O'Connell, Carol 1947-
O'Connell, Carol 1947-
Born May 26, 1947, in New York, NY; daughter of Norman and Berta O'Connell. Education: Arizona State University, B.F.A.; also attended the California Institute (or Arts/Chouinard). Hobbies and other interests: "No time."
Home—New York, NY.
Writer. "Writer, failed painter. Rent-money jobs: proofreader, copyeditor."
"KATHLEEN MALLORY" MYSTERIES
Mallory's Oracle, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Killing Critics, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
Stone Angel, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Shell Game, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
Crime School, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Dead Famous, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
Winter House, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.
Find Me, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.
Judas Child, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Stone Angel and Shell Game have been made into sound recordings.
Until the early 1990s, Carol O'Connell lived in a one-room apartment in New York's Greenwich Village, "struggling to earn enough for rent money by proofreading, editing and churning out any kind of copy she'd be paid to write," in the words of Publishers Weekly contributor Suzanne Mantell. Once a painter, O'Connell switched to writing when she discovered that "mysteries are fascinating," as she once revealed to CA. After attempting to market a manuscript in New York, she came to the conclusion that publishers in that city were no longer reading their "slush piles"—large quantities of unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. Thus, for her second try, O'Connell went at it from a different angle. She sent a manuscript titled "Whistling Dogs" to Hutchinson, a British publisher, figuring that an unpublished author had a better chance with firms in the United Kingdom. She reported to Mantell that Hutchinson editor Paul Sidey's response "was so complimentary that I didn't understand at first that it was a rejection." Encouraged by British kindness, O'Connell offered Hutchinson another manuscript in 1993. They accepted it, sold the U.S. rights to Putnam for 800,000 dollars, and the result became Mallory's Oracle.
Mallory's Oracle is the story of police sergeant Kathleen Mallory. A street thief as a child, she is taken in by a New York police inspector and his wife. She eventually becomes a computer expert and joins the police force, though her past still affects her deeply. When her adoptive father is murdered while investigating a series of killings, she uses her grief leave to track down the killer. Andrew Vachss in the New York Times BookReview had high praise for Mallory's Oracle, and observed that "O'Connell is either very well read or possessed of uncanny marketing instincts—no one genre will hold her book." He went on to explain that the novel is "part cozy whodunit, part police procedural, the book also contains generous dashes of surrealism, hints of the occult and a touch of horror." A Kirkus Reviews contributor was similarly impressed, hailing Mallory's Oracle as "a break-the-mold detective story, an incredible debut … and a blessing to female detective fans everywhere."
O'Connell followed up the success of her first published novel with three more Mallory books within three years. Not bad for a character who, as O'Connell told Emily Melton for an interview in Booklist, "started out as a peripheral character in a book that never worked." In The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, Mallory is fascinated by a corpse that appears to be her. The detective ends up adopting the murder victim's cat, and the reader sometimes sees Mallory through the cat's eyes as Mallory tracks down the killer. Killing Critics focuses on the murder of a performance artist that leads Mallory to revisit an old case once investigated by her father. In an article about O'Connell for the At Wanderer's Well Web site, a contributor noted that the ending was "surprising, touching, and vintage O'Connell." The writer also commented: "I will confidently predict that anyone who reads to page 50 will not put Killing Critics down."
In 1997, Stone Angel hit the bookstores with a tale of murders in Louisiana, complicated by the story of Mallory's own secret past and her mother's death twenty years earlier by stoning. "Here is a novel that grabs hold early and draws you all the way into a world of secrets, mysteries, murder, revenge and innocence lost," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Melton, writing in Booklist, observed that O'Connell is "now at the height of her considerable literary powers," and noted that the book is a "brilliant, not-to-be-missed performance. Wow!"
Despite the critical success of her books featuring Mallory, O'Connell set aside her troubled heroine and created Rouge Kendall for her book Judas Child. Assigned to investigate a kidnapping of two ten-year-old girls, Rouge is faced with a disturbing pattern resembling the disappearance and murder of his own twin sister fifteen years earlier. Melton of Booklist called it O'Connell's "most stunning novel yet." Melton further noted: "Few readers will be able to resist the charms of her lyrical prose or her daringly original plot." A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly commented on O'Connell's "vivid minor characters" but was not fond of the novel's "supernatural twist." Nevertheless, the reviewer noted that the "subtle characterization of people who face tragedy with resilience and spirit makes for a moving novel."
