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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Removing Indigenous Children from their Families in Crime Fiction

Banner Photograph for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
In I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell a significant issue involves what happened with the victim, Dermot Mulligan, when he was principal of an Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan during the 1940’s.

The book touches upon the problems caused by the education of generations of Canadian Indians in residential schools. Thousands of Indian children, as young as 6 years of age, were taken from their families on their home reserves to attend these schools. At some schools they would get to go home at Christmas. At other schools they would be there from September to June.

The schools were part of the Federal Government’s attempt to assimilate Canadian Indians through education and taking away their culture. At the schools children were punished for using their native language or following any traditional cultural practices. Discipline was harsh. They would remain in the residential schools for up to 12 years.

There were major problems with physical and sexual abuse. There have been generational problems as the children who, essentially grew up without parents and other family, became adults and had their own children.

In recent years the issues of residential schools are being addressed through a Federal Government compensation system and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is currently holding hearings across Canada.

I have represented Indians pursuing compensation. They consider themselves survivors of residential schools. It is a wrenching experience to listen to strong, physically powerful, men break down in your office recounting experiences some had not even told their families.

At the same time I have also represented individuals who worked in residential schools against whom abuse allegations have been made. While they face no legal or financial consequences it is also difficult to hear persons emotionally stating they are facing false accusations.

The residential schools deeply scarred generations of Canadian Indians.

Australia has its own issues with the removal of thousands of aboriginal children, now called the stolen children, from their families. At the Creative Spirits website it states:

            The stolen children were raised on missions or by foster  
            parents. They were totally cut off from their Aboriginality.
            They were severely punished when caught talking their
            Aboriginal language. Some children never learned anything
            traditional and received little or no education. Instead the
            girls were trained to be domestic servants, the boys to be

In Arthur Upfield’s book The Will of the Tribe he talks about two educated aboriginal people, Tessa and the Captain. While educated they neither fit into white nor aboriginal society.
Denmark had a policy in place from the 1940’s to take Greenlander children to Denmark to live in boarding schools from as early as 10 years of age. In Peter Hoeg’s book Smilla’s Sense of Snow the lead character, Smilla Jesperson, is one of those children and the victim, Isaiah, another.

Smilla talks of the dislocation for the Greenlanders removed from their semi-nomadic life on the land to urban Denmark. Many found themselves isolated neither accepted by Danes or native Greenlanders. They struggle to find a place in society. I described Smilla as a misfit in Denmark.

In contrast is the experience of Jimmy Perez in Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Children as young as 12 would be brought to Lerwick from the smaller Shetland Islands to live in a hostel so they could attend school. Perez from the more distant Fair Isle, could not go home for weekends. While required to move away for school at a young age there is not the same cultural dislocation as with indigeneous children.

I do recognize the impact on a person leaving home to go to school. I left home to attend boarding school when I was 15. It was the hardest year of my life going to live at a school where I did not know anyone. Yet my experience was mainly positive as I adjusted and matured. There was none of the abuse of Indian residential schools.

In Canada, Australia and Denmark each nation sought to eliminate the cultural identity and assimilate their aboriginal or indigenous people. The results were devastating to each country’s indigenous peoples with the effects continuing into the future. Australia described it best as “stolen generations”. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell

I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell – Arthur Beauchamp is back in a murder trial. The publication of a biography of Beauchamp by Wentworth Chance has prompted Beauchamp, now in his mid-70’s, to reflect on his first murder trial 50 years ago in 1962. At 25 he was assigned to represent a young Indian, Gabriel Swift, from the Squamish Band near Vancouver who has been accused of murdering his employer, University of British Columbia professor Dermot Mulligan.

As Louise Penny did in Bury Your Dead, Deverell is working with three plots. Unlike the Penny book they all deal with the same subject.

In the book, Deverell is simultaneously writing Beauchamp’s current reflections on the old trial, excerpts from the somewhat pompous biography and Beauchamp’s experiences five decades earlier in representing Swift. He does it very well.

Beauchamp is initially challenged because Dermot had been a mentor and hero when Beauchamp was a student at UBC a few years earlier. There is an underlying issue on what happened when Dermot was principal of an Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan two decades earlier. My next post will discuss, through a look at crime fiction in several countries, the terrible problems arising from how indigenous people were educated in past generations.

What is most striking in the book is the relationship between Beauchamp and Swift. His client is a very bright man, mainly self-educated, who speaks several languages and is a Communist.

