Carol O’Connell, with her series about the mysterious, complex Kathy Mallory, is one of the current masters of crime fiction. Mallory, for those unfamiliar with this fascinating figure, is a New York Police Department detective who is as serious as they come.
Practically robbed of a childhood, she comes off as cold and humorless but with clear ideas of right and wrong, which do not always correspond with the law. All of this makes her more intriguing than the average literary detective.
Mallory suffers fools badly and woe to those who underestimate her, which many who cross her path do. Watching them wither and suffer later is enjoyable in the way that it’s fun to kill a bug that has just bit you.
But even masters of this genre can sometimes make missteps, as occurs with O’Connell in her new book, Find Me (2007), in which Mallory and other characters take an unusual road trip along Route 66 (see footnote). In this novel O’Connell tries to do too many things at once, such as:
* Revealing more about Mallory’s family than in prior books.
* Introducing and developing new characters.
* Giving updates on characters from prior novels, including her law enforcement partner and a man who made the seemingly unforgivable act of proposing marriage to her.
* Documenting the chase for a serial killer.
All of this is going on while Mallory is meeting up with a caravan of families of missing children, some of whom know each other through the Internet. Meanwhile Mallory’s colleagues are trying to help her without knowing what exactly she is doing or why she is traveling in the first place.
While the families search for their children, or at minimum more answers about the disappearances, Mallory is seeking connections to her past through letters originally written by her father back when he used to travel Route 66.
As if that is not enough there is also the matter of a suicide that sparks her colleagues to track her down in the first place. The proverbial elephant in the living room is that a woman killed herself at Mallory’s apartment and Mallory’s exact involvement with the woman and the death are unclear. The suggestion that she may have somehow triggered the suicide is thought-out, but she is never directly asked about it.
The result is a book alternating between periodic discoveries of more dead bodies — victims of the serial killer — and poignant but still jarring scenes in which Mallory traces her father’s footste…, er, car tracks, along Route 66 years before.
Even a great writer, doing her best work, would struggle to do all of these things at once. But O’Connell, while a great writer, isn’t at her best during this road trip book.
While inferior work from O’Connell is still better than most books on the bestseller list, I would suggest those unfamiliar with O’Connell or Mallory to start with one of her earlier books.
Put simply, Find Me is good but not great, enjoyable for those familiar with its characters but not the best starting point for those new to the author.
Footnote: Yes, it’s the same Route 66 of the Bobby Troup song – covered by everyone from Depeche Mode to Van Morrison to the Cramps, the same one referred to in the movie Cars and the one along which I drove part of while working one summer in Arizona. Oh and if you listen close to the Route 66 song there's a reference to "San Bernardino" – well, that's the neighboring city to where I grew up in Riverside, Calif. But I digress.