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, September 29, 2011

Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Richard Murphy

36. - 499.) Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Richard Murphy – RCMP Sgt. Booker Kennison, has been exiled to Yellowknife after a shootout with a Quebec biker. Ruby Cruz is sent by her Washington employers to King William Island in Nunavut to collect Professor Kneisser, the head of an expedition, and a journal he found of a member of the Franklin expedition of the mid-1840’s. By the time she arrives Kneisser and Marie-Claire Fortier are dead in the burned ruins of a supply shack. Kennison believes he is investigating accidental deaths until he finds a bullet hole in Kneisser’s forehead. Suddenly he is in the midst of a murder investigation, 1,500 miles away from Yellowknife, with the Arctic winter looming and the satellite phone dead. There are still places in the world where communication can be impossible. Amidst the investigation are excerpts from the journal setting out the gradual shift of the members of the expedition from optimistic explorers to grimly horrific efforts at survival. The journal within the novel is a remarkable work. Two subplots were more distracting than interesting. Kennison fears retialiation from the RCMP top brass for his knowledge of the manipulations within the pension fund of the force. A Turqavik cell (radical violent Eskimos) becomes involved. Maybe there are Eskimos planning revolution but it was implausible to a Canadian reader. Murphy skillfully evokes the challenges of living in temperatures far below zero and the need to respect the Canadian winter. The book moved from a great book to a good book with the pile of bodies at the end. It was with great regret that I read the author, a friend of J.D. Singh, died shortly after the book was completed. The last 2 books I have read were by authors dying just after writing them. (Sept. 11/09)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Reviews in Communist Countries and Current Book Blogs

The following post was inspired by my reading of The Miracle Game. My review is the post below this post. A photo of the author, Josef Škvorecký, is to the left of this post. 

The hero of The Miracle Game, Daniel Smiricky, resonates with lovers of mysteries. In addition to writing operettas he, like his creator Skvorecky, has written mysteries.

Residing in the Eastern bloc from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, Smiricky is caught up in the perversions of analysis of the written word - books, poems and songs – conducted on a purely ideological basis.

There is an amazing, funny but frightening, description of translation and literary analysis in the Soviet Union. An English novel is heavily edited in translation in the U.S.S.R. to reduce or delete scenes not consistent with the Soviet norms of the class struggle. Forewords and afterwords are included to explain the story by Marxist doctrinal analysis. Reviews are written, some by reviewers who have not read the book, in conformity with the party line. There is but a thread left of the original story.

Later in America after Prague Spring has been crushed Smiricky attends a meeting of the far far left. The Chairman is a committed Maoist committed to the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Albania. The Soviet Union is revisionist to the Chairman.

Smiricky challenges the Chairman by raising the name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a writer about “conditions in Soviet prisons and concentration camps in the Stalinist era” who is “being persecuted by the imperialist revisionist Soviet clique”. Hearing Smiricky has read him in an English translation published in the United States the Chairman dismisses Solzhenitsyn:

   “The writer is simply consciously or unconsciously an
    agent of American imperialism and therefore has come
    into conflict with the interests of the Soviet imperialist
    revisionist clique. So they persecute him.”

The Chairman, looking at books by Mao, concludes that he does not read such authors but reads “books from which I learn the truth”.

For Communist states and devout Communists such as the Chairman book analysis must be done by political principles.

How much are current reviews shaped by the country in which reviewers reside and the political regime in power? In the blogger world of 2011 I do not see reviews determined by nationality and politics.

In North America we live in an era of political correctness. Prior to starting my blog I wondered, whether there is a growing self-censorship in book reviews to comply with current accepted standards of what is right in life and opinion.

Thankfully in the book blogs I read the reviews strive to capture the story being told. They seek to provide accurate descriptions of the plot. Conclusions and observations and opinions are personally offered. The reviews are not centered in ideology.

