In The Spotlight: L.R. Wright’s The Suspect

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. In many crime novels, part of the suspense comes from the ‘whodunit’ of a case. But not in all stories. In some, we know right from the start who the killer is and the question becomes ‘whydunit.’ In those stories, there’s also engagement as readers want to find out whether or not the sleuth will catch the killer. Such a novel is L.R. Wright’s The Suspect, so let’s turn today’s spotlight on that story.

As the novel begins, eighty-year-old George Wilcox has just killed eighty-five-year old Carlyle Burke. He leaves the scene of the crime and returns to his home. Later he goes back to Burke’s home, notifies the police that he’s discovered the body, and RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg takes the case. News of the killing spreads quickly around the small town of Sechelt, British Columbia, and there’s all sorts of speculation about what might have happened.

What Alberg can’t seem to find is any real motive for murder. Burke wasn’t wealthy or known to have anything worth stealing. He had no family either, and had made no local enemies. And Sechelt is not the kind of place gangs or thieves typically frequent; so although it’s not impossible, it’s also highly unlikely that this is that sort of murder. So Alberg tries to narrow down the possibilities by looking into the question of who visited Burke on the day he was killed. That search naturally leads him to Wilcox.

Alberg learns that Wilcox and Burke have known each other for a long time. According to Wilcox, he hadn’t seen Burke for many years though – not until Burke moved to Sechelt, where Wilcox was already living. That fact, plus some other things he discovers, make Alberg begin to suspect Wilcox, but he’s up against some challenges. For one thing, there really seems to be no motive. The two men didn’t like each other, but that’s not a reason for an otherwise peaceful, garden-loving, law-abiding elderly man to commit murder. For another, there is no real evidence that connects Wilcox to the crime. Just the fact that he reported it doesn’t mean he is guilty.

In the meantime, Alberg has other things going on in his life. He has met and begun to date local librarian Cassandra Mitchell. They like each other very much, but they aren’t yet at the point in their relationship where they tell each other everything. So Alberg doesn’t tell Mitchell all of the details about the murder investigation. For her part, Mitchell has known Wilcox for some time. He’s an avid bookworm who serves as a volunteer reader at the local hospital. She’s struck up a friendship with him and that affects her perception of the case – and of Alberg.

Alberg is good at what he does, so little by little, he gets closer to the truth about why and by whom Burke was killed. Wilcox doesn’t make the mistake of underestimating Alberg, and as he sees that he’ll likely be caught, this begins to affect him as well. In the end, and layer by layer, we learn about the past history and events that led to the murder. And we see what all three main characters do with that knowledge.

In this novel, the main question about the murder has to do with motive. So an important element is the slow reveal of the past histories of Wilcox and Burke. To say more about that aspect of it would spoil the story. But I can say that bit by bit, as we get to know each character’s past, we also see what led to the murder. Readers who like character-driven novels will appreciate this.

The plot moves along as Alberg slowly gets to the truth about the killing. But it’s not a fast-paced, thriller-like story. Readers who prefer ‘high-octane’ plots will notice this. That said though, the slow revelation of the truth adds suspense, and the plot is not without its twists.

The story is set in British Columbia’s ‘Sunshine Coast,’ a place of small towns where everyone knows everyone. There are tourists, but not a massive influx. It’s got a relaxed pace of life, and Wright depicts that:

‘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.’
It’s certainly not the kind of place where a deliberate murder generally occurs. And because of the sort of place it is, there’s also a network of relationships among the people there, and that plays its role too.

The story itself is not a happy one. There is sadness in the history of it, and the fact that we know who the killer is doesn’t really make things better. For all that though, there are some funny moments. For instance, Alberg’s second-in-command has just gotten a perm, and there’s more than one joke about it. There’s also the matter of Burke’s parrot. It’s going to need a new home now that its owner is dead, so it takes up temporary residence at the Sechelt police detachment. And then there’s Isabella Harbud, the detachment’s receptionist. She has a habit of cleaning Alberg’s venetian blinds with vinegar, and also placing flowering plants there:

Every week, Isabella, you clean my venetian blinds with vinegar…And I appreciate it. It’s very nice to have clean venetian blinds. Only, Isabella, my office smells like a pickle jar. And when you add the smell from these flowers – they combine in the air and the result is nauseating.’…
‘I never thought of that,’ said Isabella. The question is, do you want clean blinds or nice, fragrant flowers that bring a whiff of summer into this joint?”

