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.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

(38. - 1063.) The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith - Ulf Varg is a thinking detective in the Department of Sensitive Crimes in Malmo, Sweden. He is at ease in discussing Kierkgaard and Kant.

Ulf loves his “ancient light gray Saab” car gifted to him by an uncle and sums up the car as “... perfect. Real leather. Everything works. Everything.” Driving this wonderful car may be more therapeutic than his sessions with a psychoanalyst for a drive relaxes and refreshes Ulf. 

The team from the Department investigates a stabbing of a market trader in an “unusual locus” - the back of the knee. The victim Malte is an honest man with eczema who is a Harley-Davidson aficionado. Malte’s wife, Mona, is “the one who decides what they do, generally”. The team swiftly determines Malte was stabbed through a slit in the back of the tent housing his market stall.

Puzzled about the crime Ulf uses “thinking time” to ponder the case. With little physical evidence and no obvious suspect he turns to my favourite crime fiction question - “why”. Some more thought and he decides to focus on what is unusual - why was Malte stabbed at “knee level”.

A deepening friendship with Anna, a member of the Department, troubles Ulf for he is a virtuous - a work not often used in the 21st Century - man whose sense of honour prevents him from an intimate relationship with Anna who is long married to Jo and has two children. Confirming her comment that they need to have only a friendly professional relationship Ulf says:

“I’m very sorry,” he said. “I spoke out of turn. Forgive me, it was my fault entirely. I was forgetting that some things simply cannot be, no matter how much one might wish otherwise.”

In his innate sensitivity Ulf is a gentleman.

I was struck by how sensitive the officers were in their investigation. They are as concerned about the victims and the criminals.

It took me over 100 pages ro realize these sensitive investigators deal with sensitive people undergoing sensitive experiences. There is nary a hint of the hard boiled nor the bleakness of noir in their cases. Humans struggling in loneliness occupy their investigations. The investigations, ostensibly about solving crime, are really efforts at restorative justice to correct a wrong with sensitivity for all involved.

The Department is aided by a regular police officer, Blomquist. He lacks sensitivity. He is less insensitive than oblivious. He is a keen observer who cannot resist expressing his observations which are supported by his immense knowledge of trivial facts. Listeners glaze over as he opines on high intensity exercise and the benefits of unpeeled potatoes. I read of the earnest Blomquist with a touch of uneasy. My personal success in trivia contest reminds me I have a lot of trivia in my mind.

And then an investigation veers into a person of interest borrowing books on lycanthropy (a man turning into a wolf). Can she believe her hirsute husband is a werewolf? For Ulf Varg whose first name and surname both mean wolf the subject is a touch jolting.

McCall-Smith is clever, with a style that is neither parody nor condescending, but conveys an ironic amusement concerning the decidedly non-busy Sensitive Crimes Unit. The back cover blurb from the Philadelphia Inquirer - “Droll, droll, droll” - is apt. I have the next in the series on my desk and will read it soon. It is hard to explain why I have not read an author I greatly enjoyed in 2004 for 16 years.


Smith, Alexander McCall – (2004) - The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Best fiction in 2004); (2020) - The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Unlocking Season by Gail Bowen

(37. - 1062.) The Unlocking Season by Gail Bowen - It is Easter and Joanne Shreeve (Kilbourn is in her past) is 60 and Zack is doing well and Taylor is in love and her other children are happy and her grandchildren are thriving. Life is good.

Joanne is feeling her way through the development of a 6 part television series, Sisters and Strangers, based on her youth and the startling revelations she has just learned about the identity of her father.

Roy Brodnitz, formerly a dancer, and now a writer for 20 years had been working on the script of the series with Joanne’s aid but he has not progressed beyond the opening two episodes. While in northern Saskatchewan seeking locations for shooting the series Brodnitz disappears. When found he is disheveled and frantic. He has a massive heart attack. He survives the flight to hospital but has another heart attack in the night and dies.

