Friday, January 13, 2012

Delving Into Carol O'Connell's Mallory Series

“And Mallory’s road was run.”

That sentence at the end of Carol O’Connell’s 2006 Find Me has haunted me for nearly six years. Not because of anything devastating that occurs in Find Me (although it is filled with amazing revelations about the character Kathleen Mallory), but because I truly feared the end of O’Connell’s brilliantly scribed series. And so I’ve spent the past years diligently searching for the next O’Connell novel to appear. I was rewarded with her stand-alone mystery Bone by Bone in 2008, but nothing on the Mallory front. I was fairly sure that my worst fears for the series had come true, no more Mallory, until I happened to glance up and see an advanced reading copy of The Chalk Girl. I was giddy. I dropped the other books I was currently juggling and got sucked into the New York City, as owned by Detective Kathleen Mallory.

Here’s the deal with the Mallory series. Mallory is a bona-fide sociopath, with a mind like a computer; she also carries a big gun and has a badge. I’m taking a very complex, highly original, wholly fascinating character and reducing her to a few glib lines—doing O’Connell and her brilliant creation a great disservice, but to get Mallory, to understand the character and world O’Connell has created, you just need to read her. Start with Mallory’s Oracle and whip your way through the rest. I guarantee you too will become a fan.

The Chalk Girl, the newest book in this ever-fascinating detective series takes place several months after the events of Find Me. Here you will find my only criticism, the dramatic and revealing plot of Find Me, particularly the spectacular ending, are barely mentioned—almost as though they did not happen at all. I was really moved by Find Me, it was an epic road novel, with emotional depth, and elegant prose, not typically seen within the confines of a detective serial. To push those events aside is slap in the reader’s face and an insult to the characters and their journeys. Let’s just say that I was a bit annoyed.

After pushing aside those feelings, I was able to delve into the mystery of The Chalk Girl. First, let me give a very brief synopsis:

A child appears in Central Park, drops of blood on her shirt—from the sky she tells the police. When a body is found hanging from a bag in a tree, Mallory and her cohorts from Special Crimes are pulled into a past of wealth, blackmail, torture, and death.

True to form, the characters brought in by this murder and a series of unusual attacks that follow are well drawn and remarkably deep, considering that many of them are probably not going to appear in subsequent books. The twists and turns are truly twisted—occasionally shocking, and often moving. As a psychological suspense, The Chalk Girl hits it’s mark, as part of the Mallory series, it seems as though it has taken a step back in character development, but in all honesty, I think it’s me putting my wants for the characters far above the actual integrity and motivations of their established actions.

Despite these thoughts on my part, this is a solid mystery, with dark, disturbing undertones perfect for the psychological suspense fan. The Chalk Girl is a much anticipated and rewarding return to the world of Kathleen Mallory. I can’t recommend this series enough. Now…when’s the next book out?

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Haven’t I (Seen/Read) This Before

  (Some Spoilers, Beware)

Lately, it seems that it is nearly impossible to pick-up a book or go to the movies without having some sense of déjà vu. For instance, when I saw the film Dream House (2011, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weiss) all I could think of was “Something about this sure reminds me of The Others.” It’s like watching the The Lion King and realizing that it’s Hamlet, except instead of clever re-workings of classic texts we see blatant robbery of ideas. Now, it has been said that there are only a certain number of plot lines within literature (I’m including film in this genre, as I find it to be a form of visual literature), I personally like the listing from Ronald Tobias[i], which is the following twenty plots:

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Excess
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension.

 Of course the number varies according to which scholar is speaking, but all are in agreement that there are only so many ways a story can go. The thing is, I don’t care if I see the same plot, as long as it’s well put together with interesting new twists to old concepts. After all, we as viewers and readers are typically drawn to the same type of stories over and over again, if we weren’t we certainly would not have as many paranormal books aimed at teens (thanks Twilight), Nordic mysteries (Stieg Larsson), or graphic horror films (Saw). We as consumers love more of the same—we just want it to be bigger and better the next time around.

This roundabout thought process leads me to a new young adult book, Tempest by Julie Cross. A brief synopsis of the plot is that a 19-year-old time traveler must travel through time in order to save his girlfriend. This is a simplified premise, but suffice it to say that it was enough to get me to get me to pick up the book. Basically, this teenager, Jackson Meyer, finds out he can jump through time (never to the future, and only a few hours back), when his girlfriend Holly is killed by mysterious men in 2009, Jackson inadvertently leaps back to 2007, he is unable to get back to his own time and Holly. Jackson spends the rest of the book leaping through time trying to change events, all the while discovering the origins of his abilities, the truth of his birth, and trying to escape from shady CIA agents other time-travelers with a serious agenda. Interesting story, neat plot idea, and actually as a hole it worked. I liked the book, emphasis on liked—not loved.

 It’s hard to love a book when images from a couple of mediocre movies keep popping into your head. You see, the storyline starts to bear a markable resemblance to The Butterfly Effect and Jumper. One movie I hated, the other was okay entertainment even though it starred that brooder Hayden Christensen. If you’ve seen Butterfly Effect then you know the direction this book will take—think about what happens when you mess with time in order to save one person—if not, well congrats the ending of this first book (it’s a trilogy) will be a surprise. As for the Jumper similarities, think elite groups hunting people who “jump” through time (in the movie, it’s location, not time) and weird familial ties to the enemy hunters—you get the idea. It’s hard for me to imagine that the concept for this story wasn’t subconsciously, if not consciously, derived from bits and pieces of these other stories. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing blatant here, the story absolutely stands on it’s own legs, and has snippets of originality at it’s core, but these similarities are hard to disregard as an avid reader, and in this case movie watcher. They kept me from really getting absorbed in the book as an original and interesting story. It’s hard to love a book that does that.

 As this is the first book in a trilogy, you might ask, “will you read the next book?” the answer to that is a resounding yes. I liked the book. I want to know what happens next. It’s not a bad tale if the author has managed to capture my attention this much. Let’s just say that the next in the series will not move directly to the top of my pile, as say the next book in the Matched series by Ally Condie. My recommendation would be to read it if you’ve seen the movies mentioned, but try and move beyond the similarities. If you’ve never seen either movie, enjoy the book as an creative and entertaining love story. Either way, Tempest is a decent read, definitely one to pull out of the pile and onto your bedside table.

[i] Tobias, Ronald, 20 Master Plots. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993

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