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, April 16, 2014

Canadian Crime Fiction and Our Indigenous Peoples

Canadian crime fiction often touches upon the challenges we have as a nation in our treatment of our indigenous peoples variously described as First Nations, Metis, Inuit, Indian and aboriginal. Our history often reflects they have been treated badly by governments and fellow Canadians. Often there has been a perception of them as less Canadian or living on the wrong side of town whether in town or out on the reserve. Canadian crime fiction has dealt with both the prejudice towards indigenous peoples and how they have been respected.

Margot Kinberg in her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, inspired this post with her post, People Put Me Down 'Cause That's the Side of Town I was Born In. I appreciate her sparking my thoughts.

In The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns, a part of the Legacies and Leaders series involving young future Canadian Prime Ministers, a young John Diefenbaker in 1908 refuses to join the prevailing community view that an Indian, River’s Voice, has killed his neighbour. Diefenbaker’s white neighbours are all too ready to put the blame on River’s Voice.

Saskatchewan author Gail Bowen, in her Joanne Kilbourn series, sets out the way Indian people can be looked down upon in Saskatchewan while providing new perspectives that lack prejudice. It is little surprise Gail should have considerable insight into the issues as she taught at the First Nations University in Regina until she retired.

Midway through the series Gail breaks through the stereotype of White – Indian relations by introducing Inspector Alex Kequahtooway as a major character with whom Joanne becomes romantically involved for a time.

Most recently in her current book, The Gifted, she looks at current public perceptions. In the book her husband, Zack Shreeve, is working on a massive redevelopment plan that will change North Central Regina. The neighbourhood in fiction and real life has notoriety across Canada for its high level of crime. There are tensions between the developer and the residents, mainly indigenous.

Personally her daughter is living with Riel Delorme who has come from a difficult indigenous background, been involved with gangs and still has major personal demons.

Scott Young’s two mysteries feature another indigenous Canadian, Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak, who has achieved Inspector status. Matteesie, an Inuk from the North West Territories. It is striking that Matteesie is the first Inuk RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s on a force that has been in the Arctic at that time for a century.
Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte had reached Inspector status in Australia in the 1930's in the series by Arthur Upfield.

In a fictional trial occurring a generation earlier in the early 1960’s in I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell a young Indian, Gabriel Swift, is charged with murder. From a poor reserve near Vancouver the police look down upon him as a “lippy Indian”.

The same book touches upon the problems and abuse that took place in residential schools to which many rural Canadian Indians were sent, especially in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Indian children were sent away to the schools for up to 10 months of the year. Many were abused. All had to deal with efforts to remove their cultural identity.

In Arctic Blue Death by R.J. Harlick there is an exploration of the business of Inuit sculpture and art both historically and present. Inuit artists have gained great respect for their works around the world.

Louise Penny’s most recent book, How the Light Gets In, includes as part of the plot how senior corruptHHowH Quebec police officers had in the reserves in Western Quebec, far from the major cities, manipulated and killed Cree Indians. While I found some of that subplot over the top it reflected an attitude that still exists.

It is a topic that will continue to appear in Canadian crime fiction. Approximately 10% of Saskatchewan’s population is First Nations people. The issues of white and Indian peoples living together is not going to disappear in Canada.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Jury Master by Robert Dugoni

15. – 762.) The Jury Master by Robert Dugoni – Having enjoyed Murder One last year by Dugoni I decided to read an earlier book in the series featuring lawyer, David Sloane. Murder One was a fine legal mystery and on the shortlist for the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Based on Murder One and the title of The Jury Master I was expecting another legal mystery. To my disappointment The Jury Master is actually a thriller that happens to feature a lawyer. Even had I read the blurbs on the paperback, which I did not following customary practice, I would have thought it was a legal mystery. To me the title is misleading.

While Sloane certainly is a Jury Master the book has little to do with him being a lawyer.

The opening of the book does show why he is called the Jury Master. Sloane has a rare, almost mystical, talent for connecting with and persuading juries. His closing address wins a case for the defendants in a wrongful death suit. He has regrets over his success.

I was hoping I would learn more about his mastery of juries. Instead, the book veered into a thriller.

Joe Branick, special assistant to the President of the United States, dies in a park in West Virginia. For reasons Sloane cannot fathom Branick, the day he died, was trying to contact Sloane.

