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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Testimony by Scott Turow


(21. – 951.) Testimony by Scott Turow - I have been thinking about Testimony since it was published last year. I even gave a copy to my son, Michael, for Christmas. I was finally prompted to read the book when it was chosen for the 2018 shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. I wish I had read the book sooner.

Any book featuring a 54 year old trial lawyer as the prime character is bound to appeal to me.

At 50 Bill ten Boom, known as Boom, started walking away from his wife and his partnership in a large mid-American law firm. His departure was eased by the millions he made as a partner and the millions he inherited from his parents.

After a 4 year transition he is ready to try retirement but he is recruited by Roger Clewey, an old college friend who is almost certainly a member of an American intelligence agency by the vagueness of his government position, to become a prosecutor at the International Crimes Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

More specifically he will be tasked with the investigation of an alleged mass killing of 400 Roma in Bosnia in 2004 approximately 10 years after the civil war there had concluded. It is alleged as no bodies have been found. No one, beyond Roma advocacy groups, has investigated the disappearance of the 400 Roma. If there was mass murder and the perpetrators can be identified Boom will lead the prosecution at the trial.

Complicating the process is the unwillingness of America, which fears being drawn into international criminal courts, to aid in the investigation. Indeed, there is The Hague Invasion Act which includes a provision prohibiting any level of American government or government agency from providing information to the Court. The American military clearly has relevant information as the killings took place within a few miles of a major American army base.

Complicating Boom’s work is the lovely and dramatic Esma. An English lawyer she is a staunch advocate for the Roma people. Withdrawing from representing a Roma witness allows her to fulfill her physical desire for Boom. Her passion is reciprocated by the generally reserved Boom.

Within the investigation are layers of intrigue with regard to the reliability of forensic evidence. Turow writes so well about scientific evidence. He makes interesting such subjects as the study of the minerals absorbed by buried bones being compared to the minerals in soil specimens from where the bones were buried.

The Roma have been victims for hundreds of years. They are consistently reviled throughout Europe. The prejudice against them is intense enough to make credible that there are multiple groups who might have committed mass murder. Boom is repeatedly told the Roma are liars and thieves. It is clear their only loyalty is to the Roma community.

Could it be that 40 years after the My Lai massacre by American forces in Vietnam that a contemporary American unit could have killed the Roma? I admit I wanted the American soldiers to be innocent.

The leading suspects are followers of the former Bosnian Serb leader, Laza Kajevic. The charismatic Kajevic was clearly inspired by the real life Radovan Karadzic down to the silver streak in his elaborate hair.

Boom’s investigation is thorough. At the same time surprises await at each step.

The Balkans have been complicated for a long time. There are fierce rivalries that have endured for centuries. Boom is an honourable man in a land of treachery and deceit.

He believes in an international criminal court bringing to justice those who have committed crimes against humanity. When a colleague skeptically questions convictions deterring any future international mass murderers he states: 

      "How's this, Goos? I know this much: Justice is good. I accept 
      the value of testimony, of letting victims be heard. But 
      consequences are essential. People can't believe in civilization
      without being certain that a society will organize itself to do 
      what it can to make wrongs right. Allowing the slaughter of
      four hundred innocents to go unpunished demeans the lives 
      each of us leads. It's that simple."

The challenge in Testimony is proof. Testimony in court can be compelling but is the evidence of a massacre true?

Turow has written among the rarest of thrillers. There are complex facts. The body count is low. Challenging legal and societal issues are addressed. The characters, including Boom are multi-dimensional. Personal lives are messy. Best of all I never had to consciously suspend disbelief to enjoy the story. The twists and turns are fully credible. Testimony is one of Turow’s best books.


Turow, Scott – (2000) - Personal Injuries (Third best fiction of 2000); (2003) - Reversible Errors (Tied for the best fiction in 2003); (2007) - Ordinary Heroes; (2011) - Innocent; (2012) - One L (Michael Selnes review); (2012) - Thoughts on Reviews of One L by Myself and Michael; (2014) - Identical; Hardcover 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline


(20. – 950.) Exposed by Lisa Scottoline – Philadelphia lawyer, Mary DiNunzio, has spent her life within the loving confines of the close-knit Italian community in South Philadelphia. Family extends out to include neighbourhood friends.

