Mary Jane Clark

St Martin’s Press / 331 pages / (2001)


They actually do work, those talking heads on the news! Not just beautiful, craggy, or interesting faces, these anchor people investigate stories, dig into the past, write their own scripts, and put in long hours. All of this I learned from Mary Jane Clark, the author of Let Me Whisper In Your Ear, the third in her string of interconnected best-selling thrillers. Clark’s creds are good: she works in the business as a news writer and producer for CBS.

If anyone knows the inner working of broadcast journalism, Clark is it. With the frequently tense relationship between viewers and the news media, it can sometimes be difficult to think of journalists as normal, caring human beings. With Clark behind the prose that situation just might change; the characters in her novels may have higher-paying jobs than most of us, but they are undeniably human, if not always humane. From the gofers to the on-air talent, they are complex and believable.

Laura Walsh is a rising star in the news game, shooting for the top production slots at the Key television network, hoping to give up the obituary beat. With the support of a powerful mentor she is on her way to her dream job. When that supporter suffers an untimely and messy death, Laura starts digging and turns up a bigger story than she bargained for and the roots may reach back to a thirty-year-old unsolved murder case. Along the way she unwittingly emerges as the prime target of the killer or killers.

Clark has a way with dark realism, creating a visual world, a world as multi-dimensional as the one she covers for CBS. Her vivid descriptions of the late, lamented Palisades Park and contemporary Manhattan put the reader into the scene. Laura Walsh and the other characters take on a life of their own, driving the action forward at a brisk pace. The tension may not reach the height of some suspense novels, but the plausibility of the plot compensates nicely for the difference. The coincidences in Let Me Whisper In Your Ear are artfully set up and justified.

One of the nicest surprises of the book is Clark’s light touch with the romantic elements in the storyline. For once, the love interests do not overwhelm the rest of the action, but blend in as a natural part of the characters’ lives. Not that every liaison in the novel is clean and beautiful, or even strictly legal — some are purely destructive — just true to life. No one makes the best decision every time.

Choices. That’s what Let Me Whisper In Your Ear is all about. Bad choices made in the past that refuse to stay hidden. Wrong moves that affect every aspect of the present, touching and tarnishing more and more lives as the years go by. Murder and secrets tend to do that. Clark understands that all too well, and she does make the most out of it.