The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark
I’ve been reading Mary Higgins Clark books for a long time now. I actually picked up my first copy, Where Are The Children?, at the behest of my best friend in 6th grade, during the quiet reading period. As readers, we were quite advanced for our age, and I was struggling to find any Young Adult novels that managed to hold my attention – but I was immediately hooked by Clark’s mastery of the mystery.
Granted, as an author, Clark does have a definitive pattern that she rarely strays from when creating her plot lines, meaning her novels do feel a bit formulaic at times, but surprisingly enough, that doesn’t bother me! They still manage to be realistic enough to be engrossing, and leave you biting your nails or too afraid to keep reading at night while you’re home alone.
However, her latest novel, The Lost Years is definitely not at the same level of quality as those first few, and it’s also significantly shorter. I suppose that’s to be expected though, after 31 books in the same genre! (Not counting the handful of other’s Clark has penned, including an autobiography, Kitchen Privileges: A Memoir).
In this latest work we meet Mariah Lyons, daughter of well-respected Biblical Scholar Jonathon Lyons – and a man who may have just stumbled upon a priceless piece of parchment said to have been written by Jesus Christ himself. Unfortunately, his discovery may also have sealed his fate, as he is found shot to death in his home study just a few days later. Was Lyons the victim of foul play, or did his wife Kathleen, suffering from Alzheimer’s, shoot him in a moment of clarity, as payback for his well-known affair? With the help of close family friend (and returning character) Alvirah Meehan, it’s up to Mariah to get to the bottom of things and clear her mother’s name.
Those of you familiar with Clark’s work are probably also familiar with Alvirah Meehan and her husband Willy – the nosy older maid who lucked into $40 million in the Lottery, and has a knack for solving mysteries. To be frank, she is not my favorite character that Higgins Clark has ever created, and her appearance in this novel seemed almost to be an afterthought. It’s as if Clark started writing the story and realized she had no one to solve the crime, and instead of coming up with something believable (like making her main character a lawyer, investigative reporter or something similar, as is the case in previous works), she relied on Alvirah to do it for her. There were a few other details like this throughout the book that felt like sloppy ways to cover plot holes, came across as forced, or even raised more questions than they answered – especially surrounding the plot line of the affair.
In addition to the occasional hole in the plot line, the writing style also broke the suspension of disbelief for me in several places. The book’s chapters switch back and forth between the characters (Mariah, Alvirah, The Detectives, The Killer etc), which is a good way to create suspense as I’ll talk about more below, but there are certain perspectives which are decidedly weaker – namely the point of view of the main character. Mariah’s thought process comes across as stilted and way too immature for her supposed 28 years, making her hard to relate to or care about.
Indeed, Clark’s strongest point always has been, and still is, the set up; and the fact that she switches back and forth between characters each chapter is a key component of that, by never letting you get too much of a glimpse into any one side of the story line before going to the next. She is a fantastic descriptive writer, all while still managing to only leave you with snippets of facts here and there, which makes it more of a challenge/puzzle/game that you get to participate in solving – much like a detective would – unlike a lot of mysteries out there. It also helps create the boost of suspense at the end, when the chapters get shorter and the points of view continue to switch in an increasingly hectic manner.
No matter which of her works you pick up – from your favorite to your least favorite – by those last few pages you’ll be drawn to the edge of your seat, and you’ll close the book feeling satisfied. What can I say? At the end of the day, Higgins Clark has truly earned the title of the “Queen of Suspense.”
Are you a fan of Mary Higgins Clark? Which book is your favorite? Which is your least favorite? Have you read The Lost Years? What did you think?
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