The Calling

The Calling

4.0 16
by Inger Ash Wolfe

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There were thirteen crime-scene pictures. Dead faces set in grimaces and shouts. Faces howling, whistling, moaning, crying, hissing. Hazel pinned them to the wall and stood back. It was a silent opera of ghosts.

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas and is now making her way toward retirement with

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There were thirteen crime-scene pictures. Dead faces set in grimaces and shouts. Faces howling, whistling, moaning, crying, hissing. Hazel pinned them to the wall and stood back. It was a silent opera of ghosts.

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas and is now making her way toward retirement with something less than grace. Hobbled by a bad back and a dependence on painkillers, and feeling blindsided by divorce after nearly four decades of marriage, sixty-one-year-old Hazel has only the constructive criticism of her old goat of a mother and her own sharp tongue to buoy her. But when a terminally ill Port Dundas woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed department must spring to life. And as one terminally ill victim after another is found—their bodies drained of blood, their mouths sculpted into strange shapes—Hazel finds herself tracking a truly terrifying serial killer across the country while everything she was barely holding together begins to spin out of control.

Through the cacophony of her bickering staff, her unsupportive superiors, a clamoring press, the town’s rumor mill, and her own nagging doubts, Hazel can sense the dead trying to call out. But what secret do they have to share? And will she hear it before it’s too late?

In The Calling, Inger Ash Wolfe brings a compelling new voice and an irresistible new heroine to the mystery world.

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Editorial Reviews

Freelance Reviewer - Theodore Feit
"Whether this novel is a thriller, mystery or police procedural, or a combination of all three genres, it is original and suspenseful."

"The story is gripping, with a tight plot, packed with shivering descriptions and taut writing."

Sent to: and Indie Next [, formerly Book Sense/ABA], and will appear in the next issue of I Love a Mystery []. It will thereafter be posted on DorothyL and 4MA [For Mystery Addicts] and should appear [online] in the NoName Cafe Book Review Corner [] and Spinetingler Magazine [] and, in print and online, in Mystery Women [], Crimespree Magazine and in Midwest Book Review's "Reviewer's Bookwatch" [under "Theodore's Bookshelf"].

Publishers Weekly

This bracingly original mystery from the pseudonymous Wolfe opens with the grisly slaying of an elderly cancer sufferer in Port Dundas, a remote Ontario town that has gone years without a homicide. The murder hits at a particularly tough time for 61-year-old Det. Insp. Hazel Micallef, who's struggling to come to terms with a surprise divorce and battles daily with her acerbic 87-year-old mother. A serious staff shortage and an injured back add to the department commander's woes. A second, even more disturbing killing raises the ante for Micallef, who's already doubtful she can solve the first case. As Micallef marshals her forces, Wolfe fans the already high suspense by cutting between them and their elusive quarry. With the body count climbing, the detective puts herself increasingly at risk in a desperate attempt to foil the grand, demented plan that the killer regards as a mission. Billed as "a prominent North American literary novelist," Wolfe convincingly lays claim to a new mantle as a first-rate crime writer. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Sixty-one, divorced, and a semirecovering alcoholic, Det. Insp. Hazel Micallef is the epitome of the antihero. In her position as acting commander of the Ontario Police Services Port Dundas detachment, Hazel faces an uphill battle for the respect and support of her superior in nearby Barrie. When a lifelong acquaintance is murdered, her mouth carefully manipulated into an eerie expression, Hazel and her team are pressed into action. Ultimately, they stumble upon similar murders-all taking place in sleepy hamlets and forming a path from western to eastern Canada. With the story's events spanning three weeks, the novel quickly builds to an excruciating level of suspense as the officers attempt to stay one step ahead of the killer and end the murder spree. According to the book jacket, "Inger Wolfe is the pseudonym for a prominent North American literary novelist," and, as of this writing, there is plenty of online speculation about the author's true identity. Whoever "she" is, she has certainly written an excellent literary thriller, both riveting and precise. The ending is a shocker. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]-Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR
—Caroline Mann

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Hazel Micallef Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Friday, November 12, 3 p.m.

