Carol O’Connell was born May 26, 1947, in New York to Norman O’Connell, an accountant, and Berta O’Connell. She received a bachelor of fine arts from Arizona State University and trained as a painter at the California Institute for the Arts. She lived as a surrealist painter for several years in Greenwich Village, supplementing her income with such freelance jobs as copy editing and proofreading.
In her forties, O’Connell turned to writing. She made many submissions to American publishers without much luck, finally deciding that she might have a better chance with British publishers. The character of Kathy Mallory was born in a manuscript called “Whistling Dogs,” which was not specifically about Mallory but rather about a police officer named Louis Markowitz. O’Connell has said that both characters were so strong that they were at odds. She sent this manuscript to Hutchison, the publisher of one of her favorite writers, Ruth Rendell. This first manuscript was turned down, but the rejection letter was complimentary enough to give O’Connell some direction and encouragement.
O’Connell was forty-six years of age before she finally achieved success as a writer of mysteries with a second manuscript sent to Hutchison, this one with Kathy Mallory as the primary character, investigating the murder of her foster father, Louis Markowitz. The manuscript was immediately recognized by publishers as an imaginative and engaging work, garnering interest on both sides of the Atlantic, and at the Frankfurt Book Fair, it sold to Dutch, French, and German publishers. It was also sold for $800,000 to an American publisher, who published it as Mallory’s Oracle.
It may be that O’Connell’s past struggles have made her conservative, for she treats writing as both a calling and a commitment, working more than eight hours a day and essentially publishing a new book every year, all written to the same caliber and level of innovation as her first one.