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, June 30, 2013

"M" is for Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen (1992)

22. – 711.) Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen (1992) – It is interesting to go back to read an early book in a two decade series. Murder at the Mendel is the second Joanne Kilbourn book. It is the only book in the series where Joanne leaves Regina for another Saskatchewan city and solves a series of murders. Joanne goes to Saskatoon to teach Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan for a year.
Joanne’s childhood friend, Sally Love, has stirred up equal amounts of excitement and controversy with a mural she has painted for the Mendel Art Gallery. The fresco features 100 portrayals of genitalia from the lovers of her life. While Love is undoubtedly a skilled artist the subject matter has stirred strong emotions. There are protests outside the gallery that the fresco should be removed as pornographic.

I was led to wonder what the reaction would be two decades later to a painting of sexual organs being permanently and prominently displayed in a public gallery. I expect there would still be significant controversy. I think there would be less outcry if the artist were a woman rather than a man.

As she goes to Saskatoon Joanne has adjusted to the loss of her husband and her children are doing well. She deals with the issues faced by all parents. Her oldest daughter, Mieka, wants to quit university to open a catering business with her fiancé.

Sally continues to live a turbulent lifestyle. Sally cares little about a conventional life even in her mid-40’s. The beautiful artist has recently left her marriage with Stuart Lachlan, the director of the Mendel, to go to New Mexico with a 17 year old boy. While off on her fling her 4 year old daughter, Taylor, has stayed with Stuart.  Sally's mother, Nina, came from Toronto to help take care of Taylor.

Joanne has had a relationship with Sally since they were children. When the girls were in their mid-teens Sally’s father, Desmond, died from poison after struggling with the aftermath of a stroke. Sally and Nina barely survived the same poison. Sally left shortly after and never responded to Joanne’s letters. Joanne has remained puzzled and troubled about their relationship.

Joanne has always been close to Nina. Joanne had a bad relationship with her mother and. Nina has been a great support for Joanne

Sally continues to casually strew chaos in her wake. She abruptly sells her gallery, womanwork, without even informing her longtime friend and employee, Clea Poole. Sally’s action leaves Clea devastated.

With Christmas near it is a cold Saskatchewan winter. On a bitter night Clea and a protester are murdered at the Mendel. Sally is a leading suspect.

Joanne works to figure out what happened while carrying on her busy personal and professional life.

The relationships between the characters are complex and intriguing. The mystery works it way amidst their personal lives.

My only regret is in the resolution which could be detected long before the ending.

I found I enjoyed the book as much this year as I enjoyed it in the early 1990’s. To truly savour the series it is best read in order so you can appreciate how Joanne and her family mature.
Murder at the Mendel is my post for "M" in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme being hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

My connection to the book is the setting in Saskatchewan. The Mendel is a real art gallery which has had a lovely setting on the South Saskatchewan River in the heart of Saskatoon.

It is also the 13th book I have read in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at his Book Mine Set blog. On the last day of the Challenge I have completed the last book needed. I thank John Mutford for continuing this Challenge which has promoted the reading of Canadian authors all around the world.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stiffed by Rob Kitchin

Stiffed by Rob Kitchin – Tadhg Maguire, an Irish newcomer to America, has a wakeup to remember. After falling into bed drunk he painfully wakens in the morning thinking his girlfriend, Kathy, is snuggled against him. His mind clears instantly when he realizes it is the huge dead body of Tony Marino, a local mobster in Carrick Springs. His confusion over what is going on is exacerbated when Kathy hits him with a lamp, stamps out an erection and knocks him out with a powerful swing of the lamp. On awakening again he tries to figure out what to do with a body in his bed.

The screwball noir book is well under way. Tadhg’s experience reminded me of another screwball character, Corporal Renfrew of the Mounted. Canadian comedian Dave Broadfoot had a signature line for his character Renfrew of the RCMP after Renfrew was invariably knocked out in an investigation. Broadfoot would intone "When I regained consciousness..."

