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.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Canadian Print Book Sales

BookNet Canada provides an annual report about print books in Canada. The organization describes itself on its website:

BookNet Canada is a non-profit organization that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry. Founded in 2002 to address systemic challenges in the industry, BookNet Canada supports publishing companies, booksellers, wholesalers, distributors, sales agents, and libraries across the country.

BookNet says it tracks 85% of the print books sold in Canada.

The 2014 report set out there were 52 million units sold during 2014. The value for the units sold was $934,000,000.

The top fiction sellers were:

            1.) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; and,
            2.) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Categories of market share included:

            1.) Juvenile Fiction – 31%
            2.) Romance – 7%      
            3.) Suspense and Thrillers – 5%
            4.) Biographies and Autobiographies – 4%
            5.) Cooking – 3%
            6.) Mystery and Detective – 3%
            7.) Self-help – 2%

The BookNet blog summarized sales:

Unit sales across the total adult trade print market in 2014 were down by 3.5% compared to 2013, whereas the juvenile trade print market was up 4.1%. Despite the slight decline in the adult trade market, some categories were stronger in 2014 than the previous year, including Historical Fiction (42.6% increase in unit sales), Science (30.2% increase), Mystery & Detective (11.1% increase), and Comics & Graphic Novels (7.7% increase). In addition, sales figures in The Canadian Book Market do not include ebook sales, so the overall book market may be healthier than reflected

I am glad to see mystery and detective sales up significantly.

In an example of how raw statistics can be misleading they asked Canadians if they had read a book written by a Canadian author in the last year.

 

The initial bars are discouraging:

       Those who responded that they had read a Canadian book
       have decreased from 41% in 2002 to 24% in 2012

However, the third bar shows the number of people unsure if they read a Canadian book went up from just under 20% to just over 40%. 

The author of the report said:

The majority of these participants expressed being somewhat interested in Canadian content. So what seems to be missing isn’t an interest or a desire to consume Canadian literature, it’s knowledge and awareness of who our homegrown talent are and where to find them.

BookNet is encouraging publishers to put a Canadian identifier in the ONIX fields.
 
How careful we must be in assessing statistics.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wild Thing by Mike Harrison

31. – 441.) Wild Thing by Mike Harrison – Calgary detective, Eddie Dancer, is called to England to work for author/doctor, Peter Maurice, who is being charged as the serial murderer of several women. The method is unique and gruesome. Their skulls are being crushed by a homemade contraption. Eddie, cocky and witty, finds Dr. and Mrs. Maurice besieged by the very aggressive British paparazzi. Occasionally using them and losing them Eddie must deal continually with the paparazzi 24/7 pursuit of stories and photos. At the heart of the investigation are a set of notes from the famous Dr. Messmer in old Italian. Eddie seeks out a translation and is startled by what has been set down. The investigation is well done. I found myself wishing I had started with an earlier book in the series located in Alberta. While Eddie travels well I have a hunch the stories are better at home. Paperback. (Aug. 1/08)
****
I am rather slowly working my way through a book so will put up a review I wrote for myself a few years ago. There are three books in the series.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Double Digit Body Counts

(This post, because of the discussion on body counts will inevitably provide more information than some readers want about books or contain spoilers.)

Stuart Neville has filled the fictional cemeteries of Northern Ireland with bodies in his books – The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion.

In The Ghosts of Belfast Gerry Fegan, overwhelmed by the voices in his head of a dozen people he has murdered during “The Troubles” is convinced that he will have no peace until he has killed the men who ordered or took part in the killings with him. Fegan embarks on a vigilante mission that has his ghosts disappearing one by one as he avenges their deaths. At the end of the book there is a bloody conclusion that leaves another pile of bodies.

In Collusion it is not Fegan dealing death across the northern counties it is a hired killer, The Traveler, who is eliminating “loose ends” with regard to the trail of bodies Fegan left in his wake in The Ghosts of Belfast. Once again there is a vicious confrontation at the end of the book that adds more bodies.

High body counts are not my favourite books. I especially dislike crime fiction that essentially sees the killer identified by being the last body alive.

