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, March 19, 2019

Another Spy in Paris by Robert J. Young

(16. – 988.) Another Spy in Paris by Robert J. Young - Lieutenant Maurice Auriol fights hard against the German invaders of France in 1940. Twice his unit is destroyed. After the second battle he is captured.

In 1974 Andrew Stanhope has been diligently going through French Army archives at the decaying fortress of Vincennes for three years. He is exploring the records from the 1930’s. It is a period French officialdom would prefer remain in obscurity as it is convenient to blame the military and civilian leaders of that decade for the disaster of 1940. No one wants to acknowledge the skill of the German invaders or possible treachery within the French military.

A Canadian professor, Stanhope, is one of few foreign academics allowed to research the Army archives. He has gone through boxes and boxes of often meaningless documents establishing himself as a thorough researcher. Now he seeks the more delicate records of French Military Intelligence in 1940.

Colonel Stehlin has appreciated the Canadian academic’s writing about France and is “uncomfortable with the too-simple, uncluttered, official indictments of France’s pre-war regimes”. He grants Stanhope’s application.

His opening box contains routine and incomplete documents. Across from him is a conscript reviewing military medical records from the same era. Invited to take a look at the medical records while the conscript goes for lunch Stanhope unexpectedly finds a pair of ripped postcards speaking of betrayal in 1940.

The plot moves back and forth between 1940 and 1974.

We learn of the particulars of the German espionage and some of the participants. Stanhope searches for the information that will reveal the spies 34 years later. (I thought of the French spying within the German embassy in the Dreyfus scandal a generation earlier in France.)

What is unique is that the espionage involves a French high fashion house. Haute fashion and its creators move freely across borders. High ranking government officials are clients.

The search is not filled with bodies. Tension builds from the gradual accumulation of information. Some is fortuitous, much is from careful examination and thoughtful consideration.

Another Spy For Paris is a slender book. It is a good book with no pretensions. Young is Saskatchewan born and currently an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg, Among his books are biographies of French figures. Young clearly has an intimate knowledge of Paris. He easily discusses its history, landmarks, establishments and people. It is well written and I was glad I read it.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C.L. Polk - Dr. Miles Singer is upset. He is to discharge wounded soldiers before full recovery because more wounded must be admitted. While the war is over, Laneer has surrendered to Aeland, not all the casualties have reached home.

Suddenly a desperately ill man is brought to his hospital in Kingston by Mr. Hunter. The sick man, Nick Elliot, says his tea was poisoned. He implores Singer, referring to him as the “Starred One” and Sir Christopher, to find his murderer.

As Elliot grabs Singer’s arm:

A crackling line of static rushed over me. Tendrils of green light shot
from his fingers and twined up my arm. I fought his grip, but the vines
held fast, stretching from his grasping fingers.

They are linked together. Elliot was a witch. Singer is worried it will become known a witch, with his power, touched the doctor who is also a witch.

Mr. Hunter wants to know why the magic is dying and Singer is the only witch Hunter knows in Aeland.

Nearby a beautiful woman stops before a burning home and performs magic summoning rain from the clouds. She does it unobtrusively. Everyone thinks it is luck that has saved the home.

An elite group of witches evocatively called Storm Singers can control the weather. They expend enormous effort to create good weather for Aeland.

At a benefit for the hospital Miles meets his sister, Grace. She has not seen him since he left home 13 years ago to join the army to become a doctor. She thought he was dead. She is one of the Storm Singers.

Grace tells him he has a new witchmark:

A witchmark. You’ve always had the pink one, but the new one’s green. Just there, and there.” Her fingers hovered over my head: one near my temple, the other at the back of my head. “You can’t see auras without touching someone, still.”

His absence had adversely affected the magical powers of their prominent family. Miles remains unwilling to return to aristocratic life and lose his independence.

Miles and Mr. Hunter pursue the investigation. When Elliot’s body is removed from the morgue before an autopsy can be done they know that there is evil afoot in Aeland.

Mr. Hunter reveals himself as one of the Amaranthines, legendary witches of great power thought to have “left the world to guard the dead”. His powers include the ability to render himself and someone standing next to him invisible.

Miles has the magic to achieve healing. He can see inside the bodies of peoples. Once diagnosed his magic can heal. With the aid of Mr. Hunter he knits together his own broken wrist.

A pair of gifted witches solving a mystery is a unique reading experience for me. Witchmark is set in a fantasy world on our earth at an unnamed time but corresponding to the period of the 1910’s. Much of their world is our world though there are additions such as aether which flows through copper wires to provide power.