I appreciate all bloggers are influenced by their personal beliefs, backgrounds, education, age, sex and other factors. I am grateful we are not driven to analyze books by a rigid ideological philosophy.

Our blogs would not survive long in totalitarian states. Bloggers are too independent in thought to be tolerated by dictatorial regimes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky

This week the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, moves into the Czech Republic. In searching for a mystery I came across The Miracle Game. It is a remarkable book with a mystery embedded in the plot.

49. – 609.) The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky  (1972) – The author knows how to capture a reader’s attention. It is 1949 in newly Communist Czechoslavkia. Skvorecky’s lead character, Daniel Smiricky is enduring a painful case of gonorrhea. Adding to the pain are the circumstances. He has just started teaching at a girls boarding school in the countryside. The healthy teenage students are eager to love the young male teacher and confused by his reluctance to accept their advances. Seeking to deflect their ardor, especially from the lovely but persistent Vixi, he asserts a belief in the principles of the Catholic faith. To demonstrate his faith he attends church.

Dozing in the chapel of the Virgin Mary under Mare’s Head Hill Smiricky misses a miracle during Mass. A wooden statute of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus, bows to the congregation. Local Communist authorities denounce and torture the parish priest and offer proof it was a hoax but there is evidence the Communists manufactured the evidence. Subsequently, there is evidence, also challenged, that the national secret police had set out to create a false miracle to discredit the Catholic Church. The plot periodically returns to the unconventional mystery. Was there a modern miracle or was the bowing faked?

The primary focus of the book is Smiricky’s life journey through the perils of Communist Czechoslovakia. The story abruptly shifts between the late 1940’s and the excitement of the reforms in the spring of 1968. Adding to the complexity are reminiscences going back into the Nazi years and forward into the 1950’s. The author’s skill makes it work but a reader must stay concentrated to follow the plot.

Smiricky is a skilled observer of his society. He carefully lives neither openly defiant nor totally submissive to the state. He writes operettas that do not offend the authorities. All words and actions are governed by what will be the reaction of the authorities. Every aspect of life is governed by Marxist dogma and analysis. He is a non-believer in any faith or ideology or philosophy. Would any of us be braver in the midst of tyranny? I doubt I would have had the courage to protest.

There are wonderful comic episodes describing the bizarre events that arise from the authorities applying political analysis to everything. To cope the people engage in devious subversions. The oral final examinations of the senior girl students descend into the absurd when the girls parrot answers on Social Welfare under Feudalism because the state has provided no text for the course. The examiners anticipate approved answers but are getting disturbed when girl after girl gives identically worded answers. Before the examiners can address the obviously rehearsed answers their focus is diverted by huge quantities of delicious food and powerful drinks served by the most beautiful graduates.

Plays are removed from a theatre repertoire because of inappropriate audience reaction to the plays. The audiences had not responded properly based on Marxist – Leninist principles.

Meetings assess what musical instruments can be played by considering whether the instruments conform with Communist principles. The saxophone is out of favour because it has a "hybrid, comospolitan, and decadent timbre". The violincello is suitable.

In his personal life he moves from affair to affair never committing to a relationship. He respects women and is far from celibate but he lives alone.

As the book moves through Prague Spring there is genuine uncertainty within the population on whether the giant to the East will tolerate this new Communism swiftly moving away from the traditional Soviet model.

My reading of the book was shaped by the book being written shortly after the Prague Spring of 1968 and translated during the collapse of Eastern European communism at the end of the 1980’s. As I read the book I kept thinking of those historical events.  It is not an easy read.

It is a thoughtful book well worth reading. I thank Kerrie for the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass. I would not have read the book but for the meme.