Margot Kinberg, in a recent post at her fine blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, discussed the oft stated premise in crime fiction that it is easier to kill again having killed once.

In a comment I disagreed with the principle for killers who are neither serial killers nor professional killers. Average people driven to kill are rarely a danger to anyone beyond the person they have killed.

Professional killers often, but not always, get enured to causing death. I read a biography of Australian WW I sniper, Billy Sing, who was credited with killing 150 opposing soldiers, mainly Turks. His struggles with life after the war reflect a man whose mind had damaged by all the killing during the war.

Neville, in Fegan and The Traveler, has created two very different minds of a killer. While Fegan gradually comes to regret his killings The Traveler has no remorse.

Fegan retains a degree of empathy. The Traveler will kill anyone for the right price. Human life has no value to him.

In both books, most explicitly in the title of Collusion, is using the stories to illustrate how many involved in the killings of The Troubles have retained or gained leadership positions in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain.

I appreciate drama was created through the killings of a dozen in The Ghosts of Belfast who deserved to die for their actions in The Troubles. Yet I regret that the norm for a modern thriller has become a double digit body count.

It is even more glaring in the movies. It is easy to find online sources for the body counts in the James Bond movies. They set out that James Bond has killed an average of 16 people per movie. Another 43 people die in each movie putting the overall total at 59 killed per movie!

I think it is time for book bloggers to lead the way in identifying high body counts for readers by inserting an acronym at the start of each thriller review. We could put in bold, DDB for Double Digit Bodies, to alert readers there will be 10 or more bodies in the book.

While Neville has the ability to make a DDB plot work I am reflecting on whether I want to read his next books. How many people should be killed in fictional Northern Ireland?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Collusion by Stuart Neville

Collusion by Stuart Neville – After the rampage of Gerry Fegan in Ghosts of Belfast executing former associates from “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland there are many powerful forces who want the loose ends to go away permanently.

For Bull O’Kane vengeance is both personal and professional. Permanently damaged and forced to a wheelchair he wants Fagan dead. O’Kane, beyond being crippled by Fegan, cannot stand that Fegan is the only man he fears in the world.

O’Kane reaches out to an independent assassin, The Traveler, a fierce killer of gypsy background. He hires The Traveler to dispose of the loose ends and draw out Fegan who has disappeared. The Traveler is indifferent to his motivations.

In Belfast Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, a Catholic, is living with his own demons. He has been estranged from his family for 15 years for having joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is under constant suspicion within the police for having lived with Marie McKenna and fathered a daughter. McKenna is the daughter and niece of powerful Republicans. The constant tension is wearing upon him.

When Lennon, on surveillance, prevents a Loyalist gangster from killing another Loyalist thug in an internal dispute over turf and criminal ventures he gains increased responsibilities within the police services.

In New York City Fegan is trying to work quietly but his sleep is still haunted. While the ghosts from Belfast have faded he is plagued by visions of fire and smoke and a screaming child.

At the same time Lennon, who had abandoned McKenna and his daughter Ellen, desperately wants to re-establish contact. They have equally gone away and he cannot penetrate Special Branch.

As The Traveler carries out his contract and the bodies begin to mount Lennon does not accept there are no connections. His superiors are content with convenient solutions.

The depths of the scheming are made clear to Lennon:

“Everybody knows it all, but no one says anything. Look, collusion worked all ways, all directions. Between the Brits and the Loyalists, between the Irish government and the Republicans, between the Republicans and the Brits, between the Loyalists and the Republicans …… All ways, all directions. We’ll never know how far it went.”

A degree of paranoia can be healthy in Northern Ireland as there may be a vast conspiracy around you.
 
As with the Ghosts of Belfast the pages are littered with the dead.

It is a tribute to Neville’s skill that he can create a thriller filled with hard men and hard women. Ordinary thrillers require a hero. Neville does not need a hero to carry his plot. His story drives forward into a contemporary heart of darkness. (Apr. 4/15)
****
Neville, Stuart - (2011) - The Ghosts of Belfast; (2012) - "N" is for Stuart Neville

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New to Me Authors for January to March of 2015

The first quarter of 2015 has gone by swiftly. During the three months I read books by four new fiction authors and two non-fiction authors.

