“The Man Who Cast Two Shadows” by Carol O’Connell

O’Connell, Carol. The Man Who Cast Two Shadows (1995)  
Jove Books, 308 pages, $6.99 paperback  
ISBN 0 515 11890 7

After a short prologue, the first chapter of this book opens with a page about the young child Kathy who had a phone number written on her hand. The first three digits of the number were obliterated by a smear of blood. Kathy had learned to imitate the tones of all the numbers over the phone and had been calling the four legible numbers on her hand preceded by different combinations for the first three digits. Whenever someone answered the phone, she’d say, “It’s Kathy. I’m lost.”

With this reminder that Mallory started out as a lost waif, we enter the main story. The body of a young woman has been found in Central Park; the woman has been tentatively identified as Kathleen Mallory. Riker, an alcoholic cop in his fifties who was a close friend of Louis Markowitz, arrives at the autopsy to confirm the identity. The dead woman is not Mallory, but she’s wearing a tailored blazer with Mallory’s name in it. 

This is enough to make Mallory take the case personally. She had been suspended from the police force after shooting a civilian, but she’s recently been reinstated and assigned to the computer room. Her boss, Jack Coffey, is reluctant to assign her to this murder case, but Riker convinces him to give her a chance at it.

This novel emphasizes—almost tiresomely—the notion of Mallory’s cold, inhuman manner that was introduced in Mallory’s Oracle. For example, one of the characters “stared into her eyes for too long and became unsettled by them” (p. 14). Again: “Her voice had a rough edge that would scare any sane person into backing off with no sudden movements” (p. 229). An elderly witness has the same reaction when Mallory questions her: “The child before her was so lovely, but there was an aspect to the girl that was inhuman.  Eyes like a cat she had” (p. 204). Even people who know Mallory and love her because of their friendship with Markowitz frequently refer to her as a devil, a witch, a sociopath, a maniac, a liar, someone who should never be trusted.

This language is figurative, of course, but O’Connell introduces a touch of the occult involving Charles Butler, another friend of Mallory’s adoptive father, Markowitz. Butler is a tall, gangly man with a huge nose, a funny-looking face, a photographic memory, and an exceptionally high IQ. He’s in love with Mallory but knows better than to try to get close to her.

Charles’s Uncle Max was a magician. One of Uncle Max’s friends, also a magician, has missed his dead wife, Louisa, so much that he recreated her reality. People in the room with the magician could see the imprint where the invisible Louisa sat down on a sofa; Charles himself as a boy saw the imprint of the dead Louisa’s kiss on the magician’s cheek. In this book Charles reads the manuscript of the murder victim’s autobiographical novel that Mallory finds on the dead woman’s computer. He comes to know the woman so well that he tries to create her succubus so he can ask her (it?) who killed her. He does manage to create the woman’s image, which appears to him and talks to him (although she doesn’t name her killer). Just as Charles begins to wonder if he’s gone completely mad, the image fades and refuses to reappear.

Mallory is able to solve the case using her considerable computer hacking skills. Jack Coffey thinks about the way Mallory obtains information:  “Breaking laws to keep them was the norm now” (p. 203). There is an indication that even the saintly Markowitz was willing to use the information Mallory provided him; he just didn’t want to know how she had gotten it.

The book ends by teasing us with a bit more information about Mallory’s mysterious background. Louis and Helen Markowitz never formally adopted Kathy because she refused to talk about her past; they therefore could make no effort to locate her parents, so Kathy remained legally a foster child. But Charles tricks Riker and Dr. Edward Slope, another old friend of Louis’s, into telling him about the videotape that Louis once found while investigating a child pornography ring. Knowledge of the contents of this tape will change both Charles’s and the reader’s attitude toward the enigmatic Mallory

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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