10 February 2008

SHARK MUSIC (aka FIND ME), Carol O'Connell

NYPD detective Kathy Mallory has stopped turning up for work and there is a body on the floor of the front room of her apartment. Even Riker, her partner, knows only that Mallory appears to be on the run, travelling west from New York, somewhere on what used to be Route 66. More alarming than the corpse on the floor is the massive list of telephone numbers on the wall of the den. They have lines through them, as if Mallory has been crossing them off. And then 800 miles away, in Chicago, a second corpse has been found. Heavy rain is destroying the scene of crime, washing the evidence away. The body is laid out with its arm pointing down Route 80, saying "Follow Me". And then Mallory turns up at the scene of the crime.

Mallory appears to be following a moving caravan of vehicles travelling the Mother Road, Main Street USA, variously known as Route 66, Route 80, and the I-55. Leading them is psychiatrist Paul Magritte, almost like a patriarch leading a lost tribe, except that the cars contain parents of missing children. These people have been gathered from Magritte’s therapy patients and from internet groups. At each point where the caravan stops the parents post pictures of the lost children. As the caravan gathers media attention, so it also attracts more parents. FBI agents join it as do state troopers and local policemen. Old burials of tiny skeletons are discovered along the roadside, and some of the parents are murdered. Mallory is following an agenda of her own: a wad of letters written by the father she never knew as he too followed Route 66. The quest to find missing children, to apprehend a serial killer, blurs with Mallory’s own quest to find her father.

I need to confess first up that I have read only a couple of earlier titles in O’Connell’s Mallory series. This is #9, and while I knew some of the background about Kathy Mallory, found when she was 6 years old in New York’s Grand Central Station, and fostered by NYPD’s Lou Markowitz, those who have read the series will have more knowledge about the central characters than I did. Trying to piece the book together was rather like a jigsaw begun at the four corners without a clear picture of what the middle would look like. Possibly a less determined reader would have given up, but with my focus on the holy grail of this review, I journeyed on. Things got better in the second half of the book, there were aha! moments, little questions posed to which we needed answers, and then the resolution arrived.

Standing back now, I can appreciate the complexity of what O’Connell has done in SHARK MUSIC. At times the image of this growing caravan crawling along Main Street, carrying with it so much heartbreak, and so many hopes that would never be realised, was almost surreal. Soemtimes it was evocative of the wagon trains of an earlier era rolling west. Overlaying all is the growing tension of the serial murderer trawling the caravan looking for his next victim. The reader is required to juggle a multitude of threads, sift clues, and even pose their own questions. Don’t expect SHARK MUSIC to be a quick read, it needs time.

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