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, June 17, 2018

Full Disclosure by Beverly McLachlin

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – One of the most anticipated works of crime fiction this year of 2018 was from an author new to the genre but very familiar with crime. McLachlin has spent the last 29 years of her life as Canadian Supreme Court Justice finishing her judicial life as the first female Chief Justice of Canada. In Full Disclosure she demonstrates she has kept in contact with life on the front lines of the legal profession while she labored at the top.

Prior to purchasing the book I wondered if she would have written a book about an appellate judge or possibly a case reaching the Canadian Supreme Court. Instead, she has returned in fiction to Vancouver where she was a lawyer, professor of law and superior court judge before going to Ottawa as a Supreme Court justice.

Wealthy businessman and patron of the arts, Vincent Trussardi, has been charged with the murder of his wife, Laura. They were one of the “beautiful” couples of Vancouver with wealth and charm and good looks. They were not averse to media cameras.

The Crown has a strong case. Laura was killed in the matrimonial bed with a gun owned by the accused.

Defence counsel, Jilly Truitt, has spent 10 years learning her craft in the criminal courts of Vancouver and is now a prominent defender. At 34 she is also one of the “beautiful” people of the city. She knows that heads turn as she walks through public rooms.

Jilly had a difficult childhood through a succession of foster homes. She has chosen not to search out the identity of her birth parents.

In her first meeting with Trussardi she asks the crucial question when defending an accused who denies committing murder. If it was not him does he have any idea who was the killer? Trussardi briefly hesitates and shakes his head. Truitt lets the answer go unchallenged for the moment.

While every defence counsel challenges the evidence of the Crown there needs to be a realistic alternative to the accused. Reasonable doubt is created by another plausible killer. There are other potential killers in Full Disclosure but is there enough evidence to make them credible suspects?

As Trussardi maintains he was not at home when the murder was committed his defenders search for witnesses who can provide alibi evidence.

Jilly and her defence team spend long hours reviewing the boxes of Crown disclosure.

As with all of us in real life each of the fictional characters has secrets that make it harder to know the truth.

A murder trial brings a harsh light to bear on the lives of its participants. Secrets are unearthed and then their relevancy to the murder is determined.

The trial is well done. I consider the trials in Canadian courts created by William Deverell and Robert Rotenberg to be better done.

McLachlin provides an apt description of the feeling of lawyers when a trial is about to begin:

Already I feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies each new trial. It’s my only remaining addiction – the addiction to risk. Despite the disclosure, all the rules, there are always surprises, and this case will be no exception. Witnesses who say more than they should. The push in cross-examination, always calculated, but sometimes going further than safe.

There is a twist at the end of the trial that I never foresaw. It explains unease I had with some of the earlier plot. McLaughlin does a good job of setting up the reader.

I had some disappointment in the ending. It became the conventional ending of many North American legal mysteries.

I consider the strength of the book in the lawyers. I compare all fictional lawyers with those created by John Grisham. He has created so many interesting lawyers. McLachlin does well in that comparison. Jilly is very much a woman of the 21st Century. Crown counsel, Cy Kenge, is somewhat of a dinosaur but still a talented and wily prosecutor.

The title is a clever choice which has inspired my next post on the layers of meaning it has within the book. The post will include a discussion on a decision by the trial judge on disclosure. It is ironic, if not Freudian, considering the author’s background that the one probable legal error within the book was that decision.

I hope McLachlin will continue with a series of Jilly Truitt books. There will never be a shortage of interesting crimes in Vancouver from which to draw inspiration.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron

Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron - Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He is clever and well educated, a combination not always appreciated by his fellow wardens and superiors. Obedience to authority is a challenge for Bowditch.

His current posting reflects his situation:

Here they’d gone and exiled me to the easternmost county in the United States – a desolate outland where game wardens were hated and oxycodone abuse was epidemic – but still I refused to explode.

With forest covering the region all work and play is connected to the forest. The area has been in economic decline for decades. The major employer, Skillen Lumber, has shrunk dramatically and is hanging on as a business.