Charles Town, West Virginia detective, Tom Molia known to all as “Mole”, balks at the swift effort to have Branick’s death declared a suicide. He is uneasy partly because a young policeman responding to the report of death has disappeared.

Rivers Jones from the Federal Department of Justice, acting on the personal instructions of Parker Madsen the White House Chief of Staff, takes over the investigation into Branick’s death. Mole is even more suspicious.

Finally, in rural Washington, Charles Jenkins a retired CIA operative gets a visit from Alex Hart from the Federal Government. What she brings with her shocks Jenkins.

From there the book races along at excellent thriller pace. There is the occasional need to suspend belief but nothing extreme.

There is a conspiracy at play that is also more credible than the average fictional conspiracy.

Sloane is mystified as he cannot ever recall having a connection to Branick. He does not recall ever dealing with him or working with him or even meeting him.

Aiding Sloane is his long time personal assistant, Tina. She is the assistant of a lawyer’s dreams keeping the office in order and meeting Sloane’s needs almost quicker than he tells what is to be done.

Dugoni does well in letting the reader and Sloane work out the conspiracy. It is frightenly plausible.

It was interesting to receive background on Sloane. He had orphaned at 7 by an accident and raised in foster homes. His youth had been a struggle. Joining the U.S. Marines at 17 set him on his path to success. In this book Sloane is based in San Francisco. By Murder One he is in the state of Washington.

If you are looking for a thriller with a lawyer it is a good book. If you want a legal mystery, move on to a different book. I will still characterize it as a legal mystery for the main character is a lawyer and there are elements of law in the book. (Apr. 9/14)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Patents and Vaccines and Ethics

In my last post I reviewed A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein. The book is a legal thriller involving a court case over the alleged infringement of a patent for an AIDS vaccine.

Within the book was a discussion about the cost that such should be paid for treatments of a vaccine. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the research and testing of the vaccine.

Drug companies could simply work out a worldwide price recouping their costs and make a profit. However, the ability to pay of patients needing the treatment varies immensely by country. Within the book there is debate on how much to charge for the product in wealthy America versus how much to charge in poor southern Africa.

Proposals involved charges of hundreds of dollars for American AIDS patients against $45 in Africa. It was recognized that even $45 is beyond the reach of many Africans.

These 21st Century issues over this AIDS vaccine product reminded me of issues raised in the hearings of the Canadian Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood System during the 1990’s.

The Commission was investigating how and why Canadian hemophiliacs and blood transfused were infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C from tainted blood during the 1980’s. I represented a group of hemophiliacs who did not want representation by the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

There was information on efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine. A difficult issue involved clinical trials. While there was no product being tested at the time there was a challenging ethical question.

Was there a way to ethically run trials in which only half of the people received the vaccine? You would be putting the other half of the cohort at a risk for being infected with AIDS which had no treatment until the mid-1990’s. At the same time, if the potential vaccine, were effective potentially millions around the world were being denied a product that could prevent them from being infected with AIDS.

It was doubtful an appropriate protocol could be drafted for North America. There was discussion on whether trials could be conducted in Third World countries where having the chance of being in the group getting the vaccine was better than any other they would have to avoid infection. Should a protocol be undertaken in a Third World country that could not take place in North America?

A more current discussion can be found on the vaccineethics.org website at http://www.vaccineethics.org/issue_briefs/HIV_clinical_trials.php.

The premise of the book also brought to mind a situation that took place in litigation following the completion of the hearing of evidence in the Inquiry.

In the book Michael Seeley is called from Buffalo to San Francisco to take over as lead counsel this huge patent infringement case but 2 weeks before trial. I might have thought the scenario implausible but for what happened in judicial review proceedings involving the Inquiry.

Several parties to the Inquiry sought to have the Commissioner restrained in his ability to assess responsibility in his report. At the Federal Court Trial Division the application was denied. The decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Approximately 2 weeks before the hearing of the appeal the lead counsel for the Commissioner fell sick and needed surgery. No one wanted an adjournment because of the time involved to re-schedule the appeal. Dozens of lawyers were involved.

A new lawyer stepped in on behalf of the Commissioner to argue the appeal. It was a tremendous challenge. He did his best.

