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The Suspect by L. R. Wright
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The Suspect (1985)

by L. R. Wright

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Finished L.R. Wright's first mystery novel The Suspect (her fourth published novel) and I've had the unrelenting suspicion that it is a perfect book. At first I wouldn't give it ten out of ten stars, I thought to myself that maybe I'd give it nine stars, or 9.5, only because I'm not completely convinced that the forensics Wright depicted in the novel were as thoroughly fleshed out and considered as they would have been in so-called real life. But, maybe, in 1984, in a backwoods town on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, reachable only by ferry boat, the crime was investigated as thoroughly as it could have been back then. Maybe L. R. Wright got it right. In real life, would there have been enough evidence to convict the suspect, an eighty-year-old, cantankerous widower, George Wilcox? Maybe not. Maybe that's why Karl Alberg, the divorced detective on the case, could never nail him. Maybe L. R. Wright thought up the perfect scenario for the perfect, spontaneous, unpremeditated murder, that not even Sherlock Holmes could have solved.

Whether this perfect murder is 100% plausible or not, The Suspect, like I stated at the outset, if not a perfect novel, is a perfect read. But, damn, if this mystery, set amidst so much sunshine and blue sparkling ocean, among seaside cottages, with their tended gardens extending almost to the tide, is not a brooding, downright gloomy, read. Understand that the fog will snuff out the sunshine by the end.

"This part of British Columbia gets more hours of sunshine every year than most places in Canada—five hundred more hours, on the average, than Vancouver. Because its winters are also very mild, things grow here that will not grow anywhere else in the country—apricot and fig trees, even palm trees, it is said."

So much understated loss in this novel, only hinted at, a glimpse of it here, or there — a sunbeam exposing secret griefs, resentment, and rage — page upon sad but unputdownable page. Wright never overstates a clue — not once, but leaves it up to you, one of her rare readers these days, to scrunch up your eyes and forehead, to deduce and decide. How? Why? When?

What amazed me most about the novel, is how well Wright indeed made perfectly plausible this complex dynamic between, Karl Alberg, the transplant detective, on the one hand, claiming as bona fide friend, the murderer, George Wilcox, on the other, the very man whom Alberg knew beyond all doubt had committed the crime. But with limited manpower and investigative resources, Alberg just couldn't find enough evidence or establish corroboration between any two eyewitnesses, to pin it on him, to make the arrest. The subdued yet intense heat of Alberg's frustration over being this close ... too many times ... is understandably palpable wafting off the page.

How exactly did this capital-crime-covering octogenarian rascal elude him every time? What an embarrassing conundrum for a seasoned detective like Alberg to have to face, being evaded, out stealthed, out geniused, out everythinged, by a frail rickety-stick of a man painfully aware of his advancing aches and physical limitations. Can't you hear it, that bored rookie Canadian Mountie stuck doing office duty alone all night, his obnoxious banter about to burst asunder, just offpage, upon a now unprofessionally rattled Detective Alberg, the very second when he arrives back to his desk too loudly, obviously angry with himself after failing to reel in another initially promising lead — "Whatsa'matter, Alby, did great-grandpa Wilcox outrace you across the sand this time?"

If only (words too abominable to breathe when they're sounded too deep) Alberg's thoughts had turned counterintuitive — and lunar — just one halflit midnight sooner, and he did what even beachcombing native Canadians rarely do on their Sunshine Coast. If Alberg, a Royal Mounted, a seasoned and proven sleuth up until then, intuitve reader of suspects and the unsuspected alike, couldn't forsee first how an unassuming, elderly, recent widower (and widower for the second time) whom all he had left in his life was the energy to have committed an abrupt, enraged, pent up murder out of the shocking sunshine blue like that, and then miss that George could afterwards maintain his pretense of innocence because he was barely in possession of the required energy to cover up his crime on such a visually exposed shoreline with a damnable dearth of available nighttime, perhaps speaks to the, granted, debatable fact that Canadians, long rumored for their amiable politeness toward the living, could not possibly be so "impolite" to the dead to treat a corpse so disresptfully as that, even if it were the most covertly practical means of its permanent disposal. A murder and concealment of corpse such as that accomplished by George Wilcox happening in Fargo, North Dakota, of course; but in the hamlet of Seychelt, B.C., where even the inanimate sun is more polite to her counttrymen than any other place in Canadaon the Sunshine Coast, hell no.