Elizabeth “Betty” Morse has made a dramatic entry into the area. After amassing a $500 million dollar fortune from the sale of “herbal health supplements” she had concocted she has purchased 100,000 acres of forest land in northeastern Maine. She instantly became infamous when, with regard to her newly purchased lands:

…. she’d promptly declared (them) off-limits to loggers, hunters, all-terrain-vehicle riders, fishermen and snowmobilers. Her intention, she announced, was to donate the land to the federal government to create a new national park where timber wolves and woodland caribou would once again roam free.

Anger against “Queen Elizabeth” is intense as residents fear for their jobs and resent the loss of freedom to roam and hunt and fish her lands.

There is a dichotomy in the American psyche that prizes private ownership of land but expects access for recreation to large tracts of private land.

Bowditch’s friend, Billy Cronk, is working for Ms. Morse. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan he has not found the transition to civilian life an easy process.

He calls Bowditch when he finds moose killed upon Ms. Morse’s property. After examining the corpses of a mother moose and two offspring they start searching her property and find there has been a series of killings the previous night. They find 6 moose slaughtered and left to rot. A more detailed search determines there were at least 10 moose killed. It is the worst wildlife crime in Maine history.

It appears the killers were crack shots. They have used .22 rifles and rarely more than a single shot to kill the moose. It takes skill to kill a moose with a .22.

A task force is formed by the wardens led by Lieutenant Marc Rivard. There is mutual distrust between Bowditch and Rivard. Bowditch knows he will have little role in the investigation though the crime has taken place in his area. His expectations are met when Rivard assigns him to go through area gravel pits where gun owners routinely practice shooting. He is to seek out .22 casings to see if any match the casings left behind at the killing sites on the Morse land. It is useless work.

The wardents seek suspects in the area. As always, no one wants the killers to be respected local residents. The community would be content were it a hermit like survivalist or an overweight unemployed poacher.

Bowditch’s relationship with Rivard is excerabated when, after Morse meets Bowditch, she regally requests Bowditch be assigned as liason between herself and the task force.

While there is some forensic evidence none of it is connected directly to any suspects.

As the investigation proceeds Bowditch is called to the city, a drive of over 4 hours, to see his mother. He has spent little time in recent years on their relationship. On his arrival he finds out she has stage 3 ovarian cancer. Her prognosis is grim. Guilt based on his neglect pushes him to reflect on the relationships of his life. It is a discouraging reflection.

Doiron draws the reader easily through the story. He is clearly very familiar with the woods of Maine.

While I enjoyed the book I thought the ending weak. It had the feel of an author who was struggling to find a way to conclude the story. The ending came abruptly and without the flow of plot that had marked the rest of the book.

I will look to read another in the series. Bowditch is an interesting sleuth. I appreciate the setting in Maine. There is character development, even of some of the bad guys. Doiron is a talented writer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine

While on our month long cruise Sharon and I visited Portland, Maine. On a quiet April Sunday, which happened to be my birthday, I took a walk looking for my favourite place for shopping, an independent bookstore. Longfellow Books on Monument Square was open and I was immediately at home.

The store has a wide selection of books and staff ready and eager to help with book selections. I sought out recommendations for mysteries by Maine authors. More specifically I asked if there was any crime by local writers. The staff suggested a pair of authors.

The first author was Paul Doiron and his series featuring Maine game warden, Mike Bowditch. While the first book in the series could not be found Massacre Pond was available.

Doiron was an editor of Down East: The Magazine of Maine when he retired make his life as a writer. His website sets out that:

He is also a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine with his wife Kristen Lindquist.

Kristen is a writer and poet.

The second author was Bruce Robert Coffin whose sleuth, Detective Sergeant John Byron is a member of the Portland police department. On the shelf for purchase was Beneath the Depths.

Coffin is certainly familiar with the Portland Police Department as he was a detective sergeant. His website sets out that at his retirement he “supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations in Maine’s largest city”.

