Always Give A Penny To A Blind Man

by Eric Wright
216 pages,
ISBN: 1552630676

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by Cece Scott

Eric Wright is the well-known author of the popular Inspector Charlie Salter crime novels, among them, The Nights The Gods Smiled, A Question of Murder, A Fine Italian Hand, and his latest, Death On The Rocks. In Always Give a Penny to a Blind Man (Key Porter Books, 216 pages, $29.95 cloth, ISBN: 1552630676), Wright does not engage the reader in anything mysterious, but rather gives us an intimate, if somewhat nostalgic and self-indulgent, account of growing up poor in an English working-class family during the Depression and the Second World War. This was a time when England was plagued by the inherent restrictions of class structure. “We knew what shame was from a very early age, and accepted our share of the task of keeping up a family front, as did many of the kids I knew.” And there were so many kids in the family (ten) that “it was embarrassing when he (Dad) called me by one of my brothers’ names. He knew I belonged to him but he was not always sure which one I was.” Wright’s memoir is interesting and detailed in its description of day-to-day life, his family (“I was ashamed of my mother for being a shabby little woman with a cockney accent”), his trials at school, and his time in the service. However, there are certain things I would expect to learn about a writer when reading his or her memoir that Wright doesn’t share. How did he get started in writing? What’s his inspiration, his muse in crafting tales of twisted criminal minds and deeds and then cleverly solving the mystery? The mystery genre has been good for Wright. His first novel won the John Creasey Award for the best first crime novel in England. He has also won four Arthur Ellis awards for crime writing and a City of Toronto Award. “How he done it”, then, would be of great interest to Wright’s many loyal fans. We do learn that Hemingway was Wright’s favourite author, and that when he “associated [him]self with the servants in the novels, whole new patterns of meaning started to emerge, different indeed from what the writer believed to be his own objective understanding of what he was saying.” How captivating it would be to peer into the connections Wright makes with his protagonists as they do their dirty deeds. Wright talks from the sidelines, bemusing but not involving the reader. “I emerged into the daylight as embarrassed and content as a marriage counsellor who has spent the afternoon in a bordello.” More of Wright’s persona and less personal detail would have made this memoir a more compelling who dunnit.

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