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.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Exchange with Author A.J. Devlin

After reading Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin I put up my review and wrote a post on Stampede Wrestling which was my last post. I also wrote to A.J. I appreciate his prompt response. Our email exchange forms this post.
****
To: A.J.

While I thought Cobra Clutch was a rambunctious romp through professional wrestling it was tame compared to the wonders of Rolling Thunder.

I have written a sports column for 42 years focused on the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL but have never covered roller derby. I can remember decades ago watching the dramatics of roller derby on television. While many professional athletes risk injury the mayhem of roller derby was unparalleled. I had not realized there remain active roller derby leagues. From the tone of the book am I correct you are a roller derby fan? If so, how long have you enjoyed roller derby.

The wrestling sequences in the book and the ending reminded me of the Stempede Wrestling of my youth over 50 years ago. I attach a copy of my next post for the blog on my wrestling memories. You are certainly aware of Stampede Wrestling. Do you have any connections or memories of your own?

I feel compelled to inquire if you have personal knowledge of kink clubs and BDSM parties. I note your acknowledgements did not refer to academic research. Did you perhaps undertake some personal research?

Some years ago Toronto author, Jill Edmondson, wrote a book, The Lies Have It, which featured the investigation by her sleuth, tough girl Sasha Jackson, into the death of a man who engaged in BDSM. Jill called her fictional group Bound for Glory. The inspiration was the real life group Northwood Leather. 

As well, Jill advised me that, while working as a bartender, she had some interesting experiences:

Full disclosure: All through college and university (eleven years fulltime, plus two more part time), plus during the phases when I was starting and aborting one career after another, I worked in bars.  Much of what ends up in the books is loosely based on things I’ve seen or people I’ve met in real life... usually in a bar, and usually when I was cutting them off, or when asking the bouncer to escort someone out.  A “movie producer” once tipped me a condom covered cucumber.  He had autographed the condom.  You can’t make this shit up!  I used to get tipped in hash quite a lot... I’m not a toker... why are people giving me hash???  Obviously, there are parallels between the hardboiled gumshoe world and my spotty bartending history.

In another exchange of emails I asked her:

In your real life experience as a bartender did you have a comparable experience to Sasha giving a free drink to a guy rather than handle his credit card which had been nestled inside “his skimpy red underwear”? It was a vivid visual image in the book. I well remember your cucumber story from our previous Questions and Answers.

She replied:

I wasn’t the one serving Mr. Red Undies; my friend Jennifer (in the book Jessica) served him.  She had nightmares for months about the warm card ;-)

Sidenote: A few weeks later, I knew Mr. Red Undies would be coming to The Pilot for lunch.
On my way to work, I detoured to a kinky sex toys store on Yonge and bought a pair of edible undies for him (red cherry, of course).  I handed the package to him in front of his lunchmates & everyone laughed their heads off!

Hammerhead is frequently at the family owned Emerald Shillelagh bar savouring one or more Guinness. Might you have worked in a bar and had some interesting real life experiences comparable to Jill that have inspired you or provided material for your writing.

If you are able to reply and willing, I would post this message and your reply as a post on my blog.

I expect Rolling Thunder will do well and look forward to the next book in the series.

All the best.

Bill
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Hi Bill!

Thank you so much for reading Rolling Thunder and so quickly! And your review is terrific — thank you so much for your kind words, I’m absolutely thrilled you enjoyed it, and I will graciously share the link on my social media tomorrow.

I definitely lean harder into the humour, quirkiness, and all things offbeat in Rolling Thunder when compared to Cobra Clutch.

Ok, I want to get to all of your questions:

Yes, I am a big roller derby fan, but only really discovered it after writing Cobra Clutch and then searching for another fringe sport or unique subculture to have “Hammerhead” Jed venture into while working a case. It seemed like the perfect follow up backdrop for Jed’s sophomore adventure.

Stampede Wrestling was amazing! I remember watching it as a kid and while researching the “Hammerhead” Jed series I learned a lot about the Hart family and Stu Hart’s infamous dungeon where he trained so many legendary professional wrestlers.

Lol people keep asking me about the kink club! I don’t blame them, it’s a wild couple of chapters. Basically when I did a ride-a-long in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver for Cobra Clutch my neighbour and VPD officer friend pointed out such a place. I then did a ton of research online and surprisingly learned these events are very well documented so I looked at hundreds of photos and learned of “the dungeon” and the apparatus there, the safety and staff protocols, and, of course, penis painting (100% real!). Lucky for me my wife didn’t check my computer's browser history when I was writing those chapters!

