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FFB: Death in the Old Country

Wright, Eric (c) Valerie Wright.thumbnailEric Wright was born in London, England in 1929 but immigrated to Canada and eventually became chair of the English department and Dean of Arts at Ryerson Institute of Technology in Toronto. Wright penned dozens of stories, many of them crime fiction, and served as editor of Criminal Shorts: Mysteries by Canadian Crime Writers, published in 1992.

Wright created four different detective series, but his most popular series features Charlie Salter, a Toronto inspector suffering from middle-aged depression when he's first introduced in The Night the Gods Smiled in 1983. The book won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel, the Crime Writer's Association's John Creasey Award, and the City of Toronto Book Award.

Death-in-the-Old-CountryInspector Salter is an engaging character, self-righteous, outspoken, wise, vulnerable, witty and loving, although there is also an undercurrent of class friction between his police officer status and his wife's wealthy family. The Salter installment Death in the Old Country (1986), which also won the Arthur Ellis Award, finds Charlie Salter and his wife Annie vacationing in merrie olde England while trying to repair their strained marriage. A car accident in the small town of Tokesbury Mallett forces them to find shelter for a few days at the local Boomewood Hotel. At first, they find the unexpected stop to be a blessing, as Annie tours local sights with new friends Maud and Henry Beresford, while Charlie discovers steeplechasing and the local pub.

But the respite is too good to last, as two strange incidents bring a jarring halt to their vacation: a peeping Tom is spying on Charlie and Annie, and an intruder goes through Charlie's coat pockets in their hotel room. Charlie shrugs the incidents off at first, trying to keep his police connections secret, but when middle-aged hotel owner Terry Dillon is stabbed to death, Charlie reluctantly springs into action. He tries to help his British colleague, Inspector Chucher, only to be reprimanded by Chucher's boss, but continues his own investigation on the sly.

The primary suspect is the victim's young Italian wife, who accused her husband of adultery with Canadian hotel guest Miss Rundstedt, but other possibilities include Dillon's proud brother or possibly someone from Dillon mysterious past when he disappeared in Italy during WW II and resurfaced decades later as a wealthy man. Salter's investigations lead to switched identities and blackmail and take him and Annie to Pisa and Florence as they track the victim's shadowy international connections.

Wright is known for his "lucid and agreeably laconic style," as one reviewer put it, and Kirkus adds that "the appeal this time is almost entirely in the trimmings: the English-village charm, the droll peripheral characters, and the Salters themselves—who just may be the most endearingly tart cop-and-wife couple since Roderick Alleyn and Agatha Troy."


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FFB: Death in the Old Country


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