Mary’s father, Tony, arrives at her office for a consultation. With him are his best friends – The Three Tonies:

Her father had grown up with The Tonys; Tony “From-Down-The-Block” Lomonaco, “Pigeon” Tony Lucia, and Tony “Two Feet” Pensiera, which got shortened to “Feet,” so even his nickname had a nickname. It went without saying that name traditions in South Phlly were sui generis which was Latin for completely insane. The Tonys went everywhere with her father and sometimes helped her on her cases, which was liking having a secret weapon or a traveling nightmare.

They have come to ask her to help Feet’s son, her unofficial cousin Simon, who has been dismissed by his employer, OpenSpace, an office cubicle manufacturing company.

Simon is already in the midst of a personal crisis. His wife has died and his young daughter, Rachel, is in need of a bone marrow transplant.

When Mary hears he was fired because his employer was concerned about the costs of the costs to the company health insurance because of Rachel’s medical condition Mary sees an excellent case for wrongful dismissal.

In her enthusiasm and desire to support her family and community Mary makes a fundamental mistake for any lawyer in a private law firm larger than one. Without doing a conflict review within the firm she commits to representing him.

When she advises her partner, Bennie Rosato, of the new case she learns to her dismay that Bennie is the long time lawyer for Dumbarton Industries, the parent company to Simon’s employer.

A huge ethical issue must be addressed. One lawyer cannot represent a client in a lawsuit against another client of the firm. There is a conflict of interest between the respective clients. Firms of every size require conflicts checks before taking on new cases.

Leaving aside the plausibility of Mary taking on a case without determining if there was a conflict I was surprised to learn the issue is not as clear cut as I expected where one of the clients is the parent company to the company being sued as is the case in Mary’s action.

What Mary’s action inevitably provokes is the question whether Mary and Bennie can remain partners. Mary has acted precipitously, if not recklessly, and while there may be legal authority for being able to sue Open Spaces even though Bennie represents the parent company there are serious issues for the partnership. Law partners must trust each other and cannot be worried a partner will take up a case that may casuse a conflict with other clients of the firm. Taking the case against a client is further bound to have an adverse effect upon the firm’s relationship with the existing client.
In Exposed the owner of Dumbarton is Nate Lence, who Bennie has known since law school. He is incensed that Bennie will not forthwith prohibit Mary from taking the case. Bennie explains to her lover, Declan, Lence’s reaction:

            …. “He wouldn’t normally, but this time, he’s taking it 
            personally.”

            “Because you’re involved. Hell hath no fury like a lawyer
            scorned.”
           
To Scottoline’s credit Mary and Bennie remain respectful of each other as they determine whether there is a way for their partnership to survive. Both accept the other is honourable and not out to hurt the other partner.

As they wrestle with the question of conflict of interest the sales manager of Open Space is killed and Simon is the leading suspect.

I was startled by the murder. I had been caught up in the story of the civil action for wrongful dismissal, the transplant drama of Rachel and the conflict of interest issue. I had no need of a murder to keep me engrossed. If anything, I found the murder a distraction.

Scottoline’s resolution of the murder is cleverly done. Mary and Bennie use their legal skills to determine the real killer.

The conclusion was more Hollywood than I prefer in a book but the thriller conclusion was again well done by Scottoline.

You cannot describe Exposed as a light read with the serious legal issues addressed in the plot and a murder being solved. At the same time it was easy reading.

There are precious few works of legal fiction that emphasize positive family relationships. Mary’s family, official and unofficial, are warm emotional people. Most lawyers I know have such families. I wish more of them were created in legal fiction.

Exposed is the second book from the 2018 shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction I have read. I enjoyed the book.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

11th Canadian Book Challenge Roundup (Part II)

In my last post I listed the books I had read for the 11th Canadian Book Challenge.

The 8 works of fiction this year were set in a variety of locations. Two took place in Ontario, two in British Columbia, one in Saskatchewan, one in Quebec, one in Nova Scotia and one outside Canada in Massachusetts.

Of the 5 non-fiction books there were four set in Western Canada and one that was set across Canada. More Tough Crimes had cases set in a variety of provinces.

