Building a Mystery

Yeah you’re working

Building a mystery

And choosing so carefully

Sarah McLachlan

My first introduction to mystery novels began by attending a book launch for John Worsley Simpson’s fourth instalment in the Harry Stark series, A Debt of Death. I knew John from an annual curling event, a close friend of a friend. The reading night was fun and naturally I purchased a personally signed copy. I had not been including mystery novels into my collection. A delightful read, however, had me seeking the earlier publications to complete the series to that point. I enjoyed the books particularly because they are set in Toronto, a familiarity which made me feel part of the story.

I have selectively acquired additional authors, Robert Rotenberg and Shari Lapena, lured by signed copies and the need to attain the entire body of work for every author in my collection. That desire is probably the reason Louise Penny is not yet on my shelves. After this month’s foray in mystery novels, I am considering foregoing first printings to obtain the mass paperback versions and include them in my summer reads at the cottage.

My introduction to this month’s book readings began with a newspaper article in 2015 announcing the release of Inger Ash Wolfe’s latest instalment, The Night Bell. The interest, however, was the explanation that this series was written by Michael Redhill who authored all the books under the pseudonym. He is one of my favourite authors, especially his City of Toronto Book Award winning novel, Consolation. I packed The Night Bell into my luggage for a one week sun vacation and voraciously devoured the story in a couple days. Several years later, Olga and I picked up The Taken from the local library in Apsley, ON and read it aloud to each other during our get away at the cottage.

The Calling: 2008 – 419 pages; The Taken: 2009 – 446 pages; A Door in the River: 2012 – 389 pages; The Night Bell: 2015 – 390 pages. McLelland Stewart.

My goal for April was to read a number of mystery novels and the first thought was to return to the Hazel Micallef series. The delivery from Indigo arrived just in time and I started with The Calling. Once begun, I could not stop.

Michael Redhill

A good mystery series is analogous to watching a Netflix show when you become so involved with the storyline and the characters, you cannot turn off the TV or in this case, put the book down. The need to continue results in binge watching, or binge reading. So, even though I had completed The Taken before, I proceeded to revisit it. Every scene was familiar, but I could not remember what happened next, as if enjoying it for the first time. The book was as fulfilling as before. After A Door in the River, therefore, I was compelled to finish with The Night Bell, reveling in each development anew. An individual book in this series can stand on its own and could be read without knowledge of the other. The author provides sufficient information to ensure the narrative flows. The richness and the trajectory of character development is more fulfilling with an understanding of the history.

The Calling is less of a whodunit than a frightening insight into the depravity of the murderer. The unravelling is about the motive and the method to keep the reader hooked. We are also introduced to the character backgrounds and life secrets of the various protagonists, setting up for future novels. In The Taken small details get filled in at the beginning both to advance the insight of the serial reader and to support the new one jumping into series midway. It unfolds more in keeping with a typical mystery and delves more deeply in the vulnerability of Hazel Micaleff. A Door in the River digs further into the character of James Wingate and builds on a growing bond between the two Ontario Provincial police detectives while portraying a widening schism with a longtime partner, Ray Greene. All of this material helped make greater sense of The Night Bell, a complicated intertwining of separate agendas with surprising twists in each chapter. The book also provides a new personal development at the end as fodder for the next instalment of a Hazel Micaleff Mystery.

I am consciously vague in my descriptions because the books need to be discovered. Suffice to say the writing is excellent with examples of insight into policing and into living in our contemporary world:

“What kind of relationship do you have with your mother? they asked the men. Because good sons made fine cops.” The Calling

“There is no role for the law in prevention, she thought, no role in giving solace. They said the law was an ass, but those who enforced it knew it was blind, deaf, and mute as well.” The Taken

“All of it spoke of a marriage where conversation was more important than sitcoms or sports: these were people who found each other interesting, for whom being distracted together was not nearly as desirable as simply being together.” A Door in the River

“By the time Emily was welcomed into the doctor’s office, all the fight had gone out of her. Sooner or later in your life, you have to put yourself in someone else’s hands. Just surrender.” The Night Bell

I highly recommend the series regardless of whether you dive into one book or digest the entire collection. A person who works with police or is a member of a force could relate to the life both inside and outside the job. I hope Inger Ash Wolfe will return with number five. And don’t forget to check out Michael Redhill (Martin Sloane, Fidelity, Consolation, and Bellevue Square); you will not be disappointed.

May is Asian Heritage Month. I have several books lined up, while as always, remaining open to any suggestions.

Happy Reading.

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