On Tuesday I will add a further post related to The Miracle Game in which I discuss the process of book analysis in Communist times versus the book review blogs of today. (Sept. 10/11)

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre

37. - 500.) A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre – (This post looks back to a book I read in 2009.) Issa Karpov, half  Chechen / half Russian, barely makes his way to Hamburg after being imprisoned and tortured in Russia and Turkey. Issa denies he has been a Islamist radical. With the aid of a Turkish family he manages to find Annabel Richter, a lawyer devoted to helping immigrants seeking to stay in Germany. She is haunted by the deportation of another young Russian and will not let it happen again. She realizes Issa is no ordinary fugitive as he has particulars for a bank account in Brue Freres, a private bank, run by Englishman Tommy Brue. It was an account established by Issa’s corrupt father in the end days of the USSR. It is a Lippanzer account – a black account which turns white just as the horses change colour when they age. Richter seeks to find a way to keep Issa in Germany and let him fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. At the same time the multiple German competing intelligence agencies have their eye on Issa and want to use him for their own ends. The interested agencies expand to include those of England and the U.S. I almost hate to read Le Carre’s books. The recent works have been so grim in their endings. As I read this book I dreaded what was going to happen to Issa. The cruelty of Western intelligence in battling Islamic terrorism is frightening especially if you are non-Caucasian and non-Western. If the book’s casual willingness to cast aside laws is correct there is a depressing lack of difference between Western democracies and the dictatorships of the rest of the world. There is no humanity, only competition among the intelligence agencies. I am not sure I am up to reading another Le Carre book. He does have the great talent shared by P.D. James of creating amazing characters. I know I will not forget Issa. It was a book to remember for my 500th book of the decade. (Sept. 17/09)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

51. – 611.) A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny – The Canadian edition was released 3 weeks ago and I bought a copy last week in Regina. 

It is a challenge to write this review as the story flows onward as a continuing plot from Bury Your Dead. You cannot go back to read The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead if you have read this book. The solutions to both earlier books are revealed early in this book. 

In the book Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines to investigate another murder. 

After years of struggle and insecurity in her painting Clara Morrow has been given a solo show at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal. Clara is almost paralyzed going to the opening of the show. She finds it almost impossible to consider herself and her portraits worthy of such attention. For much of her life her work has drawn criticism rather than praise. The show draws very favourable critical attention. 

At the vernissage for the show Gamache and art dealer, Francois Marois, study Clara’s portrait of the sarcastic iconoclast poet, Ruth Zardo. Initial observation shows a portrait of Ruth as an aged Virgin Mary worn and angry. Yet study of the painting shows to Gamache, through a single dot of white in her eyes, hope still lives within her. Marois, less certain, asks whether instead of hope it might be “merely a trick of the light”. 

The next morning Peter and Olivier discover the body of a woman in the garden of Peter and Clara. To Clara’s shock it is Lillian Dyson, her best friend as a child, whose cruel nature had fractured their friendship. Clara cannot understand why Lillian is at her home. They have been estranged for over 20 years. She does not even recognize a photo of the deceased Lillian. 

As a young woman Lillian had been a gifted but mean spirited art critic for La Presse, a prominent Montreal newspaper. She is remembered best for a brilliantly vicious sentence in a review that destroyed a young artist:

    “He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily  function.”

It sent a shiver through me reading that line. It echoes through the book. In writing book reviews I hope I never savage an author whose book I have not liked with clever biting language. Of the bloggers I read I do not detect such a cruel spirit. There may be negative reviews written but they do not seek to eviscerate the author.

The art world has many jealousies and intrigues between artists, critics and dealers. There are many potential suspects. The investigation takes the team deep into Lillian’s life both long past and the present.  

At the heart of the story are the injuries we inflict and the wounds we suffer in life. Everyone must cope with hurt caused and received. Within the book each of the characters is hurting in their own way. What do we do about the hurt we have caused? Can you forgive those who have caused hurt when they seek forgiveness? What happens when forgiveness is denied?

Gamache and Beauvoir still cope with the consequences of the battle in the factory that left each of them badly injured before the start of Bury Your Dead. Neither has fully recovered from the psychological trauma.

