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Mary Higgins Clark
Mary Higgins Clark

lynn crosbie

A tribute to the queens who matter (they're not part of the Royal Family) Add to ...

And after the Westminster Abbey wedding, the bride was grabbed by a masked man and taken to a dungeon where ...

Wait, that is not a story about the possible future Queen. It is a plotline that the Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark, may have conceived of.

Those of you who are dragging yourselves out of bed at 4 a.m. this Friday to watch the wedding of (the-one-day-might-be Queen) Kate Middleton and Prince William: I applaud your belief in fairy-tale romances.

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But Middleton, is hardly one of the girls the Brothers Grimm liked to play torture and rescue with in their 19th-century adaptations.

It is the genuine rags-to-riches queens that I love - women who will never have the following items made in their honour: sock puppets, a labour-intensive Etch-a-Sketch portrait, temporary tattoos and porcelain meerkats, in full bride-and-groom regalia. (These items are taken from the mesmerizing RoyalWeddingTat on Twitter)

No, the unsung campy queens, such as Higgins Clark, are very rarely feted beyond their insular and devoted fan base - who may very well be making effigies from walnuts and hairballs, but oh so privately.

Yet they become monarchs in their own right - monarchs like the octogenarian Queen of Suspense, sitting once again on her perch high on The New York Times bestseller list, whose various hairdos and ensembles I like to alter, dreamily, with a brush and ink, while reading (all told) each of her 30 novels, three collections of short stories and her wretched Christmas collaborations with her daughter Carol "Nepotismerella" Higgins Clark.

The Queen's story begins here: In 1964, Higgins Clark, a mother of five, is at her husband Warren's bedside. Warren has had several heart attacks: He does not make it this time. Seeing her dead son, his mother throws herself on the bed and promptly dies, too.

This year, this same Higgins Clark, now 85, who gave her children poems for Christmas in 1965 about what she wished to give them but couldn't afford, has two books on NYT bestseller lists ( I'll Walk Alone and The Shadow of Your Smile). She has remarried and is never photographed without a nest of sculpted hair, replete with glimmering highlights, emerald or flaming-red couture and a selection of blazing jewellery that makes the late Elizabeth Taylor's seem modest. She is, in the late autumn of her life, the literary world's Liberace: a showy crowd-pleaser who receives only grudging, small notice from the critical sphere.

Higgins Clark, who works closely with Simon & Schuster's Michael Korda, is a suspense novelist, who hit pay dirt in 1975 with Where Are the Children?, a still-disquieting story about a woman who twice loses her children to the same pedophile-stalker.

The author wrote this then-thematically-taboo book while members of her family continued to die tragically, and after a failed first novel and bad luck publishing her stories in women's magazines obsessed with conventionally feminine articles. (Unfortunately this has not changed - send a story to Cosmopolitan, and the rejection letter reads "We are sorry but your failure to mention driving your man wild OR waxing your own bikini area with a cheese grater is just not how we roll at Cosmo.")

What was the big deal about Where Are the Children? Well, like I'll Walk Alone, which is formulaically similar, if less horrific (Higgins Clark has mellowed a great deal as a writer and sex, smoking, swearing and perverts are verboten), the book features a thirtyish, attractive woman besieged by a person or persons unknown.

The putative theme is identity theft, but the narrative is centred, as always, on the perils attendant on being a woman in the world. And Higgins Clark is ferocious about her singular obsession: death and the maiden.

As with the Ariel Dorfman play by that name, Higgins Clark's novels always showcase a helpless woman (and often, her children) who is preyed upon until she rises up and very powerfully dispatches of her enemies.

It is undeniably touching to see the child of the tragic and beautiful Diana, Princess of Wales, marry his beloved.

Yet the sad and fraught life of Diana is more identifiable, more real than Kate Middleton's to most women - and it's them Higgins Clark, ever-vigilant, writes for. She writes for the masses of women who still face potential danger and terror every day of their lives; whose lives - and this is the novelist's great trick - are the actual suspense stories that she, in writing them so well, makes so many of us take notice.

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