The Barnes & Noble Review
Carol O'Connell's suspense novels earn critical praise and increasing sales with each new release. Mallory's Oracle and Stone Angel are two of her best, but she's topped them all now. Judas Child is a beautiful literary thriller, the kind of story that is almost delicious in the exquisite game played out by the hunter and hunted within it. O'Connell has a mastery of prose and an almost poetic sense of scene. Yet her story is suspenseful to the end, and she has created one of the most fascinating characters I've encountered in a while in her forensic psychologist, Ali Cray. But the book is not Ali's so much as it is Rouge Kendall's.
Rouge is a cop, and he's been called in on what at first appears to be the case of two children who've gone missing. But the missing-persons case turns to murder, and it recalls for Rouge the murder of his sister Susan, which took place when he was a boy. That loss was the defining moment in Rouge's life, and it changed everything for his family. Rouge considers himself somewhat responsible for Susan's death, since he had been her protector. But curiously, the recent murder of a little girl begins to remind him more and more of the murder of his sister 17 years earlier.
Then Rouge meets Ali Cray. Ali is no ordinary beauty. Although she is lovely to look at, one side of her face carries a large scar, almost a grotesque mockery of a smile emanating from the edge of her mouth. The fact that she's never done anything to cover up the scar indicates that she also has no ordinary mind. Ali studies murder and its meanings, and she scentsthelarger context of the murder of a little girl just before Christmas. She tries to convince Rouge that this is the same pattern that the killer used to murder his sister. In fact, Ali was a classmate of his sister's, and one of her special interests in this new case has to do with Paul Marie, the man who sits in prison for the murder of Susan Kendall from so many years ago. Marie was the priest at the small parochial school that Susan Kendall and Ali Cray attended. When he was convicted of Susan's murder, Rouge felt justice was done, but now, after this new murder, he's not so sure. One child, the murdered girl's playmate, is still missing, and Ali Cray is positive that the murderer is playing the same game he played years ago. The killer's game is to call out one child as bait for the other, then murder the first, and keep the other until Christmas day, for a second murder. Ali has a deeper conviction, that there are those around her who know the identity of the killer but have kept it secret for unfathomable reasons.
As Ali and Rouge get closer to the murderer, and as they race to save the child still within his clutches, it becomes apparent that the most monstrous secret is still to come. Ali will put herself into the hands of a killer in order to both understand him and save the child's life.
Carol O'Connell is brilliant. Judas Child has gorgeous moments, even within the most terrifying scenes. Judas Child is a mystery within a thriller and should be read by fans of both genres, as well as those who love great fiction of any genre.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a departure from her popular Kathleen Mallory suspense series (most recently Stone Angel), O'Connell's chilling tale of a murderer who preys on children compensates for a muddled plot with its clear-eyed look at the heights and depths of human behavior.
When two remarkable fifth-grade girls Gwen Hubble, the beautiful daughter of the lieutenant governor, and Sadie Green, an imaginative and plucky child obsessed with horror comics and movies are kidnapped from the St. Ursula's Academy, two adults afflicted by their own tragedies are drawn into the investigation. Forensic psychologist Ali Cray draws stares both for her slit skirts and for a disfiguring facial scar, the result of a secret childhood trauma. Policeman Rouge Kendall is haunted by the memory of his twin sister's murder 15 years earlier. The killer was supposedly caught, but similarities between the old murder and the current case make Cray begin to doubt. In the earlier case, the killer used a note from one captured child (the Judas child) to lure a friend; the reader knows that this is again the pattern, just as we knowor think we knowwhere the girls are being held. As the investigation continues and the girls attempt to escape,
O'Connell introduces vivid minor characters, including a 10-year-old boy almost too shy to speak and one of Cray's ex-lovers, a cop who expresses his thwarted yearning for her through insult contests. O'Connell's prose occasionally veers toward the florid, but the main problem here is a supernatural twist that leaves readers somewhat adrift. In the end, however, O'Connell's subtle characterization of people who face tragedy with resilience and spirit makes for a moving novel.
A kidnaped-child nightmare that's every bit as intense as O'Connell's acclaimed Kathy Mallory detective stories (Stone Angel, 1997, etc.).
Fifteen years ago, the little town of Makers Village, NY, and its pride, St. Ursula's Academy, were shattered when Rouge Kendall's twin sister Susan was lured from her home with the unwilling complicity of one of her trusted friends, into the clutches of a sadistic pedophile who killed her and left her family devastated. Now Rouge, only 25 but already a failure at Princeton, pro baseball, and police work, is put on a task force for a case that looks eerily similar: the disappearance of two more St. Ursula's students, wealthy Gwen Hubble, the obvious target (her mother Marsha is New York's Lieutenant Governor), and Sadie Green, the judas child presumably used to get at her friend. The criminal's m.o.if it is the same monster that psychological profiler Ali Cray has identified, rather than the convicted suspect who's been in jail all these yearsis to kill his child accomplice immediately, then let her cosseted friend linger in captivity till Christmas Day.
This time, though, O'Connell shows the two captives, both very much alive, desperately plotting to outwit their tormentor; plucky Sadie, who's seen every horror movie since Freaks and likes to play dead, is especially poignant and resourceful. Can Rouge follow the clues to their prisonwinning the confidence of the selectively mute friend who was on the scene when they were kidnaped, identifying the contents of a telltale parka's pocket, keeping out of the line of fire among the local cops, the state cops, and the FBIbefore the girls run out of time and hope?Though the scenario couldn't be more familiar, O'Connell's characters are so painfully realmost of them far too interesting for the limited functions the plot asks them to servethat you're hard-pressed to take anything for granted in this grisly, poetic tale.