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 1, 2014

Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe

Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe – Lazlo “Marko” Markowitz has a big problem. Working with his Colombian supplier, Pavo, the drug business in Detroit has been too good. He now has a stash of $10,000,000 most of it Pavo’s money. To get the money laundered he needs to get it across the border to Toronto where Pavo has a cousin who will deal with the money. 

Compounding the problem is that too much of the cash is in 5’s, 10’s and 20’s. Not enough has been boiled down into 50’s and 100’s. The volume of cash has become a major issue.

With border security heightened as part of the war on terrorism it is getting harder and harder to transport money into Canada. There also appear to be rats around Marko informing the authorities of his cash runs.

His latest courier, Abner Hussey, was stopped just before reaching the border by officers Ray Tate and Djuna Brown. Hussey had $200,000 in envelopes taped to his body.

Detectives Tate and Brown, lovers as well as partners have just returned from an escapade in Paris that was funded with an unauthorized Michigan State Police credit card. While superiors decided whether to prosecute they have been assigned to the Asset Recovery Project, better known as the Green Squad. They are bored with their new assignment until Hussey gets their attention by advising there are “ten ems” in cash looking for a way across the border.

When they tell their boss, Commander James “the Cashman” Cash, he is jubiliant. Promotion awaits for a senior officer who makes a “ten ems” recovery. Tate and Brown work out with the Cashman that their reward, if they can seize the money, will be a trip back to Paris.

Criminals and police are equally motivated by $10,000,000.

The Cashman gets additional officers assigned with a rather vague statement about the money being pursued. Mentioning “ten ems” would have the project scooped away from them.

Tate and Brown, visions of Paris in their eyes, start surveillance on Marko. Who is he associating with at this time? Where does he travel?

Marko, under severe pressure from the unforgiving Pavo, is desperate to find a safe passage for the money to Canada.

Working with Marko is Jerry Kelly, a psychopath and anarchist. It would be hard to come up with a more frightening character. Jerry is constantly simmering. Violence will flare at any moment without any provocation.

Marko reaches out to his childhood friend, Bobby “Presto” Preston who is a genius at smuggling:

A truckload of cheap chickens on one side of the border, and presto!, he’d come with a variation to move it across. Booze, smokes, anything. Anything except anything to do with dope.

While Bobby and Marko are blood brothers Bobby has no interest in transporting Marko’s drug money but Bobby has a daughter, Zoe.

The action flows swiftly.

I found the characters intriguing. Lamothe is an author who is becoming a relative rarity in contemporary crime fiction. He spends as much time developing the bad guys as he does the good guys. It has been a disappointment in some of Michael Connelly’s latest books that the bad guys are barely developed.

My next post will discuss how Lamothe created vivid images when he introduced Tate and Brown in the book.

The Presto Variations is noir crime fiction. There is no coziness to this plot. It is dark and bleak. If you like noir you will love the book. I am not fond of noir but I enjoyed the book.
The Presto Variations is on the shortlist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel this year. The book will be 13 of 13 for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge. It is the earliest I have completed the challenge in 3 Challenges. This year I am going to exceed with the challenge with further Canadian reading this month.


  1. This isn't my kind of thing, but you do make it sound intriguing.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. If you decide to venture onto the dark side it is a good book. I think you will find my further post on the book tomorrow interesting.

  2. Bill - That's an interesting question actually: how do you get that much money across an international border? And I know what you mean about developing the 'bad guy' characters. Even in a whodunit, where one may not know someone's the 'bad guy,' it's still more engaging if we know something about that character.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am not much interested in cardboard villians any longer.

  3. Mr. Selnes, thank you for your kind comments about Presto. Two minor issues, I might mention: the Ray/Djuna tales take place in a generic part of the northern U.S. -- I deliberately made it seem like maybe Detroit, Michigan, but the city has no name beyond (in other stand-alone books to be released soon) "Murder City". In any event, the publisher decided to discontinue the series -- interestingly before it was nominated. I'll likely continue it by other methods.
    My latest book, The Glass Pieces, is a sequel to The Finger's Twist (also nominated for an Ellis a few years ago. Glass is available as an ebook and soon, in a paper version. (I don't mention this as self-promotion -- which I don't practice -- but as an encouragement to writers who don't have or who lose their publishers: there's a life after if you just keep writing.
    And, yep: Jerry Kelly is a good one. I'm more proud of old Jerry than any other character to date.
    And, Ms Kinberg: yes it can be done. The method in the book, from "boiling" to the "squeezing" is based on the old days when I investigated that stuff.
    So, again, thanks for the interest.
    Best, Lee Lamothe

  4. Mr. Lamothe: Thanks for the comment.

    I hope you find a way to continue the series. I think a publisher may pick it up.

    I will keep an eye out for The Glass Pieces.

    I hope you can drop by the blog again.

  5. Bill, let's just be Bill and Lee. I just found out last night that Glass Pieces ("independently" published; available as a Kindle and Kobo ebook) will be available in paper shortly through McNally-Robinson, out your way. It's the second book in the Charlie Tate/Elodie Gray series (a series that did much better in the West than in the East.) I point this out to point out: I'm not looking for a publisher for anything. I need a publisher like I need a club foot. Right now, over the summer, I'm hoping to get three more books up as on-line and print-on-demand; the fourth Ray/Djuna is underway, but will have to wait a few months. While this is the wave of the future (and the present, obviously) I'll get to my point: I think bloggers like yourself and genre-specific websites are undergoing similar changes -- I'd rather have the personal contact with someone who (usually) bought the book, than have the remote and usually non-existent interplay with mainstream reviewers. Looking forward to your upcoming post. Best, Lee

    1. Lee: Thanks for the further comment. You are causing me to think about the relationship between authors and bloggers. I expect to post on the subject in the near future.

      You have a busy time ahead with three books to be put up and put out.

      Please feel free to come by the blog anytime.