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, July 20, 2014

The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane

The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane – The 2014 winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Mystery Novel is a unique mystery whose story and resolution is closely tied to its era and locale. 

Seeking to see the world, for almost half of 1868 newly graduated lawyer, Chad Hobbes, sails on a small English warship from England to Victoria, British Columbia. He travels with a letter of introduction to Mr. Justice Begbie, the senior judge in the colony.

On his arrival Hobbes finds a stagnant economy for the Cariboo Gold Rush on the mainland has ended. With no employment as a lawyer available he takes a job as a police constable.

Over the winter he deals with the usual petty crime and drunken problems of the residents and visitors to Victoria.

The Victoria of 1869 is so different from the cultivated English enclave of the late 20th Century. At the time of The Devil’s Making it is a pioneer town with few families. It is a crude raw city filled with transients.

The late 1860’s are a time of transition and tension for the distant English colony on the west coast of North America. The British have established their presence. The Indians of the Northwest are trying to adjust to the demands of the newcomers. At the same time the U.S. is pressing north. There are a substantial number of Americans living in Victoria. Which nation shall have San Juan Island is disputed and both countries have troops stationed on the island.

The Indians have names for the two major groups of whites. The British are called King Georges and the Americans are Bostons.

In the spring of 1869 American alienist, Dr. McCrory, is murdered just outside Victoria. Compounding the crime, he has been mutilated before dying. The nature of the murder and the mutilation cast suspicion on a group of coastal Indians from the Tsimshian tribe who have come to the area on a trading expedition.

Their chief, Wiladzap, is immediately arrested and lodged in the cells at the Victoria courthouse. McCrory had been spending time alone in the forest with Lukswaas who the police understand to be the wife of Wiladzap.

Hobbes is not convinced of Wiladzap’s guilt. He commences an investigation into the lives of McCrory and Wiladzap.

McCrory has been absorbed in studying the principles of the mind of that era. He has studied such topics as Phrenology, Mesmerism and Psychology. He believes in Universal Fluid. He is particularly interested in sexual issues.

His treatments are unconventional for our time. I was startled by “electric testicules”.

Wiladzap has been living a traditional lifestyle. He has had significant contact with the white newcomers. With Wiladzap reluctant to talk Hobbes looks for information from Lukswaas.

Hobbes is attracted to the lovely young Indian woman. They come from vastly different circumstances. She has grown up in the camps of her tribe while he is the conventionally educated son of an Anglican minister. They communicate in Chinook, a lingua franca, of the West Coast.

There are vivid contrasts explored involving the cultures, social mores and lifestyles of the West Coast Indians and the Victorians (the distinctions between Americans and British of the time are also examined.) 

The Devil’s Making is a very interesting mystery. It is alittle slow in pacing to start the book but it is well worth the effort to read the book. Haldane has skilfully portrayed the different peoples intersecting in Victoria. It is an adventure about Hobbes in which there is a mystery. Still the book is focused on the mystery. It is different from any other Canadian mystery I have read. (July 18/14)
The Devil's Making is my 1st of 13 in the 8th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog.


  1. Bill - Oh, this really does sound interesting! I have to say I enjoy historical mysteries, and it seems that this one gives a really authentic look at life in that time. Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. "Authentic" is a good description of the book. The meeting of cultures in the book is striking.

  2. You do like your lawyer mysteries don't you Bill? (smiley face!) This sounds intriguing: as I've said before, we visited Victoria quite a bit when we lived in Seattle, so a book covering its history would make a good read.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I do like lawyer mysteries but this is far from a legal mystery. Hobbes has trained to be a lawyer but is not a lawyer in Victoria. The book is actually a police procedural with the police officer a lawyer. I remember from recent post on Munro's Books your experiences with Victoria. I hope you get to read the book.

  3. This is my kind of book, Bill. Thanks for alerting me to it. I'm going to buy a copy as soon as I can. I just came back from a trip to Washington and I really wanted to take the ferry to Victoria but time didn't allow for it. Plus we learned that making reservations for ferry service was highly recommended in the summer months. When we saw the lines for people without reservations we had to skip any thoughts of sneaking in a visit to any part of BC. I've not been back to BC in many years. It's one of my favorite parts of Canada. Hope one of my next trips will include Victoria.

    1. John: Thanks for the comment. I have not been on the ferry from Washington to Victoria. I have been on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver. It was earlier in the year so there were no lineups. I am sure you will enjoy Victoria if you get a chance to visit the city.