About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Black Box by Michael Connelly

57. - 689.) The Black Box by Michael Connelly – It is a brilliant title involving a play on the black boxes used on airplanes that are often the source for an explanation of an airplane disaster. Harry Bosch, recounting a former partner Frankie Sheehan, says:

Frankie said it was the same with a murder scene or a murder case. There will be one thing that brings it all together and makes sense of things. You find it and you’re gold. It’s like finding the black box.”

In 1992 Bosch is called into investigating homicides that took place during the riots in South Central Los Angeles after four L.A. police officers are found not guilty of assaulting Rodney King. The body count overwhelms the police.

Bosch is directed to an alley where there is a young white woman shot through the eye. Members of the California National Guard have found the body. To his frustration Bosch has no time for more than a cursory inspection of the crime scene, some photos and quick conversations with the Guardsmen before being called to another homicide. He does manage to find the ejected shell casing.

The victim, Anneke Jespersen, is a Danish freelance photo journalist covering the riots. Memorably she is dubbed Snow White.

When the riot ends other detectives are unsuccessful in solving the murder.

Twenty years later, a forensic review of evidence in open cases determines that the gun used to kill Jesperson was used in two other murders. Bosch in the Open-Unsolved Unit is given another chance to find the killer.

He travels to San Quentin to interview Rufus Coleman who has been convicted of a different murder with the same gun. Skilfully leveraging two letters to the Parole Board, one supporting and the other opposing, Bosch learns from Coleman the name of the gang member who gave Coleman the gun. However, Trumont Storey is dead.

Still Bosch has a thread to the murder. He starts a gun walk looking to find and trace the gun.

At the O-U Unit Lieutenant Cliff O’Toole has just taken over commnd. He is an officious officer focused on statistics clearing crimes. With Bosch practising the principle, everybody matters, rather than statistical police work there is immediate friction. With Bosch’s insolence to superiors ingrained he is soon in trouble. The Professional Standards Bureau, the former Internal Affairs, begins investigating a complaint arising from Bosch’s trip to San Quentin.

At home Maddie is 16. Bosch has a good relationship with his daughter but, because of his obsessive work habits, continues to struggle with managing his time so he can be a full time parent. He is finding it a challenge dealing with Maddie’s determination, as a young woman, to have more control over her life.

Connelly smoothly draws the reader through the investigation and Bosch’s personal life. Bosch conducts his usual tenacious investigation.

In his last book, The Drop, I lamented the one dimensional character of the bad guy. It is not a problem in this book.

I do regret the way in which Connelly chose to end The Black Box. It has too much the flavour of Hollywood for me. From earlier books I know he could have written a better conclusion. I would be glad to exchange emails with readers of the book with regard to my further thoughts on the ending.

The ending turned a great book into a good book for me. (Dec. 30/12)
Happy New Year around the world to readers and fellow bloggers! May all the crimes you encounter in 2013 be between the pages or on the screen!
My other reviews of Connelly are:

Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best); (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; Hardcover


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nelson DeMille on War and Returning to Vietnam

The Wall at the Vietnam Memorial
In my last post I put up a review of Up Country by Nelson DeMille. It is an excellent book. It was a book I connected with and which made me reflect on war and its impact.

My connection with Paul Brenner started with his age and background. He was 18 in 1968 when he first went to Vietnam as an infantry soldier. He had grown up in South Boston in a working class family. I am slightly younger and grew up on our family farm.

Opening the book at the Wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. to highlight the name of a soldier killed flooded Brenner with remembrances.

During his return to Vietnam Brenner returns to the 1968 battlefields of his youth. Powerful, disturbing, haunting memories are evoked by the A Shau Valley and the Khe Sanh camp.

I can remember as a teenager reading the stories and seeing the pictures of those ferocious brutal battles. DeMille’s recounting had a greater impact than any news story or photo. DeMille brings forth the visceral experience of teenage boys fighting for their lives in a distant land.

In Anthem for a Doomed Youth there are the poems of men who fought in the Great War, World War I, which was the first major conflict of the 20th Century. While I have not read comparable poems for Vietnam the prose of DeMille has the same emotional impact.

For Americans of my generation the Vietnam War was their war. Had my grandfather not left the United States a century ago it could have been my personal war.

I knew a Canadian who served in Vietnam with the American military. A few years later I saw him experience a flashback that was frightening in its intensity.

Brenner encounters Vietnamese veterans, both former allies and enemies. He deeply regrets the continuing cruel treatment of South Vietnamese Army veterans by the Communist victors.

Generally there is mutual respect between Brenner and former adversaries. Yet there remains strong buried animosity. With the right trigger each side is ready to take up the battle again 30 years later.

