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, August 3, 2015

The (Ice) Berg Ships of Geoffrey Pyke

An illustration of the Berg aircraft carrier next to a conventional
aircraft carrier of WW II
Henry Hemming, in The Ingenious Mr. Pyke, describes the incredible life of Geoffrey Pyke who led an extraordinary life during the first half of the 20th Century. His brilliant mind challenged conventional thinking in many areas including education, public opinion polling and various military concepts. 

During his lifetime he was most famous for his idea to build huge ships of ice and wood during World War II. The British title for the book is Churchill’s

Pyke’s idea had germinated from his efforts at considering snow in Norway as a weapon against the Germans. Instead of an obstacle Pyke asked how could snow be used to the Allies advantage.

As he turned his mind to the Battle of the Atlantic he considered the major problem faced by the Allies in 1942 that they did not have land based aircraft with enough range to cover an area in the middle of the Atlantic. Airplanes that could be launched off aircraft carriers could not effectively attack the submarines. German U-boats feasted on Allied shipping in this strip of ocean.

Pyke was aware an occasional aircraft had landed on an iceberg. What about a manmade form of iceberg to serve as an aircraft carrier for bombers?

Building a ship out of ice was possible. Melting could be greatly reduced by insulating with wood. However, ice is brittle and would break up under the pressure of powerful Atlantic swells.

After reading an article that frozen sand could be harder than rock and speaking to a professor who said wood pulp added to water made a layer of ice stronger Pyke had the insight that made the project possible. He asked scientists to mix water with sawdust or cork.

Some quick experiments determined that if wood pulp was mixed with water and frozen the reinforced ice was stronger “than many varieties of reinforced concrete”. Beyond being extremely strong it was inexpensive to produce.

Just when I think I have heard of all significant WW II stories that took place in Canada I am surprised. I was not aware that large scale experiments were carried out on lakes on the edge of the Canadian Rockies. Under great secrecy conscientious objectors, mainly young Mennonite and Doukhobor men, worked in winter weather on the experiments.

Pyke, in English winter clothes, traveled to Western Canada. He must have been a hardy soul to survive out here in such winter wear.

Those working on the project that Pyke should be honoured and called the reinforced ice Pykrete using a variation of concrete.

Pykrete, just like icebergs, would not shatter but absorbed shells fired. It meant ships of Pykrete would be almost unsinkable.

The design berg ships would be twice the length and width of the Queen Mary. They would be long enough that full bombers could take off and land on them.

The inventors worked out the ships would be encased in wood that could easily be repaired. Interior pipes attached to refrigeration units would keep the ice from melting.

While Churchill wanted his berg ships immediately and Mountbatten was equally enthusiastic military bureaucracies were less excited and development did not proceed as quickly as Pyke and his supporters wanted.

When other advances closed off the strip in the Atlantic and the Battle of the Atlantic shifted to the Allied advantage there was no longer the same impetus for berg ships.

The vast ships of ice and wood were never built but they remain feasible should the cost of steel rise high.

There was one of Pyke’s innovative ideas that was specifically used in the war. Codenamed “Pluto” it was the underwater pipeline to deliver oil from England to France after D-Day in 1944.

It would have been amazing to see giant berg ships crossing the oceans of the world.
 The Ingenious My Pyke by Henry Hemming

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming – It has been a long time since I was astonished while reading a book. It is my preference to know as little as possible about a book before reading it. Following that principle led me to think that the The Ingenious Mr. Pyke was a work of fiction. The cover is unusual. The photo of Pyke looks like an actor made up for the part of an eccentric English genius. The blurb on the front cover from the Guardian says “reads wonderfully like an adventure story”. 

The incredible life described in the book continued my belief that it was fiction and barely credible fiction. 

Hemming told the story of a man who was more than a genius. While he never finished university he had a versatile and relentless mind that produced an unending stream of ideas. While priding himself on being an innovator rather than an inventor Pyke worked intensely hard to make real his ideas. 

How could any living man have had so many adventures and been so brilliant in so many areas?

As a university student of 20 in 1914 Pyke slipped into Germany as WW I started. His goal was to report back to an English newspaper on Germany. 

Betrayed, he is captured, threatened with death and then interned. Not content with sitting out the war he considers escape. 