It’s a gentle kind of wit that gives insight into the culture of the place.

When we know the history behind the murder, we see that this is not a clear-cut case of ‘bad guy kills helpless victim.’ Nor is it really a clear-cut case of ‘good guy kills horrible monster.’ There is ambivalence here, and readers who prefer novels where are plenty of ‘shades of grey’ will appreciate that. There’s also an element of ‘What would you do?’

The Suspect is the slow revelation of the background of a murder. It takes place in a unique and beautiful part of Canada, and features characters who show themselves bit by bit as the story goes on. The answers aren’t clear-cut, and the story gives the reader the chance to ask, ‘What would I do?’ But what’s your view? Have you read The Suspect? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 1 December/Tuesday 2 December – Thumbprint – Friedrich Glauser

Monday 8 December/Tuesday 9 December – Vanish – Tess Gerritsen

Monday 15 December/Tuesday 16 December – The Snatch – Bill Pronzini


Filed under L.R. Wright, The Suspect

24 responses to “In The Spotlight: L.R. Wright’s The Suspect

  1. Another spotlight author that I haven’t heard of. I quite like to know who is the murderer upfront every now and again. Great post as always Margot.

  2. Col

    It’s on the pile…and I’ve found this one, so I know exactly where it is when the time comes!

  3. I liked this one very much when I read it, I agree with your take on it Margot. I read a couple more by the author, but I think there are more to catch up on, and I must do so. Great spotlight subject.

  4. Cool, a book set in Canada! I do like character-driven novels and though I like a whodunnit, I also like the whydunnit too. I don’t mind that it’s slow as long as it leads to a very satisfying ending. Thanks for the review.

    • Clarissa – It is distinctly set in Canada, and to me anyway, that really adds to its appeal. And although it’s not a traditional ‘whodunit,’ the history, the relationships and so on really add to the story, and I think Wright handled the ‘whydunit’ quite effectively.

  5. Sounds great, Margot – I too like an occasional whydunit and the setting sounds interesting. And, because I’ve been a very, very good girl recently, there may even be an available slot on the TBR… 🙂

    I wonder how many books are called The Suspect…?

    • FictionFan – Well, I certainly can’t see you on the ‘naughty list.’ ;-). It is a great setting I think, and in this case, the ‘whydunit’ is really interesting. If you read it, I hope you’ll like it.
      As to books called The Suspect, I’ve not done a count, but I’d imagine quite a few… 🙂

  6. Kathy D.

    This is such a good book that I’ve recommended it all over the crime fiction blogosphere. The setting is lovely. The detective is an interesting guy.
    Even though one knows who “the suspect” is early on, it’s finding out the “why” that becomes the theme of the mystery. And once I found out the motive, I was on George Wilcox’s side. I would have represented him had I been a fictional defense attorney in British Columbia.
    It’s a compelling motive. And L.R. Wright does a really good job of unfolding this story. It is aan unputdownable book even though it is not a “thriller.”
    I have read two other books by this author, and didn’t find them quite as good; she won some awards, including the Edgar the year the book was published, even though she was vying with Ruth Rendell.
    I recommend this book highly.

    • Kathy – I’m glad you enjoyed the book so well. I agree that the ‘why’ of the book is really what’s key in the novel. And the way the story unfolds means that there’s plenty to keep the pace going. And I think the setting is very well done.

  7. Seems very reminiscent of some Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine books – which I like too! Thanks Margot.

    • Sergio – In some ways it is along those lines. Certainly it’s more psychological than it is ‘action-oriented.’ And the British Columbia setting’s very nicely done.

  8. Margot: The Suspect is a great book that I wish I had read when the author was still alive. She achieved the difficult task of drawing us into the mind and motivations of a killer without excusing murder.

    • I wish I’d read it while she was alive, too, Bill. And yes, she did such an excellent job of showing readers what made George Wilcox a killer without glossing over or excusing what he did.

  9. A great subject for a spotlight, Margot. I was so thrilled to find this writer when I read this book. I have also read the 2nd one and hope to read #3 soon. Then I will find more in the series. The setting is very interesting, since it is an unusual part of Canada.

    • Tracy – Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed this novel (and the second). It is a beautiful setting and as you say, not a part of Canada that’s often portrayed in stories.

  10. Kathy D.

    Were I on the jury in George Wilcox’s case, I’d have wanted him sentenced to community service in an area related to his motive.

  11. I love this book. Thanks for the review, Margot.

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