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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Princeling of Nanjing by Ian Hamilton

The Princeling of Nanjing by Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee is deeply occupied with the opportunities and dangers of Chinese business. Her business venture into high end clothing with May Ling and Amanda Lee has a very successful fashion show. They are poised to enter into markets in and out of China. However, Xu who is the chairman of the triads, has experienced complications in his personal business.

Xu seeks Ava’s business and accounting experience to deal with the Tsai family who count among its members the Governor and the Communist Party Secretary for the province of Jiangsu. They have leveraged their control of the provincial government into lucrative contracts. As common with the avaricious they want more and are pushing, even threatening, Xu to enter into the manufacture of synthetic drugs. For a man wanting to minimize his triad business and to avoid conflict within the triads it is a difficult situation.

Ava returns to her roots as a forensic accountant. Discreetly but extensively using contacts within China, Hong Kong and her home of Toronto she assembles a picture of a business empire assembled by the Tsais. Their corruption is breathtaking in its scale.

The Tsais, especially the Tasi men, are also clever and intuitive. They swiftly discern Ava’s interest which they rightly assume was on behalf of Xu and react negatively.

Ava, upset with herself for underestimating the Tsais, reverts to her basic approach to aggression. She takes the initiative, moving swifter than her opposition, to counter-attack and force the Tsai family on the defensive.

One of her strategies is logical. The other is implausible. Only in fiction do people give up information so quickly under some pressure.

Unlike several recent books in the series there is no violent resolution. Ava skillfully orchestrates an exploration of the Tsai family finances. 

While I weary of books with almost endless twists the tension of the investigation was modest. The results were foreordained.

The sums involved in the books of the series have increased exponentially from the earliest books. Ava is now a member of the super-rich though her personal expenditures are little changed. She is on her way to being a business titan.

The story moves swiftly. While I appreciate Ava using her accounting skills more than her martial arts some more drama was needed. 

Ava’s personal relationships are barely touched upon in the book.

The Princeling of Nanjing is not a strong addition to the series.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dressing to Impress in There's a Murder Afoot

Clothes have been featured in all the Gemma Doyle mysteries by Vicki Delany.

A few years ago, after reading By Book or By Crook by Vicki, writing under the name of Eva Gates in her Lighthouse Library series, I wrote a post about the vivid descriptions of women’s clothes and the minimal detail concerning male apparel.

I was glad, whether because of  a conscious change by the author or the simply plot requiring more description of what the men were wearing there are more particulars of men in clothes in There’s a Murder Afoot.

During her investigation Gemma advises her friend, Grant, to dress “rich” to impress at an art gallery for the rich, not the super-rich. They sell paintings “in the style of the old masters”.  He does his best:

…. and today he looked the part of a well-off art collector in a brown sheepskin bomber jacket with checked white-and-brown scarf over a good gray woolen sweater and dark jeans rolled up at the cuffs. Sturdy brown leather boots were on his feet.

As his “meek little wife” Gemma decides upon: 

…. slumming it in jeans and a navy-blue blazer. I’d need some high-end accessories though, if I wanted to look the part.

While Grant thinks she looks fine Gemma thinks “What do men know?”. On clothing women feel free to be sexist. A quick stop at Harrod’s completes her ensemble:

I had a new pair of leather gloves (one hundred quid) on my hands, high-heeled leather ankle boots (five hundred quid) on my feet, and a Burberry bag (seven hundred quid) over my shoulder ….. Pippa and her office would be getting the bill.

There are consequences to fashion statements:

I couldn’t have been walking in my new boots more than ten minutes, and my feet were screaming in pain. I don’t normally wear such high heels, and I was worried I’d topple over.

The owner of Gallery Lambert does dress rich:

Mr. Julian Lambert was a short, slightly built man in an Armani suit, gold cufflinks, and Italian loafers. His hair was expertly cut, his hands manicured, and he smelled of cologne. His accent was English and middle-class.

Believing Mr. Lambert has access to illicit paintings, even forgeries, Gemma wants him to think of Grant as a collector not averse to paintings not for public sale. Their pretences are convincing and Julian is willing to see what might be available in the dimmer corners of the art world.