To the RCMP of the day he is a lippy Indian. He does not fit their stereotype image of what is a good Indian. The same attitude was set out by Arthur Upfield in The Will of the Tribe.

Ordinarily the lack of a body would be a major challenge for the Crown prosecutor but there is significant circumstantial evidence of murder. Beauchamp is convinced his client is being framed.

Adding to the challenge of defending Swift is the charge of capital murder. If Swift is convicted he will be hung. (The trial, set in the early 1960’s, takes place near the end of the capital murder charge in Canada.)

Beauchamp is weighed down by the consequences of losing the trial. He forms a close bond with his client and can hardly bear to think about him being executed.

Beauchamp faces a dilemma constantly encountered by defence counsel but at its most intense in capital cases (death penalty cases in the U.S.). Should he attempt to reach a plea agreement that will save his client’s life but send a man, he is sure is innocent to jail?

Eighty years ago Saskatchewan’s most prominent criminal lawyer, John Diefenbaker, was representing a young man charged with capital murder. It appeared that his client could have pled guilty to manslaughter because of drunkenness. Diefenbaker, confident of an acquittal, urged a trial. He was wrong. His client was convicted and hung.

The issue of whether to plead guilty was the subject of another Canadian mystery last year, The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg. No longer was the client’s life at stake but the hard decision of whether to make a deal was well explored.

Compounding the situation is Beauchamp’s age. I was also a young lawyer at 25 doing some criminal defence work. I was not ready for a murder trial. Beauchamp is equally unready.

In defending someone the decision whether to recommend a guilty plea is often the most important decision to be made by defence counsel.

While the subject matter is very serious Deverell has not abandoned the comedic touch so evident in the previous Arthur Beauchamp legal mystery, Snow Job. The young Beauchamp has a sexual fetish I have not encountered in crime fiction.

I also appreciated the interactions between the lawyers. They are more sophisticated than the totally adversarial descriptions of many legal mysteries.

It is a book that made me grateful on many levels we no longer have capital murder in Canada.

Deverell has provided a wonderful picture of a lawyer in his mid-20’s and his mid-70’s. (Feb. 12/12)

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Drop by Michael Connelly

(7. – 639.) The Drop by Michael Connelly – Harry Bosch is back in the Open – Unsolved Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department. The regular hours of this section probing distant murders suits his life as the single parent of Maddie, his 15 year old daughter.

In a wonderful opening Connelly describes the monthly distribution of cases with cold hits as Christmas. Each of the detectives is excited and filled with anticipation as envelopes are handed out where some new analysis of old evidence from an unsolved case has produced a hit on the identity of the offender.

Bosch and his partner, David Chu, get a present. They are assigned to investigate an old homicide where a blood smear has been identified.

Before they can start on the case Bosch is contacted by the Chief of Police to handle the  investigation of the death of George Irving, a lawyer / lobbyist / fixer in City politics. He has fallen to his death from the top floor of the Chateau Marmont Hotel. Was it accident or murder or suicide?

Bosch is surprised to have been given the case because he has had a confrontational relationship with the deceased’s father, Irvin Irving, who is a former policeman and current L.A. city councillor with a consistent record of animosity towards the department of which he had long been a member. Bosch is truly startled when he learns Irvin has insisted that Bosch lead the investigation. Knowing only one way to investigate the death – to find the truth - Bosch demands and receives assurances from the Chief and Irvin that no specific result is required from his investigation.

Still the investigation is fraught with high jingo (top level internal police politics) as Bosch starts probing into the murky professional life led by George.

At the same time Bosch is putting some time into the investigation of the cold case searching into the heart of darkness of a young man who has become a predator himself after being profoundly emotionally scarred by the killer. An uncomfortable philosopher, Bosch, is forced to look at what makes a person evil.

A new love interest arises in Dr. Hannah Stone, a psychologist whose professional and personal life is consumed by the question of what causes evil.

If either Bosch or Stone were Christian they would consider the Devil can turn people evil. Are there angels and demons competing for the soul?

Connelly skillfully crafts another excellent mystery with plausible but unexpected twists.

I was left alittle uneasy by the picture of the killer in the cold case. The killer is a total monster. It is hard to conceive how this person had managed to even reach adulthood. The character is so extreme.

Bosch does have a philosophical principle guiding his investigations – everybody counts or nobody counts. Connelly challenges Bosch on whether he will live out his philosophy.

