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.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Kremlin’s Candidate by Jason Matthews


(34. – 964.) The Kremlin’s Candidate by Jason Matthews – Can Russia get a mole appointed director of the CIA? An implausible premise has become frightenly realistic in the past two years.

At the same time could the CIA get a mole chosen to lead a Russian intelligence agency? I find it no more incredible than the Russian gambit.

Matthews, in the concluding volume of the Red Sparrow trilogy, has the U.S. and Russia each with a highly placed mole within the other nation.

The Russian’s code name for their American mole is MAGNIT.

The Americans identify Dominka Egorova as DIVA.

Egorova, as beautiful and tempestuous as she was in the first two volumes, has despite the chauvinism of Russian intelligence agencies continued to be promoted and is now a senior officer in the SVR. Her career has been boosted by the personal interest taken in her by President Putin. The CIA loves the information she provides but are uneasy she will be unmasked as a mole.

While Putin plays a lesser role than in Palace of Treason, the second in the series, Egorova anticipates Putin’s personal interest in her career is expanding to a personal interest in her.

Matthews continues to directly disparage Putin by name. After Palace of Treason drew no defamation action I expect Matthews and the publishers concluded the Russian President would not sue them.

Some years ago in Russia Egorova, using her Sparrow sexual skills, aided in the recruitment of Audrey Rowland, when she was a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the American navy. Rowland has benefited from the efforts of America’s military to become less chauvinist. She has been rapidly promoted in the Navy and is now a rear admiral. Egorova has no idea that Rowland has become the most valuable asset of Russian intelligence.

With each nation constantly searching for moles which nation’s mole will be the first to uncover the other’s mole.

Each nation’s intelligence leadership eagerly awaits the promotion of their respective mole to a position where they can reveal moles in the other nation.

At the same time, contrary to all logic but that of thrillers Egorova and Nate Nash of the CIA remain lovers. The beautiful Russian and the handsome American have a Hollywood appeal though the movie, Red Sparrow, was as set out in Wikipedia, a “modest box-office success”.

Nash remains a field officer in the CIA. He dreads becoming an administrator.

For some reason the focus of the plot shifts from the competing mole hunts to exploits of Egorova and Nash. They are well done espionage schemes but most are little connected to the primary plot.

Could it because of a reluctance to show the successes of a Russian mole in Washington?

It is a rare American in the book who is not good, let alone evil, and even rarer for a Russian character not to be bad.

Egorova and Nash are more complex characters in this volume of the trilogy. I wish the secondary characters were more dimensional.

There is one fascinating subplot. Nash is sent on a false flag initiative to attempt to recruit a Chinese general for the CIA. Using his Russian language skills he pretends to be a Russian agent recruiting the general to provide secrets to Russia. The Chinese intelligence services, hearing hints of the recruitment, invite Egorova to advise them in their efforts to gain from Nash the identity of their traitor. Adding a further layer of intrigue is that the Chinese are using their equivalent of the Russian Sparrow. Such Chinese agents are known by the highly descriptive title of a “poison-feather bird”.

Tension builds but not with equal intensity in the respective nations as the Russians and their mole do not know there is a mole within Russia hunting the American mole.

The plotting on both sides becomes more ruthless as the hunts close in.

Hollywood will never replicate the ending in any movie. I found the conclusion moving, not a common experience in a spy novel. Subtlety is appreciated in an American thriller.
****
Matthews, Jason - (2013) - Red Sparrow and Recipes and Menus in Spy Thrillers; (2015) - Palace of Treason and Vladimir Putin in Spy Fiction and Libel (Part I and Part II and Part III)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Dear Pope Francis


(35. – 965.) Dear Pope Francis by Pope Francis and the Children of the World – Last weekend, Thanksgiving in Canada, our parish priest was away and I gave the reflection at the lay led service we had at the Church on Sunday. The last part of the Gospel reading from Mark involved Jesus admonishing the disciples for keeping the children away from him. It concludes with:

            And Jesus took them up in his arms,
            Laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

As I reflected on the reading I thought about Pope Francis and children. I looked around the internet and found this book published by Loyola Press in 2016.

