Sunday, July 31, 2016

What we're reading: Catching up on mysteries

Continuing my quest to catch up on mystery series over the summer, I waited until the end of the Teen Summer Reading Program for my week of vacation to revisit Carol O'Connell's "Mallory" series, because they are books to which you need to give your full attention. I had three unread books in that series to enjoy, and for the most part I did...with one significant caveat.

Mallory (that's what she goes by--not Kathy, not Detective Mallory, just Mallory) is an interesting creation. She was an abandoned homeless child who, at age 10 (approximately--no one knows for sure) haunted the main concourse of New York City's Grand Central Terminal on the supposition that, sooner or later, her father would pass by, recognize her for the green eyes she shares with him and the face identical to that of her dead mother, and rescue her. That never happens; instead, a hard-boiled but soft-centered homicide detective named Lou Markowitz scoops her up (forcibly--she doesn't want to go, and leads him an exhausting chase before he finally catches her) and takes her home to his wife, Helen. The couple foster and eventually adopt Kathy Mallory, who follows in her surrogate dad's footsteps to herself become a young homicide detective in NYC. Her adoptive parents have passed on, and now her only family is Lou Markowitz's former poker buddies, who have been charged with keeping Mallory human.

You need to know this background to understand Mallory, who is a borderline sociopath with no social skills but great abilities at breaking and entering, thievery, technological hacking, and the solving of murders. She's also tall, blonde, and beautiful, with icy green eyes that reveal the depth of her scariness to anyone who dares to get too close. Her partner, Detective Riker, is the only one who has any faint hope of keeping her in check, and that's only because she likes him and will occasionally go along with him...but only if she sees an advantage for herself.

I checked out Mallory books #9, #10, and #11. The first book, Find Me, was fabulous. The course of the case, a complex story about a serial killer who has buried more than 100 children along the course of old Route 66, parallels a separate quest upon which Mallory has embarked, that finally--after all the books that came before--gives us some details about her back story and how she ended up as that lost child. It felt like we readers were gaining insight into her character, and I looked forward to reading the next in the series to see what happened after the big finish of this book.

Imagine my dismay, then, when the next book, The Chalk Girl, had nothing further to say about Mallory's personal life! The author dropped it like a hot potato, and except for mentioning that Mallory was on suspension and off the streets following an unexplained absence from the force, there wasn't an inkling that we had ever learned anything new about Mallory!

Apart from that, however, the book was great. To call the plots of these books, or the emotions and psychological details revealed in their course, complicated would be a gross understatement. Labyrinthine is probably the best word that comes to mind. In The Chalk Girl, the intricacy of the relationships and the way the plot revealed itself was so smart, and kept my attention throughout. Even though I had a pretty good idea of whodunnit, it was still compelling to read, just to see if I was right! I also enjoyed learning something new: I had never heard of Williams Syndrome and was fascinated by its symptoms as exhibited by the happy little girl with the red hair.

The last book, It Happens in the Dark, took labyrinthine to a whole new level. It's about a play on Broadway--the headlines read "a play to die for" when a woman in the front row dies of a heart attack on opening night. It's not so funny the next night, when the playwright's throat is slashed in a blackout during the first act. It was ridiculously complicated--fascinating, but so hard to keep track of all the parallel lines of suspects and events. I enjoyed that part, but...here comes the caveat.

I want to say to the author, Enough already with the same details about Mallory over and over and over again! For fans who read all the books, it becomes tiresomely repetitive. The same exact descriptions of the expensive custom-tailored clothes, the techno-savvy, the icy demeanor, the relationships with Markowitz's old friends, the evasion of authority; we've heard about it in every single book except, ironically, the one (Find Me) in which we finally learned something more. And after having read that book, it is especially disappointing to back-pedal to the previous litany of tired surface factoids about Mallory. I really hope that O'Connell writes another like Find Me, and continues the saga of Mallory's past. The mysteries are great...but the back story makes them even better. After all, everyone wants to know Mallory.


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