The Shadow of Your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark

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. 

Review first posted at Petrona, May 2010.

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