I was one of several lawyers appearing for groups of victims at the appeal. We all had intervener status. All of us supported the Commissioner. We sought to assist the new lawyer by dividing the issues to be argued and adding specific submissions. The appeal was denied as I hoped.

Ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada decided the Commissioner could write his report unhindered. It can be found at http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/hcan-scan/commission_blood_final_rep-e/index.html. What happened in the Canadian blood system is a long and sad story.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein

A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein – In an unusual approach for me I am reading the Goldstein series featuring lawyer, Michael Seeley, in reverse order. Last year I read the third in the series, Havana Requiem, which won the 2013 Harper Lee Book Prize. This spring it is the second, A Patent Lie.

The book opens with Seeley having left his big New York City firm to return to his hometown of Buffalo where he is a solo practitioner. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic change in a litigator’s legal life. From working with teams of associates and paralegals to conduct huge trials for immense legal fees he is now representing individuals seeking thousands of dollars in cases such as breach of civil rights by the police. Seeley has a middle aged part-time secretary and a cranky radiator in his office. He has become one of the thousands of American lawyers scrambling to find enough clients to make a living. He is reasonably content and has stopped drinking.

To his office comes his brother, Leonard Seeley, a doctor who has left medical practice to join an emerging biotech company, Vaxtek, which has invented a patented form of vaccine against AIDS.

Leonard is on a quest to have his brother take over the lead chair in a case launched by Vaxtek in San Francisco against St. Gall, a major international pharmaceutical based in Switzerland for patent infringement.

The trial is but two weeks away. Vaxtek needs a new lawyer as Bob Pearsall, the man who put together the case, has died in what has been ruled suicide when he was hit by a train.

Vaxtek demands a lawyer with national level experience in patent litigation to represent them. They will not allow a junior or even a partner at Pearsall’s firm to take over the case. The future of Vaxtek rests on winning the case. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in the case.

With no lawyers available in San Francisco who could lead Leonard is reaching out to his brother who has handled comparably sized patent cases in New York City. Still it is improbable that Seeley’s younger brother would seek him out. Seeley had left his family at 15 and has had infrequent contact with his brother for decades.

Few lawyers can resist a challenge and the stroking of their ego that they are the perfect lawyer for a case. Seeley is soon on his way to San Francisco.

While an unlikely scenario to take over a case at that time it has enough plausibility to be credible. My next post will touch upon some AIDS litigation in my past.

The case has all been assembled. Much of the case is simply presenting the evidence and arguments. It needs an experienced lawyer to deal with the cross-examinations of opposing witnesses and the surprises that inevitably occur in a trial.

On his arrival Seeley is coolly welcomed by the second chair, Chris Palmieri. He understands Palmieri is not excited about the interloper from the East but Palmieri seems unnecessarily frosty.

In the rush of final trial preparation Seeley is uncomfortable that there is not a deposition of the researcher, Lily Warren, who had claimed to discover the vaccine for St. Gall ahead of Vaxtek. Seeley is startled to see St. Gall has stipulated that Vaxtek is first.

Seeley finds himself troubled about an admission that puts St. Gall at such a disadvantage in the case. Whichever claimant is first in a patent case has a powerful position.

From this slender thread the plot spins out into a court room thriller unlike any other I have read.
I am sure Goldstein is an excellent law professor. His explanations of legal concepts in the abstruse area of patent law are clear and easily understood.

Once again Goldstein has made intellectual law exciting and interesting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Take by Graham Hurley

It has been a busy week for me with a trial on Monday and a mediation on Thursday and preparation all week long for a jury trial starting next Monday. For this post I am putting up a review I wrote in 2008:

37. - 447.) The Take by Graham Hurley – English Detective Inspector Joe Faraday is struggling with the new management methods of crime where plans must be made in writing and meetings held and local developers worked with and good statistics maintained. He is also mourning the death of his assistant in a headon collision. While coping with the huge volume of paperwork and Vanessa’s death a prominent surgeon disappears under suspicious circumstances and a flasher is terrifying women. The system has little inclination to pursue a potential disappearance. Detective Paul Winter is a relic of a detective for whom the ends justify the means and he decides to pursue the trail of Pieter Hennessey. Winter is a far more complex rogue detective than customary. He is trying to deal with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in his wife. Faraday is also a real person. He loves birding and is muddling through new female relationships. It is an excellent police procedural with interesting people. The conclusion was satisfying as there was no crowd of bodies. (Sept. 13/08)