The book was premised on:

            If you could ask Pope Francis one question, what would it
            be?

Children were invited to write to the Pope:

Children have questions and struggles just like adults, but rarely are they given the chance to voice their concerns and ask the big questions resting deep in their hearts. In Dear Pope Francis, Pope Francis gives them that chance and celebrates their spiritual depth by directly answering questions from around the world.

Jesuits around the world collected letters and drawings from children. From the 259 letters 30 were chosen for the book. They ask a variety of questions.

Natasha (8) from Kenya asked:

            I would like to know more about Jesus Christ. How did he 
            walk on water?

Ryan (8) from Canada asked:

It’s an honour to ask you my question. My question is, what did God do before the world was made?

Prajla (6) from Albania asked:

         When you were a
         child, did you like 
         dancing?

Ryan (7) from the United States asked:

            How can God hear us? God bless you!

Pope Francis answered Ryan:

            Do you know, Ryan, that God listens to us?

Yes, he listens to us, but not with ears. God can hear us even if words don’t come out of our mouths. God listens to the heart. Jesus also said this: When we pray, we don’t have to say many things; we don’t have to have long discussions with God. They aren’t needed. What we need to do, however, is really open our hearts to him. We must open our hearts just as they are. Then God can listen to what we have in our hearts. And Jesus, because he is God, is near to every person and listens to everyone. He is God, and he can do this.

Perhaps the most powerful, certainly the most poignant, was the letter and answer involving Luca (7) from Australia:

            My mum is in heaven. Will she grow angel wings?

You can see Luca and hear the Pope’s response in this video which I played during my reflection – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhIyA-7J8qw

I said I admired Pope Francis for his thoughtful responses to the children.

I went on to show another short video of Pope Francis showing compassion and love to a young boy and reminding adults not to act like God on earth in making judgments of others –

The book will cause young and old to reflect on faith and life. I appreciate the Pope writing a book to children. He was the first Pope to write a book to children. His answers are never condescending and always sincere. I can recommend Dear Pope Francis to readers of all ages.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Emails with Gail on A Darkness of the Heart

Since reading A Darkness of the Heart by Gail Bowen I have exchanged emails concerning the book. I appreciate Gail taking the time while promoting her book to reply to me:
****

Gail,

I just finished A Darkness of the Heart and enjoyed the book. I have posted a review on my blog.

As I read the book certain passages caused me to reflect.

Joanne recalls her newly identified birth father, Des Love, discussing the making of his abstract paintings:

He told me his work is about the magic of paint. I remember his words, so clearly. He said, ‘I start with a blank canvas and then gradually where there was nothing, there’s colour and movement and life.’

I wondered if you start a book with the same thought process of a blank page before you and then words bringing “colour and movement and life” to that page and all the other pages of the book.

Gail: I hadn’t thought of this as my process before, but of course, you’re right.  For me the entire first chapter is preparation. My process is, I guess analogous to a visual artist preparing his canvas -- choosing the tone, colour, texture and brushes he’ll need, and then making decisions about composition, underpainting, blocking in, building up texture, etc. The first chapter takes me forever to write, but I’m a visual person and once the first chapter is in place, the colours, movement and story seem to lead me where I need to go.

I was intrigued by Joanne’s interaction with Gabe Vickers concerning the mini-series planned on the relationship between Joanne, her half-sister Sally Love, and their father, Des.

I think she has reason to be wary of film producers promising to create a series based on that relationship that will bring “the message about the power and limitations of love that will have universal appeal”.

I recall the quote in your book Sleuth – Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries concerning your thought on movies made from your books:

            As enjoyable as the movies are, they don’t bear much 
            resemblance to my books.

In the contract for the series Zack includes “a clause stating that as the owner (Joanne) of the material upon which the series would be based if, at any time, you were dissatisfied with the direction in which the project was developing and if, after reasonable consultation between Living Skies and you, agreement could not be reached, the option be declared null and void”.

I was surprised the fictional film makers would agree to a clause that would give Joanne a veto over the project even if they had spent millions of dollars.

