Thursday, 11 November 2010

Canadian Fiction - L. R. Wright, Mystery Writer

(There may be some spoilerish content below, but I haven't given away any secrets to the mysteries mentioned. Apologies to the quality of the book covers. I no longer have my copies of LR Wright's stories so had to find photos online)

Laurali Rose (L.R.) Wright was born in Saskatchewan. As a child she followed her family around, even moving to northern Germany, Hamer to be exact, as her father was in the Canadian Army.  She married John Wright in 1962. She worked as a reporter for the Calgary Herald when they lived there and when the family moved to Edmonton, she was able to dedicate herself to writing full-time. (A lucky break for her many fans to be)

Between 1979 and 1984, she had 3 novels published and at the same time she resettled to Burnaby, B.C. Her fourth novel, The Suspect, was the start of a successful series of mysteries set in B.C., along the Sunshine Coast. In this novel, she introduced us to one of my favourite fictional characters, Sergeant Karl Alberg of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

This wasn't the first of LR Wright's mysteries that I read, but chronologically, it should be discussed first. I've read every one of her mystery stories. There were 9 Alberg mysteries and two of Sergeant Edwina Henderson, the Mountie who took over for Alberg when he retired.

Even disregarding the presence of our vaunted Mounties, the stories are very Canadian, very West Coast Canadian. The area of BC used in the stories, the Sunshine Coast, located north of Vancouver, covers communities such as Sechelt, Gibsons, all the way to Powell River. It's been the setting of a well-known (in Canada, at the very least) of the CBC's Beachcombers television series). L.R. Wright gets the feel for the small communities exceedingly well.

I enjoyed her mysteries greatly. The Suspect earned the honour as first Canadian writer to win the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel of 1985. From that point on, she concentrated on mysteries. The series introduce us to Karl Alberg, his small police station in Sechelt and also to his personal life, especially his ongoing relationship with the town librarian, Cassandra. LR Wright's mysteries, like so many great mysteries, weren't so much about the mystery itself. Rather they focused on Karl Alberg, his dealings with the the local town folk, his developing personal relationships, with Cassandra and also his daughter.

It's been a long time since I've read the stories, but if I recall, in most cases, in not all, you also knew who the murderer/ criminal was from the beginning and the development of that character's personality was also one of the many interesting aspects of the particular story. In The Suspect, for example, the 'criminal mastermind' is eighty year old George Wilcox who kills one of his old crony friends. The story revolves around George, Cassandra and sympathetic Karl Alberg. It is this developing relationship that gets your interest.

With The Suspect, LR Wright began a wonderful exploration of Karl Alberg's universe.  He reminds me of other great police officers in fiction; Jesse Stone, Chief Inspector Barnaby, amongst others. The joy of their stories is their interaction with their fellow officers, their surroundings. It is this that makes their stories so interesting. And, hey, they also solve interesting mysteries.

The next story in the Sgt Alberg mysteries was Sleep While I Sing, published in 1986. It dealt with the murder of a young woman, whose body was found at the side of the road, her throat slashed.

As Karl Alberg works to solve this mystery, he is also trying to deal with Cassandra's, his librarian girl friend, new infatuation with a Hollywood actor, Roger Galbraith, who has moved to Sechelt to live with his mother. Compounding this is the fact that Galbraith who is flirting not only with Cassandra but most of the eligible women in town, but is also one of the main suspects in the murder.

LR Wright had the ability to continue developing her characters to ensure you remained deeply involved in their lives. You want Alberg and Cassandra to get together and these speed bumps that crop up to slow down their relationship add to the interest.

And at the same time, she draws you into the mystery, how Karl goes around in his methodical, intuitive way to ultimately solving, in this case, a violent murder.

The first story I actually read of LR Wright was the third installment, which I found in the mystery section of ABC Books during one of my trips there. A Chill Rain in January was published in 1990 and definitely worth the wait. For my first exposure to LR Wright's mastery at writing, it was an excellent start.

The 'chill' was palpable and I could definitely feel the BC winter. The blackberry bushes, the cold off the water, the dampness, she described it eloquently. It was an excellent mystery; what were in the diaries that Zoe Strachan's brother had found and wanted to use against her, unless she gave him the money he wanted.

Alberg is drawn into Zoe's mystery as well as that of Ramona Olitzki, the lady trying to hide from being put into a Seniors home. Once again, Alberg's involvement in a case has a negative effect on his relationship with Cassandra.

As I read through the Alberg mysteries, I felt that it would be the perfect venue for a TV mystery series, prime fodder for PBS's Masterpieces Theater. I've tried to picture who could play Sgt Alberg. If Paul Gross hadn't already played Benton Fraser to such success, he might be the perfect actor for the role. I'd prefer a Canadian actor, obviously, someone in their late '30s or early '40s. With the nine books, it could make a nice run and done well, would make an excellent series. Maybe Paul Gross is the man for the job. :0)

I won't get into every story, but after A Chill Rain in January, there followed Fall From Grace(91) , Prized Possessions (93), A Touch of Panic (94), Mother Love (95), A Stranger Among Us (96) and Acts of Murder(97).

In Acts of Murder, we are introduced for the first time to a new character, Sgt Edwina Henderson who must help Alberg in a race against time to discover who the 'Avenging Angel' is as this person is on a mission to rid Sechelt of those who sin. When the next story came out, Kidnap, Sgt Alberg has retired and his place taken by Edwina Henderson. Edwina was as much of an enjoyable character as Alberg. I looked forward to her stories just as much and LR Wright had lost none of her touch in spinning a lovely story as well as a fine mystery.
The final story in the series was Menace written in 2001 which continues Edwina's role as Detachment Commander. In this she and her new second in command are once again embroiled in two seemingly unrelated crimes, that quickly escalate.

It was after having read Menace and impatiently waiting for the next in the series that I had a conversation with a lady on a plane when I was returning to BC from a conference. I noticed that the lady was reading one of LR Wright's stories so I began a conversation with her; both of us being fans of LR Wright's stories. This was when I discovered that LR Wright had passed away. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 but through treatment was given a clean bill of health in 1997.

Unfortunately, it flared up again and on February 21, 2001, she passed away. It was a very sad, shocking moment to discover this. Not only a great writer, but a wife and mother, L.R. Wright will no longer share her talent and ability with us. To look at the good side, she brought a joy of mystery and the West Coast of BC to so many fans. Her stories were excellent and should live on for future fans.

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