Always in the background is the DROP – Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Bosch is trying to maximize the length of his career within the Department. No matter his skill the end of his career is being defined by the police bureaucracy.

At home life is almost too good with Maddie. While I did not have a daughter I was the parent of two boys. The teenage years of my sons were good years but there were challenges and occasional conflicts. I doubt parenting a 15 year old girl is as smooth as portrayed in the book. At the same time I am glad she is normal teenager not filled with angst.

It is a good book. I am glad Connelly kept Mickey Haller out of the book. I find his books function better with Bosch and Haller apart. (Feb. 5/12)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward (Part II)

On Monday I began my review of Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward, a collection of short essays remembering Father James. I start the second part of the review with personal memories of him.

Forty-one years ago I was a first year university student at St. Peter’s. Father James was my English professor. At 18 I was too young to appreciate the depth of his knowledge. Father James was devoted to and a master of words – the Word of God, the words of great writers and poets, the meditations of monks and mystics. I was old enough to understand his love of fine writing.

I had already spent 3 years in high school at St. Peter’s where my English teachers expected far more than simple summarization of what we had read. As set out by contributor, Dennis Gruending, Father James continued the process in university challenging us to delve into the novels, short stories, poetry and plays we read during the year. As with the best teachers, he wanted us to think about what we were reading and be not afraid to express those thoughts.

Until that class I had thought of Huck Finn as an entertaining Disney movie. That winter I came to appreciate the richness of the relationship between Huck and Jim.

Gulliver’s Travels had been a comic book fantasy. It shifted to a sophisticated satire upon the society of its time.

Reading Lord of the Flies pushed me to look into my adolescent heart and consider whether savagery lurked there merely waiting opportunity.

I did not maintain a personal relationship with Father James after that year. We would occasionally see and greet each other at College events. He became a bush dweller after I left St. Peter’s.

It was during those years from 1972 to 2002 while he was living his solitary life that he formed relationships with most of the contributors to the book.

It was striking to read in so many essays how the relationships concluded in the last days of his life. A majority of the essayists wrote of special memories from his closing days when all, especially Father James, knew the end was near.

Many reached out for a final connection. All knew he did not dread death. He had told writer Anne Strachan:

I asked if he was afraid. He responded that for him, death held no fear. “Strange, in monasteries,” he wrote, “death seems more ‘comforting’ than ‘sorrowing’ …. Knowing God’s loving forgiveness, why should we fear death? Dying itself may be less than pleasant, but how else is one to ‘make the crossing over’ to a better condition of life?!”

How many people have such a group of friends seeking to ease final days and to share a few more moments of conversation? Father James, a contemplative monk, was a remarkable man to bring forth such love.

Two years ago a slender volume, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, had a profound impact upon me as I dealt with cancer treatment. This winter Bush Dweller has equally moved me. It is a book to savour and a life to reflect upon as I rush into another day.

This summer when I sit upon my deck I will think of Father James. I resolve to become a little closer to the birds of my yard. (Feb. 9/12)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward (Part I)

Father James feeding a chickadee

(8. – 640.) Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward – In his introduction Don presents an indelible image of Father James standing in the bush at St. Peter’s Abbey in rural Saskatchewan with arms outstretched as chickadees he had befriended flutter around and land upon his hands to eat freshly shelled peanuts.

How many of us take the time to let birds know us, to stand quietly, wait patiently, allow trust to come? In a world where life moves at a frantic pace, who slows their existence to become intimate with the birds around us? I have come to treasure summer mornings on the deck eating breakfast with birds chirping and singing in the trees of my backyard. Yet I have but a passing acquaintance with them compared to the relationship developed by Father James.

For 30 years of his life he lived in a small house in the bush of the abbey. He spent those 10,000 days and nights connecting with God and with people. While he retreated from the community he remained a vital part of the monastery. He taught first year university English, he made weekly visits to the nursing home in Humboldt, he celebrated the Eucharist with his fellow Benedictine monks. Most of all he welcomed friends to Marantha (Come Lord Jesus), his home in the bush. He was a solitary rather than a hermit.

In this slender volume 21 of his friends – writers, poets, singers, teachers, administrators, priests and bishops – eloquently describe their individual relationships with Father James for each had a special personal connection with him. I know almost half of the contributors and they are a diverse collection of persons.

A chickadee eating nuts at St. Peter's

They recount powerful conversations over years, even decades of visits. Just as Father James took the time to build relationships with the birds he developed friendships with his visitors. He had the gift of creating close personal relationships. Where he drew the chickadees to him outside with peanuts he used tea, and sometimes single malt Scotch, inside to nurture his human friends.