Pyke had a compelling approach to problems: 

‘Before a problem can be solved it must be detected,’ he later wrote, and ‘it is easier to solve a problem than it is to spot what is the problem (as the whole history of science and technology shows). Almost any fool can solve a problem and quite a number do. To detect the right problem – at least so I have found – requires what [H.G.] Wells calls the daily agony of scrutinising accepted facts.’ This attitude had spirited him into Germany. Now he hoped it might get him out. His motivation this time was altogether different: he was drawn not by the intellectual thrill of confounding expectations though this remained satisfying but the fear he had that his body could not survive a full winter in Ruhleben. 

Applying his scientific approach to problems Pyke works out an escape route from the prison and a plan on how to get through Germany in the middle of the war. The escape of himself and a friend is successful. 

After the war he conducts a careful scientific study of financial markets and works out a profitable trading system for dealing in copper. 

He uses the money to establish Malting School, an experimental school in which young students were allowed free reign to study and investigate what they wished. Pyke viewed children as having a natural scientific curiosity. Careful documentation of what happened was used by English educators for decades after in developing English education. 

During the 1930’s Pyke established a program to provide re-cycled items to the Spanish Republicans and embarks on an ambitious program to combat anti-Semitism. 

All of the above was done before his most creative efforts with regard to fighting the Nazis in WW II. (My next post will discuss his amazing idea of huge ships made of wood and ice.) 

I thought the photos periodically inserted in the book were efforts to add realism to the story. 

Hemming’s biography reads like fiction including abundant dialogue. While I am not found of dialogue in non-fiction it works well in The Ingenious Mr. Pyke. 

The range of famous people with whom Pyke engaged was enormous. Pyke and Lord Mountbatten had a close relationship. Mountbatten was fascinated by Pyke’s ability to come up with novel solutions to problems. 

His greatest legacy involves a Pykean guide to innovation: 

His first step simple as it may sound was to be adventurous. Adventurousness could be defined as ‘a readiness to make a fool of oneself’ – something he called ‘the first duty of a citizen’. He lived by Dostoyevsky’s maxim that ‘the cleverest of all in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month’. Any mistakes that you made were ‘the social and purposive equivalent of Nature’s mutations’, without which there can be no progress. In other words to be adventurous one must also be prepared to look silly or be laughed at and that requires courage. Without this it is almost impossible to come up with a truly radical idea. 

It took me almost 200 pages before I realized that Pyke was a real person. I make that acknowledgement in the spirit of Pyke’s commitment to innovation means never being afraid of looking foolish. 

And lest you continue to wonder why I thought he was a fictional character at various times of his life he was considered an English spy, a German spy, a Russian spy.  

Lastly, as I was skimming the NY Times in May before I read the book I saw it mentioned as a wonderful beach read. Who reads non-fiction on the beach?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Book for Maxine

It is July and, though I am very late in the month, July gives me the opportunity to recommend a book I read in the last year that I believe the late Maxine Clarke would have enjoyed. Last year Margot Kinberg from the terrific Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and I wanted to keep the Petrona Remembered blog fresh with new book reviews. We invited bloggers to nominate a book they think Maxine would have enjoyed. A selection of fine books were recommended over the year.

Last July I recommended a thriller, The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. This July I look to a book, 12 Rose Street, from one of my favourite authors, Gail Bowen. That the book is set in Saskatchewan only 300 km south of me is an added bonus.
While Maxine prized good writing she appreciated a book that looked to address a contemporary issue. 12 Rose Street is focused on a municipal election for mayor featuring a progressive candidate, Joanne’s husband, versus an establishment man, Scott Ridgeway. It also challenges the assumptions of the financially comfortable who want to help the least advantaged.

I am confident Maxine would have enjoyed the newest book in the Joanne Kilbourn series because she enjoyed the first three books in the series. She described the first, Deadly Appearances, as engaging. After reading the third book she planned to read more of the series.

Writing this post reminds me how much I miss Maxine.

My review which is a repeat of the post I put up earlier this year is:

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen – Joanne Kilbourn returns to her political roots in the 15th book of the series. Her husband, Zack Shreeve, is running for mayor of Regina and is in an uphill battle against the incumbent mayor, Scott Ridgeway, a favourite of the developers and business community.

In the first book of the series Joanne had been at a summer political rally for Andy Boychuk, a former Premier of Saskatchewan, when he is poisoned. Her deceased husband had been a cabinet minister. While the provincial party is never exactly stated Joanne is well left of centre in her politics. She had been an eager and active participant in provincial politics including elections. 

Now Zack has chosen her to be his campaign manager and she is savouring the chance to challenge the conservative establishment a generation after Boychuk’s death. 