Do you know if such a clause is common in real life movie / T.V. contracts?

I just read a legal mystery, Errors and Omissions by Paul Goldstein, in which the author, a law professor at Stanford, explores the issue of whether our law should recognize artists as having the moral right to control what happens to their work – paintings, sculptures, scripts as examples – after they have sold their work.

Gail:  I think the exigencies of plot demanded that particular clause in the contract be ironclad. I know that when visual artists sell a piece of art they can specify that that that piece can’t be used in other contexts (e.g. in advertising, posters, fridge magnets, all the stuff you find in gallery gift shops) without the consent of the artist.

    In theory I agree that artists should have the moral right to control what happens to their work.  At the moment, a friend is agonizing over how a character he/she created is being used by the company that purchased it. I wish my friend had that right, but I think giving the artist the moral right to control what happens to their work must have limits. 

    I like the idea of ‘reasonable consultation’ between the artist and the buyer, but I think that if no agreement could be reached, enforcement of that clause would be very difficult. Often years pass between the time an option is signed and a project is begun.  If the artist decided to dig in her heels about that reasonable consultation’ clause, I suspect there would be a financial penalty for the artist.  Few artists have the deep pockets necessary for a prolonged legal battle, so I suspect the artist would cave if push came to shove.

As an aside I was caught by your quotation from 19th Century Canadian writer, Catherine Parr Traill providing advice to settlers:

In cases of emergency, Catherine says, “it is folly to fold up one’s hand and sit down to bewail in abject terror: It is better to be up and doing.”

I expect her family found it useful advice when they settled in Western Canada.

Her sons, William and Walter Traill, left Ontario and joined the Hudson’s Bay Company. They were stationed at various posts in Western Canada. After leaving the Company William was the founder of Meskanaw where I grew up. After he died in 1917 three of his daughters – Mary, Annie and Hattie - carried on with the farm for over 30 years. They were fondly and respectfully known as “the Aunts” within the community. My Dad knew them well and admired them. They were strong capable women. Mary was the community nurse. Annie, with the aid of a hired man, was the farmer and Hattie took care of the house. (After Hattie died a widowed daughter, Barbara, became the housekeeper.)

Gail: I’m very partial to both Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail.  Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush takes place in an area of Ontario where Ted and I owned land for many years.  4th line Theatre presents outdoor productions of plays rooted in the local history of the Peterborough/Kawarthas area, and we saw a production of Roughing It in the Bush.  The writing was spotty but the drama of Susanna standing at the top of the hill  with her trunks filled with crystal, fine china and other accoutrements of the good life, looking down at the rough cabin that was to be her new home was powerful stuff.  I knew a little about the Western Canadian connection but it’s fun to learn more.  Thanks for the information.

If you are able to reply I would be glad to post your response.

All the best.

Bill
****
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the MendelThe Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose StreetQ & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle; (2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - Part I and Part II; (2018) - A Darkness of the Heart; Hardcover

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Georgia Griffin and Ken Madigan in Escape Velocity


In my last post I reviewed Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe. It is an excellent book. In that book  I loved Georgia Griffin. She was the best character I have read in legal mystery fiction since Sebastian Rudd in Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.

Her determination is humbling. She is living in her car when she arrives in California. Until she receives her first pay cheque Georgia is stretching every dollar:

She’d found a second outfit at Goodwill, and another shirt for her pantsuit, so she would never have to wear anything more than twice a week. Hard to keep her clothes decent with her car for a closet, … Did they have an iron at the homeless center? Lousy having no refridgerator, but she was pretty sure they had one here (work) in the kitchen she could use, and four nights a week they served a hot dinner at church on First Street if she could get there on time.

Even when she starts being paid she plans to stay living in car until she has enough money to bring her teenage sister, Katie-Ann, from Arkansas to California and rent an apartment for the two of them.

The enthusiasm Georgia and Katie-Ann have for a simple apartment in a shabby building is powerful. They are grateful for the chance at a new life.

Almost as striking and certainly as impressive is the head of the legal department, Ken Madigan. He is the type of lawyer real life lawyers aspire to be in their lives. Ken does his work with integrity and determination. He treats his staff well and inspires confidence.

