“Mallory’s Oracle” by Carol O’Connell

O’Connell, Carol. Mallory’s Oracle (1994)  
Jove Books, 310 pages, $5.99 paperback   
ISBN 0 515 11647 5

NYPD detective Louis Markowitz has been tracking a serial killer who preys on elderly women. Now Markowitz has been murdered, his body found near that of the killer’s latest victim. One of the officers who arrive on the scene is Sgt. Kathleen Mallory, who calmly analyzes the situation and looks for evidence.

Slowly—and shockingly—the reader learns that Markowitz was Mallory’s adoptive father. He caught her stealing one afternoon when she was about 10 years old and took her home with him instead of to Juvenile Hall. Markowitz’s wife, Helen, cleaned Kathy up and saw something underneath the child’s dirt and streetwise wariness. Thereafter Mallory stayed with the childless Markowitz couple, who raised her as their own daughter. Kathy became particularly devoted to Helen, who tried to teach the girl some ethical standards to replace the survival ethics she had learned on the street. But Kathy never did catch on to the larger concepts of right and wrong; she learned only whether Helen would approve or disapprove of certain actions. Even now, after Helen’s death from cancer, it is Helen’s imagined reaction that guides Mallory’s self-serving sense of morality.

Mallory’s beauty combined with her coldness make people shrivel up in front of her: “her eyes were cold green jewels set in ivory and framed in an aureole of gold” (p. 4).  Time after time all she has to do is stare at people, particularly men, to get them to back down or leave her alone. People are important only in relation to what they can do for her: “Mallory stared at the old woman with as much compassion as she would give to furniture” (p. 11).

Mallory is also an extremely intelligent computer whiz. “From her earliest days on the force, she had always been more at home with the NYPD computers than people, living or dead” (p. 10).

There is a mystery underlying the story, the question of who is killing elderly women, and why. But this is not primarily a mystery or a police procedural novel. It is a character novel, driven by the amoral, anti-social, even sociopathic Mallory, who’s almost too bad to be true. This first novel gives only a glimpse. The remaining books in the series fill in Mallory’s background and character. We will probably never come to like her, but we will at least understand her. Readers who stick with Mallory through the first four novels will be well rewarded for their efforts.

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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