Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Calling (hardcover, $24.00), by Inger Ash Wolfe

Colonel Kilgore loves the smell of napalm in the morning. I love the smell of a good book, with a great character and an interesting story that moves at a steady pace. I think I have the better deal, smellwise. And this smells like a good book.

Hazel Micallef is a 61-year-old temporary -- with no replacement in sight -- commanding officer of a police detachment in a small community north of Toronto. Her back hurts, she takes too many pain pills, and she likes her whiskey a little too much. She is divorced from a man to whom she was wed for thirty-something years when he finally got tired of waiting for her to straighten out her life. Her daughters are a mystery to her, one being newly married and the other newly abandoned. In turnabout roles, Hazel suspects it is her ex-husband who supplies what should be the maternal succor to their daughters, while she stands at a distance, failing to find the empathy they need.

To replace these losses, Hazel has moved her mother out of her retirement community to live with her. Oil and water come to mind. Emily Micallef is the former mayor of their community. She is full of piss and vinegar and delights in it. Their relationship sparkles under Wolfe's touch. The whole of Hazel's life sparkles under Wolfe's touch. Hazel is crusty, ornery, touchy, funny, tough and vulnerable, and I defy you not to like her.

Into their rural little world, in which most everybody knows everybody else, comes the death of one of their own in circumstances so strange that this provoked a little "X-Files" thrill running down my back. An elderly woman is found dead in her immaculate house, dressed in her Sunday best. She has been poisoned, her throat has been cut, and the murderer has removed her blood. In case exsanguination is not bizarre enough, there are other strange findings that come to light later. In her typical bull-headed way, Hazel plows ahead to determine if there is a serial killer on the loose and, if so, who could be the next victim.

The plot does not race forward because Wolfe gradually develops the reader's understanding of both the killer and the ensemble police force. All the other characters Wolfe brings in are interesting. Some may not share the stage for any length of time, but in a sentence or a paragraph, the reader will know them. It's a small town picture that is outgrowing its frame, and Wolfe describes it with wit and care.

Apparently Wolfe is a pseudonym. Apparently the writer is a man. The www is available to all who choose to pursue this thread. I do think it is difficult for a male to write a resonant three-dimensional female character, as is the reverse. In this case I say, point-of-view, schmoint-of-view, Wolfe has done an exceedingly excellent job of creating both a fine story and a fine set of characters.

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