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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cultural Issues for Canadian Indigenous Sleuths

In my last post I discussed some of the issues involving non-white police officers and their cultures. In that post I went through some of the experiences of several non-Canadian police. Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger in Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. NapoleonBony Bonaparte travels around Australia conducting investigations into difficult cases. Nathan Active returns to his birthplace, Chukchi, on the northwest coast of Alaska as a state trooper.

In Canada there are several series with indigenous police officers.

Scott Young's sleuth, Matteesie Kitologitak, was the first Inuit to become an RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s.

In The Shaman’s Knife he returns to the Arctic where he was raised to pursue a murderer who also injured his mother.

Matteesie’s white wife in the South has seen her mother-in-law once and “apparently didn’t really warm to a toothless old Inuit woman with a tattooed face and only one eye”.

The investigation takes him to a village on the Arctic Ocean coastline of mainland Canada. As he investigates he uses the experience gained from living on the land as a youth to examine tracks in the snow. I was reminded of the tracking skills of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte.

Within the story there are shamanistic issues harkening back to the time when there were no white peoples in the North. Because of his Inuit background Mattessie consults the local shaman.

In Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman readers are introduced to Kala Stonechild who has moved from northwest Ontario to become a member of the Ottawa Police Services. Her superior is Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau. 

Stonechild has had a difficult life including time in foster homes as a child. Her background brings an edge to her personality.

In the big city she misses the stars of the night sky on her home reserve.

I have read she is the first female fictional First Nations sleuth.

In Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair the shift is in reverse from city to country. Charlie Pike from Ottawa Police Services is sent to northern Ontario to work on the investigation into a woman who has been strangled on his home reserve of Manomin Bay.

Band members, upset with the unsolved murders of a number of women, have established a blockade denying access to local police.

The protesters, trusting Pike as a fellow member of the band, allow him onto the reserve to investigate the murder. 

While not the lead character in a crime fiction series, Alex Kequahtooway, is an important character in several books of the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen.

One of the intriguing aspects is their relationship. The indigenous Regina police officer and the white university professor become lovers. Their inter-racial relationship has some tensions for some on each side of the racial divide. Though their relationship fails Gail presents them in a positive way as a couple.

With our province continuing to have issues over the relationships between white and indigenous Saskatchewanians I have appreciated the continuing respect for indigenous Canadians shown by Gail in her fiction.

With 15% of our provincial population being indigenous I am hopeful a new crime fiction writer will create an indigenous Saskatchewan sleuth.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cultural Issues for Non-White Crime Fiction Sleuths

While reading Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke I was struck by how Daren Mathews, in his position as a Texas Ranger, was affected by being an African American. Though we are well into the 21st Century some white Texans were still uncomfortable with him being a Ranger. They would respect the badge but retained their prejudices towards the man.

Locke states:

      Without the badge, he was just a black man traveling the highway alone.

Locke provides an example of the Ranger badge through Uncle William, one of the first black Rangers. Mathews recalls as a boy visiting a police station with Uncle William:

And they showed him a level of deference Darren had never seen from white men. They had no choice. William outranked every last one of them. To this day Darren believed his uncle took him on that ride to show him the power of the Rangers badge.

Within the Ranger bureaucracy there are tensions related to race. There is a unit dedicated to public corruption. When Mathews wants the Rangers to create a unit devoted to hate crimes his report is rejected:

The report had done little more than mark him as overly interested in something for which he was imagined to have an outsize personal stake, which brought little respect from his highers-up and courted the resentment of more than a few white Rangers.

In the book Mathews grudgingly earns the respect of Sheriff Van Horn, the white Sheriff of Shelby County.

The roles of non-white police officers intersecting with their racial background and racial issues is present in several other mystery series.

At one time the best known example would have been the great fictional Australian sleuth, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte who is part Aborigine. His interactions with Aboriginal life are prominent in numerous books.

In The Will of the Tribe, written in the early 1960’s, Bony is in northwestern Australia on a vast cattle station where the whites definitely consider themselves superior to the blacks. It is a time of transition as there are wild blacks living the traditional lifestyle on the land, station blacks working in laboring jobs who live in a camp at the station and educated blacks who live on the station.

In The Bone is Pointed he deals with a traditional Aboriginal form of punishment. “Bone pointing” can threaten the life of an Aborigine who believes in its power.

In The Bushman Who Came Back Bony must deal with both blackfellow law and whitefellow law. One of the issues involves a young woman, Meena, being owned by Canute, the leader of a group of Aborigines.

In Cake in the Hat Box we see the whites communicating by radio and the Aborigines by sophisticated smoke signals. As well Bony finds out there is a parallel traditional black murder investigation to his official investigation.

Through the series Bony’s expert knowledge in traditional tracking skills is often used.