Colonel Mang is an incorruptible dedicated police officer who fought the Americans. In his persistence and dedication to country he is far more like Brenner than either character would admit to publicly. Neither will settle for easy answers that suit the respective establishments of communist Vietnam and capitalist America.

All reflect on the losses. While America lost over 58,000 the wars from 1954 through 1975 cost 3,000,000 Vietnamese lives.

Returning to Vietnam appears to help Brenner dealing with the memories of his time at war. After reading the book I have some understanding on why going back aids many veterans.

In the post-WW I quartet of mystery series I have read, and about which written a collective post, - the Rennie Airth series with Inspector Madden and the Charles Todd series of Inspector Rutledge and Hamish McLeod and the Charles Todd series with nurse Bess Crawford and the Jacqueline Winspear series with Maisie Dobbs - the impact of the war continued long after they came home. In Up Country DeMille shows how, for a later 20th Century generation, the war equally never ends in the minds of its veterans.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Up Country by Nelson DeMille

Up Country by Nelson DeMille (2002) – Paul Brenner has been shoved into retirement from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) after the case that formed DeMille’s earlier book, The General’s Daughter. Drifting in his life Brenner is called to a meeting at the Wall, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, on which are carved the names of the 58,000 Americans who died during the war.

His former commander, Colonel Karl Hellmann, calls upon him to undertake a mission to Vietnam. It has been 30 years since Brenner was sent to Vietnam in 1968 as an infantryman with the 1st Calvary Division. Four years later he had served a second tour of duty in Vietnam. During his first tour Brenner had been caught up in the battles of the Tet Offensive.

Hellmann wants Brenner to investigate an incident set out in a letter a North Vietnamese soldier had sent to his brother. The letter writer recounted witnessing in Hue, during the Tet Offensive, an American Army captain murder an American Lieutenant. Hellmann wants Brenner to track down the witness and interview him about the event and see if he can identify the Captain. A reluctant Brenner decides to return to the land which has defined his adult life.

Brenner leaves behind a developing relationship with his former CID partner, Cynthia Sunhill.

On his arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, Brenner finds that Colonel Mang, ostensibly of the Vietnamese Immigration Police, has doubts about Brenner’s claim that he is a veteran returning to his battlefields.

In Ho Chi Minh City Brenner finds a frantic culture embracing Western materialism while still governed by the Communist Party.

While there Brenner acquires an aide and traveling companion, the beautiful Susan Weber.

Trying to maintain his cover story Brenner and Weber leave Ho Chi Minh City. Brenner finds himself drawn into a relationship with Weber who is almost 20 years younger. After a life of short term relationships Brenner falls hard for her.

Brenner and Weber go to the A Shau Valley and the plateau on which the Khe Sanh camp was located and Quang Tri. In each location Brenner re-lives his battle experiences. In my next post on Friday I will discuss DeMille’s exploration of war.

Gradually Weber becomes a true partner in the investigation. She is clever and far better at dealing with the Vietnamese people. Brenner comes to rely on her.

As he pursues the investigation Brenner finds he has been misled by his superiors in Washington. Further complicating the investigation are international diplomatic and business intrigues that will be affected by the results of the search.

Brenner is a dangerous investigator as he is determined to seek out the truth no matter the consequences. The journey of the present equally takes Brenner deep into his past.

The book at 702 pages is a grand historical saga wrapped around an excellent mystery.

I have not found DeMille a reliable read. On this war which was also the author’s war (he was an Army Lieutenant in Vietnam) I found DeMille brilliant. DeMille may not be Brenner but the character he created is alive on the pages.

It was a book where I was drawn forward both wanting to find out what was going to happen next in the story and to learn more about Brenner. There comes a moment for me at the end of a very good book when I pause and say that was special. I had that moment this afternoon. (Dec. 27/12)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Time in Saskatchewan

Photo by Larry Sorensen
Christmas time in rural Saskatchewan always starts with the weather. We know it will be cold with snow. This year we are in the midst of a deep freeze with about 60 cm (2 feet) of snow in the yard.

When I left for the office this morning it was -31C. When I departed for home this afternoon it was up to -22C but the weatherman assured us, and I agree, it felt like -29C.

There was a creak to the opening of the van door that told my older son, Jonathan, that it was very cold!

While cold the hoar frost on the trees is beautiful. The photo with this post was taken in Melfort four days ago.

My younger son, Michael, came by the office later today with the last presents to be wrapped and they are all under the tree.

The Canadian Armed Forces have the furthest north base in the world at Alert on Ellsmere Island and each Christmas they advise us when Santa has left the North Pole. Alert is about 3662 km or 2276 miles north of Melfort.

To accompany Santa across the vast spaces of Canada he will be accompanied by Canadian fighter jets. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has the story at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/12/21/pol-santa-rcaf-pilot-flight.html.

