Category Archives: Canada

Review: A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen

The 8th book I will count towards the current Canadian Book Challenge is the fourth in its series and won the 1995 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel.

It has been six years since Joanne Kilbourn’s husband was bashed to death by the side of the road while driving home from a funeral but she is forced to re-visit the event during the publicity over the death in a drive-by shooting while in the prison exercise yard of the man convicted of his murder . When, a few days later, the man’s girlfriend who had been with him at the roadside murder but who was thought not to have had any involvement in the death is also killed, Joanne finds herself a suspect. Fearing the police might not look further and believing the answers to the murders lie in the events that transpired immediately before her husband’s death Joanne sets out to find out who the killer is.

At first it appeared that the plot of this novel would follow a fairly predictable path but it soon veered off into far more interesting territory involving the hopes and fears of the group of lifelong friends and colleagues that Joanne and her husband had been part of. She is forced to confront some unpleasant possibilities such as the notion her husband had been keeping secrets from her in the lead up to his death and even whether or not his death was something more sinister than a random killing. In doing this she uncovers more than one well hidden secret among the group of friends who were once all political colleagues who have a mixture of personal demons and professional troubles they are trying to hide.

In all her roles, as a college professor, mother of four, political activist and amateur sleuth Joanne manages to be both believable and sympathetic and I enjoyed meeting her. Amateur detectives normally stretch the bounds of credibility fairly early on but here both her motive for becoming involved in the investigation and her methodology made sense. She is the person with most to lose of the truth is not uncovered and she is also able to talk to her friends and her husband’s former colleagues in a way that police might not be able to. I’m not sure how this would play out in the 11 other books in the series (none of which I’ve read) but in this story anyway everything fell into place very well.

There are other well-drawn characters, including a couple on the nastier side of the psychological spectrum, and some lighter moments chiefly provided by Joanne’s cat-loving six-year old daughter Taylor, in this entertaining read. Aside from a little local politics there wasn’t a heck of a lot that made this book stand out as Canadian for me but it definitely stands out in the mystery stakes.

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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher McClelland & Stuart [this edition 1995, original edition 1994]
ISBN 9780771014833
Length 217 pages
Format mass market paperback
Source I mooched it

Review: Negative Image by Vicki Delany

The 7th book which will count towards my Canadian Book Challenge is the newest installment of Vicki Delany’s Constable Molly Smith series and is due for publication on 2 Nov 2010. This pushes me over the half-way point of the challenge.

In the fictional small town of Trafralgar in British Columbia a famous fashion photographer is murdered in his hotel room. At first the town’s small police force requests the help of the Mounted Police for simple manpower reasons but when the wife of their lead investigator, John Winters, falls under suspicion they are forced to rely, seemingly mistakenly, on the impartiality of the outsiders.

I was very angry with John Winters for much of this book. His behaviour upon learning his wife Eliza was under suspicion for the murder was pretty poor, essentially he abandons the woman he has apparently loved for 25 years, and I mentally tut-tutted that I expected better of a man like him. This is not to say his behaviour was unrealistic, I suspect it would be a common response, but says a lot for the way Delany has grown her stock characters over the series that I was disappointed in Winters. I would also have liked to have seen things more from Eliza’s point of view. We do learn a little about her days as a young fashion model when she had a relationship with the murder victim but it would have been nice to see more of her reacting to being under suspicion and having a her husband go AWOL rather than deal with the issue.

Molly Smith is growing into a nicely well-rounded character. Here Delany depicts the difficulty a young woman might face being in the police force. Not only is Molly subject to some pretty juvenile ribbing and even nastier innuendo about her sexual exploits (let’s face it this could happen to any woman in any job) but she also comes under threat from a man she was responsible for jailing who has now been released. Although I’m sure male police officers experience threats and worse from criminals they’ve imprisoned, I suspect for a certain type of man it would be far worse to have been caught by a ‘lowly’ woman and that’s what seems to play out here. Given that Molly is also undergoing some family trauma and experiencing some minor troubles with her fledgling relationship she’s got a lot to handle in this book but works through it all credibly.