As inevitable in a fantasy world the author’s details of the residents of this alternative world become as interesting, if not more, than the actual plot. The ending drifts far into fantasy and the resolution of the mystery features magic. It was interesting and I was glad I read the book but I doubt I will read another book of the witches of Aeland and beyond.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Crisis Point by Dwayne Clayden

Crisis Point by Dwayne Clayden - In the spring of 1976 Brad Coulter is a somewhat maverick Calgary police officer. After working in a training exercise he is on a regular shift with Curtis Young who is about to leave regular duty to become a Canine officer.

(Kevin) Giles is an active member of the Canadian Airborne. Torres and Nadeau are former members of the same unit. They had all served together. With the aid of a guard at Brinks they plan a robbery at a bank branch in a mall. They will strike  just before midnight when the Brinks guards enter the bank with their money cart. It is a good plan but the second Brinks guard starts shooting. Giles wounds him and they escape with $80,000.

As they try to leave Calgary Coulter and Young intercept them. A shootout leaves Young dead.

After the funeral Coulter is offered Young’s dog, Lobo. He accepts.

After a short leave Coulter returns to active duty where he encounters a pretty young paramedic, Maggie Gray. She is spirited and quick witted. They are soon a couple.

One of the consequences of the shootout is the establishment of a SWAT unit in Calgary based on the Los Angeles model of SWAT teams. To distinguish them from American teams they are called the Tactical Support Unit (TSU).

Coulter continues to have physical confrontations at work. While his returns to duty are quick they are not the impossibly swift recoveries of Hollywood heroes.

The robberies by the ex-soldiers continue with few clues for the police.

Coulter is chosen for the first group of TSU officers. The description of the demanding training was interesting. They are extremely fit.

I was disappointed by Coulter secretly taking evidence from a crime scene. His actions interfered with the investigation and were a surprise from an author who has worked as a police officer.

The TSU is not embraced by regular police officers who cannot see the need or purpose to a special unit.

The book complains about the criminal justice system being weighted in favour of accused. I am old enough to have been a defence lawyer in 1976. I would disagree with Clayden’s characterization of the criminal justice system.

While there is more action than I need I appreciated the development of a credible relationship between Coulter and Gray. As well, Coulter’s partner, Briscoe, is married and has a family. I do wish the good guys were not perfect. None of us are.

The bad guys have some character though, as usual, no families.

The dialogue flows nicely. The banter between officers felt realistic. There is genuine wit.

It is a good thriller.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Murder Audit by Michelle Cornish

Image result for Murder Audit by Michelle Cornish Audit by Michelle Cornish - Protesters are zealous and business managers are equally committed on New Year’s at the headquarters of Prairie Pipeline Co. (PPC) which is building of the Rocky Mountain Pipeline about 25 km south of Calgary. Controller, Jim Dunn, is getting ready for the annual financial statement audit. When he steps outside to complain to the protesters he is struck during a confrontation and dies as protesters panic.

Cynthia Webber is articling at Darlington and Associates, an international accounting firm in Calgary. She is recently widowed with a 4 year old son, Luke. She is the manager of the firm audit team for PPC.

With the Calgary economy at full throttle she is working on New Year’s Day to keep up with the work. She finds Dunn’s body during a physical inventory of pipe.

Though she is sent into shock by the discovery of the body and needs a brief hospital stay Cynthia’s hard driving audit supervisor, David Jerew, expects her back at work the next day and to finish the audit on schedule.

When he threatens not to disclose to the police an earring was found on the body she is scared and intimidated. She had already been puzzled at PPC when Gord James, the CFO at PPC, claimed to the police he had found the body. Startled she had not disagreed.

I found it a distraction when Cynthia’s deceased husband, Jason, starts a conversation with her on the fiduciary duty of accountants to the general public to be truthful.

Cynthia meets with Detective Randy Bain of Calgary Police Services. She is honest contradicting Gord and disregarding David’s threat. He fires her that afternoon.

The absence of reasoning and any process within the firm did not feel right.

Blackmail letters written by Dunn come to light.

And if there is a feminine  murder weapon it is the heel protector for spike heels suspected here. (For male readers the protectors allow women to walk on “grass, grates and gravel”.)

Parts of the plot were dramatic. However, the action veered too often from the credible to the incredible to, unfortunately well past the incredible. The climax left me shaking my head. There were other issues beyond the plotting.

As an example, much of the involvement with law and lawyers is not accurate starting with Miranda rights being American. Rights to counsel in Canada are under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The process of bail was wrong..

The dialogue did not quite work at times. Cornish was at her best in family and personal scenes. How Cynthia is appreciative that her firm has daycare inside its office building and she can take the elevator down to the daycare for quick visits during the day. Later she has a shopping date with her best friend, Linda. As she writes more I expect her dialogue will improve.

