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, January 15, 2021

Commissions of Inquiry Determining History

A few days ago I put up a post on the Dominion Voting Systems v. Powell defamation case. In the action, commenced a week ago today, Dominion claims Powell, with malice, damaged the business and its reputation through wild accusations of misconduct in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. I believe they have a strong case.

I have been unable to find a public response or even determine if she has hired a lawyer. The Washington Post has reported that neither Powell nor Rudy Guiliani have appeared on a Fox news program in a month which is fairly close to when Dominion sent a letter to Fox News about its coverage.

I believe the Dominion case, if it reaches trial, has the chance to be the definitive statement on what happened in the election.  I expect Dominion can prove there was no fraud by its machines.

In my last post (a link is below) I put up a letter I wrote 18 years ago to the author, D.D. Guttenplan, on his book, The Holocaust on Trial. It was a libel action by the English author, claiming American author, Deborah Lipstadt, and Penguin books had defamed him concerning the Holocaust. As part of their defence Lipstadt and Penguin put forth evidence proving the Holocaust occurred. I anticipate that, in the future, the evidence used in this case and its acceptance by an English court will be used to challenge Holocaust deniers.

The letter also provided examples of libel cases in Canada, Germany and Israel where the facts of history were determined in court.

My overall conclusion was that the “establishment” view of history won the challenges of historical determination and interpretation. The establishment position may have been right or it may have been wrong but it would win.

I no longer accept my conclusion that the "establishment" will prevail. In the past 25 years I have had the opportunity to participate in two Canadian Government Commissions of Inquiry that reached conclusions on major historical issues contrary to the “establishment” position.

The first was the 4 year inquiry during the 1990’s into the Canadian Blood System. During the 1980’s thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through our blood system. I represented a group of hemophiliacs and blood transfused from all 10 Canadian provinces who did not want to be represented at the Inquiry by their official organization, the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

The operator of the blood system, the Canadian Red Cross, asserted it had acted promptly and properly in dealing with these infectious diseases. After reviewing thousands of documents and hearing dozens of witnesses who faced cross-examination and receiving submissions from numerous lawyers the Commissioner, Justice Krever, issued a report that was devastating to the Red Cross. After the Inquiry the Red Cross was removed as the operator of the system.

My good friend, Doug Elliott, was the leader of a team that represented the Canadian Aids Society at the Commission.

In addition, we represented our clients in the judicial review process in which the Red Cross and governments and governmental agencies and doctors unsuccessfully sought to limit the Commissioner from assigning responsibility for the public health disaster.

It was a powerful experience advocating on behalf of victims.

I appreciated getting to know and learn from Doug as we sought to help the Commissioner determine what happened and why it happened.

At the time of the release of the report in 1997 I was glad to see a successful challenge to the “establishment” but thought the success was an aberration.

More recently I have represented First Nations (Indian bands) near Melfort at Fort a la Corne who have challenged how their reserves were established and how portions of their reserves were surrendered to the Government of Canada. The Government asserted all actions had been lawfully conducted. In Inquiries before the Indian Claims Commission it was proven there was massive fraud and corruption within the Department of Indian Affairs in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

As an example, before I became involved, my clients had retained an ex-RCMP document examiner who proved by typewriter analysis and hand writing analysis 100 years later that tender bids purportedly from Iowa had been typed up in the Indian Affairs headquarters in Ottawa and signed in Toronto.

The combined effects of participating in the search for the truth at those Inquires has led me to believe in Canada the “establishment” is no longer bound to win in the writing of history.

I do not believe the full facts and reasons for the tainted blood scandal, a huge public health disaster, would have ever been determined without the Inquiry Into the Blood System.

As we endure the pandemic of Covid 19 I am anticipating there will be another great Commission of Inquiry to delve into why the pandemic happened and how governments dealt with the pandemic. 

It will take the victims and their families to press for such an Inquiry. Governments will seek to minimize investigations of the pandemic and avoid a national Inquiry.

