Tue
Nov 7 2017 1:00pm

Review: Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke follows television producer’s Laurie Moran investigation of the unsolved Met Gala murder—in which a wealthy widow was pushed to her death from the famous museum’s rooftop.

America’s “Queen of Suspense,” Mary Higgins Clark, has been a mainstay in reader’s hearts and on bestsellers lists since making her crime fiction debut with Where Are the Children? in 1975. Since then, she’s written 36 suspense novels, four collections of short stories, two children’s books, and a memoir. She also collaborated with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, on five holiday-themed capers. More recently, she’s teamed up with fellow New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke for the Under Suspicion novels—the first of which, I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014), was a solo effort from Clark before the series was officially launched; subsequent titles include The Cinderella Murder (2014), All Dressed in White (2015), and The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016).

The dynamic duo returns with Every Breath You Take. Once again, readers find television producer Laurie Moran on the hunt for a cold case fitting of her hit show’s intriguing premise: to revisit unsolved crimes on camera by reuniting those who fall under the umbrella of suspicion. Much to her annoyance, the program’s new host, Ryan Nichols, pitches an idea that catches their boss’s attention: the death of a wealthy widow, Virginia Wakeling, who may have been pushed from the roof of New York City’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art during their annual Met Gala three years ago.

Despite the undeniable allure of such a story and the unrelenting pressure from the studio brass, Laure is hesitant to take on the case. For one thing, it’s more recent than their typical undertaking; for another, authorities believe they’ve identified the culprit, regardless of their inability to make an arrest. Their suspect, Ivan Gray, was Ms. Wakeling’s much younger lover, and their belief is that he killed her after she rescinded her support for his business ventures. Further complicating matters is the fact that Ryan Nichols is an acquaintance of Gray’s, frequenting his trendy gym, PUNCH (which Wakeling helped to finance); this perceived friendship, were it to become public knowledge, could undermine the appearance of objectivity. 

Beyond professional objections, Laurie—who nearly succumbed to a romance with the show’s previous host, Alex Buckley—simply doesn’t care for the new on-air talent’s ego or stealth tactics. Still, as she and her trusty assistants, Grace and Jerry, begin digging into the circumstances surrounding Virginia Wakeling’s death, Laurie can’t deny that the supposedly open-and-shut case may just prove to be anything but; further, the glitz and glamour of the Met and its star-studded supporters would make for a visually appealing ratings bonanza. And, perhaps most surprisingly, Laurie finds herself believing that Ivan Gray may be innocent after all—and that Wakeling’s own family was complicit in a rush to judgment.

According to Gray, he and “Ginny”—the heir to her husband’s Rockefeller-esque real estate fortune—intended to marry; further, he maintains that she was planning to change the provisions of her will so that her children would still inherit the Wakeling Development while the money, previously bequeathed to them, would instead be donated to charity. Wakeling’s adult children—Carter, who has proved more of a carouser than a career man, and Anna, the brains behind the business (and the wife of attorney Peter Browning, who often advised his mother-in-law on legal matters)—adamantly refute that contention and stand by their assertions that Gray was preying on their mother for financial gain and decided to dispose of her when she cut him off. 

But the people of interest surpass the immediate family—at least in Laurie’s eyes. First, there’s Wakeling’s assistant, Penny Rawling, who disappeared in the aftermath of her boss’s death. Then, there’s her nephew by marriage, Tom, who infiltrated the event with an eccentric date; despite his misspent youth and their mother’s disapproval, Carter and Anna would eventually welcome him into the business. All parties were present at the Met Gala on the night that Virginia Wakeling met her demise, as was Ivan Gray, and while Under Suspicion’s investigation turns up myriad motives for murder, opportunity is far more difficult to establish. Still, somebody is worried that Laurie is getting too close to the truth—so much so that she’s become a liability.

Clark has always made a point of featuring resourceful female protagonists, and Laurie Moran is no exception. A likable contrast of strength and vulnerability, she personifies the struggles of a single working parent, balancing career ambitions with the needs of family.

Though relatable, Laurie’s circumstances exceed the norm: She is the widowed mother of nine-year-old Timmy whose husband was gunned down in front of their child. Laurie’s father, retired NYPD First Deputy Police Commissioner Leo Farley, happily assists with caretaking as well as the occasional investigative inquiry. And while the intervening years have allowed them a semblance of healing, this particular story finds Laurie grieving for what could have been rather than what was: a committed relationship to Alex Buckley, who offered her his heart only to be gently rebuffed. But might they still have a future together?

In addition to romantic intrigue, the authors deliver a compelling, character-driven whodunit that eschews gratuity for relatively wholesome storytelling. That, too, has been a hallmark of Clark’s prolific career, and Burke, who is more venturous in her individual endeavors, manages to infuse just enough edge to mix things up without sacrificing the sanctity of the brand. Together, they have a winning premise and partnership that results in a superior style of suspense. Every Breath You Take, like its predecessors, will leave you waiting to exhale.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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