Monday, March 31, 2014

New to Me Authors for January to March of 2014

2014 is moving right along with today being the end of March. The last day of the third month means it is also time for a quarterly post on New to Me Authors which is hosted by Kerrie Smith in her fine blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
For the first three months of 2014 I read:
1.) Open Secret by Deryn Collier;
2.) I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes;
3.) Lineup by Liad Shoham translated by Sara Kitai;
4.) The Missing File by D.A. Mishani translated by Steven Cohen;
5.) Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller;
6.) December Dread by Jess Lourey; and,
7.) Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns.
I read one work of non-fiction, Hitler’s Savage Canary by David Lampe, a book on the Danish Resistance during World War II. I expect to have a review next quarter.
It was an average quarter for me in reading about 7 new fiction authors.
It was an easy choice for my favourite new author. Norwegian by Night is an exceptional book well deserving of its numerous awards.
My second choice, I Am a Pilgrim, is an exceptional thriller I expect will sell very well when published in North America this spring.
Third best would be December Dread which introduced me to a captivating new sleuth in Mira James from Battle Lake, Minnesota.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Trial & Error by Paul Levine

Trial & Error by Paul Levine – The fourth Solomon and Lord book opens with another dramatic flourish. Masked intruders make a late night entry into Cetacean Park seeking to capture two highly trained dolphins, Misty and Spunky. Bobby Solomon, 12 year old nephew of Steve Solomon, is at the park visiting with the dolphins. The brilliant boy, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been working out dolphin language and can communicate with them.  Steve, searching for Bobby, arrives just in time to disrupt the escaping invaders. Racing to intercept an intruder on a jet ski he launches himself into the channel and knocks a wet suit clad Gerald Nash from the jet ski. While Steve subdues one of the trio the second escapes and the third is killed by Park owner, Wade Grimsby.

Bobby is distraught at the dolphins escaping into the ocean and begs Steve to get them back. In classic Solomon wit Steve muses:

            "How, I don’t know. A writ of habeas porpoise, maybe."

(Trial & Error is now listed as Habeas Porpoise on Levine’s website.)

Always one to take the opportunity for a new client Steve Solomon advises Nash he would be interested in representing him.

Nash is facing a murder charge for while Grisby, rather than Nash, shot Nash’s partner in crime it is felony murder because Nash’s participation in the crime, breaking in and theft, brought about the shooting.

The next morning at the courthouse, Victoria Lord, is taken aside by the State Attorney, Ray Pincher. A special prosecutor is needed as Nash is his nephew. Pincher convinces Victoria to become the Special Assistant State Attorney.

When Steve and Victoria realize they are opposing counsel on the murder charge against Nash they each insist the other should resign from the case. Being trial lawyers both of them are too stubborn to withdraw.

Victoria brings an application to have Steve removed from the case. He is a potential witness and they are living together. She brings ample authority to the hearing of the motion. Steve brings his quick mind. (In Steve winging it in court I was reminded of early Calgary lawyer, Paddy Nolan, who equally relied on his lightning mind reflexes rather than dedicated legal research.) In a funny and clever exchange with toy train loving Judge Erwin Gridley, who is also a devout University of Florida Gator fan Steve convinces the judge they will both vigorously contest the case in the same way that opposing college football coaches who are father and son or brothers work just as hard to beat the family member across the field as they would to battle strangers.

Bobby is becoming an increasingly interesting and complex character. Though lacking any discernible athletic skills Steve has signed Bobby up to play on a Jewish baseball team. Bobby goes along with Steve, who loved baseball while being best remembered for being picked off third in a crucial game when he was playing for the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Most of the book is consumed by the trial. I was glad to see Solomon and Lord facing off again in the courtroom. In their last book, Kill All the Lawyers, the plot barely involved court.

For all his cleverness Steve is discouraged. Victoria has carefully assembled the State’s evidence and it is clear and overwhelming.  She is giving him any opening.

After she has skilfully presented her case in her opening statement Steve uncharacteristically decides not to immediately respond:

The strategy – or lack of strategy – violated yet another one of his rules, based on the psychological concept of “primacy”. People are more receptive to information at the beginning of an even than in the middle or at the end. Sure, some lawyers believe in “recency,” that people remember best what they hear last. But Steve always told Victoria to get off to a quick start.