Takes a salty haired survivor type from the States, wouldn't it, perhaps an honourally discharged veteran, say, someone who, beside his bride, wants to escape somewhere that was elsewhere from wherever he was, and it had to be bright, so bright the light was redundant, fit for storage within the forests of those impossibly long hours on the Sunshine Coast, where because it was close and so damned cheap, fella'd be a fool not to buy, not to try to fly away, wouldn't he, if he finally had the chance, the simple chance to turn from his past, to lock it up and leave, sell it short, sell it cheap, get rid of it and get the hell out for a dream, simply flee his lost horizons for the long sunshiny nights in B.C. The Coast there the same as it was before Christ, by God!

What an unexpected, emotionally powerful read, filled with heartwrenching backstories galore, as in witnessing evolve an implausible-but-not-impossible friendship between adversaries develop like that, watching their friendship poignantly and unexpectedly bloom. A friendship only fully realized months after one of the men has died.

"The tempo of life on the Sunshine Coast is markedly slower than that of Vancouver, and its people, for the most part strung out along the shoreline, have a more direct and personal interest in the sea.

The coastal forests are tall and thick with undergrowth, but they come gently down to the water and are sometimes met there by wide, curving beaches. The land cleared for gardens is fertile, and the things growing there tempt wild creatures from the woods. In the sea there are salmon, and oysters, and clams; there are also otters; and thousands of gulls, and cormorants. There are Indian legends, and tales of smugglers, and the stories of the pioneers.

The resident police force is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with detachments in Gibsons and Sechelt. There are traffic accidents to deal with, and occasional vandalism, and petty theft, and some drunkenness now and then.

There is very seldom a murder."


Unless George Wilcox is around! Yet how can we care about him knowing he has just murdered his eighty-five year old neighbor, Carlyle, after only making his acquaintance on the first page. Carlyle was apparently an "old acquaintance" (certainly not a friend), though by the end of the novel we'll discover the man Wilcox murdered was much more than an acquaintance, even if he wasn't exactly a friend. L. R. Wright gives away the who-did-it? right off the bat, providing the reader with more intimate knowledge of the crime's grisly details than afforded any character in the novel's except for the elderly perp. And what a disturbing way to meet someone, even a fictitious character, our "suspect" of the novel's title. In two previous (non-mystery) novels I've read that opened as violently — and I'm just talking about violence against animals here (i.e., Ron Loewinsohn's Magnetic Field(s) and Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke), I've found it difficult to continue reading. But that was not the case with The Suspect, because unlike these novels, and for reasons I do not yet completely comprehend, I cared about this very believable, complicated man, the suspect, the murderer, the old man riddled by guilt and one too many demons. Chalk it up, as well, to Wright's extraordinary penchant for creating a conflicted and torn character with the same double-minded authenticity on the page. The Suspect transcends the mystery genre. Call it a mystery if you must, but call it literature too. No real surprise that Wright's first three novels were literary fiction.

L. R. Wright beat both Ruth Rendell and Paul Auster, among others, for the 1986 Edgar Award. Wright, to this day, remains the only Canadian author to have ever won the Edgar. Had The Suspect been nominated for The Booker Prize that year, as it should have been, I suspect it would have won at least one more award. Before L.R. Wright, 61, died on February 25, 2001, she got the last word in on her long battle against breast cancer: “She died, and the cancer died with her. It was a draw.” ( )
9 vote EnriqueFreeque | Dec 21, 2016 |
Having just read Scottoline's THE VENDETTA DEFENSE, I came upon another book with over-80 victim and perpetrator: L. R. Wright's
THE SUSPECT, read as part of my ongoing project to read Edgar Best
Novels in order. In THE SUSPECT, just as in THE VENDETTA DEFENSE, we know
from the outset who 'done it.' But here, each of the three characters
through whose point of view the story is told -- killer, policeman, and
a librarian with conflicted loyalties -- shows us a different aspect of
the case. The real mystery in THE SUSPECT is motive -- and in a way
that's even a mystery to the perpetrator. This book will almost
certainly end up on my 10 Best Older Books list for 2009. It's a
stunning combination of psychological thriller and police procedural.
I'll be looking for more of L. R. Wright's work, and am only sorry for
the relatively small number of books she wrote before her too-early
death. ( )
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
We are in no doubt about who committed the murder in THE SUSPECT, as we, the readers, are present when George Wilcox did it, so the interest centres on two aspects: why did he do it, and will he get away with it?
The other element though is the introduction of a new sleuthing pair, newly arrived Mountie Karl Alberg and local librarian Cassandra Mitchell. However they don't know that George is the murderer although both of them come to that realisation. They react quite differently to that knowledge.