He was precisely on time.

For most of the afternoon, Delia Chandler had busied herself with small tasks around the house. She had already vacuumed the upstairs and downstairs that week, but she did it again, taking care to move tables and chairs to ensure she got the head of the vacuum everywhere that dust could hide. One of Simon’s tenets was cleanliness: She did not want to meet him for the first time with as much as a speck of dirt anywhere in the house.

She ran the dishwasher and cleaned the dish tray. She even washed the bar of soap in the bathroom. In his communications with her, Simon had said that the key to health was to take care of your environment as you took care of yourself. She had followed his advice very closely indeed, preparing the teas exactly as he detailed, drinking them at the prescribed times of day, taking gentle exercise at exactly six a.m., and getting into bed at nine p.m. to make sure she got nine full hours of sleep every night.

His ministrations—however long-distance they were—had been invaluable in keeping her strength up until he could come. The cancer was in her bones now, and it had spread like a moss through her pelvis and into the surrounding tissues. Dr. Lewiston had laid out for her the palliative options: Once the pain got too intense, she would be moved into the hospice, where it would be "managed." She imagined herself being put to sleep like a dog. Her sons, Robert and Dennis, had said they would pay whatever costs were involved to ensure her comfort. Sweet boys. She agreed to whatever they proposed, knowing that, when the time came, she would not need their help at all.

At two thirty, Delia went upstairs and changed into something befitting the guest she was about to receive. She pulled on a new pair of pantyhose and then stepped into a blue wool dress. Any movement of her arms above shoulder level shot a scatter of pain throughout her body, as if a tiny grenade had gone off in her hips. She eased the dress up over her chest and shoulders and sat down to catch her breath. Then she stood and looked at herself in the mirror. She was quite presentable for an eighty-one-year-old, dying woman. She put on a pair of black low-heeled shoes but thought better of them and put the orthotics back on. Simon would not want her to be in pain for the sake of looking good for him. No, he would not approve of that kind of vanity.

The doorbell rang at three o’clock on the button. She even saw the second hand hit twelve at that very moment. She took a deep breath, smoothed the dress over her stomach, and opened the door.

Simon stood on her doorstep, bearing a heavy valise. He was terribly thin, perhaps one of the thinnest human beings she had ever seen. It gave him the appearance of height. He wore a long black coat and a black derby on his head, and his face was deeply lined. He had the aspect of a gentle elder, even though she knew he was younger than she was, by at least thirty years. His was a face with all the blows of life nesting in it. Her heart went out to him, even though it was she he had come to succor.

"Mrs. Chandler," he said. "Thank you for inviting me to your home."

She drew the door wide and gestured into the house. "Simon, I am honored to welcome you."

He entered and removed his hat, placing it silently on the hall table. He undid a black silk sash from under his chin, and slid out of his caped coat, and handed it to Delia. The outside of the coat was cold from the fall air without, but inside, where his body had been, it was warm. She went down the hall a little and hung it for him. When she came back, he was sitting on the couch, eyes scanning the room, and his long hands clasping his knees. "I imagined your house would be just like this, Mrs. Chandler."

"Please call me Delia."

"Delia, then. This house is as if I’d dreamed it. Come and sit near me." She did, lowering herself uncomfortably into the chair beside the couch. When she was seated, he lifted his valise onto the table and opened it. A smell of camphor emerged from inside. "We needn’t truck in chit-chat," he said. "It’s as if we are already old friends, no?" She smiled at him and nodded once in assent. It delighted her that his demeanor in person was entirely of a piece with how he was in his e-mails: grave, but not humorless, and quietly authoritative. He drew out half a dozen vials from the valise. They were filled with dried plant matter and powders. He lined them up neatly on the coffee table. "How have you been?" he asked. "How’s your pain?"

"It’s manageable," she said. "I take the lantana for the pain in my bones, and it works for a couple of hours. But I don’t mind. A little respite is all I need while waiting for you."

He smiled at this and reached out to take her hand. He clasped it gently. "I choose very carefully, Delia, who I come to see. Only those who are completely committed will do. Are you still completely committed?"

"I am."

