‘Piece of My Heart’ is Mary Higgins Clark’s last book

“Piece of My Heart” starts with a bang. A missing child, a postponed wedding, and a convicted murderer accusing her father of falsifying a confession — all these throw Laurie Moran, whose investigative television show “Under Suspicion” delves into unsolved crimes, into a frenzy of work and fear.

In this last book by Mary Higgins Clark, who passed away ten months before its publication, cowriter Alafair Burke offers a lovely tribute to the prolific and venerable author. It’s just one tribute of many, for Higgins Clark is known not just for her superb mysteries and her wonderful ability to create memorable characters; she is also remembered and loved for her kindness and her determination to give each book her very best efforts, and to engage with her readers even past the point when she needed to do so for publicity’s sake.

Perhaps her final mystery, “Piece of My Heart,” boasts characters who give us a glimpse into her own life. She had known the loss of a spouse, and it might be that insight which allows us to see clearly main character Laurie Moran’s grief over the loss of her first husband even as she continues to work, to provide for her son Timmy, and to find love again with Alex, an attorney who had hosted her show for a few years. Now they are preparing to marry, and Laurie’s small family — her son and her father — are all thrilled, until fate intervenes.

It’s just a few days before the wedding. While on the beach in the Hamptons, preparing to celebrate Laurie’s fiancé’s birthday with both their extended families, Alex’s nephew Johnny disappears from the beach. It is quickly apparent that he didn’t just wander away, and everyone races to try to discover where he went. As with any worthwhile mystery, there are possibilities aplenty. Laurie’s father Leo is part of the NYPD top brass, but he stands accused of lying about a murder confession that put a Vassar student behind bars almost two decades previously. There is DNA evidence that appears to irrefutably contradict Leo’s statement. But what sly maneuvers might the charismatic, intelligent felon have pulled off to manipulate the evidence and put pressure on Leo, all in his attempt to get out of jail?

Laurie also faces the fact that Johnny’s disappearance could be related to one of the episodes and the crimes that she investigated for her show. Johnny looks very much like her son and could have been mistaken for Timmy. Or is it aimed at Alex, who was just named a federal judge? There are plenty of avenues to investigate, and we get to ride along as we learn about each possibility from different characters’ points of view.

The ending is clearly what the authors had cleverly foreshadowed, but is also filled with unexpected turns and some unexpected emotion. The story deals with the subject of adoption, and it also deals, in a very sensitive manner, with the subject of mental illness. There is much to chew on in these pages, and this would be a suitable book club choice because of the thoughtful nature of the writing about family and love and sacrifice.

While this is called an “Under Suspicion” novel because this is the sixth mystery featuring Moran and her true crime show, all of the books stand on their own. There is no need to read previous books in the series as the writers manage masterfully to provide enough backstory that we don’t feel we are missing anything.

Review first posted on Bookreporter.com.