I will look into Jill Edmondson for sure. And I think Jed’s days with kink clubs are behind him moving forward! I’m currently working on book 3 and he catches a case set in the world of mixed martial arts. Like Jack Reacher, Jed is very much defined by his physicality, so I thought it would be interesting to explore what it would be like for him if he wasn’t automatically the biggest or toughest guy in the room.

I have never worked in a bar myself, but being 3/4’s of Irish descent, having visited Ireland and the Guinness storehouse with my wife before we had kids, and having a terrific Irish pub out here in my hometown of Port Moody, I couldn’t resist cooking up the Emerald Shillelagh as a “home base” if you will for Jed, Declan, and Frank.

I hope these responses answer your questions sufficiently and thank you so very much for your support. I’m still a newbie crime writer with a small Canadian publisher (although NeWest Press is on fire right now with all of their successful award nominated and award winning books so it’s a thrilling time to be working with them) but getting the word out about the “Hammerhead” Jed series on crime fiction blogs like Mysteries & More is awesome and I’m very grateful for the exposure.

All the best,
A.J.
****
Devlin, A.J. - (2019) - Cobra Clutch; (2020) - Rolling Thunder

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Good Memories of Stampede Wrestling!

Reading Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin which involves professional wrestling in B.C. in the 21st Century brought back memories of Stampede Wrestling. Back in the olden days of the 1960’s when I was growing up on the farm at Meskanaw we had a black and white television set and 2 channels, CKBI from Prince Albert and CFQC from Saskatoon. As with many Western Canadians I was fascinated by Stampede Wrestling from Calgary. Stu Hart’s wrestlers and the announcer, Ed Whalen, were staples of my television watching.


Each week there was drama in and around the ring as the wrestlers battled each other.


I found it amazing how they could roar around the ring and fly through the air and occasionally be tossed outside the ring.


I think watching Stampede Wrestling was one of my inspirations for studying judo. They had to have some special training to be able to survive the throws and bounce back up again. As I worked my way to my first degree black belt in judo I came to appreciate how well those wrestlers had learned how to fall.


My first judo instructor, Jack Burroughs, had done some professional wrestling to supplement his income while he was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force. To hide his identity from his superiors he wore a mask. He was one of the bad guys. With his big personality I expect he was a great bad guy.


I am sure I was in the minority in being interested in the techniques of Stampede wrestlers. Most people I knew were caught up in the action and their favourites.


I soon realized that professional wrestling was actually entertainment and the results were pre-arranged. I was surprised how many fans, especially women of mature years, viewed them as real fights and were outraged by the actions of the bad guys.


I do not remember many of the names of the wrestlers but I recall a series of epic confrontations between Dave Ruhl and Sweet Daddy Siki leading to the NWA North American Championship. Ruhl and Siki were household names throughout the West.


Outside the ring many of the wrestlers, especially the bad guys, were quick witted. They knew how to stoke the fires burning in the hearts of fans. They would fiercely threaten mayhem while Ed tried to remain stoic and keep possession of his microphone.


As I grew older I drifted away from watching wrestling. The WWE has never appealed to me. There is just too much choreography and too many long winded speeches.


In the 1990’s I came to know and love Bill “Buff” Reid who had worked at Stampede Wrestling as a protector before coming to Melfort to work as the trainer for the Melfort Mustangs. A big and burly man he would accompany wrestlers to and from the ring ensuring their backs were protected from over-excited fans. He said it was a challenge dealing with female fans as they had too many inappropriate places to grab. When he was protecting he wore a big black cowboy hat. As long as a wrestler could see the big man with the black hat was behind him he could focus on his persona. No one ever jumped a wrestler Buff was protecting.


I did have one evening in which I participated in professional wrestling. It was not the Stampede Wrestling organization but a different group that has faded away. As a member of the Melfort Rotary Club I led the way in having the wrestlers come to Melfort for a show. Unfortunately, we over-estimated the enthusiasm in Melfort for professional wrestling and lost money on the promotion. Still it was quite an evening.


The wrestlers were tough men. While the ring floor was designed to provide some give on throws a few times wrestlers ended up tumbling out of the ring and landing on boards placed over the ice of the local arena. I was impressed that they got back up again.


I had often wondered how real the action was when wrestlers hit each other with chairs. On that night it was very real action as they used regular arena chairs to bash one another. The City of Melfort was not amused and Rotary had to pay for 2-3 chairs that were broken by the wrestlers.


