The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell

The Waiting Hours, Shandi Mitchell’s suspenseful follow-up to her award-winning debut novel, Under This Unbroken Sky, examines the professional and personal lives of people working in crisis response: Mike is a cop, Kate an ER nurse, and Tamara a 911 operator.

The action takes place in an unspecified urban centre, though enough cues are present, and sufficient landmarks mentioned, to make the Halifax/Dartmouth setting obvious to anyone familiar with the city. The story begins with the murder of a boy, and through the remainder of the book, we witness the fallout from this senseless act of violence affecting each of the main characters. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#395678″ class=”” size=””]The story begins with the murder of a boy, and through the remainder of the book, we witness the fallout from this senseless act of violence affecting each of the main characters.[/perfectpullquote]

But Mitchell’s novel probes much deeper: into her characters’ personal lives, relationships and traumas. Mike, who is called to the crime scene, and who has always prided himself on his toughness, independence and resilience, subsequently struggles to control feelings of helplessness, paranoia and frightening outbursts of aggression. Kate, who also works in Search and Rescue with her dog Zeus, and who is avoiding the major issue in her life—a mentally ill brother who is off his meds and spiralling out of control—by totally immersing herself in two high-pressure jobs, is eventually forced to address the problem and seek outside help. And Tamara, whose phobias have left her obsessively protective of her privacy and suspicious and fearful of the external world and everyone in it, slowly begins to emerge from a shell of her own making by forging a connection with the family of the murdered boy and witnessing first-hand their grief and their strength in the face of tragedy. 

The novel is constructed episodically, the third-person perspective shifting from chapter to chapter among the three main characters (as well as a taxi driver named Hassan who enters Tamara’s life and develops feelings for her) as their separate stories unfold.

Mitchell’s novel, dramatically urgent, brimming with compassion, reveals the agonizing conundrum of front-line workers who are exposed to the unfiltered tragedy and heartrending unfairness of the human condition on a daily basis, and then, in order to survive, must discover some path to normalcy in their own lives. In The Waiting Hours, Shandi Mitchell has written an emotionally devastating novel that takes us into the trenches where the battle is waged, revealing the enormous challenge these people face, the risks they take, and the steep price of failure.

The Waiting Hours has been shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award for the 2020 Atlantic Book Awards.

About the Author

SHANDI MITCHELL is an author and filmmaker. Mitchell was born in New Brunswick, raised in Alberta, and now makes her home in Nova Scotia.

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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.

4 thoughts on “The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell”

  1. It’s true about working those wee small hours of the morning as a frontline hospital employee. Some could sleep, but I never could. Another great review Ian.

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