
How did you find time to write books, while raising five children and holding a job?
When my children were young, I used to get up at five and write at the kitchen table until seven, when I had to get them ready for school. For me, writing is a need. It’s the degree of yearning that separates the real writer from the “would-be’s.” Those who say “I’ll write when I have time, when the kids are grown up or when I have a quiet place to work,” will probably never do it.
What was your first book?
A biographical novel about George Washington, Aspire to the Heavens, based on a radio series I was then writing called Portrait of a Patriot, vignettes about presidents. It was a commercial disaster and remaindered as it came off the press. But it showed that I could write a book and get it published.
What made you turn to the field of mystery and suspense?
I decided to write a book that would, hopefully, outsell Aspire to the Heavens. One of the best clues about what to write is what one likes to read. I decided to see if I could write a suspense novel. It was like a prospector stumbling on a vein of gold. I wrote Where Are The Children?, my first bestseller and a turning point in my life and career.
What is the basis of your first bestseller, Where Are the Children?
In New York, there was a sensational case, in which a beautiful young mother was on trial for murdering her two small children. I didn’t write about that case, but asked myself the question: ‘suppose your children disappear and you are accused of killing them — and then it happens again.’ Where Are the Children? is about a woman whose past holds a terrible secret. Nancy Harmon had been found guilty of murdering her two children and only released from prison on a legal technicality. She abandons her old life, changes her appearance and leaves San Francisco, to seek tranquillity on Cape Cod. Now she has married again, has two more lovely children and a life filled with happiness…until the morning when she looks for her children, finds only a tattered mitten and knows that the nightmare is beginning again. The theme of a missing child struck a personal chord in me. Once, when we moved to a new home, my youngest daughter Patty was briefly missing. That’s when I experienced the panic any mother feels under these circumstances.
What stimulated you to write A Stranger Is Watching?
The book brings out the issue of capital punishment, from the viewpoints of a victim and an objective observer. It also shows how life and death can hinge on tiny twists of fate. Steve Peterson’s wife, Nina, has been murdered by a man who had changed her flat tire. Two years later, an innocent 19-year old boy is about to be executed for the crime. Steve, an advocate of capital punishment, is involved with Sharon Martin, an opponent of the death sentence. Their different views on this issue, however, are an obstacle to their relationship. Then, one day, Sharon and Neil, Steve’s six-year-old son, are abducted by the psychopath who had murdered Nina. They are held in a room in the bowels of Grand Central station, with a bomb rigged to the door.
The Cradle Will Fall deals with women victimized by a ruthless doctor. Is medicine a subject of particular interest to you?
Yes. Particularly the subject covered in this book — medical research in fertility. The so-called ‘test-tube’ baby had just been born in England and there were many arguments about the legal and ethical aspects of in-vitro fertilization. One article predicted that there would soon be surrogate mothers and host mothers. I thought, ‘suppose a brilliant doctor is experimenting with his patients’ lives in his desire to make a breakthrough’ — and I was on my way with the book.
In The Cradle Will Fall, Dr. Edgar Highley, a highly respected gynecologist and fertility specialist, runs an expensive clinic in a New Jersey hospital, where he is considered to achieve ‘miracle cures’ for infertile women. Katie DeMaio, a young prosecutor and widow of a judge, comes to the hospital after a minor car accident. That night, from her window, she sees a man load a woman’s body into the trunk of a car. Katie, who is heavily sedated, thinks she is having a nightmare. Released the next day, she starts work on a suicide case that looks more like murder. While initial evidence points elsewhere, the medical examiner establishes a trail leading to Dr. Highley. He suspects that the famous doctor’s work was more than controversial — that it was deadly. Before he can tell Katie, she has left the office for the weekend and an appointment for surgery with Dr. Highley, who had seen her at the window on that fateful night. At the time I wrote this novel, one of my daughters was an assistant prosecutor. She was the source of in-house advice about the legal aspects of this novel.
A Cinderella story gone wrong is the theme of A Cry in the Night. What inspired this novel?
I was thinking about the fact that in our society so many single mothers are struggling to raise children alone and most of them would love to meet ‘Prince Charming.’
Jenny MacPartland is a beautiful young divorcee, working in a New York art gallery and struggling to support her two little girls. There, she meets Erich Krueger, a newly-discovered Midwest artist, who has come into fame and fortune. Married within a month, Jenny is sure she will grow to love living on Erich Krueger’s Minnesota farm, until lonely days and eerie nights strain her nerves to the breaking point and a chain of terrifying events threatens her marriage, her children and her life.
