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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald

(17. – 904.) Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald – Miranda “Randy” Craig, with her Master’s Degree in English has usually been limited to sessional teaching positions in Edmonton. Her life changes when an “enormous” anonymous bequest is made to the University of Alberta designated for its Folkways Collection.

That collection includes the only “fully set of Moses Asch’s legendary recordings”:

One of the great visionaries for the preservation of world music, poetry and soundscapes, Moses Asch had been so impressed with the Edmonton music scene every time he visited that he willed his personal collection to the university.

America’s Smithsonian Institute had been surprised, even chagrined, that it did not have the full Asch collection. A relationship was soon established between the Smithsonian and the U of A.

Dreams of building a fully searchable database of the Asch collection in Edmonton suddenly became feasible with the bequest.

Though not a music scholar folk music is a passion of Randy. She was ready when:

The call went out for people skilled in online writing, with an understanding of university policy and project work and strong communication qualifications. Teaching English, writing magazine articles and monitoring chat rooms had to come in handy somehow, and after a process of three vigorous interviews and the inspired admission that I played the banjo, I was offered the continuity and writing position.

(Were it not for the combination of the position being fictional and that she is already a professor I could see my friend, Margot Kinberg, of the blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, being perfectly qualified for the position.)

Unfortunately, her dream job is threatened by a nasty sibling duo, David and Barbara Finster, who are outraged that their late mother has made such a huge bequest for folk music. It is a puzzle to Randy why they should resent folk music. In a public scene at the Folkways Centre David makes it loudly clear the bequest will be challenged.

David, the owner of a major construction business, and Barbara, with a pair of high end ladies apparel stores, are wealthy and bitter.

Before Randy can even assess the risks presented by the Finster duo David is murdered on the edge of campus. Worse yet:

…. Finster’s body was deliberately staged. He’d been stabbed, strung up from a beam, and a note was hanging from the handle of the knife still sticking it him. It said, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD.

The inescapable reference to the Tom Dooley folk song focuses police attention on the Folkways Project and Finster.

Randy’s lover, Edmonton Police detective Steve Downing, is a part of the investigation, though not the lead because of Randy. Still it leads to uncomfortable moments in their relationship.

Randy, though well aware of the never ending fierce intra-university battles for project funding, cannot see who at the university would have wanted to kill Finster and implicate the Folkways Project. Or can it be that murder lurks in the hearts of folkies?

In the midst of a mid-summer Edmonton heat wave the investigation is accelerated when there is further violence.

One of the major tasks for Randy is to assist in an ambitious taping project of the folkwaysAlive! stage at the Edmonton Folk Festival.

Handsome and brilliant and charming Dr. Woody Dowling arrives from the Smithsonian to be the institutional link for the festival. Randy loves Steve but finds Woody intriguing.

The story culminates at the massive Folk Festival. MacDonald provides a vivid portrayal of the fun of the Festival. From sitting on tarps on ski runs providing a natural amhiteathre through quality festival food folk there is a wonderful atmoshphere for folk music fans.

I liked the book but the narrative slowed at times. The book is at its best in discussing folk music and artists and the Festival. It is not a strong mystery. You will want to attend the Edmonton Folk Festival after reading Hang Down Your Head.
****
MacDonald, Janice - (2015) - Another Margaret and Q & A

Friday, April 21, 2017

2017 Shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Fiction

If it is later April it is time for the Shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards to be announced. Annually the Crime Writers of Canada hold a series of events across Canada to announce the Shortlists.

As with most years   I have not read one of the books on the shortlist. 

Following a personal tradition I intend to read and review and rank the books on the shortlist for Best Novel. 

I was impressed to see there were 90 books nominated for the Best Novel Award. Such a number reassures me there is going to be lots of good Canadian crime fiction reading long into the future.

Not having read the Shortlist for Best Novel means I will be reading some new Canadian mystery writers.

