The missing and the dead

Call of the Void
by J.T. Siemens

Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2024
$22.95 / 9781774390863

Reviewed by Valerie Green

*

A nimbly-paced mystery story, Call of the Void takes readers into the raw and dangerous work of a private investigator.

Protagonist Sloane Donovan, an ex-cop with a questionable past, now works as a private investigator with her partner, Wayne Capson. They take on hardcore assignments as joint partners at their company, Hard Knocks Investigations & Security Services Inc. 

Currently, they are acting as bodyguards for a temperamental movie starlet addicted to drugs and alcohol. When she goes off the grid in search of drugs and excitement, she’s hard to track and keep safe. It doesn’t help the situation that Donovan herself is fighting her own demons, summoned by a family tragedy. She also uses alcohol to tranquilize her frequent flashbacks and nightmares, but those aren’t helping.

When the investigators are approached by Maddy Pike, the mother of a missing girl named Emily, Sloane’s life is destined to take a dramatic turn. Wayne doesn’t want to sign on for this case, believing that the mother is totally crazy in conjectures that are encouraged by her equally bizarre friend, Lilith. Both women feel sure that Emily might still be alive. 

Although Emily disappeared seven years ago, Maddy has never given up looking for her, certain she can be found. The police now consider the case as cold. Inspector Pryce Davis, the officer in charge of the case, is reluctant to give any information in Emily’s file to Sloane.

Sloane, however, was part of the original search party looking for the missing girl. Maddy remembers that and the fact that at other times Sloane has found runaways before the police did. “I can’t go back to the police because they won’t take me seriously,” Maddy exclaims, “they just brush me off like I’m a kook. I know you won’t treat me like that.” Reluctantly, Sloane agrees to take the case on—but only for one week.

The story takes place during a very hot summer when burning forests across the province choke Vancouver and the Lower Mainland with wildfire smoke. This smoke, combined with the unprecedented heat, makes life unbearable. Siemens’ descriptive writing manages to envelop his readers in this scenario. We feel the heat and smell the smoke. It all adds to the mystery of Emily Pike’s case as Sloane becomes more and more involved and the first week stretches in two.

She slowly becomes convinced that Emily’s disappearance is linked to other missing girls around the same age and description—mostly fifteen-year-olds, slim with blonde hair. The pattern stretches back twenty years.

Author J.T. Siemens

In his sophomore novel, Siemens (To Those Who Killed Me) gives his readers an excellent picture of the seamier side of both the underworld of missing young women who seem to have been drugged against their will and the drug world in general. 

All of Siemens’ characters are strong and memorable, including Haley Cooper, the addicted movie star; Oscar Benoit, Emily’s older boyfriend; his uncle with connections to the drug world; seventy-two-year-old MJ, the busker who sits outside the investigators’ office strumming her ukulele and offering Sloane sage advice; Jim, the man Sloane becomes attracted to along with his daughter Sadie; and even Sloane’s cat, Eclipse and a plethora of other fascinating characters. 

Readers will enjoy the fast, short chapters that grab attention with powerful sentences. For instance, there’s:

Rolling into Mission, the sky was the colour of cigarette ash and the air smelled of burned rubber. Even at 10 a.m. the town gave off a doped-up vibe, the few people out looking like they only had the vaguest notion of where they were headed.

And:

Time slowed as we slid into August. As temperatures kept rising and the provincial wildfires renewed their fury, some days the smoke returned like a vengeful spirit, clouds the colour of cast iron, massing to the east, reminding us that close by, the world was on fire, and it was only a matter of time until it was our turn in the furnace.

From the city to rural backroads, Siemens takes readers on an unforgettable journey as Sloane Donovan relentlessly pursues the truth about these missing young women, even as her own demons threaten to consume her. Plus, as Sloane gets nearer to that truth, those closest to her are also put at risk. The many twists and turns in this story will keep the reader enthralled until the final page.

Sloane Donovan is a character you will not soon forget, and Vancouver-based J.T. Siemens is indeed a strong writer of crime fiction. He has created a fascinating sleuth who dives into a crime with little thought about her own safety in her ever-determined quest. 

*

Valerie Green

Valerie Green was born and educated in England, where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 and embarked on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over twenty nonfiction historical and true-crime books. Hancock House recently released the first three books—Providence, Destiny, and Legacy—of Valerie’s four-book historical fiction series The McBride Chronicles. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. [Editor’s note: Valerie Green has reviewed Russel Barrie, Christine Sinclair (with Stephen Brunt), Grant Heyter-Menzies, Roberta Rich, Linda L. Richards, Patti Shales Lefkos, Reed Stirling, Padma Viswanathan for BCR.]

*

The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (nonfiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie


Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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5 comments on “The missing and the dead

  1. An engaging review that left me super excited about JT Siemens’ latest. Can’t wait to read Call of the Void and dip back into the life and times of the intrepid Sloane Donovan.

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