In an effort to build momentum a slate of “progressive” candidates for City Council has been assembled. Leading this group is Brock Poitras, the aboriginal gay former Saskatchewan Roughrider player (Canadian football), who has been working with Zack on community development. 

Joanne draws in her old political mentor and ex-Premier, Howard Dowhanuik. Long retired and living a quiet life Howard is energized by being involved again in an election. 

The campaign is fiercely contested. It turns nasty as the book opens with a threat of child abduction at a social event for Zack’s campaign. The information comes from an unlikely source. Cronus, a former criminal client of Zack, is a slumlord operating by the principle of “maximum income, minimum maintenance”. He is also fond of rough sex with consensual partners. 

Joanne pleads with Cronus to do anything he can to prevent an abduction. He sends a text message to an unknown recipient from his phone. It is composed of a few numbers and an attached photo of himself standing between Zack and Brock. No child is taken. 

A couple of days later Cronus is brutally murdered. In her usual quiet way Joanne tries to figure out what happened. 

As the bitter campaign continues attack ads are run on T.V. against Zack. They feature Zack and former criminal clients who were acquitted at trial and then committed further crimes. (For American readers think of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton.)  

Joanne knows Zack cannot maintain a lofty indifference to the attacks. With the aid of a skilled hired political operative she counter-attacks. Joanne has an aggressive aspect to her personality seldom seen in the series. She is fierce in defending Zack and embraces going on the offensive. 

As a part of the campaign battles Joanne and her family face a stunning revelation that left me shocked for a moment. It is credible and leaves them reeling. How Joanne copes shows the depths of her character. Few authors can bring forward a compelling personal story 15 books into the series that deeply affects each of the major characters and how they view their lives over the past 25 years. 

While Joanne is deeply involved in the election there is time in the story, as in real life, for personal life. One of her best friends is coping with the death of a daughter at 38 from pancreatic cancer. 

I always admire how Gail works into every book a development in the lives of Joanne’s family that shows how children and grandchildren are maturing in their lives. In 12 Rose Street it is Joanne’s step-daughter Taylor, approaching 16, who has begun a dating relationship with 18 year old Declan. Gail delicately handles the emotions of first love. 

12 Rose Street does focus on Joanne. The previous book, The Gifted, concentrated on the artistically gifted Taylor. This book is about Joanne with Zack having a major role. 

Adding to the story are social issues. Few mysteries address the dynamics of the interactions between the well intentioned well-to-do (Joanne and Zack) and the desperately poor and struggling residents of a rough neighbourhood. 

12 Rose Street is a good mystery with a striking personal revelation and a challenging look at important social issues. Last, but not least the election has set up further story lines for future books. Joanne Kilbourn is never going to spend her retirement sitting at home in her rocking chair. The series remains strong.

Please drop over to Petrona Remembered both in memory of Maxine and to get some good book recommendations. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ranking the Shortlist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

 For a second year I decided to read the shortlist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel written by a Canadian. This post summarizes the shortlist and gives my personal ranking of the shortlist.

As was the case last year I was surprised that two books that I had read did not make the shortlist. They were Silver Totem of Shame by R.J. Harlick and The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I had thought each an exceptional book.

Going through the shortlist in the order I read the books the first book was Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman. It is the opening book to a series featuring Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau. It is set in Ottawa and is a police procedural involving the Ottawa City Police. I most appreciated that the police duo did not head to bed together in the book and that Rouleau was “a wounded man who didn’t wallow in it”. I consider it a solid book.

The second book is None So Blind by Barbara Fradkin which also involves the Ottawa Police Service. The book, featuring Inspector Michael Green, is the 10th book in the series. It is a challenging book to discuss because it is hard to delve into the plot without spoilers.

None So Blind is unusual in crime fiction in that Green can see a convicted killer, James Rosten, as a real person. For 20 years Rosten has been maintaining his innocence to Green who has never been convinced. Still Green believes Rosten has been adequately punished.

Anyone wanting to know the real theme of the book will have to read my post that included spoilers.

The third book is Killing Pilgrim by Alen Mattich. It was my find of the quintet. Mattich has chosen from the various theories concerning the killer of Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, to write a book in which the killer was a member of the Yugoslavian Secret Service.

A few years later Marko della Torre is finding his way into the new Croatian secret service as Yugoslavia is collapsing and Croatia is on the verge of war with Serbia.

America is very interested in the assassin, the Montenegrin, and della Torre is assigned to help a beautiful American leading the way.

