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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews – While the Cold War is close to a generation in our past the CIA and the SVR (Russia’s foreign intelligence agency) continue to spy and seek out spies.

Dominika Egorova is a beautiful young woman in Moscow with a promising career in ballet ahead of her when an injury, inspired by a rival ballerina, ends her life as a dancer.

With a brilliant mind she looks for other opportunities in modern Russia. She is gifted at assessing people. Dominika is a synaesthete who sees colours about anyone with whom she has conversation. From these colours she can usually determine their emotions and honesty. Until I started reading David Rotenberg’s books a year ago featuring Decker Roberts I had never heard of synaesthetes. Now I have read two books within a month having primary characters as synaesthetes. Dominika is a more conventional synaesthete seeing colours rather than the lines of Roberts. While her gift is known she is careful to conceal her gift, unlike Roberts who uses his talent in contracts assessing truthfulness.

Her uncle, Vanya Egorov Deputy Director o the SVR, sees a chance to exploit Dominika’s beauty by setting her upon troublesome oligarch, Dimitri Ustinov. Uncle Vanya coerces her co-operation by letting Dominika know her mother’s apartment is safe if she entices Ustinov into bed. She is successful but the result is sexually and bloodily horrific.

Dominika uses her success to enter the SVR. It remains an extremely male dominated organization.

She is sent to Sparrow school. I had not thought about the sexual training of Russian women to serve their country. It was the hardest part of the book to read.

In America Nate Nash joins the CIA to escape a stifling Virginia family. His Russian language skills send him to Moscow where he is tasked to meet with America’s most important Russian spy. When the SVR almost catch them together Nash is forced into a dramatic evasive effort. A confrontation with his supervisor over the source being almost revealed has him sent to Helsinki.

Dominika is sent by the SVR to Finland to pursue Nash and obtain information that could lead to the detection of the mole inside the SVR. The beautiful Russian and the handsome American establish a relationship.

What is surprising is the devious subsequent plot as each intelligence service schemes to obtain information and chase down moles.

Red Sparrow is an unusual book. At times it is as uncompromising as a John LeCarre thriller. In other places it has the Hollywood feel of Christopher Reich's later books such as Rules of Betrayal.

There was abit too much for me of a character’s appearance foretelling personality and nature.

It was intriguing to read how spies spend so much of their time working out whether they are being followed.

It was not a surprise when I read Matthews had a 33 year career in the CIA before turning to writing a spy thriller. I was reminded of the thrillers written by Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 in England.

Readers should know that there are very explicit sexual scenes in the book. The training of Sparrows was disturbing to me. I could have done without some of the detail. Matthews could benefit from some of the restraint shown by Rimington.

I acknowledge a contradiction in my reading. I want scenes to be real but can find them too real. Matthews made the scenes convincingly real. I admire he did not gloss over what happened. My personal preference would have been a little less graphic.

Dominika had the same fascination for me of Lisbeth Sanders when I first encountered her in Stieg Larsson’s triology. Each is a strong unconventional woman with special talents who is challenging male set boundaries.

I believe the book, when released in June, will be very successful. It is a well written spy thriller with abundant sex and violence. I equally expect a lot of movie buzz. Hollywood will be interested. I can see the stars lining up to be Dominika and Nate.

Red Sparrow is a good book. I will read future books of Matthews. I think he has the potential to be an excellent thriller writer. I hope he will consider toning down abit the sex and violence to concentrate more on the story.

I thank Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advance reader edition. (Mar. 29/13)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What’s Happening in Canadian Crime Fiction

As an associate member of the Crime Writers of Canada I receive Crime Beat, the monthly newsletter, and Cool Canadian Crime, the quarterly list of book releases of Canadian written crime fiction.

In the first edition of Cool Canadian Crime the list actually covers the first half of 2013 and contains 38 books.