If the victims of the pandemic, as did the victims of the Blood Commission of Inquiry and more recently in Nova Scotia concerning the mass killing this spring by Gabriel Wortman, demand an Inquiry public pressure will force an Inquiry.

I also expect Governments will be compelled by the public to set broad parameters to a new Inquiry.

If sufficient public funds are provided for lawyers to represent the victims I believe the facts of and reasons for the Covid 19 pandemic will be determined.

A Covid 19 Inquiry will be fascinating.

****

Dominion Voting v. Powell - Defamation Action to Set History

Court Cases to Determine the Truth About Historical Events


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Court Cases to Determine the Truth about Historical Events

On Sunday I put up a post on the lawsuit commenced by Dominion Voting Systems against Sidney Powell. Dominion is suing Powell for defamation with regard to her claims Dominion engaged in fraud in the 2020 American presidential election. A link to that post is at the end of this post. I believe a trial in that court action will be the pivotal record of what actually happened in the election.

I have long been fascinated by court actions and judicial proceedings, usually defamation actions, seeking to define what is truth in historical events.

In 2002 I read The Holocaust on Trial. It was a book about the English libel trial in which historian David Irving claimed that American author, Deborah Lipstadt, in her book, Denyingi the Holocaust, and the publisher, Penguin Books, had defamed him as a liar and a dangerous spokesman for Holocaust denial. To establish that her comments were true Penguin and Lipstadt proved through the evidence they presented that the Holocaust occurred. The judge harshly dealt with Irving.


After reading the book I put together my thoughts on court cases and history and wrote to the author. My letter from 2002 is below. In my next post I will discuss some personal experiences on establishing the truth of historic events through judicial proceedings.

****

Dear Mr. Guttenplan:

I recently finished reading The Holocaust on Trial. I found it an excellent book and look forward to your future books.

I am a practising lawyer and spend a considerable amount of my time engaged in litigation. I enjoyed your recounting of the pre-trial and trial preparations and strategies. It has been my experience that members of the public are not aware of the significance of pre-trial work until they are personally involved in litigation.

I have long been fascinated by efforts in trials to deal with "history" in its broader context. Certainly every trial involves history but most trials are focused on the personal histories of the participants.

It was a great challenge in the Irving trial to deal with the facts of the Holocaust under the rules of evidence in civil proceedings. Each year that passes from the end of World War II the issue of hearsay becomes a bigger issue.

The Irving case was the latest in a succession of libel cases concerning the facts of "history".

Your book reminded me of a once famous, now almost forgotten Canadian libel trial, in which the history of the end of World War I was in issue. In the case of Currie v. Preston and Wilson the historical issue was whether the lives of Canadian soldiers were needlessly wasted in the final days and hours of the war.

Robert J. Sharpe (as he then was - now Mr. Justice Sharpe) wrote a book, The Last Day, the Last Hour, about the trial.

In the trial Sir Arthur Currie, commander of Canada's troops in Europe at the end of the war, sought to vindicate his decisions to keep attacking the Germans even in the minutes before the Armstice came into effect at 11:00 on November 11, 1918. (A Canadian soldier, George Lawrence Price, was the last identified soldier on the Allied side to die during the war.) General Currie sued the editor of a small Ontario newspaper for publishing an editorial that concluded:

"Canadian valour won Mons, but it was by such a shocking waste of human life that it is an eternal disgrace to the Headquarters that directed operations."

In the trial there were two major issues:

1.) Whether there were Canadian soldiers killed in the attack at Mons. Only Price's death was acknowledged; and,

 2.) The decision to continue the advance of the Canadian soldiers with the Armstice imminent. Who made what orders and how were the orders carried out. Was the attack justified?

Certainly the questions of history were more confined in the Currie libel case than the Irving case. At the same time I saw parallels in the efforts to prove the historical facts of a war in each case.

General Currie won his libel case but little personal satisfaction. He was completely worn out physically and emotionally by the trial.