The book was made into a television film, starring my daughter, actress-writer Carol Higgins Clark, released in the U.S. in 1992.
Stillwatch is set in Washington. What drew you to this milieu?
The 1984 election was coming up. I anticipated the Democrats ‘talking’ a woman vice-president and decided to beat them to it. You can imagine my glee when, just as the book was coming out, Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.
In this novel, there are two women protagonists. Pat Traymore comes to Washington to produce a television program on Senator Abigail Jennings, about to be appointed vice-president. Pat’s task is to ‘humanize’ the Senator — to shed light on aspects of her life unknown to the public. As Pat delves into Abigail’s past, she learns of facts that could destroy Abigail, just as she is on the verge of attaining her goal. Pat has also come to Washington for unfinished business of her own — to uncover secrets of her past. She moves back into her childhood home, the scene of a terrible crime never explained. Pat does not realize that her quest may cost her life.
In Stillwatch, I deal with two women’s relationship to their past — one determined to learn the truth at all costs — another, for whom emergence of the truth will mean the end of her dreams. In creating the setting, I was aided in part by my friend, Francis Humphrey Howard, sister of the late Senator Hubert Humphrey, who introduced me to Washington life.
Weep No More, My Lady takes place in a luxurious spa. Why did you choose this setting for a suspense novel?
It used to be only the rich could afford to go to spas. Today, with the wide-spread interest in health and beauty, there are affordable spas all over the country. An intriguing thought crossed my mind — ‘suppose a killer in a wet suit is stalking the grounds of one of these spas.’
The plot in Weep No More, My Lady revolves around the mysterious death of stage and screen star Leila LaSalle. Was her fall from her penthouse terrace suicide or murder? This is the question plaguing her sister, beautiful Elizabeth Lange. Min, an old friend of Leila’s, is the owner of luxurious Cypress Point Spa. She invites Elizabeth to the spa, where she encounters a cast of characters each of whom had a motive for killing her sister — and one who is now trying to murder her.
Alvirah, the cleaning woman who has won the $40 million dollar lottery, and her husband Willy, a plumber, made their debut in this novel. Alvirah came to Cypress Point Spa not only to relax and enjoy herself, but to write a gossip column for the New York Globe. The killer stalking Elizabeth, the main protagonist, decides to get Alvirah out of the way. His scheme fails, though, and she provides important clues to his identity.
Your novel, While My Pretty One Sleeps, is set in the world of high fashion. How did you get such intimate knowledge of the fashion world?
I grew up hearing about the world of fashion from my mother, who had been the bridal buyer at B. Altman’s. I also wrote a syndicated radio show, ‘Women Today,’ for which I regularly interviewed designers and fashion editors and attended fashion events. It gave me the chance to see both the glamour and the agony of the fashion industry.
Ethel Lambston, prominent gossip writer, is about to rock the fashion industry with an expose revealing the secrets of top fashion designers. The story opens with Ethel’s killer driving, in a blinding snowstorm, to a state park in Rockland County, N.Y., to bury Ethel’s body. The first to notice Ethel’s disappearance is Neeve Kearney, beautiful young owner of an exclusive Madison Avenue boutique, where Ethel bought all her clothes. She lives with her father, Myles Kearney. A retired police commissioner, he has never forgiven himself because his wife was murdered after he ignored a threat to her life. Neeve becomes deeply involved in the investigation of Ethel’s murder. She also becomes a target for the killer.
In While My Pretty One Sleeps, I have included themes based on my view of family relations. I created a strong father-daughter relationship because I am tired of books about parents and children at each other’s throats. I got along well with my parents and I get along fine with my children. The book also has a strong love story reflecting my belief that some people are meant for each other.
The Anastasia Syndrome & Other Stories, a novella and short stories, covers such themes as parapsychology and supernatural phenomena. Have you delved into these subjects?
Yes. I took a course in parapsychology at New York’s New School of Social Research, during which I observed people being regressed to former lifetimes. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I am fascinated by its dramatic possibilities.
The novella, The Anastasia Syndrome, was inspired by the true story of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia — a claim debated and tried in court for over 50 years which remains, to this day, an enigma. In The Anastasia Syndrome,Judith Chase, a prominent historical writer, is living in London and becoming traumatized by early childhood memories of bombing raids during World War II, in which she was orphaned. She goes to a prominent psychiatrist for help and becomes the victim of his experiments in regression. She is regressed not only to her childhood tragedy, but to 1660, the era of the Civil War in England. In this regression process, she absorbs the persona of murderous Lady Margaret Carew, a woman with a mission of vengeance. In her persona of Lady Carew, Judith becomes the subject of a massive hunt by Scotland Yard.