I am going to have to go looking for The Third Riel Conspiracy by Stephen Legault which was published this month. The publisher’s blurb on the CWC site states:
It is spring of 1885 and the Northwest Rebellion has broken out. Amid the chaos of the Battle of Batoche, a grisly act leaves Reuben Wake dead. A Metis man is arrested for the crime, but he claims innocence. When Durrant Wallace begins his investigation, he learns there are many who wanted Wake dead and uncovers a series of covert conspiracies surrounding Metis leader and prophet Louis Riel.
Since Batoche is about 125 km from where I live it is a Saskatchewan mystery before there was Saskatchewan. We became a province in 1905. In 1885 this part of Western Canada was a part of the Northwest Territories.
I regret to say I do not know anything about the author. On his website Legault is described as follows:

He is a full time conservation activist, writer, photographer and strategy consultant who lives in Canmore, Alberta with his wife Jenn, and two sons, Rio and Silas. He has been writing since 1988, and for nearly as long has been leading national and international conservation programs and organizations.

In May, I will be sure to getting two books.

As indicated in a recent post Anthony Bidulka’s first book in the Adam Saint series, When the Saints Go Marching In will be released. I had not heard of a disaster recovery specialist until I heard Anthony talking about the book last year at his book launch of Dos Equis.

Also in May is the next book in Robert Rotenberg’s Toronto legal mystery series, Stranglehold. From the blurb it appears to feature detective, Avi Greene. While Greene has been a significant character in the first three books the series has actually been focused on an ensemble group of lawyers. Unfortunately with a publication date of May 7 I will not be purchasing the book immediately as I leave on holidays the a few days before release date. Since I will be on a cruise I can hardly complain if I have to wait a few weeks. Still I may try to see if I can get an advance copy.

The biggest news next month is the release of the shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards simultaneously in four different events in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa.

The Toronto event will provide a wonderful array of authors:

Indigo, Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. W., Toronto from 7-9 p.m. Featuring Catherine Astolfo, Janet Bolin, Alison Bruce, Melodie Campbell, Sharon Crawford, Jill Downie, Nate Hendley, Rosemary McCracken, Robert Rotenberg, Howard Shrier, Simone St. James and Scott Thornley reading from their latest books. Guest speaker: Joy Fielding; Emcee: Jon C. Redfern. FREE! Cookies! Door prizes!

And who does not like cookies!

Lastly, the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award shortlist includes books by 3 members of the CWC:

Janet Bolin, Threaded for Trouble (Berkley Prime Crime)
Elizabeth J. Duncan, A Small Hill to Die On (Minotaur)
Chris Laing, A Private Man (Seraphim

The Award is:

The Bloody Words Light Mystery Award is an annual juried literary prize, presented at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference for a “book that makes us smile.”

There is lots of great Canadian mystery reading ahead in 2013.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More on Morris Dees and A Lawyer's Journey

Morris Dees, in his autobiography, A Lawyer’s Journey written with Steve Fiffer, discusses several of his causes and cases. A few cases changed his comfortable life from a businessman acting as lawyer on an occasional matter to a committed counsel for the poor and downtrodden. Later he writes about the events that defined the early years of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s Dees did more than any other person or agency to effectively destroy the Ku Klux Klan which had revived itself in several southern states during economic tough times.

It was intriguing to see how Dees used the instruments of the law to challenge and limit the actions. Dees answered intimidation and violence with court actions.

A pivotal case in Dees life was his action to integrate the Montgomery YMCA in 1969. It was a very unpopular lawsuit among the white citizens of the city.

The suit was on behalf of a pair of boys denied access to the YMCA summer camp program. While clearly the YMCA practised segregation Dees was struggling to find a government connection that would allow the lawsuit to succeed.

As with all good lawyers he went through all the documents provided and found a true smoking gun of a document. When the City of Montgomery was previously sued to integrate swimming pools it made a secret agreement to close its pools and have the YMCA operate public swimming pools in the city.

During the action efforts were made to discredit Dees by searching for unsavoury or improper conduct by him in his legal practice.

The YMCA sought to deflect the lawsuit by allowing the applications for camp of a few boys.

The efforts of the YMCA were unsuccessful and Dees brought about integration in its facilities by court order.

