Book Review: The Shadow of your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark

The Shadow of your Smile
Mary Higgins Clark (published by Simon and Schuster).

I love the Mary Higgins Clark (MHC)  formula. Chief protagonist: independent, decent American young woman who works for one of the professions for a living. Thriller element. Lots of suspects and dodgy situations waiting to be unearthed. Romantic male interest. Cracking pace, easy read. If I read more than one a year, they would 
MHCprobably cloy. But at an annual frequency, a book by MHC is a perfect way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday morning.

The Shadow of your Smile is no exception to the MHC rule:  in fact I think it is one of the author’s better novels of recent years.  The novel opens with Olivia Morrow’s physician giving her less than a couple of weeks to live. Olivia is in her eighties and is reconciled to her fate, but has one major unresolved worry. Many years ago, her cousin Catherine gave birth to a baby when a teenager (Olivia was a very young child at the time). Committed to her vocation as a nun, Catherine left the country to have the baby, giving it up for adoption. It was only when Olivia’s mother, Regina, died many years later that Olivia learnt the truth, but was sworn to secrecy by her confused parent. Now that Olivia herself is facing death, her dilemma is whether to pass on the documents that her mother gave her, revealing all about Catherine’s early life, to her descendants, who are unaware of this relationship. The situation is complicated by vast sums of money being involved, and the deviousness of those who want to protect their lifestyle that they enjoy because of it. 

Catherine became a famous nun, a sort of Mother Teresa of the USA, and died after a long career of selflessness and religious service. Catherine devoted her life to helping ill children, and is credited with curing at least one little boy who had an inoperable brain tumour. At the time of the novel's opening, she is being considered for beatification by the Catholic Church, adding another element to the mix.

There are many characters in this novel and many strands to the plot. All these are held together in a tight and professional style, as we have come to expect from this author. The setting is Manhattan: a world of charity bequests, post Madoff fallout and fears among the rich of other Ponzi schemes; tireless doctors, babies, spinsters, widowers, hopeless Broadway investors, reliable Irish cops, society women and mothers, and medical foundations. Every character, whether a cleaning lady or chauffeur with a small part to play, or a major protagonist, has his or her moment on the page to represent a viewpoint or situation, successfully in almost all cases. Everybody and everything is interconnected – perhaps too much to stretch belief on occasion, but who cares? I don’t, particularly as the plotting, if a tad mechanical on occasion, is very tight, and the range of decent people that fill the pages quite uplifting. I can usually trust MHC to provide a great comfort read, and she’s excelled herself this time. 

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for so generously sending me a copy of this book.

The Shadow of your Smile at the publisher's website (includes a "getting to know" video of the author). Oddly, the description of the book at this web page bears no resemblance to the plot at all. The only thing that is right is the name of one of the characters, Olivia Morrow. So don't think that the blurb there has any relation to the novel, it doesn't. I also don't think the cover is very representative of anything in the book.

Author website (including a more accurate description of this novel!)


10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shadow of your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark

  1. Maxine – Thanks for reminding me of how skilled MHC is at writing. I have to confess I haven’t read one of her books in a while, and your excellent review of this novel is reminding me that I need to remedy that.

  2. I haven’t read an MHC for ages either though I did used to read them all and still have a couple of unread ones here on my TBR shelves which I must get around to. On the issue of formula though I got a chuckle when I was looking up awards information a few days ago (in preparation for a rant that never happened) and found the criteria for the MHC award which is one of the special Edgar Awards each year…should you want to write your own MHC-style book here’s what you need to include
    * The protagonist is a nice young woman whose life is suddenly invaded.
    * She’s self-made and independent, with primarily good family relationships.
    * She has an interesting job.
    * She is not looking for trouble–she is doing exactly what she should be doing and something cuts across her bow.
    * She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence.
    * The story has no on-scene violence
    * The story has no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.
    As far as formulas go I guess you could get a lot worse than having an intelligent, self-reliant woman taking a lead role and no rampant sex or violence.

  3. Absolutely, Bernadette, and I have no problem whatsoever with that formula! (well, once a year, as I wrote, at least).

  4. I loved this book too. I appreciate the fact that she can write so well without depicting violence, sex or using obsecene language. This is something more writers should strive for.

  5. Great review! Just saw your tweet saying that you had just read it too. I loved this book – I can always rely on MHC; yes, she’s formulaic but that’s why I know I’ll love them.
    I agree that this is one of her best from the last few years too!

  6. Thanks, Book Whisperer. I’ve subscribed to your blog as it looks as if we have some reading habits in common!

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