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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Go Set a Watchman Review for Blogger Tour

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - Scout is no more. It is Jean Louise Finch who returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for her annual 2 week vacation. Scout, the beguiling 6 year old, of To Kill a Mockingbird, has grown up. Jean Louise is a spirited young woman but no adult could match the magic Harper Lee created with Scout. 

In the two decades since To Kill a Mockingbird everyone has aged. Lee is unsparing. She has not merely moved her characters into the 1950’s. Atticus, at 72, is still practising law but has ever increasing problems with rheumatoid arthritis. Some days he can neither tie his shoes nor button his shirt. Atticus has a major presence but not a major role in the book.

Jean Louise is courted by a young lawyer, four year her senior, Henry Clinton who is employed in her father’s office. Her formidable Aunt Alexandra, Zandra to her brothers, is dismissive of Henry as the offspring of “white trash”. Jean Louise immediately engages in verbal battle with Aunt Alexandra. The Scout who was always ready to let fists fly is still present in Jean Louise though words have replaced fists for fighting.

In more than the above reaction Jean Louise realizes she has changed as she looks at the young women she grew up with:

I can’t think of a thing to say to them. They talk incessantly about the things they do, and I don’t know how to do the things they do. If we married – if I married anyone from this town – these would be my friends and I couldn’t think of a thing to say to them. I would be Jean Louise the Silent.

Jean Louise does recognize and appreciate that Aunt Alexandra’s willingness to live with and care for Atticus lets Jean Louise stay in New York.

Her uncle, Dr. John Hale Finch, is a philosopher and eccentric who is the most engaging character in the book. In ordinary conversation he invokes references to his true love, Victorian literature.

Where much of the story is about how life in Alabama continues to be lived by the genteel class of whites, Jean Louise cannot close her eyes to relationships between whites and Negroes. She is no longer the Scout who was oblivious as a child to the indignities endured by Negroes in the American South.

The mid-1950’s are a time of great conflict and resentment in the American South. White Maycomb residents are bitter about the U.S. Supreme Court forcing desegregation of American schools.

Jean Louise remains genuinely colour blind as an adult. Many people, even 60 years later, cannot make that claim. She is frustrated when Henry is not colour blind. She is stunned when Atticus is not colour blind. Her father is not the man she idolized. What do you do when family become mortals?

Henry and Atticus try to explain. They live in Maycomb. How do you do business if you overtly challenge the community? Who will bring about change if not part of the Maycomb establishment?

Atticus and Henry do take on the defence of a young black man but the book does not go through to a trial. I wish there had been a trial to see how they defended him. Taking the case is a twist on the classic defence lawyer's commitment to defend accused with whom you disagree in words, principles and deeds. I may expand upon the issue in a future post as it applies To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Attitudes towards Canadian Indians were deeply set. I now cringe about how the good people with whom I grew up referred to Indians. No one protested the pass system which required Canadian Indians to get permission from the Indian agent to go off reserves before 1950.

Atticus is a mythic figure to Jean Louise and readers. I admit I struggled to deal with the image of Atticus as a man in Go Set a Watchman.

While the book is about Jean Louise Finch coming of age it is also about readers coming of age. We are forced to confront our own expectations.

Much as I sought to prepare myself that the characters would be different a generation later in their lives I found myself wishing Scout and Atticus were the people I had visualized while reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Such is the power of Lee’s characterization in To Kill a Mockingbird that it is hard to accept they are not the people I idealized.

My life has parallels with Atticus. I am now forty years into my life as a lawyer in rural North America and but a decade younger than Atticus. The book set me reflecting on what my sons, slightly older than Jean Louise, think of me as a father, as a man, as a lawyer.
In her theme of exploring entrenched views of segregation in the 1950’s South Lee has written a worthy successor rather than an imitation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet I think of So Set a Watchman as only a good book. The ending had the power and drama of the best of To Kill a Mockingbird. It pounded to a climax. The writing of the opening section does not flow with the style and ease of To Kill a Mockingbird. Overall the writing was too often awkward. The plot lines did not always come together. I felt it a book Lee had not completed. I wished she had worked more upon Go Set a Watchman. It could have been another special book.

I closed Go Set a Watchman glad that I had read the book. It made me contemplate how we live amidst the biases about us. How easily do we co-exist with the watchman of our conscience?
The Go Set a Watchman blogger tour, which I am co-hosting with Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, began yesterday with a fine analysis by Margot. Please read her post if you have not read it. The tour continues as follows:

Saturday, 25 July – Tomorrow the tour goes to the  UK at Clothes in Books.

Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India at Coffee Rings Everywhere.

Friday, 31 July – The tour ends in the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog. 


  1. Thanks for the kind mention, Bill. And thanks for your own excellent post. I think you've hit upon something critical in this book. Just as Jean Louise has to confront her own idealistic (but inaccurate) impressions, readers must do the same. We have to see these people as, well, people, instead of mythic characters. They are human beings. It's a challenge, but Lee invites us to do no less.

    I wondered about the trial, too, actually. I would have liked to see what it would have been like to see Atticus and Henry in the courtroom this time, and Jean Louise's reaction to it. I think it would have added to the book.

    It's interesting that you see this as a less-finished book than ...Mockingbird. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that, as I understand it, this was a first draft for Lee.

    1. Margot: Thanks for your own kind words.

      As I wrote the review I could not remember another sequence of books where my expectations of a later book in the series had been so affected by how I saw the characters from an earlier book or books.

      The trial in the first book gave a focus in To Kill a Mockingbird. I believe it could have done the same here.

  2. Great review Bill, your experiences really added something to it. I hope you *will* do another post looking at courtrooms and lawyers in the books...

    1. Moira: Thanks for the kind words. Both of Lee's books have connected with me personally.

  3. Bill, I enjoyed your review and more so in context of your thoughts with regard to people's attitudes towards Canadian Indians in the 50s & 60s and your own experience as a lawyer with forty years of practice behind you. It's nice to be able to connect with a book, as you did with "Go Set A Watchman." And, "How easily do we co-exist with the watchman of our conscience?" is a question I will be asking myself when I read the book.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. Go Set a Watchman can be unsettling as a reader considers their own prejudices and how we live our lives.

  4. Very nice review, Bill. Before I had seen your review and Margot's review, I had not had any plans to read Go Set a Watchman. Now I feel that it will be a worthwhile read, regardless of how I like it overall.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I think you will find Go Set a Watchman an interesting book. As you grew up in the South I would be interested in your thoughts.

  5. Great post, Bill. I was pretty skeptical of this book until I started reading the posts that are part of this tour. It's always great to read something that resonates with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. RebeccaK: Thanks for the comment. It was uncomfortable resonating at times but I remain glad I read the book.