In my mid-year review my favourite fiction at that time was The Winners' Circle. It remains my favourite fiction of the Challenge. The book moves into another generation of the Kilbourn family. Joanne's adopted daughter, Taylor, and two teenage girls who are daughters of Zack's partners have key roles in the book. The Winners' Circle contains a massive surprise in the plot.

Of the remaining books I thought Cut You Down by Sam Wiebe marked the maturing of Sam as a writer.

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin was the most interesting because McLachlin, a first time fiction author, is the just retired Chief Justice of Canada. While new authors hunger for recognition her authorial debut gained vast attention because of her position.  Full Disclosure is a fine first novel and I expect it will get Awards attention in the coming year. While reading McLachlin's book I thought about P.D. James who turned to writing crime fiction after retiring from the British Home Office. James wrote wonderfully plotted books with fascinating characters drawing on her experiences with the British legal system.. Few authors match James and McLachlin is not there but I do hope she goes on to write more legal fiction.

From the non-fiction The Work of Justice is my favourite. The book tells the story of Robert Raymond Cook, the last person to be executed in Alberta. He was convicted of murdering his father, stepmother and five half-siblings.  He went to the gallows stating he was innocent.

Of the remaining books I was not surprised to find Gail Bowen wrote a great how-to book in Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries. Gail's long career as an academic, she is a retired English professor, is reflected in her advice to aspiring crime fiction writers. You do not need to be worried about her professorial background. The book is not dense academic prose covered with footnotes. It is very readable.

The Mighty Hughes was unique in that I knew the subject of the biography, Ted Hughes. He was a judge in Saskatchewan when I was a young lawyer. It was humbling to read of his commitment to justice in Canada. Many lawyers are advocates for causes. None beyond Hughes have served the ideals of justice as a lawyer, judge, provincial Department of Justice civil servant, Commissioner of multiple public inquiries and the lead adjudicator on resolving thousands of claims for compensation with regard to Indian Residential Schools.

I have no plan for the 12th Canadian Book Challenge beyond trying to read more Canadian crime fiction than I did for the 11th Challenge and getting read the full shortlist for Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Fiction Novel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

11th Canadian Book Challenge Roundup (Part I)

The 11th Canadian Book Challenge ended a few days ago on June 30.

It was hosted by Melanie at her blog, The Indextrious Reader.

It was not a great reading year for me which meant less Canadian books read. I was down to 13 Canadian books for the Challenge when I usually read 17-18 during the year.

What struck me in my reading for this challenge is that 5 of the 13 books were non-fiction. As usual the proportion of fiction v. non-fiction was not planned.

The books read were:

Fiction

1.) Wishful Seeing by Janet Kellough

2.) The Winners' Circle by Gail Bowen

3.) Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

4.) Glass Houses by Louise Penny

5.) Dyed in the Green by George Mercer

6.) Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany

7.) Cut You Down by Sam Wiebe 


8.) Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin

Non-Fiction

9.) More Tough Crimes edited by William Trudel and Lorene Shyba

10.) The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes

11.) The Work of Justice by J. Pecover

12.) Decisions by Jim Treliving

13.) Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries - Part I and Part II

In my next post I will discuss the books I read during the Challenge.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sleuth – Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master (Part II)

In my last post I started a combination review of Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries and a tribute to Gail being chosen as 2018 Grand Master by the Crime Writers of Canada. I wrote about Gail's decision to write her sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn, in the first person and her perspectives on evil.

Gail has had the experience of watching an actor say the lines of her character. Six of the early books in the series have been made into movies.

Gail appreciates the attention brought to her series by the films made of her books and the income generated for her. Still she commented on the distant relationship between her written books and the movies made from them:

            As enjoyable as the movies are, they don’t bear much 
            resemblance to my books.

I appreciate that movie makers take books and adjust the stories to what they consider will work in the movie format. (It seems passé to refer any longer to the silver screen or the big screen.)

Gail said Shaftsbury Films wanted to film in Saskatchewan but economics dictated Toronto. I accept movies may need to be shot in locales different from the setting of the story. 

