CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 35. . . May 19, 2017
Confronted by a 400+ page book, I recalled the words of one of Jane Austen’s characters: “If a book is well written, I always find it too short”, and its unspoken corollary, “A book poorly written can’t be too short.” To my delight, I was completely hooked by page 16 of Along Comes a Wolfe, and authors Counios and Gane never let me go. I now eagerly await the next installment of the “Shepherd & Wolfe” series, Shepherd’s Watch.
Along Comes a Wolfe is a murder mystery that focuses on identifying (and, of course, stopping) a serial killer. When readers first encounter this anonymous murderer in the Prologue (see “excerpt” above), he has just failed in his first attempt at killing a human being, a teen girl. His methodology, something he had successfully practised over a number of years on cats and small dogs, was to suffocate his intended victim by placing a plastic bag over its head and then pulling it tight. However, he had not taken into account that a human is bigger and stronger, and the girl had successfully fought him off. Undeterred by his failure and still determined to take a human life, he hones his lethal skills by suffocating larger and larger dogs. One fall day while he is burying one of his canine kills in a wooded park on the edge of the city, he sees a girl running on a park trail and determines that she could potentially be his next human target. Over a period of three weeks, he returns to the park to identify if there is a pattern to the girl’s running. “He enjoyed the hunt, the focus it took to unwrap the mystery of how best to take her down.” And this time he is successful, with his victim being Sheri Beckman, a high school junior whose body he hides.
Sheri is the link to the “Shepherd” in the series title, and, for the last eight months, she has been dating Anthony “Tony” Shepherd. Though the two don’t attend the same high school, they had met at a party and have athletics in common with Sheri being a member of her school’s cross country team and Tony a player on his school’s basketball squad. Tony is described as having “mocha skin”, the result of his physician mother being of Jamaican heritage and his work-from-home father, Caucasian. The family, which includes Tony’s older sister Heather, lives in an upscale neighbourhood. When Sheri doesn’t come home from her mid-week training run, her parents notify the police, and not unsurprisingly, Tony, as the boyfriend, becomes one of the first suspects in the investigation of Sheri’s disappearance, an investigation led by Detective Gekas, a female officer.
Tony, knowing that he is innocent, decides he can’t just sit passively on the sidelines, and so he goes to Sheri’s school where he hopes the contents of her locker will provide some clues to where she is. And it is at the school that Tony encounters the other half of the series title, Charlie Wolfe. According to six-foot Tony, Charlie is “shorter than me but he’s built stocky and solid and likely enjoys getting into the occasional fight.” As Tony learns later, Charlie, who lives in a trailer park with his indifferent alcoholic mother, has a substantial juvie criminal record. In normal circumstances, Tony and Charlie would not have formed a team any more than a shepherd tending to his sheep would embrace a four-legged wolf. But the situation is not normal, and so by-the-rules Tony, initially motivated by wanting to know what happened to Sheri, accepts the help of the-end-justifies-the-means Charlie.
Meanwhile, Sheri’s killer, recognizing that the police, at least temporarily, are focusing on Tony, feels safe, but he also knows “he needed to hurt someone again.” And he does, this time leaving the teen girl’s body at a building site where it is found by the police. While Charlie believes that Sheri’s disappearance and the recent murder are connected, Detective Gekas is treating them as separate events, but then a third girl’s body is discovered. The authors rachet up the tension when Tony and Charlie learn that the killer knows their identities and is almost taunting them to find him. Throughout the book, either through the chapters narrated by the killer, himself, or those told from Tony’s perspective, the killer’s behaviour can be seen to be accelerating, moving from small animals to larger and then to humans, always teen girls. And the frequency of his killings increases until the simple act of killing no longer gives him the rush he needs, and so he kidnaps a girl, not knowing exactly what he plans to do with her. And this act ultimately leads to his downfall.
As occurs in all good detective stories, the “detectives”, in this case two teen amateurs (along with the book’s readers), are presented with all the clues and have to decide which are pertinent and which are red herrings. Charlie identifies an important commonality in all the murders - each of the acts has taken place in front of a mirror in a women’s washroom, a setting in which the killer can watch himself perform.
What sets Along Comes a Wolfe apart from so many other “detective” novels directed at adolescents is the (unusual for the genre) richness of character development (or, at least, the appearance of such). Whereas Tony Shepherd is a well-developed character with a clearly explicated family, school and social life, including clear motivations for his behaviour, Wolfe is writ in broad strokes. At the conclusion of the book, readers may think they “know” Wolfe, but, if asked to write a character sketch, they likely would be hard pressed to do so. (Beyond, perhaps, describing his possessive love of donuts.) Possibly Shepherd’s Watch will reveal more about Charlie, but I doubt that it will as a great deal of Charlie’s appeal resides in what he keeps hidden from readers.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.