Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kathy Mallory's back! (The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell)

The blurb:
The little girl appeared in Central Park: red-haired, blue-eyed, smiling, perfect -- except for the blood on her shoulder.  It fell from the sky, she said, while she was looking for her uncle, who turned into a tree.  Poor child, people thought.  And then, they found the body in the tree.

For Mallory, newly returned to the Special Crimes Unit after three months' lost time, there is something about the girl that she understands.  Mallory is damaged, they say, but she can tell a kindred spirit.  And this one will lead her to a story of extraordinary crimes: murders stretching back fifteen years, blackmail and complicity and a particular cruelty that only someone with Mallory's history could fully recognize.  In the next few weeks, she will deal with them all. . . in her own way.

This latest book, Chalk Girl, was my first exposure to Detective Kathy Mallory.  Mallory is a gifted detective whose flaws make her stand out.

How to describe her? Physically, she's a stunner.  Even in New York City, she's  unforgettable with her silky blond hair, high cheekbones, bright green and almond shaped eyes, a gorgeous figure, clothes that are noticeably expensive and yet comfortable. ("silk T-shirts and custom-made blazers. Even her blue jeans were tailored, and her running shoes cost more than his car payment.") She can move quietly, quickly  and with deadly precision such that she brings to mind a large golden cat.   She's in the top 1 percentile mentally as well - her powers of observation and deduction make her one of the best detectives in NYC.   These skills are complimented by her uncanny ability to understand and use computers - her "hacking" skills scare her superiors who are careful not to ask how and where she gets her information from.  Mallory's a survivor who'd lost her family at a young age and somehow survived on the streets.  Though we don't know much about these early years, we do know that Mallory was saved when she was caught and adopted by the renowned Detective Lou Markowitz.    Markowitz brought her home to his wife Helen who saw and treated Kathy Mallory as a gift.  Helen Markowitz loved Kathy and Kathy would do anything for her new mother.  Kathy's behavior is circumscribed by what Helen would want her to do and what Helen taught her daughter to be wrong. Mallory's moral code is difficult to predict and it makes her one of the more interesting characters. As a detective, Mallory is well aware of the rules of criminal procedure and the suspect's constitutional rights.  

In Chalk Girl, the young victim has the rare Williams syndrome, a rare condition characterized by elfin features and unusual gifts.  She is extraordinarily gifted in music, languages,  reading, and interpersonal skills.  She is warm, outgoing, and needs human contact.  The young girl doesn't have the usual inhibitions or defense mechanisms which makes her particularly vulnerable. "I'd like to give you a hug."  Just think about it - a gorgeous young child who engages strangers and is looking for affection - a recipe for heartache and abuse.  Somehow Coco brings out a protective side to Mallory.

But as her friends and admirers see "Mallory the Machine" as self-sufficient and unable to relate to those around her, there are scenes in Chalk Girl that are so sad and poignant that I'd have to put the book down.  It's these scenes that haunted me long after I'd put down the book.

The one thing that bothered me about Chalk Girl was the degree of violence and cruelty that Mallory and the detectives unearthed.  Chalk Girl is not a tame detective story but it's a fascinating and satisfying read.  After reading Chalk Girl months ago, I ended up hunting down and reading 10 more of Carol O'Connell's mysteries.  That's how much I enjoyed Chalk Girl and reading about Kathy Mallory.

ISBN-10: 0399157743 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Putnam Adult (January 17, 2012), 384 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Carol O'Connell is the author of eleven previous books, nine featuring Kathy Mallory, most recently Find Me, and the stand- alones Judas Child and Bone by Bone. She lives in New York City.

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