The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell

The Chalk GirlReviewed by Caryn St. Clair

O’Connell has brought her star protagonist, Kathy Mallory back for her eleventh appearance in The Chalk Girl. While through the book readers will see some cracks in the icy cold persona of Mallory, the book in some ways is the most disturbing of the series-especially if the reader is squeamish about rats.

As The Chalk Girl opens, an effort to rid one area of Central Park of rats has backfired and the normally nocturnal, people-shy creatures are out in force in the daylight and amped up on chemicals that were meant to kill them. The chemicals have also made the rats both vicious and supercharged so that they are now actively attacking people and climbing trees. When a camp director from New Jersey suffers a heart attack at the sight of all the rats, her campers scatter. A cleaning lady making her way across the park has been watching the group as well as a small elflike redheaded child playing nearby. When the police are sent to round up the children, she insists they need to look for the little girl as well.

That little girl, who turns out to be somewhat of an expert on rats, is also found to be a kidnap victim from Chicago. It is through this small girl that readers see a side of Mallory not seen before. The child suffers from Williams Disease, a condition which leaves her vulnerable to all sorts of danger as she seeks affection for people. The person she has latched onto is Mallory. Mallory’s friend Charles Butler takes a special interest in the little girl and having known Mallory for years, is concerned about the child’s need for contact with Mallory. Because the child may have witnessed a horrible crime, Mallory is afraid that she is possibly in danger from the killer. Both Mallory and Charles set out to protect her at any cost but they each question the other’s reasons.

Tied to the crime the child has witnessed is a long ago closed case of a young boy’s death, ruled of natural causes. He too was a witness to a crime and he too was vulnerable, only there was no Mallory or Charles to protect him.

This case, which is really multiple cases tied together, spans several years and takes readers into the darkness of mental illness, drug abuse and corruption at the highest levels in both the police department and the medical examiners’ office. It is also a book that will haunt readers for a long time after the last page is turned.

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