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, March 15, 2018

Conan Doyle Detective by Peter Costello

(7. – 937.) Conan Doyle Detective by Peter Costello (1991) – I knew from reading The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rediscovered by Stephen Hines that Arthur Conan Doyle was involved in a number of real life criminal cases. In that book he was a powerful advocate for a pair of wrongly convicted men in early 20th Century England. Those cases are also featured in this book.

What I had not realized was the extent of his involvement in real life crime. He participated in investigations to find those guilty of crime and to aid those unjustly accused.

I expect he was partially inspired by his own experience with the criminal justice system. As a young doctor in 1885 he was visited by the police who, after receiving an anonymous letter, were making inquiries into the death of a boy for whom Doyle was caring in his home as a “resident patient”. Medicated with choral hydrate he had suddenly died. Though proper, police suspicions were raised by Doyle signing the death certificate. Doyle would have at least faced a major investigation but for the visit of a local doctor the night of the death who confirmed Doyle’s treatment.

It is no surprise that he was constantly contacted by members of the public seeking his assistance in solving mysteries. The chapter title concerning those letters says it best – By Every Post a Call for Help. He responded to many letters. My next post will provide an example of both his deductive skills and his willingness to reply to letters.

Doyle was willing to lend his support to causes through the grand English tradition of writing a letter to The Times. In 1896 an American woman, the wife of a prominent San Francisco businessman, was caught stealing from a series of shops and a hotel. She pled guilty with her barrister advancing evidence of a nervous disposition “at certain periods” and was sentenced to 3 months to jail. Doyle, after recounting her theft of items of modest value she did not need, submitted:

It can surely not be denied that there is at least a doubt as to her moral responsibility, and if there is a doubt, than the benefit of it should be given to one whose sex and position as a visitor amongst us give her a double claim upon our consideration. It is to a consulting room and not a cell that she should be sent.

After considering the representations of Doyle and others she was released the next day.

Doyle was an active participant in the efforts to determine the identity of Jack the Ripper. In his analysis of the Ripper’s letter Doyle thought the Ripper had at least been to America as he used expressions from the United States. Doyle also believed the Ripper disguised himself in women’s clothes to escape from the scenes of the murders.

On his travels Doyle was consulted on local crimes. During a major trip to Africa a couple of years before his death the South African police sought his insights on a puzzling murder.

As he grew older Doyle was committed to spiritualism and looked to the insights psychics could provide in solving crimes.

After Agatha Christie disappeared the police approached Doyle. He obtained one of Christie's gloves and took it to a “medium and psychometrist” who, without information on the owner of the glove, identified it as from an Agatha who was not dead and would be found by the following Wednesday. The medium’s statements proved to be true.

Doyle sought to right injustice to the end of his life. Shortly before his death he supported the campaign to exonerate the executed American anarchists, Saaco and Vanzetti. He believed they were executed because of their political convictions rather than for committing murder.

Through reading the book my admiration for Doyle grew. He was stalwart in seeking justice for over 40 years. Many complain about injustice but few take action to right wrongs. Doyle was committed to acting in support of principle.

Costello’s approach of providing examples and analysis chronologically is my preferred approach to non-fiction. His narrative is brisk. He is not writing an academic work but his statements are well researched and his analysis solidly based.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz – After reading The House of Silk I was anticipating another Holmes mystery even though in The House of Silk it was stated by Watson to be the last of the series. My anticipation was unfounded. Holmes makes but a brief appearance Moriarty. Instead, Horowitz begins by delving into what really happened at Reichenbach Falls.

An American Pinkerton agent, Frederick Chase, has traveled to England seeking to find Professor Moriarty who has been invited to meet with a great American villain. Learning on his arrival that Moriarty has died in the struggle with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls he rushes to Switzerland to see if there is any trace of the letter to Moriarty.

At the Swiss police station he meets Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. The British policeman has come to investigate what happened and determine if the body is that of Moriarty. The circumstantial evidence leads them to believe it is Moriarty but they cannot be sure it is the great master criminal.