I believe there was potential to have Cynthia become a character like Joanne Kilbourn in the books by Gail Bowen. There is a framework of friends and family around Cynthia that could be enhanced.

The best legal fiction has legal issues and/or cases at the heart of the story. I wish Cornish had put accounting at the core of Murder Audit instead of the greater emphasis on the environmental issues. As a former CPA she has the background to focus a plot around accounting. However, there are so many weaknesses in writing and plotting to be improved by Cornish. Accountants as action heroes work no better in crime fiction than lawyers as action heroes.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

10-33 by Desmond P. Ryan

10-33 by Desmond P. Ryan - Detective Constable Mike O’Shea and his partner, Detective Constable Brian “Sal” Salvatore are members of the Juvenile Prostitution Task Force of the Toronto Police Department in 2005.

It is grinding bitter work chasing down rings of underage prostitutes who are moved from city to city. They are seeking to charge the pimps and rescue the young women.

In a scene that defines institutional lack of communication they are ready to raid a “hold house” where they are sure a group of teenage prostitutes are staying. As they roll up to the residence they find a woman strolling for customers outside the house. It turns she is a member of the Morality Squad arresting Johns. As they start to pull away a regular marked police car from the Traffic unit stops them to check out Mike and Sal. None of the three groups of officers knows about the operations of the other units.

They rescue a young girl, Britney, who spent two months in the ring. She tells them of a pimp, Malcolm, who slashes girls from mouth to ear, a Glasgow cut, and occasionally kills them

The description of her call to her parents was wrenching as the parents deal with the emotions of finding out she is alive, that they can come to pick her up and that she has been in a prostitution ring.

The stories of how young teenage girls are lured into a relationship and then turned into prostitutes by their new “boyfriends” is sickening and sad and all too credible.

O’Shea has a classic Irish mother in Mary Margaret, a wife from whom he is separated and a young son, Max. Traditional Sunday supper at Mary Margaret’s home always includes Sal. Boiled cabbage, potatoes and corned beef will be the menu.

While the snafu over the raid on the “hold” house has damaged the investigation Mike and Sal start picking up information on where the girls may have been moved.

Ryan has a good ear for dialogue. The conversations feel right. There is a sardonic, somewhat biting, wit in the conversation of the officers. I was tiring of the banter between the officers until a searing scene of a shooting and the aftermath that had me racing through the pages caught up in the story. I had to know what happened next.

Ryan keeps the action driving to an ending that was both anticipated and unexpected.

10-33 is the first of a planned six part series involving Mike O’Shea.

It grated on me as I started the book to read a preface in which the author repeated several times that the book was “real”. Why not write non-fiction if the story is real? Fiction requires imagination not just a narrative with dialogue. By the end I appreciated he had used his imagination to tell a story that is raw and vivid and real.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Why Was Rachel Murdered? by Bill Prentice

Why Was Rachel Murdered? by Bill Prentice - Rachel Lisgar, professor of advanced mathematics and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Social Analytics, has just returned to Toronto from a day trip to New York City with suspicions about the company Hudson Ventures. She is also passionate about social justice causes.

As she enters her home she is assaulted and killed. Across the street an elderly neighbour is killed in his garden.

The police believe the neighbour, a retired Serbian Army colonel, was the target and Rachel was killed because she was a witness to his killing.

Janos Pach, Czech emigre and the head of a billion dollar private equity firm, is sure Rachel was the intended kill. He had asked her to check out the Launchpad Fund. being run by Hudson Ventures, which “helps countries and regions rebuild after natural disasters or wars”. A client, interested in expanding his “exposure in social investment vehicles”, was considering an investment.

Rachel’s initial analytical study had led her to believe Hudson Ventures was a Ponzi scheme. She wanted to interview Stephen Howland, the head of Hudson Ventures. Howland had a slippery past in Canada involving penny stocks and companies where there was fraud. He has managed to avoid prosecution.

Meanwhile in Haiti a civil engineer about to blow the whistle on projects where the money was not spent on rebuilding is murdered when he refuses a bribe.

Pach hires his son, Neil Walker, a private investigator who had spent several years in the RCMP in the Commercial Crimes unit.

Rachel’s sister, Carole, and her aunt, Isabelle, are bitter towards Neil from a past investigation and make it clear they resent his involvement.

Isabelle is the head of Bala Bay Financial, “Canada’s largest privately held financial services conglomerate”.

In Ottawa Carole is offered a position representing Canada at the G7 opposing new regulations on cross-border capital transfers. (The Canadian government is conservative ideologically and wants free flow of capital.)  In return she wants the Federal Government to prevent Walker from investigating her.

Police around the world would love tougher requirements on the reporting of corporations moving money from nation to nation.