In 1981 a Texas Klan sought to drive Vietnamese fishers from Galveston Bay. Threats of harm were followed by a burned fishing boat and aggressive patrolling on the bay by armed Klansmen and sympathizers.

Dees filed suit seeking an injunction against the Klan and its leaders to stop them from interfering in the rights of the Vietnamese Fisherman Association to fish upon the bay.

Opposing Dees was Louis Beam, a man whose appearance invited caricature. (See the photo appearing in the book on the left of this post.) Were he not such a dedicated white supremacist leading a well armed group of Klan members he would have received little attention.

Dees further sought to emasculate Beams organization by adding to the relief sought from the court an order that would prohibit Beam from conducting guerrilla operations in Texas using a state statute that prohibited private paramilitary training. Such an order would prevent Beam from continuing to conduct military style camps.

When the injunction was granted by the federal court the Klan backed down from breaching the order which would have brought them into conflict with the United States government.

What was striking in this case and others recounted by Dees was how often those believers in white supremacy would shy away from acknowledging their beliefs and actions in court. Instead of proudly proclaiming them there would be evidence of wilful forgetfulness or failing memories. They could not bear to speak in open court of what they had done.

Early in his career Dees learned quickly that public interest cases need media attention. Dees has a flair for publicity and his skill has served his clients well.

The Southern Poverty Center continues to take on cases and causes in the 21st Century. Their website sets out their present activities.

The book is well written, as I would expect from a man who has been telling the stories of clients to courts for over four decades. Dees has the knack of explaining court cases clearly while leavening the telling with colourful, often humorous, anecdotes. I am going to look for more of his books.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Lawyer’s Journey by Morris Dees with Steve Fiffer (2001)

A Lawyer’s Journey by Morris Dees with Steve Fiffer (2001)– Morris Dees has led the life that idealistic young lawyers dream of at night. He has fought cases for the ill-treated and downtrodden of American society for over 40 years.

To achieve such a career he possesses a combination of skills I have never seen in a lawyer. He has been an accomplished businessman seeing opportunity and building a multi-million dollar company. He has elite courtroom skills both understanding how to build evidence, question witnesses and assemble evidence. He has a passion for practical social justice.

Many people have a desire to help the disadvantaged. Some will devote some of their time to causes. Fewer yet will give up making large amounts of money for themselves.

Dees stands alone in using his talent for making money to finance the non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center and his legal skills to lead teams fighting the cases taken on by the Center.

Dees was born to a farm family in 1936 at Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama. His parents got by, but farming, as it always has been, was a struggle. In a time where the South was rigidly segregated and African Americans treated as inferior his father, also Morris, had respect for black people that was uncommon. In a striking story Dees says that he can only recall two whippings from his father and the first came when he was five for speaking disrespectfully to a black worker on the farm. His father’s actions and attitudes brought to mind the fictional Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, another rural Alabama father raising his children at the same time to think differently about issues of race and how to treat people. Dees grew up 100 miles from Harper Lee’s hometown and spoke of his identification with Lee’s characters in an article he wrote on the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lest readers think Dees was not truly of the rural Deep South his nickname of “Bubba” clearly defines his place and time.

When reading biographies of lawyers I inevitably compare my life with their life both before and after they became lawyers.

Dees said his father pushed him to become a lawyer and not be a farmer. As a young man Dees wanted to farm and preach the Word of the Lord. His father, having struggled to make a living, wanted a better life for his talented son.

I also grew up on a small farm. It was a good life, economically better than some of our neighbours, but far from financially secure. My parents did not push me to be a lawyer but encouraged me to consider options outside the farm. I expect they realized before I did that my skills were not well suited to farming.

Where Dees differs dramatically from my life is his entrepreneurial skill, even as a teenager. Where I was content simply helping on the farm Dees built his own farm business. By the time he was finished high school in 1955 he “had five thousand dollars in the bank fifty head of cattle, and about two hundred hogs on the farm waiting to be sold”.

While Dees decided there was no future for him on the farm I am sure he would have been just as successful farmer as he was businessman and lawyer. His flair and talent to recognize opportunity would have served him well on the farm.

