In The Spotlight: Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling

>In The Spotlight: Wilkie Collins' The MoonstoneHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. About fifteen years ago, the Canadian crime fiction scene gained a new voice: Inger Ash Wolfe. What was unusual about this particular author was that no-one knew who Wolfe was. The name was a pseudonym, but there wasn’t any information about the author behind it. Since then, it’s been revealed that Inger Ash Wolfe is really poet, playwright and novelist Michael Redhill. It’s interesting that, even with modern technology and the Internet, it wasn’t until 2012 that Redhill’s identity was revealed. Let’s take a look at his first Inger Ash Wolfe novel today and turn the spotlight on The Calling.

The story begins with the murder of eighty-one-year-old Delia Chandler, who lives in the small Ontario town of Port Dundas. The victim was terminally ill, so there doesn’t on the surface seem to be a motive, especially since it’s not a case of home invasion. DI Hazel Micallef and her team begin the investigation and soon learn that this is a very unusual killing. For one thing, the victim didn’t defend herself. In fact, all signs are that she cooperated with her killer, even letting that person into her home willingly.

The team members are just dealing with this case when there’s another death. This time, the victim is twenty-nine-year-old Michael Ulmer, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis. Again, all signs are that the murderer was invited into the home, and that Ulmer was a willing participant in his death. On the other hand, there’s a brutality, both to this murder and to that of Delia Chandler, that isn’t consistent with something like assisted suicide.

It’s not long before Micallef and her team see that they are dealing with someone who’s likely killed before, and is going to do so again. So they look for a connection between the victims that might link the murders.

As they trace the bizarre but definite pattern the killer seems to be using, it’s very clear that they’re going to need more resources. With the media in a frenzy and a boss who is reluctant to provide the extra staff and money, Micallef has plenty to deal with as she tries to find and stop this murderer.

One of the important elements in this novel is its setting: small-town Ontario. Port Dundas is the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. That includes Hazel Micallef, who’s lived there all her life. Her mother Emily (more about her shortly) was the mayor for years, and she has personal connections with just about everyone in town.

Port Dundas most definitely isn’t the kind of town where you’d expect a multiple murderer to strike. Crime there usually amounts to drink driving, bar fights, shoplifting, and other smaller matters. Even when it comes to murder, as one character puts it,
 
‘‘…in all the time I’ve been back in Port Dundas, I’ve had five more [murders], and all seven of them were open and shut. Christ, six of them were domestics.’’

 

Port Dundas now has to deal with a new, and very troubling, kind of crime, and it unsettles everyone.

This is a police procedural, so readers go ‘behind the scenes’ as the team gathers evidence, interviews people, and tries to make sense of what they find. Readers also see how one group of police works with other groups when there are multiple jurisdictions involved in a case. There’s also a thread of police politics running through the novel. Micallef’s boss, Ian Mason, is

 

‘…the worst kind of police bureaucrat: capricious and jolly about it.’

 

He doesn’t believe that the Port Dundas is facing as much danger as Micallef does, and it takes all of her skill to get him to approve the staff she needs. And in one sub-plot of the novel, there’s a very real possibility that the Port Dundas branch of the Ontario Police Service (OPS) will be closed, and the services merged with other small places. There are also some conflicts among the Port Dundas police. At the same time, though, the team does work together, and are all dedicated police officers. And they do have real loyalty to their ‘skip.’

Much of the story is told from Micallef’s point of view, so we learn a lot about her. She is sixty-one, and retirement is not that far away. Readers who enjoy protagonists who are no longer – ahem – twenty will appreciate Hazel Micallef. She doesn’t move as fast as she did when she was young; she has a bad back, and so on. But she is not in the least bit ‘out to pasture.’ She is skilled, intuitive and hard-working. She certainly has her faults and weaknesses, but she isn’t a demon-haunted sleuth who can’t interact appropriately with anyone.

Micallef lives with her mother, Emily, who is eight-seven, and is no more ‘out to pasture’ than her daughter is. She’s no longer serving as mayor, but she has a full life, including Friday night poker. Her relationship with Hazel is another important element in this novel. They love each other, but they are both strong-willed, independent adults. Here, for instance, is a scene that takes place one evening when Emily is hosting her poker friends:

 

‘Hazel stepped back into the kitchen [after greeting Emily’s friends]. ‘There. I was nice. Now you can repay me by keeping it to a dull roar. And by making me a plate of whatever it is you old ladies are eating.’
‘There’s a salad in the fridge.’
‘Christ, Mother.’
‘Go shower and rest. I have to put the pie in the oven.’
She leaned in to her mother, her voice strained. ‘I’m catching a killer and you’re baking pie and playing nickel poker? Do you think you might cut me just a little bit of slack?’
‘We don’t play for nickels, dear,’ her mother said, and then switched the stove to 250 before walking back to her friends.’

 

In many ways, you could say they are more alike than either wants to admit.

There are several sub-plots to this novel; readers who prefer to follow only the main plot line will notice this. That said though, the focus of the novel is the set of murders and what they mean.

The murders are solved by careful detection work, and with help from several experts, including a speech-reader and a priest. And the solution is not what you would expect from a novel with multiple murders. This is not a case of ‘crazed maniac runs around targeting victims for the sheer pleasure of it.’ And at the end of the story, readers are left with the unhappy knowledge that,

 

‘‘We’re not a little town anymore, are we?’’

 

Still, we have the sense that life will go on, and so will Port Dundas.