The use of a libel trial to attempt to set the facts of history was used in 1924 by extreme German nationalists. Nikolaus Cossman sued Martin Gruber and the Munich Post over their personal and professional ridicule of his assertions that Germany lost World War I because it was "stabbed in the back" by the politicians who negotiated the Armstice that ended the war. In Explaining Hitler Ron Rosenbaum discusses the trial where politically motivated judges allowed history to be "counterfeited". Cossman won the trial and his vision of the "November criminals" was a familiar theme for Hitler.

I dread what perversions of history might have happened in the Irving trial 75 years later had there been a presiding judge who was guided by his political principles rather than the search for the truth.

 I was equally interested in how the Court had to deal with Irving's misuse of facts in support of his conclusions concerning the Holocaust.

The analysis of "historical facts" to arrive at "historical truth" in the Holocaust was addressed by Israeli courts during the 1950's in a libel trial, Attorney General v. Gruenvald. At issue in the case was Rudolph Kasztner's participation in the liquidation of Hungary's Jewish population. Was he, as accused by Mr. Gruenvald, an accessory or collaborator in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungary's Jews while saving 1,685 Jews? While there was no issue over the annihilation of Hungarian Jews in concentration camps it was very difficult for the courts to decide what a Hungarian Jewish leader did or should have done when confronted with the Nazi roundup of Hungarian Jews. Did negotiating with the Nazis produce culpability or complicity? The majority decision on appeal found Mr. Kasztner was neither an accomplice nor a collaborator.

The process of the writing of history was also covered in a recent book The Spinster and the Prophet. The book covered the story of a Canadian woman, Miss Florence Deeks, who wrote a history of the world during World War I. The evidence strongly indicated that her manuscript made its way to H.G. Wells and was used by him, more accurately copied by him, to write The Outline of History. She sued him for historical piracy in Canada.

Despite the evidence she was unsuccessful at trial and on appeals up to and including the Law Lords of the Privy Council.

H.G. Well's personal flamboyance and flexibility with the truth reminded me of Mr. Irving.

In each of the Irving, Currie, Cossman and Deeks cases I would say the establishment was the victor.

I believe the court was right in Irving. I am unsure whether General Currie or Mr. Kasztner were defamed. I am convinced the courts were wrong in Cossman and Deeks.

Best wishes.

Yours truly,

Bill Selnes

****

Dominion Voting v. Powell - Defamation Action to Set History


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Dominion Voting v. Powell - Defamation Action to Set History


On Friday Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Sidney Powell, her law firm and a company, Defending the Republic, Inc. that she set up to raise money for her legal efforts to challenge the U.S. presidential election of 2020. I have read through the Complaint (a link to which can be found below on the Washington Post website) which runs to 124 pages. While excessively detailed for pleadings it is a dramatic narrative. 


I have thought often about the use of defamation actions and other judicial proceedings to establish the facts of history. Where historians are reliant on documents and interviews there is no testing of evidence in the way cross-examinations in court can reveal the strengths and weaknesses of statements. My next two posts will take a look at a number of examples of defamation actions involving historic events.


The reason defamation actions can set the facts of history involves the nature of defamation. 


The opening sentence of the Complaint sets out Dominion’s position:


This defamation action arises from statements made by Sidney Powell, who— acting in concert with allies and media outlets determined to promote a false preconceived narrative about the 2020 election—caused unprecedented harm.


The classic, though dangerous defence, is for Powell to assert her narrative was true. I expect she will claim truth. Powell and her supporters have alleged they never had a chance to present their evidence in a trial. Now they will have that opportunity.


Thus the action is set up for a court to determine what is the truth.

 

Defendants who realize they are wrong may offer apologies in an effort to reduce or eliminate damages.


I cannot see Powell admitting the error of her ways. 


Powell clearly loves media attention. She leapt into the national spotlight with incredible allegations after the election. The Complaint sets out her wild claims and Dominion systematic refutation. While I am well aware of the danger of relying on pleadings in a lawsuit Dominion’s statements are compelling.


