Title: The Calling
Author: Inger Ash Wolfe
Publisher: Corgi 
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
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.