The four stories in The Anastasia Syndrome & Other Stories deal with such themes as obsession and supernatural phenomena. Obsessive love is the theme of Terror Stalks the Class Reunion. A supernatural phenomenon occurs in Double Vision. Lucky Day begins with a premonition of imminent danger. The Lost Angel is a Christmas story, in which a mother’s intuition becomes the overpowering force in the search for a lost child. The book reflects an intense personal interest on my part in such phenomena as sixth sense and thought transference.
What prompted you to choose the world of personal ads as a background forLoves Music, Loves to Dance?
People in all walks of life are turning to personal ads to find romance or companionship. Personal ads are risky, but they are big business in America. The scary aspect is that you are taking on faith what a stranger tells you — his name, his job, his marital status, his background. Women can fall prey to sexual harassment, rape, even murder.
I attended a lecture by an FBI agent when I was Chairman of the International Crime Congress in 1987, who was talking about a serial killer who had enticed his victims through personal ads. The words ‘loves music, loves to dance’ walked through my mind and the seed for the book was planted. The speaker that day was Robert Ressler, Director of Behavioral Forensic Sciences, who has since retired from the FBI. As the FBI’s top Criminologist and Serial Murder and Violent Crime Expert, Robert Ressler had conducted original research in violent criminal behavior and interviewed some of the most notorious criminals, such as David Berkowitz, the ‘Son of Sam Killer;’ Ted Bundy, killer of over 35 women; Richard T. Chase, the ‘Vampire Killer;’ John Wayne Gacy, Chicago killer of 33 boys; and Charles Manson. Robert Ressler acted as my consultant on Loves Music, Loves to Dance.
Loves Music, Loves to Dance revolves around a serial killer who uses personal ads to entice his victims. Erin Kelly, a talented young jewelry designer and her best friend, Darcy Scott, a decorator, have been dating men through personal ads. They were helping a friend, a television producer, to research a documentary on the kinds of people who place and answer personal ads and their experiences. Darcy had persuaded the reluctant Erin to participate. One day, Erin is missing. Soon after, her body is found on an abandoned Manhattan pier. On one foot is her own shoe; on the other, a high-heeled dancing slipper. Guilt-stricken over Erin’s death, Darcy decides to meet the men Erin dated, to find her killer. What Darcy does not realize, what she cannot know until it is too late, is that she has been targeted as the killer’s next victim.
All Around the Town deals with a young woman with multiple personalities, accused of murder. How did you get the idea for this book?
It emanated from the request for an autograph. My daughter Carol’s friend came to visit, an art therapist from the National Center for Treatment of Dissociative Disorders in Denver, specializing in the treatment of multiple personality disorder. She wanted me to sign a book for one of her patients. When I asked for the name, she hesitated and said: ‘Now which one of her personalities reads your books?’ This aroused my interest and led to my writing this book.
Laurie Kenyon, the main protagonist in All Around the Town, a 21-year old college senior, is accused of murdering her English professor, Allan Grant. When he is found stabbed to death, her fingerprints are everywhere — on the door, on the curtain, on the knife. Arraigned on a murder charge, Laurie has no memory of the crime. Traumatized by abuse she suffered after she was kidnapped at the age of four and held for two years, she has developed multiple personalities. Laurie, the host personality, does not know that others co-exist with her, nor is she aware that one of her alternates, Leona, has been writing Allan Grant crazed love letters and secretly entering his home.
Bic Hawkins, Laurie’s abductor, an unsavory drifter, had been scratching out a living singing in taverns and as a fundamentalist preacher. Now he has become a celebrated television evangelist. Before releasing her, Bic had threatened six-year old Laurie with death if she ever talked about what he had done to her and, terrified, she erased the experience from her mind.
Attorney Sarah Kenyon has quit her job as assistant prosecutor to defend her younger sister. Her strategy is to prove that Laurie’s childhood trauma was the direct cause of Allan Grant’s murder. Sarah brings in Dr. Justin Donnelly, a specialist in the treatment of multiple personalities, to unlock the unbearable memories she has been suppressing. As her multiple personalities emerge in therapy and the date for her trial approaches, her fate hangs on the question: if one of her alternate personalities perpetrated Allan Grant’s murder, is she to be held accountable?
