The Man Who Cast Two Shadows – Carol O’Connell

The badly beaten and decomposed body of a tall blonde woman is found in a New York City park, and when a label inside her blazer states it belongs to Kathleen Mallory the entire NYPD seems to find out in minutes that Mallory is dead. It isn’t till her erstwhile partner Riker actually sees the body that he can – with great relief – correct the ID – by which time the press has already gotten the news … The connection makes this personal for Mallory, and – suspension or no suspension (a separate entity from her bereavement leave of the first book), assignment or no assignment, she will be investigating this murder.

The actual victim becomes another character in the cast, as Mallory discovers an unfinished novel on her computer which seems to be her own thinly veiled story – a tale of seduction, pregnancy, and loss, terminating abruptly in mid-sentence with the words YOU LIAR typed over and over. Mallory is certain that whoever the other half of the victim’s real-life affair was had to be the killer; from there it is a matter of determining which of a handful of suspects he is, and what the lie was.

There is a secondary storyline in which a boy whose IQ is off the charts is brought to Charles by his father and stepmother in hopes that a seemingly small but increasingly menacing mystery can be solved: objects have a tendency to fly through the air when the boy is around. His mother died; his first stepmother killed herself; stepmother #2 is growing hysterical with the situation, especially as some of the objects tend to fly toward her, and some of them are pointy. Charles, in his capacity as a genius who evaluates other emerging geniuses, is asked to look into this situation.

Once again, as in Mallory’s Oracle, there is an element of magic to the story, an almost paranormal edge, only beginning with the possible telekinesis. It’s uncomfortable here, because … is what’s happening evidence that a character I like is losing his mind, or is it what it starts out to be, a wildly unique method of investigation? We’ll never really know, I suppose. Poor bugger.

Mallory herself is an almost paranormal presence. She is repeatedly described as a sociopath, and this takes some getting used to: a sociopath on the side of the law. Conditioning makes me expect bloodshed and mayhem when I hear (or read) the word – which is not to say that Mallory blinks at either bloodshed or mayhem. However, her conditioning has trained her to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, and she knows – as schoolchildren know the state capitals, by rote – that one does not harm the innocent, annoying as they might be, and one ought not to harm the guilty either but merely apprehend them. The part of that she seems to like is that “ought not” is less rigid than “shalt not”, which makes hunting and apprehending the guilty more her cup of tea.

The writing is graceful and smart. If Mallory remains something of a cipher, the characters who surround her are wonderful – everyone should have such a support system. (It might be heart-breaking in reality to see such love and care squandered on someone who shows nothing in return, but in fiction it’s a good plot device.) The story is handled in a manner unique to O’Connell. All in all, it’s the supporting cast and the writing which keep me coming back.

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