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Book Review: Shell Game

Shell Game: A Mallory Novel
by Carol O’Connell

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.

This review was originally printed in Mindjack

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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