A simple example of her unfounded claims involves the history of Dominion:


Far from being created in Venezuela to rig elections for a now-deceased Venezuelan dictator, Dominion was founded in Toronto for the purpose of creating a fully auditable paper-based vote system that would empower people with disabilities to vote independently on verifiable paper ballots. 



Until 2018 Dominion was a Canadian owned corporation.


When challenged during the past two months Powell has, in the words of the Complaint, “doubled down” on her accusations.


After Dominon asked that she retract her false claims she responded publicly by insisting she had the evidence and that the Dominion companies were fraud masters.


Dominion upped the stakes by boldly stating Powell has deliberately made allegations she knows are false. They are asserting actual malice. They have strong evidence.


Among her claims are that Dominion rigged the presidential election and bribed Georgia election officials.


With regard to Georgia Dominion states:


The voter verified paper ballots are the hard evidence that can be easily used to verify the accuracy of the Dominion machine counts. If Dominion or anyone else had rigged the election by manipulating the vote counts in the Dominion machines—whether by “weighting” votes, trashing votes, adding votes, or otherwise—the number of paper ballots that were verified and cast by voters would not match the machine counts. In fact, independent 100% hand audits and recounts of paper ballots have repeatedly verified the accuracy of the vote counts from Dominion machines. 


Powell bewilderingly claims there were no full hand counts when the evidence from the state government is that there was a state wide hand count covering every vote.


I am very interested in seeing who Powell puts forward as witnesses. The witnesses who filed reports and affidavits in her lawsuits have been rejected in scathing language by judges.


The “Spyder” was one such witness. The Complaint states:


For example, Powell sponsored the declaration of an anonymous “military intelligence expert” code-named “Spyder,” who has since been identified as Josh Merritt. Powell’s “military intelligence expert” has now admitted that he never actually worked in military intelligence and that the declaration Powell’s team wrote for him to sign is “misleading” and he “was trying to backtrack” on it.


She subsequently re-stated the same information through an anonymous source.


Dominion has offered a convincing example of Powell filing “doctored” evidence in an election court action with regard to a Georgia government certificate that was dated and signed unlike the copy she put before the court.


It can be a challenge in defamation actions to know who received the slanderous information. Powell and Trump eliminated that issue personally by tweeting video of press conferences to their 1.2 million and 88 million followers respectively. The slander was seen round the world. (Each has now been permanently suspended by Twitter.)


Dominion can show that it is pervasive among the Republicans of the United States that Dominion is synonymous with fraud. Its employees have been harassed and received threats, including death threats. Dominion states it has spent over $565,000 for private security for its employees. At least one American politician has sought to ban the use of Dominion machines.


Dominion projects lost profit of over $200 million during the next 5 years and that “the viral disinformation campaign has irreparably damaged Dominion’s reputation and destroyed the resale value of a business that was worth between $450 million and $500 million before the viral disinformation campaign”. Its claim for compensatory damages of $651,735,000 is credible. Its additional claim for $651,735,000 in punitive damages is plausible if it gets substantial compensatory damages.


It is significant that the action was commenced in the United States Federal Court in Washington, D.C. I expect her frequent trips there, staying in D.C. for much of the last few months and at least one infamous press conference (think of the melting Giuliani) will justify proceeding in D.C. 


In considering where to have a jury action I expect Dominion looked carefully at D.C.’s population being 47% of the population black. I can understand Dominion’s preference for D.C. rather than Texas where Powell has her office.


As well I see this action as setting up a series of defamation actions in D.C. Come January 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration I expect Dominion will also be suing former President Trump in D.C. In the opening sentence quoted above Dominion refers to her allies. Dominion has given Trump, Giuliani and others the same formal notice letter they sent to Powell. At that unforgettable press conference she was introduced as a part of Trump’s “elite strike force team”. While she was soon cut from the team she remained in contact with Trump. (I will leave aside for this post the probability of actions against such media as Fox News.)