The plot itself, including the main mystery as well as a side thread about a series of robberies and a storyline dealing with Molly’s father’s illness, is very sound if not terribly surprising. As always with this series it is the mixture of crime solving and small town life that is appealing as both feed off each other. Although this book doesn’t have quite the social conscience that attracted me to Valley of the Lost, the second book in the series, it is an above average small town police procedural with very engaging characters and a satisfying puzzle to solve. Another point in its favour is that you could easily read it without having read the previous books in the series which is something of a rarity these days and is to be applauded as there are only so many backlists a mystery fan can contemplate.

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I have read and reviewed two of the three previous books in this series: Valley of the Lost and Winter of Secrets

Negative Image has also been reviewed at Make Mine Mystery and Tome’s Devotee

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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Poisoned Pen Press [2010]
ISBN 9781590587881 (for the hard cover)
Length 274 pages
Format eBook (PDF, galley)
Source from the publisher via Net Galley

Review: The Dead of Midnight by Catherine Hunter

This is the sixth book I’m counting towards the challenge which requires me to read 13 Canadian books by 1 July 2011. It is yet another great book that I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across if it weren’t for participating in a challenge.

In a small town in Winnipeg, Manitoba a book club meats each week at a local restaurant to discuss a mystery novel (and eat dessert). They start discussing a new series of novels in which a murder always occurs at midnight but soon book club members start experiencing events that eerily reflect the plots of the novels. At the same time one of the club members, Sarah Petursson, begins to uncover the mysteries of her own past, including the death of her mother when she was only six years old.

I read this book in a couple of sittings and was hooked from the outset. Although the basic premise, real-life events mirroring those in books, has been done before there were more than enough interesting twists here that I didn’t get any sense of ‘been there, read that’. Undoubtedly this was helped along by the strong focus on Sarah’s exploration of her past. At first she is reluctant to dig into her murky memories of her early childhood but when she came into possession of some journals of her mother’s she became drawn to finding out about her mother’s life, almost all of which was spent on a tiny private island with only her father and sister for company. The inclusion of extracts from these journals was nicely handled and helped build the intrigue. Meanwhile the investigation of the current crop of crimes does not go terribly smoothly, mostly due to the lazy pig-headedness of one of the detectives assigned to the case, and it’s no wonder those book club members who remain alive grow more than a little frightened.

There’s a plethora of characters in the book, possibly a few too many to get into real depth, but even those who appear only briefly are well-drawn. Thankfully Sarah Petersson avoids almost all of the traps of being a female in danger in a mystery and her self-discovery and the way it impacts her character is surprisingly engaging. Her flighty (and flirty) cousin Morgan turns out to be made of tougher stuff than I imagined at the outset and the many possible culprits provide red herrings and entertainment in equal measure. The only real downfall was with the depiction of the police who seemed either to be lazy or a little too willing to break rules inconvenient to plot advancement but as they didn’t feature heavily in the story it wasn’t a terribly big issue.

Perhaps I was particularly drawn into this novel because I too belong to a crime fiction book club (though ours is not nearly as organised as this one in which members took it in turns to write presentations on the themes raised by the books they read) (and none of our members have been horribly murdered) but whatever the reason it certainly hooked me in from the outset. I found the book genuinely suspenseful and its evocative sense of location and the merest hint of something paranormal was reminiscent of some of Daphne du Maurier’s stories. I think this one would have appeal beyond die-hard mystery fans.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Publisher St Martin’s Minotaur [2001]
ISBN 03123083888
Length 360 pages
Format hardcover
Source borrowed from the library

Review: The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

This is the fifth book for my Canadian Book Challenge and is the second novel from an author whose use of a pseudonym has caused more discussion than the books in some quarters. I’m happy to read the books, whoever might have penned them.

