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.

Friday, December 14, 2018

21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio Conclusions

Major General George Kitching

21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio - In my previous post I started a review of 21 Days in Normandy which examines the 4th Canadian Armoured Division's battles to close the Falaise Gap in the summer of 1944 and the conduct of the battles by their General, George Kitching.

Operation Totalize, the attack intended to close the gap, was their first major battle. The innovative night attack produced a breakthrough.

In the morning the Canadians paused. Those at the point of the attack wanted to press on but their commanders refused citing concerns over a planned bombing that could have endangered them and the need for supporting forces to catch up. There were massive logistical issues as they were operating on a narrow front creating a major bottleneck. It is Caravaggio’s opinion that the narrow front was a key impediment to break out.

Caravaggio further believes the tanks wanting to advance would have been stopped by German anti-tank defences but they never tried. The commanders below Kitching did not know what to do with unexpected success. There can be little doubt that aggressive German or American leaders would have attacked. There is no evidence that Kitching was even consulted by subordinate officers on the decision to stop the advance.

The Canadian Army, despite a year of fighting in Italy in WW II before the invasion of Normandy, was not yet ready to exploit success. The direction of Simonds that there be no holding back in Operation Totalize was not the Canadian army way at that time.

Within the Canadian army the 4th Division was even less ready.

The officers commanded by Kitching in the 4 Armd had varied backgrounds and experience. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Booth, was to become infamous in Normandy. At least one fellow officer considered him a poor brigadier before the Normandy campaign. During the battle Kitching found him asleep and drunk in his tank. Kitching verbally lashed him but left him in command. Kitching should never have excused such dereliction of duty and his decision reflects on his ability to make hard decisions in combat.

During this battle Kitching was not close enough to the front at the point of breakthrough and later was too close to the front when he was needed at Division HQ.

In Tractable, the second battle for the Gap, Kitching was hampered by confusing and shifting and inappropriate orders from Simonds. It appeared to me Simonds had lost confidence in Kitching by Simonds’ attempted micro management of the battle.

Considering the problems with his orders I believe Kitching effectively commanded his division in Tractable.

In both battles subordinates let Kitching down. At pivotal moments they were slow to get underway. At the same time Kitching did not find ways to drive them. He was a good man but not the man to lead and exploit a break out.

I did appreciate better that sending an armoured division into its first battle was bound to have challenges and the division not to be as effective as a more experienced division.

Of all the Canadian generals at that time I think only Bert Hoffmeister had the combination of drive and iniative and sense of battle to have closed the Gap on time. Hoffmeister was still in Italy.

Caravaggio clearly admires Kitching and thinks he got a raw deal in Normandy. He finds it hard to offer than the odd minor criticism of Kitching. The book is an interesting perspective on the battle, especially with regard to Simonds, but did not convince me Kitching performed well in the battles to close the Gap. It is difficult for a biographer to be objective, even more challenging when the writer likes his subject.

I do agree Kitching was made a scapegoat for the failure to close the gap as expected. He did not lose the battles. Kitching’s failing was that he did not win them as fast as commanders above him planned.

The book makes clear that the other generals in Totalize and Tractable from Simonds through the generals commanding other divsions such as the Polish Armoured Division had their own problems and contributed to the perceived lack of success but they were not replaced. It was easiest to sacrifice Kitching.
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21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio

Thursday, December 13, 2018

21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio

(24. – 954.) 21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio – Over the past 15 years I have been reading about the Canadian army in Normandy. In particular, I have read several accounts about the Canadian Army’s efforts to close the Falaise Gap in August of 1944. It was the moment during the war when the Canadian army had the opportunity to change the war. Closing the gap quickly would have meant the capture and destruction of the German army in Normandy. It was rare that the Canadian army had a chance to play such a significant role.

Canada did close the gap but it took longer than most historians felt needed which allowed tens of thousands of German soldiers to escape.

In the battles to close the gap the tip of the Canadian army was the 4th Canadian Armoured Division (4 Cdn Arm Div). Their leader, Major General George Kitching, was relieved of his command as the battle ended. Caravaggio argues he should not have been removed.

In 21 Days in Normandy there is a detailed exploration of the structure and makeup of the Canadian army. That section is slow going and could have been significantly reduced with much of the information consigned to footnotes or appendices for those readers wanting such detail. (There were already detailed and extensive footnotes and appendices.)

It was useful to have background information especially about the woeful state of the Canadian army in 1939. Canada was ill-prepared for armoured warfare. When WW II commenced Canada had a mere “sixteen outdated British Light Mk VI tanks and twelve Carden-Lloyd carriers”.

