The Melody Lingers on by Mary Higgins Clark

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The Melody Lingers on by Mary Higgins Clark

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Patricia Duffaud
Reviewed by Patricia Duffaud
Summary: A satisfying page turner by a maestro of suspense.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471148521

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Mary Higgins Clark’s latest thriller, The Melody Lingers on, follows the author’s usual successful formula. The main character, Lane, is a young woman with a prestigious job as the assistant of an exclusive interior designer. She is instantly likeable: thoroughly nice – as underlined several times by other characters - un-snobbish and of course beautiful. We witness her performing small everyday acts of kindness and she is just vulnerable enough to be relatable to, having tragically lost family members. Vulnerable, but not troubled; no reckless drugs, drinking or sleeping around for Mary Higgins Clark heroines. Lane is clean and decent, with a strong moral fibre.

This could make her insufferable but on entering this author’s meta-world, one is flooded with a cascade of good will; it is impossible to be irritated by these privileged characters who glide through their glossy world of portered buildings and inherited pearls.

Much of this is due to Mary Higgins Clark’s tremendous skill as a story teller. Her storylines sweep the reader through a mix of cliff hangers and a reward system of hints and revelations that keeps one riveted. But also, one senses the sheer pleasure with which the writer has created this world. The frequent descriptions of what the characters are wearing bring to mind a child joyfully dressing up dolls. For UK readers, exotic Americanisms such as ‘slacks’ and ‘pantsuits’ add to the pleasure.

Here, appearance and personality are strongly linked. When Lane wears “a dark green wool dress that she knew brought out the highlights in her auburn hair”, it shows that she is in control and demonstrates perfect taste. The reader roots for her all the more; it is one of the many strange things that happen when entering the Mary Higgins Clark bubble. It is a unique version of the glossy American Dream: seen as accessible to people with luck or talent, as indeed it was to the author herself, who became a millionaire in her forties. This American Dream offers a naïve enjoyment of the riches and the refinements of the upper classes. When bad things happen, they do so because of an external element, a person who is bad and twisted, either from a personality defect or by a traumatic event that has psychologically flawed them. This threat to the likeable character in her perfect world forms the essence of the exquisite terror that thrills the readers until the last page.

The author has often said that she gets her plot ideas from reading newspapers. The Melody Lingers On features a Madoff-like figure, Parker Bennett, who vanished after a financial scandal involving billions of dollars. It is a strong, clear plot. The world of interior design is vividly portrayed and is a useful device, throwing different characters together for lengthy periods. Decorating a house can take weeks of repeat visits so our heroine falls into a dangerous situation when asked to work on a house belonging to Parker Bennett’s wife. Who can she trust? The tension rises as shadowy forces surround her.

Characters are sketched effectively, sometimes according to strangely corporate principles. A sign of a strong moral character is arriving to meetings on time – this is frequently referred to, and lateness is not the only failure. Adams, a man “with a full head of mostly gray hair and an aura of confidence” is “equally dismissive of people who arrived much too early. It was a sign of insecurity, which made him suspicious.” Sometimes the descriptions are nearly clichéd – an academic has a “receding hairline” and “rimless glasses”, as though chosen by the casting director of a Hollywood blockbuster. But it works, and the characters come alive as soon as they appear.

As in most Mary Higgins Clark thrillers, class features heavily and is alluded to in blatant terms. People with “impeccable backgrounds” interact with strong-willed individuals who have made it into highest ranks of society from humbler beginnings. Here, the cast features a countess with uncertain credentials, a self-made millionaire, a grocer’s daughter, a construction worker, the child of a congressman and many, many others.

The references to class would be indelicate, except that no moral judgment is made about characters relative to their background. Rather, human values are what prevail, and the narrative can sometimes show leniency towards a character with dubious ethics but guts and charm. The only unforgivable behaviour is Evil, and in Higgins Clark’s books the baddie can originate from any background. Rather, the setting of high society gives us interesting views of characters who perform, who pretend to be what they are not. In The Melody Lingers on, this impossibility of guessing who is wearing a mask keeps the reader wondering and results in a satisfying and surprising finale.

The Melody Lingers on starts more slowly than other Mary Higgins Clark thrillers but picks up and acquires an unputdownable quality halfway through. The sometimes lazy writing is swept away as the vital force of the story keeps the reader glued to the page. Another compulsive read by this maestro of suspense.

For other riveting thrillers, have a look at The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell, The Lighthouse by P D James and No Regrets, Coyote by John Dufresne. We also have some short stories from Mary Higgins Clark.

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