I could have added a third unexpectedly Maine crime fiction writer. Famed mystery author, John Connolly, was born in Ireland but he also resides in Portland. Some of the books in his Charlier Parker series are set in Maine.

After returning to the ship I looked on the net for more information about the store and found it well loved.

In 2013 during a blizzard that dumped 31.9 inches of snow on Portland the storm broke a window and snow drifted into a room above the store and water started dripping down when it warmed up. As well a water line froze and broke causing sprinklers to dump water. When the fire department responded the fire fighters worked hard to save books. They used tarps used to help cover items in fires and physically carried books out of the store.

In an article in the Portland Press Herald co-owner at the time, Chris Bowe is quoted:

It was a reverse ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Bowe said, referring to Ray Bradbury’s 1953 science fiction classic, in which books are outlawed and burned by firemen.

(I remember watching the movie of that book as a teenager and being disturbed how believeable it could be that books could be banned and burned.)

Still 40% to 50% of the store’s 30,000 books were damaged.

The article states that when the owners said on Facebook they were closing indefinitely there were 200 customers who responded to the notice wanting to help.

Shortly after the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance organized events and fund raisers to help out the store.

Longfellow books, self-described as fiercely independent and a staunch member of Portland Buy Local, illustrates the benefits of a business focusing on being a local independent store.

Their website is https://www.longfellowbooks.com/.

I hope travels will take me back to Portland and I can visit Longfellow Books again.

In case you were wondering the store is named for Portland’s most famous native, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Decisions by Jim Treliving

Decisions by Jim Treliving – The Canadian Dragon gained public fame in his mid-60’s through his participation in the CBC television program, Dragons Den, on which budding entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to a quartet of prominent Canadian business people seeking to convince a Dragon to invest in their companies.

Watching him on television I saw Treliving as a direct, even blunt man, but had no idea he was a skilled storyteller. In Decisions he goes through his transformation from an RCMP constable to a pizza restaurant franchisee to a business tycoon as co-owner of the Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube franchises.

In one way the book is a manual on becoming and staying a successful businessman. At the same time it is an absorbing personal story.

Treliving grew up in Virden, Manitoba where his father had a barber shop. His Dad was a successful businessman who abhorred debt to the point of delaying marriage until he had enough money to pay cash for a house and enough money that his wife would not have to work. He married at 37.

Treliving is a passionate man about work. Play has always had a modest role in his life. His main recreation has been golf and he constantly uses golf games to assess those wanting to do business with him.

As a young man he joined the RCMP and was stationed in Prince George, B.C. and then transferred to Edmonton. He was a dedicated police officer. He enjoyed the work and the camaraderie with his fellow officers. As with all most everyone in the world he was a man of habit. He often joined fellow officers after work for a meal. He had his spots and rarely ventured into new restaurants.

It took repeated efforts for a colleague to get him into a Boston Pizza restaurant in Edmonton. It was the mid-1960’s and it was his first experience with pizza. His description of not knowing which pizza to order (his friend suggested the Hawaiian – ham and pineapple) and uncertainty on how to eat it reminded me that I had never had pizza until about the same time frame. If we had heard of pizza 50 years ago on the Canadian prairies it was some foreign dish in New York or Italy. After trying it Treliving, as with myself and every young person of that era I knew, liked pizza. It was so different from our meat-and-potatoes meal tradition.

Treliving describes the attraction of pizza to him:

The meal was easy, fast and kind of fun. Pizza was the kind of thing you could put down in the middle of the table and share with friends, everyone grabbing a slice, which to me seemed exotic ….. I was an instant fan.

He was soon an unofficial bouncer at Boston Pizza absorbing the business. When he grew frustrated with the RCMP and looked for an alternative he was ready to try the pizza business.

When he and another unhappy officer, Don Spence, raised with Gus Agioritis, the lead brother in Boston Pizza, opening the first Boston Pizza franchise Gus was excited. Treliving outlines the importance of the reaction of Gus:

He knew we had no experience in the restaurant business, let alone pizza-and pasta-making skills. But here’s the thing: Gus liked us. Most important, Gus trusted us, which was a big deal since this was going to be Boston Pizza’s first formal franchise. Thankfully, Gus had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.