It is a dramatic book without a bullet fired or a bomb exploded. Penny brilliantly explores the psyches of her characters. Few mysteries probe so deeply the personalities of the characters.

In the end there is a gathering to solve the murder that rivals the meetings Nero Wolfe held to expose the killer.

There are threads in the story, both personal and professional, that will obviously carry over to the next volume of the series.

It is an excellent book. It does not equal the wonders of Bury Your Dead but it is a worthy successor. I shall be watching for notice of the next in the series to be published. (Sept. 17/11)
The book is my 3rd book in the 5th Canadian Book Challenge at the Book Mine Set. I have now reached the Kluane Bras d’Or Lake level.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

50. - 610.) The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1957) – This week’s Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass sponsored by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise is in the heart of EuropeSwitzerland. It was not easy to find a mystery in Saskatchewan that was set in Switzerland. Finally, I tracked down The Pledge at a branch of the Regina Public Library. When I looked at other posts at Mysteries in Paradise I see Lizzy Siddal has also written  a post on The Pledge. Her review is at http://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/the-pledge-friedrich-durrenmatt/.


The unnamed narrator is an immediate draw for mystery blog reviewers. He is in Zurich to give a lecture on mystery novels when he meets the Chief of Police, Dr. H. While traveling together the Chief tells him the story of his former deputy, Matthai.

The police had been called to investigate the brutal murder of a young girl, Gritli Moser, in the forest outside the village of Magendorf. When killed she was wearing a red skirt and carrying a basket of pretzels. The killing provokes great anger in the village. Challenged by the girl’s mother to find the killer Matthai vows to find the killer.

Suspicion is concentrated on the peddler who found the body. Aggressive questioning produces a confession from him. Before Matthai and Dr. H. can check out the confession the peddler commits suicide.

All officialdom is prepared to accept the peddler as the killer but Matthai is convinced they have the wrong man and that there is a serial killer lurking in eastern Switzerland. Having made his pledge to find the killer he leaves the police force to follow his quest.

Matthai is a skilled and determined investigator whose life has been focused around his work. He now becomes obsessed with the search. It dominates his life. When all conventional investigational techniques fail he turns to a chilling unethical approach. Matthai cannot recognize his methods dishonour his pledge.

The book has an unexpected but logical conclusion.

It is not a complex mystery. It is a subtle work. Should a person change their life to carry out a promise? We all make promises. On occasion I have been unable to fulfill a promise. There is regret in failing to honour a promise. Normally people accept they cannot fulfill every promise. The book illustrates the consequences of refusing to accept a promise that cannot be honoured. (Sept. 12/11)


The paperbook cover said the book had been made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro and Patricia Clarkson. The movie was made in 2001. On the cover above is a photo of Nicholson. Being Hollywood the movie setting was moved from Switzerland to Nevada. I am not sure whether our changes were made from the book. I have not seen it. Apparently I am not unique. The movie’s worldwide gross did not cover the cost of production. More information is available on the movie at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0237572/. Lastly the movie was filmed in Canada in British Columbia.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thoughts on Questions and Answers with Chad Barton

With today’s post I conclude a series of three posts involving The Goodbye Man by Chad Barton. Below this post are the posts for Questions and Answers with Chad and my review of the book. In this post I discuss the Questions posed to Chad and his Answers.

Unlike Chad I do not believe in the death penalty. As set out in my review I am Catholic and I support the church’s position against the death penalty. I do not think the state should decide who should live or die. Further I am aware of the frailties of our judicial system. Miscarriages of justice do take place. When I was in law school in the 1970’s a teenager, David Milgaard, was convicted of the rape and murder of a young woman in Saskatoon. Mainly because of his mother’s never ending efforts the case was re-examined. When all the evidence came out the true killer was identified and convicted. Milgaard was released after 23 years of wrongful imprisonment. Had there been the death penalty in Canada he would have been executed long before he was exonerated. A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held into his wrongful conviction. The Commission’s website is http://www.justice.gov.sk.ca/milgaard/.