No matter how successful her fundraising Powell has no ability to pay hundreds of millions to more than a billion dollars in damages. There is a potential individual defendant with those resources. Trump has claimed billionaire status for decades. His net worth may actually be revealed if there is judgment against him.


In one of the great potential ironies of history there is another source of funds controlled by Trump that could be used to pay a judgment. He has somewhere between $250 million to $500 million donated by his followers for legal costs related to fighting the election. They are actually available for Trump to use as he chooses. It would be fitting justice if the funds he raised to contest the election were used to pay for a judgment upholding the results of the election.

****

https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/read-dominion-voting-system-s-complaint-against-lawyer-sidney-powell/645e6826-ff2f-45c0-9b23-d2597f4dbb5e/


https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-08/sidney-powell-sued-by-dominion-voting-over-election-fraud-claims?fbclid=IwAR1NVzYsOcugg_rsBhKdxoo0258TWXA4w8nm-DADuMIHVhWJn8SZM2928QY


Friday, January 8, 2021

A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

(47. - 1072.) A Time for Mercy by John Grisham - Stuart Kofer is a mean drunk with a badge. Capable and sober as a Deputy Sheriff he enjoys spending his evenings drinking and brawling. Should a fight not develop he can relieve his frustrations upon his girlfriend, Josie Gamble, and her children, Drew (16) and Kiera (14), at home. After knocking out Josie but failing to breach the barricaded bedroom door of the teenagers he passes out. Terrified of Kofer and convinced his mother is dead, Drew takes Kofer’s gun and holding it next to the deputy’s head fires a shot killing him.

Grisham is back in Ford County, Mississippi. I am glad. Not with a story that deals with domestic violence but because Grisham knows so vividly the people of rural Mississippi. Many of his best books are in Ford County.


The county’s Black sheriff, Ozzie Walls, is blindsided. His deputies had covered up Kofer’s private life. Ozzie does not condone misconduct but protection of their own runs deep in law enforcement. He immediately calls in the state police to investigate.


Jake Brigance will get the call to defend Drew. He made his name as a defender in A Time to Kill defending Carl Lee Hailey, a black man who killed two white men who had raped his daughter.


I thought of how a defence would be mounted. Now a boy, for Drew is a young 16 who is small and quiet in nature, has committed vigilante justice. Can a jury be convinced that he was protecting himself and his sister not exacting vengeance on behalf of his mother?


It will be a challenge for the Gamble’s are at the lowest level of Ford County society. Josie had the children by different fathers when she was a teenager. She has served time for involvement with drugs. They have no family in the county. To many they are trailer trash.


Can it be implied, even claimed, that Kofer was a man who needed killing? Unlike many books where there is a despicable victim Kofer has a family. Ozzie visits the Kofer’s. They are a clan that “had always worked hard, lived frugally and tried to avoid trouble”. He extends regret and sympathy. 


Kofer’s parents and extended family demand justice. Some ask during the visit if Drew can be put on death row. It is 1990 and mercy is not emphasized in a county focused on the Old Testament rather than the New Testament.


Knowing Judge Omar Noose is likely to appoint him, Brigance is conflicted. It has been 5 years since the turmoil of the Hailey case. For 3 years after the trial a “deputy parked in front of their house at night”. Does he want “another high-profile, controversial case”? Prominent cases have not come his way as he expected after the Hailey case. He wants to be known as a lawyer unafraid of and successful at jury trials.


All the residents of Ford County are relieved the participants are white. None want to deal again with the racial issues of a killing involving black and white. 


Brigance’s good friend and fellow attorney, Harry Rex, forecasts no public sympathy for a cop killer even if Drew is 16. He predicts devastation for Brigance’s law practice.


The good people of the Good Shepherd Bible Church, which the Gamble family had attended a few times, led by their young pastor, Charles McCarry gather around Kiera and Josie in support.