I hope more authors will choose to dress their male characters with style.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

There’s a Murder Afoot by Vicki Delany

There’s a Murder Afoot by Vicki Delany - Gemma Doyle of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in West London, Massachusetts has returned home to London, England for a Sherlock Holmes convention. When fictional sleuths travel it can be a challenge for series as continuing characters will be absent. Delany solves that problem by having most of her cast going with Gemma to the convention.

Gemma is in fine form early in the book showing off her observational and analytical skills. She has gained a modest grasp of discretion. She less casually revals to the less brilliant their limitations.

Through Gemma going home we meet Gemma’s parents, Henry (retired police officer) and Anne (active barrister), and her older sister Pippa (mysteriously important government official). Pippa is suitably imperious and brilliant and connected. She is a fine modern day Mycroft. Unlike Mycroft she has an interest in having personal connections, relationships are infrequent and romance is rare.

At the convention Gemma is startled to meet Uncle Randolph “Randy” Denhaugh, the black sheep brother of her mother’s family. Reviled for his past behaviour and cast out by the family Randolph has great charm and significant artistic talent. 

At the convention the devout roam among the vendors of Sherlockian merchandise. There is an inexhaustible selection.

Gemma draws a standing room crowd for an address on her American store which is focused on the Great Detective. The listeners murmur approval when she tells of her efforts to provide Americans with a proper cup of tea.

Uncle Randy draws attention for the number of people with whom he has confrontations during the convention. One contretemps is with Henry. When Uncle Randy is slain at the convention banquet suspicion falls upon Henry. DI Sam Morrison is a master of police tunnel vision. The sisters are disdainful of his investigatory abilities.

Gemma and Pippa instantly, but only temporarily blunt the police focus on father and commence their own investigation.

Gemma is aided by the lovely Jayne Wilson with whom she shares ownership of the Mrs. Hudson Tea Room which is attached to the bookstore. Jayne’s innocent features mask a clever woman.

There is no need for forced entry to snoop. Pippa’s authority is such that doors simply open. Pippa has such presence she could sustain another series.

For Gemma’s boyfriend, Ryan (police officer at home), it is a frustrating time. He is accustomed to leading investigations. As a visitor to a foreign land he cannot unsuccessfully tell Gemma to butt out of his investigations as he does back in Massachusetts and he can hardly complain about her helping her father.

Gemma’s investigation leads to Uncle Randy’s participation in the murky art underworld. His skills as a painter have not been used on original creations.

I did find it hard to believe Henry could be the prime suspect. Even to the close minded Morrison the evidence of Henry’s guilt was slight.

There’s a Murder Afoot is a good book. Gemma is a gifted practitioner of Sherlockian investigations. She demonstrates that the 19th Century investigatory talents of Holmes are as useful in the 21st Century.

Gemma is also a wonderfully likeable character. She has an independent spirit but is not a reckless investigator. I expect many more of her adventures will be published.
Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in
     Clothing Descriptions

     4.) The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries with Gemma
     Doyle - (2017) - Elementary, She Read and Fictional and Real
     Life Bookshops and Sherlock and Where is "Gemma" From?
     (2018) - Body on Baker Street and The Inspiration for Body on  
     Baker Street

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris - A book, because I knew nothing about it beyond it was written by Harris and was doing well, that surprised, even startled me.

I thought, for a few dozen pages, that the book, set in “the Year of Our Risen Lord 1468”, was taking place in 1468 A.D. To my surprise it was set after the Apocalypse. It is set 800 years later than 1468 A.D.. Scientism has been rejected and archeological research rendered criminal by the Church for “[T]he path to Hell begins with too much seeking into the past”.

Father Christopher Fairfax ventures into rural England to Addicott to conduct the funeral of a priest, Father Lacy, The priest has died from a fall, an “evil chance”. 

Wonder on whether his death was by chance besets Fairfax when he finds that Father Lacy’s library includes the prohibited volumes of The Proceedings and Papers of the Society of Antiquaries.

He is shaken to read in a volume a report on possible scenarios that could result in the Apocalypse. Church teaching had been for centuries after the Fall that “God had punished the ancients for their elevation of science above all by bringing down upon the Earth the four terrible riders of the Apocalypse - Pestilence, War, Famine and Death - as foretold in the Book of Revelation; and that thanks to a revival of the True Faith, they were blessed to be living in the time of the Risen Christ, when order had been restored to the world.”