Having appreciated and accepted what movie makers need to do I am still frustrated with what was done with Gail’s books. The movie makers changed the setting from Regina to some generic, unnamed if I recall correctly, city in Eastern North America. The plot lines became typical mysteries. Names were anglicized because too many were Ukrainian based.

If Toronto can be made to look like numerous American cities it could have been made to look like Regina. In my more conspiratorial moments I wonder if the movie makers thought it beneath Toronto to be made to look like Regina.

The Longmire television series looks just fine being filmed in New Mexico but still set in Wyoming.

Whatever the reasons the movie makers lost the soul of the series and the movies became just average. 

Personally Gail is deeply engaged with the real world. 

It was no surprise to me that she encourages writers to interact with the world and make notes:

Poet Ted Hughes speaks of the importance of “recording moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sorrows, bewilderments and joys.” Heed his words. As journalist Bill D. Moyers says, “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” Take notes of encounters with people who fire your imagination.

She encourages the introverted writer to venture into the world and not to be a solitary observer. Now Gail has an advantage in following such advice. She has a zest for life that is inviting. It is fun to be with her. She is filled with energy and ready with an opinion on any topic. At the same time she is ready to listen. On meeting her it is clear she loves being with people. People naturally want to share with her. 

There is whimsy in her life. She is the only person I know with a Cold War bunker underneath the back yard of her Regina home. And for anyone wondering, it is not where she does her writing.

Her imagination is not limited to what she creates in her mind. The sides of her back yard fence are adorned with mirrors purchased at yard sales. They provide a striking perspective.

Gail is engaged in the issues of today. She is proudly progressive and it would be inconceivable for Joanne Kilbourn to be a conservative. I do think she would have a hard time enjoying a sleuth who espouses right wing conservative values should they conflict with her progressive principles.

Gail encourages writers to work into their books issues that trouble them. Within her own series she has sought to portray indigenous peoples in roles other than “victims, criminals, or radicals demanding rights or funding”. Gail states:

I have tried to show in my novels the faces of indigenous people as I know them to be: hardworking, proud of their kids, trying to pay off mortgages, bringing great food to communal potlucks, seeking what everyone has a right to seek – the chance to live a good life.

I wonder at this point in the series whether she would have an indigenous person as the killer. Since, as set out in the previous post, her killers are rarely monsters an indigenous killer would not be a stereotype. As she goes into some detail in Sleuth on the plots of her books I do not think it a spoiler to say there has been an indigenous killer earlier in the series. 

Gail has a gift for voices. I have enjoyed the voices of the characters in the Joanne Kilbourn series. She has consistently followed the advice she provides in Sleuth:

Make sure each of your characters talks in a distinctive fashion. Choose diction that fits the character: too consciously cool, deliberately provocative, pugnacious, pompous, seductive, hypermasculine, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, et cetera. Which actor would you chose to say that character’s lines?

One of my favourite sections of Sleuth was her discussion of continuing characters, outside the primary characters, as a part of “what factors contribute to the longevity of a series”. 

Great long series have characters who re-appear. I look forward to their return. In the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker I appreciated such characters as Captain Martin Quick and the mobster Joe Broz. In the Gamache books of Louise Penny there are the assorted residents of Three Pines (Clara, Ruth, Gabi, Olivier and Myrna.)  In Anthony Bidulka’s series featuring Russell Quant recurring characters include his mother, Kay, who provides hearty Ukrainian meals and his exotic world travelling neighbor, Sereena.

Gail sets out the role of some characters that have appeared in several books of the series. Most prominent is Howard Dowhanuik. He appears on the second page of the first book, Deadly Appearances. He is a former premier of Saskatchewan and a longtime friend of Joanne's family. He has appeared in seven books of the series and Gail says he will be in future books. As a past leader of the political party of which Joanne is a staunch supporter he can aid in the development of political themes and contemporary social issues. His lengthy personal relationship with Joanne allows Gail to use him to explore family issues.

In the long running mystery series that I love best continuing characters form a community of characters. Functional or dysfunctional they have close relationships that continue for a generation or more. 

One of the aspects of Gail's series is that Joanne's family is at the heart of the series. Through the series her children mature and have families of their own. Joanne remarries. I wish more writers went to the effort of such family involvement in their mysteries.

