It Happens In the Dark is the eleventh novel featuring Detective Kathy Mallory. But don’t call her Kathy. It’s Mallory and she is one of the most fascinating detectives detecting today. In this novel, she takes her consider talents to Broadway where she keeps finding more murders. Not just murders, she finds a massacre. It happens to be the plot of a play, but Mallory is certain there is more to the story.
She is called in when a playwright dies in the first act of a new play. That would not be so bad, but someone died in the same seat at the same time the night before. Will the audience ever get to see the end of the play? Well, not for a while, not when Mallory keeps stacking up the murders. Meanwhile, everyone else is trying to chalk them up to natural causes, but I would never bet against Mallory when it comes to crime.
Old regulars show up, her adoptive father’s friends at the infamous poker night, Charles the psychiatrist with an eidetic memory, and her long-suffering colleagues, most importantly her partner Riker. If you thought Mallory went astray in Find Me, rest assured, she has come back with a vengeance and an avenging spirit.
Flawed detectives are always the most interesting. We like Morse’s grumpiness and Wallander’s self-doubt and depression and Poirot’s vanity. Their flaws humanize them. Mallory’s flaw is very different. O’Connell describes her as a sociopath, and she could be, a sociopath with a mission to solve crimes. I wonder though, if we and her “family” of friends who watch over her would care so much if she were truly a sociopath. We see these glimpses of emotional intensity that makes me wonder if her coldness is a front to contain the explosive fire underneath.
Twenty-two years ago I read Mallory’s Oracle and after that every trip to Barnes & Noble or Powells’ included a hopeful perusal of the O’s in the Mystery section. Carol O’Connell could not write them fast enough for me. It seems there are many difficult detective now. They seem to be the thing, but I think the reason they are a thing is because Mallory is the real thing. She created an unforgettable character who has, I think, inspired others to think differently about the who and how of detection.
It Happens In the Dark is a good mystery, but it suffers from the bright lights of Broadway. There was something manic about it all. The gas-lighting of the cast, the flamboyant star, that odd dresser, the creepy twins, the critic’s critic and the hapless gopher, there were just too many big personalities. Then add the Nebraska sheriff who was just so very Nebraska. There was so much unnecessary lack of cooperation. Of course, that’s part of the point of O’Connell’s stories, how bureaucracy stifles progress, ambition trumps justice.
But it is a Mallory mystery, which means it is well-plotted, with fascinating characters, and fair – even if we can’t reach her conclusions as quickly as she, we can certainly follow her thought process. The story is smart, there is the play within a mystery element and I won’t tell you if they ever get to the end of that dang play.