The late Laurali Rose (“Bunny”) Wright made a number of interesting career moves during her life. In the early 1960s she was an actor in a troupe which served up productions on the Sternwheeler Keno in Dawson City. Later she was a journalist and still later a novelist. She tried her hand at so-called serious mainstream work and was moderately successful, but it was when she decided to write what was then a different kind of mystery that she hit her stride.
L.R. Wright (she was published in the USA as Laurali, which suggests a different target audience) set her mysteries along the Sunshine Coast because she wanted the communities she wrote about to be small.
She came up with the murderer in The Suspect, her first “mystery”, before she realized what he was. When I interviewed her 14 years ago she told me the policeman wandered into the book by accident. He was Karl Alberg, whose mid-life divorce and subsequent awkward courtship of librarian Cassandra Mitchell would fill up eight of her next nine books.
Then she retired him, introducing his replacement, Edwina Henderson during one transitional book during which they solved the same case from different sets of clues.
Authors hardly ever retire successful series characters. Christie kept Poirot and Miss Marple going until after she died, writing the two final books and putting them in the safe to be published posthumously. Robert B. Parker has started two new series recently, but the Spenser books keep on appearing at regular intervals. Martha Grimes teased us with the possible death of Inspector Jury, but brought him back in a recuperative mode in The Grave Maurice. Karl Alberg actually got retired, though he would probably have reappeared as a private detective if Wright had not died of cancer in 2001.
Kidnap is Eddie’s first outing on her own, though there is a bit of Karl in here, attached to some of her memories.
Like most of Wright’s novels, “mystery” would probably be the wrong genre tag to apply. Most often the “bad guy” is more misdirected than anything else, and that is certainly the case with Susie Wilson, the 60 year old single mother who goes a bit round the bend after the death of her daughter. She decides that the married man her daughter has been seeing needs a taste of the pain she felt after Leigh-Anne died while having an abortion. She also feels that Blair Decker needs a lesson in loss. That’s why she kidnaps five year old Samantha.
It’s her choice of partner in crime that causes most of the real problems in the book. Arthur is a charming ne’er do well with his own ideas about what this kidnapping should mean.
As always, the book is really about people. Susie’s life is painted in melancholy colours, but we do come to know her and sympathize with her. Arthur is a skunk, a worse man than the husband she had discarded with her daughter was a child.
Samantha Decker is a sweetie, but her slightly older cousin is a potentially nasty bit of business who keeps some important information to herself for days just because she’s in a pique over having to share her parents a little bit.
Eddie has her own problems to deal with as well as the task of finding Samantha. She is the new, temporary NCO In Charge of the Sechelt post. She likes the idea of command, but she doesn’t want to get too attached to Karl’s old office just in case she doesn’t get to keep it.
She also has a secret that no one on the coast knows. She fled Vancouver to get away from an abusive relationship with a fellow Mountie. Getting away wasn’t too hard. The long term problem is that her father likes Alan and thinks they would be a great match. He doesn’t believe the violence she experienced, so he had no problem giving Alan her new telephone number. The calls are gross and lewd, bordering on threats. She spends part of this book working out how to deal with them.
At the end of the book there’s a surprise. Wright felt so comfortable with this character that she actually moved her to another little town, Gibsons, and began to build another cast around her. There’s just one more Eddie Henderson book, Menace, and I almost hate to read it, because that will be the end. Wright’s website says there was one more book, The Disappearance of Mabel Watson. Whether it’s a Henderson or an Alberg, and whether it’s finished or not, is something her agent’s not telling.