About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach With Spoilers

In my last post I put up a review of The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach. In that review I said there were topics I wanted to address but felt a discussion about them would include huge spoilers. Thus I warn readers of this post not to venture further in the post if you do not want spoilers. 

The theme for this post is limitation periods. Much of the book revolves around a carefully worded change to the German constitution which prevented Meyer from being charged with as an accessory to murder with regard to his actions as a German officer in Italy during WW II. He could have been charged  for his role in reprisal killings of Italian partisans but the quiet passage in 1968 of a bill that “certain accessories to murder were now sentenced as if they were accessories to manslaughter instead”. By operation of German laws providing limitation periods for all crimes except murder the change meant there was an amnesty for former soldiers such as Meyer.

In Canada there are no limitation periods for charging an accused with indictable offences, serious charges. Meyer could have been charged with being an accessory to murder or manslaughter in Canada even 70 years after the war.

While the book clearly challenges a law that allowed some war criminals (the question of charging soldiers for reprisals is uncomfortable for all armies in WW II were involved in reprisals though none of the Western armies on the scale of the German army) to escape prosecution because too much time had elapsed I have experience with the difficulty of defending people who have been charged decades after alleged offences.

It is ever more difficult to get at the truth the longer the time period between the alleged crime and trial.

As a lawyer you test the recollections of witnesses by what else was going on at the time of the alleged crime. What are the details of the timing of events, of the place where the alleged crime took place, of who was involved and of what was said? Decades later it is credible for a witness to say they lack those specific memories but it is more dangerous to the accused than the prosecution to lack those details.

The more prominent the accusation the more likely the public will assume guilt. Just using the phrase war criminal is to tar an accused beyond redemption in the court of public opinion.

When dealing with charges of crimes allegedly committed decades ago the fate of the accused is left to an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the accused if he or she should testify. It will be rare there is forensic evidence in these old cases.

I say there is as much injustice done in Canada because there are no limitation periods in Canada as there is in Germany where there are limitation periods.

Highly public cases of sexual abuse have led the way against limitation periods in Canada. Little attention is given to the cases involving families where accused faced trials many years later.

Recently, in a review of Once We Were Brothers by Ronald D. Balson, I touched upon these same evidentiary challenges in civil proceedings being launched six decades after the war.
In that book  Ben Solomon was suing wealthy Chicago philanthropist, Elliott Rosenzweig, for stealing from his family in WW II Poland because he could not sue for wrongful death due to civil limitation periods.

I referred to in posts at that time to the real life cases of John Demjanjuk.

He was found not guilty of being the sadistic WW II concentration guard, Ivan the Terrible, by Israel's appellate court when massive evidence assembled after trial showed he was not Ivan.

Demjanjuk was subsequently charged again in Germany as an accessory to murder and was undergoing trial in Germany in 2012 at 91years of age when he died before the end of the trial. Was justice being served in charging Demjanjuk a second time over six decades after the war?

Publicly it was stated that it was a necessary charge to show war criminals will always be hunted down. It was essentially a symbolic charge. It was a race to see if the would survive the criminal process and he did not live to hear his final verdict. It was a modern show trial.

How Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian, could be charged in Germany with being an accessory to murder as a prison camp guard while Meyer in this books could not be charged as a German officer is a question I have not researched.

A balance is necessary in legal systems. I say it is wrong that murderers or accessories to murder should ever be able to avoid being charged. At the same time I think we are better served as societies by having limitation periods on other offences. The occasional, I would say rare, prominent case that would go unpunished is countered by the number of innocent accused who avoid trials many years later. Our Anglo / Canadian legal systems are based on some guilty being found not guilty to avoid any innocent being found guilty. Limitation periods support that principle.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach Without Spoilers

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach translated by Anthea Bell - Casper Leinen has just graduated from law school in Germany. He has decided to make his legal career as a criminal defence lawyer. While his grades and work performances were good enough to gain Caspar positions in the judiciary or with large corporations or in big Chambers he chose criminal defence. His goal as a lawyer is “to put on a robe and defend his clients”.

As many young lawyers in many countries of the Western world do Caspar puts his name down on the list to take legal aid cases. In Canada and most other nations they are ill-paid and often thankless cases. It is not clear how much lawyers are paid to take legal aid cases in Germany. Accused in legal aid cases consistently have many problems in their lives beyond legal issues. There is often little a lawyer can do to gain an acquittal. The best you can do for your client is to get a fair punishment for the crime. Yet any young lawyer wanting to do criminal defence work takes legal aid cases. You gain vital court experience, learn how to deal with clients and get known within the legal justice system. I was there 39 years ago.