Treliving goes on with the heading:

            Trust People with More Confidence in You Than You Have in Yourself

Unconsciously I have had the benefit of that aphorism. Others can often see your potential better than yourself.

Every business needs money and Treliving was no exception. He rightly emphasizes that “asking for money is a skill – get good at it”. He refers to what convinces him on The Dragon’s Den to invest with a businessperson seeking money:

A pitcher’s sound valuation is the sign I can invest with confidence. They understand what they have, what they need and how I can help.

It takes hard long hours to succeed in business. Treliving sets out a quality needed in that quest:

Enthusiasm creates wealth …. Enthusiasm also creates stamina. When you can work like a dog with joy in your heart, you’re going to make more money ….. Enthusiastic people attract the same.. As a group enthusiasts create momentum, and money loves momentum. Passionate people doing something they love will always attract the right people to them.

Through the book he sets out how they made the decisions that turned Boston Pizza into a great business. There were setbacks.

Treliving candidly acknowledges that he has not always made the best business decisions. Expansions to Asia and Ontario faltered and, with the concurrence of his partner George Melville, they withdrew back to Western Canada. He analyzes where they erred in their expansion process. After retrenching they moved back into Eastern Canada with great success. It is less clear whether expansion to the United States and Mexico will be as successful.

Internet assessments put his net worth at $600 to $700 million dollars.

Treliving is a gifted storyteller and I would have enjoyed the book even without the business lessons.

Treliving is the second Dragon to have written a book about his life that business career that I have found riveting. In 2013 I was absorbed by Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes by W. Brett Wilson.

It is a rare book that has made me reflect on what I should be doing differently in life and work. We never run out of decisions in life. Treliving’s drive has inspired me into thinking about how I make decisions. I will be keeping Decisions as a reference on the process of decision making.

Friday, May 25, 2018

2018 Winners of the Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Fiction

Last night at the annual Toronto banquet the winners of 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards were announced. The press release providing particulars and some comments is below.

I have not read any of the winners. I do intend to read Sleeping in the Ground. It must be an excellent book to have won over Gail Bowen's book, The Winners' Circle. I had hoped she would be the winner this year, especially when she was named Grand Master for 2018. I will have a post shortly on Gail who was a deserving choice for Grand Master.

With a family wedding this summer and having just finished a long cruise I am going to forgo reading the full shortlist for Best Novel.

My congratulations to the winners and all the authors on the shortlists. Crime fiction is flourishing in Canada.

Announcing the Winners of the 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards
for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing
TORONTO, Ontario May 24, 2018 --- Crime Writers of Canada is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing.

Best Novel
Sleeping in the Ground, by Peter Robinson, publisher McClelland & Stewart

What the judges said, “From the first few words in the beginning chapter the impact of Sleeping in the Ground was visceral - it packs a heck of a punch. Peter Robinson paints a stunning portrait of a horrific murder scene that makes you feel as shocked and horrified as if you were standing right there. Then you are plunged into a frolic to figure out the who and why. There are so many twists and turns that it is hard to catch your breath. You find yourself swept along by the great mystery of the murders as well as the intricacies of the inter-relationships of Banks and his fellow homicide detectives, and the suspects as well.”

Best First Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo
Full Curl, by Dave Butler, publisher Dundurn Press

What the judges said, “Dave Butler brings to life the most compelling and complicated protagonist that Canadian crime fiction has seen in a long time. Jenny Willson is one tough cookie whose hard-edged nature and sharp mind make her the perfect candidate to solve this very out-of-the ordinary mystery. With a realistic time-line, multiple murders, and intricate attention to detail, Butler keeps his readers guessing from beginning to end. Truly Canadian in every essence, the scenery practically leaps off the page, making it both a love letter to the Canadian wilderness and a compelling and fast-paced mystery.”

Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
How Lon Pruitt Was Found Murdered in an Open Field with No Footprints Around, by Mike Culpepper, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, by Dell

What the judges said. “Elegant. If there was a word out of place none of us noticed. This story and these characters transported us in time and space and by the end left us in tears.”