These friends write of his skill in assisting them on their spiritual journeys less through direction than by questions and encouraging prayer and reflection.

Jeanine Loran, a teacher, said:

His instruction centred on stillness and breath, allowing the spirit of Jesus Christ to rest in the heart of my being. His mantra was “Abba” as the breath came in, and “Jesus” (pronounced as in French) as the breath was released. No matter what difficulty or joy, I was experiencing, the solution was always the same: rest in Christ. Be still and let God be within you.

He saw inside poet Jane Munro:

I felt he saw and celebrated my soul – encouraged me to become fully myself – and hoped that I might live a soul-based life.

Trevor Herriot, a prairie naturalist and writer, spoke of receiving inspiration:

Funny how going off into the woods teaches us how to recognize and welcome angels. I swear that was a big part of what Father James learned and then tried to pass on to those who arrived at the doorstep of Maranatha. Go to your dwelling place, your “cell” in the woods of your lonely soul, where God has sown the seeds of your great promise into the darkness. Wait there for the Lord who always comes in disguise.

It is no surprise many traveled hundreds of kilometres each year to visit Father James.

(On Wednesday I will conclude the review by recounting personal memories of Father James and discussing how the contributors dealt with his dying days.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

15. - 478.) The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer – A wonderful spy thriller. I was grabbed on the opening page when Tourist (CIA black operative) Milo Weaver fails to commit suicide when he does not rise into the fire of an attempted assassination by the Tiger. The plot roared forward the next day, September 11, 2001, when he is shot trying to arrest a rogue agent. The book carries on 6 years later with Milo pursuing the Tiger. In the intervening years he has gained a lovely wife, Tina, and a precocious 7 year old stepdaughter, Stephanie. (Milo is my first spy hero with a real family. He also has secrets with regard to his parents.) After he encounters the Tiger the plot races forward. The action is credible rather than the cartoonish action of Hollywood today. Milo does function in world of absolute ruthlessness and treachery. The cover says George Clooney has optioned the story. It could be a great movie. The writing is crisp and the characters remarkably diverse. I can hardly wait for Steinhauer’s next book. Hardcover. (Apr. 14/09)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Questions and Answers with Deon Meyer (Trackers)

After reading Trackers by Deon Meyers and posting my review I had an interesting comment from Maxine of the excellent Petrona blog. She asked:

"I love your list of 'trackers'! I wonder if the author had something like this before he started writing, and determined to include one of each in his novel?"
Her comment prompted me to email Deon. He graciously answered that question and a few more. My questions and Deon’s answers in bold are in the following email I received from him:

Hi Bill:

Thanks for the privilege. Here goes:

1.)    In my review I set out 26 different types of tracking that take place in Trackers. Did you plan to feature so many different ways of tracking in the book? If you did I would appreciate knowing how many methods of tracking you inserted as I am curious as to how close I came to finding all of them. (Maxine from the book blog Petrona inspired this question through a comment on my review of the book.)

I wish I was clever enough to do that much detailed planning. My intention was much more modest: to simply draw an analogy between animal tracking and habits, and the human equivalents. My source (Louis Liebenberg’s ‘The Art of Tracking’) was so rich in material that it did the rest on its own.

2.) I thought Trackers was a perfect title. Who chose the title and how was it selected?

The original Afrikaans title was ‘Spoor’, which, in its narrowest sense, means ‘track’. But the influence of African environment on my mother tongue (and the close interaction with that environment by the first speakers of the language) gives the word a deeper, wider meaning for which there is not English equivalent. Because I have three English publishers (Canada, UK and USA), the translated title is a collaborative decision between all of us. ‘Trackers’ was the closest we could come to the original.

3.) Were you / are you a tracker in rural and/or urban South Africa?

I grew up on the edge of a small town on the high veldt of the North West Province, and spent a lot of time in my youth in the bush, hunting and fishing, so I know the basics of animal tracking. And aren’t we all trackers in the urban jungle, even if it is only to hunt down a bargain … ?

4.)    In P.D. James’ book Talking About Detective Fiction she said her books start with a location. In my review I summarized her approach:

She said a setting will be in the inspiration. She gave the example of standing on the North Sea coast and looking to the south and seeing a nuclear power plant. The book grew from that location.

Could you tell me how you start a book?