Though a dramatic opening I was not immediately drawn into the book. I think it was because Joanne was not involved. Others are telling her about events. When she gets a greater direct role about 80 pages in I was taken in by the story.

Joanne is caught up in a different form of the arts. Previous books such as Murder at the Mendel, The Gifted and A Darkness of the Heart have explored the artistic mind and the consequences of extraordinary creativity. In The Unlocking Season it is the world of script writing and film production.

Georgie Shepherd, the executive producer and new writer for the series at Living Skies Productions, seeks Joanne’s assistance in developing the script. (With our provincial motto being “Land of Living Skies” it is the perfect name for a Saskatchewan film company.) When Joanne demurs referring to her professional writing experience being a biography Georgie is unmoved:

“They both use sentences,” Georgie said curtly. “Can you be at my office tomorrow morning at nine?”

I can see the author, Gail, being equally no nonsense with a writing colleague.

As always Joanne is on time. As they work the book has excerpts from the script with discussion on structure and purpose and language.

As Joanne is caught up in the excitement of a T.V. production there is a pang for Taylor is leaving home. Through the series readers have experienced Joanne’s joys and fears in raising a talented artist. Now Taylor is an adult. Joanne’s last child will soon be a visitor to her home.

Film is a labour intensive creativity. Where writers and painters work alone a table meeting  on the T.V. production involves 25 people.

Ainsley Blair, who had been Brodnitz’s dance partner, is now the director of the series. Withdrawing into herself after his death creates anxiety within the production.

With so many people involved and a major amount of money invested and creative egos all about there is constant tension around the series.

When Buzz Wells, a slick unscrupulous successful New York film producer / writer, arrives with his own vision on how to make the series a commercial success the tension becomes intense.

Taylor’s partner, Vale, is the star of the series. She is young enough to play the teenage Sally (Taylor’s mother and Joanne’s best friend as a girl). Having been an actor through her teenage years Vale can appreciate Sally leaving Canada at 14 with an older man for New York where she became a successful artist at a grave emotional cost.

Joanne seeks to keep in perspective the prejudice of a few who see the same sex relationship of Vale and Taylor as sinful.

The resolution is cleaner than A Darkness of the Heart. It was predictable but the joy of the series is more in the characters rather than plots that challenge the reader’s ability to identify the killer.

Ultimately, I did not connect as deeply with this book as with most in the series. The Joanne Shreeve books have been rooted in Saskatchewan experiences. I thought this book, the second in a row that involved film making, was not really a Saskatchewan based story. I realized my conception of Saskatchewan stories is based on the province I grew up in. The province has evolved in my lifetime. Films, while not as many as a few years ago, are made here. Gail has a better understanding of contemporary Saskatchewan.

I did wish there was more of physical Regina and Saskatchewan in the book. There are touches of the city and country extending to the film studios but much of the setting is in studios that are bound to be generic.

The family relationships keep expanding. There are a full set of children and their partners and grandchildren. Many of the best scenes in the book are family vignettes.

It would be hard to enjoy the book if you have not read the previous book in the series, A Darkness of the Heart. It is really a continuation of that book. While Gail provides background the emotions are better understood from an understanding of what occurred in that book.

I enjoyed the book but I hope the next book in the series leaves the world of T.V. series.


** Bowen, Gail – (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2011) - Deadly Appearances; (2012) - Kaleidoscope; (2013) - Murder at the Mendel; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle(2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - (Part I) and (Part II); (2018) - A Darkness of the Heart and Email Exchange with Gail on ADOHHardcover

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Thoughts at the End of Summer in 2020

It is a quiet Sunday afternoon in early October. There will be no more sitting outside reading and writing this year. A few golden leaves are still upon our huge elm outside the den window. The winds of Saskatchewan have shaken most from the tree. Yet a stubborn touch of summer has lingered through the early frosts of autumn. A couple of flowers below the window still bloom. The photo is of these last flowers of 2020.