In Melfort tonight Sharon, Jonathan, Michael and I will be going to midnight Mass and opening one or maybe more presents depending on the negotiations. With two lawyers in the family and a third in law school there are ample negotiators.

Merry Christmas to all!



Friday, December 21, 2012

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

50. – 460.) The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly – A master of crime fiction brings together his lawyer character, Mickey Haller, with his detective character, Harry Bosch. Haller is recovering from rehab for prescription drug addiction when friend and colleague, Jerry Vincent, is murdered. He has named Haller as his successor and he inherits a franchise case, the defence of movie mogul, Walter Elliott, to double murder charges (wife and lover). Bosch is designated to investigate Vincent’s murder. The story focuses on Haller’s defence. Bosch’s investigation weaves around the defence. Haller learns Vincent had a “magic bullet” – evidence or a theory that will devastate the prosecution. Haller finds the bullet. Connelly gives enough evidence and confirmation when Haller has found it but I did not figure out the bullet. While interesting the story is slower moving than most Connelly mysteries. As the trial is about to begin the story takes off as twists starting occurring that I never saw coming. The trial provides a vivid demonstration of how to effectively present demonstrative expert evidence. The twists continue through to the end of the book. As usual Connelly works in some personal history that keeps me hooked on the characters. If the first 2/3 of the book had been as good as the final 1/3 it would have been a great book. (I learned abit of police jargon – the brass verdict is the street solution to solving/avenging a murder.) Hardcover as always. (Dec. 6/08)


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Petrona is Gone

The lovely image from the top of Maxine's blog, Petrona
I have given eulogies, written reflections, presided at prayer services, prepared obituaries and expressed my sympathy in letters. Each time it was for someone I knew physically. Tonight I think about a virtual friend, Maxine Clarke, sadly gone.

I wish I could have met her but do not regret not having spent time in her physical presence. She was a friend from the internet. The web has provided new opportunities to make friends around the world.

As I ventured into this new world I soon encountered Maxine. Her formidable knowledge of crime fiction was a touch intimidating for the depth and breadth of her reading was striking.

She was generous in acknowledging fellow bloggers. When she read and reviewed the books of Gail Bowen and Anthony Bidulka from Saskatchewan she always included a reference to my blog and kindly acknowledged she was reading them because of me.

My most direct contact and enduring memories of Maxine come from her comments on my blog. After coming to understand her great learning of crime fiction it was with pride I would see a comment from Maxine on one of my posts.

Many comments are quite general in nature. Maxine was never perfunctory. She had considered the post and reached a conclusion and expressed her opinion clearly. I looked forward to Maxine’s comments.

Her last comment on my blog on Taken by Robert Crais reflected her style:

I agree with your views on this book, Bill. It is certainly a page-turner but there is little character or charm that characterises some of the Elvis books. I thought it went off a bit once Joe went out into the desert. Somewhat of a book for those in love with weapons!

Her knowledge of the genre is readily apparent in her comment to a post I wrote about the first twenty years of Harry Bosch:

This is a great post, Bill. It is fascinating to read your views on the evolution of Bosch. I think this series did go through a bit of a "low" a few years ago, around the time of "Void Moon". It was still pretty good, but not quite up to its own standard. I think that at that time, Connelly was trying to make Bosch a more rounded man via his romances, but those have failed and I think his solution of the daughter as a main character works really well. I know quite a few men who are pretty tough in their professional lives but change completely where their children are concerned.

I agree with you about Bosch as the classic "driven" detective. As Margot has mentioned, in the earlier books (immediately after The Black Echo but before he broke off with The Poet) I think that Bosch found out, or tried to, about his parents. The father theme came out much later also, in The Lincoln Lawyer. As a result of that experience, he became even more alone and isolated professionally, locked into his long-running feud with Irvin Irving. I think your point about Bosch now playing the bureaucracy, instead of simply head-butting with it, is a very astute one. I hadn't picked that up but it rings true.

In crime fiction there is usually some element that I find lets a book down. Usually it is the resolution of the crime plot, which is often forced and unconvincing. Another common failing is the "dramatic ending" with shootouts, hero/heroine in peril (having not called for back up), etc. Connelly avoids both these pitfalls, I think - he does not usually go for the "over the top" elements. I agree that his villains can be weak as characters but personally I don't like reading too much from the "sick mind of the villain" point of view, so I am glad he does not go in for that. One book where I think Connelly did very well on the balance between horrible crimes and not being gratuitious is The Scarecrow.

Overall, Connelly is my favourite crime fiction author and has been for years. He has not let his readers down with fame, but continues to deliver exciting and "different" books, while, as you point out, developing characters very well over a series.

Not many people are mourned round the world. The posts expressing the grief of the crime fiction bloggers span the globe.