THE SUSPECT is a cleverly written story on a number of levels and one of those that you come to appreciate more as you write about it. No wonder it won the Edgar for best novel in 1985.

Laurali R. Wright died from breast cancer in 2001 and there is a comprehensive biography on her official site that leaves us in no doubt about what a loss that was.

THE SUSPECT is a quick read, so if you can find a copy, read it, and see if you agree with me. ( )
  smik | Nov 10, 2011 |
The Suspect is the first in L.R. Wright's Karl Alberg series and the first Canadian novel to win an Edgar Award. Alberg is a police officer in a small town on Canada’s Sunshine Coast where there is little other than petty crime. That is, until an elderly man turns up murdered. Alberg works to uncover the long-held secrets surrounding the crime and catch his man.

Rather than a “who done it,” The Suspect is a “why done it.” The book actually opens with the murder of eighty-five year old Carlyle by the slightly younger George. Even though you know who did it, following Alberg on his search is still intriguing. Why in the world would one elderly man kill another? What is their history? Throw in a librarian who starts dating Alberg but who is also a close friend of the killer and you’ve really got the makings of a fun tale.

The Suspect follows the psychological journey of both Alberg and George Wilcox as they dance around each other. The rear cover of my copy has a small box that says “Who’s likely to like this? Fans of Scandinavian mysteries, with which it shares a sense of chilly introspection.” Definitely an apt phrase. I also see the similarity with Scandinavian mysteries though The Suspect moves much faster than most of the Scandinavian mysteries I’ve read.

This is another Edgar winner that has stood the test of time. Unlike some of the earlier Edgar winners I read, I didn’t feel like I was stepping back in time. This story could take place today as easily as in the 1980s. If you enjoy mysteries about the why instead of the who, I would definitely recommend The Suspect.

http://iubookgirl.blogspot.com/2011/09/review-suspect.html ( )
  iubookgirl | Sep 22, 2011 |
This first class psychological thriller by Canadian writer L.R. Wright has been compared to the best of Nordic crime fiction, deservedly so. The story, set in a beautiful small town on British Columbia's sheltered "Sunshine Coast", involves a small number of (mostly) likable people, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with their own demons. The plot is masterfully constructed and highly suspenseful, even though it doesn't work the same way it does in most crime fiction. I'm delighted to have discovered this writer (courtesy of Felony and Mayhem) and look forward to reading more of the writer's works. ( )
  annbury | Oct 1, 2010 |
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This book is for my brother, Brian Appleby.
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He was a very old man. When he was struck he fell over promptly, without a sound.
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Book description
To Karl Alberg, a small town on Canada's "Sunshine Coast" looks like the perfect place to sooth a psyche that's been battered by too much big-city police work. Bees buzz among the roses, and the local librarian is attractive, intriguing, and unattached. Perhaps he has at last come in from the cold. But sunny towns can conceal a lot of secrets — some of them bleak enough to make a man yearn for some nice straightforward urban crime.

In 1986, The Suspect beat out titles by Ruth Rendell and Jonathan Kellerman to become the first Canadian novel to win an Edgar award. It went on to become a great cult favorite among mystery fans, who prized its delicately etched sense of melancholy, and intriguing character studies of the cop, his quarry, and the enigmatic librarian who proves an unlikely bridge between the two.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140104771, Paperback)

The Edgar Award-winning novel of hidden secrets, haunting guilt and murder--set in a town near Vancouver on Canada's Sunshine Coast. For no apparent reason a man murders his old acquaintance after only a short chat. HC: Viking.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:03 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

To Karl Alberg, a small town on Canada's "Sunshine Coast" looks like the perfect place to sooth a psyche that's been battered by too much big-city police work. Bees buzz among the roses, and the local librarian is attractive, intriguing, and unattached. Perhaps he has at last come in from the cold. But sunny towns can conceal a lot of secrets--some of them bleak enough to make a man yearn for some nice straightforward urban crime--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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