Gail has created an enduring sleuth in Joanne Kilbourn. As a resident of Saskatchewan I am glad that our province is identified by mystery readers through Joanne.

With regard to Gail I hope every reader gets a chance to meet her but do not expect her to fly into your city. She does not venture off the ground in her travels. 
****
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the MendelThe Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose StreetQ & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle; Hardcover 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sleuth – Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master (Part I)


Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries - A lifetime of reading, writing, teaching and reflecting on the art of mystery fiction is distilled into this slim volume of 144 pages. The book is a master class on the writing of mysteries. Gail's exploration "how" she has applied the advice in the book in the writing of her mysteries makes Sleuth a vivid and fascinating book.

This year Gail was awarded the title of Grand Master by the Crime Writers of Canada. I wanted to extend my congratulations in a post. As I read Sleuth and thought about a review it struck me that I should combine the posts. Thus this post and my next post will reflect on Gail and upon Sleuth.

I openly acknowledge bias. I know Gail. I have visited her. We have exchanged emails.  I have read all 17 books in the Joanne Kilbourn series. She is one of my favourite authors and a wonderful person.

From knowing Gail Sleuth reflects her personality. She is a woman of great learning. She has read widely and thought about what she has read. At the same time she is not burdened by her knowledge in Sleuth. She is not pedantic. She dispenses her advice with flair and self-deprecation. 

Only when you note the sources and contacts supporting her thoughts on writing do you appreciate the breadth of her knowledge about the genre and the writing of crime fiction.

I have always believed that principles are best explained by examples. And the best examples are personal examples for they connect the teacher with the student. Sleuth is filled with examples of Gail's writing experiences.

You need not have read any of the Joanne Kilbourn books to understand the examples but readers of Sleuth who have read books in the series will gain a deeper understanding of the stories and how and why they were written.

In a chapter on the narrative perspective Gail sets out why she uses the first person narrative:

I’ve used a first-person narrator for both the Joanne Kilbourn series and the Charlie Dowhanuik series. I’ve also used first person for one novella and one very short piece. It’s a good fit for me. I like getting inside a character’s head, and I like imagining what life must look like through her or his eyes. It’s a personal call, and I seem to slip into it easily, but it might not be for you.

With her confident personality I would have been surprised had she chosen a different form of narrative.

It is no surprise that Gail has thought about evil. Murder is wicked. Life has been deliberately taken.

She sees “three distinct perspectives on evil”:

“First, evil is inherent in all human beings; in other words, it is a character problem….”

“Second, evil is a social problem, created by institutions that diminish or destroy the poor, the alienated, and the powerless….”

“Third, evil is both inherent in who we are and susceptible to growth in a society whose citizens don’t take their moral obligations to one another seriously….”

I consider it telling that in none of her perspectives is the evil doer a monster.

With regard to her murderers she states:

With the exception of three sociopaths, the murderers in the Joanne Kilbourn series are not monsters. They are ordinary people who find themselves in circumstances that, in their minds, justify the taking of a human life.

In creating killers who are not monsters Gail is becoming an exception in contemporary crime fiction. In Michael Connelly’s latest books in the Harry Bosch series the killers have been one dimensional monsters. Recent I read The Taken by Robert Crais. His killers were irredeemably brutal.

Gail rightly emphasizes character development in Sleuth. It is discouraging to me when the least developed character in a mystery is the killer.

I appreciate many readers have little interest in the minds of killers. Maxine Clarke, a blogger friend now gone almost 6 years, told me in a comment on a post where I was lamenting Connelly’s killers:

I agree that his villains can be weak as characters but personally I don’t like reading too much from the “sick mind of the villain” point of view, so I am glad he does not go in for that.

For myself, I think the greatest crime writers are not simply those authors with the best sleuths but those writers who create villains worthy of their sleuths. Gail points to the example of Professor Moriarty. Having Sherlock challenged by the evil genius continues to fascinate readers over 125 years later.

I wish more mystery writers recognized the devil is a subtle and devious, often charming, evil doer.

(Part II in my next post.)
****
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the MendelThe Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose StreetQ & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle; Hardcover 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Full Disclosure Within Full Disclosure

In my last post I reviewed Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin. The title is a clever play on words for a legal mystery. There are multiple issues of full disclosure within the book.