Steve is struck by the case against his client being so air tight. He reflects on one of Solomon’s laws:

6. When the testimony is too damn good, when there are no contradictions and all the potholes are filled with smooth asphalt, chances are the witness is lying.

In discussion with Bobby he realizes the attack on the park was not an act of eco-terrorism to free the dolphins. You will need to read the book find out the real reason behind the attack.

The book is a rollicking ride through the Florida court system. Steve is the lawyer that the average trial lawyer dreams of being with his irreverent bravura saying whatever he wants to judges, clients and opposing lawyers. Victoria is the lawyer most litigators are in real life. She is conservative, well prepared, careful in every statement. I hope there are more to come in the series though it has been 7 years since there was a book.
Levine, Paul – (2006) - Solomon v. Lord; (2009) - The Deep Blue Alibi; (2011) - Kill All the Lawyers; (2102) - "L" is for Paul Levine; (2014) - Trial & Error

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fingerprints Past and Present

In Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns and Identical by Scott Turow fingerprints played an important role in each book.

In Who Killed Sir Harry the existence of a fingerprint from the accused, Alfred de Marigny, on a screen in the bedroom of the murdered Sir Harry Oakes was powerful evidence introduced by the Crown Prosecutor.

By the time the defence, led by barrister Godfrey Higgs, had finished challenging the fingerprint the prosecution case was in tatters.

The Duke of Windsor had called in a pair of Miami detectives for supposed investigative expertise. Captain James Barker was trained in the taking of fingerprints and their analysis. Yet he left his fingerprint camera behind when he rushed to the Bahamas.

Of the pair of fingerprints of the accused he said he found in the room one he claimed was on a panel of a wooden screen damaged by fire after the murder.

Immediate suspicion of his credibility arose because he never took photos of the fingerprint on the screen before lifting it off the screen. His actions meant there could be no confirmation of its location.

His evidence fell completely apart when it was shown that the fingerprint could not have come from the screen as set out by Cathleen LeGrand in her fine article “Another Look at a Bahamian Mystery: The Murder of Sir Harry Oakes: A Critical Literature Review” in the International Journal of Bahamian Studies:

Even more suspicious, the lifted fingerprint lacked any of the background detail  from the screen, detail that would normally be picked up. When asked to demonstrate in the courtroom, Barker could not replicate a clean lift of the print without the background detail. Higgs' conclusion—the detectives lifted deMarigny's fingerprint from some other object and not from the crucial screen..

The frame-up of de Marigny was established when it was shown Barker had manipulated the accused into drinking a glass of water. It was clear the fingerprint had come from the water glass rather than the screen.

In Identical the story takes place 65 years after the de Marigny trial. In Turow’s book the fingerprint analyst deals with the fingerprints of identical twins. They will be close to the same but not identical.

While they have same DNA (as science evolves it may be possible to distinguish their DNA) they do not have identical fingerprints. The book sets out how fingerprints are formed in the womb and can be altered by the hand of the foetus touching the wall of the womb.

If you prefer scientific language you can review "Mechanical Control of Tissue Morphogenesis" by Parth Patwari and Richard T. Lee in Circulation Research which sums up the process of forming fingerprints for a foetus:

However, the ridges are not always regularly spaced: there are ridges that divide and ridges that suddenly end. These irregularities are easily changed by small variations in their local environment, so they are not predetermined. Even monozygotic twins will have different positions in the uterus and experience a slightly different environment. In genetically identical twins, then, subtle differences in the mechanical environment of the embryo in utero are sufficient to drive a developing system toward different morphogenic outcomes.

As I looked for information on fingerprints of identical twins I learned that it has been difficult to locate fingerprints from children because they do not have sebum, the oily substance coming from the sebaceous glands. Adults with dry skin, for the same reason, have fingerprints that can be hard to find with traditional fingerprinting technology.

New technology, called micro-X-ray fluorescence, detecting such salts as sodium chloride and potassium chloride, can detect fingerprints left by dry skin fingers.

Most modern forensic crime stories, whether in books or T.V. series or movies, look to flashier forms of science than the search for fingerprints and their analysis. Yet the lowly fingerprint remains at the heart of forensic investigation.