About Me

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do You Watch and Read Fictional Crime Stories Looking for Errors?

I said in my review of The Missing File by D.A. Mishani that were references to crime fiction in the book.

Mishani's Israeli detective Avraham Avraham, says he enjoys reading crime novels and watching crime movies and television series so he can “prove the detectives wrong”.

Avraham continues on his motive:

With every crime novel I read, I conduct my own investigation and prove that the detective in the book is mistaken, or else deliberately misleads the readers, and that the true solution is not the one he presents.

As his example Avraham claims that Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles “frames one of the characters who is completely innocent”.

What Avraham and his creator, Mishani, do not disclose is why Poirot would frame a character which I consider unfair to Poirot and his creator, Agatha Christie. If you are going to defame one of the most famous fictional detectives at least provide the basis for your bold statement.

At the same time Mishani is describing a process I go through with in reading and watching legal mysteries though not to prove the fictional lawyer is wrong or mistaken. What I am watching is whether the writer got the actions of the lawyer legally correct.

I cannot watch or read about a fictional lawyer without making that judgment. Sharon and I watched many many episodes of Law & Order. We both enjoyed the show. She will also recall that I would blurt out loud, not every episode, but often enough “that couldn’t happen in court”.

Most often it was the use of leading questions when a lawyer was questioning a witness they had called to the stand. On examination in chief you must ask factual questions and let the witness provide the narrative. On cross examination of the other side’s witnesses you can ask leading questions. I understand that screen writers and authors use the leading questions to save time and space but the entertainment practice remains wrong.

I find authors of legal mysteries, especially those who are lawyers, do follow the Rules of Court. Getting it right on paper, where there is more flexibility on length then in a movie or T.V. series, makes it a little easier.

I have occasionally noted to friend and Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen, that her legal procedure is not always right. She gently but forthrightly explained her decisions as an answer in a set of Q & A we had in 2011:

I’m also grateful to the lawyers who check out ‘the law’ in my books.  Truly this is a case where the errata are my own.  They give me good advice, and occasionally I ignore it.  Writers of fiction are mercifully freed from some constraints.  As Peter Robinson says, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’

Mishani, as quoted in my recent post on the difficulty of writing and setting crime fiction in Israel agreed it is challenging. In that post I quoted the following passage from The Missing File:

Because we don't have crimes like that. We don't have serial killers; we don't have kidnappings; and there aren't many rapists out there attacking women on the streets. Here, when a crime is committed, it's usually the neighbour, the uncle, the grandfather, and there's no need for a complex investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery. There's simply no mystery here. The explanation is always the simplest.

In his own book Mishani writes a complex investigation for Avraham with regard to the missing teenager, Ofer.

As I do not want to provide spoilers I cannot say whether the solutions in The Missing File and Lineup, the previous Israeli mystery I have read, are “the simplest”.

What I will say is that both books are not as complicated as most mysteries being written in this era. Neither The Missing File nor Lineup require a genius at detection nor a forensic scientist to solve the crime. They are competent police procedurals.
I ask readers of the blog whether their professional and personal experience leaves them noting whether the writer has gotten it right?


  1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean: with me it's journalists - reporters in books behave in ridiculous ways, and I sit there tutting. And sometimes that links up with legal issues - the sub judice rules in the UK are extremely strict, so v little can be reported about a crime once an arrest has been made, but that never stops fictional journos. But I'm willing to give the author a bit of Gail Bowen leeway, particularly if the book is good!

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I did not think I was alone in exclaiming aloud that it is wrong.

  2. Bill - I think it's only natural for people with expertise to notice if something in a novel is(n't) accurate. So yes, if I know something about a topic and I see that an author isn't accurate about it in a book, I do notice. Whether it bothers me enough to stop reading depends on the novel. If the book is well-written and I can see why the author chose to do things in a certain way, that's one thing. But if it smacks of carelessness or unwillingness to get the facts, then I don't like it. Your post is a good reminder of how important research is for authors.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I normally ignore the error though sometimes it is hard when it is on an important issue. In terms of trials it would not take much, in most situations, to get it right.

  3. Bill, thanks for a thoughtful essay. I don't mind setting aside disbelief if I'm sufficiently drawn into the story. As a non-legal person I tend to overlook the flaws, if any, including the obvious ones sometimes. However, I notice them more in films and series and that can be off-putting at times. In fact, I often find the legal or court scenes in films highly exaggerated and nowhere more so than in Indian cinema. A recurring scene is when the hero, in the guise of a cop or a lawyer, exposes the villain for what he really is, triggering a scuffle right in the courtroom and in front of the judge. Another scene is when the bad guy whips out a cop's revolver and shoots before he is overpowered. Whatever happened to contempt of court?

    1. Prashant: Thanks for your comment and information on Indian cinema. Your description of the hero exposing the villain in court is precisely what the Perry Mason T.V. series did week after week in the 1960's but there were no scuffles. In real life I have never seen a bad guy exposed in court nor witnessed a scuffle in the courtroom.

  4. "With every crime novel I read, I conduct my own investigation and prove that the detective in the book is mistaken, or else deliberately misleads the readers, and that the true solution is not the one he presents."

    That character sounds like an arrogant jerk, if you ask me. The premise is absurd -- that every writer of a mystery is wrong in his or her own creation of a fictional mystery. Is the author making fun of the superior egotistical detective in his creation of Avraham? I hope so.

  5. John: Thanks for the comment. It is an arrogant statement by Avraham but for the rest of the book he is almost consumed by self-doubt. In the parlance of our time he lacks self esteem. Thus he is far from superior and egotistical. Considering the author's background I found the statement unusual.

  6. I don't find fault with legal arguments or style nor with the culprits. I do sometimes find the denouement to be utterly impossible, with coincidence or overly dramatic developments, which are unbelievable. Then I scream.

    Since I do some editing and proofreading, I do find spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Once I read a book chock full of apostrophes everywhere. Strange reading. And sometimes I find mistakes in translations, as the English word order may be out of sync or the wrong word is inserted or a word is missing. Or a book is put in U.S. English, but still has words that are from Scottish vernacular, for instance, and not known here.

    Also, sometimes a character's name is spelled in different ways or else -- and I notice this a lot -- passage of time isn't calculated properly. Someone got home at 3 a.m., and is on the way at 7 a.m., refreshed. Huh? Where was a shower, breakfast, getting dressed? Or a destination is X miles away, and the driver left at Y time but got there in an impossible amount of time. They'd have to drive 100 miles an hour. Lots of time and schedule mess-ups.

    I found a character's name spelled one way and then another in one of Gail Bowen's books, and in that chapter I found more typos.

  7. And, by the way, I loved Perry Mason TV. My family watched every one. The greatest fun was watching him reveal the real murderer in court. That show would not have had the appeal that it did without that element.

  8. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comments. I admit I do not keep much track of errors in grammar. Some years ago our family watched a play set in rural Canada which began with two old codgers counting aloud as they read the weekly newspaper. They had an ongoing competition on who could find the most typos in the paper.

    Raymond Burr was a commanding presence. Who could withstand the force of his personality and questions?