Those skills were to enable him to carry on successful businesses in university and as a young lawyer.

Dees is uncommon is his decision to stop making more money for himself and devoting himself to being a lawyer for those who cannot afford lawyers. Dees gained millions of dollars from the sale of his business which gave him financial stability to pursue justice for the poor.

He then used his money making ability to effectively fund raise for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I marvelled at Dees finding the means to be an advocate for the poor while having an upper middle class lifestyle. I have worked on cases for hemophiliacs, blood transfused, Indian land claims and gay pension benefits but always my firm and I had to balance what we could do against generating enough money. I admire Dees for finding a way to not have to make such compromises.

In my next post I will discuss some of the cases and causes Dees writes about in his autobiography.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Anthony Bidulka has Lambda Nomination and New Book

Saskatchewan mystery author, Anthony Bidulka, is having an exciting spring though winter is still strongly entrenched in Saskatchewan. 

Earlier this month his book, Dos Equis, was nominated on the shortlist for mysteries for a Lambda Literary Award. With his usual style Anthony exuberantly celebrated the nomination on his fine blog. 

It is the second nomination for Anthony. In 2004 he won the award for his second book in the Russell Quant series, A Flight of Acquavit. 

The criteria for the mystery category are: 

Novels, novellas, and short story collections that adhere to the criteria of a“mystery,” as defined by the Mystery Writers of America: “A mystery is considered to be any novel in which a crime, or a series of crimes, are an integral part of the story.” Anthologies are not eligible.

The finalists for gay mystery are:

1. Bokassa’s Last Apostle, Rod Shelton, Paradise Press UK

2. Dos Equis, Anthony Bidulka, Insomniac Press

3. Fires of London, Janice Law, MysteriousPress.com/Open Road

4. Lake on the Mountain: A Dan Sharp Mystery, Jeffrey Round, Dundurn

5. The Yellow Canary, Steve Neil Johnson, Clutching Hand Books

He is already excited about the awards ceremony in New York City on June 3. It is a special year for the Lammy's as it is their 25th anniversary.

Anthony is not going to have much time to get there as on June 1 he is having the release party for the first book, When the Saints Go Marching In, in his new series featuring disaster recovery specialist Adam Saint.

Each of his Russell Quant books has had an overflowing book launch party at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon.

Wanting a party but with a change, Anthony is hosting a two hour come and go party at McNally Robinson on the Saturday afternoon. Being Anthony it would not be a party without food and drink. He assures readers there will be complimentary wine and cheese for the “entire” two hours.

During the come and go party he will be signing books except for a 15 minute interview session with two interviewers of Saskatoon. Readers can send in questions for the interviewers to ask Anthony.

I expect a long line of book buyers. At the launch for Dos Equis Sharon and I decided to go for supper at the restaurant next to the bookstore rather than stand in line. After spending over an hour at supper there was still a line of book buyers getting their books autographed. It was much shorter. Overall Anthony spent over 2 hours signing books.

It is going to be a good party in Saskatoon.
My other posts featuring Anthony and his books are:
2011 Questions and Answers with Anthony; The author's website is http://www.anthonybidulka.com/ – (2004) - Amuse Bouche (Most interesting of 2004 – fiction and non-fiction); (2005) - Flight of Aquavit (2nd Best fiction in 2005); (2005) - Tapas on the Ramblas; (2006) - Stain of the Berry; (2008) - Sundowner Ubuntu; (2009) - Aloha, Candy Hearts; (2010) - Date with a Sheesha; (2012) - Dos Equis and Q & A and Thoughts on Q & A; (2012) - Book Launch in Saskatoon of Dos Equis; (2012) - Where's Anthony? Paperback or Hardcover

Monday, March 18, 2013

Acedia & me – A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris

46. - 456.) Acedia & me – A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris – The South Dakota Presbyterian / Benedictine Oblate examines acedia – from the Greek - a lack of care. She explores the noonday demon starting from the vivid writings of the 3rd Century monk, Evagrius, on the tempter distracting the monk. She travels the centuries to the present distinguishing between depression and loss of spirituality. She explores the difficulties in her marriage to David, another gifted poet. His emotional upheavals included an attempted suicide. She forthrightly discusses his slow dying from cancer. She is the best spiritual writer of my generation.