Chad further supports mandatory maximum life sentences without parole for certain child molesters. I believe there should be life sentences for certain molesters. I am against mandatory sentences.

There is an arbitrariness to mandatory sentences that I believe is reflected in Chad’s answers. A teacher having intercourse with a teenage student would not draw the mandatory maximum but a doctor or priest fondling young boys would receive the mandatory maximum.

Communities may support the principle of mandatory sentences for strangers but not in my experience for people they personally know. In our community a long respected family doctor was convicted of fondling several young boys when they were patients. He was sent to prison for several years. I never heard anyone in our city say he should have received a life sentence.

I have personally dealt with families where there was a member of the family abusing others in the family. In one case, after the abuser served a jail sentence, the family addressed the abuse. With a mandatory life sentence I do not believe they could ever have reconciled and re-united as a family.

The last question concerns Robert Latimer, a farmer from Saskatchewan. As set out he killed his severely disabled daughter because he could not stand to see her continuing to suffer excruciating pain. He was convicted of second degree murder in two trials. (His first trial had been overturned on appeal because of prosecutorial misconduct.) In Canada a conviction for second degree murder draws a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail. Canadian juries do not know the prospective sentence if an accused is convicted. From all the information around the trials it was clear that the juries would not have convicted of second degree murder had they known there was a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The second trial judge, even though it was contrary to the Criminal Code, tried to sentence Latimer to a lesser sentence on the basis it was cruel and unusual punishment to sentence him to 10 years. On appeal the sentence was increased to the 10 year minimum. I think the trial judge should have had the discretion to impose a sentence of less than 10 years. Readers seeking more information can look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Latimer.

I do not support mandatory sentences. They produce as many injustices as they purport to correct. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Questions and Answers with Chad Barton

On Tuesday I posted my review of The Goodbye Man. Tonight I am posting a letter with questions I put to the author about criminal law issues. His answers are in bold. On Saturday I will put a post of my thoughts on the questions and answers.


As you will see from my review I do not agree with Jack Steele’s vigilante approach to justice. I did appreciate the chance to read your book. I would like to give you the opportunity to expand upon your views. For my blog I have chosen not to conduct oral interviews. I have preferred to send written questions and invite authors to have time to reflect before responding. I hope you will answer the following questions, which include some comments, so I can put the answers up in a further post. Sometimes I do a third post containing my thoughts on the answers.

My questions are:

1.) Do you believe in the death penalty?


2.) If you do, what crimes should carry the death penalty?

Pre-meditated murder, rape, murder of a child.

3.) Should there be discretion for a jury on whether to impose the death penalty?


4.) Do you believe citizens should be able to conduct vigilante justice?


5.) If you do, who selects the vigilantes?


6.) If there should be vigilantes do they act in groups or as individuals?


7.) In the book there is reference to a law imposing mandatory maximum sentences which I understood provides that individuals convicted of abusing children should receive mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole. Do you support such a law?

I do support it when child molesters are sadistic and violent.

8.) If you do, what is the nature of the abuse which draws a mandatory maximum sentence?

Murder and rape

9.) Would a teacher having sexual intercourse with a young teenage student draw the mandatory maximum?


10.) Would it matter if the teacher were male or female?


11.) Would a doctor or priest fondling several young boys receive the mandatory maximum?


12.) Would a man or woman who sexually rubs a child one time while impaired by alcohol receive the mandatory maximum sentence?


13.) As stated in the review, in my experience, most abuse cases involve family members. Does it make a difference if the case is the abuse of one member of a family?


14.) Should there be a mandatory maximum sentence for children who abuse elderly parents?

I do not have an opinion

15.) Do you believe an abuser can ever be rehabilitated?

Not a violent, sexual sadist

16.) Should a family be allowed to forgive another family member who is an abuser and, after the abuser has served a term of imprisonment, reconcile so they can resume life together?

