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, June 10, 2014

Clashing Women in Authority

John Brooke
Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle as lead police officer and Margot Tessier as lead agent for the DST were pivotal characters in Walls of a Mind by John Brooke. My last post was a review of the book.

It was the first book I can remember reading where it was a woman who was in charge of the investigation at competing law enforcement agencies.

It is not a surprise to have women in charge. We are a generation away from the pioneering days of Helen Mirren as the commanding officer in the T.V. series, Prime Suspect. It is not uncommon in real life for women to lead police services. I have met woman sergeants administering rural Saskatchewan RCMP detachments.

What struck me in the book was that there was none of the male resentment of the officers serving under Mirren. Nouvelle and Tessier are accepted as in charge. Their subordinates may have issues with their superior but it is not because they are women. They give orders to their male and female team members and their instructions are carried out.

I certainly acknowledge prejudice towards women in authority continues to exist but not in this book.

What was fascinating to me was the relationship Brooke set out between Nouvelle and Tessier when they butt up against each other in the investigation.

There was no gender solidarity in that each was a woman and that they should share information as women trying to make their way in leadership positions in what is a man’s world.

Their attitudes as they confront each other are different from what I would expect from men in the same situation. For men there is bound to be a macho component. It would be almost inevitable to have physical aggressiveness and, possibly even a fight. Nouvelle and Tessier wage a subtler war of words and attitudes.

Nouvelle challenges Tessier’s right and need for secrecy as Nouvelle investigates a murder. Tessier is instragient dismissing the requests for information as contrary to national security.

Nouvelle persists threatening Tessier with legal and political consequences rather than physical violence. Tessier is unmoved and projects her position through her attitude. She is secure in her knowledge of DST priority in the conflict over information. She disdainfully rejects Nouvelle.

Nouvelle is upset about the patronizing attitude of the older Tessier.

At the same time Nouvelle projects a moral superiority. She is solving a murder of an actual French citizen. She is not taking advantage of authority to abuse citizens for the sake of a potential anarchist risk.

Nouvelle is reluctant to carry her gun unless there is a clear need. Her policy causes her problems. Tessier is always well armed and ready for action.

Nouvelle and Tessier carry on their conflict in frosty exchanges through the book. There are many barbed comments especially by Tessier.

The test of wills between the women may not be as overt as male battles but it is as real and as fierce.

Having women in authority has not reduced the level of conflict between competing government police agencies. I wonder how future crime fiction will deal with woman versus woman in law enforcement.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post titled Being Affected by a Male Author Creating aFemale Sleuth as I discussed New Zealand author writing under the name of Alix Bosco. I found myself distracted on whether McGee had created a “convincing” female sleuth.

At the end of the post I spoke about focusing on the book and quoted from a comment from the late Maxine Clarke, who I miss dearly:

Going forward I am going to do my best to just concentrate on the book. As blogger, Maxine Clarke, from the excellent Petrona blog said in a comment on my review of Slaughter Falls:

To me, the gender of the author is irrelevant. I have a review going up tomorrow of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain, which is such an accurate, and wonderful, portrait of a woman on all kind of levels. Amazing that it was written by a man? No. Just someone with talent.

I consider Brooke as someone with talent. I found that he created not only two convincing female characters he had insight into their minds and how women interact with each other. I shall be interested in hearing from female readers if they thought Brooke can write well of the female psyche. 


  1. Bill - What a fascinating post! One of the things I absolutely love about crime fiction is the way in which it reflects societal changes. And that certainly inclues changes in the roles women play. You make a well-taken point that those changes mean that women now are involved in conflicts, power struggles, etc. in different ways. Thank for the rich 'food for thought.'

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. When I read you are thinking I expect I will soon read a post for you on contemporary women in conflict.

  2. I second Margot, this is a fascinating post. I especially enjoyed your comments on a male writing a female, which has bothered me occasionally in the past.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I think I have come to realize the gender of the author should not affect my perception of the credibility of their characters.

  3. And I'm the third woman reader of yours to say that was highly interesting reading. Very much giving us all to think, and I liked your well-reasoned and thoughtful comments.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment and kind words. I hope you get a chance to read in the series and put up posts.