Caspar gets a Sunday morning call to take on a case but it is not the usual legal aid case. Fabrizio Collini has killed Hans Meyer, a prominent 85 year old German industrialist, in a Berlin hotel.

It has been a particularly brutal murder. He has executed Meyer with 4 shots to the back of the head. Collini has then obliterated Meyer’s face stomping him until the heel of his shoe breaks off. Collini then tells the staff of the death and sits quietly in the lobby until the police come and arrest him.

Police, prosecutors, the examining magistrate and Caspar instantly see revenge as the motive because of the manner of the murder but no one can be certain of the motive as Collini refuses to explain why he killed Meyer.

There is a startling personal twist that adds interest to the story but to discuss it or the reason for the murder would be to spoil the book. Still those issues are so compelling I will discuss them in my next post with warning.

The personal issues lead Caspar to think of withdrawing from the case. He gets sound advice from a senior defence counsel, Professor Richard Mettinger, who tells Caspar that his duty is to defend people. Whatever Caspar thinks of the crime and the personality of his client it is his responsibility to defend his client. I agree. Every young lawyer who undertakes criminal defence must accept their obligation is to provide the best defence for the accused no matter whether the client is of good or bad character and without regard to the circumstances of the crime. It is not an easy commitment but it is necessary for an effective legal system

Caspar’s friend, a baker, sums it in two sentences:

            “You’re a lawyer. You have to do what lawyers do.”

Unlike much legal fiction Caspar is not a super lawyer. He works hard. He honours his profession by doing the best job he can for his client.

More surprising the prosecution is concerned with finding out what happened and why then getting a conviction and life sentence.

It is an elegant book. It is too rare a modern mystery is written in under 200 pages. Von Schirach tackles a complex theme and addresses it well without needing 500 pages or more.

Caspar reminds me of myself as a young lawyer. I never handled a murder trial but I was in court often fighting for clients. Neither Caspar nor myself are flamboyant courtroom performers. Each of us strives to be well prepared.

The book will make you think about legal systems. It is a very good book deserving of the praise it has gained around the world.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Books While Cruising in the Mediterranean

Sharon and I are back cruising with Oceania Cruise Lines. We are on back to back cruises on Riviera. The first cruise travels 14 days from Barcelona to Istanbul.

Earlier in the week we were in Malta. To my surprise we visited a winery and came back to the ship with two bottles of wine which cost us a total of E18.00. 

For the balance of this cruise we are moving between Greek islands and mainland Turkey. Tomorrow will be Alanya in Turkey. 

As usual, when I am on Oceania I went to the shipboard library on the first day of the cruise. As shown on the photo (which is the same photo I used on an earlier post on a cruise with sister ship, Marina) of the library it is an inviting place for a booklover.
I picked out 3 books from the library:

            1.) Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin;

            2.) An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris; and,

            3.) The Blackhouse by Peter May.

It was hard to limit myself to 3 books.

Unfortunately (if it is unfortunate not to be reading because we are busy with cruise ship activities and shore excursions) I am still reading Crooked Letter Crooked Letter.

Regular blog reader Kathy D. highly recommended the book. Many other bloggers have written positive reviews of the book. I am enjoying the book.

During the cruise day I play team trivia once or twice a day.

My mystery blogger credentials were left suspect when I could not come up with the second most translated English author (Shakespeare is most translated). I thought it might Arthur Conan Doyle. The team consensus was Charles Dickens. The correct answer was Agatha Christie.

This evening we are gliding through the Mediterranean.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver

The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver – On a bitter November day with sleet pelting down in New York City a young sales clerk goes down to the basement of her boutique to search for some clothes needed in the store. A latex clad unsub grabs her, subdues her by injecting a sedative into her neck and drags her into a sub-basement of which few were aware existed in the building. He then pulls out a portable tattoo machine and tattooes her with the words “the second” in Old English script. Instead of ink he uses poison that kills her.

Lincoln Rhymes gets the call to investigate the scene. Amelia Sachs, wearing a headset cam, must worm her way down a tunnel to the murder scene in full protective gear. The journey challenges her claustrophobia (mine also).

At the scene, in a distracted moment, a handful of powder is released into her face. Fortunately the powder causes irritation rather than serious injury.

The unsub, Billy Haven, is a skilled skin artist not a mere tatttoist. He loves skin. In a scene that is fascinating, though creepy, he caresses the skin of the victim not for sexual gratification but because he loves skin. He calls skin God’s canvas.