I start book development with a story idea, or a curiosity about something, and each book’s origin is very different. With Trackers, it was my fascination with the dictatorship of the genre’s traditional structure, and the interesting links between organised crime and terrorism. Setting is almost incidental at first.

5.)    Do you have a length of book set in your mind when you start to write? If not, when in the process do you determine length?

I don’t determine the length at all (or think or worry about it much)  – each story has its own length, to be revealed in the writing process.

6.)    There are quite a few South Africans of Afrikaner descent living in Saskatchewan. My family doctor grew up in Namibia and took his medical training in South Africa. Might Lemmer and Emma ever travel as far as Saskatchewan on an adventure involving former South African residents?

You never know, although I doubt it. South Africa is such a dynamic, dramatic and dynamic backdrop, and it has become part of what my brand as an author represents …

Best wishes

Deon Meyer

I appreciate Deon’s thoughtful answers and look forward to reading more thrillers from this superb author.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Questions and Answers with Jill Edmondson (The Lies Have It)

On Thursday I posted my review of The Lies Have It. On Saturday I put up Questions and Answers with the author, Jill Edmondson. Tonight I conclude a long weekend with Jill with some thoughts on the Questions and Answers.
Jill spoke of the actual group, Northbound Leather, being the inspiration for her fictional group, Bound for Glory. I looked up their website and it is explicit, especially on the items offered for sale. There was an ad for the coming 22nd Annual Fetish Night. It spoke of attendees being required to adhere to a strict fetish dress code. I did not research what is fetish dress code.
The image of the male party goer keeping his credit card in his skimpy red underwear has caused me to reflect. As a guy, I cannot help thinking it would not be comfortable walking around with that angular card tucked in the underwear unless it was not as crowded in there as normal. Once again I have chosen not to conduct personal research.
I hope Derek becomes a significant character in the series. In fiction, as in real life, I believe everyone needs a good personal lawyer. Now sleeping with your personal lawyer is best left in fiction.
I actually hope Sasha will not start carrying a gun. It is uncommon in Canada to own a handgun and rare to carry a handgun. Our laws are very restrictive on handguns. It is a U.S. tradition for hard boiled detectives to carry handguns. In real life far more Americans have handguns than Canadians. I think Sasha can be just as tough without a gun. I also believe authors have a strong tendency to have bullets fly if their sleuth carries a gun or guns.
As for Sasha being in her 30’s I hope she ages in the series. Sue Grafton’s detective, Kinsey Milhone, has remained effectively the same age through the course of 21 books. It works alright but I prefer Gail Bowen’s approach with Joanne Kilbourn. Her sleuth has aged over the 20 years of the series. A maturing or aging character feels more real to me. As well I like the new opportunities for different relationships provided by an aging character.
It was interesting how real life events with the current mayor, Rob Ford, and a former mayoral candidate, Rob Ford, inspired Jill so that she could complete the book. I am going to be looking forward to what current political events in Toronto ultimately appear in the series.
When I posted the review I forgot to set out it will be my 8th book read in the Canadian Reading Challenge at the Book Mine Set blog. I have 5 more to go before July 1, Canada Day, to complete the Challenge.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Questions and Answers with Jill Edmondson (The Lies Have It)

On Thursday I posted my review of The Lies Have It, the latest book in the Sasha Jackson series, by Jill Edmondson. As with her previous books in the series Jill agreed to answer some questions. Be
prepared, Jill, like Sasha, always lets you know what she is thinking. Monday I will conclude this series of posts involving The Lies Have It with some thoughts on the following Questions and Answers. 


 1.)   Knowing your desire to be accurate in your books I am interested in what research, especially whether you undertook personal non-academic research, into the S & M fetish scene? Sasha appeared quite uncomfortable.

That stuff is ALL true (even the red undies & the credit card!!) from back in the days (1998-2000) when I worked at The Pilot! Sidenotes: I think I told you previously that Dead Light District (aka The Hooker Book) was spawned by a paper I did when I was doing my MA.  The essay was on human rights & the sex trade... the research that didn’t make it into the essay morphed into a novel.    Book 4 (Frisky Business) was inspired by Chapter 2 from “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges.  Damn good book (even if it is a bit of a polemic).  Ch. 2 (about women working in the porn industry – among other things) will make you spit bullets.  I’ll need to do more research for that.

2.)   As stated in the review I loved the name of “Bound for Glory” for the group sponsoring the fetish party. How did you come up with the name?

