Friday, December 13, 2013

Newest Mallory Crime Novel Cuts New Ground

Carol O'Connell is one of the more mysterious of mystery authors: no website, appearances very rare, hard to trace online. In a time when people insist authors "must" do social media, she's declined.

But her Mallory series reaches title 11 with IT HAPPENS IN THE DARK and if you're a Mallory fan -- and I am -- it's a must-read.

Mallory is an NYC police detective, known by her surname (only her adopted parents were allowed to call her Kathy; they are dead and she is SO over that part). Once a nearly voiceless, totally homeless, feral street child, she landed in the home of a determined career police officer who made her welfare his life's work and even provided for his own friends to keep an eye on her after his own death. She's not friendly, she's not sweet, and she's not into negotiating. Except this this time around, the psychologist friend of her dad's, Charles, and Mallory's gruff partner on the police force, Riker, keep noticing small things that Mallory's doing during her investigation that reveal that she ... well, she doesn't exactly have a heart, as they faintly hope, but she's getting a handle on how to get people to work with her when she needs their skills.

IT HAPPENS IN THE DARK refers to a moment when a Broadway play cuts the lights. And to a murder, or murders perhaps. And even to Mallory's work.

More than that, the title could be a name for what O'Connell is doing with narrative for this complicated and often grim investigation. Although the Lisbeth Salander books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) came out after O'Connell's series was well underway, as a prototype for either an emotionless investigator or a woman with Asperger's or a crime victim who's chosen not to feel anymore, Salander is now well known, and Mallory, ironically, gets compared to her.

But O'Connell this time goes well beyond what Steig Larsson did -- she narrates around Mallory from the points of view of the people who alternately are awed and terrified by her. She literally keeps the reader in the dark as far as Mallory's interior shots go. Instead, we get stage lighting on other characters, in swift jumps of the footlights and the overhead spots. There's no time to relax -- the play is the thing, and people are dying faster than Mallory can work.

Hence, the "ice queen" of the police force recruits a team.

It's a strange and haunting book, and probably a lot closer to "real" detection than most CSI and other TV shows. There's enough light and grace in it to sweep IT HAPPENS IN THE DARK well away from the gray chill of Scandinavian crime fiction. But it does indeed remind me of a cold twilight on the wrong side of the city. I want more Mallory -- but I'll be pretty careful about who I choose to give copies to, as it might not be taken as a friendly offering unless the recipient is already a fan.

Which brings me to two final points: (1) I strongly recommend reading the Mallory books in sequence. You can jump into this one without doing so, but you might regret not having taken the time to form an attachment to Mallory that carries you willingly into such dark places. (2) Reviews of the book are powerfully mixed, and some mention that the ending suggests this might be the final Mallory crime novel. Well, that's been said before -- take a look at this Janet Maslin/New York Times review from 2007. I'm hoping O'Connell will find Mallory pushing her way forward into another book, sooner or later. Sooner would be better.

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