three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

737166.pngFor nearly two decades, Carol O’Connell’s Kathy Mallory has set the bar for quirky, kickass detectives. In The Chalk Girl, the 10th novel in the series (Mallory’s Oracle [1994], The Man Who Cast Two Shadows [1995], Killing Critics [1996], Find Me [2007]), Mallory’s already tenuous relationship with humanity becomes disturbingly personal. Reviewed: Find Me (3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2007).

The Story: "In mere proximity to Mallory," Carol O’Connell writes of her prickly heroine, "people’s better angels were always dropping like dead houseflies." Special Crimes Unit detective Kathy Mallory, who at the age of six witnessed her own mother’s murder, understands too well the little girl who believes that her uncle has turned into a tree. Found wandering alone in Central Park with blood on her clothing, the cherubic eight-year-old comes under the unlikely protection of Mallory, a tough customer who treats a psychiatric evaluation in which her career hangs in the balance with the nonchalance of a trip to the grocery store. Returning from a three-month hiatus, Mallory uncovers a brutal conspiracy that involves missing children and reaches to New York City’s elite.
Putnam. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780399157745

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Mallory investigates her most personal case to date, one as psychologically complex and disturbingly dark as she is. … Each chapter is punctuated with excerpts from the diary of another lost child whose importance is not fully understood until the novel’s gripping end." Carole E. Barrowman

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Chalk Girl is an event of sorts—any Mallory book is—and works decently as a stand-alone. But it has a complicated, grisly New York City plot that keeps Mallory in the background and that could not be more Scandinavian if Stieg Larsson had devised it." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Carol O’Connell takes it way over the top with the mythic scale of her mad-genius New York City cop, Kathy Mallory. … Mallory’s idiosyncrasies make her a natural for this bizarre case, but her professional skills and belligerent manner are broadcast in a comic-book idiom so lurid it would make even Lisbeth Salander blush." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

Underappreciated and underreviewed—in fact, one of the best active crime series that continues to fly under the radar—Carol O’Connell’s Mallory books constitute a master class in psychological crime writing. Investigator Kathy Mallory, as convincing a sociopath as a reader is likely to come across, is something of an acquired taste (more than one critic notes that Mallory out-Salanders even Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander). Even when most readers have become desensitized to all manner of violence and mayhem, though, O’Connell’s novels maintain a level of intensity rarely matched in contemporary crime fiction. This one won’t be for the faint of heart, as the New York Times Book Review suggests. But The Chalk Girl, a powerful examination of the criminal mind, is a solid addition to the author’s body of work.