My special experience was being the ring announcer. Wearing a bright red bowtie and black suit I would step into the ring and enthusiastically proclaim the next match. There is not much left to do in life once you have been a ring announcer for professional wrestling.
****
(Vancouver) - Devlin, A.J. - (2019) - Cobra Clutch; (2020) - Rolling Thunder

Thursday, May 21, 2020

2020 Winners of the Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Writing

Earlier this evening the Crime Writers of Canada announced the winners of the 2020 Arthur Ellis Awards.

They are:



Best Crime Novel Sponsored by Rakuten Kobo

Greenwood by Michael Christie

Best Crime First Novel Sponsored by Maureen Jennings

Nobody Move by Philip Elliott

Best Crime Novella Sponsored by Mystery Weekly

The Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson


Best Crime Story Sponsored by Mystery Weekly


Closing Doors by Peter Sellers


Best French Crime Book


Tempêtes by Andrée Michaud


Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book Sponsored by Shaftesbury


Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Best Nonfiction Crime Book

Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island by Charlotte Gray

The Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished Crime Manuscript Sponsored by Dundurn Press

The Dieppe Letters by Liz Rachel Walker

Congratulations to all the winners!


Last night I put up a post, a link is below, about the Shortlist for the Best Novel Category in which I assessed them on the basis of "Which was the Hardest to Put Down". Fate by Ian Hamilton was my hardest. Greenwood, the winner, was second hardest. It is clearly a good book. I will be reviewing all of the books on the shortlist and putting up my thoughts on which was the best.

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https://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2020/05/which-of-2020-arthur-ellis-best-novel.html


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Which of the 2020 Arthur Ellis Best Novel Shortlist is Hardest to Put Down?

Tomorrow evening there will be an online announcement by the Crime Writers of Canada of the winners of the 2020 Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Writing. Just over a week ago I received in the mail the 5 books forming the shortlist for the Best Novel Award. I had ordered them from the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto.

I started with Fate by Ian Hamilton because he is the only author from the finalists I have read previously. I have enjoyed his series of thrillers featuring the dynamic forensic accountant, Ava Lee. Fate is the first in a trilogy on the origins of “Uncle” Chow Tung who was Ava’s mentor in the early books of the series. I was immediately caught up in Uncle’s escape from mainland China to Hong Kong in 1959 and his rise as a Fanling triad a decade later. I swept through the 295 pages in two days.

At that point knowing I could not read the other 4 books before the Awards announcement I could not determine which book I would read next. After some reflection I decided to read from each of them simultaneously to get a sense of all the shortlisted books before the announcement of the winner. I would read about 25 pages, make some notes and then move on to the next book. Using that approach I have read 50 - 100 pages in each of the remaining 4 shortlisted books.

I would not pick which I consider the best without reading more for I have enough first impressions that were changed for the better or worse by superior or disappointing endings.

I found I did read enough to know which book I wanted to keep reading rather than move on to one of the other books. Thus I will rank the shortlist by “Hardest to Put Down”:

1.) Fate - Even had I not read the full book I know I would have found it very hard not to keep reading the book. Hamilton is very skilled at drawing the reader through the narrative. I also believe I was driven as I wanted to know about “Uncle”. He had been such an intriguing and important character in the Ava Lee series.

2.) Greenwood by Michael Christie - In 2038 seekers of the experience of trees come to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral on an island off the coast of British Columbia. A “Great Withering” has killed most of the world’s trees. Great dust storms have caused economic havoc and rib retch, a virulent new strain of tuberculosis, is killing untold numbers of children. The seekers, known as “Pilgrims”, are wealthy world citizens who have isolated themselves from the wretched masses of poor people. Canada known as water rich and tree rich is a refuge for the wealthy.

Forest Guide, Jake Greenwood, has a Ph.D in dendrology (botany specializing in trees). She takes the Pilgrims around the island. 

Jake has just seen on a pair of ancient firs some patches of browned needles and an area of spongy bark. Has the Withering come to the island?

And then the story turns to the lives of her father, Liam, and her mother, Willow. Jake had never known their stories. More important she was unaware her great-grandfather had owned the island.

I rarely venture into the future, especially the future of great disasters, but the unsettling, compelling opening of Greenwood drew me into the book. And, as we are living amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels uncomfortably real. I need to know what is going to happen in Greenwood.

3.) In the Dark by Loreth Anne White - Big city homicide detective, RCMP Sgt. Mason Deniaud, is now in charge of the 3 officer detachment at Kluhane Bay in remote northern British Columbia. 

As the book opens in early November he is interviewing the survivor of a bush disaster. The name and gender of the survivor is not revealed. Two weeks earlier 9 people took a floatplane from the dock of the Thunderbird Lodge. 

