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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt - Disliked

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt - My last post started a review of Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt. I appreciated and was challenged by the part of the book that dealt with the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II. The cover and title indicated a book about Japanese Americans and to which nation they gave their allegiance. What I struggled with in the book was the other plot line.

To discuss my concerns with the book will involve spoilers. Those readers planning to read the book should consider not go further into this post.

Early in the book Cash comes to believe there is a secret conspiracy seeking to control the U.S. Supreme Court. A fellow clerk, Gene Gressman, works to persuade him that dark forces are threatening the integrity of the court.

Cash is ineptly followed and becomes engaged in a confrontation with those tailing him..

Among the greatest difficulties for writers of crime and thriller fiction is creating credible conspiracies. Roosevelt did not succeed with the conspiracy chosen for this book

He had the elements of an interesting conspiracy but it was too far from the internment theme. The conspiracy and murder in Allegiance felt grafted onto a plot about the constitutional and personal issues of internment and detracted from the real story. The conspiracy never felt right in Allegiance.

If there been a murder at the court in Allegiance that was clearly related to the questions of internment there would have been a better book.

John Grisham is talented at bringing murders directly into the issues he is addressing in his books. In The Pelican Brief Grisham successfully tackled the same elements as Allegiance. There was murder within the Supreme Court, a conspiracy and a pending Supreme Court case. The Pelican Brief saw Tulane University law student, Darby Shaw, early in the book connecting the murders of two Supreme Court Justices with the case on environmental issues coming before the Court. Her efforts to expose the conspiracy made the book a compelling read for me.

Roosevelt’s skill is in the writing about legal issues and lawyers rather than conspiracies. He does tie together the plot lines at the end of the book in a realistic way but it was too late in the book for me. Even within the book Cash expresses confusion on how the murders are related to the Japanese cases.

Grisham’s approach immediately drew me while Roosevelt left me wondering how these two stories could be connected. The motives and killers in Allegiance are mysterious for almost all the book.

Last year The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson explored law and segregation in the American South of 1946. The civil rights movement was stirring after the war but an African American refusing to take his proper place on a bus in the Deep South can still be murdered for his impertinence. The issues of segregation are developed in relation to the murder of decorated WW II veteran, Lt. Joe Howard Wilson.

Roosevelt had two good books in Allegiance that were pushed into one book and each plot suffered. He could have had a book focused on the internment cases and another book about a conspiracy against the Court.

Overall I am glad I read Allegiance and I hope Roosevelt will write another legal mystery but without a conspiracy.
****
Roosevelt, Kermit – (2007) - In the Shadow of the Law; (2016) - Allegiance - Enjoyed

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt - Liked

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt – What a dilemma. Half of the book fascinated and intrigued me. Half of the book puzzled and frustrated me.
 
The intriguing part involved the exploration of the American Japanese internment court cases from World War II. The government, having interned 120,000 Japanese Americans (most of them American citizens) faced legal challenges to the internments during the war.
 
Caswell Harrison, known to the Philadelphia elite as Cash, has just finished law school after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Failing his physical after being drafted leaves him unsettled and anxious to find a way to contribute to the war effort.
 
Offered a clerkship at the United States Supreme Court by Justice Hugo Black he is persuaded to take up the position of clerk as a means of serving his country. Among the major issues coming before the Court are the Japanese cases.
 
Roosevelt brings alive the great Supreme Court Justices of that era such as Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William Douglas.
 
Cash observes them as judges and in their personal lives, how they react to pending cases and what sways them in reaching decisions.
 
Black loves playing tennis and has a full size tennis court in his backyard.
 
Cash’s year at the Court passes swiftly and he unexpectedly learns how the clerks sometimes influence decisions.
 
Later in the book he joins the Department of Justice and is tasked with supporting the internment by defending the actions of the Government. A further round of Japanese cases are reaching the Supreme Court.
 
Great questions are addressed in the book. What should happen to constitutional rights during war time? If rights are not upheld in time of crisis what are the consequences for the Rule of Law? These questions continue to be weighed by the Court today as the United States proceeds through its second decade of the war against terrorism.
 
An interned Japanese American Harry Nakamura discusses constitutional rights with Cash:
 
“The idea of these rights makes life perhaps more difficult,” Harry says softly. “To tell us we are enemies and lock us up, that we can understand. To tell us we are still Americans, to arrest us for refusing the draft, to make our children salute the flag and pledge allegiance to their jailers – it is perhaps this that people cannot bear. Renouncing citizenship could seem a relief.”
 