I respected Maxine’s knowledge, appreciated her skills with words, admired most of her opinions and am saddened by her death. My virtual world is diminished by her loss.

My sympathy to her husband and family.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Rule Book by Rob Kitchin

55. - 687.) The Rule Book by Rob Kitchin – The fiction debut of the Irish author grabs the reader in the opening sentence:

"His eyes fixed on the sword and started to travel its length, down from the black handle, over the plain hilt and along the two-inch wide shaft to where it penetrated the young woman’s mouth."

Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy is assigned to lead the investigation. The case swiftly becomes a nightmare as the killer provides excerpts from “The Rule Book” setting out to commit perfect murders and leaving business cards with the image of a large black bird. Not surprisingly the killer is dubbed the Raven.

Examples of the Rules are:

        1a. Choose a victim at random.

1b. Have no prior interaction with the victim before the kill. They should simply be chosen because they were in the right place at the right time.

1c. Take no account of age, sex, looks or any other characteristic in selection.

        Master rule: Patterns provide psychological purchase. Avoid 

The killer makes clear his intention to murder a person a day for the next 6 days in Dublin. Having left virtually no forensic evidence, for the area of the killing has been carefully cleaned, the police face a daunting investigation.

When another murder takes place the next day with equal precision and skill the police are left desperately scrambling to find the murderer.

Within the department McEvoy’s superior, Tony Bishop, is blustering about worried about the image of the police, especially himself, as they struggle to catch the killer amidst a rapidly growing media frenzy.

Can there be a perfect serial killer? The Raven is wickedly clever and knows how smart he is with “The Rule Book”.

McEvoy is coping with the recent death of his wife, Maggie, from cancer. Their 12 year old daughter, Gemma, is providing greater support to her father than he can muster for her.

Personally he is valiantly attempting to quit smoking. McEvoy is finding it difficult to be satisfied with his fake cigarette under the pressure of an investigation drawing media from around the world.

The book is not for the squeamish. While Kitchin does not dwell on the gore he equally does not shy away from describing torture and murder. I found the violence graphic while not dominating the plot.

I did grow weary of the constant descriptions of how tired McEvoy is during the investigation. I am sure all senior police officers are worn out during a major investigation as they try to balance time spent on the investigation with their home life.

I would have appreciated some more information about the officers working with McEvoy. We learn little about them.
Having been in Dublin in September it was interesting to be able to see some of the locales in my mind and make myself an imaginary observer of unfolding scenes.

I was most impressed by the ending. The conclusion will never find its way to a Hollywood movie. I did not see it coming.

It is a good book. I wish it were not so hard to buy in Dublin bookshops. I finally found a used copy. (Dec. 13/12)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Q and A with Gail Bowen on Kaleidoscope

Gail in the Arthur Conan Doyle Room at the Toronto Reference Library
In the spring I wrote a post reviewing Gail Bowen’s new book, Kaleidoscope, which features her sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve. I emailed Gail some questions about the book. Tonight I am posting her answers.

1.) I found very interesting the portrayal of Zack in the midst of a trial that is not going well. You set out the experience well. As I understood a past email from yourself you indicated that questions I had asked had some impact on your writing. If I am correct I would appreciate any comments you would like to make on the matter.

I did remember you telling me about the sick feeling a lawyer has when a case suddenly starts to go south. That feeling is, of course, exacerbated when the lawyer believes that his client is not guilty. I hope I communicated something of that in Zack's feelings during the Cronus trial. Incidentally, in the new, new JKS novel (the one after The Gifted), Cronus reappears. He was just too good to lose.

2.) Joanne has drifted away from an active role in politics. Was there a reason for her moving to the political sidelines?

I seem to be giving away a lot about "The Gifted", but by the end of the novel Zack has pretty well decided to run for mayor and Joanne is running his campaign, so I guess Joanne is back in politics. I'm intrigued always by the fact that civic politics, the politics that has the most direct impact on our lives, seems to be of interest only to people who have something to gain from the decisions the mayor and council make.

3.) Did you have some insight a major development would be planned by the City of
Regina for the warehouse district when you were writing the book? I wondered if Leland had considered a new football stadium replacing Taylor Field on the edge of North Central.

Football fan that I am, I am opposed to the new stadium. First because we have a serious housing problem here in Regina that is not being addressed and second because the politics around the new stadium have a distinctly fishy odour. As well, this whole idea of tarting up Taylor field for the Grey Cup and then dismantling it seems to me idiotic. That said, there's no stadium in the new novels, but there are some distinctly questionable land deals.

4.) Joanne and her eldest daughter, Mieka, look to becoming more involved in projects together. Is it possible they will ever form a mother-daughter sleuthing team?