Jones is a wonderful character. Having been shown as lacking in deductive skills by Holmes he has diligently studied the techniques of Holmes and become a great observer. His ability to observe and deduce rivals Holmes.

Physically they are far different. Horowitz describes Jones:

as he moved inside I saw that he was about the same age as me, perhaps a little younger, with dark-coloured hair lying flat on his forehead and soft grey eyes that questioned everything. There was a sort of seriousness about him, and when he stepped into a room, you had to stop and take notice. He was wearing a brown lounge suit with a pale overcoat, which was unbuttoned and hung loosely from his shoulders It was evident that he had recently been quite ill and had lost weight. I could see it in his clothes, which were a little too large for him, and in the pallor and pinched quality of his face. He carried a walking stick made of rosewood with an odd, complicated silver handle.

After finding and decoding a secret message to Moriarty, sewn into the suit of the drowning victim, they rush back to London seeking out the Café Royal, the location for the meeting of the criminal masterminds – Moriarty from London and Clarence Deveraux from America. Chase intends to impersonate Moriarty.

At the Café Royal there is a teenage messenger, Perry, who swiftly penetrates the impersonation and shows great dexterity with a knife.

Jones follows Perry to a fine English home, Bladeston House. Though he does not see Perry actually enter the home he is confident that it was the destination of the messenger. It turns out the house is being rented by Scotch Lavelle, an American criminal colleague of Deveraux.

Lavelle is unperturbed by the visit of the British police and Chase and their inquiries are turned aside. Frustrated they decide to return the next day to investigate further what is going on in Baldeston Hall. In the morning they are shocked to learn that Scotchy, his wife and servants have all been slain.

Great evil is about in England. Mass murder was, and is, much more common in America.

Chase is given the rare opportunity to attend a meeting of Scotland Yard inspectors planning how to investigate the murders. Chase is barely tolerated by most of the inspectors. (Most had little regard for the Holmes that continually showed them up.)

Ultimately, the investigation takes them inside the American embassy where the Ambassador is Robert T. Lincoln, the son of the assassinated President. Even in the 1890s diplomatic immunity is a challenging issue.

Through the book Jones continues to dazzle with his deductive skills. I enjoyed the portrayal of the police inspector who would be the new Holmes.

Yet what I will remember best is the startling twist that occurs at the end of the week.  While I am never surprised that I do not catch clues I was caught totally off-guard by the twist in Moriarty. It was dramatic, even melodramatic. I thought Jeffery Deaver was the modern master of the crime fiction twist though I sometimes thinks he has one or two or three twists too many in his plots for the Lincoln Rhyme series. Horowitz surpasses Deaver in the close of Moriarty

I consider it a better book than The House of Silk mainly because of Chase and Jones. The American Chase is a dogged and reliable hunter of criminals. Jones is clever and decisive. They are a formidable pair who are bold in their pursuit.

As with The House of Silk I had to work at times on suspension of my disbelief. Great criminal masterminds are almost as difficult to create as convincing grand conspiracies. Horowitz does well but not enough for me to go further than thinking it is a very good book. Moriarty is excellent reading entertainment.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

(5. – 935.) House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – It has been some time since I read a currently written Sherlock Holmes novel. My last 21st Century experiences were with the Holmes novels of Donald Thomas.

The book opens with displays of clever Holmesian deduction through observation that strongly reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes.

Holmes confounds the faithful Watson by deducing from a swift look at Watson that not only has Watson’s wife left London to help care for a child ill with influenza but that Watson has left home in a hurry and missed a train.

While Watson contemplates the brilliance of Holmes a visitor, the wealthy art dealer Edmund Carstairs, arrives to seek the assistance of Holmes. He is concerned for his safety because of a mysterious stranger who is following him. With a flair for turning the mundane to the distinctive Horowitz has the stranger “wearing a hat, a flat cap for the sort that is sometimes called a cheesecutter”. It is the cap which makes the stranger memorable to the elegant Carstairs. Not because of its humble style but due to its connection with America.

Carstairs has recently travelled to the United States to pursue justice against a gang that killed an agent of Carstairs during the robbery of a train. The group of Irish American felons are known as the Flat Cap Gang.

