Like her 1995 bestseller Silent Night, Mary Higgins Clark’s All Through the Night is a mystery for the Christmas season. Both novels feature a child in a pivotal role, since threats to children are deemed particularly ugly in December.
All Through the Night opens on a cold December night as a young woman leaves her newborn baby in a secondhand stroller on St. Clement’s rectory steps just as a man inside empties the offering boxes and grabs a precious chalice, setting off the alarm system.
Seven years later, the woman, who has always regretted abandoning her infant, comes to play a concert in Carnegie Hall just as the thief, who grabbed what he thought was an empty stroller to deflect suspicion, makes plans to take “his” daughter to provide cover for his lucrative drug delivery business.
Meanwhile, amateur sleuth Alvirah Meehan and husband, Willy, are trying to prevent an after-school program for poor kids from being closed and to keep their Kate Durbin from losing her home because of what they believe to be a fraudulent will.
There’s little story and less suspense in this novel, but it has snow and lights and a happy ending, which may be enough for Christmas.
If you want to see how American society has changed in the 21st century, you need only to read Politically Correct Holiday Stories for an Enlightened Yuletide Season.
James Finn Garner’s slender bestseller updates classic Christmas tales for 1995 politically with-it readers, replacing terms that reinforce demeaning societal stereotypes with others deemed not sexist, ageist, racist, nationalist, or any other otherwise offensive-ist:
‘Twas the Night before Christmas becomes “‘Twas the Night before Solstice.” Frosty the Snowman becomes “Frosty the Persun of Snow.”
The story of a flying, horned quadruped becomes “Rudolph the Nasally Empowered Reindeer.”
The Nutcracker and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol retrain their titles, but get internal makeovers for the politically enlightened ‘90s.
Readers in 2020 will find Garner’s little book as quaint as Scrooge’s nightcap. America dumped political correctness when it emptied its Y2K jugs of stored water.
Today in America it’s no longer politically correct, let alone socially correct, to attempt to avoid offending people unnecessarily. In 2020, vicious verbal attacks on anyone with whom one disagrees are considered normal.
Today’s readers won’t get it when Garner’s Santa says, “Happy Christmas to all, but get over yourselves!!”
America can no longer laugh at itself, and that’s a serious problem.
Mary Higgins Clark’s Silent Night is the sort of novel that used to be called a diversion.
A doctor with leukemia comes to New York for surgery, accompanied by his wife and two sons. While he’s in the recovery room, Mrs. Dornan takes the boys to Rockefeller Center to distract them and drops her wallet.
Although the wallet contains several hundred dollars in cash, it also contains a St. Christopher medal that the boys’ grandmother told them will keep their father safe. The younger boy, Brian, 7, sees a young woman snatch the wallet and follows her.
The woman, Cally Siddons, arrives home to find her brother, Jimmie, there. He has escaped from prison, shooting a guard in the process. Hot on her heels, Brian arrives demanding his mom’s wallet.
Jimmie appropriates the money and decides to take Brian hostage. He has a stolen car waiting near Cally’s apartment and a girlfriend waiting at the Canadian border. Jimmie bundles Brian into the car and they head north into a nasty winter storm.
If, in the spirit of Christmas, you can overlook the absurdities of the plot, the story will occupy you while you wait for Santa Claus, but Silent Night will never replace A Christmas Carol.
Eloise at Christmastime is another in Kay Thompson’s highly successful books “for precocious adults” illustrated by Hilary Knight.
There’s no real plot here. Eloise at Christmastime is more merchandise than storybook: the literary equivalent of Disney-character drinking glasses sold for 99¢ with a McDonald’s cheeseburger. It it weren’t for Knight’s drawings, there would be no book.
Thompson captures the self-absorption of a six-year-old to perfection, letting Eloise narrate her own story. Talking about herself is what Eloise does best.
Her usual brattiness accentuated by holiday excitement, Eloise runs wild through the Plaza Hotel where she lives on the top floor with Nanny. Poor Nanny does her best to provide some structure and stability for Eloise, but her orthopedic oxfords can’t keep up with Eloise’s Mary Janes.
Mother, as usual, is off traveling. She sends Eloise a cartwheel hat and calls her long distance from the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve.
I didn’t find previous Eloise books amusing, but this one struck me as downright depressing. There’s something about see a six-year-old exchanging gifts with a dog and a turtle while Mother works on her tan in the Mediterranean that makes me want to howl.
Sadly, there are too many Eloises in the world today—and too few Nannies.
Eloise at Christmastime
by Kay Thompson
Drawings by Hilary Knight
Random House, 1958
1958 Bestseller #6
My Grade: D