Alison Gordon lately explored Saskatchewan, and the result is Prairie Hardball, in which Kate Henry, who was born there, revisits it in order to see her mother and other former players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that flourished briefly in the 1940s inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. She persuades her companion Andy Munro-now fully recovered from the wound he received at the beginning of Striking Out, and promoted to the rank of inspector-to come with her and be introduced to the prairies. Andy is unimpressed by the landscape and disconcerted by such small-town customs as evening meals so early that the dishes are done by six o'clock. Meanwhile Kate rediscovers all the things she loved about her province and all the things that made her flee it for the big city.
The old women all receive anonymous letters warning them not to go to Battleford for the induction. Nevertheless, they all go, and are inducted. The next morning the most prominent of them is found strangled to death.
The author deftly and economically presents each of the women as a distinct individual, with an especially touching and accurate portrayal of one who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. And the mystery is ingeniously worked out. (I was certain I'd identified the murderer even before the crime had taken place, but of course I was wrong.) The autopsy on the victim reveals an unsuspected fact about her that leads to a revelation by Kate Henry's mother about her past. It's moving, and the last line of the book brought tears to my eyes. Even on the third reading.
Eric Wright keeps branching out in new directions. Death of a Sunday Writer introduces another new detective, this time not a policeman but a novice private eye. Lucy Trimble Brenner, who two years ago left a bad marriage of twenty-three years in Kingston, now has a bed-and-breakfast in Longborough (evidently Peterborough) and works part-time at the public library. A cousin, David Trimble, whom she hasn't seen or thought of for twenty years, dies of a heart attack and leaves her as his sole heir. It turns out that he worked, not very hard, as a private detective in Toronto. Lucy impulsively decides to take over his business. The consequences are pleasantly entertaining, and involve no actual crimes unless you count some shady off-track betting. Lucy, who is well-read in crime fiction, does pursue the nutty idea that somebody intentionally frightened David to death, which leads her to explore his computer and discover something of his history. Her first client hires her to follow his wife every Thursday night; the truth about this curious assignment is revealed at last by the insight of an engaging woman who works across the street. And Lucy's most substantial investigation comes when she is commissioned to trace someone who is said to have arrived in Longborough from England as a boy of ten in 1940. Here she does show some detective flair in uncovering the truth about a real mystery. This, and the pleasant part-time relationship she falls into with a racehorse trainer, bode well for her future career. I look forward to further news of it.
I. M. Owen is a Toronto writer and editor.