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.

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10 Responses to Review: The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

  1. Maxine says:

    Ooh, sounds great. I must read it. Lovely, to have a 61-year-old protag who isn’t a fluffy old dear 😉 Thanks for the review – I had read a bit about this book on blogs a while back – mainly along speculative lines about the author – but had not thought to actually read it. Now I must!! Agree with you about the “computers can do anything” annoyance. How many books have you read in which someone manages to work out someone else’s password (often within three attempts). How ludicrous!


  2. Cathy says:

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this book! I had the same two quibbles that you mentioned, but I was having so much fun with Hazel that they were easily put aside.


  3. bernadetteinoz says:

    LOL @ Maxine – I work in an IT-ish job and I can’t crack my own password when forgotten after a holiday

    Cathy I do believe Hazel is one of my favourite characters – so refreshing for a woman ‘of a certain age’ not to be a Jessica fletcher or Miss Marple type.


  4. Maxine says:

    I’m just doing it!!!! Reading a book where someone not only cracks someone else’s password, but at the same time (while searching her office) cracks her safe combination!!! And this is in a bestseller (Genesis by Karin Slaughter). Can you believe the laziness of this tired plot device, as if an office safe wouldn’t be one of those electronic “number change” ones these days like they have in hotels, anyway. And to make it even worse, when they (the police) open the safe, they find a notebook and a single piece of paper. We (reader) know the piece of paper is relevant, but the police sort of ignore it – we actually aren’t told what they do with it and whether the evil (possibly, don’t know yet) boss sees it and takes it – but duh! Police 101. If you find something that a vanished, proably kidnapped, person has put in a safe, it is going to be important to that person and you don’t just regard it as meaningless……….


  5. bernadetteinoz says:

    I’m not surprised Maxine … the last book I read by Ms Slaughter was similarly hackneyed. But I feel your anger through this comment and I share it – it makes me really cross these days too – so unnecessary, especially for these ‘name’ authors who could presumably have underlings to do research if they’re too lazy to do it themselves.


  6. Maxine says:

    read this book on holiday but have to say I did not like it. I’m off serial killers. Frankly, by the end, I just did not care (the climax seemed somewhat manufactured). If she really is Margaret Atwood as some people seem to think, well, that explains a bit! But I don’t think she is. This book, for me, was insuffiently well written or realistic in terms of how the investigation progressed, and I was underwhelmed by the sick details of the murders and associated events. Pity, as it is nice to have a middle-aged to older woman as the protag who does not fit any of the usual cliches. But, in the end, she was not real for me, nor was the story.


  7. bernadetteinoz says:

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy this one either Maxine – I don’t disagree with most of what you say but I did like Hazel enough to be more forgiving than I otherwise would have been. I go through phases with regard to how much gore I’m happy reading and obviously for this one it did not worry me as much as it does at other times.


  8. Keishon says:

    I have this one. I was worried you wouldn’t like it as I think we have similar reading tastes. Thanks for the review. I must push this up my tbr pile. Thanks Bernadette.


  9. Just Dave says:

    Oh dear…after twenty years of working in the law enforcement field, I have finally a piece of writing that is stranger than my reports were. The Calling is so far off base with character development and investigation that it was absurd. The story itself, while interesting, was destroyed by the author’s attempt to create a police environment fails misrably–as a character she may be likable to an extent, but as a police character she fails in giant proportions…


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