The books and authors of fiction are:

     1.) Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe;

     2.) Or the Bull Kills You by Jason Webster;

     3.) The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith; and,

     4.) The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man by Peter May.

The non-fiction books and authors are:

     1.) Tough Crimes edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba; and,

     2.) 41 by George W. Bush.

As I looked at the books I found myself in a quandary. I greatly enjoyed reading all of the books. Thus I am going to indulge myself in a blogger's  prerogative and decline to pick a favourite from either the fiction or non-fiction books.

I recommend all of the above books.

I further recommend readers to go on over to Kerrie Smith's excellent blog, Mysteries in Paradise, where she hosts this meme.










Saturday, March 28, 2015

Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones

13. - 810.) Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones – State Trooper Nathan Active has a romantic week planned with the beautiful Grace Palmer. Bush pilot, Cowboy Decker, drops them off at One-Way Lake a short distance inland from the northwest coast of Alaska. It is late fall and they will spend the week while fishing, hunting caribou and berry picking and getting to know each other better.

Grace, still wary of men, is hesitant about a full physical relationship with Active. He is prepared to be patient.

As Active explores the edge of the lake Active is startled to come upon a body in the water. No visual identification is possible as the face has been eaten way by pike in the lake. In a play on the name of the lake they call the dead man “No Way” and send out a signal for Decker to return.

Their camping getaway is abruptly ended when Cowboy returns, not for the body, but to pick up Active and Grace as there has been a major fire in the Rec Centre in Chukchi and 7-8 residents have been killed including the local Police Chief, Jim Silver.

The fire investigator from Anchorage is still sifting through the remains of the Rec Centre when Active gets back to Chukchi. The investigator has not been able to find a clear cause for the deadly fire. He suspects arson but it was an older building.

With the Chief dead the State Troopers take over the overall investigation. All are shaken by the possibility that someone in their small community would commit mass murder.

There is little evidence for the Troopers. The fire was intense. It took place during the night. No one saw anything unusual.

They look for persons with a grudge against any of the deceased. In particular, was someone out to get revenge on Silver. There are certainly grievances but none are so serious as to incite murder.

The frustration of the community with the lack of progress rises daily.

Active loves Grace but she continues to hesitate. She is still scarred from her abusive upbringing and self-destructive years in Anchorage. She resides in her family home as she deals with the memories of her father.

After seeing Grace and Active together, Pauline Generous, the grandmother of his former girlfriend Lucy, with the directness of a senior leaves Active stumbling for words when she asks Active:

            “You gonna make her sad too, like with Lucy?”

Active wants to move ahead within the Troopers and is advised he can expect a transfer to Anchorage. The reaction of his mother, Martha Active Johnson, when he tells her is poignant:

“No, You can’t go …….. You can’t go away again,” she said. “It’s bad when I let them take you when you’re baby, it’s bad when you come visit me when you’re little boy, and ….. no, you can’t go again.”

Grace is not sure whether she wants to go back to Anchorage.

Returning to the investigation, the illegal trade in polar bear gall bladders becomes a factor. (Koreans use the gall bladders in traditional medicine and they are worth thousands of dollars.)

The investigation winds its way through the life of a community straddling traditional Inupiat life on the land and ocean with new residents from distant places and a contemporary lifestyle.

The plot made me realize how close Siberia is to northwest Alaska. They are but 90 km apart at their closest.

Village of the Ghost Bears is another great Alaska story by Jones.  I appreciate an author who can integrate local people and geography and history into the plot. I think it is the best book in the series. Whenever I want to go visit the locale of a book I know I have a good book in my hands.

My sole regret is that the ending had one twist too many. Jones had come up with a credible solution when he added a further twist. As with some Jeffery Deaver books it was unnecessary and reduced the impact of the solution. 

Jones has developed a fine series on the northwest edge of America.
****
Jones, Stan – (2009) - White Sky, Black Ice; (2010) - Shaman Pass; (2012) - "J" is for Stan Jones; (2013) - Frozen Sun; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Saskatchewan Cases Involving Wrongful Conviction and Jury Nullification

Brian Beresh
In my last post I reviewed Tough Crimes, a collection of true stories from Canadian criminal lawyers about memorable cases in which they had appeared. I personally know two of the lawyers who provided stories.