Hazel Micallef is almost 62 years old, has just undergone the second major surgery on her back in a year and is living in the basement of her ex-husband’s house where his new wife, who is unfailingly nice, feeds and bathes her. Her return to  work as the interim head of the Port Dundas Ontario police force is hastened along when fishing tourists report hooking a body in a local lake. Though the find turns out to only be a mannequin, the discovery leads Micallef and Detective Constable James Wingate into a bizarre race to save a man’s life which involves solving the riddles posed by the publication of a story in the local paper and watching horrid events unfold on an untraceable website.

I really do enjoy the depiction of Micallef in this series, probably more so in this second book. On the few occasions that ‘women of a certain age’ are depicted in crime fiction they’re usually fluffy lovely old dears or barking mad and Micallef is neither of these. She is an ordinary woman staring down the barrel of forced retirement without the man she still loves and frankly she’s cranky. At work she has flashes of genius interspersed with raging stupidity and she’s fairly hopeless at managing her relationships with others, though she seems more aware of her failings in this regard in this novel. Quite often she isn’t likable but she is an interesting character to read about. The other characters to look out for here are James Wingate, who I’d like to see more thoroughly developed though we did learn more about why he chose to move from Toronto to the more rural setting in this outing, and one

I’m afraid the plot is not quite as engaging as the characters. Though perfectly readable it was extraordinarily and unnecessarily convoluted. At their heart the motivations for what crimes took place were credible and worth exploring in some depth but for me they got a little lost amongst a series of contrivances and implausible scenarios (mostly involving Hazel going alone into places that anyone who’s ever been to a pantomime would have known called for a shouted “look out, he’s behind you”). I can’t say more without giving away spoilers but I thought the story itself would have been better off without one of the two culprits (who are revealed about half-way through the book). I also thought the book relied a little too heavily on readers’ familiarity with events in the first book which I think would have caused some confusion for readers new to the series.

Overall though I enjoyed the book. Its setting in a fictional town perhaps allows the author to take more jibes at bureaucracy and local politics than might be the case if the setting were real and these add interest to the story’s backdrop. The characters are well-developed and maintain interest despite, or perhaps because of, their prickly nature and the plot problems are manageable. Importantly this book is far less bloody than its predecessor, though there are still a couple of gruesome scenes not for the faint-hearted.

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The Taken has also been reviewed at Kittling Books and you might also like to check out my review of the first book in this series, The Calling.

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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Corgi [2009]
ISBN 9781409080305
Length 303 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Source I bought it

Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

A mystery-writing college professor I know recently joked (?) that the reason the victims in her first two books had been college students was that it was more polite behaviour than killing the real thing. As I don’t write fiction I’m dependent upon others to carry out my fantasy murders of choice and for me these would involve politicians. So how could I resist a book titled Dead Politician Society which also counts as book 4 towards my Canadian Book Challenge?

When a politician is killed in Toronto rookie police officer Clare Vengel is tasked with her first undercover assignment: join the political science class at the local University where police believe someone may be, or at least know something about, the killer. An email that appears to have originated on campus was sent to a newspaper claiming responsibility for the politician’s murder on behalf of The Society for Political Utopia and it’s Clare’s job to see what she can find out. When she joins Matthew Easton’s Political Utopia for the Real World class she meets more than one person with motive for killing and when more politicians start dying she has to work fast.

At 42 I’m probably a bit young for grumpy old woman status but if my reaction to the character of Clare is anything to go by I’ve definitely got my training wheels on. Despite being given a job she covets Clare does her best to ruin her chances of success by behaving irresponsibly, such as deliberately getting drunk while under cover and forgetting what falsehoods she has told, and berating her handler in an annoyingly childish fashion for all manner of imagined put downs. This might be quite realistic behaviour for a 22-year old but all I wanted to do was give her a slap and tell her to grow up.

