“Killing Critics” by Carol O’Connell

O’Connell, Carol. Killing Critics  (1996)  
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 309 pages, $23.95 hardcover  
ISBN 0 39914168 5

I found this to be the least enjoyable of O’Connell’s Mallory books. In this installment, an art-related murder leads Mallory back to an unsolved brutal double homicide Markowitz had worked on 12 years earlier. The plot of this novel involves performance art, including the possibility of murder as art.

In retrospect, the main purpose of this book seems to be to set up the next one, Stone Angel. Killing Critics continues the emphasis on Mallory’s cold, almost inhuman nature. A major character in the story is Quinn, an art critic: “Quinn had a limited range of expression, devoid of emotion even when he smiled, only communicating cool indifference and élan” (p. 8). But the cool, detached Quinn realizes he has met his match when he first sees Mallory: “a lifetime’s experience in stereotyping humans had failed him.  He could not hazard her occupation or her exact status in the world.  All he knew for certain was that her eyes were green, and if it was true that one could read another’s soul by the eyes, this young woman didn’t have one” (p. 17). Even Dr. Slope, the medical examiner who was a long time friend of Markowitz, provokes Mallory because “Her anger was his only method of ferreting out her humanity in what limited range of emotion she possessed” (p. 130).

Killing Critics ends with Charles Butler leaving a note professing his love for Mallory. But in the epilogue we learn “Mallory would never read Charles’s note.”  She’s on a train with “no stitch of formal identification that would tie her to a name or a place. This was the way she had come to New York as a child, with only her wits and a bit of a mother’s blood on her hands.  And this was the way she voyaged out again, out of New York City and into the great sprawling landscape of America, which was another country” (p. 309).

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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