While I do not reveal the ending in this post it does have spoilers for potential readers of the book.

Every defence counsel seeks “full disclosure” from their client with regard to the case. It rarely happens. In the book Jilly Truitt’s client, Vincent Trussardi, is less forthcoming than most criminal clients. He clearly has secrets that he is keeping from his lawyer. I appreciate Truitt’s frustration. I continually tell clients, civil and criminal, to provide me with full information. Let me decide what is important for the case.

A murder case where the accused denies killing the victim will mean “full disclosure” of the victim’s life. It is hard to know what may have provoked murder without delving deeply into the life of the deceased. There is no privacy in murder.

In the book the victim, Laura Trussardi, had been carrying on an affair. Was it over as she proclaimed? Had her distraught lover, who created a scene at the funeral by chasing after the hearse, killed her in anger over the end of the affair?

“Full disclosure” also applies to important witnesses. The life of the family housekeeper, Carmelina, will be carefully scrutinized to establish her relationship with both the accused and the victim. When she holds back a secret, until questioned by the Crown Prosecutor Cy Kenge, that is embarrassing to her and damaging to Trussardi there is reason to suspect the reliability of her evidence.

Carmelina is not alone in her futile attempt at privacy. All the main characters are maintaining secrets for personal motives.

For Canadian lawyers the title evokes the Crown duty to provide “full disclosure” of its case to the defence. The Crown is obligated to produce witness statements, forensic reports, police occurrence statements, photos and copies of evidence.

The requirement of “full disclosure” was absent when I started my legal career after in 1975. Crown prosecutors were inconsistent in the information they would provide to defence counsel. Trial by ambush was not uncommon.

In the 1991 Supreme Court decision of R. v. Stinchcombe, a decision referred to in the book, our highest court made “full disclosure” by the Crown mandatory. McLachlin does not mention in the book that she was a member of the unanimous panel of judges who made that decision.

The judgment by Mr. Justice Sopinka does include a reference to McLachlin writing about disclosure:

       In R. v. C. (M.H.) (1988), 46 C.C.C. (3d) 142 (B.C.C.A.), at p. 
       155, McEachern C.J.B.C. after a review of the authorities stated
       what I respectfully accept as a correct statement of the law.  He 
       said that:  "there is a general duty on the part of the Crown to 
       disclose all material it proposes to use at trial and especially all 
       evidence which may assist the accused even if the Crown does 
       not propose to adduce it".  This passage was cited with 
       approval by McLachlin J. in her reasons on behalf of the Court 
       ([1991] 1 S.C.R. 763).  She went on to add:  "This Court has 
       previously stated that the Crown is under a duty at common law 
       to disclose to the defence all material evidence whether 
       favourable to the accused or not" (p. 774).

Through the rest of her 37 year career on the bench the author periodically dealt with the implementation of “full disclosure” in Canadian criminal cases reaching the Supreme Court.

Within the book "full disclosure" by the Crown becomes a major issue.

Shortly before the trial Truitt attends a party at Cy's home. While there his impaired wife, Lois, blurts out that Cy has a police occurrence report:

       Something about Laura Trussardi crying in the street outside  
       her house a couple of days before the murder.

Truitt downplays the significance of the report to Lois because she rightly states 

     "Cy can't use the report in evidence unless he gives me
     disclosure."

Even if the Crown never intended to use the report it is important evidence that should have been part of the initial disclosure or, if not known to the Crown at that time, immediately upon it coming into the possession of the Crown.

Disclosure of the report by Cy is only made at the end of the trial when Trussardi has testified on cross examination that his wife had no reason to fear him and would not have been crying in the street shortly before her murder afraid to return home.

Cy wants to use the report in rebuttal in an effort to show Trussardi was lying. Treat objects on several grounds including the failure to disclose.

Cy asserts she had been told the report may exist. Truitt says the information came from Cy's wife at a party.

To my surprise and dismay the trial judge admits the report stating:

      "You knew that this report might exist before you put your 
      client on the stand, and now you complain that using it to bring
      forth the truth is unfair."

To have indirect disclosure through the prosecutor's wife works well in the story but I cannot see any real life judge admitting the report.