The mother-daughter sleuth thing has not yet come to pass, but who knows? Joanne and Mieka are as close as my daughter, Hildy and I are, and it's natural that they might come together to solve a problem.

5.) I am working on a post, maybe even a series of posts, on how rarely fictional sleuths watch T.V. Joanne and family certain watch the news. Do they watch any other T.V.?

They watch what I watch: football and politics. I do watch a lot of football, CFL, NFL, and college, esp. Notre Dame. What a year the Irish have had, and it's not over! And Obama won, so it's been a good year for me tv-wise.

I appreciate Gail’s always candid answers and look forward to the 14th book in the series.
Here are links to my listing of the series and my reviews plus Q and A with Gail: 
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail; 2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - Deadly Appearances (2011); Murder at the Mendel (Not reviewed); The Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope; Hardcover

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Makes a Lawyer Successful in Court

Sir David Napley
Tonight I am putting up a post on how a distinguished English solicitor advocate, Sir David Napley, was successful in court through a discussion of some of his cases. My examples are drawn from his memoirs. Last Sunday I posted a review of those memoirs, Not Without Prejudice. In his book Napley writes in an informative and entertaining way about 50 years in the law.

One of his more prominent cases was the defence of an art gallery against a charge that some drawings of John Lennon portraying sexual acts involving himself and Yoko Ono it displayed were “exhibiting to public view indecent articles, namely prints”. One of Napley’s first steps was, having read the statute, to force an amendment of the charge to add “to the annoyance of passengers”. By requiring the addition he made the prosecution more difficult as the Crown would have to prove not only indecency but annoyance. At the trial Napley, having done extensive research, was able to show that a display of Picasso prints also portraying oral sex had gone unprosecuted shortly before the Lennon exhibition. He also showed the number of annoyed visitors to the gallery, was minimal and why they were annoyed questionable. In the end, the judge followed a long standing judicial practice of avoiding a hard decision. Instead of wading into the murky waters of indecency and annoyance the judge dismissed the charge on technical grounds that the gallery was not a public place and the visitors were not “passengers”.

Napley represented a structural engineer charged with manslaughter over the failure of brakes on a roller coaster, the Big Dipper, which resulted in 5 deaths. He set up a successful trial defence by carefully establishing that the engineer was only tasked to deal with the overall structural integrity of the ride and had nothing to with the car that malfunctioned. The barrister at trial needed to only put forth the evidence and arguments already prepared. Despite oppressive public anger the engineer was found not guilty.

In probably his most famous case Napley orchestrated the defence of former British Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, against charges of conspiring to murder Norman Scott. It was alleged by Scott that he had a homosexual relationship with Thorpe. The case drew vast media attention in the late 1970’s. Napley set up cross-examinations of the Crown witnesses that were decisive at trial. Few books and fewer television shows or movies show the enormous amount of work to prepare a cross-examination in a major case.

Napley sets out the principle:

As I have repeatedly stressed, cross-examination is not based upon some magical formula, depending, as the films and television portray, upon the histrionic abilities of the advocate. There can be no effective cross-examination unless the advocate is supplied with hard, solid facts which the witness cannot refute. Armed with those, there is, of course, some skill in the way they are employed and the point at which they are revealed, but without them nothing is to be achieved.

Napley, after assembling a 20 year history involving Scott, then turned to Crown witness statements:

However much assistance one might receive in the preparation of a case, there is certain work, which the advocate alone, whether a barrister or a solicitor, can do. Thus I spent day after day sitting with the statements of the prosecution witnesses, marking on them the passages about which it would be necessary to cross-examine, cross-referencing the documents or evidence which might be put to the Crown witnesses, and determining the best approach in each instance.

You must do a lot of the work yourself so you are fully familiar with the statements, not only with the analysis of them. You cannot be prepared to deal with the unexpected answers or subtle changes from earlier statements in the evidence given by witnesses at trial without putting in the long hours of review.

Not every client will be found not guilty. In many cases a counsel can only do his best to get a fair sentence for the accused. In the 1970’s Napley represented Ian Ball who almost kidnapped Princess Anne on her way home from the movies. To my surprise her security was limited to a single police officer. The botched kidnapping ended up with 4 people wounded. Napley shrewdly dispensed with a preliminary inquiry and concentrated on gathering psychiatric evidence establishing his client was schizophrenic. Ball pled guilty, with the court’s approval, to certain charges and was detained under The Mental Health Act.

Napley also proved a keen observer at the inquest into the death, while imprisoned, of Steve Biko in South Africa. Biko was beaten in custody, probably because he would not inform on associates, and his interrogators lost patience with him. Napley recounts the unconvincing testimony of guards and doctors. His blunt observations confirm a massive cover-up by the authorities which was awkwardly managed.