Best Short Story
The Outlier, by Catherine Astolfo, published in 13 Claws, by Carrick Publishing
What the judges said, “The Outlier grabs the reader's attention from the first sentence. There was good foreshadowing and tension, with a solid ending and good believability. Prose was well done (showed rather than told) and the dialogue moved the plot along well. The protagonist was interesting and original, as was the diabolical plot. An unexpected twist ending reveals a criminal familiar to many of us, and this time he’s getting away with murder.”

Best Book in French
Les tricoteuses, by Marie Saur, publisher Héliotrope Noir

What the judges said, “Avec Les tricoteuses, Marie Saur nous plonge dans une intrigue prenante et originale tout en nous amenant dans un pan d’histoire moins connu du militantisme féministe au Québec: les grèves déclenchées par les ouvrières dans les usines textiles pour améliorer leur condition de travail. Sans jamais tomber dans les pièges du genre et les stéréotypes, elle nous offre une galerie de personnages pittoresque et un texte d’une grande qualité littéraire, en particulier dans ses dialogues. Le récit policier intéresse, et Marie Saur l’ouvre au roman social en dénonçant les puissants, assurés de leur bon droit. Elle y écorche au passage le milieu des médias prêt à tout pour attirer l’audience. Le tout avec une sensibilité, une subtilité et une teinte d’humour noir qui font de Ses tricoteuses un polar incontournable.”

Best Juvenile/YA Book
Chase - Get Ready to Run, by Linwood Barclay, publisher Penguin Random House Puffin Canada

What the judges said, “The plot is inventive and captivating from the opening chapter where the reader is taken into the mind of a dog as Chipper, the Border Collie, escapes from a top secret, scientific facility. This is a highly imaginative but believable story exploring the potential of cyber crime using a dog to mask the nefarious goals of his handlers. The book has strong boy and girl characters with the girl, atypically, being the computer expert and the boy expressing well the emotions and difficulties of being an orphan. It quietly introduces an emerging boy girl relationship suitable for the juvenile age group. The author employs age appropriate language and uses humour to temper the more frightening aspects of the story. “

Best Nonfiction Book
The Whisky King, by Trevor Cole, publisher HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

What the judges said,  “The Whisky King uses the lives of two protagonists to tell the history of prohibition and liquor smuggling in Canada. It combines the stories of a charming rum runner who became king of the bootleggers and the perennially underpaid Mountie who helped to shut him down. It captures the atmosphere of the 1920s and 30s in Hamilton and Toronto, a time when law enforcement didn't have the tools available today to bring about convictions and when the criminals told bold lies in court to enable them to, quite literally, get away with murder. The story-telling draws the reader in like a good novel. The book exhibits a high degree of professionalism in its research, writing, editing and presentation.”

Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Destruction in Paradise by Dianne Scott

What the judges said. “A unanimous choice, the judges were intrigued by the location of the book in both time and space. The choice of Toronto Island offers a relatively closed community providing a framework to contain the action. And the Island, along with its myriad engaging inhabitants, is well enough described to become a character in its own right. The choice of the 1960s as the timeframe furnishes an opportunity to set the book in an external milieu of social issues which integrate well with the main plot. The judges were impressed with the protagonist, finding her well-rounded with her own character arc and with an interesting subplot of her unusual family life. While not unduly complex, the plot hangs together well, with the ending growing organically out of what had gone before.”

The recipient of the Crime Writers of Canada Grand Master Award for 2018 is Gail Bowen
Gail Bowen is being recognized by Crime Writers of Canada for her long and illustrious career as a crime fiction author. She has almost 20 books in her long running Joanne Kilbourn series, several of which were either nominated for or received awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 1994, for A Colder Kind of Death. She has also written four Rapid Reads novellas and several plays. She is well established in Canada, highly respected in the writing community and much sought after by readers. She is frequently a guest at literary events. Several of her Joanne Kilbourn books were turned into a TV series.