What triggered off your interest in in-vitro fertilization and human cloning — themes in your novel, I’ll Be Seeing You?
The first test-tube baby was born in England in the 70s. This stimulated my interest in the issue of in-vitro fertilization and led to my writing the novel, The Cradle Will Fall, published in 1980.
The ‘what if’ of in-vitro fertilization and human cloning is a theme in I’ll Be Seeing You.Published in hardcover in 1993, the scenario of the attempt to clone identical twins preceded a medical breakthrough in human cloning — the Hall-Stillman experiment at George Washington University — which aroused world-wide controversy.
In I’ll Be Seeing You, Meghan Collins, a television news reporter, is covering a story in the emergency room of a large metropolitan hospital when an unidentified stabbing victim is brought in. Attempts to revive her fail. When Meghan looks at the dead girl’s face, she recoils in horror — she is looking at a mirror image of her own. As she attempts to learn the identity of the dead girl, her search becomes linked to a story she is doing at the Manning Clinic.
The Manning Clinic, an assisted reproduction facility, has a remarkably high success rate in helping childless women conceive through in-vitro fertilization. Now, they have ventured into cloning of embryos and a woman is about to deliver the identical twin of her three-year old son. At first, the director, Dr. George Manning, welcomes the idea of television coverage, but bars Meghan when Dr. Helene Petrovic, embryologist in charge of the laboratory, abruptly quits. He refuses Meghan further access to the clinic. That evening, Helene Petrovic’s body is found — she has been shot to death. Then, a scandal erupts at the Manning Clinic.
Petrovic is linked to Meghan’s father, Edwin Collins, whose executive search firm had placed her in the lab. For nearly a year, Collins had been missing and presumed dead. Now, suspicion arises about his disappearance. Meghan is sure that Petrovic’s death is the key to learning the truth about her father, the dead girl and the Manning Clinic.
Remember Me, a psychological thriller, is set on Cape Cod. What motivated you to choose this locale?
The idea originated twenty years ago, when I visited a bookstore on the Cape, where I have a home, and came across a book on its legends and history. At that time, the idea for a novel titled ‘Remember House’ first took root in my mind. It became Remember Me, in which the main character, Menley, goes to ‘Remember House.’ I realized that the story of the early settlers, their lifestyles and their homes, would provide a rich historical background for a suspense story in which today and yesterday become inexorably linked.
Menley, heroine of Remember Me, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. What made you use this as a theme in your novel?
The medical profession has only recently recognized that a traumatic event can be re-experienced if something triggers off the memory of a contributing factor to the trauma — earthquake victims may panic if a subway train rumbles underneath; a woman who has been attacked in an elevator may find it impossible to enter an elevator again.
In Remember Me, Menley drives across an unguarded railroad crossing and the train hits the back of the car, killing her little boy. The sight of the railroad crossing, the sound of a train whistle, the sound of screaming, are enough to make her re-live that awful moment with the same desperate anxiety and panic she experienced at the time. Menley has never stopped blaming herself for the death of her two-year old son Bobby, though she was blameless. In the aftermath, as Menley suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, her marriage to Adam, a high-profile criminal lawyer, starts to fall apart. The birth of their daughter, Hannah, revitalizes their relationship.
Seeking tranquillity, Menley and Adam rent ‘Remember House’ on Cape Cod, where strange things begin to happen. Incidents occur which make Menley relive the horror of the accident and make Adam fear for Hannah’s safety. Menley and Adam become involved with Scott Covey, a strikingly handsome, but impecunious young man, who is suspected of murder when his wealthy young bride of only three months drowns in a storm. Sympathetic to his plight, Menley persuades her husband to take on his case.
Step by step, they are drawn into a dark and threatening web of events that disrupt this seemingly peaceful town. Remember Me builds to a climax, as Menley faces a mounting threat to her sanity — and to her life.
When you first introduced Alvirah Meehan as a character in Weep No More, My Lady, did you plan to make her and her husband Willy ongoing characters in your work?
No — on the contrary. I intended to kill off Alvirah in Weep No More, My Lady. My daughter, suspense writer Carol Higgins Clark, prevailed on me to keep her alive. Alvirah and Willy are now the protagonists of a series, the first of which was The Lottery Winner: Alvirah & Willy Stories.
What kind of people are Alvirah and Willy?
