‘The Taken’: Right take on mystery

  • By Tim Rutten Los Angeles Times
  • Friday, August 13, 2010 6:01pm
  • Life

“The Taken: A Hazel Micallef Mystery” by Inger Ash Wolfe, $25

Pseudonymous novels of crime and detection by authors of literary fiction always are an interesting proposition.

A great deal depends on the writer’s intentions: Are they simply trying on an alternative — perhaps less freighted — authorial identity, or do they have in mind using the genre to get something off their chest that might compromise their literary “brand”? The former motive can produce superb entertainments, as in the case of Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville’s Benjamin Black novels. The latter often yields decidedly mixed results.

That’s certainly the case with “The Taken,” Canadian writer Inger Ash Wolfe’s second mystery built around the character of Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef of the Ontario provincial police.

When the first book in the series — “The Calling” — came out two years ago, there was a great deal of speculation about the author’s true identity, which still hasn’t been revealed. Suspicion fell most heavily on Margaret Atwood, with Farley Mowat a close second.

In any event, it’s clear that she/he is a writer of formidable ability — though not necessarily of detective fiction.

When we reconnect with Hazel Micallef, head of the force’s local Port Dundas station in the lake country outside Toronto, she is recovering from horrific back surgery. The operation has left her at age 62 a bedridden invalid, unable even to get to the bathroom unassisted.

Her long and painful recovery has forced her to take up humiliating residence in the basement apartment of the home her ex-husband, Andrew, shares with his preternaturally sunny, younger second wife, Glynnis. Hazel’s annoying 87-year-old mother also is hovering about.

While the detective inspector wallows in resentment and a Percocet haze, a local fishing guide with an out-of-town couple in her boat finds and then loses what appears to be a woman’s body in the lake.

The “body” turns out to be a mannequin, weighted and wrapped in a fishing net in what looks like a prank re-creation of the “summer story,” a murder mystery the local newspaper is serializing.

A young detective on the case discovers that the mannequin’s “serial number” is, in fact, an Internet address and, when he calls it up, he finds a webcam trained on a man tied to a chair in a basement with the words “help me” scrawled on the wall behind him.

Hazel is back on the case and, as the story develops, she finds that her every move is being choreographed by a violently sadistic psycho, who is trying to force her into reinvestigating a young woman’s death that may or may not have been suicide.

Suffice to say, that nobody — including the captive’s grieving wife — is who they seem to be.

The problem with “The Taken” is that nearly everyone in the book is unsympathetic, including Hazel, who is alternately foul-tempered and mean-spirited toward all and sundry.

One of the tip-offs that there’s a serious writer at work in “The Taken” is the cultivation of an interesting subtext, in this case, an exploration of that emotional no-man’s land where love becomes indistinguishable from pathological attachment, and affection fades into obsession.

Talk to us

More in Life

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Ash was rescued along with Dexter, just before his euthanasia date. (Luisa Loi / Whidbey News-Times)
Whidbey Island woman rescues 300 German shepherds

“Can I save them all? No,” Renee Carr, of Oak Harbor said. “But I’m gonna try my hardest.”

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

Barb Denton smiles and laughs with her Jeep Cherokee Laredo that she has driven for 32 years on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Red Dragon,’ stolen from Sea-Tac, mysteriously returns home to Everett

Barb Denton’s rig of 348,000 miles was found three miles from home, intact, with a half-tank of gas and an empty bag of Oberto sticks.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

This Vacasa rental is disgusting. Can I get my money back?

The vacation rental Carol Wilson books for her group through Vacasa is infested with rats and insects. Vacasa offers to refund one night, but can they get all of their money back?

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.