As Cash works upon the cases as a lawyer for the Department of Justice he must weigh his personal beliefs against the positions of the Department. What are his personal and professional responsibilities if there is conflict?
 
As the cases are argued at the Supreme Court late in World War II the nation wonders if the Justices will rule against FDR’s decision to approve the internment. Have the Justices become more independent after a decade of acquiescence to the President’s decisions and policies?
 
There was drama enough for me in the facts of the internment, the rights of a nation’s citizens during war, the stories of the interned Japanese and a young lawyer’s efforts to balance duty and conscience.
 
Roosevelt, an American constitutional law professor, brilliantly shows how constitutional law is often dramatic with powerful personal stories.
 
As the Western World of 2016 assesses the dangers of a violent minority within a minority Roosevelt’s book explores what happens when fear dominates the decisions of a nation.
 
In my next post I will discuss my struggles with the other plot line.
 
Allegiance is the first book I have read from the three books on the shortlist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.
****

Roosevelt, Kermit – (2007) - In the Shadow of the Law; Hardcover

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 Winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction - Pleasantville

Yesterday the University of Alabama and the American Bar Association Journal announced that Pleasantville by Attica Locke was the winner of the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

I am currently reading my way through this year’s shortlist for the Prize. I have just finished Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt. I am currently reading Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo by C. Joseph Greaves. I will then read Pleasantville.

I wish I could read more and faster so that I could complete the shortlists I have chosen to read in recent years before the Awards were announced.

I had decided to read Pleasantville last of the short listed books as I had received recommendations it was an outstanding book.

As I have done in recent years I will be writing reviews of each of the books on the shortlist and then providing my opinion on which was the best book.

In the past two years I have agreed with the choice of the judging panel. In 2014 the winner was Sycamore Row by John Grisham and in 2015 it was The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson.

The readers of the ABA Journal have a say in the selection process. For 2016 had their votes decided the Award there would have been a different winner.

The ABA Journal said its voting readers were divided as follows:

        1.) 24.01% for Pleasantville;
        2.) 31.6% for Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo;
        and,
        3.) 44.39% for Allegiance.

In its press release the University of Alabama Law School provided information on Ms. Locke:

Attica Locke’s first novel, “Black Water Rising,” was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was short-listed for the Orange Prize in the United Kingdom (now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction). Her second book, “The Cutting Season,” published by Dennis Lehane Books, is a national bestseller and is a winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. A graduate of Northwestern University, Locke was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab. She’s written scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and HBO and is a writer and producer of the Fox drama “Empire.” A native of Houston, Attica lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

The Award will be presented on September 22 at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. during National Book Festival.

Congratulations to Attica.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Issues with Open Season by Peter Kirby

I enjoyed Open Season by Peter Kirby, winner of the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Fiction novel, as set out in my last post but I have issues with the book.

Open Season takes on a couple of challenging themes.

The primary plot involves the plight of failed refugee claimants in Canada who actually have a good claim to refugee status.

The secondary plot involves the trafficking of young women from the Ukraine to Canada and forcing them into prostitution.

There are many serious issues on each plot line.

What distressed me was the one dimensional quality of those characters who were not Montreal City Police officers or the victims.

I understand the desire to portray those involved in the kidnapping of the Guatemalan journalist, Luna, and those who trafficked Katya but they were all evil. There was no nuance to them.

What bothered me more was that members of other law enforcement agencies were also depicted as bad.

The Canadian Border Service enforcing court orders were seen as cruel.

The members of an RCMP task force into international human trafficking were uncaring and mean.

The narrow picture of the criminals and other law enforcement officials left me considering the book good but not great.

Showing the villains as humans does not diminish their wickedness. John Le Carré in his books creates villains who are real characters. Richard "Dickie" Roper in The Night Manager is a suave sophisticated arms dealer with a family who is among the most dangerous men in the world.

I regret the current tendency in crime fiction to create villains who are only wicked.

****

The other issue was the cover. It did not attract me. While covers should not matter I admit they do influence me. Having just said I found the cover unappealing I received a comment from Brandi who said the cover drew her to the book. I would be interested in comments of other readers on their reaction to the cover which is at the top of this post.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Open Season by Peter Kirby

Open Season by Peter Kirby – Detective Inspector Luc Vanier, normally quick and decisive, is tentative about buying a condo. Vanier and his girlfriend, Anjili Segal, have decided to move in together but Vanier is having trouble deciding on which condo. Each one they view is flawed. While his love of Segal is strong he is inwardly hesitant about the commitment to living together.

While Vanier and Segal are dining and discussing condos he is called to a kidnapping. A woman has been abducted outside a restaurant and the lawyer, Roger Belair, who was meeting her has been injured. 