At the same time Ken and his wife are friendly to Georgia and want her to do well. Finding out she desperately needs a few hundred dollars for Katie-Ann’s bus fare they loan her the money. It is a pleasant fictional surprise that people can simply help someone in need with no ulterior motive.

Ken is strong willed but not aggressive and certainly not as ruthless as Georgia.

Georgia’s background has left her a driven personality. She is not driven to seek promotions. She is striving to be indispensable to ensure she can keep her position as a paralegal. The security of a job is more important than advancement in the company. She does not want to keep living in her car.

Equally wanting to keep the company successful so they need paralegals she decides to use family skills for the betterment of Lumina Software.

She is a master manipulator having been thoroughly trained in conning people. Her father is a skilled con artist though not skilled enough to avoid being in jail.

Georgia puts in a word with the possessive wife of the supervisor of the Always Pigheaded (Accounts Payable) obstructionist lady. She somewhat subtly suggests the AP lady is interested in her supervisor. Within days AP lady is gone from the company.

At the same time Georgia is risking dismissal if her manipulations should be detected.

She is not a saint. Some of her schemes have more serious consequences than losing a job. Georgia has a limited moral compass. There is more than a touch of the vigilante in her personality.

What a concept for a legal team – a clever woman and a principled man – working together to solve challenging legal issues while maintaining a genuine personal friendship. I would look forward to reading more books featuring Georgia and Ken.
****
Wolfe, Susan – (2014) - The Last Billable Hour; (2014) Who is Susan Wolfe?; (2017) - This is Susan Wolfe; (2018) - Escape Velocity 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe


(33. – 963.) Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe – I have been waiting for this book for years. Ever since I read The Last Billable Hour I have been hoping Ms. Wolfe would write another book about lawyers in Silicon Valley.

Georgia  Louise Griffin, a newly
accredited correspondence school paralegal from Arkansas, has driven to California to seek employment in the legal department of a tech firm. She does not want a life in the family con artist business. She understands the challenge facing her:

Her father probably knew as well as she did that it was nearly impossible to achieve escape velocity from the life you were born to, from a father you loved who was counting on you. Her father had just been biding his time, waiting patiently for her to grow up and quit stalling. He probably still was.

She does use some of the “special skills” to help her get a job at Lumina Software. It is a publicly traded Silicon Valley software company with a market cap of around $3 billion which has not been meeting expectations in the market.

I was immediately captured and hoping for the plucky Arkansan to succeed. Later in the book I realized she is far more than plucky.

Unfamiliar with business and legal acronyms Georgia uses clever word association to remember them. AP, instead of “Accounts Payable”, becomes “Always Pigheaded” because of the obstinancy of a woman in the department.

She is attracted to Ken Madigan, the 6’5” lean and handsome head of the legal department, but she is set on keeping their relationship professional.

Lumina’s CEO, the abrasive Roy Zisko, has cut costs and is pushing the employees to do more and more. The company had prided itself that it would only Ship When Ready its products . However, Zisko pushed the latest product to be shipped before ready and there were significant bugs which have cost sales and caused doubt in customers. An update is scheduled which also has bugs. Zisko will not hear of delay in release of the update until it is debugged. A confrontation is looming.

Georgia is almost immediately in senior meetings as a note taker. She is good at being unnoticed during the meetings.

At the same time she is very observant.

Not many books delve into the interplay between management and boards of directors of large public corporations. When business is not going well there is significant tension.

Zisko will not allocate resources for additional staff to meet deadlines but will spend several million dollars on changing the office design to open structure to show he has put his stamp upon the company.

She comes up with an idea for a lawsuit before the International Trade Commission (ITC). In her mind it becomes the Ingenious Tricky Countersuit.

Can Georgia help with the problem of inept to even incompetent supervisors and heads of department? Can the “special skills” of con artistry be adapted for use in Silicon Valley?