She provided a prayer she found for mourning after her David’s death and for coping with acedia:

“This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to do it quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And I am to do nothing let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.”
Acedia & Me was the Best Non-Fiction book in Bill's Best of Non-Fiction in 2008.

I have enjoyed several of Kathleen's books including The Cloister Walk and Dakota - A Spiritual Geography. She is a gifted writer about contemporary Christian life.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Murder Leaves Its Mark by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl

Murder Leaves Its Mark by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl – It has been some time since I read a book with such likes and dislikes. For a change in the review format I will list the likes and dislikes:

Likes -

Setting – Kneubuhl does an excellent job of portraying Hawai’i in 1935. She has great knowledge of the islands, especially Oahu where most of the book takes place.

Having just been on the island a few weeks ago it was so striking how the island has been developed and built upon in the last 78 years. Where only Waikiki was developed in the 1930’s there is no longer a spot left to develop on the beaches around Honolulu. At Hale’iwa there was a gracious decaying hotel in the book. Now the town has lots of apartment buildings and shops. Where the characters could go for a horseback ride up to Waimea Falls there is now a paved path limited to walkers and carts for those who cannot manage the walk.

The old Hale'iwa Hotel in its earlier glory days
I could see locations around Hale’iwa as they were before they were developed. Kneubuhl was accurate in her depictions. She lets a reader feel the lush trees and plants that help give Hawai’i its great natural beauty.

Era – The author has clearly done extensive research on the history of Hawai’i. A major theme in the book involves the effort to unionize the workers on the plantations outside Honolulu. The workers, often Asians, were treated harshly, paid little and had primitive living conditions. The business elite of Honolulu wanted to maintain their control of the workers.

The references to old Hawaiian traditions and culture were interesting. The effort to hold onto the past was struggling against the dominating white culture.

Part of the plot – It was a decent mystery exploring the tensions and divisions in the wealthy Burnham family. There is a spousal conflict, issues over who and how the family business will be run and challenges between the adult children and their father, Henry.

Henry is a leader in the plots of the plantation owners to keep field workers out of a union.


Character depictions – Primary sleuth, Mina Beckwith, is beautiful. Her twin sister, Nyla, is equally beautiful. Mina’s boyfriend, Ned Manusia, is handsome. Nyla’s detective husband, Todd, is boyish in appearance. Grandma Hannah is round with “a flawless brown face”.

Amanda Burnham, Henry’s wife, has a “dazzingly hypnotic smile full of aloof, elegant beauty” and a shrewish personality. Her daughter, Tessa, is equally beautiful while daughter, Hester, has glasses that slide down and a body that looked stocky in rumbled clothes. Son, Sheldon, has hair that “fell rakishly”.

Henry is “not bad looking, but not the type to send anyone’s heart soaring”.

Gwen Reed, secretary and mistress to Henry, is a little plump and blowzy.

Emil Devon, protégé of Henry, has “an attractive but dark aura”.

Publisher, Christian Hollister, is a “tall, lean, handsome man”.

Plantation manager, Lars Bruhn, has military short hair, a tanned and weathered face, and a dangerous reputation.
It was not hard to figure out who would be the victims in the book.

Part of the plot – While, as set out above, the mystery was alright I did not find the number of bodies fit the story. It was a book with too many bodies for the plot.

Political correctness – All the good people were politically correct by current standards and all the bad people were most incorrect.

Perfection – Mina, Nyla, Ned and Todd had nary a flaw in their personalities.

I was glad to have read a genuine Hawai’ian mystery but doubt I will read another in the series.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer - (It is best not to read this review of the third book in the Milo Weaver spy series if you have not read the first two books. The series proceeds sequentially. Starting with the third will spoil going back to the earlier books.)