Finding records extending back centuries before the Fall he is drawn to stay in Addicott.

The book is interesting as a form of archeological mystery in which the current investigators seek to determine what befell a far more advanced technological civilization. The Church’s explanation is God’s wrath. The fragments of history suggest a catastrophic breakdown of society in 2022 A.D.

Our current world is dependent on complex interconnected systems. Few of us sustain ourselves from the food we produce. Our huge cities require massive amounts of food to be transported to them daily. Could our society collapse? It is hard to know how close we came in the financial meltdown of 2008. Money and its movement and faith in currency was at grave risk just 12 years ago.

While interesting I was not caught up in the story. The plot plodded for almost 200 pages with hints and minor exposures of the past. Finally, a small band form to dig for the truth of the Apocalypse and the science by which people could fly and communicate by devices bearing the symbol of a “bitten apple” (interpreted to mean a bite of the forbidden fruit in Genesis). Interpreting a fictional distant past more advanced in technology is little easier than the efforts of contemporary real life archeologists deciphering the artifacts and writings of long ago civilizations.

Harris is often great, sometimes nearly great, occasionally far from great. My judgment of The Second Sleep is far from great. The premise is fascinating but not the plot.
Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; (2016) - Conclave and The Conclaves of Malachi Martin, Walter Murphy and Robert Harris;

Monday, January 6, 2020

Bills 2019 Best of Non-Fiction and Most Interesting

In my last post I discussed my favourite fiction reads in 2019. This post deals with Non-Fiction and a category of my own, Most Interesting.

With regard to Non-Fiction - 

1.) Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovitch - The “dangerous times” relate to the head injury issues of football players. He provides a serious look at the consequences. The problem, as happened with tobacco, appears to be evolving to football players choosing to voluntarily taking the risks of brain injury.

More interesting to me were the observations and stories from the many interviews he conducted with team owners. These billionaires, every franchise if worth over a billion dollars, are interesting even eccentric. How good they are at business is less certain for the league’s ever expanding revenues make it difficult to lose money.

Jerry Jones, the very public owner of the Dallas Cowboys, relishes talking to reporters no matter the consequences for his team. This past fall he created turmoil over his negative comments when the Cowboys lost games. His ego is Texan big.

2.) 47 Days: A Journey Back Home by Amanda Perot - The author, who resides less than 50 km from Melfort, undertook a 47 day journey in 2018 of personal discovery after her marriage failed and she was doubting herself. She wanted to meet Saskatchewan women who had or were suffering adversity and see how they were addressing their issues. She financed the trip with the sale of decals and t-shirts.

She called her trip Saskatchewan Sisterhood - The Power of Women’s Voices. On the trip she held presentations to which women were invited to share their stories.

Her writing is passionate and profane. Amanda is a woman of strong emotions. 

I enjoyed the book greatly. I was able to see in my mind every place she traveled around Saskatchewan on her journey of 5,820 km.

3.) Florence Kinrade - Lizzie Borden of the North by Frank Jones - I enjoyed the book and disliked the title. It was too much an effort to capitalize on the notorious American murder case involving Lizzie Borden.

I do not read a lot of true crime. I have enough of that at the office. I did find interesting the story of Florence Kinrade who was suspected of killing her sister, Ethel. Florence asserts the killer was a tramp.

Her family, prominent members of the Hamilton establishment, closed ranks and there was a shoddy police investigation.

In a dramatic inquest, a well known Toronto lawyer, aggressively questions Florence about her implausible story and an unexpectedly adventurous life.

With regard to Most Interesting I have a trio of books:

1.) Cobra Clutch by A.J. Devlin - The debut novel of Devlin won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best New Crime Fiction Novel in Canada.

“Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead is a former pro wrestler and bouncer who gained his nickname by breaking 2” x 4” boards over his head after winning a match. His initial investigation concerns a kidnapped snake.

The world of minor professional wrestlers is unpredictable and unconventional and entertaining. I think Devlin is about to become a very well known author.

2.) Bird's Eye View by Elinor Florence - Saskatchewan farm girl Rose Joliffe is anxious to support the war effort by joining the military as WW II begins. She is frustrated for two years as there is no role for women. Eventually she enlists in the English Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Upon learning of her experience in taking photos she is assigned to a unit developing photos. Her intelligence leads to a position analyzing air photos taken by reconnaissance pilots. I found fascinating how much information could be gleaned from skilled examination of these photos.