Doubtful the police can help especially with regard to the mobster’s boss, Aldo Pirelli, Tadhg enlists the help of his best friend, Jason Choi, to help dispose of the body leading to the phrase for which the book will best be remembered:

            Friends help you move …. true friends help you move the

After getting Marino’s body Tadhg is doing some cleaning when two intruders break in to his home. Barely breathing he keeps carefully hidden. After one of them, Junior, is killed by the other Tadhg now has a second body in his house.

Slipping down the street to the home of his best friend, Jason, he tries to explain why there is a second body in his house.

Another friend, Annabelle Levy, joins them in the effort at body disposal.

Having wrapped up the bodies they call on their friend, Paavo Poukkanen, to bring his van so they can dispose of the bodies.

Riotous complications keep ensuing with every decision leading to more trouble.

Stiffed is a fun book. No reader will be intellectually challenged. There are no complex troubled characters but there is enough reality to the plot. It is a literary romp to be enjoyed at a breathneck pace. Readers will enjoy and identify with Tadhg’s very, very, very, very bad day.

While I abhor the term “beach reading” it would be a good book to take on summer vacation. You are bound to chuckle while reading it.

I thank the author and fellow blogger for sending me a copy of the book. I am glad I read the book. It is about as different a work a fiction as possible from the grim The Rule Book, an earlier book of Rob, I read this year. Rob has a flair for farce. (June 25/13)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When the Saints Go Marching In by Anthony Bidulka

29. – 718.) When the Saints Go Marching In by Anthony Bidulka – Adam Saint is a Canadian Disaster Recovery Agent. When trouble finds Canadians outside Canada Saint or another agent is dispatched by the Canadian Government’s CDRA (Canadian Disaster Recover Agency) to deal with the situation. CDRA is a part of the International Intelligence Agency’s (IIA) Canadian operations.

One of the passengers killed in a Siberian plane crash is Canada’s Governor General. With Saint just back from another mission the CDRA sends a senior official, Geoffrey Krazinski, to Russia. The plot quickens when he is murdered but the death is reported as accidental.

Back in Canada Saint is shocked by the news and convinces, actually coerces, his superiors to let him to go to Russia. On Saint’s arrival he finds General-polkovnik Develchko demanding he be satisfied with a quick look around and then return to Canada.

The stubborn Saint is not a man to be brushed aside. He is gathering information when suddenly attacked.  He persists and reaches the crash site but finds it sanitized and returns to Canada

Back in Canada Saint, unhappy with the direction of the Agency and having received dire medical news resigns and heads home to the family farm just south of Saskatoon.

Up to this point in the story Anthony has been writing a rather conventional thriller with a classically self-centred hero.

Saint is much too conscious of his appearance and possessions. Every item he owns must carry a prestigious brand name. When I heard Anthony speak of the book last year this was not the hero in my mind. How can this shallow man be from Saskatchewan? Saint reminded me of such cardboard heroes as Dr. Jonathan Ransom in Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reichs. Had Anthony decided to go for a Hollywood style bestseller?

When Saint returns to Saskatchewan he shifts from the international agent to the prodigal farm son. He sheds his brand name apparel for work wear and starts helping his Dad out on the farm.

He is startled to find his 19year old nephew, Anatole, lives with his grandfather while carrying on a home based worldwide computer business.

Almost as surprising to Saint is that his younger sister, Alexandra, with a self-destructive life history is turning herself into a business woman even if her venture into capitalism is a low class bar.

Saint assesses his life and future back on the farm. Because of his personality and experiences he will not  take over the family farm. At the same time he recognizes his fixation on career has left his family relationships in tatters. For Saskatchewan, he has returned so rarely they barely know him and, in Ontario, his wife is divorcing him and his son is distant.

Trying not to spoil the story by going into details I will say Saint is drawn into a quest that involves the CDRA. The journey requires some suspension of disbelief. At one point I thought Anthony was asking too much suspension but the story remains credible.

The Saint of the second half is the hero I expect from Saskatchewan. While never humble he is more modest and self-effacing and far from the Hollywood hero.