I have been letting my mind drift about books.

Most of my reading is random except for the shortlists for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and what was called the Arthur for Best Crime Fiction Novel in Canada. (I say “was” as the directors of the Crime Writers of Canada have chosen to change the logo and name of the annual Awards for reasons that did not convince me.)

Only when I was involved in the memes for the Crime Fiction Alphabet which was hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, did I consciously read books because of the alphabet. Thus it is a coincidence that I happen to be reading the books that will be first and list in my page of authors read which is arranged  alphabetically.

Leading the list will soon be Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. The book got off to an unpromising start describing the murders of small children at a beachfront community in Trinidad. It improved dramatically with a young Mycroft providing unsolicited advice to the oarsmen of Cambridge about to take on Oxford in their annual race. I was captured when Mycroft spoke of his passion for Georgiana and plans for marriage. I have to find out what happens.

Ending the page which now extends to 1,061 books will be An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker. I recently posted a review of the legal mystery set in Austin and provided my evaluation of the book as a part of my examination of the books on the shortlist of the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

There will not be many books that will have author names before “Ab” or after “Zu”.

Occasionally I check on Google for what might appear on a search of my name. To my surprise I found that Sharon Bala had written on her website about the imagined judgment I prepared as an ending for her amazing book The Boat People. She had left the fate of her characters unresolved in the book. Her book has gained her fame around the world. Her comment with links is:

I’ve received approximately 700,000 questions about The Boat People’s ending. So many that I addressed the ambiguity in my FAQs. Dear Reader, You be the adjudicator, I essentially said. Do Grace’s job. Decide Mahindan’s fate.

Bill Selnes, a lawyer and reader in Saskatchewan, took me up on the challenge. Friends, this is really, really good. Fan fiction of the highest order. Bill has written an imagined judgement and you can read it on his blog Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. And there’s a bonus post script where he tells us how Mahindan and Sellian are doing now.

In a book club recently, I tried to explain (probably incoherently) that The Boat People doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s out in the world, being read by total strangers. Each reader brings their unique perspective to the book and the story changes subtly each time it is read, by each new person. One of the pleasures of being an author is knowing that your characters are out there living their own lives, separate from you, totally out of your control. Whenever readers tell me about their experience of the book, how they feel about this character or that, it’s a bit like receiving a dispatch from the other side, Mahinder et al sending messages via emissaries. In Bill Selnes’ imagined universe, Mahindan and Sellian are thriving. And I’m really glad to hear it!

Thank you for the kind words Sharon.

Almost inevitably thoughts on the challenges and worries of the pandemic that has dominated the spring and summer crept into my mind as I read of the passing of Northern Ireland poet, Derek Mahon. Included in the obituary was his poem Everything is Going to be All Right. I want to share it with you as it reflects how I do my best to approach trying times:

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying,

but there is no need to go into that.

The poems flow from the hand unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

My Choice for Winner of the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Each year I read the shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. As usual I have written reviews of each book. I follow personal tradition in this post of determining my winner from the shortlist.

This year’s books were:

1.) The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey;

2.) An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker; and,

3.) The Hallows by Victor Methos.

In considering which book should be the winner I am guided by the primary criteria for determining the winning book. It directs the judges to award the Prize “to a book length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change”

Set in 1922 Bombay’s first female lawyer, Perveen Mistry, in The Satapur Moonstone travels to the princely state of Satapur to resolve a dispute over the education of a 10 year old maharaja. His mother wants him to go to boarding school in England while his grandmother wants him tutored in the family palace. Each fiercely believes she knows what is best for the boy.

As in the first book of the series, The Widows of Malabar Hill, Mistry is retained because she can meet personally with women who are in seclusion.

Mistry has a precise logical mind which serves her well as a lawyer. Her analysis of the options for the maharaja’s education and her recommendation are well done.

Along the way Mistry solves the mystery of the deaths of the boy’s father and older brother.