3.) Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan - I was entranced by the world of super-rich Singapore Chinese families. A million dollars is a pittance. A billion dollars a starter fortune.

The lovely Rachel Chu, a professor in New York City, has no understanding of the prominence and wealth of the family of her boyfriend, Nicky Young. Invited to a wedding in Singapore she is stunned by the attitudes and way of life of his family and friends. They cannot conceive of her disinterest in money.

The men are relatively uninteresting as they concentrate on business. It is the women, especially the mothers of adult children, who are in constant conflict and never ending scheming. They are compelling.

I found Crazy Rich Asians so interesting I promptly read the remaining two books in the trilogy.

A Happy New Year to all readers.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bill's Best of Fiction for 2019

In the final hours of the year and the decade I am posting my Bill’s Best of Fiction list for 2019.  While many lists are compiled from mid to late November I prefer to make my list at the end of December representing my reading for the full year. My next post will have my Bill’s Best of Non-Fiction and Most Interesting.

The year was reading special for me as I completed my quest to read 1,000 books  in 20 years. My final total was 1,030 books read from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2019.

On to the list for 2019:

1.) The Boat People by Sharon Bala - I loved Bala’s fictional recounting of a refugee ship of Tamils arriving off the coast of Vancouver Island in 2009. The book found favour with the judges of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction winning the 2019 Prize. Bala became the first non-American winner.

In an era in  which popular entertainment, including books, pumps up heroes and demonizes villains Bala wrote a thoughtful challenging story of Mahindan and his son, Sellian, proceeding through the refugee claims process of Canada. Bala treated with respect Mahindan, his lawyer Priya and the adjudicator, Grace.

I was conflicted on the claims. The civil war in Sri Lanka had ended. What was their risk? Who is a genuine refugee? And who should be considered a terrorist can be challenging.

The end of the book did not have a resolution of the refugee claim. On her website Bala said she was leaving that issue up to the readers. I took up the challenge writing the judgment I thought the adjudicator would have written. Bala kindly wrote me she was thrilled with my engagement with her characters.

2.) The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup - I was prompted to read this book by the praise it received in The New York Times. I do not often read books about serial killers. Sveistrup proved a worthy exception. 

Danish detectives investigate a series of murders with few clues. The paucity of clues ultimately is a clue. A deliberate clue was a small figure of a man made from chestnuts. The innocent past-time of Danish children in the fall becomes a sinister maddeningly obscure clue.

Leading the investigation are Mark Hess, a detective sent back to Denmark by Europol, and Naia Thulin, a young homicide detective early awaiting a transfer to cyber-crimes. They are an intriguing clever team who must look back over 30 years to solve the murders.

Sveistrup has been a skilled screenwriter who joins other recent screenwriters of quality crime fiction. Attica Locke, who wrote Bluebird, Bluebird which was my 2018 pick for Best Fiction, was a writer for series in Hollywood. A.J. Devlin, an excellent new Canadian crime fiction author, has a M.F.A. in screenwriting.

3.) The Woman Who Married a Bear (1992) by John Straley - A beautifully written work of fiction that happens to be about crime, The Woman Who Married a Bear, was given to me by a friend, Maureen Long, who is a professor of English in the Yukon. She was right in thinking I would enjoy the book.

I found it a book in which the setting of Alaska was integral to the plot. The ocean, forests and people of Alaska were vivid and important to the story.

Straley was often lyrical in his writing, a quality not often found in crime fiction.

The sleuth, Cecil Younger, is also uncommon in that he writes poetry, including haikus, and reads The New York Times Review of Books.

3.) Blackwater Bluff by S.M. Hurley - I admit a bias with regard to Blackwatr Bluff. It would be hard for me not to like a legal mystery featuring a lawyer resident in rural Canada. It could only have been better if the lawyer resided in Saskatchewan.

S.M. Hurley, the pen name of Ontario lawyer Shelagh Mathers, created a fascinating lawyer in prosecutor, Augusta “Augie” de Graaf. Injured by an angry accused during a trial she looks to solve the murder of her mentor and inspiration in the legal profession.