Unlike most books on battles there is extensive discussion on how army bureaucracy can help or hinder the troops fighting the battles.

The Canadian army of WW II had an enormous number of reports and orders flowing up and down from division HQ. With regard to the functioning of the division in Normandy:

Breakdowns in situational awareness, common intent and battle procedure would plague the 4 CDN Armd Div in its first major battle.

Kitching trained and served in the British Army before coming to Canada in 1938. He joined the Canadian Army in 1939 as a 2nd lieutenant. By February of 1944 he was a Major General in commanding the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. It was a series of promotions not uncommon in the rapidly expanding Canadian army of WW II. It was not considered necessary that the commander of an armoured division have experience in an armoured division. Kitching was an infantry officer.

Simonds worked well with Kitching in Sicily and Italy and wanted Kitchings to be with him in northern Europe. Each highly respected the other.

It was a surprise that the division had no actual division scale exercises prior to being deployed to France.

They arrived in France well after the invasion on June 6.

They prepared for battle and moved into position in early August to lead the attack to close the gap.

(My next post will contain the rest of my review.)


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Discussing "why" with Chris Hammer


With the aid of Abigail Novak from Simon & Schuster I sent  a message to Chris Hammer about his book Scrublands. He was able to reply. Our exchange is below. I appreciate the thoughtful response of Chris. I hope he writes more books with "why" at the heart of the book.
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To: Chris Hammer

I am requesting your publisher forward this note to you. I have written a pair of posts about Scrublands. Here is a link to the first post – http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2018/11/scrublands-by-chris-hammer.html

The second post, which will be put up in a couple of days, is below this message.

Living in rural Saskatchewan, another vast thinly populated land, your depiction of life in the small community of Riversend felt right to me but it was not the country setting that I wanted to ask you about with regard to Scrublands.

I would be very interested in knowing “why” you put “why” as the quest in Scrublands.

As set out in my second post “why” is a question of never ending interest to me.

I thought the book brilliantly written and was very glad I received the opportunity from your publisher to read the book.

Thank you for considering my question. If you are able to reply and willing to let me publish your response in my blog I would post this letter and your answer.

Thanks.

Bill Selnes 
****

One reason I like reading crime books - and writing them, as it turns out - is they can encompass so much more than just a plot.

Don't get me wrong; the plot is essential. It's hard to imagine a successful crime book without a good plot. But there is room for so much more. And in particular for nuanced, complex characters, including characters that change over the course of a book.

I hope that is the case with my protagonist, Martin Scarsden. He's a different man at the end of Scrublands than he was at the beginning.

So why 'why'? Most contemporary crime books involve murder, often committed by regular members of the community (as opposed to mafia hitmen etc.). So it's not enough to simply reveal who did it; to make it credible and satisfying read, you need to at least suggest why they did it. Was it greed, jealousy, hatred? Or was the motivation more complex?

For me, the questions of 'why' can be more intriguing for the reader than 'who' and 'how'. Because at the end of any crime book, the reader should know for certain who the killer was and how they committed the crime, but the question of 'why' can be more subtle, even ambiguous. More can be left tot he reader's imagination. They can ponder whether the murder was in any way justified and wonder if there were any alternatives if events had played out slightly differently.

So for me the 'why' is always more important, not just to explain the actions of the killer, but to explain the actions and interactions of the other characters as well.

Chris Hammer
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Hammer, Chris - (2018) - Scrublands and "Why" in Scrublands

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

World Without End by Ken Follett

With reading going slowly I am putting up a review I wrote for myself 10 years ago.
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20. - 430.) World Without End by Ken Follett - The story of Kingsbridge Cathedral resumes 200 years after its construction. Over the second quarter of the 13th Century we follow Merthin, the oldest son of impoverished nobility, and Caris, the younger daughter of a prosperous wool merchant. The book takes us from their youth through to old age (an era when anyone surviving to their 50’s was considered old). Around them swirl a colourful set of characters (the book would make an excellent television mini-series). Merthin is a skilled architect and builder. Caris is a bold independent thinker with a talent for healing and leading. They face credible life challenges. I had forgotten about the complexities of societal relationships between the religious (monks / nuns / general clergy), townspeople (merchants / labourers / tradesmen / artisans), famers (serfs / tenants) and nobility (lords / ladies / squires). Amidst the triumphs and tragedies of regular life the Black Death descends upon them with an unbelievable ferocity for which there is no modern equivalent. It has been a long time since I read a saga. It is a wonderful portrait of life. Hardcover. (May 20/08)
****
It did become a mini-series in 2012. I did not watch the series.

I am thinking it is about time I read another saga.