The full shortlists are:

Best Novel

Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada

Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo

Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press

Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award

Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing

Best Short Story

Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing

Best Book in French

Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire

Best Juvenile/YA Book

Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Nora McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books

Best Nonfiction Book

Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart 
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane

Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press

Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her Ann
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon

The Crime Writers of Canada had a further announcement:

CWC announces the 2017 Derrick Murdoch Award recipient Christina Jennings. The Derrick Murdoch Award is a special achievement award for contributions to the crime genre. This year's recipient is Christina Jennings, founder, Chairman and CEO of Shaftesbury Films. She has won a number of awards, including Genies, Geminis and Canadian Screen Awards, among several other nominations and accolades throughout her career. Christina founded Shaftesbury Films in 1987 as a feature film company. She has produced movies and television series based upon the work of several Arthur Ellis Award-winning Canadian crime writers including the late novelist and playwright Timothy Findlay (External Affairs), novelists Gail Bowen (the Joanna Kilbourn TV movies) and Maureen Jennings (Murdoch Mysteries), as well as historian Marjorie Freeman Campbell (Torso).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens

 (16. – 903.) Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens (2011) – Retired United States Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, reflects on the USSC by focusing on the men, to date they are all men, who have been Chief Justice of the Court. In his long legal career as clerk, litigator and judge he has personal experience with the last five Chief Justices.

He began his direct contact with the Court in 1948 when he was a clerk for Justice Wiley B. Rutledge.  At that time Fred Vinson was the Chief.

Earl Warren was the next Chief. Stevens appeared before him as a practicing lawyer.

He served as an associate Justice of the Court when Warren Burger, Bill Rehnquist and John Roberts were Chief Justice.

It is remarkable that he has personal knowledge of almost one-third of the Chief Justices. There have been 17 during the history of the Court.

Stevens is a forthright scholar and writer. He has the knack of distilling complex legal arguments to their essence, often in a few sentences. It is a skill that I wish the current American and Canadian Justices of our respective Supreme Courts would use more often in writing judgments. So many judgments go on at great length seeking to explain, justify and inform on broader legal principles rather than limiting their judgments to the direct legal issues of the appeal.

I was struck by Stevens description of the collegiality of the Court. After reading The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong I was left with the impression there was a lack of collegiality at the Court.

Stevens provides a powerful anecdote on how the Justices interacted. He stated that in over 30 years of conferences (meetings to discuss and vote upon cases) no Justice had ever raised their voice. He sets out in the book there were strong differences between the Justices in their legal philosophies, as reflected in their judgments, but there was always respect.

The American Supreme Court and, I expect the Canadian Supreme Court, are models for politicians on how major public issues can be considered and vigorously debated without descending to personal invective and disrespect for those with whom you disagree on issues.

Stevens speaks of a tradition that reinforces their personal respect and friendship for each other. Before entering the courtroom to hear oral arguments the Justices all shake hands.

On the judicial philosophy spectrum Stevens and the late Antonin Scalia were often far apart. Personally, Stevens speaks of his good friend Nino.

Politicians and media – left and right – often speak of the judicial future of the Supreme Court in apocalyptic terms. You would think the end of the nation is upon America because of the composition of the Court.

Certainly, the Court has a major role in the United States but perhaps it is Stevens’ perspective of the Court as a 200 plus year old institution that he avoids such rhetorical excess.

He sets out his opinions on decisions he considers rightly and wrongly decided but usually does not venture into a discussion on their implications for the nation.

His examination of historic decisions demonstrates rarely are judgments on issues fixed for all time.

Where the Court upheld segregation late in the 19th Century just over 50 years later the Court unanimously moved America down the road to integration with Brown v. The Board of EducationHe goes on to show how America would have been better served had the Court simply directed trial judges to implement their decision. A subsequent Supreme Court decision directing integration to occur with "all deliberate speed" effectively set up an approach to resisting integration.

In his consideration of the role of the Chief Justice he shows how the Chief Justice is a first among equals. His vote on an appeal carries no greater weight than the other eight Justices. There is some deference in the process of decision making as he is the designated leader of the Court but not when the moment comes to vote on the disposition of an appeal.

I think the most significant roles in decision making by the Chief Justice involve his management of the conferences and his responsibility, when he is in the majority, to assign to a Justice the writing of a judgment.

Stevens explains that the tradition of identifying Courts by the name of the Chief Justice is often misleading. More apt would be to look to the Justices whose votes are the swing votes on closely divided issues. Their votes actually control the judicial direction of the Court. Were such an approach in place the current Court would be called the Kennedy rather than the Roberts Court.