I was glad the story did not stay in Russia, Ontario and other distant locations. It would have been too much the generic thriller. The key setting is Saskatchewan and Anthony does a good job of evoking life on the farm.

Part of the book involves towns in rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Anthony effectively describes the real life communities.

Saint is a new form of agent. I do not know any other fictional disaster recovery agents. It does allow Anthony to incorporate almost any location into the plot.

It is a good book. I think the next in the series will be better as Anthony develops Saint as a character and gets more accustomed to the thriller genre. When the Saints Go Marching In is far different from the mysteries of Russell Quant.

Anthony is getting more recognition as a writer. When I returned to Toronto from our cruise there was on prominent display in the airport bookstore copies of When the Saints Go Marching In.

I appreciate Anthony providing me with a copy of the book. (June 20/13)
When the Saints Go Marching In is the 12th book of 13 I have read in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

“L” is for Real Legal Fiction

While readers know legal fiction as books involving lawyers and courts there are real legal fictions used every day around the world. My post this week for “L” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog Mysteries in Paradise is about actual legal fiction.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines legal fictions as follows:

legal fiction,  a rule assuming as true something that is clearly false. A fiction is often used to get around the provisions of constitutions and legal codes that legislators are hesitant to change or to encumber with specific limitations. Thus, when a legislature has no legal power to sit beyond a certain midnight but has five hours more of work still to do, it is easier to turn back the official clock from time to time than it is to change the law or constitution.

The most common legal fiction is a corporation. At law a coporation is a form of legal person able to own property, transact business, be a party in court actions and face criminal charges. It is a legal fiction as a corporation is not a living person. Corporations were deemed persons by courts so that creditors could obtain and collect judgments agains them.

Adoption is a legal fiction. When a person or a couple adopt a child that child becomes their child. The creation of the new child is a legal fiction. The adopted child is not their biological child. They have not conceived the child. I understand adoption was created in ancient Rome to solve the problem of a family needed a male heir but lacking a male heir.

The doctrine of survival or presumption of survivorship in a common disaster is a legal fiction. Most commonly it was applied in a situation when a married couple are killed and it was not possible to determine which one was the first in time to die. By survivorship it was deemed that the younger was the survivor. The principle can be of great importance in determining what happens to an estate. To clarify what is to happen many wills have a clause that provides directions if the testator, the maker of the will, and their spouse die in a common accident. Where the principle still exists, it can be rebutted by evidence that one of the deceased lived longer than the other deceased.

In another estate situation if a beneficiary renounces, gives up a bequest, a legal fiction takes place. The beneficiary is deemed to have predeceased the maker of the will.

A controversial legal fiction has been the principle of terra nullius which held there were no property rights in land prior to European colonization. The concept was used by European nations to justify their creation of empires outside Europe. In the Mabo case in Australia the concept was rejected by the courts.

More obscure and complex legal fictions existed in English law in the past as Courts sought to do justice. An example is recounted by Frederick Schauer from the University of Virginia Law School in his 2011 article, Legal Fictions Revisited, which can be found on the Social Science Research Network at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1904555:

Thus we see the classic example of Mostyn v. Fabrigas, decided by the King’s Bench court in 1774.32 Fabrigas, a resident of the Mediterranean island of Minorca then occupied and controlled by England, was imprisoned by Mostyn at the time the governor of the island. Because no suit could be brought against Mostyn in Minorca without the approval of the governor, and because the governor was the defendant in the very lawsuit Fabrigas wished to pursue, Fabrigas sued instead in the Court of Common Pleas in London for trespass and false imprisonment, and proceeded to win a jury verdict of 3000 pounds. On appeal, Mostyn claimed, correctly, that the trial court had been granted jurisdiction only in cases brought by residents of London, but Lord Mansfield, recognizing that denying jurisdiction here would leave someone who was plainly wronged without a legal remedy, concluded that Minorca was part of London for purposes of this action. That conclusion was plainly false and equally plainly produced a just result, and thus Mostyn v. Fabrigas represents the paradigmatic example of using a fiction to achieve what might in earlier days have been done through the vehicle of equity.