The book “illuminates” a “role of lawyers in society” providing counsel on what is in the best interests of a child. Where family members struggle with objectivity a lawyer can, by weighing the facts and the applicable principles of law, provide an opinion that is focused on the child.

It is hard to see where the story sees a lawyer effecting change. Mistry, as a woman lawyer, shows women are as capable as men in providing legal advice in complex factual situations. She is leading the way for women entering the legal profession. Her life effects change.

In An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker a new graduate of the Stanford Law School, David Adams, joins a powerhouse firm in Austin, Texas where he will be a civil litigator. Determined to never being out-worked he arrives at 5:30 am for his first day of work.

He soon learns the firm is corrupt and involved in wicked actions. Discreetly investigating the death of a colleague he encounters a group of homeless men living in “The Camp” on the outskirts of Austin. Christian men, they neither allow drugs nor alcohol in “The Camp”.

Zunker does solve the murder but no legal skills are involved. He could have been a young executive in a variety of businesses.

Adams does take on the defence of a homeless man charged with murder. In my review I described it as surreal that a new lawyer would take on a murder defence.

Zunker does treat the homeless with respect.

I found it hard to understand why the book was on the shortlist. His role as a lawyer in the book is to represent huge corporations. He purchases some property to provide a place for homeless people but it was not because he was a lawyer and his actions did not involve his legal talents.

In the winning book, The Hallows by Victor Methos, the charismatic Tatum Graham, talented in all the wiles of the big time American defence lawyer abruptly leaves Miami after a client, just acquitted of murder, strangles the sister of the victim in the trial.

He returns to rural Utah where he joins the county sheriff’s office to prosecute the murder of a 17 year old girl. Using his abundant legal skills he shores up a sloppily investigated case.

With the accused’s wealthy father financing the defence, a prominent New York attorney is hired to represent the teen aged accused.

It is an entertaining story on the preparations for trial in a major murder trial.

I recognize that the “role” of lawyers is to represent the State and the defence in criminal charges. Graham is good at both roles. I could not see how he was effecting “change” because he was using his legal talent to seek a conviction.

It bothered me when I read the news release announcing Methos as the winner where one of the judges was quoted:

“.... we watch Tatum Graham come to terms with the profound personal failures associated with his professional successes,” Crank said. “His redemption comes in the form of a dogged pursuit of justice, even though it means waging war on the very people and institutions that created him.

I take exception to “profound personal failures” being related to his criminal defence work and that he achieves “redemption” as a prosecutor. The tactics he used as a defender are continued by Graham as a prosecutor. Indeed, at the end of the book he breaks the law to get the killer. I saw no “war on the very people and institutions that created him”. He became part of the establishment when he became a prosecutor.

There was a personal change in Graham by switching from the defence to prosecution which probably benefited society but I do not see him effecting change in how criminal law is practiced.

I agree The Hallows deserved to be the winner out of this shortlist but I am hard pressed to see any of the lawyers effecting “change”.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Hallows by Victor Methos

(36. - 1061.) The Hallows by Victor Methos - Tatum Graham has it all. Rich, famous and successful. He dominates the courtrooms of Miami as the defence attorney for the wealthy and infamous. His latest courtroom triumph was getting Marcus Green acquitted of murder. Green liked to tell him his net worth required three commas (over a billion dollars).

Tatum’s motto is:

“I didn’t get into this profession to lose.”

Tatum believed Green was innocent. When, the night of his acquittal, Green strangles the younger sister of the woman who had been the victim in the just completed trial Graham snaps.

He quits his firm. Gives up his house and Ferrari. Gets in his Tesla and heads for his hometown of River Falls, Utah. He has not been there in 19 years. A “bookworm” as a kid he had fled town upon graduation from high school. 

Meeting with his father for the first time since he left town involves a brief exchange of harsh words. 