The story shifts to the discovery of a crashed floatplane a few days earlier. At the scene Deniaud, who has hid his fear of heights, trying to see the plane, has a branch break and tumbles down to a ledge where the plane is precariously perched. Just as the plane slips into the river he is grabbed by Callie Sutton, head of the Kluhane Lake Search and Rescue. Uncomfortable with heights myself it was a heart pounding scene.

The story shifts earlier yet in October. Executives and an aging private investigator gather to fly to a new exclusive lodge. They have been invited to experience the lodge and discuss potential business contracts for the services needed by the lodge. They find the Forest Shadow Wilderness Resort & Spa is not a luxurious resort. It is a huge empty house.

Each member of the nine thinks they recognize at least one other person. Cryptic thoughts of dark secrets occupy their minds.

Unease edges towards panic when they realize they were duped into coming and then learn the plane’s radio has been sabotaged and bad weather may keep them in the wilderness for a week or more unable to communicate with the rest of the world.

When they find a copy of Agatha Christie’s book, Ten Little Indians, on the coffee table in which there is a paper with a poem about “Nine Little Liars” who die one by one until there is but one I could barely put down the book.

4.) The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley - Pain. Acute and chronic. The lacerating pain of failing relationships. Grace and Miles Markell are specialists in such pain, At their beautiful resort on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico they host two week retreats for well-to-do couples on the abyss of separation. Yet they are living a failing personal relationship.

Shell and Colin are a mature Canadian couple with perfect hair. They are abruptly defined as the alcoholic and the workaholic. 

Ben and Johana have come from California. He is a busy district attorney. She is a social worker who has not left their home for weeks. 

All the couples are bitter. There is clearly an abundance of motive for violence.

Since I deal with family law every day at the office the stories and emotions are very familiar.

I am interested to know what develops but did not find it hard to put the book down.

5.) Hideaway by Nicole Lundrigan - A creepy chilling opening left me dreading what would happen next. Gloria “Glow” Janes is a nightmare mother. After he steals some chocolate Gloria takes her son, Rowan “Row”, into the woods and leaves him standing over night under a sign marked “Theif”. When her daughter, Maisy “Turtle”, a flower in a school play freezes on stage she ignores Maisie when they get home. Maisy thinks:

That is how I knew she disappeared me. She did that sometimes. Mostly, it was Rowan, but tonight it was me. She couldn’t see me no more. Gloria’s heart was all locked up because only one of us was allowed in at a time. 

Their father, Telly, has left Gloria. She desperately wants him back. He is not returning. He has no time for the children. He is focused on a new relationship with Dian. 

Rowan returns to the woods during the summer to seek out Carl, a homeless man, who gave him shelter that long lonely night in the woods. Carl lives under a bridge.

I am over 50 pages in and interested, but not eager, to find out what happens in this frightening family. I did not find it hard to put down the book.

I am excited to find out which book is announced the winner tomorrow. I shall be doing full reviews on the quintet in the near future.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin

(22. - 1047.) Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin – Lawrence Kunstlinger, best known as Lawrence O’Labia in roller derby and as Larry to his friends, is missing. Amazombie aka Stormy Daze aka Stephanie Danielson, Jabba the Slut, Pippi Longstomping and the other members of the Split-Lip Sallies Roller Derby team want Jed “Hammerhead” Ounstead, former professional wrestler and now Vancouver private investigator, to find their coach. The team plays in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. (I cannot recall writing a paragraph in any of my previous 1,244 posts with a set of names to rival those created by Devlin for Rolling Thunder.)

Jabba, 300 pounds of intense woman, introduces erself to Jed, who is 6’3” and 240 pounds, with a thunderous slap to his butt by her massive hand that leaves him walking gingerly. He is more upset that her blow caused him to spill his large DQ banana milkshake.

Stormy, the team captain, who rises to 6’3” herself with her skates on, is worried Larry has gotten into trouble over gambling debts.

Tracking down Larry’s bookie is no problem but he will not pass on information about Larry unless Jed undertakes a collection from a longshoreman.

Jed and his cousin, Declan, are soon headed to the Graf Zeppelin club where the bouncer says their attire (“a Henley over a pair of black pants” for Jed and “boots, blue jeans, and a flannel shirt” for Declan) does not meet the dress code. He returns with a “red and black rubber blazer” and “dog collar with large chrome spikes” for Jed and “a pair of black leather chaps, complete with cut-outs in the bum, and adorned with frilly tassels up and down both legs” for Declan. It is a kink club with a BDSM party going on that night.

