Fresh Blood

Name: Inger Ash Wolfe

Title of Book: The Calling

'Micallef could soon easily vie for our affections alongside such other troubled souls as Morse and Wallander.'

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef heads a small group of police officers in a quiet area. Murders are certainly not the norm on her ‘patch’ - certainly not ones that have the imprint of an insane murderer. So it is with some trepidation that Hazel investigates what looks like a potential serial killer with serious issues.

The first murder is a well-known woman called Delia Chandler. It could have looked like an assisted suicide; especially as the woman was riddled with cancer. That is, if she hadn’t had her throat cut. Then there is the issue of the blood…

Soon there is a trail if bodies - all of whom have been ‘helped’ on their way to the next world. Does Hazel have the will and cunning mind to outwit someone who appears to be blazing a trail towards a climatic crescendo?

The Calling is the first novel in a series from this newly created author, Inger Ash Wolfe. (Apparently, also a well-known literary author, but who...?) The author has created a dark reality in a place where violent crime is the exception rather than the rule. From the first chapter Wolfe tells us who is the murderer, but it is his motive that is the driving force behind this book. Why does he kill these people in what seems like an act of cruel kindness, only to unleash a violence which turns the stomach? That is what this novel sets out to answer.

Hazel Micallef is a wonderful creation to head up this series. She is nearing retirement, has problems with alcohol, suffers from a bad back, divorced and lives with her tyrannical mother. It would seem that Micallef could soon easily vie for our affections alongside such other troubled souls as Morse and Wallander. In The Calling, it is the ‘why’ rather than the ‘who’ that makes the reader rapidly turn the pages. The Calling has resonances of the best of Ruth Rendell and wonderful prose from the likes of Susan Hill and the Serailler series.

It gladdens a crime fan’s heart to know that a ‘serious’ writer is taking up the challenge to write a suspenseful crime novel. Why this sudden fashion? Nobody can give a solid answer - marvellous writers have been producing excellent crime novels for a few years now. It seems that the crime genre is finally reaching maturity.

In The Calling we herald an exceptional novel that is creepy, gory, suspenseful and populated with wonderful and remarkable characters. This is an astonishing debut that offers a fanfare for what looks set to be a stand out series.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
This is hard to answer - as a reader, both literary and genre - I'm attracted to good writing and to character, but to me good writing is writing that's suited to its purpose. So I enjoy Chandler and Elmore Leonard as much as I enjoy Elizabeth George or Henning Mankell. I'm trying to find the right tone and voice for these books, but it isn't predetermined.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I'm attracted to both, for the reasons I give above. Sometimes I follow a writer (like Kate Atkinson, although she does have a regular detective in some of her books, and Jess Walter, who doesn't), sometimes I follow a character (Jack Reacher, Kurt Wallander). A great series, I will say, allows you to commit for a long time to a character and a world, and it's rare to get that experience in any kind of art. So probably, a great series grabs me a little more.
3) You are a well known novelist who has decided to branch out in to the crime genre. Was there a particular reason for this new change in direction?
I had an idea for a book and it needed a different approach than I'd tried before. No other reason.
4) Unlike other writers, John Banville (Benjamin Black) and Ruth Rendell (Barbara Vine) who made no attempt to keep their real alter egos from the world, you have deliberately decided to keep your 'true identity' a secret. Will you eventually reveal your real identity one day or do you like the idea of working under the pseudonym of Inger Ash Wolfe and knowing that only a few people know who is writing such marvellous crime fiction?
I like the idea of leading another life and watching that part of myself from a distance. It appeals to me for private reasons I don't think I can explain. I have no intention of revealing myself, and my greatest hope is that eventually readers of Inger Ash Wolfe will forget she's a pseudonym and grant her the life of her own I'd like her to have.
5) The Calling is a detective novel but the killer is known from the first. In some ways it reminds me of Rendell during her hay day in the eighties when Rendell seemed to have more sympathy and interest in her murderers than their victims. In Simon Mallick you have invented a cold killer who is also a human being. Have you always been interested in how and why a person feels the urge to take another life? Are you more interested in the emotions of people rather than the police procedure of capturing a killer?
I'm interested in what drives people to extreme acts, be they acts of love, sacrifice, violence, lust, or what have you. We all have the spark of extremity in us; it's only social convention that keeps our primitive urges in check. So yes, this is great territory for fiction, genre or otherwise. I'm not particularly interested in serial killers, but that's where this series started, for better or for worse. And as for the internal life of people - their emotional life - yes, it interests me more than plot or procedure. The storytelling (and the particular conventions of the policier) is a fascinating layer, but it's not what motivates me to tell these stories. I want to understand the people.
6) In Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef you have given a wonderful if slightly grumpy detective. What inspired you to create a main character on the cusp of retirement? With Morse and Wallander taking the trophies in grumpiness, did you feel it was the women's turn?
I have to say that Hazel Micallef was the character that "came" to me - I didn't audition her, as it were, for the series. She was intimate to the original inspiration and a part of it from the earliest stages. I like that she is at the end of her public life and resisting it, it gives the series a tension that will be quite rich, I think. I also think, of the women detectives I know of, Hazel is quite different.
7) Is Inger Ash Wolfe a 'one off' or do you intend to write more crime fiction?
The next one is already finished. I have plans for at least two more after that at this stage.
8) Other great writers like John Banville (Black) have recently turned their hand to crime fiction after writing fiction for so many years. What do you think is the temptation by 'serious' writers to take up the challenge to pen a crime novel? Do you think this new fashion could finally mean that crime fiction will be taken as a serious literary genre?
One of the other reasons I'm writing under a pseudonym is that I don't want to be co-opted by either side of the argument around the value of genre writing as compared to so-called "serious" writing. In fact, I'm troubled by the presumptions floated by folks on either side of the divide. That genre writing is "easier," that "serious" writers who write genre are "slumming it," or "committing genre". That non-genre writers (and there's an argument to be made that literary writing has its own genre-like conventions) don't give other kinds of writing its due, and so on. The suggestion that crime fiction is not taken seriously as a "literary" genre is not borne out by the number of authors who write genre who are regarded as masterful regardless of their genre: P.D. James, Henning Mankell, Edgar Allen Poe, John LeCarre, Graham Greene, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy L. Sayers, and so on. In every form, there are masters, and there are followers. This is true in crime fiction, romance fiction, literary fiction, and so on...
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Tie between "Rear Window" (adapted from a short story by Cornell Woolrich, writing under the name William Irish) and "The Silence of the Lambs."
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes, I'm a fan. My favorite authors depend on my mood, but at the top of a long list would be Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Henning Mankell, Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, and P.D. James.
12) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
Another tie: Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith, and The Human Factor by Graham Greene.