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, July 23, 2013

The Wrong Man by David Ellis

The Wrong Man by David Ellis – What a bundle of emotions I have about this book.

I liked Jason Kolarich as a hard working, clever and determined defence lawyer willing to take on the defence of a homeless Iraq War veteran, Tom Stoller, charged with murdering a young paralegal, Kathy Rubinkowski, on the streets of an unnamed mid-American city.

I disliked Kolarich as a stubborn loner, a cowboy in his words, who is prepared to personally assault and torture in the pursuit of justice. I have a problem with vigilante lawyers.

I admired Kolarich taking on the murder defence pro bono but found it improbable that he could put his whole firm onto the defence with little apparent means to sustain themselves financially.

I thought Kolarich’s efforts to defend the deeply psychologically damaged Stoller superb. His plan to plead insanity and raise the post traumatic stress disorder suffered by his client while in Iraq very well done. The challenge of building evidence for a defence was demonstrated. It is not a simple process. Experts offer different theories. Evidence does not fit precisely the defence to be argued. Judges make unexpected rulings.

My favourite scenes are his efforts to interview his client. Few clients are articulate. Many struggle to express themselves. You have to understand your client to be able to defend him or her. Kolarich’s meetings with Stoller are moving.

When the plot moves into court the arguments and questioning of witnesses are authentic.

I expect Ellis was venting some past frustrations in the creation of the irascible aged Judge Bertrand Nash who berates all counsel appearing before him.

Ellis has some fine phrasing:

            “I don’t believe in coincidences,” I said. “But I do believe
            in cover-ups.”

At the same time there is a spectre of Mob involvement and a shadowy conspiracy. They sapped credibility from the plot and were a distraction. There was more than enough tension built into the struggle to defend Stoller in a conventional legal mystery.

The book veered from a legal mystery to thriller. As often in thrillers there was a mystery woman and attacks upon the hero. I wish Ellis would have been content to develop the legal mystery. The book is well suited for Hollywood. It will barely need to be adapted. As the book began I was thinking of John Grisham but as it progressed it became more Christopher Reichs.

The book was on the shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. While there are aspects of the book I did not enjoy, I admire those determining the shortlist for including The Wrong Man. It departs from the regular legal mysteries which were past winners – The Confession by John Grisham and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly. I have purchased this year’s winner, Havana Requiem, and am interested to find out whether it fits more into legal mystery or legal thriller or some other form of legal fiction.

The action is well done. The book moves swiftly Ellis ties together the strands of the plot well. It is a good book. Readers wanting a high paced thriller with a lawyer as hero will find it a great book. For myself, I would have preferred more court and less mayhem. (July 22/13)


  1. I can understand your frustration with the "thriller" aspect a I was a bit put off by the book veering off in that direction, when it got to be over the top.

    And, I, too, would have been satisfied with a courtroom mystery, with maybe a bit of the Mob thrown in.

    I don't need international issues to come into a legal mystery to make it interesting. (In fact, I usually don't read books with international overtones like this.) But here I enjoyed the protagonist so I was willing to keep following him.

    And I liked the expose of who exactly were the troops for the thriller part of the plot, glad they were shown to be who they are, people we do have to worry about here -- and who co commit violent acts.

    I'd recommend Defending Jacob, too, as a brilliantly written book, but very intense, no humor and it's a tough read -- well-done, though.

    Dead Peasants by Larry D. Thompson was an easy-going book about a millionaire-plaintiff lawyer who retires to do pro bono work to help poor people being raked over by corporations, who resort to one scheme after another.

    Main character is likeable and it's a relaxing book.

  2. Bill - Your excellent review made me think about why those 'thriller' aspects of a novel are added. In this case, the legal plot itself - and of course, the murder mystery - had plenty of tension and tautness in and of themselves. ANd thanks for sharing your view about the courtroom aspects and the other legal-procedure aspects of the novel. Not being an attorney myself, it's sometimes hard to tell how much of a legal novel is really authentic and how much isn't.

  3. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I am not sure about Defending Jacob. I am more likely to read Dead Peasants.

  4. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think it would have been better to chose either legal mystery or thriller.

  5. I read Defending Jacob, not only because it was nominated for the Harper Lee prize, but because Maxine Clarke had highly recommended it and so had a good mystery loving friend.

    I had to read a light book after that and watch a few comedic movies.

    But Dead Peasants is just fun, witty and with an overall progressive theme.

    I will read Paul Goldstein's book, too, as I am intrigued by it.

  6. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. As I read of problems and hard issues and complex matters all day I usually prefer to escape in crime fiction rather than be challenged.

  7. You'd enjoy Dead Peasants then. Fun.

  8. Kathy D.: Thanks for the encouragement.