"And you are not frightened?"

She hesitated here and looked away from him. "I have told myself to be truthful with you, so I will say that I have been scared, yes. A little. But not now, not at this moment."

"Good," he said, and his voice told her that it was all right to have experienced some trepidation. It meant she had faced it and moved past it. "We should get started then."

"Yes," she said.

"I do have to ask you to do one thing for me first, however. It will make you somewhat uncomfortable." Delia looked at his eyes and waited for him to explain. "I must look at your body, Delia. I need to see your skin before proceeding."

She blanched at this, and thought of herself picking through the few dresses in her closet for one that would make her look the most presentable. Now he wanted her to stand exposed before him? But she did not question him; rather she rose and faced him in front of the low coffee table. She reached behind herself with one hand and drew the zipper on the back of her dress down, wincing in pain.

"Hold on," he said. "I don’t want this to be difficult for you." He stood and came to her, went behind her, and unzipped her the rest of the way. The dress fell to the floor in a pool of blue wool. She felt him unsnap her bra, and she shook it off down her arms, and then her hands traveled down the puckered, pale flesh over her belly and she pushed her underwear and pantyhose down. "Thank you, Delia. I’m sorry for the discomfort. Are you cold?"

"No," she said. She felt his finger tracing her spine, and she imagined he was pulsing energy into her, burning away the wild cells under her skin that were eating her life. Simon held her shoulder and gently turned her. She half expected to catch his eyes, as if this could be a romantic moment blooming—and what would she do if it were? If the last person to show her real compassion also wanted to show her love? But no, all of that kind of love was gone from her life forever. The last time she’d stood naked before a man she had ruined lives. She wondered how far into the past her own purity had to extend for Simon’s purposes, and she debated whether she should tell him. Then, selfishly, so she thought, she decided to keep it to herself. There was only this now, no past, only this. He lifted her arms and looked into her armpits, then lifted each breast, one at a time. He touched his fingertip to a shiny coin of skin beneath one breast. "This was a mole, I’m presuming?"

"I had it removed when I was forty," she said. "Vain of me."

"It’s all right," he said.

When he reached her abdomen, he laid his hand on a scar below her navel. "My birthsmile," she said, looking down. "Cesarean. Just Dennis. There’d been no problem with Robert." She shook her head. "Fifty-four years ago now, if you can believe it."

"Did they do a hysterectomy? Take out your uterus?"


He patted the scar. "Good. What about your appendix? You still have that?" She nodded. "But not your tonsils, I imagine."

"No," she said. "Who at my age has their tonsils anymore?"

"It’s always a bonus if someone does. But I don’t expect it." He picked her dress up off the floor and slid it down over her head, then put her hand in his and held it there, in his palm. "I put you at a hundred and thirty-five pounds," he said. "Forgive me for saying."

"One hundred and thirty-seven," she said, trying to sound impressed. "Did you once work on the midway?"

He smiled kindly. "It’s only to help me with my measurements. Dosages and that sort of thing."

"Is there anything else?"

"No . . . that’s all, Delia. Thank you. You can put the rest of it on and sit down now. Sit on the couch if you will." She pulled her underthings on, feeling more shy than she had when she’d stood naked before him. He leaned over to pick up a piece of thread that had come off her dress. He rolled it into a ball between his thumb and forefinger, and slid it into his pocket. She watched him turn and go into her kitchen and put the kettle on the stove. She saw him inspecting the countertops and the kitchen table. A couple of times, he went out of view, and she heard the lid of her garbage can open and close. She did feel frightened now. She wanted to tell him, but she did not want him to change his mind. He had told her she was special. She had impressed him. After everything he had done for her, now he was asking for her help. She could not refuse him, and she would not fail him. What he asked for, what he asked of her, was so insignificant in the face of what she would reap from her courage. She heard the kettle begin to whistle, and Simon brought it back, a plume of white steam trailing behind him, and he laid a trivet on the table. He took a small white teacup out of his valise and put it on the table beside the six vials. He opened them one at a time and held them out to her, to smell. Valerian to calm her, belladonna and hops to help her sleep, herbal sedatives. In higher doses, they acted as anesthetics. He tipped out a half-thimbleful of each and dropped it into the teacup, then poured hot water over it. Immediately, the air filled with an earthy smell, a smell of the forest floor and bark and roots. He swirled the cup in his hands.

