Carol O'Connell Essay - Critical Essays


Mallory’s Oracle is both a traditional mystery and a psychological thriller, in which the investigator tries to figure out the motives of the killer and understand the crime from the killer’s perspective. The reader becomes intrigued trying to determine the motivations of Sergeant Kathy Mallory, who is stalking the suspect. O’Connell’s work is noteworthy for its compelling characters, who have the depth and grittiness that make them resemble real-life people.

Mallory is socially dysfunctional, even perhaps sociopathic, and a genius with the face of an angel and an ability to draw people to her. To her friends, there are two sides to Mallory: the lost child and the vengeful police officer, two personas that may seem at odds but are perfect complements. Her friends are both charmed by her and afraid of her, and they find it difficult to predict how she will react or know what she is thinking.

Charles Butler, the one character in the series who could be called noble, seems to stand apart from the action, almost as if he is representing the reader. He is often accused of being gallant or “born in the wrong century.” In the beginning of the series, he makes a living by investigating unusual talents and debunking the paranormal. The perfect foil for Mallory, he partners with her on a professional level and balances her on a personal level with his optimistic point of view.

Louis and Helen Markowitz, Mallory’s foster family, play a large role in the series, although Louis is a widower who dies in the first novel. The couple act as Mallory’s conscience, lurking in the background and stopping her from acting inappropriately so that she can interact in polite society. Because Mallory is most likely a sociopath, she can clearly understand what motivates criminals. This trait also allows her to blackmail people for the information she needs to find the answers. Mallory lacks a real conscience, but she is not without feeling; however, her feelings resemble those of a young child or a wild animal, intense and uncontrolled. As opposed to struggling in a male-dominated world, she dominates it, drawing men to her even as they realize that she is using them. In a real sense, she is a femme fatale. She is a gifted liar whose philosophy, learned at Louis Markowitz’s knee, is “Everybody lies,” and who knows how to figuratively cut the truth out of people.

O’Connell’s books are somewhat different in that the plot always contains two equally compelling mysteries: the murder or crime that Mallory is trying to unravel professionally and the mystery surrounding Mallory—her origins and the forces that shaped her personality. Each novel reveals a major piece of the puzzle: who her mother was, where Mallory came from, why she left her home, what she did on the street, who her father was, how she was found, and how she came to be a police officer. It is the mystery around Mallory that makes this series so engaging and appeals to the reader at least as much as if not more than the solution to the murder.

O’Connell retains a third-person point of view in her novels but tells the story from the perspective of nearly every character—Detective Riker, Charles Butler, Lieutenant Coffey, and even the murderer—but almost never Mallory.

Mallory’s Oracle

Mallory’s Oracle, published in 1994, contains a mixture of old magic tricks, spirit mediums, and good old-fashioned greed. It opens with the murder of Louis Markowitz and the impact it has on his foster daughter, Kathy Mallory, who is a sergeant with the New York Police Department. She is ordered to take bereavement leave and does not hesitate to do so, starting an investigation of her own and becoming a partner in a consulting firm owned by Charles Butler, a friend of the Markowitz family. Butler has earned a livelihood by identifying “special” talents and advising people on the most productive way to use them as well as by debunking the supernatural. Their first case together concerns a young boy who may be psychokinetic or haunted; inexplicably, knives have gravitated toward his stepmothers, the first two of whom have died under suspicious circumstances.


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