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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Acts of Murder

Reviewed: January 13, 2002
By: L. R. Wright
Publisher: Bantam/Seal
257 Pages, $8.99

The last of the Karl Alberg mysteries came as a surprise to me. Most writers don't retire a successful series character - Morse being a notable exception - because their fans tend to react the way Conan Doyle's did when he pushed Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls.

Wright's mystery novels haven't been standard detective fiction, though, so it's not a total surprise that she would break that rule too. (It's a bit like her choice to dedicate this book to her ex-husband, actor John Wright.)

One reviewer in the national papers has, in fact, objected to Wright's Sunshine Coast series being labelled mysteries at all. It's true that it's only seldom been any kind of a mystery as to whodunit. In that sense these books have been structured more like episodes of Columbo, in which we always know the nature and author of the crime and are on board to watch as Peter Falk seems to fumble his way to a flawless conclusion.

But then, the Alberg stories aren't like that either. Almost all of them have had some background, some alternation between the past and present. This one, for instance, begins with a prologue set ten years prior to the action in the novel. There are actually five chapters of this material, spaced throughout the novel, so that by the time we realize just what it is the viewpoint character in these sequences has been up to, we also understand why, and we even feel a little empathy for her.

The killers in the Alberg stories are all skewed in some serious fashion. The killer in Acts of Murder, for instance, possesses the self-image of a vigilante, righting wrongs on behalf of the helpless. The problem, as she herself begins to discover, is that the terrible act itself begins, over time, to assume more importance than its original motivation. Her first revenge was clever, artful, killing two birds with one stone. So were some of the ones that followed, but latterly she has become more brutal, more obsessed with the act. It worries her so much that she finally realizes she has become the thing she hated, and she understands that she has to do something about that, too.

All of that murder related stuff is happening over in one corner of the story, but this one is a triangle affair, and there are two other corners. In another corner Karl Alberg and Cassandra are getting married and deciding to change their lives in more than just that way. It's no mystery that Karl should begin to consider retirement and really no surprise that he might opt to continue the part of his job he's always enjoyed the most - the detective work. While he is exploring this, Cassandra suddenly becomes moderately wealthy, the legacy having come from an uncle who may, she suspects, have been a bit closer than that after all. Her mother won't talk about it. The confluence of these events leaves the newlywed's options wide open.

In still another corner, enter Sergeant Edwina Henderson. Alberg is surprised. He'd only ever heard her referred to as "Eddie," and no personal pronouns had been used to warn him of who was coming. Eddie replaces another member of the Sechelt detachment who retired in the previous book. Eddie is two metres tall and structured in proportion. She is also fleeing an abusive relationship in her last posting, in Burnaby. She has to deal with that and take on the latest case, in which people keep disappearing and turning up dead in partially concealed graves months later. The victims are all over the demographic map. It's just hard to see what the connection might be.

Of course, we know what it is, and the fun of that part of the story is waiting for all the tumblers to fall into place for the RCMP. Eddie and Karl arrive at the same conclusion at about the same time, coming at it from different directions. That's foreshadowing on Wright's part, of course, because her last two books (the most recent just out in hardcover) are about the adventures of Edwina Henderson after she replaces Alberg as Staff Sergeant.

So, "Bunny" (as she was known in her acting days in Dawson) Wright did wrap up her hero's career, but she did it by providing him with a successor. This was an important move because the Alberg mysteries have always been as much about the locale as they were about the detective. The Sunshine Coast series continued, for awhile any way.

The sad news in all of this is that Loreli (as she was billed in the U.S.A.) only lived to write two more books. Kidnap is in paperback now and Menace is just out in hardcover. I wonder if Karl appears in either one in his new role as a freelancer?

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