As the above cases show Napley carefully considered the wording of criminal charges, established the limits of a client’s responsibility, put in the many hours needed to prepare cross-examinations and realistically evaluated the strength of a client’s position. Of all his talents the focus he brought to each case and the willingness to spend all the time required by the case served his clients well and made him a great solicitor advocate.

(The expansion of law firms is demonstrated by Napley’s law firm, Kingsley and Napley. They started with 2 lawyers in 1937. There are now approximately 150 lawyers in the firm.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Not Without Prejudice by Sir David Napley

54. – 686.) Not Without Prejudice by Sir David Napley – While I have read numerous biographies and autobiographies of English barristers I had not read any about solicitors. Napley was a prominent English solicitor advocate.

In this post I will discuss his life. In my next post on Tuesday I will review some of his cases showing the skills that made him a very successful solicitor. For readers who do not know the distinction between a barrister and a solicitor you look to the type of law being practiced. Barristers conduct court proceedings. Their practices are limited to appearing in court. Solicitors prepare cases to go to court, appear at lower levels of court and handle all of the non-court legal work required by clients. While you are either a barrister or solicitor in Great Britain all Canadian lawyers are both barristers and solicitors. My practice involves both appearing in courts and taking care of non-court matters for clients.

Napley wrote the book when he was 66. It covers his first 50 years in the legal profession. He started his articles at the age of 16 in 1932. Napley was from a generation in which you could become a lawyer without attending a university law school. His articles took him 5 years. In the mid-1970’s when I articled in Saskatchewan after completing law school articles were for a year.

He began in an era where office machines were limited to the typewriter and adding machine. Carbon copies were the primary method of copying letters and documents. I just realized that when I started working in a law office in 1975 carbon copies were still the standard means of making a copy. In Napley’s earliest days, to ensure copies were of the original document there would, in addition to the carbon copy, be another copy made, often illegible, with wet carbon material in large bound copy books.

As a young solicitor wanting experience with court cases he took on legal aid cases. Then, as now, lawyers were poorly paid for such representation but it was a means of getting known in the courts.
World War II interrupted his legal career. After spending time in India he was invalided out of the army early in 1945. It proved an advantage as he was able to re-establish his career before most lawyers were released from military service. While the shortage of lawyers gave him opportunity Napley possessed a key trait for achieving success in the profession. He was willing to work all day and well into the night.

After starting the process of becoming a barrister he turned away and stayed a solicitor. A barrister he trusted assessed his personality and prospects and advised Napley remain a solicitor. At that time prospects for a good living were better for solicitors than barristers. While he said he had “no real regrets” I think he wished he would have become a barrister. It was clear he found it difficult turning over to barristers the cases he had so carefully prepared as a solicitor. Napley was a strong advocate of eliminating the distinction between barristers and solicitors.
After the war he had a wide ranging practice. In addition to criminal work he did:

Civil actions in the High Court and County Courts, commercial work, matrimonial work and, of course, conveyancing.

It is the type of general practice with which I am most familiar as it parallels my practice. Napley, as I have, found that type of practice demanding but always interesting.

He sought to expand his conveyancing practice by writing a book on an area lacking legal texts - the remuneration of auctioneers and estate agents. While gaining him clients dealing with remuneration issues it did not gain him conveyancing clients as auctioneers and agents thought he would not want to be bothered with such trivial matters as conveyancing!

In the book he focuses on the cases – mainly criminal – which brought him fame. I doubt many would buy a book concentrating on a solicitor’s most interesting conveyancing files.

Napley was a fearless solicitor advocate. He pursued cases which made the Establishment uncomfortable. He fought for clients upon whom it was clear the police had planted weapons.

His life was a whirlwind. He unsuccessfully sought to be elected to Parliament. He spoke often at events, frequently attended formal suppers, wrote articles and appeared on television. While not conventionally telegenic he was one of the first English lawyers to appear often on television programs.

Napley was also concerned with bettering the law. He participated in law reform. He wrote about the law.

He willingly spent time to improve and serve his profession. His devotion to solicitors is best  shown by becoming the Law Society President for a year even though it meant he would have no income for that year. Not many in our current era would give up their income for a year to work for their fellow lawyers.

Napley had a happy marriage and two daughters. His children did feel he spent too much of his time on the law.

He is a good writer not afraid to express his opinion on laws, clients, fellow lawyers, judges, politicians, administrators and society. Napley has a forthright opinion on many subjects. Anyone wanting to learn more about solicitors from the 1930’s to the 1980’s in England would get valuable insight into the profession from reading Not Without Prejudice.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012 Trip to Sleuth of Baker Street

Two weeks ago I was in Toronto for the Grey Cup (the Canadian professional football championship). I made time to take the subway and bus to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore. It would not be a trip to Toronto unless I went to the store. My last visit about which I put a post was a year ago.