Brian Beresh and I graduated from the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan in 1975. After practising in North Battleford for a short while he moved to Edmonton where he is well recognized as one of the best criminal defence lawyers in the West. 

Mark Brayford has spent his legal career in Saskatchewan. He is known as a talented defence counsel. Working out of Saskatoon he is instantly recognizable for his shoulder length hair.

Brian chose a case in which he returned to Saskatchewan in 1999 to defend Larry Fisher in a murder trial for a killing that took place in 1969 in Saskatoon. It is one of Saskatchewan’s most famous cases. Originally David Milgaard was convicted of murdering Gail Miller and spent 22 years in jail before being exonerated and Fisher charged.

While not highlighted in his story Brian and I were in law school during the early 1970’s just after the original Milgaard case had made its way through the judicial system.

I admire Brian for taking on the case. His client was highly unpopular, the finding of a wrongful conviction against Milgaard was known throughout the province and everyone except the original prosecutor and police investigators was convinced Fisher was guilty. Fisher had been convicted of rape before Miller was killed, was residing near where the murder took place and there was DNA evidence connecting him to Miller.

The trial was bizarre in that up to the moment was Milgaard cleared the Crown had been vigorously asserting he was guilty. Now they were claiming with equal vigor that Fisher was the killer. Ordinarily it would have been a strong position for the defence to have put forward a credible alternative killer but Milgaard had been found to have been wrongfully convicted.

Brian did his best to sow some reasonable doubt with regard to potential contamination of the DNA and how reliable Fisher’s former wife could be in her evidence but there was no real chance of acquittal.

At the end of his story he points out a number of unanswered questions that disturbed him. It is clear he still has reasonable doubt about the conviction.

Mark Brayford
Mark also chose a case in which his client was convicted. The murder charge against Robert Latimer is as highly charged case as has taken place in Saskatchewan.

Latimer was charged with murdering his 12 year old daughter, Tracy, who had suffered brain damage at birth and was profoundly disabled. She was in constant agonizing pain which could not be effectively relieved by painkillers. To end her suffering Latimer used carbon monoxide to kill her.

The case, as all hard cases do, provoked anguish - mercy killing to a majority of Canadians but murder to activists for the disabled.

With Latimer having admitted killing his daughter Brayford’s options were limited:

Robert’s only real hope rested on the principle of jury nullification, even though in law Robert’s actions constituted murder, the jury had the right to refuse to convict if they believed it would be unjust to do so.

While jury nullification is an ancient and honoured legal tradition defence counsel in Canada cannot advise juries they can refuse to convict despite the law.

Mark argues eloquently that jury nullification should be made known to juries as one of the bulwarks against tyrannical government.

The greatest public frustration with the decision was that because Latimer was convicted of second degree murder the sentence had to be a minimum of 10 years.

Mark does not discuss how the legal predicament could have been avoided had the Crown exercised discretion by charging Latimer with manslaughter rather than murder. In several comparable Canadian cases manslaughter had been the charge. The key distinction for this type of case is that manslaughter, where no firearm is involved, does not have a minimum sentence.
 
I thought Latimer should have been charged and convicted of manslaughter and served a few years in prison but not 10 years.

I found it interesting that both Brian and Mark respect the law but question how their clients were found guilty. Both Brian and Mark spent a great amount of time and thought in defending these cases and losing still hurts no matter how difficult the facts and law.
****
Tough Crimes edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tough Crimes edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba

12. - 809.) Tough Crimes edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba – C.D., who has practised criminal law in Calgary for over 40 years, and Lorene, a writer / editor / researcher, have assembled a collection of “true cases by top Canadian criminal lawyers”. They approached the lawyers requesting they write about a case that was “perplexing or disquieting, had weird or surprising turns, or presented personal and ethical issues”. Each of the stories sets out the personal recollections of a lawyer about a memorable case in which they appeared.  

The book is divided into groups of cases on a theme. The headings are wrongful conviction, homicide, reasonable doubt, collateral damage and community.  

