Josh Rubins
September 18, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A Chill Rain in January

Current Status
In Season
L.R. Wright
Mystery and Thriller

We gave it a B+

No one gets inside a psychopath’s head like Ruth Rendell. But keep your eyes on L. R. Wright — who won an Edgar for The Suspect in 1986 and who continues to turn up a persuasive mix of evil, pathos, and offbeat charm in the villages along British Columbia’s ”Sunshine Coast.”

The psychopath this time is beautiful recluse Zoe Strachan, a bad-seed grown into poisonous full flower. She handily murders her estranged brother — a push down the cellar stairs — when he comes into possession of her ghastly childhood diaries and tries a spot of blackmail. But now Zoe must locate and destroy those incriminating diaries. Standing in her way, in his pokey fashion, is Sergeant Karl Alberg, the sedentary Mountie featured in Wright’s previous novels. And an even unlikelier obstacle to Zoe’s safety is Ramona Orlitzki, a 70-ish widow with Alzheimer’s disease, a fugitive from the local hospital, who decides to hide out in a vacant cabin on the Strachan property (Zoe uses it for her periodic forays into quick, anonymous, kinky sex).

Wright takes a lot of risks here. The psycho-portrait of Zoe, heavy on italicized flashbacks, almost skids into pulp melodrama. Ramona’s wanderings teeter on the edge of maudlin. And Karl’s ongoing romance with librarian Cassandra Mitchell occasionally threatens to become folksy soap opera. But somehow, with dark humor and quirky dialogue and canny pacing, it all comes together gently, grimly — and lingers in the mind. B+

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