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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

After James by Michael Helm

After James by Michael Helm – The most challenging book I have read in a long time. After James was the second book I have read on the Arthur Ellis Best Crime Fiction Novel shortlist for 2017. Its complexity means the posts I will write about the book contain spoilers.

The book opens like a mystery with a dog finding the body of a woman in a shallow grave. The dog is shot by an unknown killer. The bodies of the dog and woman are cremated.

The story proceeds with Alice, a scientist with a big pharmaceutical company in Vancouver. She has left the company over its actions with regard to a drug she has designed, “a narcotic-free neuroenhancer of generative and lateral thought. A creativity pill”. She is now “somewhere north of Georgia, south of the Canadian Shield”.

She describes her drug in a letter she is drafting to a whistleblower site:

In time it took form as a rectangular yellow pill with bevelled edges. She didn’t include (in the letter) the company’s name for the drug – Claritas .4 – it would identify Gilshey (it would come out in time, of course), and anyway it was the wrong name. The name that came to her was Alph. She designed the drug. It should have the name she gave it.

Its effects are intense:

Almost three-quarters of volunteers reported a “jump cut” feeling of having lost two or three seconds of time during composition. Many reported a sense of lucid dreaming while awake. The feeling was of some other agent authoring a part of their experience, their sense of self-command undermined by changing contexts, parallel realities. One described his lab session, going to play tennis, and in the middle of a long rally seeing himself in a staged swordfight against dozens of foes, as if in an old swashbuckler movie. In the lab they called this the Daffy effect, in reference to the Loony Tunes segment in which Daffy and his world are repeatedly redrawn by the animator midstory.

The designers speak of the drug as “an engine to accelerate the real”.

Alice is concerned over the mind altering effects of the drug. She takes the drug. The results are startling. To this moment the book has an intriguing crime fiction premise related to a death, big pharma, Aleph and a whistleblower.

Instead of continuing with that plot line, while under the effects of the drug, Alice follows up on information left behind by the wife of a couple, gone to Africa on a mission, with regard to a mysterious neighbour and his Russian wife. Eventually she meets the neighbour, Clay Shoad, a sculptor recovering from serious injuries.

Dominating his work is an amazing work:

… the shape resolved into a sculpture made from antlers wired together to form, through some closed loop of conception, a giant deer buck. It was ten feet high at the shoulder, fourteen or more at the top of its rack.

Is Alice, alone with Shoad, in danger? The implication of the opening supports risk but there is no more to this story.

Abruptly, just over hundred pages into the story James is introduced:

In truth I am only a failed poet. A failed many things. Bartender, textbook editor, doctoral student, orchestrat publicist. I have no talent but reading.

He has recently been orphaned. His parents died, ostensibly in a car accident, while working at a Turkish refugee camp near Syria.

James is hired by August Durant to analyze the poems of a poetry website, Three Sheets. Durant believes the anonymous poet has written poems that will explain why Durant’s daughter has disappeared three years earlier.

(My next post continues my review.)


  1. This does sound like a complex plot, Bill. Some of the plot strands are really interesting, too. It can be challenging to keep multiple plot strands going and weave them all together, so I'll be really interested in how that happens here.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. This book is going to generate at least three posts for me to explain my thoughts.

  2. The set-up sounds intriguing, but I'd love to hear why you found it challenging - the complexity of the plot or was it something else?

    1. Marina: Thanks for the comment. You are a good internet detective. While the complexity is part of the challenge there is another issue. I am not trying to be coy. I will set out my explanation of "challenging" in my 2nd or 3rd post on the book.