I arrived early Friday afternoon to find Marian at the store. She said J.D. was visiting in Ottawa. While J.D. was gone she was not alone. Her dog, Percy, was curled up beside the counter at the front of the store. Periodically he would make a circuit around the store to check out customers.

Percy on a visit to the country
On this trip I specifically wanted to look for books from a few Australian and New Zealand writers whose books I had not found in Western Canada. I was to be disappointed. I was not able to get books by Y.A. Erskine, P.M. Newton, David Owen and Vanda Symon. Marian said it is difficult to get books by Australian and New Zealand writers unless they are published in North America or England. She said there is no wholesaler they can deal with in Australia. I will keep poking around used bookstores in the hopes of finding some of their books. An alternative would be another trip to Australia and a first time trip to New Zealand. I doubt Sharon would see the wisdom in travelling thousands and thousands of kilometers to get crime fiction.

While unable to get some of the books I wanted there was an abundance of other choices in the thousands of mysteries and thrillers they have for sale. In the end I forced myself to place only 5 books on the counter for purchase.

Before going to Toronto I had been looking in the November issue of their fine bi-monthly newsletter, Merchant of Menace, and looked at some of the recommendations from that issue.

It has been awhile since I bought a book involving lawyers so I was attracted to Slip and Fall by Nick Santora. It is about a Brooklyn lawyer that J.D. describes as a ham-and-egger which sounds like it might be like my practice.

I have enjoyed the first two books in the Milo Weaver series by Olen Steinhauer. I added the third in the series, An American Spy, from Sleuth.

This year I have started reading Canadian author L.R. Wright. I was able to buy the 4th book in the Karl Alberg series, Fall From Grace.

I found down in the “W’s” the 6th in the Maisie Dobbs series, Among the Mad, by Jacqueline Winspear for which I posted a review on Tuesday.

Looking around the store I checked for Arthur Upfield mysteries featuring Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte but the only books for sale were early hardcover editions marked at $75.00. As I buy books to read rather than as investments I passed on them.

It is so nice to visit with a bookseller knowledgeable about mysteries. She loves mysteries. Marian knew every author in which I was interested. She basically knew without looking whether they had a book for which I was searching for purchase. She freely offered her perspectives on books I was considering. She is not afraid to tell a customer, if asked, her opinion. She will say if she liked or did not enjoy the books of an author. In the big chain bookstores I am glad if I can find a clerk who can determine from the computer if they have a mystery in which I am interested.

In the just over an hour I spent at the store there were several other customers. None of them left without buying books. I hope Sleuth can stay open for many more years.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

53. – 685.) Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear – In late 1931 Maisie Dobbs is winding down her year when she sees a disabled WW I veteran on the streets of London with deep despair in his eyes. Realizing his desperation she is moving towards him when he detonates a Mills Bomb (grenade) killing himself and wounding several bystanders. Shaken but not seriously hurt Maisie is contemplating what happened when she is called to Scotland Yard.

Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane from the Special Branch has summoned her as she is named in a letter referring to the suicide and threatening harm unless the Government takes action to recognize and aid the unemployed starting with the thousands of veterans still suffering from their war injuries. With no government prepared to take action because of blackmail the search is on for the letter writer.

While the police and military intelligence check out groups on the margin – fascists, communists, IRA and suffragettes – Maisie looks among the host of injured veterans.

Winspear does not identify the writer but inserts passages from his powerfully written journal expressing his ever increasing rage and frustration over the government’s inaction. As the new year approaches he writes:

I have no further use of this life, of this body, or of this mind. But before I go, before I decline the opportunity to step forward into another year of sidelong glances and piteous abuse, I will make my mark. You will be sorry, so sorry not to have listened to me. I wanted only to be heard, only to be heard on behalf of those who cannot speak, the men whom war has crippled and poverty has silenced. There will be no parties, no gathering of joyous anticipation for us, the forgotten. So I will stop the big party. For Auld Lang Syne.

Like George Wilcox, the murderer in The Suspect by L.R. Wright we feel his need to strike out. We cannot support his actions but can understand his pain.

The situation sharply escalates when the writer demonstrates the ability to manufacture the types of poison gases used on the Western Front. Few mysteries have dealt with the consequences of the gas attacks of WW I. They are a horror far beyond the perils of bullets and bombs and shells.

What is the morality for a government which developed and used these weapons of mass destruction during the war and now is threatened by them?

The book explores the mental devastation of so many veterans. The diagnosis of that era, shell shock, is far more evocative of the damage done by war to the mind than the current phrasing of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Only a fraction of the soldiers suffering from shell shock have been accepted by the medical establishment as so afflicted. Thousands barely exist in London. Too many are denied pensions.