And Brigance and Rex are deeply involved in the Smallwood case. A family was killed at a dangerous railway crossing and they act for the family against the railroad. The defence is about to run out of delaying tactics and a trial is ready to be scheduled. While a trial is a major risk there is the potential of a multi-million dollar verdict in favour of the family.


When Brigance meets his client he is startled by how small and young Drew appears. The boy is deeply withdrawn. He spends hours humming and groaning to himself. He does say he killed Kofer because Kofer had killed his mother. Self defence has just become much harder to claim to a jury. More will be needed to plead to the jury that the killing was justified. If Brigance is to blacken Kofer he needs ironclad evidence. The town and county folk who will form the jury are already upset with Brigance for taking the case. And it is impossible to see them accepting an insanity defence


Pressure is already building in the Smallwood case the insurance company lawyers can see the community turning against Brigance. They are quite ready to let it build.


Then I realized the book is really about Brigance. The cases set up his life but the story is about practising law in rural Mississippi. I wiil discuss the life of a rural lawyer in Mississippi and Saskatchewan in my next post.


Jake’s preparation for the trial is careful and thorough. Unlike most authors Grisham delves into the hard work of getting ready for a major trial. Such are his gifts as a writer that the pace never flagged.


Hard as it may seem for readers outside America it was a capital trial with the prosecutor seeking the death penalty for young Drew. With the highest consequences possible tension rises and rises.


I appreciated the prosecutor was skilful and doing his job. Grisham refrains from making him a bad guy.


Jury selection is taut with each side seeking jurors who will favour their view.


The trial is riveting. I could see every witness. The questions and answers were absolutely credible. The way answers were subtly shifted from original statements to achieve emphasis happens in every real life trial.


A reader best set aside the time needed to read the trial in a single session. It is Grisham at his best. The detailed build up on the trial preparation lets you anticipate witnesses. The emotions are raw. The trial decisions of the lawyers are agonizing as they analyze who to call or not call. There are unexpected questions. 


For half the book there was an inexorable increase in anxiety over a pivotal witness whose evidence readers know will be shocking to the jury. I was so tempted to read ahead to see what happened but held back just barely.


There is a devastating answer by that witness that is so perfect I will remember it the rest of my days.


It is gripping and page turning. The ending may disappoint some but it is fitting.

****

Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar and Law Students and Integrity; (2019) - The Reckoning; (2019) - Cullen Post in The Guardians and The Guardians


Monday, January 4, 2021

Dark August by Katie Tallo

(45. - 1070.)
Dark August by Katie Tallo - I was profoundly sad as I read of Augusta “Gus” Monet as a child. With her father already dead, her mother Shannon dies in a car accident. Gus is 8  and left to an uninterested great-grandmother, Rose. Her stuffed animals (Claudius, Louis, Praline and Girly) are left behind. No one remains to call her Sugar Bunch.  Two years later Gus is sent to boarding school. Having gone to boarding school at 15 I feel her overwhelming loneliness. 


For a couple of years after high school she drifts along in petty crime until she gets a call from Ms. Santos, the long long time caregiver of Rose, that her great-grandmother has died. She returns to Ottawa.


Gus camps out in Rose’s decayed home avoiding the need to give the house some “curb appeal” so it can be sold. Sharing the house is Levi, the dog her mother brought home 12 years earlier. While Levi tries to win her over Gus is a challenge. She is lost in her mind constantly running through her life.


Gus finds a blue trunk filled with her 8 year old life:


Her HIlroy notebooks filled with doodles. Her plastic art kit, pastels, crayons and colored pencils worn to the nib. Sunny, her yellow-haired doll with the ceramic feet, wearing the same pink pinafore with the lacy pockets. A collection of clip-on earrings in the emerald silk bag. Her Barbies. Her beanbag frog, Louis. Class photos from Junior K through grade three. Swimming medals. Olympic coins. Her sticker collection. And rolled up right where she left it. Her pink pashmina scarf. The one her mother have her their last Christmas together.