No opinion

17.) My province of Saskatchewan struggled with the case of a father who killed his severely disabled (cerebral palsy) 12 year old daughter by carbon monoxide poisoning because he said he could no longer stand to see her suffering. Is he a monster who should be executed?


Thank you for considering the questions.

Yours truly,

Bill Selnes

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Goodbye Man by Chad Barton

44. – 604.) The Goodbye Man by Chad Barton – Once I started this book I knew it would be a difficult book for me to read and review. It is about a vigilante killer. I do not believe in vigilantes. Vigilantes are contrary to my participation in and belief in a system of justice.  

Jack Steele is an avenger. He has designated himself the executioner of monsters, men who kill children. (I say male monsters as there are no female monsters in the book.) The book starkly presents a world of black and white. There are the great guys and girls and the bad guys. Characters are either all good or all bad. There is not a killer about whom there is any doubt of guilt.  

Most child abusers in my experience are family members but all of the killers in the book are stranger abusers. They are long term serial violent abusers of children unknown or little known to them. Each killer is a continuing threat to society. No one could have any sympathy for them. 

Jack Steele has decided that these killers of children deserve to be slain by him. He cannot abide that some killers have been released from prison for reasons such as overcrowding or good behaviour.  

Steele and his German shepherd, Sadie, range between New York City and Florida seeking out killers to be killed. Steele considers the justice system has failed and he shall kill to address its shortcomings. Steele considers a failed judicial system gives him the right to be God on earth.   

Everyone in the book who is a member of a police force who hears of the killing of the monsters is happy a vigilante is preying on child killers. I wonder how many real life police want vigilantes roaming the streets looking to mete out their personal brand of justice. 

For Steele child killers have no worth. None of the book’s killers have families. None have spouses. None have friends. They are only monsters to be exterminated.  

As the book progresses it is clear that Steele believes other types of monsters such as rapists equally have no right to life. 

Everyone has moments they want revenge for harm done themselves or a loved one. Who has not seen himself or herself as a hunter of evil men? Yet we hold back from action. I believe it is because we recognize that it is bad for society to have millions of people exacting their personal versions of justice.  

I live in a country, Canada, which has no capital punishment. Our nation has decided it is not for the state to kill criminals. At one time we had a death penalty that was limited to murderers of the police. Ultimately, the death penalty was abolished. One of the reasons for abolition was that our nation decided a police officer’s life was not worth more than the life of a child or any other citizen. 

One of the characters in the books is a devout Catholic. I am Catholic. Our church, led by the pope, has spoken out against capital punishment. 

The action scenes are convincing and well written. It is a blunt force book. There are no twists or complications. Steele is a determined efficient killer. If you liked the Charles Bronson movies where he is a vigilante you will like the book.  

The book will make a reader reflect on what society should do with those who abuse children. I have been thinking about justice. Almost all my cases involving criminal law have been as a defence counsel. I have represented individuals accused of abusing children. Some were guilty and went to jail. Some were not guilty but had their reputations destroyed. None had killed children. I do not believe any of my clients deserved to die.  


On Thursday I will post a series of questions and answers I exchanged with Chad Barton. I sent Chad a series of 17 questions asking his opinions on assorted issues related to the criminal justice system. As examples the first two questions are: 

1.) Do you believe in the death penalty? 

2.) If you do, what crimes should carry the death penalty? 

On Saturday I will be posting some of my thoughts on the questions and answers. 