The tattooists think of their work as mods (body modifications).

Mainstream tattooists are horrified that the unsub is using tattoos to poison people. They cannot fathom such a tattooist.

Worked into the story are stories from around the world of the history of tattoos. They had and have more far more significance than decoration.

Lincoln leads the search for the unsub, called the Underground Man. The unsub has a vast knowledge of underground Manhattan to rival Lincoln’s encyclopedic knowledge of his city. With more attacks paranoia sweeps New York as residents are reluctant to venture below ground.

Lincoln is startled when he realizes the unsub has studied Lincoln’s forensic methods and is challenging him. The unsub’s underground actions take Lincoln and the reader back to the first book in the series, The Bone Collector. While the unsub is not taking trophies he is obsessed with skin in a way comparable to the bone collector.

The unsub is a wickedly clever killer who leaves very little trace evidence at his attacks. He reacts swiftly and decisively when the police interrupt him.

The greatest puzzle is trying to determine why the unsub is killing random victims by poison. There does not appear to be any financial gain. No one is being extorted. No sexual motive is apparent.

At the same time Lincoln is intrigued that the Watchman has died from a heart attack in prison. He sends rookie, Ron Pulaski, undercover to the funeral home to see who picks up the ashes.

While the theme of the book recalls The Bone Collector the quick thinking and adaptable unsub reminded me of Malerick in The Vanished Man. Each is a master of misdirection.

The Skin Collector had me racing through the plot. Having read the whole series I knew Deaver would have twists in the story but, as usual, I did not detect them. I find it amazing how he leaves clues but I cannot put them together.

Lincoln’s quadriplegia has its smallest role in this book. Lincoln appears to have accepted his disability and no longer lets it dominate his days. His plans for suicide have drifted away. He is actually working on relationships with people other than Amelia.

I loved that the book includes diagrams. With modern technology it should be easier to insert illustrations in mysteries. I find they enhance the story and hope that, with a best selling author like Deaver using drawings, other current authors will put them in their books.

The Skin Collector is a fine book. Readers who have enjoyed earlier books in he series will equally like the book. (Sept. 6/14) 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Flight Delay ..... Grrrrrr!

This is not the post I intended to put tonight. Sharon and I have started a holiday trip today. I was going to write about what I intend to read on the trip but got distracted and frustrated when we reached the airport in Saskatoon. For a change we were well ahead of time. Then at check-in the young WestJet agent said because of weather issues our plane is 3 hours late!

We had already dispatched our van with friends so we have been sitting in the departure area since 7:30 this evening and hope to leave around 12:15.

I am not optimistic about departure time. They just announced our plane was hit by lightning and they have to do a tail switch.

I have spent the evening reading The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver. It is suitably fiendish and rather chilling about all the poisons around that an evil person can use.

I will pass on more about the trip and book plans later in the weekend.

For now I will try to be patient ........

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Radical Reorganization of TBR Piles

Two weeks ago Sharon cleaned the den where the desktop computer and television and many of my books are located. The books included my TBR piles which had grown to fill over half of one side of the desk and the area beside the printer on the other side of the desk. The computer sits at an angle between the two sides of the desk. As part of her cleaning she took all the books off the desk and piled them in plastic grocery store baskets in the living room.

After seeing how good the desk looked clear of the piles of books I started thinking it was time to re-organize. I still do not know how many books I have TBR. I am afraid to find out.

Last week I decided I would pack the books from the TBR piles into boxes and store them where they were easily accessible and make a commitment to keep the desk clean.

This week I have packed the books into 5 cardboard boxes (3 boxes of fiction and 2 boxes of non-fiction). They are now organized alphabetically so I can actually find a book quickly. Some of the boxes will go downstairs into a storage area and the others to my law office. I will actually be able to browse among my TBR books rather than gaze at haphazard tottering piles that usually just made me feel guilty.

At some point I may list the books. Up to now I have never assembled the titles and authors of books I have acquired.

I will keep the one or two books I am reading at any given time with me. I will put a few books I intend to read next on a shelf near the desk.

Books I buy or are given or are sent to me by publishers will go into the boxes. I hope, but doubt, I will have the discipline to shrink the TBR boxes.

On the other bookshelves around me in the den I am vowing to myself that if I want to keep a book after reading it a book already on the shelves will be removed. We shall see how well that promise to myself works.

Books not being kept will be exchanged for credit at my favourite used bookstore in Saskatoon, Westgate Books, or given to the local public library where I have been a member of the board of directors for over 30 years. I already have a credit at Westgate of about $100.00 but I consider a growing credit at a bookstore good rather than bad.