Others function, even appear to be doing well for periods of time, but have never recovered from the war. Their minds are broken.

Personally, I recall a resident of Meskanaw who, in the language of my youth in the 1960’s, was described as having “nerves” as a result of action in World War II. I knew a woman who had been an air raid warden during the London blitz who could not be in a room where balloons were popping 40 years after the war.

Winspear brilliantly shows it was not only the soldiers whose mental health was damaged by the war. She has not yet fully recovered from her injuries and the loss of her love, Simon. She is still working through grief 13 years after war’s end and unable to have a normal relationship with a man. Yet she is making progress:

Looking into the past was like looking into a long tunnel, and she knew the tragedy of his wounding and his passing no longer touched her with such immediate rawness. It was more akin to an ache that came and went, like a breeze that lifts a lace curtain back from the window, then sets it down again.

Her best friend, Priscilla, seeing her three sons soon to be teenagers finds herself depressed as she reflects their futures on the deaths of her three brothers during the war.

While her assistant, Billy Beale, is doing better his wife, Doreen, who struggled to cope with the problems he brought home from the war is now increasingly depressed over the death of their daughter.

Maisie speaks of the loss of the soul for the most damaged yet the characters do not look to a common support. Winspear’s characters are not typical of their time in that none attend church nor seek comfort in the Christian faith. In the 1930’s most people went to church. To have none in the book was unlikely.

Among the Mad is a return to the quality of the earliest books in the series. Maisie is doing her best to heal the wounded souls around her as she solves the mystery. The book’s themes resonate 80 years later as nations around the world deal with the traumas of war veterans.

The title was perfect for the book. It was the best title for a book I have read in 2012. (Dec. 2/12)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Changing World War II Atomic Research for the Story

Werner Heisenberg
Historical mysteries must balance the dual elements of historic events with the mystery story. Within the use of history are an author’s decisions of how closely to adhere to historic facts. Last Wednesday I posted a review of Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers. The book is a non-fiction account of German WW II atomic research focused on Nobel Prize Winner Werner Heisenberg. On Friday I put up a review of In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi. The book is a search for the scientific mastermind of the same German wartime research. In this post I will discuss how Volpi changed some facts for his work of fiction. For some, not all, readers the post may have some spoilers.

As set out in my review Volpi’s narrator, Gustav Links, is saved from certain execution by the death of Judge Roland Fleisler through a bomb while the People’s Court was in session on February 3, 1945. In real life Fleisler was killed in a slightly less dramatic fashion by dying after adjourning court though there are conflicting stories on whether it was from a falling beam or from a bomb fragment outside the building. What was true is that one of conspirators in the July assassination attempt of Hitler, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, was on trial that day and survived the war because of Fleisler’s death.

Jorge Volpi
Volpi acknowledges the American Alsos missions which sought out information on German scientific research during the war. He adds the twist of a scientific adviser to Hitler who operates under the pseudonym of Klingsor. There was no secret adviser. For much of the war Hitler relied on the recommendations of such men as Albert Speer whom he had made Minister of Armaments. There was far too much competition for power between competing leading Nazis for there to have been any secret adviser.

Volpi has Heisenberg justify working on the bomb for Germany when, in reality, as outlined in my post on Heisenberg’s War he led German physicists in avoiding bomb development by stressing technical difficulties. Heisenberg clearly stated that they did not want to put the bomb in Hitler’s hands.

In the book Volpi then has Heisenberg dramatically reverse the accusation against him by saying it was the Allied physicists who actually developed the bomb and brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is no indication Heisenberg ever made such a statement.

Volpi posits there was a battle to make the bomb. There was no battle. The U.S. invested huge resources to build a bomb. The Nazis puttered along contributing enough for basic research that never progressed beyond a small reactor.

In the book Heisenberg is made into a bad guy to provide a worthy adversary for Bacon. In history he was the man who denied the Nazis the chance at the bomb.

I acknowledge the facts of history are not clear. There are conflicts over Heisenberg’s role. In Albert Speer – His Battle with the Truth by Gitta Sereny there is a Heisenberg more eager to develop the bomb than is portrayed than in Heisenberg’s War. Examining the respective accounts I found Heisenberg’s War more convincing.

At the end of the war Volpi adapts the secretly taped conversations of the 10 interned German physicists to have them assert their failure to progress on the development of the bomb was because they were denied funds by the mysterious Klingsor. In real life they never asked for the funding that would have let them try to develop the bomb.

In real life there would never have been a need after WW II to search for a Klingsor for, even if such an anonymous figure existed, the Allies and Soviets had swiftly searched out all the leading scientists of Germany and took them into protective (from each other) custody. The top 10 physicists were actually in American hands before the war ended.

I admire how Volpi used history as the foundation of his book and was intrigued by how he adjusted history to tell his story.