Review: It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell


ItHappensInTheDarkIt Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell (Putnam Adult, 2013), Kathy Mallory series

Blurb: The reviews called it “A Play to Die For” after the woman was found dead in the front row. It didn’t seem so funny the next night, when another body was found—this time the playwright’s, his throat slashed.

Detective Kathy Mallory takes over, but no matter what she asks, no one seems to be giving her a straight answer. The only person—if “person” is the right word—who seems to be clear is the ghostwriter. Every night, an unseen backstage hand chalks up line changes and messages on a blackboard. And the ghostwriter is now writing Mallory into the play itself, a play about a long-ago massacre that may not be at all fictional. “MALLORY,” the blackboard reads. “TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. NOTHING PERSONAL.”

If Mallory can’t find out who’s responsible, heads will roll. Unfortunately, one of them may be her own.


Kathy Mallory might just be my favorite fictional detective. A feral girl-child living on the streets of New York, she was taken in by a New York cop and his wife when she was ten, and she’s now one of the best Special Crimes detectives in New York. She’s also borderline sociopathic, completely independent, eerily smart, and impeccably tailored. In spite of her detachment, she’s fiercely loyal, and her adoptive father’s friends are now her family. And although she turns her nose up at their poker games, Mallory does enjoy a good game of Heart Attack Express, in which the goal is to sneak up on your opponent, poke the back of their neck and whisper, “You’re dead.”

One of the biggest pitfalls of writing a character who maintains a strict distance from everyone around her is that she will become one-dimensional. O’Connell is able to avoid this by surrounding Mallory with a cast of sympathetic characters, who love Mallory even as they respect and maybe even fear her, and it’s through these relationships that we see Mallory as a more complex, layered character who is able to create and sustain one-on-one relationships with a certain kind of person—in this case, a young, brilliant stagehand who is as mysterious as she is—and who will act as a fierce guardian for anyone she deems in need of protection.

The story moves along nicely, with a lot of twists and turns along the way. Although this is the eleventh book in the series, it works as a stand-alone. Because I’m so fond of these books I’d suggest reading them from the beginning, but it’s not necessary. The characters are all introduced and enough backstory given to clarify their relationships. I’d recommend the entire series to anyone who loves a good crime novel.


This book was furnished by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars


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