Novelist, beloved heroine leave adventures behind

I fear my adventures with Alvirah Meehan have come to an end. No longer will I sneak around the grounds of a fancy resort that, along with spa days and luxurious dinners amongst high-profile celebrities, hides deadly secrets. I will not be hunched down in the floorboard of a car, hiding in order to listen in on an intimate conversation to help a friend figure out who really killed her parents. Gone are the days of sleuthing across New York City, looking for a baby stolen right out of the hospital.

Last Saturday, I mourned the death of mystery novelist Mary Higgins Clark, but as the day went on and I thought about the books I need to re-read, I realized my heart hurt as much for Alvirah as it did for her creator.

My mom, also a voracious reader, handed me my first Mary Higgins Clark novel when I was about 11. My Gramps always had the television on, and I had been seeing previews for a made-for-television movie, “While My Pretty One Sleeps,” based on one of Clark’s novels that combined the fashion and mob worlds to tie together the deaths of a police commissioner’s wife and, decades later, a gossip columnist.

Not wanting me to be a movie-over-books person, mom handed me the print version and said, “No” to the movie. (Gramps let me watch it anyway, during a re-run.)

Lucky for me, this was 1997, and Clark had been publishing since 1975.

“Weep No More, My Lady” introduces readers to Flushing, New York, resident Alvirah, a cleaning lady with a penchant for wildly-colored clothing and unflattering hair, who had recently, along with her doting husband, Willie, a plumber, won a $40 million lottery. While all of Higgins Clark’s earlier books animate before the reader’s eyes, Alvirah’s scenes, especially, have a movie-reel quality.

Being nosy, or curious to put it nicely, Alvirah finds herself in all sorts of predicaments. While she starts out trying to satisfy her own curiosity, she always ends up in the thick of things as she tries to help someone in a bind.

Higgins Clark wrote years ago in an acknowledgment section that Alvirah was never meant to survive the first book, but deep protestations from Higgins Clark’s daughter, fellow novelist Carol Higgins Clark, led to a rewrite. Thank you, Carol.

Alvirah was quite the adventurer, not only moving into a starring role in other Mary Higgins Clark novels after a start as a secondary character, but crossing over into a mother-daughter collaboration with Carol’s main character, Regan Reilly, a private investigator.

She has solved cases across hundreds of pages in full-length stories and in much less time, throughout various short stories.

In recent years, as Mary Higgins Clark embarked on what has now become a six-book series collaboration with Alafair Burke for riveting fiction about a true-crime documentary show, I hoped we would encounter Alvirah again.

It didn’t happen before Higgins Clark died on Jan. 31, 2020, at the age of 92, but I can’t help but wonder how the flamboyant Alvirah and the measured, calculating Laurie Moran would have solved the next murder together.

Clark admittedly pulled much of her inspiration for her fictionalized forays from real-life news. It always started with a headline, and her imagination would take flight with thoughts of, “Suppose…” and “What if…”

Must-read books by Mary Higgins Clark: Weep No More, My Lady; While My Pretty One Sleeps; Loves Music, Loves to Dance; Where Are The Children?; The Cradle Will Fall; A Cry In The Night; The Lottery Winner And Other Stories; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; Pretend You Don’t See Her; All Dressed In White; and The Sleeping Beauty Killer.



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