Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I binged on Charlie Salter: Four book reviews

     Eric Wright. A Sensitive Case (1991) A massage therapist is murdered, and several of her clients get nervous, so Charlie, head of Special Affairs, gets the case. The usual false leads, multiple mysteries, and family crises make for the usual enjoyable mix. Charlie solves three puzzles, his assistant, Sgt Pickett, borrowed from Bail and Parole for the occasion, has his own personal mystery and problem to solve, and it all comes out right in the end. What makes this series work is Charlie, a believable middle-aged husband and father who happens to be a cop, and a pretty good one. In many ways, the series is like a comic strip, with familiar characters getting into familiar disputes and resolving them in plausible ways.
     The puzzle is well done, although Wright withholds information from the reader, and doesn’t have Christie’s knack for mixing the disinformation into the significant clues. His murderers tend to be losers, committing their killings more by accident than intent, and then attempting to cover their traces, so that it’s not the method of murder that is puzzling, but the who and why. And tangentially involved people have their own secrets; their efforts to keep them hidden add irrelevant information, Charlie’s main task is to sort out the two or three irrelevant stories so as to get at the one that matters. Just like real life, actually. *** (2005)

      Eric Wright. Final Cut (1992) This time Charlie is seconded to “advise” a film crew, after his old boss Orliff bows out because sabotage has turned his advisory role into an investigative one, and as he’s retired he won’t do it. Charlie unravels the puzzle, which involves East Bloc intrigues of many years ago. In the end, Salter lets the perp go, not because he has any real qualms about the justice system, but because he won’t ever be able to prove his case; and he discovers he doesn’t want to, as the murder was itself a kind of justice.
     The atmosphere of the filming rings true, that is, it conforms with what little I’ve observed going on in Toronto when there’s filming, which is getting to be an annoyance. In the back story, Seth is entranced by ballet and eventually, it seems, decides he wants to act. The usual minor tiffs threaten the tranquillity of Salter’s domestic life, but he and Annie manage to muddle along.  *** (2005)

     Eric Wright. A Fine Italian Hand (1992) Special Affairs is called in because a motel clerk thought that a suspicious character was Italian, so it looks like a mob hit. But it isn’t. Nor is the victim an unlucky gambler. And so on. The misdirection misleads Charlie for a while, until he gets messages from the mob that this was not one of their hits. It turns out that it was intended to look like a mob hit, but the intended victim turned the tables. Charlie and his latest sidekick solve the puzzle, of course, and Wright gives us more of Charlie’s story, this time an old college flame. Annie’s father has had a stroke, so Annie is in PEI trying to cope with her mother’s demands. Entertaining as always. **½ (2003)

     Eric Wright Death by Degrees (1993) Salter’s Dad has had a stroke, and to take his mind off his misery, Salter takes on an inquiry into the death of a careerist instructor at a college. He uncovers the usual unsavoury secrets from the past, and one of these provides the key to the solution. Wright doesn’t like pat psychobabble reasons for murder, so this one (like other recent cases Salter has investigated) turns out to be an accidental homicide, with just enough motivation to make that verdict doubtful. Nicely done, and apparently the last of the Salter novels, until I find some more. **½ (2005)

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