Fortunately for me though this is not one of those stories in which a single character advances all the action. In fact the book’s chapters alternate from different points of view and in addition to Clare’s we see action unfold from the perspective of Matthew (the Professor), Laura (the ex-wife of the first victim), Jonathan (one of the students in the class) and Annabel (the journalist who is in text-message contact with the person claiming to be the killer). I found the regular switching gave the book a good, fast pace as well as allowing me to get away from Clare and engage with people I found much more interesting.

Much of the action unfolds against the backdrop of Matthew Easton’s unorthodox class in which students are divided into political parties and must from alliances, present legislation and generally operate as a parliament. Being a politics junkie I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel (I would have crawled over hot coals to be part of something like this when I studied political science myself all those years ago) and thought it offered an original spin on what is at heart a classic whodunnit. Having the students discussing and debating a range of issues allowed all sorts of possible motives to be explored as we learn about the histories and families of all the players. This kept me guessing, if not about the culprit, then about motives and the ultimate outcome right to the end.

Dead Politician Society is well-plotted, has just the kind of social introspection that I enjoy in my reading and the characters are well drawn. The fact that I found Clare to be annoying as hell is quite realistic, I get that annoyed by real people too. If you’re in the market for a funny, fast read with a political bent then you could do a lot worse (especially if you are not a curmudgeonly old woman).

Dead Politician Society has also been reviewed at A Novel Source, Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Pickle Me This (none of these reviews mention any level of annoyance at the character of Clare and one thinks she is a brilliant, feisty heroine so mine is clearly not a universal reaction, just me being a grumpy old woman).

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My rating 3/5
Publisher ECW Press
ISBN 9781550229424
Length 328 pages
Format eBook (PDF)
Source My thanks to the Publisher, via Net Galley, for the review copy

Review: The Devil’s in the Details by Mary Jane Maffini

This is my third book for the Canadian Book Challenge #4 and puts me at Ishpatina Ridge on the list of 13 mountains to climb (thankfully I’m only climbing virtually).

One Labour Day weekend Camilla McPhee, lawyer and victim’s rights activist in Ottawa, receives bizarre news. A woman she barely knew, Laura Brown, has died and named Camilla as her next of kin and sole heir. Camilla sets about trying to find a real family or next of kin but soon realises Laura didn’t have a single family member, friend or colleague. Added to that is Camilla’s growing worry that Laura did not die in an accident as the police presume. Investigating becomes more difficult for Camilla when police start to believe she is responsible for Laura’s death.

I generally do more research into the books I’m going to read than I did in this case but I am in need of Canadian books and this one was available at the library so I figured I’d give it a go. Happily it proved to be just what I was looking for today: a well-written, funny romp of a tale.

As the central character of the book Camilla is quite delightful: interesting enough to want to read more about but not so over-the-top quirky that you want to scream. I’ve read a load of books in this genre which do not get that balance right so I appreciate it all the more when it is done well. Her personal circumstances are largely believable and her vaguely self-deprecating, slightly cynical narration of events spiraling out of control achieved just the right note. As is the way of things in cosy mysteries Camilla had a posse of fun friends and relations, my favourite of whom was an octogenarian ballooning enthusiast neighbour who kept up a nice line in stiff upper lip support. I want to be exactly like that when I’m 80-odd. I also found I could empathise with Camilla taking perverse pleasure in doing exactly the opposite of what her perfect, control-freak siblings told her to do.

Naturally enough the story is a little far-fetched but it doesn’t stretch credibility too far and it maintains its own internal logic very well. The way in which Camilla collects information about her acquaintance is believable and the second part of the book, in which Camilla is on the run from authorities, has more credibility than a lot of thrillers I’ve read. There are a satisfying number of red herrings and false leads which makes the book a very decent whodunnit for those who like to puzzle-solve as they read.