They had worked all their lives — she as a cleaning woman and he as a plumber. Winning $40 million in the New York State lottery released Alvirah’s sense of adventure to pursue a new career as a New York Globe columnist and amateur sleuth, often to the dismay of not only criminals, but also the police. But it never changed Alvirah and Willy’s innate wisdom about what really matters in life.
Your suspense novel, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, has an unusual twist — a plot revolving around plastic surgery. What inspired this theme?
The idea of using plastic surgery as a theme emanated from a conversation with my long-time editor, Michael Korda. He raised the question ‘what if a plastic surgeon keeps giving the exact same face to a number of women?’ I found the idea intriguing.
What is the plot of Let Me Call You Sweetheart?
Kerry McGrath, a young assistant prosecutor, learns that her ten-year-old daughter, Robin, has been injured in a car accident while out with her father, Kerry’s ex-husband Bob Kinellen. Robin’s face has been cut by flying glass and she has to be taken to the hospital. When Kerry arrives there, Robin is in surgery with the prominent plastic surgeon, Dr. Charles Smith.
A week later, Kerry is in Dr. Smith’s office with Robin, to have her stitches removed. There, Kerry sees a young woman, who appears to be in her mid-twenties, a cloud of dark hair framing her face. ‘I know you,’ she thought. ‘But from where? That face — I have seen her before.’ The woman’s name, she finds out, is Barbara Tompkins, a name which means nothing to her. On her next visit to Dr. Smith’s office, Kerry sees another woman with the same face. Her name is Pamela Worth — a name also unknown to her.
Kerry cannot get the face out of her mind and starts having nightmares. In the first, she is in the doctor’s waiting room, and sees a young woman lying on the floor, a knotted cord twisted around her neck. In the next, sweetheart roses are scattered around her body. Now Kerry knew. The women resembled Suzanne Reardon, the victim in the ‘Sweetheart Murder Case.’
Nearly eleven years ago, when Kerry McGrath had just begun work in the county prosecutor’s office, Suzanne Reardon had been murdered. Her husband had been convicted of the murder. Was there a connection between the crime and the look-alikes of the victim?
Kerry decides to probe into the ‘Sweetheart Murder Case,’ knowing that it may jeopardize her career, but unaware that there is more at stake — her life and that of her daughter, Robin. The story builds to a climax as the murderer targets Kerry and Robin for his next strike.
You wrote a suspense novel with a Christmas theme, Silent Night. What is it about?
Catherine Dornan has come to New York with her two sons, ten-year old Michael and seven-year old Brian, to be near Tom, her husband, who is lying critically ill in the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It is Christmas Eve and they are on Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Center. Later on, they plan to go to the hospital to give Tom the St. Christopher’s medal which saved her father’s life in World War II by deflecting a bullet — Catherine’s mother and little Brian firmly believe that it will make him well. Suddenly, Catherine realizes that her wallet with the St. Christopher’s medal is missing and that Brian has disappeared.
Cally Hunter, a woman from the other side of the tracks, is also on Fifth Avenue on Christmas Eve, looking for a man who sells dolls on the street, so she can buy one cheaply for her four-year old daughter, Gigi. Cally had just served a 15-month prison sentence for aiding her brother, a cop killer. When Cally sees Catherine’s wallet drop to the sidewalk, she grabs it and makes off. Brian has seen what happened and knows he must retrieve the St. Christopher’s medal. He follows Cally into the subway, all the way into her dilapidated building in lower Manhattan. As he hovers around Cally’s apartment door, a man comes out and yanks him in. The man is Jimmy Siddons, Cally’s brother, who has escaped from prison and come to get money from Cally. Jimmy Siddons abducts Brian, as traveling with a little boy at Christmas is the ideal camouflage for his planned escape to Canada in a stolen car. The story reaches its climax when Jimmy realizes he is being followed and Brian knows that Jimmy is about to kill him. Brian decides to take action.
He knows he has a mission to fulfill — to bring the St. Christopher Medal to his father.
Describe the plot of Moonlight Becomes You.
Maggie Holloway, a young photographer, becomes the target of a killer with a twisted mind when she discovers a link between the murder of her stepmother, Nuala Moore, and several deaths at Latham Manor, a magnificent Newport mansion, now a residence for wealthy retirees. She has a chance encounter with her stepmother, Nuala Moore, at a cocktail party in Manhattan — a family reunion for the Moore clan of Newport. Nuala, a painter, had brightened her childhood, but they lost touch after her divorce from her father. When Nuala invites Maggie to visit her in Newport, she readily accepts. Nuala plans a dinner for a group of friends to welcome her, but when Maggie arrives, she finds the house ransacked and Nuala dead.
