Book review: The Suspect by L. R. Wright

The Suspect
by L R Wright
Felony & Mayhem 2008; first published by Doubleday 1985
Karl Ahlberg #1

The Suspect is an absorbing, short book about the aftermath of a crime, set in Sechelt, a small town on the beautiful-sounding Sunshine Coast of Canada (click on map below to enlarge). In the opening chapter, the elderly George Lomax, we are led to believe, has killed another octogenarian, Carlyle Burke, by hitting him on the head with a shell casing. Shaken, George goes home, but becomes worried about the fate of the dead man’s parrot, so returns to the house, “discovers” the body and calls the police.

Staff Sergeant Karl Ahlberg of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the senior office in Sechelt and hence in charge of the investigation. He’s a taciturn man, divorced with two daughters who are both at university in Calgary. He is unfulfilled in his unaccustomed solitary state, and so has taken to answering personal ads in an attempt to find female companionship. By this method, he meets Cassandra, the local librarian, an independent, 40-year-old woman who is a friend of George’s.

The police investigation forms the framework of the novel, but what brings it to life is the depiction of George, Karl and Cassandra as they all deal with their separate lonelinesses in their different ways. In addition, the book presents a picture of life in this (I am convinced!) beautiful region of Canada which sounds wonderful, not least in its almost year-round warm climate and the enticingly described lush vegetation. In its treatment of a local community and the effects of a crime on the assumed perpetrator, rather than on the more conventional puzzle of whodunnit, the book is absorbing, partly because the author does not push the concept too far in keeping the whole thing short and focused. The underlying reasons for the crime, some of which reach back far into the past, and others of which are subtly presented and left for the reader to deduce, conspire to create a haunting whole. The psychological insights provided, together with the sharply observed characterisations of Karl and Cassandra, leave the reader eager to read more of the series.

I purchased my copy of this book, which was the first Canadian novel to win the Edgar award for best novel, in 1986.

Other reviews of The Suspect: Mysteries in Paradise and Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan (the review which made me decide to read this book),

About the book at the author’s website.
Wikipedia: The nine Karl Ahlberg mystery novels in reading order.
January Magazine: interview with the author (2000).