I had a smile on my face for most of the time while reading The Devil’s in the Details and laughed out loud more than once. This is not as common an occurrence as I’d like it to be so the book gets extra points for incorporating pithy humour instead of ‘cheesyness’. I’m not sure there’s anything about it that’s particularly Canadian (multiple references to Tim Hortons aside) but being light, fast and funny puts it in the above average category for me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5

Publisher RendezVous Crime [2004]; ISBN 189491712X Length 313 pages

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Review: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

I chose this as the second book to count towards the Canadian Book Challenge #4

In 1867 in the small Canadian town of Caulfield a French trapper Laurent Jammet, is murdered. His body is discovered by a neighbour, Mrs Ross, whose own son Francis disappears at around the same time and some of the town’s inhabitants think he might have killed Jammet. However a friend of Jammet’s, a mixed-race trapper named Parker, is also suspected of the murder and is arrested. When Hudson’s Bay Company men are sent for to sort out the legalities they are unsure of who has committed the crime and eventually set out to search for Francis Ross in the dangerous, snow-covered wilderness.

Set exactly 100 years before I was born, what struck me particularly about this book was its sense of time and place. The simple problems of staying alive in such a harsh environment without access to any conveniences of our modern world were starkly portrayed. Several incidents in the small town’s history reveal how easy it must have been to die a fairly grim death in this new world. The book also depicts the political setting in the way society was governed for the most part by ‘the Company’ (a fur trading company that acted as a de facto government in much of Canada during this period) using a fairly basic system of justice that placed white men squarely at the top of the food chain.

There are a lot of characters in this book which makes it hard for very many of them to be depicted in much depth. I think the book might have been more successful for me if there were fewer characters explored more deeply. The standout exception is the character of Mrs Ross who is particularly well-drawn and is also the only one who reveals anything much about her past before the events of this book. Her willingness to undergo any amount of hardship and face any danger in fierce protectiveness of her son is both believable and very engaging and her journey, particularly during the second half of the book, is worth reading for its own sake.

As a work of crime fiction I found the book less successful than as a piece of historical fiction as the solving of the mystery is not really the heart of the novel and even seems to be forgotten for several large chunks of the narrative. For me the book did stretch the bounds of narrative credibility at a couple of points (there were so many separate groups trailing each other through the wilderness they just about needed traffic lights) but I did thoroughly enjoy being transported virtually back to this time (all the while thanking my lucky stars for being born at a time offering more creature comforts to women in particular) and the personal journey of Mrs Ross is worth reading for its own sake.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5

Publisher Quercus [2006]; ISBN 9781905204823; Length 420 pages

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The Tenderness of Wolves has also been reviewed by Maxine from Petrona and at Reading Matters

Review: April Fool by William Deverell

I’m counting this as the last book on the North American leg of my Global Reading challenge as well as the first stop on my Canadian Book Challenge which measures progress in terms of mountain peaks climbed so I have reached Glen Valley in Prince Edward Island (142m high).

Having settled into country life and new marriage to his next door neighbour, Arthur Beauchamp is enjoying retirement from a long and distinguished career as a criminal lawyer and Queens Counsel. However a particular April Fool’s day is destined to shake up Arthur’s new life on Garibaldi Island in British Columbia. Firstly one of his former clients, jewel thief Nick Faloon, is accused of the rape and murder of a relationship counsellor. Arthur feels an obligation to become involved in his defense because he still feels guilty about unsuccessfully defending Faloon against charges for a crime he did not commit some years earlier. On the same day Arthur’s wife Margaret, a staunch activist in their rural community, takes up residence in a tree house which has been constructed in the canopy of the area’s old-growth forest which is under threat from developers. Arthur is pressured to become involved in the legal side of the protest too.

This book is brimming with a wry, observational humour about the collection of lovable and/or odd characters that seem to inhabit tight-knit communities everywhere. Arthur is an unusual character for crime fiction being 68 and suffering from an odd assortment of self-doubts despite his successful career and happy home life. I really enjoyed his willingness to do the right thing even when he’d rather not have done and the credible way he explored his doubts about his relationship with his wife. I did groan though at the stereotypical needing someone else (i.e. a woman) to do even the simplest of household chores like turning on a washing machine.