It is among the rarest of current thrillers in that it is complex with multi-dimensional characters.

The fourth book is No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings. It is the second book in the Inspector Tom Tyler series. It is set in rural England during WW II. What is unique about the story is that the murders take place at a convalescent hospital where the patients are among the most grievously war wounded.

Tyler’s first challenge is figuring out who could have murdered considering the terrible physical and mental injuries of the patients.

His second challenge is questioning without aggravating their conditions.

I do not think I have ever read a book in the setting of a convalescent hospital.

The 5th book was Plague by C.C. Humphreys. It was not intentional that I read the winner of the Award last. The books happened to be piled in an order that put Plague at the bottom.

The book takes place in 1665 in London where the plague is increasing in intensity.

In a most unusual pairing for crime fiction in that a highwayman, Captain Coke, and a Quaker thief taker, Pittman, join up to pursue a vicious killer.

They find themselves caught up with Fifth Monarchists whose focus on the Book of Revelation leads them to believe the Apocalypse is about to happen and the plague is proof of its coming.

While the premise and the characters are intriguing I found myself discouraged by the overwhelming grimness of London life in the mid-17th Century. I quoted Thomas Hobbes on life being “nasty, brutish and short”.

As I did last year I am not going to say whether either of the books I listed at the opening of the post should have replaced any on the shortlist. I will rank the 2015 shortlist as I saw the books:

1.) Killing Pilgrim;

2.) None So Blind;

3.) No Known Grave;

4.) Cold Mourning; and,

5.) Plague.

While last year I agreed with the choice of The Devil’s Making for the Award I disagree on Plague in 2015.

What did strike me from the shortlist is that 3 of the 5 books were set outside Canada. I hope next year more of the shortlist will have a Canadian setting. I am not saying there should be a preference for a Canadian locale. My choice this year, Killing Pilgrim, took place in Sweden and Croatia.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Go Set a Watchman Review for Blogger Tour

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - Scout is no more. It is Jean Louise Finch who returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for her annual 2 week vacation. Scout, the beguiling 6 year old, of To Kill a Mockingbird, has grown up. Jean Louise is a spirited young woman but no adult could match the magic Harper Lee created with Scout. 

In the two decades since To Kill a Mockingbird everyone has aged. Lee is unsparing. She has not merely moved her characters into the 1950’s. Atticus, at 72, is still practising law but has ever increasing problems with rheumatoid arthritis. Some days he can neither tie his shoes nor button his shirt. Atticus has a major presence but not a major role in the book.

Jean Louise is courted by a young lawyer, four year her senior, Henry Clinton who is employed in her father’s office. Her formidable Aunt Alexandra, Zandra to her brothers, is dismissive of Henry as the offspring of “white trash”. Jean Louise immediately engages in verbal battle with Aunt Alexandra. The Scout who was always ready to let fists fly is still present in Jean Louise though words have replaced fists for fighting.

In more than the above reaction Jean Louise realizes she has changed as she looks at the young women she grew up with:

I can’t think of a thing to say to them. They talk incessantly about the things they do, and I don’t know how to do the things they do. If we married – if I married anyone from this town – these would be my friends and I couldn’t think of a thing to say to them. I would be Jean Louise the Silent.

Jean Louise does recognize and appreciate that Aunt Alexandra’s willingness to live with and care for Atticus lets Jean Louise stay in New York.

Her uncle, Dr. John Hale Finch, is a philosopher and eccentric who is the most engaging character in the book. In ordinary conversation he invokes references to his true love, Victorian literature.

Where much of the story is about how life in Alabama continues to be lived by the genteel class of whites, Jean Louise cannot close her eyes to relationships between whites and Negroes. She is no longer the Scout who was oblivious as a child to the indignities endured by Negroes in the American South.

The mid-1950’s are a time of great conflict and resentment in the American South. White Maycomb residents are bitter about the U.S. Supreme Court forcing desegregation of American schools.

Jean Louise remains genuinely colour blind as an adult. Many people, even 60 years later, cannot make that claim. She is frustrated when Henry is not colour blind. She is stunned when Atticus is not colour blind. Her father is not the man she idolized. What do you do when family become mortals?

Henry and Atticus try to explain. They live in Maycomb. How do you do business if you overtly challenge the community? Who will bring about change if not part of the Maycomb establishment?

