By Evangeline Jennings
Lately, I’ve been re-reading my collection of Carol O’Connell’s Kathy Mallory books. Mallory is an exceptional creation and I’ve been a fan since I stole my uncle’s copy of Mallory’s Oracle – published in 1994, stolen two or three years later – and I have all the books to prove it, some of them bought. Although I *only* have the latest – The Chalk Girl – as an ebook, I will pick up a paperback at some point because I’m nothing if not an anal completist.
Though exceptional and captivating, Mallory is also a thoroughly unrealistic heroine. Tall, blonde, and beautiful, with stunning green eyes, she’s also a one-woman life-wrecking machine – as cold and competent on the streets as she is with technology. And as if this wasn’t enough to stretch the bounds of credibility well past breaking point, she’s also an NYPD detective and she has the requisite childhood trauma to justify her ruthless decisions and actions.
All complete bollocks, of course.
Kathy Mallory, O’Connell asks us to believe, witnessed her mother’s murder at the age of six in Louisiana, escaped to New York City, and survived there on the streets until she was eleven. At which point she was arrested and adopted by everybody’s favorite New York cop. Oh, yeah, and at the age of eight she was supposed to start in a snuff film but she escaped.
If you can honestly believe in any of that, then I have some real estate on Titan I think you’re going to love. A real Kathy Mallory would have died – or wished she had – within months of running away. The only alternative would have been to grow up in the system.
So yes, it’s all bollocks – there are even occasional traces of the paranormal in the earlier books – but so what? This character is so much larger than life and the stories so cleverly architected to make Mallory the most real thing in her world, that hundreds and thousands of readers have suspended disbelief and thrown themselves willingly into that same world.
Larger than life, for sure. Originally, Mallory was described as topping out at six feet one. Later she was down-sized to a more human five-ten. Similarly, O’Connell has slowly evolved her character from an amoral sociopath to a flawed heroine with a soul. I see this happening book to book and it disappoints me slightly. Right from the first, I thought Mallory cared. I knew she was all soul. I understood she couldn’t afford to show it.
The Chalk Girl isn’t Carol O’Connell’s best work. The mystery is unchallenging. The happy ending too pat. And the interplay between Mallory’s long-lived Scooby gang – inherited from her adoptive father – is becoming boring. We need some new blood and intrigue sooner rather than later. In particular, the eccentric wealthy genius Charles Butler is so very over he could be London’s millennium celebrations. Or the Munich Olympics. O’Connell should murder this darling and set Mallory on a quest for bloody vengeance.
But again, I ask So what? I still read The Chalk Girl in two late night sittings when I should have been writing. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
I love Mallory. Perhaps you might too. The canon can be a little confusing because the UK and US books often have different titles so while I encourage you to buy them all, I also suggest you do so with care. The first four are the truly essential reading, the original gothic Mallory saga complete. Everything else is an afterthought by comparison.
1. Mallory’s Oracle (1994)
2. The Man Who Lied to Women (1995) aka The Man Who Cast Two Shadows
3. Killing Critics (1996)
4. Flight of the Stone Angel (1997) aka Stone Angel
5. Shell Game (1999)
6. Crime School (2002)
7. The Jury Must Die (2003) aka Dead Famous
8. Winter House (2004)
9. Find Me (2006) aka Shark Music
10. The Chalk Girl (2011)
I have a horrible feeling that sooner or later some bright spark is going to make a movie out of Mallory. Failing a time machine, contacts, and Gwyneth Paltrow, they’re never going to please me with their casting.