As Vanier and Detective Sargeant Saint Jacques begin their investigation there is little information. The lawyer knows little more than her name was Sophie Luna. She is a Guatemalan journalist who has sought and been denied refugee status in Canada.

At the same time Katya Babyak is beginning a secret journey from the Ukraine to Canada. With four other young women they are being smuggled into Canada.

Vanier is puzzled by the kidnapping. Why would a woman facing deportation be kidnapped? There can be no money for ransom. She has no prominent friends or relatives in Canada.

The case becomes a high priority when Belair is murdered in the emergency area of the hospital while under police guard. Unfortunately for Belair the guard was pre-occupied with taking an hourly break and left Belair unprotected.

Katya eventually reaches Montreal where she is held captive and forced to be a prostitute.

The investigation leads them into the murky world of refugee claimants seeking to remain in Canada. Being granted refugee status in Canada has become more difficult. Once denied many claimants retreat to an underworld of the desperate seeking by any means, legal or not, to stay in Canada. If they are caught by Canadian Border Services they will be swiftly deported.

It turns out Luna has one precious commodity – documentation on a fraudulent business deal – but it is clear the information was neither on her when she was kidnapped nor is it at her apartment.

The investigation is meticulous. Leads are followed carefully. Vanier and Saint Jacques weigh all information and diligently pursue new lines of investigation.

The book is well plotted. There is neither an easy nor an impossibly difficult note to the resolution. How Vanier and Saint Jacques determine why Luna was kidnapped is as intelligent a police procedural as I have read in sometime.

The ending appeared out of character for Vanier. The lone lawman intent on personal justice is not a Canadian concept. Thankfully the body count was modest.

I had a reservation about two matters with regard to the book and will discuss them in my next post.

Open Season was the 5th and final book I have read from the shortlist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award as the Best Crime Fiction novel written by a Canadian. Open Season was the winner of the Award. Next week I will personally rank the shortlist.

Monday, July 4, 2016

9th Canadian Reading Challenge Roundup (Part II)

In my last post I listed the 16 books I had read for the 9th Canadian Book Challenge. Rather than the calendar year each year’s Challenge goes from Canada Day (July 1) to the following Canada Day. All 16 books I read this year were crime fiction.

Of the settings of the 16 books what struck me was how few were set just in Canada:

1.) Only 5 of the 16 books took place in Canada (one each in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Yukon);

2.) There were 3 books with settings inside and outside Canada (Saskatchewan and the South Pacific, Cuba and Northern Ontario, Quebec and the United States); and,

3.) Most surprising was that 8 of the books were set outside Canada (4 in England, two in the United States, one in France and one in Croatia).

These personal stats reflect an issue I raised in recent posts on the number of cross-border Canadian mysteries and the “encouragement” of publishers for authors to set their books outside Canada.

For the 8th Canadian Book Challenge my reading had 13 of 18 books set in Canada. I am hoping this past year’s stats are an aberration.

My favourite Canadian read of the year was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce captured me as she has enthralled legions around the world. An 11 year old girl living in rural England in the 1950’s is an unlikely sleuth but Bradley has created a wonderful character in Flavia. She is a bright engaging girl. Her love of chemistry and fascination with poisons adds to her allure. The mystery was well done and the importance of a postage stamp to the plot an unusual intrigue. I was not as excited about the next in the series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, but it would have been very difficult to equal The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I have the 3rd in the series to read and will be interested to see how the series develops with Flavia.

Second was What’s Left Behind by Gail Bowen. The 16th Joanne Kilbourn mystery sees Joanne involved in a bruising municipal referendum on development (I do not think Gail was prescient in anticipating a nation changing referendum in the United Kingdom) and the murder of a young woman farmer. While not the focus of the book I will not forget What’s Left Behind for its involvement in heritage poultry. The victim’s prized poultry were also killed. I had never heard of “Blue Andalusians, scarlet-combed Langshans, Swedish Flower , Ridley Bronze turkeys and pink-billed Aylesbury ducks” before reading the book.

Third was Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald. The concept of the book was challenging. Miranda “Randy” Craig is a Master’s student at the University of Alberta researching a reclusive Albertan author who has written a quartet of well regarded books when a new book appears decades later. The unique aspect of the book is that MacDonald created detailed plot lines for the books being researched by Randy. MacDonald actually plotted out 6 books in the writing of Another Margaret.

I admired MacDonald’s witty insights into academic life. While working on invitations to a reunion of grad students Randy remarks:

Who knew there that many English majors in the world? You’d think there would be far fewer apostrophe problems on signage.