Atticus and Henry do take on the defence of a young black man but the book does not go through to a trial. I wish there had been a trial to see how they defended him. Taking the case is a twist on the classic defence lawyer's commitment to defend accused with whom you disagree in words, principles and deeds. I may expand upon the issue in a future post as it applies To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Attitudes towards Canadian Indians were deeply set. I now cringe about how the good people with whom I grew up referred to Indians. No one protested the pass system which required Canadian Indians to get permission from the Indian agent to go off reserves before 1950.

Atticus is a mythic figure to Jean Louise and readers. I admit I struggled to deal with the image of Atticus as a man in Go Set a Watchman.

While the book is about Jean Louise Finch coming of age it is also about readers coming of age. We are forced to confront our own expectations.

Much as I sought to prepare myself that the characters would be different a generation later in their lives I found myself wishing Scout and Atticus were the people I had visualized while reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Such is the power of Lee’s characterization in To Kill a Mockingbird that it is hard to accept they are not the people I idealized.

My life has parallels with Atticus. I am now forty years into my life as a lawyer in rural North America and but a decade younger than Atticus. The book set me reflecting on what my sons, slightly older than Jean Louise, think of me as a father, as a man, as a lawyer.
In her theme of exploring entrenched views of segregation in the 1950’s South Lee has written a worthy successor rather than an imitation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet I think of So Set a Watchman as only a good book. The ending had the power and drama of the best of To Kill a Mockingbird. It pounded to a climax. The writing of the opening section does not flow with the style and ease of To Kill a Mockingbird. Overall the writing was too often awkward. The plot lines did not always come together. I felt it a book Lee had not completed. I wished she had worked more upon Go Set a Watchman. It could have been another special book.

I closed Go Set a Watchman glad that I had read the book. It made me contemplate how we live amidst the biases about us. How easily do we co-exist with the watchman of our conscience?
The Go Set a Watchman blogger tour, which I am co-hosting with Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, began yesterday with a fine analysis by Margot. Please read her post if you have not read it. The tour continues as follows:

Saturday, 25 July – Tomorrow the tour goes to the  UK at Clothes in Books.

Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India at Coffee Rings Everywhere.

Friday, 31 July – The tour ends in the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Plague by C.C. Humphreys

(23. – 820.) Plague by C.C. Humphreys – In the spring of 1665 Captain William Coke is in a pub marking two well dressed men and a lovely woman. She is wearing an even more beautiful necklace. Coke, who fought for the King in England’s Civil War, is impoverished and has become a highway man.

He leaves the inn to arrange an ambush of their coach. He is surprised when the the driver of their coach refuses to stop when Coke confronts the coach with a brace of pistols (loaded only with powder) and calls upon him to “Stand!” When the horses stop on their own he finds the coachman and the passengers have all been murdered. He notes they have been butchered not merely killed.

Hearing a horn and hunting dog Coke flees but not before taking the necklace.

In pursuit is a London thief taker, Pittman (a Quaker he prefers to be called plain “Pittman” not Mr. Pittman), determined to capture the infamous Captain Cock. (The subtle difference in the surname of the Captain sought by the thief taker has kept Coke a free man.)

Finding the brutally murdered driver and passengers Pittman is taken aback for Captain Cock had been a thief but never a violent highwayman. Yet the evidence is clear it was Cock. A pistol belonging to the Captain has been left inside the coach.

A massive reward of 30 guineas is offered for the capture of the Monstrous Cock.

In London Mrs. Sarah Chalker, one of the first women to act upon an English stage, is rehearsing a play.

An admirer seeks to become too familiar. Her husband, John Chalker, is determined to find and thrash the presumptious individual.

Coke loves the theatre. His connections with the Chalkers lead to more violence.

Lurking in the background is the “Plague”. Each year London experiences plague deaths but in 1665 the numbers are rising …..

The plague is present through the City. It strikes with a fierce intensity. In desperate attempts to prevent its spread the authorities will board up the inhabitants of any house in which a person has died of the plague. Only when it is clear the plague has run its course through the house will be the boards be taken down.

Fifth Monarchists, staunch believers who focus on the Book of Revelation in the Bible, see the plague supporting their conviction the Apocalypse is nigh.

There is an explosive mix of characters and plague and religious fervour.

What happens when Coke and Pittman meet is a genuine surprise.

I should really have enjoyed this book. I love learning history through fiction. The book has intriguing characters including Coke, Pittman and Chalker. There is the constant tension of the Plague underlying the mystery. The story moves fluidly. It does not defy belief. The ending is plausible.