Copyright © 2008 by Inger Wolfe

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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The Calling (Hazel Micallef Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
HeavyReaderChgo More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it's characters. Very creative; interesting people and plot--finally, a hero(in) more mature than the usual gorgeous 20-something honeys that populate most stuff out there these days. I'd like to know Hazel and her mom!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I took a chance with an unknown author and was glad I did and would recommend it to anyone who love a mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a well written thriller! Be sure to read the second mystery, The Taken. I can't wait for the next book! Daisy
prenoun More than 1 year ago
The hardest part of writing a mystery for North American audiences has got to be getting the ending right. Because in American mysteries, the whole affair travels the arc from procedural to personal, concluding with the inevitable - and once upon a time, appreciated - face-to-face confrontation between law and disorder. It's a formula that becomes more tiresome the more the genre adheres to it, and only Europe has truly embraced tossing a little mystery back into the business of, um, mysteries again (Thank you, Karin Fossum). To little surprise, this formula turns out to be the worst part of The Calling, which is otherwise, a tightly plotted, gruesome, outstandingly populated, and very well written police novel. The deep rural Ontario setting is brilliant, and each member of the quickly established cast of soon-to-be-regulars is unique and original, at least for the genre. If you like anything about procedurals, you'll love this novel. Even the treads it sets on the freeway of familiar ideas is done better than I'd hoped, finding at least small measures of originality in one of the game's oldest set-ups. Outside the book itself, there's also a lot of speculation about who the author, Inger Ash Wolfe, might actually be. I'm less interested in that, so long as the novels keep coming. This is not just a promising beginning; it's a chance to push the boundaries of the form into a mindset that lets a mystery be something more. (Review also posted at Goodreads.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great mystery thriller.Kinda creepy.The characters were well written and very original. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A man “who calls himself Simon” is crossing Canada from west to east, dispatching terminally ill people with some sort of consent; first he poisons them, then he desecrates their bodies. The first murder to come to police attention happens in Port Dundas, a small town several miles north of Toronto. Ontario Police Services have cut the budgets of police departments everywhere in its jurisdiction, so police stations are short staffed and in serious need of back up. It is under these conditions that these murders begin to cascade one after the other and Port Dundas’ Detective Constable and acting Chief of Police Hazel Micallef has no choice but throw the police rules book out the window and think on her feet to catch this elusive and smart killer. Furthermore, Hazel-- a sixty-one year-old divorcee who leaves with her mother--is having health problems that may jeopardize her future in the police corps. It is under that duress that Hazel endures the worst two weeks of her life while trying to capture the monster; meanwhile he decides to up the ante by making his capture a personal matter to Hazel. When I finished reading The Calling all I said was wow! This book is immersed in police procedure and is as based in science as it is in religious lore. The Calling takes the reader on an unforgettable journey for the murders are gruesome and the descriptions so vivid that at least in one occasion I felt like throwing up, I literally gagged. The quest to capture “the man who calls himself Simon” is anything but conventional. The Calling is grisly but so absorbing that I just couldn’t stop reading from beginning to end. The characters are very well developed and there’s always a sense of dread for the investigation doesn’t progress at the speed one would like as a reader. In any case, the book is anything but slow and a pure adrenaline ride but I have to remark that it’s not for the faint of heart; it is a hard-core murder mystery and the active word here is murder. In summary, The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe is an unconventional murder mystery that may keep you awake day and night as the story unfolds to its shattering conclusion.
Meisha More than 1 year ago
The characters and plot make this book one that you want to pass along to all your mysterious friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At 285 pages it was a quick and interesting story. I every enjoyed every minute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, quirky, and with a very original villain. Quite Louise Pennyish in its development of character. However, it is hard for me to believe the protagonist would allow her mother to feed her leaves and twigs in her own home. But that is a small inconsistency, and the rest of the book is excellent.
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