After that disclaimer Milo is recovering in New York City from his stomach wound suffered in The Nearest Exit and looking forward to his future. With the destruction of The Tourists network he is unemployed. After years of roaming the world he is ready for routine. He has had enough of killing and Bzyantine spy plots. He wants to live a normal life with his wife, Tina, and daughter, Stephanie.

Unfortunately, his friend and former director of The Tourists, Alan Drummond, cannot abide that his department has disappeared with the deaths of 33 Tourists a mere 60 days after he took over. A man of high self esteem, even arrogant, Drummond cannot accept he presided over the catastrophe. He thirsts for revenge against Xin Zhu, the Communist Chinese intelligence officer who masterminded the plot to eliminate The Tourists.

Milo can live with Xin Zhu's actions. While they almost caused his death and killed colleagues Milo, a field operative, understands Xin Zhu was better at carrying out his plans than the Americans who had equally plotted against him. Drummond, the administrator, has lost his objectivity and is consumed by hate.

Drummond tries and fails to enlist Milo in his quest to exact vengeance on Xin Zhu. After Milo refuses Drummond forces Milo to take part by using an old alias of Milo when Drummond disappears in England.

As an angry Milo reaches out to past intelligence contacts he must deal with the security of his family. Unlike most spy novels Milo and Drummond are married and Milo has a child. Before he ventures back into the intelligence world Milo must know his family is protected. The existence of families for all the major characters adds tension and credibility to the plot.

It is such a swirling combination of intelligence agencies that Milo struggles to make sense of what each of them is doing with regard to Drummond.

In America the CIA may or may not have re-activated The Tourist department. The Homeland Security Department is pursuing its own aims.

Xin Zhu continues his own schemes. He is not passively waiting for Drummond to attack him.

Milo's father, Yvegeny Primakov continues to run a secret spy agency within the United Nations.

In Germany, Erika Schwartz, has been promoted to a top position in German security services.

Lastly, Drummond has cobbled together a team of the surviving Tourists.

Steinhauer is an excellent craftsman driving the story forward amidst all the competing interests while not making it too complex to follow for the reader.

Steinhauer is a rare writer to not demonize opposing spymasters and their agents. They are real people.

The book is an evocation of the intelligence world as "The Great Game" set out in Rudyard Kipling's classic, Kim.

The book raises the morality behind killing in the intelligence world. Are plans to kill for personal motives justified? Is it worse to kill agents of an avowed enemy for personal rather than state reasons? What happens to intelligence communities when killing becomes personal? It is a frightening concept to have intelligence masters unleashing killers to achieve personal goals.

Going personal confounds the intelligence world. Operatives and agencies understand losses in pursuing goals on behalf of their countries but if the killing is personal lives are being taken arbitrarily.

We are a long way from the Cold War simplicity of Democracy versus Communism. We live in a far murkier world. I was reminded of Alan Furst's great pre-WW II spy novels where there are multiple European agencies operating in the shadows.

Steinhauer creates great characters and strong plots. I look forward to his next book. (Feb. 22/13)
Links to my reviews of the first two books in the series are (2009) - The Tourist; (2010) - The Nearest Exit.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte (Part II)

Stan took this lovely cover photo in his
living room
Earlier this week I had Part I of a post on an interview with Alaskan author, Stan Jones, after noticing the similarities between his sleuth, Nathan Active, and Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte from Australia. This post covers the remaining questions and answers with Stan and abit of information on the 5th book in the series.

Continuing the Questions and Answers with Stan:

3.) Each series effectively uses vast empty lands and coasts. Upfield worked in the Australian interior including a job riding the longest fence in the world, a rabbit fence. The biography on your website says:

I landed Bush planes on the sea ice, drove snowmachines over the tundra, hunted moose and caribou, and once helped paddle a sealskin umiaq in pursuit of a bowhead whale on the Chukchi Sea off Point Hope.

What caused you to make geography such an important part of the series?

Having lived in the region in which Chukchi is located in all seasons, Stan said he experienced how the land is terrifying, beautiful and harsh. A land that can always kill you. It always makes an impression.

4.) Both your books and those of Upfield raise issues of indigenous culture being forced to change by a dominant white culture. Why did you choose to explore such issues?