In America it has been too long since I read any of the Tony Hillerman books featuring Navajo police officers,  Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, for me to remember the details of their lives as indigenous officers. 

I have read and enjoyed the mysteries of Stan Jones featuring Alaskan State trooper, Nathan Active, who has a different background to the above sleuths. He is Inuit and was born in the fictional town of Chukchi on the northwest coast of Alaska. Where the officers mentioned above grew up in black or indigenous cultures Active was adopted by a white family and raised in urban Alaska in Anchorage.

Many of the continuing racial issues for Active in the series revolve around questions of his Inuit identity. There is a feeling that he is not really Inuit having lived much of his life away from Chukchi on the northwest coast. He is looked at as more white than Inuit.

His birth mother wants him a part of Inuit culture. She seeks to find him a nice Inuit wife. Active is trying to fit back in Inuit culture but it is not easy. A local delicacy provides an example. From my review of Tundra Kill:

It is a land where a man is viewed with suspicion who is not interested in muktuk supper:

The two women looked at each other and shook their hands in astonishment at the idea of an Inupiaq man passing up a nice chunk of boiled bowhead whale skin with an inch or two of fat still on. “Not even if it’s fresh!” Arlene said.

In Frozen Sun Active goes in search of the beautiful Grace Sikingik who moved to the city to go to university. She has disappeared into a life of sex and drink on the infamous Four Street in Anchorage. Too often young indigenous men and women have ended up in a self-destructive lifestyle in the big city.

I have more examples from Canadian mysteries which I shall discuss in my next post.
  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Quintet from Sleuth of Baker Street

In my last post I discussed attending an author event on Sunday at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. As always I did some book shopping at Sleuth.

Having listened to the descriptions of the books and excerpts from each book I decided to buy The B-Team by Melodie Campbell. I was attracted to the book by the quirky characters and Melodie’s well known and well recognized sense of humour. Her website is titled funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.ca.

Melodie spoke of the challenge in trying to write fiction that is funny. At the end of the writing process, having read the book so many times she said she has to send it away to the publisher to judge its humour as she can no longer tell if it is humorous.

As I went around the bookstore looking at shelves and tables I spent most of my time looking for authors who are harder to find in stores. I can find the books of the best sellers in almost any bookstore.

I did look for a book bound to be a best seller. Jason Mathews’ new book, The Kremlin’s Candidate, has just been published. With the success of Red Sparrow and Victim of Treason I expect the third book in the trilogy, The Kremlin’s Candidate, will be a best seller. Dominika Egorova is a fascinating spy.
My second book purchase was Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany which is the second in her series involving Emma Doyle in her Sherlockian bookshop in Massachusetts. In the first book I enjoyed Emma’s intense powers of observation and her surprise that the rest of the world did not always appreciate the swiftness of her mind. A boyfriend did not propose marriage when she told him in advance she knew he was going to propose.

In a recent comment on The Kings of London, fellow blogger and friend Moira from Clothes in Books, said she was not ready at the moment for a depressing story. I can understand the thought. Part of the reason I bought the above two books is that each of them is not going to depress me in the reading.

My third book was Cut You Down, the second book in the Dave Wakeland series by Sam Wiebe. The author gained recognition in 2012 when he won the Unhanged Arthur Award for best unpublished novel with Last of the Independents. It subsequently became his first published book. He then embarked on the Wakeland series with Invisible Dead. The series, gritty but not depressing, is set on the mean streets of Vancouver.

The fourth book was All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards. I have enjoyed reading about Martin over my years as a blogger. Between his own fiction and collections of stories he has edited and his non-fiction work few can match the breadth of his crime fiction skills and knowledge. I had always been interested in reading his Harry Devlin series about a Liverpool solicitor. With Martin having been a lawyer I wanted to read what kind of lawyer he created. (That sentence sounds vaguely Frankensteinian but I will leave it as written.)

I was going to stop after four books but, as I was lined up to pay for my books (there is a scene not seen often enough in independent bookstores), on the shelf of staff recommended books was Take Down by James Swain. It sounded abit like The B-Team with a criminal seeking to do right. Being a book set in America, Las Vegas, I expect there will be more violence than the ladies of the B-Team in Hamilton. Still hesitating I asked Marian who had liked the book and she said J.D. Knowing it is not often they like the same book I asked her thoughts and she said J.D. had told her that he thought she would like it. She said he does not often make such a recommendation and she expected to soon read the book. Take Down became my fifth purchase. And it turned out to be autographed by the author.

I did take the opportunity to ask Marian if the store had any copies of the new Susan Wolfe legal mystery. I said I had liked The Last Billable Hour and was looking for the new book. She said she had loved The Last Billable Hour but had not heard of the new book. Her computer showed that the Canadian distributor did not have any in stock. She said she would contact them and see if she could get me a copy.

