Carol Higgins Clark: Mystery Writer With a Famous Mother

From a New York Times obit by Neil Genzlinger headlined “Carol Higgins Clark, Mystery Writer, Is Dead at 66”:

Carol Higgins Clark, who as a young woman retyped manuscripts by her mother, the famed mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark, before going on to become a best-selling suspense novelist herself, died in Los Angeles.

Ms. Higgins Clark wrote more than a dozen novels on her own, beginning with “Decked” in 1992, and several others with Christmas themes in collaboration with her mother, who died in 2020.

She started out aspiring to be an actress, and she eventually accumulated a handful of credits in movies, several of them based on her mother’s books. But in 1975, while she was home for the summer from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, another career possibility began to take shape when she bailed her mother, who was just beginning her suspense-writing career, out of a jam.

“She had her first suspense novel coming out, and had to get her second one in to her agent,” Carol Higgins Clark told NPR in 2008. “It was before computers, and she didn’t know how she was going to get it retyped in time, so I did it. And that’s really what got me into it, because I had talked to her about the characters and the plot. And I did that for a number of her books, which was great for me to learn about how to write.”

As her mother’s books caught on, Ms. Higgins Clark continued to act as a sounding board — doing research, helping her make dialogue for younger characters more authentic, and more. In 1986, when her mother’s first suspense novel, “Where Are the Children?,” was made into a film, Carol Higgins Clark had a small role as a television reporter. Over the next 28 years she continued to appear in movies, many of them made for TV, based on her mother’s books, including “A Cry in the Night” (1992), in which she played a leading role.

That same year marked her own debut as a novelist. “Decked” introduced Regan Reilly, a private investigator who would anchor almost all of Carol Higgins Clark’s books.

In a nod to her mother, she made Reilly the daughter of a mystery writer. In that first book, set on an ocean liner, Reilly is haunted by the murder of her roommate 10 years earlier.

“It is all fast, glamorous, intricately plotted and serenely untroubling,” Charles Champlin wrote in a review in The Los Angeles Times, “just right for a plane ride or, indeed, a cruise.”

In that book, which was nominated for the Anthony Award for best first novel, Ms. Higgins Clark introduced the style that would distinguish her from her mother: Where Mary Higgins Clark generally wrote psychological suspense, Carol’s books were full of humor. She established that in the first pages of “Decked,” in a scene involving Gavin, a dance instructor on the ocean liner.

“Just this morning he had been teaching the polka to an enthusiastic octogenarian wearing black bulky shoes,” she wrote. “They were like gunboats hinged on her thick ankles, targeted for his luckless feet. Gavin winced when he thought of it. Stomping on someone’s foot was supposed to be a form of self-defense, not a recreational activity.”

As Mary Higgins Clark put it in an interview with Newsday in 2000: “A reviewer once said, ‘Mary Higgins Clark goes for the jugular vein and Carol Higgins Clark goes for the funny bone.’ I think that’s true.”

Carol Ann Higgins Clark was born on July 28, 1956, in New York City. Her father, Warren, who was national sales manager for Capital Airlines, died of a heart attack when she was 8.

She grew up in New Jersey, graduating from Immaculate Heart Academy there and earning a bachelor’s degree at Mount Holyoke in 1978. She studied acting after college at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, training that she drew on not only for her occasional appearances in movies but also to narrate audiobooks, both her own and her mother’s.

Carol Higgins Clark’s books tended to have distinctive one-word titles: “Snagged” (1993) involves a pantyhose convention; “Twanged” (1998) is about a cursed fiddle. She and her mother first collaborated on “Deck the Halls” (2000), which brought together Regan Reilly and one of Mary Higgins Clark’s characters, Alvirah Meehan — a character Carol more or less brought back from the dead.

“I had murdered off Alvirah in my first book,” Mary Higgins Clark told Newsday in 2000. “Carol insisted I get her out of the coma. She said: ‘You have a great character here and you’re killing her? That’s really bad writing.’”

Ms. Higgins Clark, who lived in West Hollywood, Calif., is survived by her siblings Marilyn, Warren and David Clark. Another sister, Patricia, died before her.

Ms. Higgins Clark was often asked if her mother ever gave her any advice. She generally gave the answer that she offered an audience in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2016: “She said, ‘If someone’s mean to you, make them a victim in your next book.’”

Neil Genzlinger is a writer for the Times Obituaries desk. Previously he was a television, film and theater critic.

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