As this review indicates I found more interesting Stevens’ thoughts on major decisions and the actual functioning of the Court than I did in his analysis of the five chiefs and the earlier 12 Chiefs. Those analyses, especially of the first 12, were but moderately interesting for me. For a reader without a background in the history of the Court his examinations of the Chiefs would be a good primer. I do wonder whether Stevens’ generous nature and clear love of the Court may have limited his observations and opinions. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chamblin Bookmine Bookstore

 My posting has been infrequent this month as Sharon and I have been in Florida for almost two weeks. We spent a few days in Orlando and then a short visit to Daytona Beach and were in Jacksonville last weekend. While traveling I like to visit bookstores and found an amazing store in Jacksonville. The Chamblin Bookmine is tucked next to a freeway (thank goodness for GPS).

Entering the store I was directed to the right for mysteries. I thought the store was large but had no comprehension of its actual size until I started down the hall. The photo to the right below shows the hand lettered signs for each row of books.

Mysteries were on rows 52 and 53. It was not until I looked down aisle 53 that it became clear there were thousands of books in each row. The photo below shows the shelves extending long into the distance. I estimate that each aisle contained the number of books in a modest bookstore. Thus, the equivalent of 55 bookstores in one building.

Every bookstore has to decide where to place authors. For the Chamblin Bookmine most writers of legal mysteries, but not all, are located in general fiction.

While searching in the general fiction G’s I found a new writer to me of legal fiction and I picked up a copy of The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez.

The staggering number of books were overwhelming at the start and it took some time to sort out the organization of the shelves. While shelved alphabetically there are so many books they cannot be precisely logged. There are so many books that in the mystery part of the store a section will be noted as “Bo” and so on.

Just above eye level (mine at least) there were hardcovers for that part of the alphabet.

Below and above would be miscellaneous books for that area.

From the middle of the shelves down will be groups of books for individual authors. They will be marked by their own hand written tag. The photo to the righ shows examples with a tag for Georges Simeon and on the shelf below a tag for Maj Sjowahl.

It seems like almost every mystery author with a major series will get their own
section. I was pleasantly surprised in northern Florida to see a section of the books of Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen.

Far down the aisle was a section of the books of another Canadian author, L.R. Wright, who has been deceased for 16 years.

Having tired of looking at the miscellaneous books I looked for books by a couple of authors I have not read in some time.

Claire Matturo has written a series of books featuring lawyer, Lily Belle Rose Cleary. Clever and witty I enjoyed the first three books in the series but had not found the fourth, Sweetheart Deal, until Saturday. As well I was glad to get a Florida mystery while in Florida. Ms. Cleary resides in Sarasota.

Moving over an aisle I found a group of 20 or so John Dickenson Carr paperbacks and a pair of old hard cover books.

Wanting recommendations I turned to Google on my I-phone. I looked at the Top Ten Carr books as compiled through a survey by Sergio at the Tipping My Fedora blog. I also found a list by Steve of the In Search of a Classic Mystery blog of his Top 5 Carr - Fell series of books.

As Three Coffins (American title), better known as The Hollow Man was on both lists it became my first pick.

No. 1 on Sergio’s survey list was He Who Whispers so I added that book. It was No. 3 on Steve's Fell list.

I unsuccessfully looked for the first book of legal fiction written by Paul Goldstein, Stanford law professor and a winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for Havana Requiem. While the staff could not find a copy they said that within a day or two they could check their warehouses. Unfortunately, we were not staying long enough in Jacksonville.

Before leaving I asked the clerk assisting me how many books were at the store. She told me that between that store and their smaller store, Chamblin Uptown, and four warehouses they had about 4 million books!

We are now in St. Augustine at a lovely Bed and Breakfast, the Cedar House Inn. After a fine breakfast (highlighted by a cold peach soup containing fresh strawberries and blackberries) I am on the front porch in a comfortable rocking chair listening to the fountain and watching life flow by and several books at hand. The sun is shining and it is 23C. Sharon is in her own rocking chair listening to The Whisperer by John Grisham. I am not sure we will get to any sightseeing today.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst – In Cristan Ferrar, Furst has created another fascinating character operating in the shadows of pre-World War II. Ferrar’s family left Spain in 1909 during a period of political upheaval. They moved to France where Ferrar grew up and became a lawyer. Fluent in several languages he joined Coudet Freres, an international law firm with offices in New York and Paris. The firm has a varied clientele representing individuals and corporations.