(I thank Sara Croft, a media specialist at BohlenPR, who sent me a copy of the book.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Time of Murder at Mayerling by Ann Dukthas

46. – 606.) The Time of Murder at Mayerling by Ann Dukthas - This week the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass meme hosted by Kerrie at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, cross the border from Germany to Austria. During our spring trip to Europe Sharon, Michael and I stayed on the Bavarian side of the border at Kirchdorf across the river from Braunau, Austria. On a day trip we visited the remarkable collection of planes, vehicles and motorcycles assembled by the founder of Red Bull at Salzburg at Hangar 7 (a link to the site is http://www.hangar-7.com/). The book I have chosen goes back to the 19th Century when Austria was at the heart of the Austro-German Empire.
Nicholas Segalla is a mysterious figure. He is a man who never dies wandering the earth because of some ancient curse. Segalla gives the author Ann Dukthas, which is a pseudonym, manuscripts providing the “truth” concerning history’s mysteries. (It seems I am encountering more pseudonyms than usual this year in Inger Ash Wolfe, Alix Bosco and now Ann Dukthas.) 

For this book Segalla has delved into the deaths of Prince Rudolph and his teenage lover, Maria Vetsera, in January of 1889 in the Prince’s hunting lodge at Mayerling near Vienna. 

The official and historical version is that Prince Rudolph, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, shot Maria and then killed himself in a suicide pact. To gain a Catholic burial for his son Emperor Franz Joseph advises Rome that his son was not in his right mind when the deaths occurred.  

The pope, wanting confirmation, requires the emperor allow an envoy from the Pope, Segalla, investigate the deaths. A resentful emperor and his prime minister, Edward Taaffe, seek to restrict the investigation. 

Accustomed to working around those who would limit his investigations Segalla skillfully probes the firmly stratified society. The evidence for his consideration has been carefully assembled by the bureaucracy. While the official story is superficially plausible Segalla pulls at the weaknesses and inconsistencies. He searches out witnesses who have not been coached. 

Life in the empire for the elite was very focused on their personal relationships and status. The problems of the empire received little attention from them. It is an unsettled time with nationalities stirring throughout the territories. Prince Rudolph differs from much of the aristocracy in considering changes to the empire. It is said he was supportive of Hungarian independence. There are rumours he is interested in being the king of Hungary. Would the leaders of the empire silence him to save the empire?

I found the book alright. It is a high level form of procedural with an unusual investigator. It was interesting to learn about the mystery but the book did not grab me. I think I will read another book in the series to see if I like it better. (Aug. 20/11)

Ann Dukthas is one of the pseudonyms used by English author, Paul Doherty. His website says he is no longer writing pseudonyms -http://www.paulcdoherty.com/pages/bib/dukthas.html

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mysteries Past and Present next Week

My coming week's posts will start with my next entry on Sunday in Kerrie Smith's meme, Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass. The train reaches Austria in central Europe and I have found a mystery set in the late 1800's near Vienna in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It features a very unusual sleuth finding a solution to a real life mystery.

Starting Tuesday I will be putting up a series of three posts involving The Goodbye Man by Chad Barton, a new author. The initial post will involve a review of the book whose lead character, Jack Steele, is a 21st Century vigilante. The second post will cover a series of questions involving issues relating to crime and punishment I sent in writing to Chad and his answers. The third post will have my thoughts on the answers. As a lawyer part of my practice has involved criminal law almost totally as a defence counsel. The posts will reflect that background. I am looking forward to hearing from readers about the differing perspectives on criminal law within the posts. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

