ERIC WRIGHT – The Man Who Changed His Name.

Signet 14930; reprint paperback, August 1987. Hardcover: Charles Scribner’s Sons, August 1986. Canadian editions, both published as A Single Death: Hardcover: Collins, 1987; paperback: Totem, 1987.

   [Written shortly after my comments on Eric Wright’s first mystery novel, The Night the Gods Smiled.]  If I’d been able to locate copies of the intervening two Charlie Salter mysteries, neither of which I may not actually have, I’d have read one or the other first before tackling this one, the fourth of the series in chronological order. Not that there seems to have been any need to, but I certainly am annoyed at myself for not having access to the two missing books, as I really don’t believe I purchased them when they first came out. I have no record of them, in any case and for what it’s worth, as my collection is completely catalogued only through 1982 or ’83. Both of the two I know I have at present I picked up used, and not so very long ago. Alas, the folly of one’s younger days.

Man Who Changed His Mind

   For as much as I enjoyed The Night the Gods Smiled, I enjoyed this one even more, starting immediately from page one onward, beginning with Salter’s first wife calling on him for assistance — in his professional capacity — but after 25 years not seeing each other, it also causes something of a shaking-up to Salter’s semi-insecurity in his present marriage.

   Not that the marriage isn’t solid, but Salter is always aware of the differences between his family and Annie’s, especially with Christmas time coming, and both sets of parents coming to visit the Salters at the same time for the first time.

   Gerry, Salter’s ex-wife was a free spirit whose life style was 180 degrees incompatible with that of a newly minted young policeman’s. As an author, Eric Wright is excellent (unsurpassed, in fact) in comparing and contrasting differences the way two people act and (try to) live together. It also comes as no surprise to read on and to discover that this is what the case of murder in The Man Who Changed His Name is about, the one that Gerry calls on Charlie for assistance with: that of a lonely woman whose death Gerry, as a middle-aged feminist, feels the police are not taking seriously enough. Separated from her husband many miles away, Nancy Cowell, a social worker, was new to the dating scene, and the police, with no other leads to go one, feel that one of the men she have met while bar-hopping is responsible.

   After his wife left him, however, her husband, whose family once changed their name to Cowell, is now known again as Kowalczyk, of Ukrainian lineage, and of course, it has to do something with the story, and so does adultery and jealousy and ethnic relations. (See specifically page 158 for a short but pertinent quote concerning the latter.)

Man Who Changed His Name

   By this far into the series, Salter seems to have found more confidence in himself as an police investigator, and the murder and the trail he follows to solve it is both irresistible and fascinating. Hard-boiled fans may not find too much to get their teeth into, but on the opposite side of the coin, those of you who prefer cozies will find there is far more meat here than you may be accustomed to in your usual diet. What everyone will find, if I’m able to persuade you to pick up a copy, is an abundance of intelligent police work, fashioned and shaped together with a more than an occasional insight into human nature — insight that is brilliant, quietly unerring, and (dare I say) often jarring.

   This is an excellent piece of work, from beginning to end. Highly recommended, as if you hadn’t already gathered that yourself.

— August 2006