The images inside on the dance floor and then below in “the best and safest dungeon in the province” are incredible. Having no personal experience of such a club or party I have no idea of the authenticity of the descriptions. Possibly a subsequent reader of the book can add a comment to the blog on the credibility of the club.

Jed returns to the wrestling ring for some stellar action.

When Larry is killed Jed feels an obligation to solve the murder as he did with Johnny Mamba in Cobra Clutch.

Beautiful Vancouver City Police detective.constable Rya Shepard is irritated by his zeal and forcefully tells him to stay out of her investigation. Jed rejects her admonitions and carries on with his investigation. It takes him into corporate skulduggery concerning the future of women’s roller derby.

The amazing characters kept coming including a rabbit, David Hasselhop, who is being bunny sat (could not resist) by Declan while his owner who was wearing a white rabbit costume at the kink club is away on a business trip. The owner is a kinky furry known as Candy away from the club. The rabbit only eats while listening to Shakira songs so Declan croons to Hasselhop.

And who knew there were daschund races in Vancouver?

As resolution nears there are violent episodes showing the prowess of Jed and Declan in hand-to-hand combat. While hardly a surprise Jed would enjoy a good scrap I was caught offguard by his enjoyment inflicting punishment on the bad guys. He believes they deserve the pain.

Devlin clearly loves Vancouver and area. Any writer who relishes Granville Island is bound to appeal to me. Every time I get to Vancouver I have to spend some time on the Island and walk through the Market and get something to eat from several of the great food stalls. On my last trip a leisurely tasting of a flight of beers at the Granville Island Brewery almost caused us to be late for a flight home on a private jet. I was not too worried as we were drinking with one of the owners of the plane.

I hope future characters are less defined by appearance. The good guys of Rolling Thunder look good and the bad guys look bad.


I further wish that Jed’s future cases find him investigating murders that do not involve Rya While conflict in investigations with the New York City police works in the Nero Wolfe stories it is hard to sustain that dynamic credibly through a series. 

Until near the end of the book I thought Rya should leave the VPD. She would be an excellent addition to the Ounstead & Son detective agency. Her clever mind would complement the highly phsyical, not always thoughtful, Jed and the numbers skills of his father. And their mutual attraction would add some drama. But the dark edge to Jed’s personality evident late in the book has chilled Rya’s interest in Jed.


The cover for Rolling Thunder is a distinct improvement over Cobra Clutch. I found it a touch misleading for, while roller derby is the focus of the book, the roller girls, except for Stormy, are barely present for, after opening the book, they did not make another appearance in the plot for over 200 pages. 

The “Hammerhead” Jed series is rolling right along. There is a wonderful flow to the book that drew me swiftly through the pages. I enjoy being with Jed on his adventures.

I believe Rolling Thunder will be in contention for a 2021 Arthur Ellis Award. I am confident it will do well in the marketplace. It was published on Friday.
****
Devlin, A.J. - (2019) - Cobra Clutch

Thursday, May 14, 2020

2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been announced by the University of Alabama. The following books from the 21 entries were chosen:

1.) The Satapur Moonstone by
Sujata Massey;

2.) The Hallows by Victor
Methos; and,

3.) An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker.

I have already read The Satapur Moonstone and thought it an excellent book. I plan to read the remaining two books on the shortlist and provide my reviews and thoughts on the best book.

It is interesting that it is the second year in a row Massey has had a book on the shortlist. Last year it was The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first in the Perveen Mistry series.

I am not familiar with the other two authors.

The press release from the University of Alabama School of Law did not include any reference to the ABA Journal. In recent years the Journal has invited readers to vote for their choice on the shortlist with the readers choice to be one vote for the winning novel. I will be watching the Journal to see if readers get a vote. I thought it good way to promote interest in the Award.

The judging panel for 2019 will be:

         A'Lelia Bundles, author and journalist
         Dr. James A. Crank, UA associate professor of
         English specializing in American literature and
         culture 
         Jesse Holland, journalist, author and  
         Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Kluge
         Center in the Library of Congress
         David Mao, associate president and chief 
         operating officer for Georgetown University 
         Law Center
         C.E. Tobisman, attorney and winner of the 2018 
         Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Of that group I know C.E. Tobisman having read her book, Proof, which was the 2018 Prize winner.

The Award will be presented later this year. There were no particulars about the presentation. Traditionally it has been given out at the Library of Congress during the National Book Festival.


Following my reading practice I plan to read the shortlist and provide posts on each book and my thoughts on the winner.

It is a special year for the Prize as 2020 is the 10th Anniversary for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.