Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mary Higgins Clark's "The Lost Years; A Review

I.  Why This Murder Book May Grab Some Of You (A Summary)

Mary Higgins Clark's book "The Lost Years" is an 84 chapter "who-done-it" quest to find a lost artifact and a deranged killer.

Jonathan Lyons is a retired college professor who is an expert in the field of archaeology and ancient manuscripts.  He is shot to death in his home.  His wife Kathleen is discovered by their daughter Mariah, hiding in a closet clutching the victim's gun.  Kathleen, who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, is covered with her husband's blood. 

It all seems like a no-brainer to detectives Simon Benet and Rita Rodriguez.  Kathleen quickly becomes the only suspect in her husband's murder.  The motive is the oldest in the book:  Jonathan has been having an affair.  She's arrested, and sent to a medical facility for psychiatric evaluation.  Bail is not included! 

But, as in all murder books, things are not always as they appear to be.

It seems that before his death, Jonathan was asked to translate an ancient parchment that had been found in a long closed church.  The parchment was alleged to be a letter written by Jesus Christ to Joseph of Arimathea.

In this letter, The Christ is thanking Joseph for all his many years of friendship and protection.  If the authenticity of the letter could be proven, it would be the only known sample of The Christ's writing.  As such, it would be priceless.

Jonathan had the parchment appraised by, as yet, unknown sources.  He believed the letter to be authentic.  He also had some misgivings about the motives of one of the appraisers.  He even admitted to one of his closest friends that he had a premonition of his own death.

Now Jonathan has been murdered, and the letter is missing.  His daughter, Mariah, raises this possible motive to the police who reluctantly pursue the lead.

Kathleen Lyons isn't off the hook, however.  Far from it!  Bergen County Detective Simon Benet, a hard, blunt talking individual is convinced that in spite of her illness, Kathleen is fully capable of murdering her cheating husband.

It is only after another murder, and two kidnappings, that Simon and his partner Rita begin to seriously reconsider the possibility that they are wrong.

Meanwhile, Mariah Lyons finds herself betrayed by someone she has every reason to trust.

II.  My Judgment Of This Murder Book

What grabbed my attention from the beginning was the police's stubborn refusal to admit that Kathleen Lyons was innocent.  Chapter after chapter I witnessed this tormented woman being accused of events she could barely comprehend.

What bored me somewhat was the fact that there were so many characters to keep track of.  It took time to tie all these people together.  You even had a couple running around playing amateur detective.  This was complicated by the fact that they were doing a better job (in some ways) than the professionals.

Now, this brings me to the characters themselves.  I won't describe all of them; just the main ones.

The killer was introduced early, but you won't recognize this person as such, until the very end.  The old saying is true:  people are usually murdered by someone they know.

Most of you probably won't agree, but I found myself liking Lillian Stewart, the mistress of the victim.  Yes, she was greedy, and hated by Jonathan's family.  But she was genuinely in love with him and devastated by his murder.

Of course I embraced the victim's wife Kathleen Lyons.  How could I not?  She was suffering from Alzheimer's and was justifiably enraged by her husband's affair.  Confused and hounded by the police, she was truly a tragic figure in this tale.

I also liked the victim, Jonathan Lyons, even though he was "fooling around".  He was loved and admired by everyone in his circle...except the person who killed him, of course.  Once he'd determined the authenticity of the Joseph of Arimathea parchment, he could have sold it on the black market.  Instead, he was determined to have it returned to its rightful owners, The Vatican.

Then there was Mariah Lyons, daughter of the victim.  She was torn between outrage over the affair, and the natural loyalty a daughter usually feels for her father.  She was also furiously protective of her mentally ill mother, and determined to find the real killer.

Two characters I didn't like were Rory Steiger and Charles Michaelson.

Rory was the 62 year old caregiver for Kathleen Lyons.  Actual, you might call her the caregiver from hell.  She hated her job and her patient.  But there was more to her than an unpleasant personality.  She had hidden motives and agendas for being employed in the Lyon's home.

Charles Michaelson, a professor and expert in ancient parchments was a friend and colleague of Jonathan Lyons.  He was also a hot-tempered bully with a dishonest past.

The characters that this case really revolves around were all members of Jonathan's inner circle.  They include the two individuals I just named plus:

  • Albert West, another professor and expert of ancient documents
  • Greg Pearson, a businessman and amateur archaeologist who was secretly in love with Mariah
  • Richard Callahan, a professor of biblical studies and also secretly in love with Mariah
Along with the mistress Lillian Stewart, these people were trusted by the victim without question.  But, if you read the book, you may find that some of them were not worthy of that trust.

Toward the end, Mary Higgins Clark manages to tie everything together so that it makes sense.  It started happening with a house burglary, where a killer's identity may be exposed.

And a dinner party at the Lyon's home reveals that someone close to Jonathan has been lying about knowledge of the parchment's where-a-bouts.

These two events begin to shift the focus away from Kathleen Lyons as a suspect, thank God.

So, is this book worth it?  In my humble opinion, this was not a great book, but it had its moments.  Like all murder books of the "who-done-it" variety, the identity of the killer is supposed to be a surprise.  Mary Higgins Clark has succeeded in surprising me.

It was obvious from the beginning that the murderer would be someone close to the victim.  I must admit that I had my eye on one such person, and I was totally wrong.  That just goes to show you that you should never go with the obvious in a "who-done-it".

Something else that made this book worth reading really had nothing to do with murder.  It was the author's treatment of Kathleen's deteriorating mental condition.  Her dementia was not the cause of Jonathan's murder.  One of the oldest emotions, greed, was the culprit.

However, what Ms. Clark reminds us of is the pain that Alzheimer's inflicts on the sufferers and their families.  It's all so damn sad, especially the treatment that some patients receive at the hands of people hired to care for them.  

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