When he resided along the northwest coast, Stan saw how difficult and how much stress was experienced by the Inupiat people in adapting to white culture.

He said Kotzebue was “wet” when he was there and he saw the devastation in the community caused by alcohol.

Stan further mentioned The Anchorage Daily News, the newspaper for which he worked won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for its story, People in Peril, about indigenous people in Alaska and their high rate of suicide.

5.) Upfield sought to improve the pubic image of indigenous Australians through the charismatic and very capable Bony. Upfield said in a letter:

I set out to write a readable book having much aboriginal law centred around the ancient boning of a human being. The more anthropologists of repute study the Australian abo. the further they are mystified by the origin of the race, and the more clearly do they come to think that the race was highly developed when the white and yellow races were human gorillas. I know that the general idea of the abos., based on the Bulletin drawings and jokes is that they are half-wits, and here I have tried to make people understand that the reverse is the truth.

Nathan is certainly a strong character. If Alaska is like my home province of Saskatchewan there remain lots of people with attitudes to indigenous peoples. Are you equally hoping to improve the image of indigenous Alaskans through Nathan’s success as a State Trooper?

Stan was born in Anchorage, spent a few years away from Alaska, and returned to the state when he was 12.

When he was growing up there were stereotypes of indigenous Alaskans as primitive uneducated people. He said there was a famous sign on an Anchorage bar saying “No natives or dogs”.

Many white people were contemptuous of indigenous people and they in turn resented white residents of the state.

With the passing of The Land Claims Act about 40 years ago millions of acres were turned over to indigenous people and communities have used the land to gain economic clout. Stan said attitudes change when there is money.

Stan also feels race is less of an identity issue in the state partially because there are more and more Alaskans of mixed blood living in Alaska.

Thank you for considering my questions.

I look forward to reading Village of the Ghost Bears, the 4th book in the series.

(Good news. Stan said he is working on another Nathan Active book. It will feature a character based on a prominent current Alaskan.)

Best wishes.

Bill Selnes

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte (Part I)

When I was in Hawaii last month I wrote to Alaskan author, Stan Jones, asking some questions concerning his character, Nathan Active, and Arthur Upfield’s sleuth, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte. Stan said he tends to go too long and take too much time in responding in writing so we talked over the phone after I was back in Saskatchewan. I made notes of his answers during the call. In this post I have part of my original letter and then Stan’s answers in bold. Tonight has the first half of the Q & A. The second half will be posted on Friday.
Haliewa, Hawaii
February 9, 2013

Dear Stan,

While on vacation in Hawaii I have just finished reading Frozen Sun. I enjoyed the book.

Since last writing to you I started a blog called Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. Tomorrow I am planning to post a review of Frozen Sun. Occasionally I post Q & A with authors. If you have the time I would ask that you answer a few questions. I will post the questions and answers on the blog.

As I read a third book in your Nathan Active series I started thinking about mysteries with indigenous sleuths. I have read some mysteries featuring indigenous lead characters such as Tony Hillerman’s series featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn from the Navajo tribe, Adrian Hyland’s books with aborigine Emily Tempest, Thomas Perry’s series with Jane Whitefield from the Senecas of New York State and Scott Young’s mysteries with Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak who is an Inuit from the NWT.

Yet the character that came to mind the most was Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte from the Australian series by Arthur W. Upfield. There are some immediate similarities between Bony and Nathan. Each has an indigenous mother and a white father. Both were raised to be white. They remain closely connected with their indigenous roots in the respective series.

Because of these connections I would like to ask:

1.) Had you read any of the Bony series before creating Nathan? Hillerman said he owed a debt to the Bony books.

He had not read any of the Bony series before writing the first in the Active series. After being told about Bony he read one of the book’s in the Bony series.

2.) Nathan is conflicted over his adoption. Bony lost his mother while he was a baby. What led you to having Nathan raised by a white family rather than adopted by his mother’s extended indigenous family?

