About Me

My photo
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, July 13, 2014

Billy Strobe by John Martel

Billy Strobe by John Martel (2001) – Ambitious Billy Strobe, born and raised in Enid, Oklahoma, has made his way to California where he is in 2nd year law at UCLA on a scholarship. With his scholarship at risk a quartet of wealthy classmates induce, more accurately seduce him with the thought of easy money, to participate in an insider trading plot. They would steal secret corporate information from their fathers so they could make money buying and selling shares. 

When caught the classmates turn on Strobe claiming he is the ringleader of the group. Unfortunately for Strobe only his name is on the trading account. While the others get minor sentences Strobe is given a penitentiary term in Soledad. 

I found the most interesting part of the book Strobe trying to survive the brutal world of maximum security. Ethnic gangs run the prison. Lives can be valued in cartons of cigarettes. 

Strobe gains a protector, barely staving off the intimacy demanded, by promising to successfully appeal the protector’s conviction. 

While his status as a true jailhouse lawyer provides Strobe with a unique niche in the prison he is in constant danger. There are too many inmates who do not care about the consequences of violence. 

Strobe uses his time in Soledad to complete his law school degree through correspondence at Golden State Law School. I have never heard of a Canadian inmate being able to complete law school while in jail. (It would be difficult in real life for Strobe with his conviction to be admitted to the Canadian bar because of the requirement of good character. He might get the chance but I doubt it would happen immediately upon release from jail.) 

Martel creates powerful images of the frightening world of contemporary American prisons. 

How Strobe gets out of prison is brilliant and plausible. 

He joins a prominent San Francisco law firm, Stanton and Snow, best known as S & S. Martel makes the leap for Strobe from inmate to big law firm associate plausible. I admire Martel for finding a credible means for the transition. 

While inundated with work upon corporate files Strobe’s true passion involves two private cases.  

He vowed to fellow inmate, Darryl Orton, that he will get him a new trial with regard to the murder for which Orton was framed. 

Strobe is equally determined to clear his father’s name from the stigma of a conviction for faking documents. 

Within the firm Strobe pursues the lovely Dana Mathews who deflects his interest. Devoted to work and her young daughter Mathews refuses to date within the firm. 

There is great tension within S & S which has had recent financial struggles. While senior partner, Hale Lassiter, is glad to mentor Strobe equally senior partner, Rex Ashton, has no use for the ex-con. The hiring was forced upon him and he is eager to rid the firm of Strobe. 

Strobe’s quests with regard to Orton and his father are essentialy his own. Orton has no resources and less hope. In Oklahoma Strobe’s mother and sister are overwhelmed with alcoholism and illness respectively. Information is hard to find in both California and Oklahoma. 

Strobe is actually the classic Western American lawman, armed this time with a law degree rather than a Colt .45, fighting long odds to gain justice. 

Just when I felt irritated by perceived clich├ęs Martel would confound me with an unexpected twist. Enough time is spent in the courtroom and legal strategies to be a legal thriller / mystery. 

I could not call Billy Strobe great but it is a solid interesting book. I will look for more of Martel. After my next post which is my recommendation for Petrona Remembered I will have another post about Billy Strobe featuring movies.


  1. Bill - This does sound like a really interesting take on the legal thriller/legal mystery. And like you, I respect an author who can make a scenario like going from jail to being an attorney plausible. And the look inside prison life is, I'm sure, really fascinating.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is a complex book that will make you think about America's justice system.

  3. Both author and book are new to me, but it sounds like it's worth a try. Obviously a winding and exotic tale. I look at legal thrillers differently these days, because of your blog!

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I think you will get involved with the story.

  4. Interesting review, Bill. On Goodreads someone said it is long but a fast read. Maybe I will try it.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. The book does read easily. You will be able to read it quickly.

  5. I'll put it on my list, as legal mysteries are among my favorites, especially for summer reading.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Billy Strobe is a fine book for reading while sitting in the sun.