Friday, May 2, 2014

The Night the Gods Smiled: Eric Wright

In some ways, this is the perfect type of mystery for me. To a certain extent, it is a straight novel about a man going through a mid-life crisis and having difficulties with his job. His job just happens to be a police detective and he wants to be investigating serious crimes, not sitting at a desk. However, sometimes I did find that the story was too slow, too quiet. I kept expecting it to pick up and waited for the twists and turns in the plot. (I do wonder if I have been reading too many "exciting" books.)

Eric Wright is a Canadian author of mystery novels. He was born in 1929 in South London, England and immigrated to Canada in 1951. He is an academic; he taught English at Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto from 1958  to 1989. Two of his novels have been awarded the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. This book received that award, and also Britain's John Creasy Memorial Award for first books by previously unpublished writers.

This book gives us some insight into the relationship between the French areas of Canada and the English speaking areas. Toronto police detective Charlie Salter is assigned as liaison to a case of murder that takes place in Montreal, because the victim is from Toronto. It is the kind of case that his department doesn't have the time or inclination to deal with, so it is passed down to him. He is thrilled to get it. He works with Sergeant Henri O'Brien from Montreal, and they develop a nice relationship along the way.

The victim in this book is a professor of English at a small college in Toronto, so Wright has drawn on his own experience and we get an accurate picture of a group of colleagues at the college affected by this professor's death. This group was visiting Montreal for a conference when the death occurred.

In retrospect, I may not have been fair to this book as I read it. Maybe too much going on in my life while reading it. Maybe not so interested in male mid-life angst. And regardless of my initial reactions, I do hope to continue reading the series, should I find further books available.

When I went back and reread the first chapter, I was overwhelmed at the beauty of some of the passages. Charlie is in a loving marriage, and has two teenage boys; his wife is from a rich family on Prince Edward Island. Here he describes the feeling of an interloper married into a rich family.
Annie's family were well-bred, tactful, and keen to include Annie's choice in the clan. They absorbed Salter's family into their world of fishing, sailing, riding and perpetual lobster suppers as if he had paid dues. Most of the time Salter was happy to enjoy their world. Occasionally, impatient and constricted by it, he felt like the lone Christian in-law in a family of Jews, conscious of his uncircumcised state, his slightly albino look, and of the determination of his relatives never to make him feel like an outsider.
There is quite a bit about Salter's family life and relationships and mid-life adjustments. For some readers, that might be a distraction. I was fine with that, especially Charlie's introspective musings, I just felt that the whole story moved too slowly.

In Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), William L. DeAndrea describes the Charlie Salter novels as "low-key, but finely crafted and sharply observed police procedurals." He also says:
A policeman with real-life problems and emotions, Toronto Inspector Charlie Salter is reminiscent of Helen Reilly's Inspector McKee in that although his cases are procedural in form, they don't usually take the protagonist down any particularly mean streets. Shrewd observation of the middle classes is Salter's specialty.
This book is very much like some Golden Age mysteries, with less violence and a slower pace.

Publisher: Signet, 1985; originally pub. in hardback, 1983
Length:  254 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series:  Charlie Salter
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural


Anonymous said...

Tracy - It's interesting isn't it that our opinions of a book are affected by factors that have nothing to do with the book. What's happening in our lives, what we've just read, etc. all play a role I think. Still, I'm glad you found things to like about this one.

TracyK said...

Margot, It is funny, I had a hard time deciding what I thought about this. I think I could reread it and like it better the 2nd time, but I think trying another one of his books would be better.

col2910 said...

Tracy, I'm the same sometimes I blame myself for not enjoying some books more. I don't think this one will be added to the wishlist though. Better luck with his next one!

Clothes In Books said...

I totally understand what you say about your own circs affecting your reaction to a book, I think we all do that. I like the sound of the book - the quiet atmosphere and the academic setting. I had not previously heard of the author, but will look out for him, and this book in particular.

TracyK said...

Col, I don't think this one is for you, especially since you don't need to add to your TBR piles. On the other hand, from a male viewpoint, it might come off better. You will like my next one, though, I think.

TracyK said...

Moira, I only became aware of this author because of the Canadian Reading Challenge, and that is what I like about challenges. The fact that I am way behind on this one (it ends June 30) is not good. But since I will continue doing the Canadian Challenge into 2014/2015, no matter.

I do think you would like this author, and I do think that there was mention of clothing...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wish I had known to post this last week. Maybe this week I will put it up.

TracyK said...

When I commented over there, Patti, I thought the same thing, but figured it was too late. I did not even remember that it had been posted on Friday. Just back from a trip visiting family in Alabama and my brain isn't fully functional yet.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I quite enjoy reading about the personal aspects of the main character in the overall narrative even if, at times, it veers away from the main plot. Charlie Salter has a wife and two children which renders him vulnerable for some reason. I'll look up this author.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I do usually like getting into the personal life of the character. Maybe my mood just wasn't right this time, although that was actually the most positive part of the book for me. I will be reading more of them anyway.

Rick Robinson said...

I read this one after reading DEATH IN THE OLD COUNTRY (reviewed on my blog) and liked them both enough to go on and read the rest of what the library system had, four in all. Salter is a great character and I like the interactions between him, his wife and their kids. I liked this book better than you did, apparently.

TracyK said...

Richard, I did check out your review of DEATH IN THE OLD COUNTRY, and it sounds good. I do plan on reading more of Eric Wright. I probably just have to get used to the style of the book. It isn't that I prefer thrillers at all. And lack of sleep and personal worries may have impeded my enjoyment.