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A DOOR IN THE RIVER
by Inger Ash Wolfe
McClelland & Stewart, July 2012
400 pages
$22.00
ISBN: 0771088930


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When well-liked Henry Wiest unexpectedly succumbs to an apparent insect sting behind the First Nation reserve smoke shop, everyone in town is shocked and saddened but unsuspicious. Everyone except Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef of the Ontario Police Services. She too is saddened, but she can't help wondering what a non-smoker was doing at midnight there on the Queesik Bay reserve, not to speak of wondering what the wasp that stung him was doing out so late itself. Trying to confirm or allay her suspicions will lead Hazel and her detective constable James Wingate to uncover a very dark secret buried deep in the fields of the Ontario countryside.

Hazel might have been forgiven for letting Henry Wiest's death slide. She has, after all, a lot to contend with. Her eighty-seven year old mother seems to have lost the will to live, if not her habit of stinging commentary on the imbecilities on those around her. The powers-that-be in the OPS seem intent on making life difficult for Hazel, first by returning her old antagonist Ray Greene to her station, but this time not as her subordinate but her superior officer. Next, they plan to consolidate police operations at Port Dundas, which will reduce Hazel, she thinks, pretty much to the status of mall cop. But Hazel cannot let things slide and so she soldiers on, like her mother not suffering fools gladly and antagonizing all who would get in her way.

When Hazel made her first appearance, in THE CALLING, readers were informed that "Inger Ash Wolfe" was the pseudonym of "a well-known and well-regarded North American literary writer." The teaser created less of a flurry of speculation than perhaps had been hoped and at last, with this third book in the series, the author has come out from behind the three-barrelled name to reveal himself as Michael Redhill, a Toronto novelist and poet. I have to confess to a certain degree of disappointment, as I had presumed that the name was the cover for at least two and perhaps more writers. Like its predecessors, A DOOR IN THE RIVER comprises two very different approaches to narrative. When Hazel is at the centre, we have a relatively realistic police procedural with an extremely attractive protagonist in its sixty-two year old police inspector. When she is off-stage, as she is for a fair amount of this book, things take a quite different and truly bizarre turn. We move from a real, if fictionalized, Ontario landscape to some other place altogether, somewhere that a criminal conspiracy of legendary proportions can exist and indeed be immensely profitable amidst the waving fields of Ontario corn.

I found it difficult to reconcile the two narratives, even more difficult at times even to visualize the architecture of the setting. The frequent shifts of point of view were also a bit de-stabilizing and added to my fancy that there were several hands at work here. Clearly, I was wrong in my surmise, but still I hope that the creator of the redoubtable Hazel Micallef will be allowed ascendancy over whatever aspect of the author's psyche is responsible for the loopier plot excursions that mark the series. She's a treasure, far to good to waste.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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