Stan provided several reasons (they are not ranked in importance):

            a.) He looks for drama that would torture his

    b.) It produced family drama by allowing Stan to
    send Nathan back to Chukchi where his birth
    mother, Martha Active Johnson, resides;

           c.) While he observed local Inupiat culture when
           he resided in Kotzebue, the inspiration for
          Chukchi, he did not feel, as a white author, he
          could write an investigator who was fully Inupiat.
          He thought it better to have his sleuth part white
          and part Inupiat; and,

  d.) All of the books in the series feature the
  interface of Inupiat and white cultures.
My reviews of Stan's books and a profile can be found at White Sky, Black IceShaman PassFrozen Sun; and "J" is for Stan Jones

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Murder of Crows by David Rotenberg

13. – 702.) A Murder of Crows by David Rotenberg – The second book in The Junction Chronicles triology starts with Decker Roberts, a synsasthete, in Las Vegas applying his special talent of being able to tell if someone is telling the truth.

In upper New York State Ancaster University is getting ready for spring graduation. The elite private university is science focused. Its graduates will become leading scientists in America.

In Washington the NSA (National Security Agency) is keeping a close eye on Roberts as they plot how they can use him in the battle against terrorism. Special Agent Yslan Hicks is continuing her program monitoring synaesthetes.

Crazy Eddie, Roberts computer genius friend, and Roberts share a great loss. Each is separated from their only child. Roberts remains estranged from his son, Seth. Crazy Eddie is constantly scheming on how to gain custody of his daughter.

At Ancaster Assistant Professor Neil Frost is a dangerous man. He is aggravated by a university system that pays him modestly and ever more frustrated at being denied a full professorship. In his fury he contemplates a terrible act of violence.

There is another angry man on campus. Janitor Walter Jones considers himself the equal or better of anyone at the university. He deeply resents the sense of superiority in the students and faculty and is ready to listen to a wicked idea of Frost.

Bombs explode at the graduation ceremony killing over 200 of the faculty and graduating students. It is a chilling, frighteningly real event. Two emotionally unstable men have committed mass murder.

All the security forces of the United States, led by the NSA, descend upon Ancaster. The Agency reaches out all the way to Africa to get Roberts. They want his special talent evaluating the truth of hundreds of video statements.

Immediately they learn the limitations of Roberts’ gift. He can determine if someone is not telling the truth. He cannot determine if a person is lying. He cannot tell if an untruth is deliberate. With almost everyone not telling the truth about something it is hard to determine who may have been involved.

Roberts does consider why people make statements. Roberts draws on his primary job of teaching actors. He emphasizes to actors that to be a good actor it is not enough to learn the lines well. A skilled actor works to understand what led the character to say those words.

Joining Roberts is another synasthete. Her gift complements Roberts. When they work together there are elements of the supernatural. As with the first book the supernatural fits rather than detracts from the book.

The strength of the book is in the fascinating characters of the synaesthetes. Their special talents make them among the most unusal of investigators.

As with the first book, I found the plot disjointed at times. Still it flows well. I was drawn through the book.

It would be a hard book to read without having read The Placebo Effect, the first book. A Murder of Crows is a true second book in a triology. It proceeds directly into the new plot with not a lot of back story.

I did miss that little of the story is in Canada. Where the first book moved between Canada and  the United States this book is an American story. I hope the third book returns to Canada.
The title is brilliantly related to the plot. I will now associate crows with university graduations.

I am looking forward to the final book. Rotenberg has created a unique form of sleuth in Roberts. I say “form” for, while he is not seeking to solve the crime, it could not be resolved without him.
I received an advance reader copy of the book from Simon & Schuster. More information on the book can be found at http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Murder-of-Crows/David-Rotenberg/9781439170137.

David Rotenberg’s website is http://www.davidrotenberg.com/.

A trailer on the book can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU6WrYvlDOc.

This review is part of the blogger tour for the book organized by Simon & Schuster. It will be published on March 19.
My past posts on The Placebo Effect and Q & A with the author, including information on synasethetes, are The Placebo EffectQuestions and Answers with David Rotenberg and Thought on Questions and Answers with David
A Murder of Crows is my 7th book read in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge at the Book Mine Set blog.