In the city Arthur is assisted in his defense of Faloon by a colleague from his former law firm whose marriage is falling apart and Lotis, a young woman activist and law student. Although neither of them is the most reliable of people between them they do come through when it matters and they provide a lot of laughs along the way. Back home there are a plethora of characters to enjoy including the smelly poet who first shares the tree house with Margaret and near-criminals Stoney and Dog who do everything from build swimming pools to running the community’s taxi service (often with vehicles they’ve ‘borrowed’ from those they’re driving around). Nick Faloon has a relatively minor role but he too offers humour and engenders a surprising feeling of warmth towards him given he is an admitted thief.

At first I thought the mysterious element of the book was going to take a back seat to the character studies and environmental message but while it was slow to get going for the last two-thirds of the book this element is solidly imaginative and the resolution is both surprising and credible. Legal procedurals are not my favourite kind of reading but I enjoyed the way this case unfolded in court with first one side then the other seeming to have the advantage as different pieces of evidence came to light. The addition of even more quirky characters, such as the ultra-nervous clerk and the judge who is a stickler for punctuality add to the readability.

April Fool certainly offers a sense of its remote, environmentally sensitive location. I’m less sure that there was anything particularly Canadian about the setting as I could imagine similar events taking place in parts of Tasmania or any of the world’s other environmentally endangered remote locations but there could well have been some local nuances that I was oblivious to. Regardless of this the author has done a great job of depicting the passion and ingenuity involved in low-budget activism.

The book could have done with a bit tighter editing, perhaps a few less characters and one fewer red-herring thread in the legal case, but overall it was an enjoyable and unpredictable read. Its humour, setting, characters and solid plot make it the sort of reading most crime fiction fans will enjoy, especially those looking for a book with minimal blood and gore.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5

Publisher McClelland and Stewart [2005]; ISBN 9780771027154; Length 436 pages

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April Fool has been reviewed at Crime Watch

Review: Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

On Christmas Eve in the small town of Trafalgar in British Columbia a car goes off the road into a frozen river. Despite the efforts of police and rescue workers the two men in the car, Ewan Williams and Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth who were in town with a group of friends on a skiing holiday, are pronounced dead. When he learns that there is something peculiar about one of the bodies Sergeant John Winters has to delve into events that led to the car ending up in the river. He and constable Molly Smith conduct a series of interviews with Jason’s family and friends and those townsfolk who interacted with them.

Winter of Secrets shares some of the same features as Valley of the Lost, the second book in this series. We see the same depiction of the intricacies and interconnectedness of small town life and most of the likable characters return.  I do like the way John Winters approaches his investigations in a very logical fashion and much of what he digs up comes from ‘old-fashioned’ policing rather than forensic clues. At one point in the story he mentions that the only TV detective he ever liked was Columbo and there are similarities in the way that both approach cases by listening to what people say (and what they don’t say). Delany does a great job depicting the learning curve experienced by a relative newcomer to police work. In this book Molly Smith has just finished her first year as a probationary constable and so she’s still uncertain and makes a few mistakes and this has a very realistic air to it.

However I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous one and the one big difference was that I didn’t care a jot about the two victims or the annoying friends and family they left behind. It became clear quite early on that the two men who died were spoiled, rich young men who treated the women they knew pretty terribly. The group of friends they had travelled with were the kind of whingeing people I would go out of my way to avoid in real life and Jason’s parents and sister are a textbook dysfunctional family. Of course I don’t believe that anyone ‘deserves’ to die but in fiction I become much more engaged with a story if can identify with the victims in some way or empathise with the loss felt by those left behind and here I didn’t experience either feelings.

