Introduced in MALLORY'S ORACLE, Carol O'Connell's debut novel, Kathleen Mallory and her origins have been as mysterious as some of her cases. FIND ME, O'Connell's latest work, provides Mallory and her fans with some answers.
This complex and occasionally murky work begins with Mallory's unexplained absence from her position as a New York City homicide detective. Detective Sergeant Riker, Mallory's erstwhile police partner, visits her apartment in an effort to discover the reason for her being away. What he finds, however, is the body of an unknown woman, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the beginning of not one but two mysteries that slowly and excruciatingly will unravel across thousands of miles of legendary highway.
Mallory is in pursuit of two haunting enigmas. One is of a monster who has murdered over 100 innocents, leaving their bodies scattered in a seemingly random pattern across the western half of the United States. The other is the father she never knew, a man whose only legacy is a series of letters that, in their way, serves as a starting point to the solution to both puzzles. The common element that the two mysteries share is Route 66, the idealized, iconic link between Chicago and Los Angeles. For years the serial killer has been kidnapping children and burying them along the unmarked, disappearing highway. Mallory's absentee father, meanwhile, had sent before her birth a series of descriptive essays from various points along Route 66, providing a visual and (in some cases) aural guidebook.
The beginning of Mallory's journey is cursed with a murder, as a body is discovered in Chicago at the famous eastern origin of Route 66. Mallory, the adult seeking her phantom, unknown father, joins an ever-growing caravan of parents traveling along the highway searching for their missing children. She brings an almost psychopathic relentlessness to her pursuit, as clues ebb, flow and dovetail. Riker, pursuing Mallory in an effort to help and protect, is an almost hapless presence for Mallory, as are a number of other characters from past installments in the series, who are more or less along for the ride. It is, however, primarily through their eyes that FIND ME is told, as Mallory, almost to the very end, is an enigmatic presence, more a driven force of nature than a protagonist who readers can ever really come to know.
As FIND ME progresses, we learn --- as Mallory has intuited, perhaps all along --- that the killer is among the parents' hopeful, sorrowful caravan and that he is manipulating not only their journey but also the investigation. Yet, by the time the reader discovers the killer's true identity, who he isn't is in some ways more important than who he is, so that the revelation is somewhat anti-climactic. What ultimately makes the effort of reading the novel more than worthwhile, however, is the solution to Mallory's other puzzle, one that in its occurrence and aftermath is stirring and, in this darkest of tales, most welcome.
FIND ME leaves Mallory, and possibly O'Connell, at a crossroads. It is a perfect place to end the series and yet could also provide a jump point for a new direction to the series. While it is doubtful that the book will attract new readers to this complex, enigmatic character and storyline, fans will find their long infatuation with Mallory rewarded, and then some.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011