DCI Hazel Micallef of the Port Dundas Ontario Police Service is recovering from back surgery, at the mercy of her ex-husband and his new wife who have offered their basement for Hazel’s convalescence. Andrew’s new wife is irritatingly kind to the irascible patient, who becomes even more truculent when her elderly mother disposes of all her pain pills. Hazel had planned to wean herself off the medication all in due time but is forced to endure whatever pain remains just as a case breaks that demands all her attention and energy.
Crime is barely existent in Port Dundas, the small police force hardly troubled by the problems of big cities and happy to be left out of the chaos. It all begins with the publication of a serialized story - “The Mystery of Bass Lake” – by local author Colin Eldwin and the recovery of a strange object from the nearby waters of a local fishing area. Life seems to imitate art as the story and the facts of a strange case are eerily connected. Hazel is thrust into action, pain or not, depending on the help of DI James Wingate to make sense of a possible murder and an abduction in progress.
Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the facts are sketchy and difficult: an interview with a couple who caught the mysterious object while fishing; the drunken wife of the author muttering about her husband’s infidelities; and a cold case reopened by the actions of others. Wolfe ties the fragments of abstract clues into a cohesive whole, her protagonist defined by strained personal relationships and a department threatening fiscal changes and enforced retirement, a DI nearly as inscrutable as Micallef, and a family that loves Hazel in spite of herself.
Inger Ash Wolfe is a thoughtful writer who appreciates the nuances of time and age, her protagonist caught in the jaws of impending retirement and a passion for her work that ignores the painful realities of the physical world. For all her crusty exterior, there is no doubt of Micallef’s commitment or her skills in solving a particularly thorny case, where the crime remains a mystery until it is suddenly a reality and the life of a victim hangs in the balance. No young detective, Hazel is on the downside of life, facing the infirmities of her age and the demands of a rigorous job, the years passing swiftly before she is ready to acknowledge them.
Winding all but invisible threads together into tale filled with danger, Wolfe pulls the reader into a horrific scenario where nothing is what it first appears and a distraught mother goes to extremes to find her daughter’s murderer. Hazel is right there every painful step of the way, proving her mettle and Wolfe’s talent as a writer of great crime fiction.