Crime School

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Many of the contemporary women detectives find themselves investigating their own lives in the cases they handle, and Kathy Mallory is no exception. Brilliant and remote, Mallory is a grown-up street child who has always managed to get by without support from others and is still doing it. Past novels have provided glimpses of her life before she was adopted by officer chief Louis Markovich and superficially civilized by his wife Helen, whom she loved. Now having followed his footsteps into law enforcement, she accepts no authority except her own sense of justice, and she surrounds herself with obstacles to all but the most formal communication.

In Crime School the reader learns much more of Mallory’s motives and origins as the young detective investigates a woman found hanged, surrounded by trappings of ritual, in a burning house. The woman is a prostitute named Sparrow who had once befriended Mallory when she was trying to survive on the street. Mallory finds that the hanging is similar in method to an unsolved murder that took place twenty years earlier. As Mallory draws closer to a solution to both of these crimes and other related ones, her mentor Charles Butler is investigating her in an attempt to help her, trying to find out what drew her to read a series of forties pulp westerns which followed the adventures of an outlaw and the sheriff who loved him but had to hunt him down. The real-life adventures and the paperback saga come together in a knockout, emotionally persuasive conclusion.

This novel has something of a valedictory feel to it, as though Carol O’Connell might be saying goodbye to her characters. Let us hope that this is not so, and that there will be many more novels in the powerful and moving series.