Nuala had planned to sell her house and move into Latham Manor, but changed her mind at the last moment. Maggie learns that just the day before she died, Nuala had changed her will, leaving the house and everything she owned to her. Nuala’s only request was that Maggie visit her friend Greta Shipley at Latham Manor as often as possible. In carrying out Nuala’s wish, Maggie gets to know the other residents and learns that several women there had died suddenly.
When Maggie accompanies Greta Shipley to the cemetery to visit Nuala’s grave and those of her other friends, she notices something odd. She decides to return and take photographs. When she goes back with the pictures, she makes a strange discovery, not only about Nuala’s grave, but also the graves of four other women who recently died at Latham Manor. Soon after, Greta Shipley herself dies and Maggie begins her own investigation.
As Maggie begins to unravel the thread linking Nuala’s murder to the deaths of the women at Latham Manor, she comes closer and closer to uncovering the identity of a killer with his own strange signature. What she does not know is that she is now the killer’s target and that each clue brings her closer to an unimaginable fate.
My Gal Sunday: Henry and Sunday Stories, revolves around Henry Britland IV, a former president of the United States, and his bride, Congresswoman Sandra O’Brien. Tell us about Henry and Sunday.
Henry is young, rich and handsome, the scion of a wealthy and influential family. Sandra, known as Sunday, is the daughter of a New Jersey motorman. I derived the idea for these characters from my favorite radio series as a child, the once wildly popular soap opera, ‘Our Gal Sunday.’
What are the stories about?
The four stories in My Gal Sunday deal with the indictment of Henry’s close friend and former Secretary of State for the murder of his mistress, the kidnapping of Sunday, the mysterious disappearance from the Britland’s yacht of a Latin American Prime Minister and a Christmas story about a little boy who has been abducted and is reunited with his family by Henry and Sunday.
Some of the characters in My Gal Sunday are portrayed tongue-in-cheek. Isn’t that unusual in your writing?
In my novels, I set out to scare people. Here, it is suspense with a touch of whimsy.
How did you acquire the knowledge of the presidential lifestyle and Secret Service protocol, reflected in these stories?
I have been a guest at the Bush and Clinton White House and also spent time in Washington doing research on protection of former presidents by the Secret Service.
Pretend You Don’t See Her revolves around a young woman who has to go into the federal witness protection program after witnessing a murder.
Lacey Farrell, a real estate agent in the New York firm of Parker & Parker, is asked by Isabelle Waring to handle the sale of her daughter’s apartment, Heather Landi, a young singer and actress who had been killed in a car accident on her way back from a weekend of skiing in Vermont. Isabelle never believed that Heather’s death was an accident and had moved into her apartment, obsessively looking for clues to her death. Heather’s father, however, famed restaurateur Jimmy Landi, does not share her doubts. He insists that Isabelle, his former wife, accept their daughter’s death and sell the apartment. Lacey takes a prospective buyer to see it — Curtis Caldwell, a lawyer from a prestigious law firm. He makes an immediate offer. It is with horror that Lacey encounters him at the apartment later that day and realizes that he is Isabelle’s killer.
Isabelle had made a dying wish to Lacey — to take a sheaf of papers to Heather’s father. They were Heather’s journal and, she believed, held the key to her death. To keep her word, Lacey does not give the papers to the police and before handing them to Jimmy Landi, makes a copy for herself. While Lacey is in trouble with the police for removing evidence from the crime scene, her description of the killer enables her to identify him — Sandy Savarano, a professional hitman, who had eluded jail by staging his own death some years ago. Savarano now receives orders to silence Lacey, who knows more about Isabelle’s and Heather’s deaths than would allow her to live.
In You Belong To Me, Regina Clausen, a prominent investment banker, falls prey to a serial killer on a luxury cruise. Could this happen in real life?
Women traveling alone are receptive to romance, hoping they’ll meet a ‘special someone’ — even successful, sophisticated women can be lured into dangerous, sometimes fatal relationships.
During a call-in radio program on the topic of vanished women, a married woman calls under an alias, saying she had a shipboard romance which might shed light on the case of Regina Clausen. Why did you use a call-in show as a major plot element?
People reveal their most intimate feelings and experiences on TV and radio shows. And, as in this novel, their revelations sometimes lead to frightening consequences.