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).

19 thoughts on “Book review: The Suspect by L. R. Wright

  1. And in 1986 The Suspect beat out a book by Ruth Rendell for the Edgar.
    I liked this book very much and recommended it to everyone who’d listen. It was republished over here by the wonderful independent Felony and Mayhem Press, owned by one of the proprietors of the terrific Partners and Crime bookshop, which is a stone’s throw from my block. The press has also published two other books in this series, however, they are both very different from The Suspect and from each other. I hope all of the books in this series are republished.
    L.R. Wright was quite good at character studies and psychological suspense.
    Her website gives quite a bit of information about her life, an interesting one.
    And I loved the Western Coast of British Columbia as the setting.

    • The F&M edition is very good as you write, the paper is very white and the typesize large/contrasty with the paper, so a pleasant reading experience. Glad the home site is so near you – F&M are obviously good & discerning as they list Karin Altvegen’s Missing as one of their titles.
      Agreed about L R Wright, I read a bit about her after reading the book (see links in post and links therein). I really liked the way she conveyed the setting, here, and will definitely look out for more in the series, if obtainable.

  2. Maxine – A top-notch review, as ever! And isn’t it nice to know that an author can tell such a good story without decimating an entire forest to do so? I always appreciate books that draw the reader in like this within a relatively short span.

  3. Oooh yes jolly good review – I have been trying out a new way of weeding out my wishlist by only reading books recommended twice – now this one has reached that milestone as it was on my tentative list thanks to Bill’s review.

  4. A great review Maxine. I like the idea of it being a short book and also its setting. I always envisage Canada being cold (it was freezing when I went) so it’s good to have a different perspective.

  5. Great review, and I’ve added to my huge to-read list on Goodreads. I’ve been to Vancouver once, but I’d love to explore more of the area.

  6. The Felony & Mayhem Press website is delightful — future felonies, favorite felonies, etc.

  7. Just saw your comments on Last Will by Liza Marklund at another blog, found it at the library (amazing!) and put it on reserve. Can’t wait for the review.

  8. And, I’m currently swept up by our favorite Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano, in The Potter’s Field. Put life on hold to read this riveting book, have laughed out loud several times and hope all of Salvo’s fans will run, not walk to the nearest library or bookstore to get this book.

  9. Maxine: Thanks for the reference to the review on my blog. I am glad you enjoyed The Suspect. I liked your review and the inclusion of the map. I would have commented sooner but have had a demanding week. I was conducting the defence in a jury trial while enduring a cold. The trial ended today and I think I am starting to feel better.

    • Glad to hear you are feeling better, Bill, that sounds like quite a double ordeal. Thanks again for recommending this book, which I enjoyed, and shall read more in the series. If I read a book set somewhere “else” that interests me to the extent that I look it up on a map, I like to include the map in the review, too. For example here I was so ignorant that I did not realise that Vancouver is not on Vancouver Island, to my shame.

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