L.R. WRIGHT. Prized Possessions (1993).

29 Mar

Where does one draw the line between the mystery novel and the work of serious fiction? In some instances, that line blurs to the point of nonexistence. Those who write about crime often work to attain—and often do attain—the depths of psychological insight and the lofty reaches of social observation that great novelists have traditionally claimed as their exclusive literary domain. Mainstream writers, meanwhile, often descend into the precincts of genre fiction, if only because a work presented as “A Mystery” will sometimes garner more readers than one marketed as “A Novel.” PrizedPossession.jpg

Somewhere between those publishing trends falls this tale. Issued as a “crime” novel, it has a good deal in common with a straight novel that came out in roughly the same era: Paris Trout, by Pete Dexter. Like that work, it traces the process by which a handful of characters converge—slowly, tortuously, inexorably—upon acts of horrific violence. At no point is there any doubt as to “who” or even as to “what.” In the fictive world that Wright has built, only the question of “how” appears to matter. How will the perpetrators find their victims (or vice versa)? How will the murderous impulses foreshadowed in the novel’s earliest scenes finally be unleashed? Nothing beyond the presence of a professional detective, one Karl Alberg of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, signals that we are reading a genre piece rather than a “literary” product.

Alberg, in fact, performs no detection. He merely goes about his business, most of it personal, while just over the horizon of his life in staid, orderly Vancouver, two stories of conflict between the sexes unfold—stories of desire thwarted and transposed into hate. In one, a drugstore clerk of subnormal intelligence, believing that a haughty college girl has snubbed him, sets forth to demand an apology from her. Not really knowing why, he takes a gun along with him. In the other, a woman has invested every resource at her disposal into being the perfect wife, only to discover that she has failed. When she goes in search of the husband who has left her, she too carries a gun. The two dramas proceed separately, in parallel fashion, for most of the novel. Then they intersect with one another, and with Alberg, in a concluding sequence that is none the less explosive for being perfectly predictable.


Posted by on March 29, 2014 in International, Noir, Novel, Procedural


3 responses to “L.R. WRIGHT. Prized Possessions (1993).

  1. Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post

    March 30, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    I love L.R. Wrights books!

  2. John

    April 29, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Just now finishing THE SUSPECT, Wright’s first Karl Alberg novel. It’s a fine example of a cat and mouse crime novel. Not so much an inverted crime novel, though it might be classified at such but more a game of wits between Alberg and the title character who we know committed a murder in the first few pages. The catch here is that the murderer is an 80+ year old man and he has a past filled with secrets. The only real mystery is why he killed his victim, a rather loathsome, abusive and cruel bully.

    Like you note above this Alberg novel is also one that aspires to be a mainstream novel for we get a subplot about Alberg’s burgeoning relationship with a librarian whose personal ad he has answered. The librarian is also a friend of the murderer allowing for a neat tie-in to the main crime plot.

  3. Mike

    May 7, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    Peggy & John, thanks for taking time to leave a comment here.

    “Prized Possessions” isn’t really an inverted crime tale, either: The reader doesn’t see the crime (or crimes) committed until the end of the book, and indeed the nature of the crimes to be committed remains unclear up through that point. But as with an inverted tale, a sense of foreboding—of a reckoning to come—hangs over every scene. I’m not a great fan of that type of storytelling (I always want at least a modicum of mystery, and of detection), but Wright was a true master of writing in that vein.


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