Memories envelop her.


Gus finds  hidden in the trunk photos, reports and clippings of a cold case her mother, an RCMP officer, was studying. Her father had also been an RCMP officer. When she was 8 Gus asked her mother if she was keeping the cold case warm by reviewing it.


Teenager Henry Neil had disappeared 15 years earlier but his body has just been found. Gus re-creates the collage of documents and photos on her living room wall as her mother had placed them on the garage wall where she worked at home. Gus finds a red marker to re-draw the lines her mother had used to connect the evidence. She takes comfort from re-creating Shannon’s wall.


There is also evidence of the death of a young woman of 23, June Halladay, in a freak car accident a year before Neil vanished. Shannon has a photo of Gracie, June’s 7 year old daughter, on the wall. June was the daughter of the wealthy Senator, Kep Halladay. Kep is also dead.


The disappearance and the accident both take place near the small community of Elgin, Ontario not far from Ottawa. Her curiosity piqued, Gus makes a road trip to Elgin but cannot reach the town. All roads are blocked by signs stating “hazardous toxic waste”. Fracking for natural gas encountered a deep crack in the earth. The resulting explosion and fire 5 years ago destroyed Elgin and devastated the countryside.


As Gus walks through Elgin I thought of Chernobyl. It was a lovely village that was turned into a wasteland. The crater at the epicenter of the explosion is still a bubbling cauldron.


More than most people Gus can appreciate the disorienting effects upon the psyche from a disaster that alters life permanently in an instant.


A startling connection between Kep and Shannon grabbed the attention of Gus and myself and every other reader of the book. The connection and secrets revealed about her mother drive Gus to find out what happened.


Having had no purpose in life Gus now delves into the tangled collective destructions of a family, a town and her mother with a fierce determination. She has been a victim long enough.


But why is there such secrecy? The cause of the disaster is well known. Compensation, no matter how inadequate, has been made. Who cares about Gus’s quests?


There is darkness to the story even during the long hot days of the Ontario summer when secrets revealed clash with long cherished images.


I appreciated that Gus was treated as an unskilled investigator. She tries to be logical but tends to improvise. It is a credible approach.


Few mysteries undertake an exploration deep into the minds of a daughter and her deceased mother. To her dismay Gus realizes how little she really knew of her mother.


There are layers to the secrets. The truth is a stunningly believable revelation. 


As befits the story there is dramatic finish. After reading a hard story, uncompromising in the telling, I was a touch disappointed by the ending. Tallo did not need to go Hollywood. I expect most readers will be satisfied.


Tallo is a talented writer. At one point Gus considers words of sympathy:


But she knows words won’t matter. They never do. Once regret seeps into your bones, it lives in your marrow until the day you die.


I will definitely read more of Tallo. She has gifts for characters, atmosphere, tension and psychological insight. Most important I will remember Gus. Damaged, not broken, she is especially memorable for her tenacity in clinging to love. 


Friday, January 1, 2021

Bill's 2020 Best of Non-Fiction and Most Interesting

It is a warm Saskatchewan New Year’s Day to start 2021. The temperature this afternoon is  -10C (14F) and I am glad to be sitting downstairs with our wood fireplace crackling in the background. 

Today I am posting my annual double Bill’s Best of the year for the categories of Non-Fiction and Most Interesting. The latter is a list of books that were not favourites of the year in Fiction or Non-Fiction but had qualities that made them intriguing to me. 


NON-FICTION


1.) Cases in Court by Sir Patrick Hastings (Begun and Finished) - I do not think a book written 73 years ago has ever reached one of my Best of lists. Cases in Court resonated with me because of the story telling skills of Hastings and because of its insights into courtroom techniques. Hastings was one of England’s best known barristers for decades. As well he was a playwright. He lived in an era where a barrister handled trials across the spectrum of civil and criminal law and included appeals. Unlike many lawyers who throw out all the arguments they can think of and hope one or two find favour with a judge, he had the conviction there was only one pivotal issue in a civil case and the fortitude to so focus a case. He was braver than myself in that he avoided prepared cross-examinations stating you must have “a very poor memory” if you do not know the details of your case without notes. Among the cases he discussed was a slander case which involved a Russian princess and the death of Rasputin during WW I in Russia.