I do not believe I have read a work of legal fiction featuring a legal fiction. It is easy to get lost in the abstract world of legal fictions. In the end legal fictions are just as untrue as legal fiction but their acceptance at law makes the unreal to be real.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"K" is for In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt

For this week's entry for "K" in The Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, I am posting a review.
7. - 373.) In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt – Morgan Siler is a prospering mega-law firm in Washington. New associate, Mark Clayton, is overwhelmed with requests from the partners. He is drawn into dealing with a pro bono death penalty appeal that has no chance of success. Scorched earth litigator, Harold Fineman, calls on him to assist in the defence of a class action arising out of a dreadful explosion at a chemical storage plant in rural Texas which killed dozens of people. The firm history is told through the current
managing partner, Peter Morgan, a cool and calculating patrician. An associate, Katja Phillips, floats through the firm. An associate, Walker Elliott, a former Supreme Court clerk illustrates the challenges of those who see the pure principles that guide the law but struggle with judges bending them as they try to achieve a just result. The author manages to make a difficult topic – securitzation of assets – understandable. The pace of the book picks up as Clayton copes with trying to save a death row inmate and with the document review of huge numbers of corporate documents in the class action. I wish the author would follow the firm in a series of novels but it appears to stand alone. Excellent. Hardcover (Jan. 25/07)

I connect with the book as a lawyer whose work has also included criminal defence and class actions. I would not want to be on the defence side of the class action described in the book.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton

27. – 716.) The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton – In her second adventure Toronto based accountant, Ava Lee, is called by her “Uncle” from Hong Kong. The wealthy Ordonez family from the Phillippines want to hire them to retrieve over $50,000,000. 

Ava meets Uncle at the Hong Kong Airport and they travel together to meet Chang Wang (the “Sledgehammer”) and Tommy Ordonez (the “Knife”). Ordonez is a Chinoy, a Chinese person using a Flipino name.  

As the nicknames suggest they are hard men angry over the $50 million which has been taken from them through a land fraud in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

Tommy’s brother, Philip Chew, is nominally in charge of their Canadian operations though he has little real power. Any transaction over $5 million must be approved by Tommy. 

Philip has found a way around the limit by structuring a series of land purchases to have individual deals under $5 million. His development plan was to have a new golf course with an adjancent residential community. Documents show they have purchased 1,600 acres near Kelowna through Kelowna Valley Developments (KVD), a local company owned by Jim Cousins. 

The Canadian auditor, Deloitte, is uncomfortable with the manipulation of the investment limit and checks the records at the Kelowna Land Registry Office. They find no titles registered to KVD. The purchase and titles have been forged.

As a lawyer the means of the fraud were possible but not quite credible. The land titles system in B.C. is electronically based and no one needs to travel to an office to examine titles. More improbably, there is no mention in the story of realtors and lawyers. Such a series of transactions would proceed through realtors and transfers would be handled by lawyers. Even if KVD were handling the transactions the corporate lawyers would have been dealing with KVD”s counsel not simply handing money over to KVD. Readers who are not lawyers will have no quibbles with the method of fraud. 

A private detective had been ineffective. Ava, drawing on the worldwide Chinese contacts of herself and Uncle starts tracing the money. 

She determines the money has gone through David (the “Disciple”) Douglas, a famous Las Vegas poker player. Ava applies all her powers of persuasion to the Disciple. 

During the process she again needs to use her skills in bak mei, a Chinese martial art. In her willingness to use violence Ava reminds me of another salvage expert, Travis McGee, though their fees are 30% rather than McGee’s 50% of funds recovered. 

The book explores the powerful addiction of gambling. Financial disaster can occur within only a few months for an addicted gambler. As I have seen while practicing law, no addiction leads faster to the destruction of the addicted. Drugs and alcohol will cause deterioration in your health but usually over years. Gambling can bring ruin before friends and family recognize there is a problem. 

Ava joins Jill Edmondon’s sleuth, Sasha Jackson, also Toronto based, as Canada’s tough girls. As with most Canadian sleuths they do not tote guns routinely but they can be as hard as needed for the case.

