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.
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
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!