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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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Corgi 
Length 303 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Source I bought it