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