The real fetish group who held BDSM parties at The Pilot is called Northbound Leather – so I just twisted it around a bit. (Didn’t want to get sued... although maybe they’d have liked the publicity!)

3.)   In your real life experience as a bartender did you have a comparable experience to Sasha giving a free drink to a guy rather than handle his credit card which had been nestled inside “his skimpy red underwear”? It was a vivid visual image in the book. I well remember your cucumber story from our previous Questions and Answers.

I wasn’t the one serving Mr. Red Undies; my friend Jennifer (in the book Jessica) served him.  She had nightmares for months about the warm card ;-)

Sidenote: A few weeks later, I knew Mr. Red Undies would be coming to The Pilot for lunch.  On my way to work, I detoured to a kinky sex toys store on Yonge and bought a pair of edible undies for him (red cherry, of course).  I handed the package to him in front of his lunchmates & everyone laughed their heads off!

4.)   For selfish reasons I am glad to see that a lawyer, Derek, is Sasha’s love interest having progressed from her lust interest. Might a future book, as Gail Bowen has done in the Joanne Kilbourn series, have Derek work with Sasha in solving mysteries? (I was surprised to read a Toronto lawyer can find his way to Timmins.)

I like having Derek help, but am unsure (for now) of how involved he’ll be... I’ll (or Sasha will) really need his help in Book 5.  But I must finish #4 first!

5.)   Is Sasha ever going to start carrying a gun on the mean streets of Toronto?

Not immediately, but I guess at some point – to remain credible – I’ll have to work that in to the books. 

6.)   Why did you choose to have Sasha in her 30’s?

Sasha is loosely based on me (or the me I wish I was!!!) and I was early 30s when I first started to toy with writing.   Making her any younger would not have given me room for her to have a backstory (music biz) plus I think a 20-something PI would not be as credible, and wouldn’t have the touches of wry cynicism Sasha has.   As for why didn’t I make her older: Simple. I was writing my own age and hadn’t experienced my forties yet (yikes, am I really now in my forties??? Damn, where did the time go?)

7.)   Have you made changes in how you write the series between the first and third books?

Well, now, this is interesting... Book 3 (Lies) was actually Book 1, but I kept getting stuck!  I started it in 2005 and for the next 5+ years it was about 30,000 words.  Tey again, shelve it. Try again. Shelve it.  Couldn’t figure out what to do with it until the last municipal election.  Mayoral election & Rob Ford (donut snarfing troglodyte) and Rocco Rossi (build a tunnel downtown)  gave me the inspiration I needed to wrap up the plot J But... because books 1 & 2 had come out already, I had to finesse things.  For example, in the earlier/original versions of Lies, there was no Derek, but since he’d been introduced in Dead Light District, I had to write him in to book 3.  

The links below to various blogposts (none of which is very long to read) tell you a bit more if you are interested. 





Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Lies Have It by Jill Edmondson

 (6. – 638.) The Lies Have It by Jill Edmondson – In her 3rd mystery Sasha Jackson is in fine form roaming Toronto by public transit, taxi and foot. She is a rare North American sleuth in failing to drive around the city.

The book immediately grabbed my attention with Sasha tending bar in the private meeting room of the Pilot Tavern for an S & M party sponsored by the group, Bound for Glory. It is a wonderfully apt name for a gathering of role playing fetishists.

At the party there was a remarkable diversity of fetishes among the guests. The description of a party goer playing nurse in a micro mini and a “cute little nurse’s cap with a red cross on it” brought back vivid personal memories of a tour, 15 years ago, down Church Street (the heart of gay Toronto) led by a gay friend. Helping him conduct the tour was a 6’ gay man, with perfect makeup, and lovely curling lavender hair down to his waist wearing a bright white nurse’s uniform and equally cute cap. Being on Church Street we drew less attention than you might expect for our group.

I like finding a connection to characters and activities in books I read. It increases my enjoyment of the reading. While I have walked Church Street I openly acknowledge I have no relationship with the S & M role playing described by Jill. The world of domination and bondage is far beyond my life experiences.

Returning to the book, Ian, big, burly and bearded, is the host and organizer of the party. His party attire is limited to a “black leather ‘kilt’ and black lace-up boots”. After he is found dead the next morning, still in his party clothes, Sasha enters deeper into the kinky world of S & M to find the killer.

When his lover, Mimi the sculptor by day / Minerva the dominatrix by night, is interviewed Jill creates a perfect tabloid headline – “I Gave Ian His Last Whipping”.

