By Ekta R. Garg
November 27, 2019
Release date: November 5, 2019
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
A reporter follows her hunch when a woman approaches her about misconduct in the workplace. Despite the fact that her first source on the story disappears, the reporter persists in her efforts even as she comes closer to elements that put her life in danger. Veteran mystery author Mary Higgins Clark offers her take on the MeToo movement in the well-meaning but overly quaint novel Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry.
While on vacation with her father, New York City freelancer Gina Kane can’t stop thinking about a mysterious message she received. The email, signed by “CRyan”, talked about the writer’s bad experience at one of the most respected news organizations in the country, REL News, “and I wasn’t the only one,” the writer adds. Gina sent a response right away but didn’t hear back.
Now back in New York, she gets impatient to find out more about what CRyan might have meant. Using the few pieces of concrete information in the email, Gina uses her sources and her own sleuthing to figure out who CRyan might be and what the person wanted. The trail takes her to a place she never expected: CRyan, short for Cathy Ryan, died in mysterious circumstances while on vacation in Aruba.
Sensing a story in the making, Gina takes her pitch to the magazine that most recently featured her work. A new editor-in-chief has just taken the place of the editor who knew Gina well but gives her the green light on the story. As Gina travels to Aruba and back, she picks up more information that indicate the worst: someone at REL News is harassing young women and then paying them off to keep them from talking about it.
As despicable as the entire venture seems, Gina guesses the main reason for it. REL News is preparing for its IPO. A sexual harassment scandal could damage the promising dollar figures pledged to the company so far.
At REL News, HR legal counsel Michael Carter is approached by one of the employees who tells him about a negative encounter she had with someone at the top. After reassuring the tearful woman that he’ll do all he can to help her, Carter figures it doesn’t hurt to benefit from the transactions. He approaches the CEO of the company and lays out a simple plan to keep REL News out of the scandal spotlight, all while lining his own pockets at the same time. Yet as more and more victims come forward, Carter begins to realize that the problem at REL might be bigger than any dollar figure he can throw at it.
Author Mary Higgins Clark comes back with her trademark commitment to clean stories in her latest mystery. Unlike many of her other books, however, where the murder becomes the focal point of the story, here Gina’s investigation forms the main plot. Clark juxtaposes Gina’s pursuit with Carter’s subversion of it, but the omniscient point of view here, at one time popular with Nancy Drew-like books, just doesn’t work.
Also working against Clark is the proliferation of MeToo stories that have come to the fore ever since the movement began. The novel, then, becomes less of a disclosure of a serious problem and more a sanitized version of a familiar narrative. Had the book released last year, it would have felt timely. At this juncture it seems more an exercise in joining an ongoing conversation, like a dinner guest who arrives hours into the party.
Clunky writing also weighs the novel down. Clark holds her readers’ hands through every single paragraph. Instead of challenging them to retain key details on their own she explains everything, often to the detriment of the narrative and dialogue. The result is a book that could offer examples of what not to do when writing a mystery.
Ardent fans of Mary Higgins Clark may want to check this one out, but readers looking for a challenging mystery/thriller will want to pass this one up. I recommend readers Bypass Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry.