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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Door in the River, by Inger Ash Wolfe (hardcover, $25.95)

Inger Ash Wolfe's three books are such an odd mixture of charming and gruesome.

In The Calling, the first book in the series, we met the headstrong, awkward, and intuitive Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef of the Port Dundas, Canada, police force. Although she was the interim commanding officer of the force in that book, by the time of A Door in the River, the town of Port Dundas is changing and a past subordinate has returned to be her boss. The outside world is invading small-town Port Dundas with a vengeance, and none of it is good.

Hazel's mother and housemate, the peremptory and equally strong-willed Emily Micallef, the former mayor of Port Dundas, is fading. The new detective constable, James Wingate, needs a vacation after the events of the past few months. (Although the novels appeared over a space of three years, the events in the books take place within about a year.) All is in flux when this story begins.

As Wolfe has similarly begun in the prior books, an impossibly strange series of crimes has occurred. It begins when an autopsy shows that Henry Wiest, a resident of Port Dundas, died of a bee sting. But he died late at night in the parking lot of a First Nation reservation smoke shop. Henry didn't even smoke and bees are not nocturnal. Hazel bulls her way through the investigation, never mind the niceties of notifying higher-ups, acquiring warrants, or following the law. It's hard not to like Hazel.

It's a book I'd like to recommend to people who enjoy good characters, but the queasy psychopathic element is limiting. Nevertheless, there is something compelling about Hazel and her gang. I chose The Calling as a year's best pick in 2009, and I continue to be a fan.

This is why Wolfe's writing exceeds expectations:
Her instinct every time she reached this juncture, when the temperature of an investigation went up beyond her comfort zone, when she knew time was flowing through her hands like water dashed from a bucket, was to push. Something seemingly immovable would have to be moved.
P.S. There were a lot of people happily guessing away at the real identity of Inger Ash Wolfe, an admitted pseudonym. Wolfe is really Canadian author Michael Redhill. He said that his books written under his real name are about elements that are missing or have disappeared, so "Pseudonymity would turn out to be a theme in The Calling, and it spoke directly to my obsession with the possibilities of the hidden life."

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