O'Connell brings Mallory back for Shell Game, a story in which the recurring characters of Charles, Coffey, Slope, and Riker are further revealed as Mallory investigates the death of Oliver Tree, an aging magician. Tree dies while performing an escape trick in New York's Central Park, and other magicians become the primary suspects in what Mallory believes to be his murder. Intertwined with the investigation is a tragic love story dating back to World War II France. "The Story of Kathleen Mallory concluded with Stone Angel," wrote a contributor to the At Wanderer's Well Web site. "One can only go into the fifth novel" with "some apprehension: is there really anything more we need to know about Mallory, her friends, the continuing characters? Surprisingly, the answer is yes." Writing in the Library Journal, Karen Anderson called Shell Game "one of the best" Mallory novels. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Her tough realism and hypnotic prose will leave readers eager for more."
In the sixth Mallory novel, Crime School, the heroine is helping to track down a serial killer who stalks and hangs his victims. Mallory's past is again involved when the detective learns that one of the victims was once a prostitute who read bedtime stories to Mallory when she was a street urchin. As with most of the Mallory novels, there is also a secondary puzzle, in this case involving a series of pulp Westerns that Mallory loved as a girl. "This novel is gritty, streetwise, funny—and sure to bring in more fans for the still-enigmatic Mallory," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted: "O'Connell's character-driven procedural transcends genre pigeonholing."
In Dead Famous Mallory is on the trail of The Reaper, the person who has killed eight jurors after shock jock Ian Zachary bolsters public outrage over the jury letting a supposed killer go free. Also on hand is crime-scene cleaner Johanna Apollo, who works for Mallory's partner Riker and has plenty of secrets of her own to keep hidden, including the fact that she may have killed an FBI agent. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the novel contains "memorable characters and blazingly original prose." The reviewer added; "Once again, O'Connell transcends the genre." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author's "prose—sharp, gritty and streetwise—is in top form."
Find Me features Mallory on leave but nevertheless becoming involved in the hunt for "Mack the Knife," a serial killer who has murdered more than 100 innocent children along historic Route 66. In the process, she finds herself part of a burgeoning caravan in which parents are traveling together in search of their missing children. Mallory is also under suspicion for the murder of a woman shot in the heart and found in Mallory's apartment with a note saying "Love is the Death of Me." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "She gets all the genre stuff right: the cops' jaded inside jokes, the forensics jargon, the violence. Mainly, though, she's masterful at revealing the detective mind." Joe Hartlaub writing on the BookReporter.com Web site, commented that "fans will find their long infatuation with Mallory rewarded, and then some."
In an interview with Melton for Booklist, O'Connell explained how she has kept up her high output of novels. "I just write all the time," she said. "I don't really have a life." She went on to comment, "When I'm working on a novel, I just don't have time for anything but writing. That's kind of hard on friends and relatives. The contracts are murderous, but when you're in the crime genre, publishers and readers really expect you to keep on producing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Stone Angel, p. 1620; April 15, 1998, Emily Melton, "Booklist Interview," p. 1370, and Emily Melton, review of Judas Child, p. 1390; April 15, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Shell Game, p. 1483; August, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Dead Famous, p. 1962.
Entertainment Weekly, December 22, 2006, Adam B. Vary, review of Find Me, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1994, review of Mallory's Oracle, p. 655; June 15, 2002, review of Crime School, p. 843; July 15, 2003, review of Dead Famous, p. 941; October 15, 2006, review of Find Me, p. 1040.
Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Devon Thomas, review of Judas Child, p. 115; June 15, 1999, Karen Anderson, review of Shell Game, p. 109; July, 2002, Devon Thomas, review of Crime School, p. 122; October 1, 2003, Lelsie Madden, review of Dead Famous, p. 122.
New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, Andrew Vachss, review of Mallory's Oracle, p. 33.
People, August 4, 1997, Pam Lambert, review of Stone Angel, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, January 31, 1994, Suzanne Mantell, "Mallory's Oracle predicts Megabucks for First Novelist," interview with author, pp. 24-25; June 9, 1997, review of Stone Angel, p. 41; April 27, 1998, review of Judas Child, p. 42; June 14, 1999, review of Shell Game, p. 53; August 19, 2002, review of Crime School, p. 67; August 4, 2003, review of Dead Famous, p. 55; October 16, 2006, review of Find Me, p. 30.
At Wanderer's Well,http://www.dancingbadger.com/ (October 8, 2002), "Carol O'Connell, Watching Mallory Grow a Soul."
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (October 8, 2002), review of Crime School.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 12, 2007), Joe Hartlaub, review of Find Me.
Who Dunnit,http://www.who-dunnit.com/ (February 12, 2007), brief profile of author.