In a twist on the usual process of a prosecutor relentlessly pursuing a suspect she becomes a quasi-defence counsel challenging the assumptions of guilt held of the leading suspect by the police. She carefully examines the evidence and finds the flaws in the same way defence lawyers examine evidence.

Lastly, I was impressed that Hurley had Augie use her legal training and skills to identify the killer.

A Happy New year to all readers of the blog.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Billionaire Murders by Kevin Donovan

The Billionaire Murders by Kevin Donovan - Two years ago this month Barry and Honey Sherman were found dead sitting beside their indoor pool with jackets pining their arms and belts tied to the railing behind them. They were billionaires with an estimated net worth of $5 to almost $10 billion.

As with Canadians across our land I was instantly drawn to the mystery of their deaths. How had they died? Speculation was extreme.

When a Toronto detective said in interview that evening that there were no signs of forced entry and the police “were not currently looking for any suspects” media reports swiftly announced a suspected murder - suicide.

Family and friends were indignant protesting that the Sherman’s were murdered.

Criminal defence lawyer, Brian Greenspan, puts together a team of investigators and scientists to conduct their own investigation. American pathologists comment that there has never been a murder - suicide by hanging.

When I saw The Billionaire Murders at a bookstore I instantly decided to buy it. I was most interested to see if the book confirmed the information I had been told by family friends some months after their deaths. They told me they never believed it was murder - suicide. They said Barry would never have killed Honey and then committed suicide. They went on to say Barry could never have carried her through the house and hoisted Honey’s body up  as he could not raise his arms over his head. 

The only discussion on the book was on the implausibility of the physically unfit Barry dragging Honey through the house to the pool. What was striking was there seems to have been no assessment by the police of the ability of Barry to move his wife, especially in the early stages of the investigation.

The police belief in murder - suicide meant their focus was on seeking confirmation. Their theory was premature. I have seen many times that when police reach a conclusion early in an investigation they cease looking for evidence that might be contradictory. 

The autopsy showed death by strangulation and that their wrists had abrasions consistent with being bound. There was injury to Honey’s face done either just before or just after death. It appeared the belts had been used to strangle each of them.

I asked their friends about security at the house wondering about the police observation of “no forced entry”. They told me the Sherman’s never turned on their security system. The book said the Sherman’s did not believe in security systems and there were neither cameras nor alarms at the house. There was a place for a security camera by the pool but it had never been set up.

The Shermans had no security guards or live-in staff. They had a cleaning lady once a week and someone who would come by to water the plants. Despite their wealth they felt uncomfortable hiring people to help them.

Another prominent Toronto Jewish family have the opposite approach to security. The  Reichmann’s live in homes with abundant security.

When the police finally concluded the Sherman’s were targeted murders speculation turned to who would want to murder them.

Considering the constant business litigation in which Barry engaged would a disgruntled competitor hire a killer? Their friends dismissed the idea. They said in the generic drug business litigation is routine. No one would kill. Their fights were in court.

The book explored some of those court battles. Barry relished court and was a fierce litigant. Over the decades he won and lost cases involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Going to court was just one of the costs of his business.

The suspects with the greatest motivation were the Winter family, cousins of Barry, who had lost a billion dollar lawsuit shortly before the murders. Donovan spoke to the most vocal cousin, Kerry Winter, who openly spoke of his bitterness and denied killing Barry and Honey.

There was tension, even discord, at times between the Sherman parents and their children. There was disappointment in that none of the four children had gone into Apotex.  Jonathon thought his father wasted tens of millions in bad investments. At the same time Jonothon’s business ventures had been modestly successful. Overall the children received millions of dollars and could expect to receive much more.

There were no signs that any of the children were in danger of being disinherited. Though not public the will apparently provided money for Honey during her lifetime and divided the property equally between the four children after she was gone. A major surprise was that Honey did not have a will.

Jonathon wrote to the author, who had written him asking questions which, from the author’s descriptions were straightforward, that “I can only term are his insane accusations that I am implicated in the murder of my parents.”

There were numerous other private lawsuits. It appears almost every builder with whom Barry dealt ended up being sued. My next post will look at some of his court actions. Could some aggrieved litigant have exacted revenge? 

The book reads like each chapter was a serialization in a newspaper or magazine. Information is repeated throughout the book.