Based in Paris Ferrar has risen to partnership status and a comfortable financial situation.

While he may go to court his gifts as a lawyer are as a counselor. His polished manner and, clear concern for their needs, find favour with the firm’s elite clientele.

While adept at dealing with multi-country issues and disputes he is not political and has not been involved in the Spanish Civil War.

Life changes when he is invited to become the Spanish Republic’s arms buyer. Astounded, as he has no experience in the world of arms sales, he learns the Republic is desperate for intelligent men to take jobs normally performed by professionals. The previous buyer was the former curator of an art museum.

Ferrar, the only support for his family, declines the invitation but agrees to help Max de Lyon, a Slavic Jew, with a cloudy past that has provided him with abundant connections across Europe.

Ferrar is as suave personally as he is professionally. He loves woman but relationships always falter. He is now in his mid-40’s and content with liaisons. In New York he has a passionate, though infrequent, ongoing affair with Eileen Moore, a librarian.

Once engaged in the arms business the dichotomy in his life is swiftly demonstrated.

As a lawyer he is engaged in a dispute involving a bank owned by a Hungarian family. The feuding family members are stalemating executive decisions. In an effort to gain leverage a brother will not agree that his sister can have the family dogs beloved by her.

At the same time the Republic is desperate for anti-tank guns to counter the tanks supplied Franco by Germany. De Lyon and Ferrar work on a convoluted purchase of Czech made guns.

Meeting a contact in Berlin in 1938 on the prospective arms purchase provides Ferrar with a vivid illustration of the unlimited authority of the Gestapo and SS in Nazi Germany. Their ruthless and corrupt actions confirm to Ferrar that a new war is near.

For some reason I had not thought about how arms purchases would have been increasingly difficult from 1937 through 1939 as nations all around Europe sought and bought arms in preparation for the coming war.

Once again Furst takes the reader into murky quasi-spying operations. The arms world is at its most profitable moment in Europe. There is no longer a Depression for arms manufacturers and dealers.

Ferrar is in Furst’s line of quiet heroes. They are men willing to risk their lives to aid those confronting the Fascist menace. The books have left me wondering how many real life men and women undertook such actions before 1939.

Furst is a master at creating tales in the shadows of pre-war Europe that feature men of integrity. No generation has too many such men and women.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Shanghai Redemption by Qiu Xiaolong

Shanghai Redemption by Qiu Xiaolong – (As this review immediately follows my review of Enigma of China the previous book in the series there is information that would be spoilers for Enigma of China.)

At the end of Enigma of China Chief Inspector Chen was in trouble. His determination to solve high profile crimes had “ruffled high feathers”. As Shanghai Redemption opens high ranking authorities in Shanghai have reached out to Beijing. Chen is removed from the police bureau and promoted upwards in prestige / downwards in authority. His new position is the prestigious post of Director Legal Reform. In Communist China “legal reform” is a legal fiction.

Yet Chen has taken no recent actions that would threaten a higher ranking official and his current caseload is routine. The carcasses of pigs floating down the river into Shanghai is embarrassing but tainted pork is a modest issue. A fast rising businessman, Liang, embroiled in a corruption case concerning the contracts for the furnishings of high speed trains has disappeared.

While contemplating his new Directorship Chen is invited to a book signing at the fabulously expensive Heavenly World night club. A billionaire businessman and lover of poetry has purchased 500 copies of a collection of translated poems of T.S. Elliot. Chen had contributed many of the translations. After the event Chen is lured into a private room by a pair of lovely young women - one of them scantily clad in a cat costume – intent on meeting his every desire. He is relieved to get a call from his mother that allows him to step outside the room. After leaving the club he sees members of the police morality squad entering the club. As the club ownership is well connected against such searches Chen realize that there has been a secret raid seeking to entrap him in a compromising situation.

Even more confused on why such extreme efforts are being made to target him Chen leaves for Suzhou where his father is buried. With no urgency to taking up his new position Chen, a “filial son”, decides to spend a week overseeing renovations to his father’s grave.