It is a jet age thriller as Ava moves swiftly around the world after the money. She travels from Toronto to Hong Kong to Manila to Vancouver to Victoria to Las Vegas to London to Toronto. With every flight in business class and every stay at a 5 star hotel her expenses require multi-million dollar recoveries. 

Hamilton writes smoothly flowing narratives. It is an entertaining contemporary thriller. I acknowledge that I find the pursuit of $50,000,000 more interesting than chasing $50,000.  

Ava continues to change the image of accountants. (May 6/13)
I have now reached 11 books read of 13 in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Muford at the Book Mine Set blog.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Longmire T.V. Series on the A & E Network

Monday night I watched an episode of Longmire. It is a television series on the A & E Network based on the Sheriff Walt Longmire series of mysteries by Craig Johnson which are set in Absaroka County of Wyoming. It is one of my favorite contemporary mystery series. On Sunday I had posted a review of As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson. It is the 8th book in the series.  

In watching a T.V. series for which I have read a book or books I find myself comparing the film version against the books. I try to simply view the series on its own merits but it never happens that way.

My copy of As the Crow Flies had a sticker referring to the “hit” T.V. series. As with all blurbs I automatically think it is hyperbole until proven to the contrary.

I have not often found American T.V. series or movies cast actors who fit my images of the primary characters. Thus my perceptions of Longmire are initially skewed.

I was happy with A & E chosing Robert Taylor to be Sheriff Longmire. He is big enough and weathered enough to be the Sheriff. While Taylor seems a touch young to play a character who served in the American Army in Vietnam his personality on the show is the understated Western American of the books. He is articulate but not given to speeches. I would never have guessed Taylor grew up in Australia.

Deputy Victoria Moretti, played by Katee Sackhoff, has the right size and spirit for the role but I would not know she is a transplant from Philadelphia to rural Wyoming. Her uniform is worn more casually than I would expect from the book. Her language has been cleaned up from print to screen.

Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, is played by Lou Diamond Phillips. In last night’s episode his participation in the story was marginal. Of all the characters he was not my image of Henry. He does not the heft and size of Henry in the books. Fortunately, while one-half of his family background is Filipino he is one quarter Cherokee. I think it is important that the producers chose an actor with an Indian heritage to play the major role of Henry.

While I wish they had filmed in Wyoming rather than New Mexico the landscape was given an appropriate emphasis in the show. I remain puzzled about the producers not going to the area where the series is set to film the episodes.

The episode dealt with the investigation of the death of a Basque sheepherder. In the book, Death Without Company, there is a death involving a Basque sheepherding family but the T.V. episode did not follow the book’s plot.

The investigation was a team effort with the Sheriff leading his Department.

The episode had a nice pace unlike the frantic action of most American crime shows I have sampled in recent years. I was grateful the body count was low and the emphasis was on solving the crime.

There was less time spent on the personal relationships of the characters than in the books. I think the constraints of a one hour show, significantly shortened by an abundance of commercials, makes it harder to develop characters. I was favourably reminded of British series I have watched which do not have a thrill a minute approach.

I will be watching again next week. I believe my preoccupation with comparing book and television series has been satisfied and I can just watch the series. It is worth viewing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

“J” is for As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson

“J” is for As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson – I was glad to see Sheriff Walt Longmire back to solving a crime in As the Crow Flies. In the previous book Hell is Empty he had been on a single minded mountain quest in mid-winter to capture escaped criminals. Still, As the Crow Flies is a departure from earlier mysteries in the series set in Absaroka County. Sheriff Walt is caught in up murder on the reserve of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. 

This post will be my entry for the letter “J” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme being hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. 

Initially Walt is out on the reserve with his good friend, Henry Standing Bear, because a problem has developed with regard to the location on the reserve booked for the wedding of his daughter, Cady, to her Philadelphia fiancée.  

The tribe’s Dull Knife College has now scheduled a language immersion event for the same time. Negotiations with Chief Lonnie Little Bird falter when he advises Walt and Henry that the decision actually rests with the College librarian who is his sister, Arbutis.  