The Calling is a distinctly Canadian portrait of life in small-town Ontario. It features some very unusual murders that are solved by a team of disparate, but skilled, police detectives, all led by a strong-willed, sometimes brusque, but deeply dedicated inspector. But what’s your view? Have you read The Calling? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 23 November/ Tuesday 24 November – Blanche on the Lam – Barbara Neely

Monday 30 November/Tuesday 1 December – Death in Breslau – Marek Krajewski

Monday 7 December/Tuesday 8 December – Blue Monday – Nicci French

38 Comments

Filed under Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, The Calling

38 responses to “In The Spotlight: Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling

  1. This sounds like an interesting “Who dunnit?” and I’m from Ontario, Canada. I’m wondering, though, if your excerpts are typical of the whole novel: two excerpts — two profanities. If there’s a lot of profanity, I’d just as soon skip it. I know it’s common for people to talk that way but I’d rather not subject myself to more of it than I have to, and there’s lots of great literature to choose from so that I don’t have to subject myself to it.

    • You know, Msysm2000, I hadn’t thought about that when I was choosing which snippets to include in this post. Hmmm….To be honest, there may be more profanity in this than makes you comfortable. There are plenty of scenes without four-letter words, but I think enough that you’d probably notice it.

      • Thanks for the heads-up! I understand the language is sometimes a huge part of who the character but when the good guys are constantly taking the Lord’s name in vain, that simply ruins it for me no matter how good the plot and writing. I have to draw a line even if no-one else does. Thanks again. I do very much enjoy your posts.

        • That’s very kind of you, Msysm2000. And as far as I’m concerned, you have the absolute right to choose not to read something if you would rather not. That’s an important part of freedom of expression. Authors can write what (and how) they wish. Readers can read (or not read) what they wish.

  2. Thanks Margot, another one for the TBH 🙂

  3. Sounds like another good one. (I must be strong. I must be strong!) It’s interesting that he chose to write under a female pseudonym – we so often here about female writers writing under male names or using initials, but not so often the other way round that I’m aware of.

    • Agreed, FictionFan. We really don’t see that as much. This one presents a really authentic picture of life in small-town Ontario. And I do like Hazel Micallef’s character, I must say. It’s refreshing to have a protagonist who’s, well, not in her twenties. If you read this, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  4. Oh, I remember this. And I liked the book despite not knowing who the author was.

  5. Col

    A new one for me,sounds good but……

  6. Sounds interesting – I do wish you wouldn’t keep on seducing me. I’m going through a bit of Canadian literature discovery at the moment, so am very tempted.

  7. Margot: As you well know I have read and thought about the Hazel Micallef in a number of posts through the three books published to date. I understand the fourth is coming out shortly.

    I enjoyed The Calling a great deal and it is probably the only crime fiction in which the author credibly created a degree of sympathy for a serial killer.

    The author has kindly answered questions for me including a response about a male creating a female sleuth part of which is:

    …..my feeling is that unless you are writing pure autobiography, every character a writer puts on the page is an act of embodiment, whether the character is male, female, old, young, of another race or from another planet. Verisimilitude in writing character comes from the writer’s willingness to get close, and his or her ability to see from another’s point of view

    • You’ve written some terrific posts about this series and about Hazel Micallef. And I agree with you that the killer in The Calling is not a ‘cookie cutter’ serial killer who is just simply evil. Thanks, also, for sharing that small bit of your interview with the author. Folks, the rest of that particular interview is right here.

      It’ll be interesting to see which direction the fourth in this series takes, and what sort of story it is.

  8. Really like thge sound of Micallef – thansk Margot – another one for the TBR 🙂

  9. Margot, I had mixed views about this book as I read through your engaging review and then I came to the part where Hazel Micallef is sixty-one years old and I instantly felt like reading it. A sleuth at that age ought to be very different and original from the relatively young ones I’m used to reading about. Thanks for the introduction to another new author.

    • Hazel Micallef is different to the ‘typical’ young protagonist, Prashant. She has a certain depth of character, simply because of her years of experience, that makes her interesting. And I think the author has created a solid balance between making her a skilled detective who’s good at her job, and showing a character who’s in her early sixties, and so, can’t move as fast as she used to do, or jump out of bed in the morning, ready to go.

  10. Nancy

    Such a good book! Hazel is a great character with just the right amount of aged crankiness.Bouts with her health, years on the job, and fights with bureaucracy have worn her down, but still has that dogged determination for the chase. She’s great! I’ve read the next book in the series, The Taken, and it’s good too.
    Wondered if you knew they made The Calling into a movie a couple years back with Susan Sarandon as Hazel and Ellen Burstyn as her mother. Susan is not at all who I pictured as Hazel, but they frumped her up a bit. The movie was…okay. Typical movies not as good as the book. You might check it out and see what you think.

    • I really like Hazel Micallef, too, Nancy – very much. She is, as you say, a solid balance of grouchy and compassionate, realistic and determined. And the dynamic between her and her mother is priceless.
       
      I think I heard that this was made into a film, but I confess I’ve not seen it. I wouldn’t have pictured Susan Sarandon as Hazel, but she is a good actor, so perhaps… I ought to see what I think of this one. Thanks for the suggestion.

  11. I’ve got to read this, Margot! It sounds great. Thanks for spotlighting it.

  12. Another fascinating author for your spotlight – and another I haven’t read! If I wasn’t trying so desperately to knock a few books off the TBR at the moment I’d be sorely tempted – may well be one I revisit.

  13. I’ve vaguely heard of this book but am grateful for the spotlight – it sounds excellent, and when I have space (!) in my reading roster I will add it.

  14. “We don’t play for nickels, dear.” Excellent way to bring a character vividly to life. So much implied.

  15. I liked this book a lot, Margot, I was surprised because of the serial killer element, which often turns me off. The characters are so well done.

    • I agree, Tracy. These characters are very well-drawn. And I thought the setting was so authentic, too. I’m not usually one for the serial-killer motif at all, but somehow it didn’t get to me as much here.

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