In a rather bizarre development a well off young woman, Qiang, having watched him in the office sees him standing in the rain and offers him a ride. During their conversation he portrays himself as a private investigator and she tentatively engages him to spy on her unfaithful boyfriend. It is one of the few scenes in the series that was not credible. Had they met and talked more plausibly her involvement would have been more believable.

Back in Shanghai a crane accident at a construction site has exposed the body of Liang and the missing person case is now a murder investigation.

Chen is drawn into Suzhou opera. The poetic traditional opera is out of favour. The leisurely paced stories which parallel North American daytime television soap operas are not appealing to fast paced modern Chinese life.

Chen can see a net closing in on him and reaches out to friends and colleagues. His connections are extensive from his years as a Chief Inspector. Many, out of respect not fear or gain, are willing to help him.

Old Hunter, the retired police officer, spends hours listening to the café gossip of kept women (ernai).

His loyal former subordinate, Yu, and his wife, Peiqin, provide assistance. In particular, Peiqin, an avid internet searcher moves swiftly to find intriguing stories before they are taken down by the Party.

Somehow the mysterious death of an American businessman in Shanghai seems related to Chen’s troubles.

It is a formidable challenge for a writer to build a believable conspiracy. They tend to spin into the incredible with shadowy figures. It is easier to create conspiracies in China where there is constant conflict among factions vying for power. With alliances shifting Chen is left scrambling to decipher clues. Even when he gets glimmers of those orchestrating the attacks upon him the why eludes Chen until the end.

While glad I read the book immediately after Enigma of China to see what happened to Chen I was a little dissatisfied at the end of Shanghai Redemption because the conclusion does not really end the story. I had not realized it was the second in what appears to be a trilogy.

I do admire Xiaolong’s continuing ability to weave politics, poetry and mystery together in his plots. It is a unique combination.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau has been in line to head the Bureau but long time Party boss for the Bureau, Li, has been reappointed:

As a sort of compensation, Chen was made the first deputy Party secretary of the bureau and a member of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee.

In the Byzantine structure of the Chinese Communist Party he gains some additional status but not power. Unlike most with his rank he rarely uses his stature for personal benefit.

Chen is directed to serve as a consultant to detective Wei on a treacherous investigation. Zhou Keng, was the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee. In that position he has made a fortune. A photo circulated on the internet showing him smoking a very expensive brand of cigarettes, 93 Supreme Majesty, prompted a “human flesh” search where dozens of netizens searched for and found evidence of corruption by Zhou. Unable to ignore the evidence the Party has shuangguied Zhou (taken him into official but not legislated custody for investigation into his actions). The usual consequence is a show trial and pre-determined punishment. While in custody at a luxury hotel Zhou has been found dead. The Party would like a finding of suicide.

Three different government teams are investigating the death. For the police Wei is dedicated to conducting a thorough investigation.

To understand what happened Chen consults with Lianping, a lovely young journalist with the Wenhui Daily. Which mystery author but Xiaolong could describe a character as:

Slender, supple, she’s so young, / the tip of a cardamom bud / in the early spring

She explains to him how blogs and forums are being used to provide news the official media is censored from providing to the Chinese people. Too often for the Party corruption is being revealed.

Net police are becoming more aggressive closing down blogs and preventing searches of politically sensitive topics. It is a new underworld to Chen.

With Zhou dead Chen cannot understand why the Party teams, suddenly augmented by another team from Bejing, are continuing to stay active. What could be dangerous if his death was murder not suicide?

Chen knows there are conflicting factions within the Party. In the never ending power struggles there are equally powerful figures who would respectively prefer murder and suicide.

While Chen wants seeks the truth he knows that major criminal investigations are resolved on the principle of what resolution will lead to a “harmonious society” in the eyes of the Party.

Will romance blossom between the poetic Chen and the high spirited Lianping? Chen’s mother longs for him to find a spouse but Lianping is being courted by a wealthy developer, Xiang. Yet how could there not be a spark when Chen and Lianping stand in a beautiful garden before a large rock engraved with the poem:

          The sun is sinking behind the city wall
to the sad notes of a shining bugle.
Here in Shen Garden,
the pond and the pavilion appear
no longer to be the same,
except the heartbreaking ripples
still so green under the bridge,
the ripples that once reflected her arrival
light-footed, in such a beauty
as to shame the wild geese into fleeing.
         