All the parties arrive in New York City where corporate money flows and government figures meet and international agencies interact. I sometimes forget Canada, as evidenced from its membership in the G7, is a major participant in international finance.

The Canadian finance minister meets with Paolo Santiago the head of Grupo Muxia an international design-build engineering company which “specializes in infrastructure projects in the Third World”. It regularly faces accusations of “bribery, corruption, sub-standard construction and often sheer theft”.

Thus the scene is set for a complex financial mystery. After reading several gritty police procedurals or works of noir it was a nice change to read a book involving high finance and murder.

Prentice makes an effort to set up the competing interests on a major issue of international finance but there is no real exploration of the positions of each side.

Can it be that Rachel was caught up in detecting corrupt international activities? Yet why kill her when investigations into her research are inevitable? I was happily ensconced on a crime fiction journey into “why”.

It is a rare modern thriller that does not have a conventional progressive position. It is hard to find a positive approach to conservative positions.

I enjoyed the book a lot. I do not usually talk about what a book could have been but many of my thoughts are what the plot could have been. Why was Rachel Murdered? reminded me a bit of the Elisabeth Salander series by Stieg Larsson especially with regard to the financial twists. I think a few issues kept it from being a very popular book. I would have appreciated more about the chosen villain. I think the secondary villain, Santiago, would have been a great primary instead of a bit character. He could have been the Richard "Dickie" Onslow Roper from The Night Manager by John Le Carre. The themes had the heft to be a saga but the book needed more depth and length to take the reader on a grand sweeping story. I would have liked a trilogy. And while it has enough violence to be a thriller there is a shortage of sex. I wish that were unimportant but it is a staple of modern thrillers. Lastly, the character who could have really carried the book was Rachel. Neil and Carole are interesting and Canadian “nice” but Rachel was riveting. Rachel had the ability to be the equivalent of Ava Lee in the series by Ian Hamilton.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Viking Ship Evokes Memories of Ancestors 1,000 Years Ago

In Sagas and Sea Smoke by Susan Nicol the characters take short excursions on a replica Viking ship called the Snorri. The website for the Norstead Viking Village at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland provides particulars on the ship:

On July 16, 1997, twelve men set out in authentic replica of a Viking ship called a knarr. The purpose was to recreate Leif
Ericsson's 1500 mile journey from Greenland to
Newfoundland. The journey lasted from July to September
and the crew attempted to be as historically accurate as
possible. Leif's journey was a remarkable feat even for today
since he only had the basic medieval navigational tools: the
sun and the stars. L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, the
site of the only confirmed settlement in North America, their
ship was the first authentic Viking ship to have completed the
trip in 600 years.

The ship was christened "Snorri" after the name the Vikings
gave the first child born in the New World. It is equipped with
only a square canvas and oars.

While Sharon and I have not seen the Snorri we have seen other Viking ships.

Visiting cousins in Oslo, Norway we went to the Viking Ship Museum which contains three actual Viking ships that have been found in excavations in Norway and preserved.

The Oseberg ship, a photo of which is above, is a striking ship. The Museum website states:

The prow and stern is richly carved in beautiful animal
ornamentation far below the waterline and up along the prow,
which ends in a spiraling serpent's head. Such an ornately
decorated ship has undoubtedly been reserved for special
members of the aristocracy.

The Oseberg ship could be both sailed and rowed. There are
15 oar holes on each side so fully manned, the ship would
have had 30 oarsmen. In addition, there was a helmsman at the
steering oar and a lookout who stood in the bow. The oars are
made of pine, and some of them show traces of painted
decorations. The oars show no signs of wear, so perhaps they
made especially for the burial.

In the ship were the bodies of two women, in her 70’s and the other about 50. Various artifacts accompanied them.

While visiting the Museum was very interesting a much more powerful experience came a week later when we traveled to the Lofoten Island of Vestvågøy where my Grandfather, Carl Selnes, grew up in the late 1800’s.

Just down the hill from a Viking Chief Farm Museum is a dock at which was a replica Viking ship. A photo I took is to the left of this post.

The ship is docked at the exact spot from which Viking ships sailed 1,000 years ago.

At the Museum was the story of a family, which rather than submit to the new king when their small principality was about to be absorbed into a larger Norse kingdom, left in their ship with their most precious belongings for Iceland.

A video of the Museum and ship can be found at - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5udUbDvpkE

I expect some members of that family likely made their way to Greenland and possibly Vinland which was the Viking name for the area around L’Anse aux Meadows.

There is no development around the dock. I gazed upon the hills unchanged from Viking days. When I stepped aboard the ship I went back in time a thousand years to when my ancestors sailed such ships from this spot. It was so vivid.