Shell Game: A Mallory Novel
by Carol O'Connell
reviewed by Scott Butki
Hooray, Mallory is back! Carol O'Connell has
created a wonderful protagonist in Kathleen Mallory. She was adopted as a young
girl by a police detective at a time when she was a thief and a liar. Now she's
a cop but too independent for her own good. Her colleagues don't trust her, her
bosses know that she was once diagnosed as a sociopath and her friends don't
always know what to make of her. Nor does the reader, which makes it all the
more interesting. But unlike many female mystery writers, O'Connell doesn't
play up Mallory's gender or use humor to keep readers turning pages. Instead
we're fascinated by Mallory's intelligence and the focus can remain on the plot
itself, which is always a web of interlocking details and mysteries.
"Shell Game" begins with an old magician
watching the televised attempt of a trick. Only something goes wrong and the
magician is shot dead by a crossbow. While the cops and others assume it's an
accident, Mallory thinks otherwise and is set to prove it.
But than Mallory is accused of shooting a
balloon animal during a parade and suspended from her job.
She's forced to do a quiet investigation,
breaking department rules. She begins asking questions of a group of magicians,
including one very memorable character who has pretended his murdered wife was
alive for the last 50 years, to see what really happened. Sounds simple? But
nothing is simple or obvious in O'Connell's books, which make you wonder about
the safety and honesty of the people around us.
These aren't the fun heartwarming books many
mysteries are today; no, reading an O'Connell book is best done while also
reading something more uplifting, sort of an literary upper to go with this
necessary, engrossing downer.
O'Connell is one of the best writers around and
always a treat to read. The book's pace is serious and intense without being
slow or plodding. The characters are fully drawn up and explained without
letting that take away or distract from the book's plot. It is as if O'Connell
herself is a magician, but with words instead of tricks.
Go read this book.
Scott Butki is a reporter in Hagerstown,
Md. During the winter he is often in bed, reading, during his best attempt to