At the other end of the spectrum I was disappointed with the books by Anthony Bidulka and Louise Penny.

I found I could not suspend disbelief with regard to Anthony’s book that had over 100 people secretly on a South Pacific island. It is a hard premise in the 21st Century to have so many people marooned on a desert isle.

I equally struggled with Louise Penny’s premise of a giant supergun lying hidden in the woods a short distance from Three Pines. Inspector Armand Gamache is not the sleuth for a doomsday thriller.

It was a good year of Canadian reading and I have started reading for the 10th Challenge.

Friday, July 1, 2016

9th Canadian Book Challenge Roundup (Part I)

Sharon and I spent Canada Day in Regina. I had covered the Roughriders season opener last night and we stayed over.

The drive home was almost a classic rural Saskatchewan drive. For most of the 300 km we were on cruise control sailing down a quiet highway watching the clouds moving across the vast sky while listening to 60's rock on the radio.

Then we came over a hill and there was the wreckage of a bad accident in the ditch. Several vehicles had already stopped to help and we were directed on. As we drove on to Melfort seven emergency vehicles passed us as they responded to the accident.

I am a little subdued thinking about the accident as I write this post on successfully completing the 9th Canadian Book Challenge which ran from July 1, 2015 to yesterday.

For the Challenge readers seek to read 13 books by Canadian authors.

The books I read were:

1.) No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings

2.) Plague by C.C. Humphreys

3.) Booked for Trouble by Eva Gates

4.) Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald

5.) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

6.) The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny - Part I and Part II

7.) Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke

8.) The Women of Skawa Island by Anthony Bidulka

9.) The Night Bell by Inger Ash Wolfe

10.) The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

11.) The Wail of the Windigo by Steve Pitt

12.) What's Left Behind by Gail Bowen

13.) The Heart of Hell by Alen Mattich

14.) Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair

15.) A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt

16.) The Storm Murders by John Farrow

For the 7th Challenge I read 18 books and for the 9th Challenge it was 19 books.

I appreciate John Mutford hosting the Challenge at his fine blog, The Book Mine Set.

In my next post I will discuss the books I read during the 9th Challenge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Not Prosecuting Polygamy

Art Oveson, in A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt, is appointed to head the newly created Anti-Polygamy Squad of the Salt Lake City Police. It is 1934 and the Mayor has decided that it is time to enforce the criminal laws against polygamy and unlawful cohabitation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had disavowed polygamy late in the 19th Century and the practice had been illegal for several decades by the Depression of the 1930’s.

I was unable to determine if there was really an Anti-Polygamy Squad in Salt Lake City during the Depression but I did find online Polygamy in Utah and the Surrounding Area Since the Manifesto of 1890. It is the master’s thesis of Jerold A. Hilton written in 1965 when he was a student at Brigham Young University.

The Manifesto set out that polygamy was not a part of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Here are some excerpts from the Manifesto:

I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.

****

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

Wilford Woodruff

A significant number of Mormons rejected the decision of the Church and continued to have plural marriages.

A Killing in Zion includes as part of the plot issues that are currently featured in the debate on plural marriages.

Teenage girls as young as 13 years of age were and are being married to men often decades older.

With the number of wives being taken by men, especially older men, there are more boys growing up than there are women available for marriage. Senior members of fundamentalist Mormon groups banished teenage boys from the community leaving them to fend for themselves. Those leaders assert the shortage of marriageable women in the groups is not the reason for banishment.

While these actions with regard to teenagers are objectionable, even abhorrent, to many there were no major legal efforts against polygamists from 1890 through the 1930’s.

Hilton’s thesis provides the annual statistics from 1896 through 1962 on Utah prosecutions for polygamy (which includes bigamy) and illegal cohabitation.

For the 66 years of the stats there were a total of:

          1.) 63 people charged and 38 convicted of polygamy
          offences; and,

2.) 35 people charged and 27 convicted of unlawful cohabitation (of the total 19 charges and 16 convictions occurred in 1943 – 1944).

During 1933 – 1934 which includes the months when A Killing in Zion takes place there were but 2 charges and 2 convictions for polygamy offences in the whole state of Utah. There were no charges of unlawful cohabitation.

There were thousands of polygamists in Utah during the Depression. In the 1950’s it is estimated that there were 2,000 to 20,000 polygamists. While they maintained a low profile in the 1930’s there was no legal offensive to eradicate polygamy

After examining the above stats it is no surprise that no charges were laid against anyone in A Killing in Zion. There was general disapproval of plural marriages but no public outcry for prosecution.