He connects with former high school classmate, Gates Barnes. They had dated. She is now the county attorney. Gates has just resentment over his abrupt exit from town and absence of contact. Graham says:

“I’m sorry. You just … you want to leave behind your past sometimes so bad you forget that there’s people who can get hurt.”

There are now 6,000 residents of River Falls and 15,000 in Ute County.

Drifting, Tatum is uncertain what he wants to do, After a chance meeting with the father of the victim, Tatum looks at a pending murder case, the only one the county has had in years. Patty Winchester, a 17 year old girl was raped, tortured and murdered, and her body found outside of town. Tatum’s quick analysis of the police investigation discloses multiple flaws. In response Gates says:

“I’m asking for your help. But I understand if you can’t. If you just want to run away.” She rose. “It’s what you do best.”

Guilt can be a powerful motivation and it sends Tatum to get his district attorney badge and take charge of the case. He is as aggressive a prosecutor as he was a defender.

The mistakes in the investigation are promptly addressed. Quality experts are retained. Witnesses are re-interviewed. The body is exhumed for further examination.

For all the flash and swagger of his approach to prosecuting (defending) a case Tatum excels in the detail of evidence. While his planned book The Art of Jury Trial at War is filled with clever remarks such as “No risk, no reward” it is his hard work at preparing the case that is most important.

Tatum has a worthy opponent in defence counsel, Russell Pritcher, from New York City. Tatum almost considers Pritcher his equal.

Pritcher will defend Anderson Ficco, the volatile self-destructive son, of the city’s richest man, Nathan Ficco.

The plot twists and turns as there are revelations about character after character.

Tatum is suspicious when Pritcher demands and gets an early trial date but despite all his experience and wiles he cannot figure out the defence Pritcher has planned.

The pages race by as preparation for the trial accelerates.

The Hallows has an explosive finish that disappointed me as it was a classic thriller ending. It was well done but the resolution had little to do with Tatum’s legal skills. It would have been far better though undoubtedly less dramatic to see Tatum maintain his streak of never having lost a trial by his talent in the courtroom. Scott Turow’s book, The Last Trial, whihc I read earlier this year has a courtroom ending with lots of drama.

I intend to read more of Methos. He is a talented writer and I hope has used the courtroom to resolve a plot.  Congratulations again to Methos for winning the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction with The Hallows.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fictional Law Firm Earnings

In An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker, brand new lawyer, David Adams, is hired by the powerhouse Austin law firm of Hunter & Kellerman. His starting salary is in the range of $200,000. He is to bill clients at the rate of $475 per hour. While his rate seems high for a starting lawyer his mentor, Marty Lyons, is billing over $1,000 per hour. How those rates translate into firm revenue and income distribution illustrates why young lawyers in big firms strive to become partners.

An associate in a large American firm can expect a billing target of 2,200 hours a year. If a young lawyer is working 49 weeks of the year the target works out to 45 hours a week. The challenge comes in reaching the target while dealing with the administrative details of practice, firm meetings, continuing professional development hours and other non-billable office time.

If an associate such as Adams meets the target (close to a euphemism for requirement) he will have billed $1,045,000. It is an impressive sum for a new lawyer.

With a salary of $200,000 it potentially means the firm has available for expenses related to Adams and distribution to other partners the sum of $845,000.

What few works of fiction delve into is the collection of billings. Small firms to big firms can have problems collecting all fees billed. Firms evaluate how much is received versus how much is billed. From a business perspective the target should be based on collectible hours. Few firms want to disclose the extent of their challenges in collecting accounts.

For a young lawyer under the direction of partners the issue of collectibles is more a question for more senior lawyers at the firm.

For discussion let us say $145,000 is non-collectible leaving $700,000. If the expenses related to Adams total approximately $200,000 there is about $500,000 available for distribution. 