Chief Lonnie says he will not mess with her. He describes Arbutis as afflicted with Indian Alzheimer’s: 

            That’s where you forget everything except the grudges. 

Walt and Henry flinch at taking on the formidable Arbutis. They are caught between two very strong willed women. 

Before they can decide how to tackle Arbutis they are stopped by the new Tribal Police Chief, Lolo Long. She is unhappy with the state of Henry’s ancient truck, Rezdawg, and his casual regard for traffic laws.  

While she is definitely unimpressed by Walt, she creates a strong impression on him: 

She had high wide cheekbones and a strong jaw that balanced the features framed in the blue-black hair that was braided to her elbows. Late twenties, she was wearing black jeans, a Tribal Police Uniform shirt, black ropers, and a matching gun belt with a very large caliber Smith & Wesson N-frame revolver banging against her hip. 

She looked like one of those ultimate warriors who can step out on the sidewalk and run a marathon at the drop of a war bonnet.  

Her aggressive manner and strict enforcement of all laws worry Walt. She is too officious and bound to create resentment that will inevitably turn violent. She is still deeply affected by her service with the American army in Iraq. 

Her view of Walt softens slightly when a young Indian woman dies and the inquiry into her death becomes a murder investigation. Walt helps her fend off the FBI’s swift attempt to take over the investigation. She realizes she is beyond her experience in dealing with murder. 

While Walt is helping Lolo he is still trying to organize the wedding with Henry. The big powerful men are ill-equipped to be wedding planners. 

The murder investigation proceeds on the reservation. The story provides the best look at a contemporary Western American Indian reservation since I read one of Tony Hillerman’s books featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. 

Life is hard on the reservation. Most of the people are very poor. Johnson does not dwell on their problems but lets those issues appear through describing their lives. 

As does Stan Jones he captures the unique humour of indigenous North Americans. They have a clever sardonic manner. 

Herbert His Good Horse, reserve radio morning personality, has developed a signature phrase known to all: 

            Stay calm, have courage and wait for the signs. 

It is a mystery in which the murder and the investigation and the solution are deeply connected to the reservation and its people. As the Crow Flies fits the setting. While I raced through Hell is Empty I prefer As the Crow Flies. I have no reservations, no Indian irony intended, about this book. It is a worthy addition to the series. (June 2/13)
My connection to the book comes from my legal representation of Saskatchewan Indian First Nations on land claims issues going back to the 19th Century. I have visited reserves and learned of their history as Walt has been taught the story of the Cheyenne.

Friday, June 7, 2013

“I” is for The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

“I” is for The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – It has been over two decades since I read Father Brown stories. I found myself as charmed this summer as I was when I read them the first time. The Innocence of Father Brown is my “I” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

I remain attracted to the “very short Roman Catholic priest” with "a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling, he had eyes as empty as the North Sea” whose “quaint blending of Essex flatness with saintly simplicity continuously amused the Frenchman”. I relish that “everything seemed undistinguished about the priest”.

In appearance Father Brown is the antithesis of his contemporary Sherlock Holmes. Watson describes Holmes in A Study in Scarlet:

His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer.  In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller.  His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision.  His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.  His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments."

Their differences extend to their lives and beliefs.

Holmes is a commited city dweller. Who (except maybe for Laurie R. King) could see him residing anywhere but London? Father Brown is a rural cleric who is comfortable in the city but at home in the country.

No one would even think of Holmes becoming a member of a church. I think it doubtful he believed in God. Father Brown is a devout man who lives his faith.

Only in their brilliant minds and powers of observation are Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes alike.

Father Brown demonstrates that knowledge of crime and human life is not limited to sleuths such as the worldly Holmes. In his parishes, between quietly watching people and what he learns from his parishioners, especially in the confessional, Father Brown has gained a deep understanding of crime. In The Innocence of Father Brown the talents of the good Father are evident.

