Eric Wright is a Canadian mystery writer who should be getting a lot more attention than he does. A four time winner of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, he has also picked up the British John Creasey Award during his career.
He has written four different series in his time, the longest running being the Charlie Salter books, which he wrapped up by retiring Charlie after a 19 year run in 2002.
Retirement isn’t necessarily the end of a career though. Mel Pickett, who was introduced as a supporting player in the Salter novel A Sensitive Case, is also retired, and has taken to spending part of his year in rural Ontario after a lifetime in Toronto. Larch River, the nearest town, is a pretty small place, but not too small to have its own murder, and its inexperienced chief of police, Lyman Caxton, was only too happy to have a seasoned detective living in the area when it happened.
The Ontario Provincial Police aren’t so sure about that. Pickett had some history with the lead detective, Abraham Wilkie, and that makes for a bit of tension when the chief suspect’s mother convinces Picket that her son probably has not done the deed. Not that he was a good boy, but murder, she is sure, isn’t in him.
Pickett seems to wander into this case in much the same way as he built his log cabin and slowly relocated half his life to the country. There’s a sense of just happening to be there, but also a sense of destiny. Some things are meant to happen, maybe.
While the OPP are busy doing the legwork, Mel quietly puts his little grey cells to work and, in a feat of intuition worthy of Miss Marple, comes up with another possible solution to the murder. He’s learned something about the people who are his neighbours, and that personal knowledge helps him pick his way through the red herrings and accidental misdirections of the case until he finds the solution.
I felt like I was getting a good sense of a setting that was almost real as Mel picked his way towards a solution. The apparently tangental problems of some of the secondary characters actually managed to be part of the problem, and Wright did not neglect his protagonist’s personal life, in which quite a few strides were made during the course of the story.
Wright, a former professor at Ryerson University, is one of the few mystery writers actually dealing with older protagonists in a realistic fashion.
His third series follows the adventures of a private detective named Lucy Trimble, while his fourth stars an English professor by the name of Joe Barlow, who pads out his salary as a part time security guard. The Pickett, Trimble and Barlow series have each seen two books as of 2003.
You may have to search a little to find Wright’s books, but they are worth it. He’s not getting the attention of that other Canadian British expatriate, Peter Robinson, though their backgrounds are similar. Robinson uses British settings and his stories are darker than Wright’s, but they’re not necessarily better.