The book is well-plotted (though I’m not a huge fan of cliffhanger endings) and, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed Carrington MacDuffie’s excellent narration. Delany writes really solid small town police procedurals and this is no exception. In fact her depiction of the grudging dependence that small towns who rely on tourists for employment and income shone through really well here, but, for me, a more sympathetic victim would have rounded off this listening experience more satisfyingly.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5

Narrator: Carrington Macduffie; Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks [2009]; ISBN: N/A (downloaded from; Length: 8hrs 58mins

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Winter of Secrets has been reviewed at Lesa’s Book Critiques and Mysterious Reviews

Review: The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

Title: The Calling

Author: Inger Ash Wolfe

Publisher: Corgi [2008]

ISBN: 978-0-552-15685-1

Legnth: 512 pages

I bought the Calling a few months ago ago after reading an article about new Canadian crime fiction I should be looking out for. I rescued it from the ever-ready-to-topple Mount TBR at this particular moment due to Cathy’s passionate review last week. What annoys me is that it took me so long to read this wonderful book.

In the small fictional town of Port Dundas in rural Canada a loved elderly inhabitant invites a man into her home and he kills her. When her tortured body is discovered the Police are baffled as to who would commit such an act in a place where everyone knows everyone else.  When a second body, similarly mutilated, is discovered in an adjacent town the local Police think they may have stumbled onto a serial killer.

It’s the characters in this book that captured my heart. Hazel Micallef is the main protagonist and she’s not your run-of-the-mill investigator. She’s 61 and feels older than her 87 year old mother, is newly divorced, needs major back surgery and survives on pain-killers and whisky, is techno-phobic and deals with moronic bureaucrats for a living. Over the course of the book she does some silly things that if she were thinking more clearly she probably wouldn’t do, but haven’t we all cut off our own noses to spite our faces at one time or another? Her actions are very believable even though everyone knows, Hazel included, that there are smarter ways to deal with pen-pushers than taunting them.

The minor characters are well-fleshed out too. James Wingate, a new transfer from Toronto is quite a lovable if tetchy police officer and Hazel’s mother Emily and the French detective Sevigny are both a delight. We also spend a good deal of time with the perpetrator of the crimes and even some time with the victims and this adds an extra dimension The Calling. Normally in these kinds of books I find myself thinking about the victims ‘that’s all very well but no real people would actually fall for that ruse’ whereas here I could easily identify with the particular kind of promise offered by this killer and therefore had no trouble imagining him collecting his victims. Wolfe has depicted the small town life beautifully too and the location is almost another character in its own right. In that respect I found this book similar to another excellent Canadian tale I read earlier this year: Valley of the Lost by Vicki Delany.

The story certainly maintains interest with very little bloat in its 500+ pages and has several nicely unpredictable twists. There are bits of the plot that I found difficult to swallow though including some techno-babble of the kind that populates crime on TV (where a computer application manages to do things that stretch the bounds of credibility way beyond breaking point and all in the time it takes real-world computers to turn on). Then there’s the fact that even when it’s understood there is serial killer on the loose, the case is still left in the hands of what is essentially a small outpost of a handful of officers. No matter how much the townsfolk and junior officers love Hazel I didn’t believe this for a nanosecond.

However, I fairly easily put that aside and still found the book an above average read with terrific characters and good story telling with a decidedly grizzly streak to keep the more blood thirsty readers happy.

My rating 4/5

Other stuff

Reviewed by Cathy at Kittling Books (thanks for prompting me to rescue it from the TBR pile) and Karen at Aust Crime Fiction.

Inger Ash Wolfe is a pseudonym for an apparently well known North American author. There has been much speculation on that continent about who has written anonymously as seen in this article in The Star. Sarah Weinman raised some interesting points and received this response from Inger Ash Wolfe which is quite fascinating. For the record I’ve no clue who it might be and am more curious about why they chose this route than who it is.

There is apparently going to be a second book in this series released soon. I shall look forward to reading it.