In The Blue Cross the unassuming Father Brown dupes the famed criminal, Flambeau. While the cocky criminal believes he is setting up the priest to steal a valuable Cross it is Father Brown who is manipulating him. The clever means by which Father Brown leaves a trail, his deft handling of the Cross using information gained from criminals and his penetration of Flambeau’s disguise leave Flambeau and the pursuing policeman, Valentin, bowing to Father Brown.

In The Queer Feet his powers of deduction are remarkable with regard to different sounds made by the same person walking outside the room in which he is writing.

Father Brown’s analysis of crime should be remembered by crime writers as they plan their plots:

“A crime,” he said slowly, “is like any other work of art. Don’t look surprised; crimes are by no means the only works of art that come from an infernal workshop. But every work of art, divine or diabolic, has one indispensable mark – I mean, that the centre of it is simple, however much the fulfilment may be complicated.”

I think many readers relate to Father Brown, as I do, because of his average appearance and clever mind. I admire that Father Brown defeats criminals armed only with that mind.

I am planning to continue reading more of the 51 Father Brown stories.
My connections with Father Brown come from a shared Catholic faith. In Father Brown I see many of the traits of Catholic priests that I have known during my life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist

Yesterday the University of Alabama and the American Bar Association Journal released the shortlist for 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

The three finalists this year are:

1.) The Wrong Man by David Ellis;

2.) Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein; and,

3.) Defending Jacob by William Landay.

I am not having a good year for reading on shortlists. I had not read any of the books on the shortlists for the Canadian Arthur Ellis Awards. For the Petrona Award I had read but one of the four books. Once again I have not read any of the books on the shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize. I regret to say I have not read books by any of the shortlist trio.

More information on the books can be found at http://www.law.ua.edu/programs/harper-lee-prize-for-legal-fiction/.

The Selection Committee for the 2013 prize includes:

1.) Michael Connelly, author of The Lincoln Lawyer and winner of the 2012 Harper Lee Prize;
2.) Katie Couric, former CBS News anchor, now host of the syndicated talk show “Katie;”
3.) Morris Dees, Founder and Chief Trial Attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center;
4.) Dr. Sharon Malone, Physician and sister of the late Vivian Malone Jones, one of the first African-American students at the University of Alabama; and,
5.) Richard North Patterson, best selling author of Fall from Grace.
The American Bar Association Journal at  
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/help_pick_the_best_legal_novel_of_the_year_vote_for_one_of_three_harper_lee/ is inviting readers to help pick the winner by voting on which of the books they consider the best.

After the 2011 Prize was won by John Grisham and the 2012 Prize by Michael Connelly I am glad this year lesser known writers of legal fiction comprise the shortlist. I hoped the Prize would only be awarded to the most prominent writers of legal fiction. I know that I am going to look for the books. Because of last year’s shortlist I read Murder One by Robert Dugoni.

The 2013 winner will be announced on July 16.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mission Song by John Le Carre

45. - 455.) Mission Song by John Le Carre – Salvo, a Congolese zebra (white father and black mother) in London, is a skilled linguist and interpreter. He can speak a pack of languages starting with English, French and Swahili and including a variety from the Congo. The English Secret Service hires him to translate at a meeting between a new messianic leader for the Eastern Congo and representatives of three groups within the area. As Salvo is leaving London his marriage is dissolving and a new love affair commencing. At the conference Salvo skillfully handles his official translations and listening to secret recordings of private conversations. When he listens to some private conversations to which he should not have listened, he learns the official purpose of a grand reconciliation of the region under a charismatic leader is a façade for yet another grab at the valuable mineral resources. Salvo is an idealist who seeks to prevent yet another injustice perpetrated on his homeland by greedy foreigners. I feared as bleak and bitter an ending as the The Constant Gardner or Absolute Friends. Salvo is dealt with more discreetly by the Establishment. Salvo is another amazing character. Le Carre is such a master at creating fascinating characters. It was a good but not great book. (Oct. 28/08)
Since reading this book the Congo has continued to be in conflict. Little has changed. If anything real life in the Congo is more bizarre than any author could credibly concoct.