WRIGHT, L.R.




Author Tags: Fiction

“We all hear about people who never had a bad word to say about anyone. Well, she was one of them.” - novelist Laurence Gough

The most important box office draw at the 19th annual Sechelt Writers’ Festival in August of 2001 was somebody not there. L.R. Wright, whose most popular mysteries were set in the Sechelt area, was remembered with a tribute hosted by fellow mystery novelist Alison Gordon: “Bunny was not only a fine writer, but a woman whom I admired and whose friendship I cherished.” Once described by Eleanor Wachtel as “tall, composed, at first slow to smile (though her hazel eyes look friendly),” Wright served as Chair of the Crime Writers of Canada and completed a Masters degree in Liberal Studies at SFU. As a novelist, she was frequently referred to as the Queen of Canadian crime fiction, but that hype was entirely unsuited to her personality. Intensely private, she battled cancer for many years, and was rarely heard to complain. “She has left us a marvelous legacy of 15 novels. Both as a writer and as a person, Bunny was a class act," said her editor John Pearce. L.R. ‘Bunny’ Wright died of breast cancer on February 25, 2001. She was 61.

L.R. ‘Bunny’ Wright was born Laurali Rose Appleby in Saskatoon on June 5, 1939. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a high-school principal. The elder of two children, she lived in five provinces in five years before the family settled in Abbotsford when she was ten. She began keeping a journal at age 12 after reading L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon. She completed her secondary school education in Soest, West Germany where her father worked for the defence department. When her father died of a heart attack, she decided not to go to university and instead took secretarial classes to learn how to type. She sold her first article to the Globe & Mail at age 19.

On her return to Canada, instead of enrolling at Carleton University, she took her first job as a reporter at the Fraser Valley Record in Mission. “My mother was absolutely horrified,” she said. After visiting a girlfriend in Monterey, California, Wright worked briefly for a California advertising agency and was introduced to amateur theatre in Carmel. Back in Vancouver she studied English literature and theatre at UBC where she met fellow actor John Wright. He first saw her on stage playing Barbara Allen. Under the direction of Joy Coghill, the couple toured as actors in the Holiday Theatre company and performed in summer theatre projects at the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson City. They were married in 1962 and had two daughters, Johanna and Katey (both of whom graduated from UBC’s theatre department and pursued acting careers).

In 1968 the Wright family moved to Saskatoon where John Wright took a teaching job and Bunny Wright found a job with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. After moving the next year to Calgary, she first wrote for the Albertan, then for the Calgary Herald from September 1970 to October 1977. During her years as a journalist, she never covered crime. In 1976, on scholarship leave from her job as assistant city editor at the Calgary Herald, she attended a writing workshop taught by W.O. Mitchell at the Banff School of Fine Arts. It was the turning point in her writing career. For 25 years she had kept a journal. Soon after she won the Search-for-a-New-Alberta-Novelist competition and published her first novel Neighbours, she stopped keeping her journal. Two ‘mainstream’ novels later, the Wrights had returned to the West Coast. Her fourth novel, The Suspect, received a short but highly favourable review in People magazine--and a career was born.

The Suspect opens with the unpremeditated but not unprovoked murder of an 85-year-old neighbour by 80-year-old George Wilcox of Sechelt. A short but glowing review in People magazine called it ‘topnotch’ and compared Wright’s work to that of Ruth Rendall and P.D. James. Wright became the first Canadian to win the Edgar (Allan Poe) Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Far from being a whodunit, The Suspect is a whydunit. “I hate trying to keep the reader from discovering the identity of the murderer,” she once told Kenneth McGoogan. “It’s much more interesting to start with character and discover a process.”

Her fifth novel again featured Sechelt police detective Karl Alberg and his librarian lover Cassandra Mitchell. The fictional couple met each other through the personal ads and slowly built their romance from book to book. The unresolved nature of that relationship possibly mirrored her private life. The Wrights separated in 1985 and divorced in 1995, but were remarried on December 25, 2000. Her posthumous novel Menace (Doubleday) features Alberg’s successor, Edwina Henderson, promoted to head of the local RCMP detachment. A 16th L.R. Wright novel entitled Mabel has yet to be published. Wright won the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime fiction for both A Chill Rain in January and Mother Love; and for the latter she also received the Canadian Authors Association Award for best fiction.

“Someone once asked me whether I was using my initials to hide my identity as a woman,” she told Ken Adachi. “But to call myself Laurali is excessive and to combine that with Rose is doubly so. And publishers, for perhaps good reason, are reluctant to use my nickname on dustjackets.” When publishers suggested she use L.R. Wright on her mysteries and Laurali Wright for her other novels, she replied, “No, I’m the same person.”

BOOKS:

Menace. Toronto. Doubleday, 2001.
Kidnap. Toronto. Doubleday, 2000.
Acts of Murder. Toronto. Doubleday, 1997.
Strangers Among Us. Toronto. Doubleday, 1996.
Mother Love. Toronto. Doubleday, 1995.
A Touch of Panic. Toronto. Doubleday, 1994.
Prized Possessions. Toronto: Seal, 1993.
Fall From Grace. Toronto. Seal, 1991.
A Chill Rain in January. Toronto: Macmillan, 1990.
Love in the Temperate Zone. Toronto: Macmillan, 1988.
Sleep While I Sing. Toronto. Viking Penguin. 1986
The Suspect. Toronto. Viking Penguin/Doubleday, 1985.
Among Friends. Toronto. Doubleday, 1984.
The Favourite. Toronto. Doubleday, 1982.
Neighbours. Toronto. Macmillan, 1979.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Fiction"





Acts of Murder (Doubleday $28.95)
Info



In the usually sedate town of Sechelt, three people are found murdered by someone known only as "the Avenging Angel," a sinister figure who has assumed responsibility for ridding the village of those who sin. Sergeant Karl Alberg must race against time in order to prevent the avenger from claiming another victim in L.R. Wright's Acts of Murder (Doubleday $28.95), the ninth title in her Karl Alberg series.
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[BCBW 1997]