Review: The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell

14 Apr

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is one of the strongest entries in a series I really enjoy.

Summary via Goodreads:

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.

I’ve missed Mallory in the 5+ years since Find Me, the 9th Kathy Mallory book. In fact, I’d more or less said good-bye to to series, since Find Me read like a series-ender to me. I still wonder if it was intended that way.

For those that haven’t read the series, Kathy Mallory is a very well behaved, extremely intelligent psychopath, working for the New York Police Department.   At least, as far as the reader knows, she’s well behaved.  If she had a good reason, mass murder wouldn’t be completely out of character, and she has the brains and know-how to be unlikely to get caught..  Luckily, she had strong moral guidance with her foster parents, who not only pointed her in the right direction, but set up a support system she could rely on even after they were gone.   It’s a setup with similarities to that in the Dexter books, although Mallory had been prowling the dark side for years before he came on the scene.

But Mallory is back from the road trip she took in the last book, and no one knows what to make of her. Even more so than usual. The events of the last book are dealt with in a satisfactory if not entirely satisfying manner.

Yes, Mallory is back, and she’s her old self again. If fact, this may be one of the best Mallory books. Mallory is in her element exploring a series of bizarre crimes. There are lots of twists and turns, hidden money motives, not so hidden money motives, and links to Important People, and at least one person that wants to be seen as important again, although arguably she never was.

The best part of Chalk Girl was Mallory’s link with Coco, a stray little girl with William’s Syndrome, a little girl who will do anything to earn Mallory’s love. On the surface, these two have nothing in common. Dig a little more, and you see a close kinship of damage and healing. One more layer down, you see Mallory exploiting a helpless girl because she’s a witness to a crime. What’s under that layer?

Dr. Charles Butler, Mallory’s best friend and staunchest advocate, believes that there is nothing else, that Mallory would put this girl in harm’s way for her own ends. But maybe, just maybe, if you go one layer deeper, there is a spark of humanity in Mallory after all.

And now, the big question for those that haven’t yet met Kathy Mallory:  Where to start with the series, or even to pick it up at all?  I highly recommend the series, and you can’t go wrong starting at the beginning.  Unfortunately, I read them a long time ago, and the strengths and weaknesses of individual volumes have long since faded.   The Chalk Girl might also make an interesting starting place.  Most of the past that it pulls from happens before any of the books in the series, although most of the history has already been laid out.  I think starting here and then exploring the back story later could work well.

I picked up this book for review from the publisher at the NCIBA conference.


Posted by on April 14, 2012 in books, reviews


Tags: , , , ,

2 responses to “Review: The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell

  1. Howard Sherman

    April 22, 2012 at 7:04 am

    I’m intrigued by the exploration of deeper feelings, of kindred spirits. I’ve never heard of Kathy Mallory and find the idea of a psychopath working FOR the NYPD fascinating. i like the idea of just “diving in” to a series like this.. maybe I will!


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