DEATH OF A HIRED MAN by Eric Wright
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Minotaur, March 2001
Norbert Thompson, village hired man in rural Canada, is found murdered, but why would anyone kill an apparently harmless man who earned little, spent little, and had almost no contact with anyone in town? Or could the intended victim have been Mel Picket, retired police Sergeant? Any policeman has plenty of potential enemies. Picket has all of these plus an aggrieved illegitimate son who is wandering around Canada with a chip on his shoulder. Or maybe it was simply the result of a botched burglary.
The local police investigate and Picket feels compelled to throw himself into the case as well. He has a new wife and any danger to him could be a danger to her as well. The police soon find that Thompson might not have been quite so innocent. He had worked for his dying brother for years with the understanding that he would inherit his brother's farm and wife but was given nothing. Could he have been blackmailing them?
Eric Wright makes the Canadian rural community come to life. The small town of Larch River seethes with rumor, gossip, and good-hearted neighborliness that isn't always what it seems. By alternating between Pickett and Abraham Wilkie as point-of-view character, Wright characterizes the related but separate investigations into reasons why Thompson might have been murdered, and why Picket may have been targeted.
DEATH OF A HIRED MAN is an above average mystery. Its greatest weakness was Mel Pickett, the primary protagonist. Pickett lied repeatedly to his wife, the investigating police, and his former co-workers in the Ottawa police department. Although these lies could have been justified, Pickett never seemed to see any problems with the lies, nor did he seem strongly driven by his concerns for his own, or his new wife's safety. Lacking this driving conviction, he seemed more of a busy-body than a driven character.
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