38. - 501.) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – Journalist and author Juliet Ashton has been worn out by WW II. Early in 1946, as she is traveling around England promoting her collection of war columns, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams in Gurnsey who has read a book of essays by Charles Lamb that she had once owned and is writing to her to see if she can provide him with more information on Lamb. He mentions a roast pig dinner brought about the creation of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society during the German occupation. Thus begins a correspondence that swiftly expands to other members of the Society. Juliet is enchanted and fascinated by the stories of the Society. The book is written in the form of letters between the characters. (It is a type of book I could write for it does not use dialogue to tell the story.) Searching for the theme of a new book and retained by the Times to write a series of articles on reading and books she is drawn to the Guernsey Society. On the island she is captured by the members of the Society – Isola (maker of potions), Dawsey (farmer / quarryman / labourer), Amelia (a favourite form of Aunt), Eben (woodcarver). Will (inventor of potato peel pie and electric clothespins) and Kit (the 4 year old daughter of Elizabeth and a German Army doctor). Juliet is fascinated by the brave and outspoken Elizabeth who has been taken to a concentration camp for helping harbour an escaped Todt worker and is one of Europe’s missing millions. The Londoner Juliet joyfully abandons herself to Guernsey life. The stories of the Occupation are by turn – sad, uplifting, heart wrenching. All are vivid. The book took abit of time to get my interest but once the letters from Guernsey started coming I was captivated. The members of the Society are so vivid you long to attend a meeting. I rushed from page to page longing, sometimes fearing, to know what happened next or in the past. There is no manufactured drama. There are the mini dramas of everyday life during a great war. I was reminded of growing up at Meskanaw amidst such a close knit community. It is a wonderful experience to be taken to a world of colourful new characters. I was reminded of the series of stories from the Hebrides written by Lillian Beckwith. After the grimness of A Most Wanted Man it was good to read a book of the triumph of the human spirit. The use of letters, sometimes within the same day, reminded me how we currently use email and texting to communicate in writing. I expect a generation from now there will be an equally captivating book about email exchanges. A great book. I did wonder about the lack of a Resistance organization on Guernsey. (Sept. 19/09) (Second Most Intersting of 2009)

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Good German by Joseph Kanon

This week the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass journey hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise reaches Germany. My wife, youngest son and myself spent a wonderful two weeks in Germany this spring. For my contribution I have chosen a book that explores the morality of decisions made by Germans living in Nazi Germany.


64. - 245.) The Good German by Joseph Kanon – Reporter, Jake Geismar, arrives in Berlin in the summer of 1945 to search for Lena Brandt, his lover at the start of World War II. He seeks to solve the mystery of the killing of an American officer whose body washes up in front of the Potsdam Conference. He explores the corruption of the winners. The devastation of Berlin has never been better conveyed to me. Improbably but fairly he finds Brandt. He faces the dilemma of Germans. Brandt’s husband, a rocket scientist, calculated the minimum level of calories to feed slave workers at the under mountain rocket factory. An old Jewish friend was a greifer, a scout for the Gestapo, finding Jews hiding in Berlin. A police officer continues to hunt criminals for a criminal regime. Who is a “good German”? Alittle long but an excellent book. Hardcover. (Nov. 4/04)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dead Spy Running by John Stock

39. – 502.) Dead Spy Running by John Stock – I am on a run of spy novels. Suspended MI6 agent, Daniel Marchant, and his co-agent / lover Leila are late entrants in the London marathon. He is uneasy about an Asian runner with a heavy belt who is close to the American ambassador. Daniel thwarts the attempted assassination but is no hero in the twisted world of spies. His father, Stephen, the former head of MI6 had been forced from his position as he was suspected of supporting a South India terrorist cell attacking Americans. With the consent of senior MI5 British intelligence Daniel is given to the Americans and put on a rendition flight to Poland where he is waterboarded. (The description of this barbaric torture is extremely vivid.) Marcus Fielding, the austere head of MI6 cannot stop the rendition but he skillfully reacts when he learns what has happened. After being rescued Daniel travels to India seeking to clear his father’s reputation, vindicate his own actions and seek out the truth of the terrorist cell. It is not as grim as Le Carre but the use of sex for intelligence purposes is pervasive. The emotional consequences of casual sexual relations as an intelligence tool are touched upon but not explored. It is one of the few spy novels to give a female a prominent role. The conclusion is just as exciting as the beginning and genuinely unexpected. As with Le Carre there is an increasingly complex set of multiple intelligence agencies within each county of the Western world. The complications multiply because of their continual interactions with the agencies of other countries. Paperback or hardcover. (Sept. 23/09)