 Neither fits comfortably into current China as exemplified at a funeral:

The newly materialistic society was shaping many aspects of life according to its own terms – even things like this temple service. The more expense, the more face. That was a type of competition the Yu’s couldn’t afford, which was why Yu, a non-Buddhist, had to bring Chief Inspector Chen – supposedly a high-ranking Party official – into the scene. It was all for the sake of face. Face was an important issue to the Shanghainese.

Back to the investigation the stakes become much higher when Wei is killed. It is clear to Chen the death was not because of a drunken hit and run driver.

As Chen penetrates layers of secrecy the story rushes to a climax that turns out to be a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. It has been a long time since I encountered such a conclusion. Fortunately, when I bought Enigma of China I also bought Shanghai Redemption. While barely able to restrain myself I wanted to get this review written before starting Shanghai Redemption. Now with the review completed I am moments away from finding out what happened to Chen. It is a wonderful series.
****

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

(12. – 899.) The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver – One of the modern masters of the twist in the plot Deaver starts early in this Lincoln Rhyme mystery. In the opening pages he reveals Rhyme has retired as a forensic officer for the NYPD. I certainly was not anticipating the retirement. Those regular characters still in the Department such as Amelia Sachs and Ron Pulaski are frustrated with Rhyme’s decision. While they miss their interaction with the quadriplegic Rhyme they really miss having his lab available for their investigations.

Sachs is tracking in a mall the suspect in a killing by a ball-peen hammer when she is startled by the screams of a man who has fallen inside an escalator and is being shredded by the powerful gears. The top step of the escalator had flipped up. As we all ride escalators it is a frightening thought that an escalator could just open up in front of you. By the time Sachs can stop the escalator motor the trapped man is dead and the unsub has disappeared.

Rhyme gets involved with what happened with the escalator when he joins the legal team for the deceased wife looking for defendants to sue for the wrongful death of her husband.

Unable as a civilian investigator to examine the actual escalator, the police will not allow access, Rhyme comes up with a brilliant idea. He leases an escalator of the same type and finds a way to fit into the foyer of his apartment! Having the escalator in the apartment they can investigate it for reasons for the malfunction.

In the meantime, the unsub a tall, very slender man, pursues other victims. He is creepy and clever rivaling other wicked villains in the series. Deaver delves into his personality and life. He refers to the police searching for him and others as “shoppers”.

The next surprise in the plot is the introduction of forensic student, Juliette Archer, who convinces Rhyme to let her intern with him. She is also in a wheelchair, the Storm Arrow, like Rhyme. Just as determined to succeed as Rhyme, despite her limitations, she is keenly intelligent and not shy to share her insights.

As the investigations proceed they determine the unsub has found a way to remotely take over the wi-fi or Bluetooth controls of a host of consumer devices such as microwaves, stoves and baby monitors. While the manufacturer of the controls has sent out safety patches they are often not installed on appliances and other devices already sold.

It is a brilliant disturbing thought that criminals can control devices inside your home or business while located a half block or further away.

As the unsub, calling himself online the People’s Guardian, launches attacks fear, verging on panic, grips Manhattan.

Despite myself I found I was admiring the cleverness of the People’s Guardian. He was outsmarting an immensely talented and resourced team pursuing him. Is it perverse to want to read about brilliant villains? Maybe a post on the topic is in order.

The book had a superb start and excellent themes but it dragged for me. Most Rhyme mysteries have drawn me swiftly through the book but not The Steel Kiss. It could have done with some editing and the elimination of a personal subplot. If the next book in the series weighs in at 572 pages I know I will hesitate to read it.

For now, it will be awhile before I can be comfortable with the thought of how many devices in my house are at risk of remote control. Deaver describes our vulnerability: 

“Hacking. Finding a weakness, and, well, exploiting it. You know the refrigerator hack from a few years ago? This was epic. A product line of smart fridges was running some old software written for PCs. Hackers got inside and turned the controller into a spambot. Refrigerators around the world were writing and sending penis-enhancement emails and vitamin offers to millions of addresses. The homeowners never knew.”