2.) Seven Days in Hell by David O’Keefe (Attack and Accountability) - On July 25, 1944 Canada’s elite Black Watch regiment entered a French wheatfield in a suicidal attack on entrenched German positions. They suffered 94% casualties. The book explores the leadup to the attack and the appalling decisions that led to the decimation of the regiment. Canada’s revered WW II General, Guy Simonds, gets significant criticism for insisting that the Black Watch attack. The leaders of two other Canadian battalions that day were sacked after they refused attacks they considered equally suicidal. Those officers were sacked but their soldiers were not sacrificed in futile attacks. Not knowing the secret information of Ultra would be revealed Simonds wrongly claimed he did not know of German reinforcements. O’Keefe said about Simonds:


But what is inexcusable, and can only be interpreted as an egregious act of cowardice and disloyalty to his subordinates, is Simonds’s choice to turn his back on the men who faithfully obeyed his authority and executed his plan as prescribed.


3.) The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray (Review and Comparison) - I do not read a lot of true life crime. The Massey Murder caught my attention as it dealt with the killing of Bert Massey, a member of one of Canada’s most prominent families in 1916. He was shot on the doorstep of his house by his family’s only servant, Carrie Davies. She asserted he had ruined her. Most often we expect the lowly killing the lordly to be swiftly convicted and severely punished. The Massey family would have appreciated such prompt actions but the 18 year old Davies was represented by skilled lawyers who fought for her. In particular, Hartley Dewart, K.C. relentlessly claimed Davies was protecting her virtue from a despicable man. Massey’s prominence worked against him in that defence. I would not have predicted the result of the trial when I began the book. In a second post I compared the defence of Davies with that of another young Ontario woman of that era, Florence Kinkade


MOST INTERESTING


1.) Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin - Jed “Hammerhead” Ounslow returns to another wild, sometimes weird, adventure on the streets of Vancouver.  He is hired by the members of the Split-Lip Sallies Roller Derby team to find their coach Lawrence Kunstlinger, best known as Lawrence O’Labia. The investigation takes Hammerhead to a kink club where a BDSM party is taking place. Another day he takes in dachshund races (betting is involved). Along the way Hammerhead makes a return to the professional wrestling ring. Hammerhead enjoys a good scrap. The book is filled with memorable characters and lively action.


2.) The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison - A bishop’s wife in the Mormon faith has a major role. She both supports her husband and has a significant role within the bishop’s responsibility for 500 members of the church. Linda Wallheim lives in the heart of Mormon America at Draper, Utah. She is a bright woman who is dedicated to her church and her family. She provides compassion and logic to the women of the ward. A young wife leaves her husband and daughter. Sister Wallheim is shaken when a young woman leaves her husband and young daughter. The situation becomes complicated when there are accusations of infidelity and domestic abuse. I appreciated that there are interactions between Linda and her sons. Not many mysteries make family life an important part of the story. Linda is the most interesting sleuth I met in reading this year.


3.) Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards (Review and Comparison With a Real Life Case) - Edwards is one of the world’s most distinguished writers of and about crime fiction. The English lawyer has drawn upon his extensive research into real life crime and the writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The result is a clever complex story from 1930 drawing upon real life cases and twisting them just enough to fit into a tale set in that Golden Age. Rachel Saverlake is a distinctive, even aloof, sleuth. I think of the cool and distant and brilliant sleuth to be a speciality of English crime writers. While Savernake lacks an aide she has excellent deductive skills. The book culminates in a weekend country house gathering at Mortmain Hall with the featured guests being men and a woman either found not guilty or strongly suspected of murder.


Happy New Year everyone!