For the senior partner, Lyons, he is likely to bill the same number of hours and bring in substantially more money. If he bills $1,000 per hour for 2,200 hours he bills $2,200,000 for the firm. Considering his status and his focus on paying clients let’s estimate the firm receives $1,900,000 from his billing. We need to subtract expenses related to him which will be a little higher than Adams. I shall say $250,000 bringing his personal net collectibles to $1,650,000.

In the book he is paid by the firm $3,500,000. Since he brings in $1,650,000 there need to be about 3.5 associates to make up the $1,8500,000 he has not brought into the firm.

The post over-simplifies associates as senior associates are far more valuable than neophyte lawyers. The older associates will bill closer to the totals of partners as they strive to achieve partnership status.

For this post we will omit a discussion on big firms discounting rates for important clients so their billings are less than what you would expect from their published rates.

Big law is very demanding in hours and very lucrative.


Zunker, Chad - (2020) - An Equal Justice

Thursday, September 17, 2020

An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker

(35. - 1060.) An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker - David Adams grew up poor in Wink, Texas. With determination, a quick mind and the ability to get by on 4 hours of sleep per night he graduated in the top 10 of his Stanford Law class. On a fine fall Saturday evening he arrives in Austin where he is a new associate in the “palatial law offices” of Hunter & Kellerman (H & K). Adams is ready and eager to make good use of his $3,000 Italian made office chair. No one will ever out-work him.

Frank Hodges has just flown into Austin the same evening. Pushed into retirement after 40 years in the CIA and bored by fishing he opened a specialized private security business - “Special ops for the private sector” - in which he handles troubling matters for the wealthy. His new clients are being blackmailed and want him to find six men who served together in the American Navy in the 1970’s.

Adams is at the office at 5:30 Monday morning after his weekend arrival already assigned a summary judgment application. He starts billing in “six-minute increments” at $475 per hour.

He is shocked to learn the drunk associate, Nick Carlson, he took home on Saturday night after a lavish welcome party killed himself that night. He wonders how the deceased, barely able to walk to his door had typed out a suicide note. All he can think about are Carlson’s comments about the firm:

You should leave. Now. Before it’s too late for you, too.

I instantly thought of John Grisham’s book, The Firm, and wondered who would portray Adams in the movie of An Equal Justice. Even with all the skills of Hollywood, Tom Cruise, at 58 is too old to play another new lawyer in his mid 20’s in a dark big law firm though I expect he would consider himself suitable.

By chance Adams meets Benny (Benjamin Dugan), a homeless man who saves him from a knife wielding mugger in a downtown alley. Benny, a senior citizen who is a Navy veteran, is an elder in the Camp, a utopian utilitarian outdoor camp of homeless men, who live on the fringe of Austin. No drugs or alcohol are allowed. Devoutly Christian they have an outdoor chapel, “four long wooden benches had been placed that all faced a hand-built five-foot wooden cross”, where they worship 3 times a week.

As he builds his relationship with the homeless community I appreciated that Zunker saw them as positive people. Too often they are shown as barely one dimensional. At the same time it felt overdone. There was little depiction of the multiple problems faced by the homeless, especially mental illness.

Adams investigation is logical but the book slipped into the surreal for me when Adams, but six weeks into his legal career as a corporate civil litigator takes on the defence of one of his homeless friends, Larue, who is  charged with murder. The decision certainly is dramatic.

The ending was suitably thriller though there was little legal thinking involved.

It is not a subtle book. In Marty Lyons, the powerful evil leader of the firm, Zunker created a man so prone to excess especially with alcohol as to create doubt how he could be a great litigator and manipulative villain. Grisham took a more convincing approach with Avery Tolar in The Firm. Tolar was a coldly calculating man. He had to be surreptitiously drugged to gain access to his papers.

Adams’ profession of lawyer has little role. He could have been a young executive in many types of business. The pages do fly by and it is the first thriller I have read in a long time that was completed in 209 pages. The comparatively brief book does limit character and plot development for a conspiracy. In building the conspiracy or at least a coverup I would have preferred more about the villains and their plans.