While there is no longer a cat to greet customers Marian has her faithful companion, Percy, quietly wandering the store and checking out visitors.
Lovers of crime fiction will never be disappointed if they visit Sleuth. I have been shopping there for almost 30 years.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Authors at Sleuth of Baker Street

The past week has not gone as expected. I plan to get back to reviews in the coming week but wanted to write this post and my next post about my visit today to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. With fewer mystery bookstores still in business I cherish every opportunity to visit a store dedicated to the genre I love to read and write about on this blog.

Today had an unexpected pleasure. I had not looked at the store calendar and did not know there was going to be a multiple author event at the store until I arrived this afternoon.

Three Canadian authors were involved. Melodie Campbell was there to talk about her newest book, The B-Team: The Case of the Angry First Wife. Alison Bruce was presenting her new book, Ghost Writer. Ginger Bolin’s book, Survival of the Fritters, the first in a new series was the third book. She was unable to attend because of the flu.

Hamilton based mystery reviewer and former university dean, Don Graves, read his reviews of The B Team and Ghost Writer. He greatly enjoyed each of the books. He spent several years writing reviews for the Hamilton Spectator and now writes reviews for the Bay Observer.

He had an anecdote about Sleuth. When he was a university dean in downtown Toronto he would often, sometimes even twice a week, slip away from the campus on a dean’s hour break to visit Sleuth and usually buy books. He has a personal collection of about 4,000 books with most of them being crime fiction and most of those purchased at Sleuth.

Don has an 8 year old grandson who has become entranced by Sherlock Holmes and is devouring Holmes’ stories. In the relentless way of children he asked his grandfather the source of his books. When his grandfather tired of saying they came from Sleuth and said one came from another source the grandson said “and why not Sleuth?” He said he would soon be bringing his grandson to see the store.

Melodie’s book is about an eccentric group of Canadian women who band together. From the publisher’s blurb:

        Del's great-aunt, Kitty, has retired from a life of crime and
        embarked on a new venture, the B-Team. Although Del works
        at an animal shelter by day, by night she, her great-aunt and
        their cohorts, Dino and Ritz, use their criminal skills to right
        wrongs.

Alison’s story involves the paranormal. From the author’s website:

Jen Kirby has seen ghosts since she was a teen, but she can't talk to them or help them cross over. And, after a violent death in the family, she doesn't want to see them anymore. 

In her role as ghostwriter, Jen joins a Canadian Arctic expedition to document and help solve a forty-year-old mystery involving an American submarine station lost during the Cold War. The trouble is, there are people, living and dead, who don't want the story told, and they'll do anything to stop her.

She had a striking story of personal experience with ghosts as she recounted seeing her grandmother, soon after her death, at the foot of her bed trying to talk to her.

Boltons’ book is the start of a new cozy series. Kirkus Reviews states:

        Since the death of her husband, Alec, Emily Westhill has kept
        busy running Deputy Donut with her father-in-law, Tom
        Westhill. A former police chief himself, Tom is also a
         doughnut expert, and he and Emily cook up a truly dizzying
        array of confections from lemon-glazed blueberry to maple-
        bacon.

After the formal presentation on the books there was mingling and sweets to be consumed. On Melodie’s book is the figure of a black cat. Among the treats were cat shaped and decorated cookies. I brought back to our temporary apartment a pair of the cat cookies.

I enjoyed visiting with Melodie and Alison.

Melodie is the former executive director of the Crime Writers of Canada. She was in that position when I joined the organization.

It was nice to chat with fellow aficionados of mysteries. It appears Canadians use the phrase mystery fiction more often than crime fiction. I get few chances to visit with groups of mystery fans.

With the author event and visiting completed I looked through the store for some books. As with recent visits Sleuth I restrained myself by purchasing only five books. It is hard to show restraint at Sleuth. Don left the store with two bags of books.

My next post will discuss the store and my purchases.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

(4. – 934.) Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly – I decided to write about what I love and what makes me unhappy and the contradictions in Connelly’s books as I read Two Kinds of Truth.

Harry’s new office as a member of the San Fernando police reflects Connelly’s skill in creating unique settings:

Bosch was where he was at the start of most weeks: sitting at his makeshift desk, a wooden door he had borrowed from the Public Works yard and placed across two stacks of file boxes.

His desk is in a jail cell:

…. the former cell now fitted with steel shelves containing case files. There was a long communal bench left over from the eell’s previous existence as a drunk tank.

Connelly challenges Bosch’s image of himself in the context of his case history. Over his career he has often dealt with cold cases in which he has searched old files for a piece of information overlooked or a witness either missed or not properly interviewed or applying new forensic techniques.