For most of my life I have been prone to clutter. I finally cleaned up my law office when we renovated three years ago. I have backslid a few times but have managed to get organized again and keep my desk clean.

It is nice to see just one book, The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver, beside me. It also reminds me that for many years, until I was in my 30's, because of economics and availability my TBR pile was 1-2 books.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Glass House by David Rotenberg

33. – 780.) The Glass House by David Rotenberg – I found the third book in the Junction Chronicles trilogy a challenging book. Rotenberg seeks to bring together the threads of The Placebo Effect and A Murder of Crows.

Decker Roberts is back in Nambia baking apple pies and reflecting on this life and his estranged son, Seth.

Seth, ill with swiftly advancing cancer, has been kidnapped by WJ who desperately wants to learn from Seth’s special abilities for WJ cannot feel. A man of arthimatic talent who has used his skills with numbers to become wealthy he lacks feelings. He cannot appreciate relationships. Beauty and ugliness are but words. Music is at the centre of WJ’s life. He would love music if he could but feel. WJ is a technically skilled cellist but the notes are merely sounds to him. WJ sees in Seth a young man who feels life with an intensity that is transcendant. WJ is the opposite of Seth and can no longer live without passion.

Yslan Hicks, from the U.S. National Security Agency, is searching America for Seth. The American government wants his special skills.

Decker, Seth and the other synaesthetes are being drawn to the Junction where Decker had lived in Toronto and where a boy with black painted finger nails and the baby fingers on both hands cut off was hanged just after 1900 from a lightpost.

It was hard for me as the book shifted the focus from crimes being solved in the first two books to a mystical weaving together of the otherworldly abilities needs of the synasthetes. The touch of the supernatural in the earlier books has taken over the story in The Glass House.

The exceptional talents of the synaesthetes – being able to determine if someone is telling the truth, hearing the last words of someone who has died if at the death site or discerning patterns – are supplemented by their mystical abilities. Communication through the mind; traveling and meeting and talking through dreams; an overwhelming desire to reach the Glass House, are all involved in the plot.

It was interesting but stretched me past my rather normal bounds of credibility. I had expected a resolution of the saga of the synasthetes but not this venture. The book became a form of fable requiring the reader to either suspend conventional assessments or accept the plot has become a modern myth.

As with each of the first two books in the trilogy I found the book disjointed. I found connections between the plot lines awkward.

Once again, the book is unique because of the character of the synaesthetes. They live with special abilities that distance them from regular society. In the end I found myself wishing Rotenberg had concentrated on these talents, as he did in the first two books, rather delving into supernatural gifts. Readers who enjoy the paranormal, an unconventional paranormal if that is possible, in stories will be fascinated by The Glass House.

I thank Michelle at Simon & Schuster for forwarding me an ARC. The Glass House will be published in November.
The Glass House becomes the 3rd of 13 books I plan to read for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at his Book Mine Set blog.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sycamore Row - Winner of 2014 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Earlier today, at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., it was announced that Sycamore Row by John Grisham was the winner of the 2014 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Grisham becomes the first multiple winner of the Award. He won the Prize in 2011, the first year it was presented for The Confession.

The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction is one of the few book awards that I am aware of that has criteria outside the quality of the book in the genre covered by the award. The judges for the Harper Lee Prize are to determine which of the books entered “best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change”.

The further criteria push readers to reflect on lawyers in contemporary society and what we are doing, or not doing, to effect change for the better though “for the better” is not a part of the criteria.

Last week I put up a post in which I considered the three books on the shortlist:

            1.) Sycamore Row;

            2.) Once We Were Brothers by Ronald D. Balson;

            3.) The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Stroud.

This year my choice for the winner is the same as the judges actually voting for the Award. I also thought Sycamore Row was the best book.

On the University of Alabama Law School website announcement of the winner Grisham, through his publicist who accepted the award for him, said:
        "My thanks to the committee for the selection of
        Sycamore Row," Grisham said. "I'm still admiring the
        first Harper Lee award. It's hard to believe there is now
        a second one. I am deeply humbled."
I hope Balson continues to write legal fiction. He made a fine debut with Once We Were Brothers. He joins another Chicago lawyer, Scott Turow, in writing good legal fiction. (Turow has not won the Prize and has not been on any of the shortlists.)

Had Once We Were Brothers been as good as Sycamore Row I would have chosen it as Grisham is already a winner of the Award.

I look forward to the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It is becoming a highlight of my reading year to read the shortlist for the Prize.

Congratulations to John Grisham in 2014!