Extrasensory perception: "the supposed faculty of perceiving things by means other than the known senses, e.g., by telepathy or clairvoyance."
ESP is an intriguing topic that has expanded the realm of fictional creativity for the last several decades and forms the central theme of Mary Higgins Clark's newest novel, BEFORE I SAY GOOD-BYE. As the title suggests, her characters deal with the confounding question of whether a departing spirit can communicate with the living. This isn't the first time that Clark has explored such phenomena in her mysteries, but in this instance she dives into multiple aspects of extrasensory perception, including premonitions of future events and channeling through mediums.
Nell McDermott is the young, wealthy, happily married heroine with a tragic past who finds herself torn between conflicting emotions. On the one hand, she has an unshakable conviction that as a child she felt the presence of her parents at the precise moment they died. Yet, despite a lifetime of exposure to her great aunt's paranormal persuasions, Nell is still skeptical about her own powers of precognition. Her reluctance to acknowledge what appear to be visions of impending death burdens her with disturbing questions of culpability for the tragedies that unfold.
While Nell's psychic quandary is an essential element of the story line, Clark doesn't wander far from the riveting suspense that her readers have come to expect. Nell's grandfather, a formidable influence in her life, has persuaded her to run for Congress. But her husband's sudden hostility toward her ambitions comes as a shock and precipitates a quarrel on, what turns out to be, their final evening together. The tragic explosion of Adam's boat that night leaves Nell a widow and claims the lives of his secretary, a disreputable builder, and his construction foreman. Or does it? The recurring nightmare of a little boy, an eyewitness to the event, alerts readers to the possibility that someone on that boat was the target of a cleverly staged "accident."
An ensuing murder investigation reveals congressional hearings probing into a construction scandal that could have destroyed Adam's architectural business and may taint Nell's future political career. Another dimension is added to her growing confusion, as she uncovers incongruities that unravel the image of the man she thought she knew. Grief-stricken and vulnerable, Nell is approached by a woman who claims to be channeling with the deceased Adam; and her feelings of guilt, compounded by curiosity, draw her into an inevitable web of deceit.
If you're anticipating the sheer entertainment of a trademark Clark thriller, BEFORE I SAY GOOD-BYE is another in the unwavering line of quality fiction by this remarkable woman. If you're looking for affirmation of the truth in parapsychology --- explore your own perceptions. There are no conclusive explanations for the unexplainable here. In fact, Clark handles the subject with expert objectivity, blending both an open-minded purview with a touch of cautionary wisdom. Striking just the right balance between challenging beliefs and tweaking the possibilities, BEFORE I SAY GOOD-BYE suggests that the demarcation between what we accept and what we question may just be a very blurred line.
Reviewed by Ann L. Bruns on April 18, 2000