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, March 25, 2016

Creating a Credible Catastrophe

Nick Leeson 
Jérôme Kerviel 
Great thrillers based on a danger that threatens a country or the world require the threat of a credible catastrophe to create the tension that drives readers to keep turning the pages or pressing next page on your favourite electronic reading device. Great characters and settings frame a thriller but it is the danger that is the pivot of the plot.

It is not easy to find such a plausible threat.

Louise Penny, in The Nature of the Beast, sought to establish a doomsday scenario with a supergun being found in the woods near the village of Three Pines in Quebec. In the plot former Chief Inspector Gamache and members of the Sûreté du Québec  hunt for the plans to the gun before they can be sold to a rogue country.

The plot never had the tension needed for a thriller because in 2016 it is not plausible that a gun designed over 30 years ago can be a modern threat to world order.

There is good reason that the gun, designed by Canadian Gerald Bull, on which the plot was modeled has never been built. It is not an effective weapon. It is too easy to be detected, by its signature once fired, and then destroyed because it is immobile.

In I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes there is a modern terrifying threat to America. The evil Saracen, a committed Islamic fighter, concocts a means of re-introducing a variation of the plague into medicine that will be widely used in America. No vaccine exists to stop its spread.

It is a conceivable form of biological warfare on a vast scale that can be waged by one man.

Such an attack could shake America.

I recall the tampering of containers of Tylenol in 1982. Potassium cyanide had been put in capsules and 7 residents of the Chicago area died. The tampering caused panic in America. Had the tampering been effectively repeated or more widespread or identified with a specific group America would have been de-stabilized. The case has never been solved.

Drew Chapman, in The King of Fear and The Ascendant has perfected a new type of thriller – technological financial attacks. In my last post I put up a review of the book.

The evil Ilya Markov’s devilishly clever planned assault on America’s financial systems in the book was frightening.

Yet, in the current world can one man really threaten the finances of United States?

There have been recent examples of the damage a single man can do to a great bank.

Nick Leeson was a trader for Barings Bank in Singapore. Evading internal controls he made risky investments on behalf of the bank in 1995 that resulted in losses of $1.4 billion and brought about the collapse of the bank.

In 2008 the Société Générale Bank of France lost $6.4 billion during 3 days of trading. The Bank said Jérôme Kerviel was another rogue trader using fake trades to far exceeded his authority. He claimed superiors were aware of his actions and their hasty selling upon discovering his actions greatly increased the losses. He was convicted and sent to jail.

In both cases a single trader devastated huge banks. In neither case was the intent to cause losses.

In The King of Fear Markov with his access to billions of dollars and his recruitment of talented computer hackers was intent on financial havoc. In New York City Markov managed to have ATM’s malfunction and many credit card transactions denied. There were mobs within a day.

The King of Fear makes clear how much of our financial systems are based on trust and confidence in the systems.

Had Markov been able to carry through his subsequent plans a chilling Armageddon awaited America’s finances.

I eagerly await Chapman’s next thriller.

Chapman, Drew - (2014) - The Ascendant; (2016) - The King of Fear


  1. Bill, sorry to correct you, Nick Leeson was a trader of Barings, not of Barclays

    1. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the correction. I have amended the post. I am glad you pointed out the error.

  2. I remember the Tylenol scare, too, Bill, And you're right; that sort of thing is a credible threat. As much of a fan of Louise Penny as I am (and I am!), I agree that that gun was not. If a thriller is to have a solid pace and keep the reader engaged, it does have to have a credible threat. We have to believe such a thing could happen.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am hoping Armand Gamache is going back to being a detective. Penny is much better at writing mysteries than thrillers.

  3. I came here via a LINK by Margot Kinberg. Sadly I am not able to help you on your chosen topic, as http://www.mysteriesofcanada.com/saskatchewan/
    is all I researched about it in my lifetime.

    I wish you thrilling discoveries and all the motivation & inspiration you need for your reviews. Goodbye.

    1. Andre: Thank you for the comment. Thanks for the link.