The Author’s Note at the ending on the inspiration for the book was fascinating. I am not sure I will read the next in the series. I would have to be convinced it was actually about lawyers and the practice of law. (Sept. 14/20)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

In Matto’s Realm by Friedrich Glauser

(34. - 1059.) In Matto’s Realm by Friedrich Glauser (1936) - Some time ago Kat Hall, the blogger  Mrs. Peabody, had an online contest. I was one of the winners and received this book from her. It has been sitting on my desk patiently waiting to be read. In Calgary for a few days with our sons and their families seemed a good time to go back to Switzerland of the 1930’s.

Sergeant Stuber of the Bern police is awoken by a 5:00 am call from the chief of police. A patient at a mental asylum, Pierre Pieterlen, and the director of the institution, Dr. Ulrich “Ueli” Borstli, are missing.

No team is dispatched. Stuber will handle the investigation alone. Most surprisingly he moves into a room at the living quarters of the assistant director, Dr. and Mrs. Ernst Laduner, at the institution. The staff have rooms or apartments within the institution. Stuber will reside at the asylum until the investigation is complete. It is a great way to be immersed in a case.. Living there gives him the chance to assess staff and patients on and off duty. There is no real need for formal interviews. He can discuss with them what they know day or night.

The institution is organized into wards:

“O is the Observation Ward. That’s where the
new patients go, though we leave some for
years. It all depends. P is the ward for placid
patients. T is the Treatment Ward for those
suffering from physical illness. Then there are
the two wards for disturbed patients, D1 and D2,
D1 contains the isolation units….”

As he enters the asylum Dr. Laduner says:

But there’s one thing I will tell you before we
pass through this door. You’re paying a visit to
the subconscious, to the naked subconscious,
or, as my friend Schul puts it in his rather more
poetic manner: you are being taken to the dark
realm where Matto rules. Matto! That’s the
name Schul has given to the spirit of madness.

Amidst the mentally disturbed an evil spirit feels all too real to the Sergeant.

Stuber soon learns there are some signs of violence at the Director’s office including a broken window and blood on the floor.

The previous night the asylum held its annual harvest festival for patients and staff. During the evening the Director and a young nurse, Irma Wasem, left together for a walk. The Director is noted for his fondness of young women.

He had loudly argued with staff that day.

Mrs. Laduner is irritated that the Director received credit for improvements and modernization of the facility that were initiated and carried out by her husband.

A male nurse, many of the nurses are men, already in desperate financial circumstances was on the verge of being fired by the Director.

Dr. Laduner had assessed Pieterlen as a young man when he was charged with murdering his child. Did he have the requisite mental capacity to understand his criminal actions? He was found to have enough capacity to be convicted. After 3 years of imprisonment he ended up in the asylum.

Studer venturing forth into the asylum at night sent a shiver through me as he went past doors behind which there was total silence or loud snores or “words spoken in a dream”. 

Always on his mind is Dr. Laduner’s remark:

Contact with people who were mentally ill was
contagious …..

Studer is a shrewd man who has mastered the difficult skill of listening. He lets people talk to him. It is less dramatic than badgering a witness but very effective. Contrary to public opinion lawyers are often as glad as the best police officers in letting a witness talk on in answering a question. A rambling witness is prone to saying more than the witness intended.

Another aspect of staying at the institution during the investigation is that Studer can build relationships with staff. He inspires trust. Witnesses will open up more and tell more to an investigator they trust.

At the same time Studer is in the foreign land of the subconscious, Matto’s realm, at an institution where damaged minds are all around and a policeman’s logic can mislead him.

There is a sad and moving ending that surprised me.
It takes great skill to write a psychological mystery set in a psychological institution. Matto’s realm is real within the book.

In Matto’s Realm is a complex tale which reads very well 84 years after it was published. It is no surprise the Glauser Prize is awarded for prominent German crime fiction.