Most S & M participants lead dual lives. Ian is a leather clad weekend submissive and a finishing carpenter with a young daughter by week. Through the book Sasha weaves her way through the two worlds of Ian’s life.

While investigating the murder Sasha has another case searching for a runaway teenage girl. It is a gritty dangerous life on the street.

Sasha continues her quirky life. What other hardboiled, 30 something detective, still lives at home with her father and brother? I was glad to see her relationship with a downtown lawyer, Derek, is proceeding nicely.

In the book Jill deals with three different lifestyles outside mainstream society - the fetishists, young homeless street people and Sasha, the tough talking solo private detective.

I did figure out the killer rather quickly. Still the plot was strong enough to sustain the story. With Jill's steady progression as a writer I expect a stronger mystery in the next book.

I really enjoy Sasha’s conversations. In her directness and wit I was reminded of the Spenser books. Robert B. Parker created sharp interesting dialogue. Sasha remains a caustic observer of the world but her hardest edges, especially with regard to swearing, are alittle less sharp. Sasha is an intriguing character. I found myself reading swiftly through The Lies Have It in the same way I move rapidly through a Spenser mystery.

With each book an improvement on the book before I think the 4th in the series could be a break out book for Sasha. Edmondson has found her mystery voice. (Jan. 31/12)

(On Saturday I will be posting Questions and Answers with Jill. She is as lively the second time as she was the first set of Questions and Answers from 2011. I will finish the trio of posts involving Jill on Monday with my thoughts on the Questions and Answers.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trackers by Deon Meyer

(5. – 637.) Trackers by Deon Meyer – It is not often that a title perfectly describes a book. It is even more impressive when it can be done in a single word. Prior to reading this South African thriller I thought of the word, trackers, in the context of tracking animals or humans in the wilderness as done so well in the Bony mysteries of Arthur Upfield.

Trackers moves far beyond tracking in the wild places of South Africa. It expands the meaning to people and machines tracking in every conceivable way. Befitting a land that is rapidly being urbanized most of the tracking takes place in the huge metropolitan area of Capetown.

There is the traditional tracking of wild animals in the African bush.

There is the tracking of vehicles across the vast spaces of South Africa by keeping them in sight.

There is tracking of vehicles in rural areas by anticipating which, of only a few possible roads, could be used.

Moving into the contemporary urban environment there is tracking done by teams of cars following cars.

There is tracking of vehicles by transmitters placed upon them.

There is tracking on foot in the city where visual contact must be maintained for little to no spoor is left by someone walking the paved streets of modern cities.

There is tracking of people by old fashioned observation from nearby buildings.

There is tracking of telephones with electronic intercepts.

There is tracking through talking with friends and enemies.

There is tracking through sleeping with a source and listening to pillow talk.

There is tracking through informants within organizations.

There is tracking through computers searching the world wide web.

There is tracking through the satellites continually orbiting the earth.

There is tracking through reading newspapers and magazines for information on those being tracked.

There is tracking through searching government records.

There is tracking through breaking into buildings.

There is tracking through searching desks and computers.

There is tracking through the mind with skilful questions and brutal demands for knowledge.

There is tracking through the sharing, often reluctantly, of information between powerful organizations.

There is tracking through careful examination of financial records.

There is tracking through the sources of funds in bank accounts.

There is tracking through hidden microphones.

There is tracking through the closed circuit cameras that inhabit every city. 

There is tracking through the examination of personal public records.

There is tracking through the study of bodies.

There is tracking through examination of wallets, clothing and other personal items.

Within the book everyone is tracking somebody.

Among the characters are Lemmer and Emma from Blood Safari. Lemmer is an important character but he does not dominate the book. Lemmer is a professional tracker of men and women.

At the heart of the story is Milla Strachan, a 40 year old housewife from the Capetown suburb of Durbanville. Leaving a loveless marriage she sets out on a new life that takes her places beyond her imagination. She becomes an unexpected modern tracker.

Meyer has lyrical descriptions within the book such as Milla’s diary entries on tracking:

Leaving tracks, creating some impression on the surface of this earth, is a way of saying ‘I was here’. Something to give meaning to this fleeting existence ….. How do you leave a track, a trail, a spoor? …. Is that why I want to write a book, my only (last!) chance to leave something tangible, a small scrap of evidence that I was here?

We all want to leave tracks for those that come behind us. Blogs are a 2012 spoor to be tracked through the virtual world of the internet. We leave electronic marks so our reader trackers can come to know us.