The cases are all from my contemporaries who have practised law during the past 39 years I have been a lawyer. I know almost all of the lawyers by reputation. Two I personally know well. One, Brian Beresh, was a classmate with me at the University of Saskatchewan and another, Mark Brayford, is a colleague in Saskatchewan. My next post will focus on the stories they wrote for the book. 

What makes the collection unique is that readers get a chance to read how lawyers thought and reacted to memorable cases that span our far flung nation. 

Readers accustomed to legal mysteries in which the featured lawyer, whether prosecutor or defender, wins the case will be surprised that several of the cases chosen were cases lost by the lawyer. 

The most notorious case discussed was the Paul Bernardo murder trial. Bernardo and his wife, Karla Homolka, killed a pair of teenage Ontario girls and their sexual assault of Homolka’s sister ended with the sister’s death. Bernardo was also identified as the Scarborough rapist. He had committed a series of rapes in the Toronto suburb before turning to murder with Homolka.  

John Rosen acted for Bernardo with regard to the murder charges. In his opening paragraph he says: 
 
“….. what makes Bernardo and Homolka so infamous is that, outwardly, they appeared entirely normal. As a young, attractive, seemingly normal, white and upwardly mobile couple, they appeared to represent everything middle class Canadian society strives to be. But when his crimes came to light, to the general public Bernardo became the Devil Incarnate. Does that make me, his trial lawyer, the Devil’s advocate?”


Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo
Rosen is a good story teller. Effective trial lawyers must have that skill. To hold the attention of juries and convince judges you have to tell the story of your client well.

As he took over the defence from Bernardo’s first lawyer Rosen was provided with videotapes that police searches had never found in the Bernardo home. The tapes showed the teenage girls being sexually and physically abused and raped.

Rosen discusses his reaction to the tapes:

In truth though, the images depicted shook me to the core. At one point I needed to stop and excuse myself for a few moments. The images were deeply disturbing and the implications were obvious. How was I going to defend this case in the face of these tapes? What would prevent the jury from coming over the boards at me for having the gall to advance any defence for this accused? Moreover, I am a father myself – what would my own family think of me? How was I going to survive a trial with my health and reputation intact? …… After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to put aside my personal feelings and interests and get on with the job at hand.

Another showed a defence lawyer, John Vertes, working with the Crown prosecutor and the judge to adopt a special approach in the Arctic in the late 1970’s to achieve a just result. His 18 year old Inuit client, Henry Suviserk Innuksuk, was guilty of setting several fires in his small community on the distant northwestern shore of Hudson’s Bay. At the same time Henry was severely mentally challenged. No one thought sending him away to jail would be good for Henry but a punishment was needed.

When Vertes arrived for court there was a special meeting:

Upon arrival, I immediately went to the Hamlet office where I was greeted by a large throng of people including the mayor and the Council members, all of whom were Inuit except for one. Also in attendance were Dr. and Mr. Williamson; Henry’s elderly father, two of his older brothers, as well as many community members. One by one, they spoke to me about Inuit traditional ways and about their concerns for Henry. The mayor said that he and every member of the Hamlet Council would be willing to act as surety and supervise Henry in the community if that would mean Henry’s avoidance of a jail term. They felt sad that they had not paid more attention to Henry in the community, previously knowing his limitations. And now they wanted to take responsibility for his future conduct.

Anyone who thinks lawyers are not affected by their cases will realize after reading this book that lawyers are not unfeeling legal robots.

It is a great book. I freely admit to a large bias. As a part of my practice I have been defending men and women in the criminal courts of Canada throughout my legal career. These stories resonate deeply with me. I can assure readers they are “real”.

I believe the book would be invaluable to any writer of crime fiction intending to write about a Canadian criminal trial. There are 20 powerful cases to inspire plots. There are an equal number of vivid lawyers whose personalities and approaches to criminal law can be drawn upon in creating characters. I would extend the worth of the book to anyone writing about lawyers and criminal cases in any of the countries whose criminal justice is based on the principles of Anglo / American justice.

I think every young Canadian lawyer should read this book and will be encouraging my sons and my articling students to read and reflect on Tough Crimes. You will not think of criminal lawyers in the same way after reading this book.