Now a small semen stain has been found in clothing from a murder victim, Danielle Skylar. It is from a violent sex offender and murderer, Lucas John Olmer. He is not the man, Preston Borders, whom Bosch had identified as the killer and was convicted of Skylar’s death. Has Bosch made a mistake?

Being a perfectionist Bosch is sure, as always, he never made a mistake. Connelly creates a high standard of expectation for Bosch by making him a perfectionist. As no one in real life is perfect I find it fascinating to wonder as I read if Connelly will show Bosch to be human and err or find a way to explain the inexplicable – how did Olmer’s DNA end up on clothing in a sealed box where Bosch’s signature on the tape sealing the box looks to be untampered.

Connelly does not provide easy cases for Bosch to remain perfect. You can be perfect if you do not take up the challenge of difficult cases. No real life trial lawyer wins them all unless the lawyer declines to take tough cases to trial.

Connelly brings in unusual law enforcement issues credibly. In Two Kinds of Truth it is the Health Quality Investigation Unit at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. They investigate with regard to the over prescription and unlawful prescription of drugs.

I love how Connelly will bring back characters from earlier books, often in a new position. Here uses the Unit as a means to have Bosch's old partner, Jerry Edgar, return as an investigator for the Health Quality Investigation Unit.

Connelly finds creative ways in plots for Bosch as he ages to both challenge the stereotypes of a senior citizen either being stuck in the office or engaged in implausibly physical feats. Here Bosch goes undercover as a pill shill – an addict who goes from shady doctors with prescriptions for opioids to shady pharmacies to get the bills – for a criminal enterprise. He is perfect candidate for the operation as he is a senior and active police officer. His age creates less suspicion in the gang that he is a plant. The process of going undercover was unconvincing in its briefness but Bosch has credible dangerous experiences undercover. At the same time Bosch will mix it up with the bad guys. There is a confrontation which is physical and believable.

Intentional or not I appreciate that Connelly has written books since the Bosch T.V. series started that re-affirm Titus Welliver, the T.V. Bosch, as my mental image of the book Bosch.

At the same time as I greatly enjoy the books I regret some tendencies in recent books in the series. I have also found interesting Connelly's use of contradictions in Bosch's actions. I will explore those issues in my next post.
****
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; (2017) - Bosch - T.V. - Season One and Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch; Hardcover


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Dyed in the Green by George Mercer


Dyed in the Green by George Mercer – Ben Matthews arrives at Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia as the new Assistant Chief Park Warden. The park is located in the northern part of the island and spans the island.

Matthews is joining his girlfriend, Kate Jones, a seasonal warden at the park. Life is a little more complicated with Matthews being the supervisor of Jones.

The park is in the midst of Acadian Nova Scotia. French is spoken as much as English. The Acadians see themselves as distinct from the English population.

Matthews arrives with a clear purpose. He is committed to the ideal of protecting the park from poachers. In recent years park wardens have not vigorously sought out poachers. Some local residents have been making a habit of poaching salmon and deer.

In particular, John Donald Moores views the park as a part of his regular hunting grounds. While he earns an income from commercial fishing he is a passionate hunter and fisher of salmon.

Moores is a man who believes rules and laws were meant for other people. At times contemptuous of the wardens he also views poaching as a game. There is a thrill in outwitting the wardens.

As is the way of governments throughout the world not all rules make sense. All hunting is prohibited in the park but non-commercial fishing for salmon is allowed.

Catching poachers means long lonely hours for the wardens. They will have all night patrols and stakeouts. On cold fall nights they bring sleeping bags to get some warmth.

Tensions can run high if the wardens confront a poacher. Still when murder occurs it is startling.

American readers may be surprised to know the wardens of 20 years ago and earlier did not carry firearms as they patrolled the parks. They confronted poachers, often armed, without guns themselves. Some carried guns, contrary to regulation, but many were unarmed.

Matthews fits well with the other wardens and park personnel. His staff sees him spending as much or more time as themselves on night duty.

I enjoyed learning about the life of park wardens some years ago, Parks Canada as explained by Mercer, re-organized in 2008 and there are no longer wardens. At the same time I do not think I will read another in the series.

It is an earnest book. Mercer clearly loves Canada’s national parks and the park wardens with whom he worked for over 30 years. I am sure, as with other professions, that almost all of them are dedicated to their work. At the same time I am sure that they have never thought of themselves as saints. The only flaw I could detect in Matthews is that he is a workaholic, overly dedicated, to being a warden. The other wardens except for Joe, on the verge of retirement, are equally without blemish. Joe’s flaw is a more relaxed approach to being a warden that is reflective of his age and impending retirement.

I certainly do not need sleuths to be dysfunctional individuals but they need to be real people.