Wolfe is one of the few writers of legal mysteries to set out the multiple files worked on daily by corporate and private lawyers. In most legal mysteries the busy lawyers somehow focus all of their attention on a single file. In Escape Velocity the legal department is facing new issues throughout the book. They have to prioritize the different files coming at them. There is little time to savour success or despair over failure as another file or files await. I find the juggling that must be done more realistic and more interesting than the traditional single file mysteries.

I enjoyed The Last Billiable Hour. I loved Escape Velocity and will have another post on Georgia and Ken. They could easily be the lead characters for a series. I regret there were 27 years between Wolfe’s books.
****
Wolfe, Susan – (2014) - The Last Billable Hour; (2014) Who is Susan Wolfe?; (2017) - This is Susan Wolfe

Saturday, September 22, 2018

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

(32. – 962.) An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson – Sheriff Walt Longmire travels with Henry Standing Bear to Hulett in northeast Wyoming. But for one week a year Hulett is best known as the nearest town to the Devils Tower, America’s first national monument.

A short distance across the border is Rapid City, South Dakota. Even closer is Sturgis. Walt and Henry arrive at the beginning of the week long motorcycle rally held annually at Sturgis. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycles and their drivers make the trek each year to Sturgis. Many drift over to Hulett.

They roll into town in Henry’s 1959 blue Thunderbird, named Lola in honour of a past love of Henry, and towing, on a trailer, Henry’s motorcycle (Lucie) and his dirt bike (Rosalie).

Walt has been asked, informally, to help investigate a motorcycle accident in which a young man, Bodaway “B-way” Torres, was badly injured. It appears he was knocked off the highway.

Henry has come to enter the Jackpine Gypsies Hill Climb. He won the race in 1974. With grudging acceptance of age he tells Walt it will be his last climb.

The situation becomes far more complicated when they encounter:

Lots of women perfect the sway at some point in their lives, but few get the rumble that this one had in spades. She was probably in her fifties, her dark hair with a sharp strand of silver in the middle swept back from her forehead. Very tall, and dressed in a simple black tank top and jeans, she split the crowd like an icebreaker, …. He (Henry) smiled broadly, and the woman did a hair flip I would’ve given a 9.5, stepped in front of Henry, and then slapped the Bear’s face with a tooth-shattering report.

Her image is completed by her car. She drives a “dilapidated, slightly dented, faded gold’66 Cadillac DeVille”.

She is “the” Lola and she is the mother of Bodaway. Lola Wojciechowski creates drama wherever she goes.

Lola wants Henry to investigate her son’s accident. Henry, generally eager to help, is uninterested. He does not trust Lola. She turns to Walt and asks him not to let her down. The knight errant will do her biding though Henry advises:

            “Not all fair maidens are worthy of rescue, Walt.”

Bodaway is a patched member of the Tre Tre Nomads, a band of outlaw bikers, in never ending conflict with the Hell’s Angels and other outlaw biker clubs.

The investigation is hampered by the distractions of biker week and the thousands of bikers in the area.

Brady Post, enforcer of the Tre Tre Nomads, establishes an uneasy relationship with Walt.

Henry’s race is epic. I find myself enjoying the personal adventures of the lead characters as much or more than the investigations.

It gradually becomes apparent in the investigation that Bodaway was carrying something on the motorcycle that was of great value to someone.

Bodaway’s cell phone lists multiple calls with Billy ThE Kiddo, star of a moderately successful T.V. reality show. Walt and his undersheriff, Victoria Moretti, visit ThE’s custom motorcycle business, The Chop Shot. ThE after a run-in at the shop with Walt shows creativity when he gets against the Sheriff “a restraining order, harassment, and a charge of cease and desist”.

The investigation proceeds, as common with recent Longmire books, to a Hollywood ending featuring the MRAP of the Hulett police department. Thankfully there are few bodies.

Through the book Henry quotes periodically from the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. The title comes from:

            “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” 

It is a good Longmire book and I will read the next in the series. I am glad there is humour back in Walt Longmire’s life. With the T.V. series now over maybe the book series can cease the Hollywood styling.
****
Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish(Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; (2016) - Musings on the 5th Season of Longmire; (2017) - Dry Bones and Is the Largest T-Rex in Saskatchewan?; Hardcover