Award-winning writer and journalist Russell Wangersky’s new novel Walt, marketed as a thriller, follows a lonely supermarket janitor who collects scraps of paper discarded by customers, decoding their banal grocery lists and receipts to reveal their hidden lives. The disappearance of Walt’s wife, Mary, has put him squarely on the radar of police. Other women have also gone missing in St. John’s. But it’s Mary’s whereabouts that is the central question of the novel.
Walt is a deceptively simple crime story, employing the common motif of parallel lives. The novel presents three characters: the suspect, the detective and a young woman Walt has got his sights set on. He stalks her for a year, following her home, watching from a distance. But that’s all he does – watch. Detective Dean Hill, who heads up a new cold case squad, himself a loner and recently divorced, believes Walt may be responsible.
What sets this novel apart is that the reader simply doesn’t know what happened to Mary. Has a crime even been committed? “Maybe she moved out west,” Walt tells investigators. We have our suspicions, and there are clues buried deep in the details.
Books like this are successful when the author gets into the headspace of their main character. Weaker writers go for the gut. But Wangersky is a master at occupying the internal spaces of the mind and excavating its darkest corners. Here he employs a variety of perspectives, fluidly moving between first-person narrative and diary entries to create an unsettling voyeuristic-like experience. As the tension builds, readers will burn through the last few pages of this tightly-written thriller that travels to some disturbing places.