It is a spectacular book. I understand why it has been an award winner. There is significant but not overwhelming violence. Unlike Blood Safari I never felt preached at by the author. Once again I appreciate Jose Ignacio at his blog, The Game’s Afoot, and Bernadette at her blog, Reactions to Reading, for recommending the book. I will read more of Deon Meyer. (Jan. 26/12)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The 47th Samurai by Stephen Hunter

16. - 479.) The 47th Samurai by Stephen Hunter – The book opens with Sgt. Earl Swagger attacking a Japanese bunker during the battle for Iwo Jima in which he kills Captain Hideki Yano. 60 years later their sons, Bob Lee Swagger and Philip Yano, meet and Yano asks Swagger to search for his father’s sword. A search spanning America turns up the sword and Swagger returns it to Yano in a moving meeting. Swagger was a sniper warrior in Vietnam who appreciates the commitment of soldiers at war. When Yano’s family is murdered Swagger sets out to avenge his friend’s death and recover the sword. In classic American thriller style Swagger immerses himself in Japanese sword culture learning how to fight with a sword through kendo. The demands of Japanese martial arts, a combination of athletics and philosophy, are familiar from my study of judo but I had never appreciated the importance of the sword in Japanese culture and history. The conclusion is credibly bloody. The final battle has a fantastic ending that I never forsaw. The book should be able to be a great movie. I was reminded of Clavell’s Shogun with a European becoming Japanese and playing a role in Japanese conflicts. Hunter is a skilled thriller writer. The Swagger history continues its bloody saga. Excellent. Hardcover or paperback. (May 2/09)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Police in Totalitarian States in Crime Fiction (Part II)

Tonight I put up my second post on the police in totalitarian states. In my previous post I looked to mysteries from the 1930’s through the 1970’s in Germany, the U.S.S.R. and Argentina. This post moves into the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Arkady Renko, in Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, is investigating a triple murder in Moscow in 1981. It is near the end of Communist rule but the U.S.S.R. remains under the fierce grip of the Communist Party.

Renko does not shy away when the investigation strays into officialdom even at significant personal cost. Finding corruption in high places he is dismissed from the police. He is forced into working at menial jobs and eventually finds himself working at cutting up fish on a factory ship in the Bering Sea as far from Moscow as it is physically possible to be in the U.S.S.R. While on the ship he solves a crime in the book Polar Star.

How many police are willing to lose their job to solve a crime?

Everyone appreciates individuals whose personal integrity is so strong they would give up their work to avoid compromising their honour but few take such action. The personal and family costs are so high from such personal sacrifice. We do not hear of mass resignations of police in totalitarian states in real life.

In Red Square by Edward Topol and Fridrikh Neznansky, set a year or two after Gorky Park, the investigator, Igor Shamrayev, is asked by Leonid Brezhnev to investigate the death of Brezhnev’s brother-in-law. He is given a letter from Brezhnev, the head of the Soviet Union, that gives him unlimited authority in the investigation. After determining there was murder done Shamrayev starts delving into the murky world of the Brezhnevs. There is an elite in the workers paradise. Numerous members of the family have done very well through corruption in the supposedly socialist economy.

What happens to the policeman when there are no checks on his authority in an investigation?

When used to capture criminals everyone is happy but the potential for corrupt actions is immense. It is inevitable that such power will be abused when there are no checks on the exercise of the power.

Most recently, in A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong, Inspector Chen is given comparable authority to Shamrayev when he is made the Emperor’s Special Envoy with an Imperial Sword. (It is an interesting title to be given in a Communist country.) As stated in my review it gives him the right, in an emergency, to search and arrest without warrant. He is tasked in the book with investigating a high profile anti-corruption case in the Communist China of the 1990’s. While given special power he must tread carefully as he navigates between the different groups wielding power in the Party and government.

In Death of a Red Heroine Chen is called on to investigate the death of a young woman who is famous in China as a “model worker”. Her death has significant political consequences.

In both books Chen must deal most delicately with the high cadre comrade children because of their special status in Communist China.

How is a police officer to investigate crime when he, while serving one bureaucracy, must be careful not to offend high ranking civil servants in other ministries?

The life of the police in dictatorships is complicated as they must continually deal with political issues while solving crime.

After my first post I received numerous comments setting out several other mysteries involving the police in dictatorships. If you have not read those comments I encourage readers to go back to my previous post to see some excellent suggestions for crime fiction reading.