Yet, yet, yet I found it just alright. I was affected by the constant grimness of 1665 London life in the book. The city is dirty, actually filthy. It is overcrowded. Most people are hungry and scrambling to exist. Alcohol abuse is rampant. The ugliness of life in 1665 London is overwhelming.

With regard to life in London I thought of the quote of Thomas Hobbes from The Leviathan written in 1651:

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

It is rare a setting so negatively impacts my reading of a book. Plague is such an exception.

Plague was the last of the shortlist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Mystery Novel I have read. It was the Award winner and I congratulate C.C. Humphreys. As I did last year I will shortly make my own ranking of the shortlist.

Plague also becomes the 2nd book I have read for the 9th Canadian Book Challenge hosted at the Book Mine Set blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

8th Canadian Book Challenge Roundup (Part II)

Earlier this week I posted a list of the 19 books I had read for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge which ended on June 30. There were 18 books of fiction and one work of non-fiction.

Of the 18 there were 13 set in Canada, 2 in China, 2 in the U.S. and 1 in Europe. Of the Canadian locations there were 5 different provinces. I am glad that 3 of the books were set in Saskatchewan.

The non-fiction book, Tough Crimes, is close to my heart as it features stories from top Canadian criminal lawyers of memorable cases in their careers. I continue to believe it will be a good resource for Canadian fiction writers in the next decade.

From the fiction list my favourite for the year is Cool Water by Dianne Warren. It is not a work of crime fiction. It is a wonderful evocation of contemporary life in rural Saskatchewan. I could relate to the characters, the setting and the plot. All were credible. As well the book was special as it was given to me by a young lawyer, now practicing in Vancouver, who is from rural Saskatchewan. I chose to write my review in the form of a letter to him.

Second on the list would be Silver Totem of Shame by R.J. Harlick. Since it was No. 1 on Bill’s Best of 2014 it would be hard to exclude from the top 3 of the Challenge. Set in B.C. the plot involved an iconic Canadian image, the totem pole, and wove a fascinating mystery from the death of the carver.

Third will be The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. The 10th Armand Gamache was a return to the form of earlier books in the series. I was relieved the series no longer involves the story line of internal Surete corruption and violence. In The Long Way Home the sources of inspiration for artists are explored as Gamache and Clara Morrow search for Peter, her separated husband.

While I was glad to see the return to brilliance of Penny I was disappointed in Michael Redhill and Ian Hamilton.

I have thought Hazel Micallef a powerful character but Redhill’s book, A Door in the River, had her embark on a strange unbelievable quest that involved an underground manmade cave in a farmer’s field. It ventured into the bizarre.

I continue to have high regard for Hamilton’s sleuth, Ava Lee, but I was unhappy with the direction of series. I summed up my thoughts in my review of The Red Pole of Macau:

I do regret that Ava has moved from a skilled forensic accountant who must occasionally use her martial arts training to a predictable hero using violence to right wrongs.

I expect to read another in the series this year with the hope Hamilton returns to Ava relying on her mental skills. There are enough violent action heroes.

Of the newcomers I thought Sam Wiebe is off to a fine start with his book, Last of the Independents. I think the crime fiction world will be seeing him as a talented new writer.

The 8th Challenge is behind me and I am off to a good start on the 9th Challenge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Go Set a Watchman Blogger Tour Dates

Margot Kinberg, extraordinary blogger at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and I are hosting a blogger tour for Go Set a Watchman. Margot has prepared the following announcement on tour particulars and the back of the tee shirt logo she created for the original announcement. (I wish I had an actual tour tee shirt.) I appreciate her efforts and am looking forward to reading the book and the reviews from the tour.
It’s no secret that Harper Lee’s new release Go Set a Watchman has been getting quite a lot of press. Not long ago, Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, suggested that, since Lee will not be doing interviews, blog tours and the like, we should put a blog tour together. Thanks to Bill and some other fabulous bloggers, we’ve done just that and arranged a terrific worldwide tour.

Now you can join in the conversation about Go Set a Watchman, too. Here are the tour dates. Follow along on the tour train and see what your fellow bloggers have to say.

The tour starts right here at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… on Thursday, 23 July.

Friday, 24 July – It’s all aboard for Canada, as the tour stops at Bill’s blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

Saturday, 25 July – The tour heads off for its UK leg at Clothes in Books.

Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India, and a stop at Coffee Rings Everywhere.

Friday, 31 July – It’s back to the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog. 

We hope you’ll be a part of it!