Cy's actions in using his wife's statements as disclosure are unethical and contrary to the legal principles of disclosure. They would invite the trial judge to refer the matter to the Law Society for investigation on whether he should be disciplined for conduct unbecoming a member of the Law Society.

Thus it is ironic that that author, the just retired Chief Justice of Canada, has a judge commit the one clear legal error in the book.

As a defence counsel I would have loved to have seen her write the scene in the courtroom with the trial judge sternly rebuking the Crown Prosecutor for gross misconduct and refusing to admit the report. There would have been a wonderful opportunity for the trial judge to have righteously upheld the sanctity of "full disclosure". Maybe in her next book.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Full Disclosure by Beverly McLachlin


Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – One of the most anticipated works of crime fiction this year of 2018 was from an author new to the genre but very familiar with crime. McLachlin has spent the last 29 years of her life as Canadian Supreme Court Justice finishing her judicial life as the first female Chief Justice of Canada. In Full Disclosure she demonstrates she has kept in contact with life on the front lines of the legal profession while she labored at the top.

Prior to purchasing the book I wondered if she would have written a book about an appellate judge or possibly a case reaching the Canadian Supreme Court. Instead, she has returned in fiction to Vancouver where she was a lawyer, professor of law and superior court judge before going to Ottawa as a Supreme Court justice.

Wealthy businessman and patron of the arts, Vincent Trussardi, has been charged with the murder of his wife, Laura. They were one of the “beautiful” couples of Vancouver with wealth and charm and good looks. They were not averse to media cameras.

The Crown has a strong case. Laura was killed in the matrimonial bed with a gun owned by the accused.

Defence counsel, Jilly Truitt, has spent 10 years learning her craft in the criminal courts of Vancouver and is now a prominent defender. At 34 she is also one of the “beautiful” people of the city. She knows that heads turn as she walks through public rooms.

Jilly had a difficult childhood through a succession of foster homes. She has chosen not to search out the identity of her birth parents.

In her first meeting with Trussardi she asks the crucial question when defending an accused who denies committing murder. If it was not him does he have any idea who was the killer? Trussardi briefly hesitates and shakes his head. Truitt lets the answer go unchallenged for the moment.

While every defence counsel challenges the evidence of the Crown there needs to be a realistic alternative to the accused. Reasonable doubt is created by another plausible killer. There are other potential killers in Full Disclosure but is there enough evidence to make them credible suspects?

As Trussardi maintains he was not at home when the murder was committed his defenders search for witnesses who can provide alibi evidence.

Jilly and her defence team spend long hours reviewing the boxes of Crown disclosure.

As with all of us in real life each of the fictional characters has secrets that make it harder to know the truth.

A murder trial brings a harsh light to bear on the lives of its participants. Secrets are unearthed and then their relevancy to the murder is determined.

The trial is well done. I consider the trials in Canadian courts created by William Deverell and Robert Rotenberg to be better done.

McLachlin provides an apt description of the feeling of lawyers when a trial is about to begin:

Already I feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies each new trial. It’s my only remaining addiction – the addiction to risk. Despite the disclosure, all the rules, there are always surprises, and this case will be no exception. Witnesses who say more than they should. The push in cross-examination, always calculated, but sometimes going further than safe.

There is a twist at the end of the trial that I never foresaw. It explains unease I had with some of the earlier plot. McLaughlin does a good job of setting up the reader.

I had some disappointment in the ending. It became the conventional ending of many North American legal mysteries.

I consider the strength of the book in the lawyers. I compare all fictional lawyers with those created by John Grisham. He has created so many interesting lawyers. McLachlin does well in that comparison. Jilly is very much a woman of the 21st Century. Crown counsel, Cy Kenge, is somewhat of a dinosaur but still a talented and wily prosecutor.

The title is a clever choice which has inspired my next post on the layers of meaning it has within the book. The post will include a discussion on a decision by the trial judge on disclosure. It is ironic, if not Freudian, considering the author’s background that the one probable legal error within the book was that decision.

I hope McLachlin will continue with a series of Jilly Truitt books. There will never be a shortage of interesting crimes in Vancouver from which to draw inspiration.