First generation: Mary Higgins Clark, recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 2000, has been writing romantic suspense novels since 1975’s Where Are the Children (Simon & Schuster). Over two dozen movies based on Clark’s thrillers have been made.
Second generation: Carol Higgins Clark got her start with her first Regan Reilly mystery, Decked (Warner, 1992), which was a finalist for both the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel. She’s since written 20 novels about Regan Riley; the next, Knocked (Scribner), will pub in 2017.
Collaboration: The Clarks have written five Christmas-themed mysteries together, including, most recently, Dashing Through the Snow (S&S/Gallery, 2008). Mary also collaborates with Alafair Burke (see p. 22) on the Under Suspicion series.
“It was great fun to work cheek to jowl,” Mary Higgins Clark says of the books she coauthored with Carol, her daughter. “We made each other laugh as we discussed the chapter we were about to begin. One day my husband called from the bottom of the stairs up to my office, ‘I hope the reading public finds this as funny as you both do.’ ”
The writing careers of mother and daughter have been entwined since long before their shared author credit. Mary sold her first short story—after 40 rejections—shortly before Carol’s birth, in 1956.
Two decades later, when Carol was in college, she began typing Mary’s novels for her (“This was before computers,” Carol says) and sometimes developed strong feelings about the plots.
While working on Weep No More, My Lady (Simon & Schuster, 1987), Carol grew fond of the character Alvirah Meehan, a cleaning woman who wins $40 million in the lottery. In the original version of the book, as Carol discovered while typing, Mary kills her off. She talked her mother out of it, and Alvirah has since appeared in several more books, including some of the authors’ collaborations.
Carol began writing mysteries when she was in her early 30s and pursuing an acting career. A producer suggested that she try writing and recommended she “write a part [she] could possibly play.” That led her to create Reilly, an L.A. private investigator, also in her early 30s.
The first adaptation of a Reilly book, though, wasn’t until the 2011 TV movie Deck the Halls, almost 20 years after she created the character. At that point, Carol says, “I didn’t consider playing her.”
Though mother and daughter have worked together on several novels, each has a distinct style. Mary’s books are long on suspense and romance, and relatively short on humor and recurring main characters. By contrast, all but one of Carol’s mysteries feature PI Reilly, and humor figures prominently. As Carol explains, “I love to make people laugh. My mother loves to scare them.”