As Holmes and Watson search for the mysterious stranger Holmes calls upon his Baker Street Irregulars. The homeless boys of the London streets are extremely efficient in collecting information and seeking out individuals.

A new member, Ross Dixon, is successful in finding the stranger. The young teenager displays an unexpected fear outside the hotel of the stranger but refuses to divulge what has made him fearful.

The investigation takes Holmes and Watson into a dangerous evil conspiracy that even Holmes’ renowed brother, Mycroft, with all his government connections cannot penetrate and causes Mycroft to warn Holmes of the danger of investigating the House of Silk.

Readers know Holmes will not be deterred and the detective plunges forward.

It was a pleasure to see Holmes escape a very dangerous situation, impossible to Watson, through his wits and talents at disguise.

It is a good Sherlock Holmes novel but not one to rival the best of the current generation of Holmes’ novels. I think the early books in the series of Laurie R. King featuring Holmes and Mary Russell are better.

I found the conspiracy interesting and its nature monstrous but it is so hard to have a convincing vast conspiracy about which nothing is known by a figure such as Holmes with his vast memory and connections everywhere in London.

To suspend my disbelief with regard to a conspiracy I find it easier with more modest conspiracies for which there is some knowledge whispered about city or country.

I appreciated the touch of the fastidious in dealing with the subject matter of the conspiracy. It was convinicing, as a story purportedly by Watson, not to provide a detailed portrayal of the actual wickedness at the heart of the conspiracy.

I enjoyed the depiction of the aggressive, risk taking Holmes with Watson in the traditional role of the somewhat helpful chronicler whose deductive powers are minimal. The House of Silk does not adopt the current conceit of the Watson’s created in this century to either match or at least be close to Holmes in detective skills.

The House of Silk captured my interest to see where Horowitz could take the series especially since Watson states within the book that The House of Silk will be his last story of Holmes. I have started the second, Moriarity, and am already intrigued.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cultural Issues for Canadian Indigenous Sleuths

In my last post I discussed some of the issues involving non-white police officers and their cultures. In that post I went through some of the experiences of several non-Canadian police. Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger in Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. NapoleonBony Bonaparte travels around Australia conducting investigations into difficult cases. Nathan Active returns to his birthplace, Chukchi, on the northwest coast of Alaska as a state trooper.

In Canada there are several series with indigenous police officers.

Scott Young's sleuth, Matteesie Kitologitak, was the first Inuit to become an RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s.

In The Shaman’s Knife he returns to the Arctic where he was raised to pursue a murderer who also injured his mother.

Matteesie’s white wife in the South has seen her mother-in-law once and “apparently didn’t really warm to a toothless old Inuit woman with a tattooed face and only one eye”.

The investigation takes him to a village on the Arctic Ocean coastline of mainland Canada. As he investigates he uses the experience gained from living on the land as a youth to examine tracks in the snow. I was reminded of the tracking skills of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte.

Within the story there are shamanistic issues harkening back to the time when there were no white peoples in the North. Because of his Inuit background Mattessie consults the local shaman.

In Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman readers are introduced to Kala Stonechild who has moved from northwest Ontario to become a member of the Ottawa Police Services. Her superior is Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau. 

Stonechild has had a difficult life including time in foster homes as a child. Her background brings an edge to her personality.

In the big city she misses the stars of the night sky on her home reserve.

I have read she is the first female fictional First Nations sleuth.

In Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair the shift is in reverse from city to country. Charlie Pike from Ottawa Police Services is sent to northern Ontario to work on the investigation into a woman who has been strangled on his home reserve of Manomin Bay.

Band members, upset with the unsolved murders of a number of women, have established a blockade denying access to local police.

The protesters, trusting Pike as a fellow member of the band, allow him onto the reserve to investigate the murder. 

While not the lead character in a crime fiction series, Alex Kequahtooway, is an important character in several books of the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen.

One of the intriguing aspects is their relationship. The indigenous Regina police officer and the white university professor become lovers. Their inter-racial relationship has some tensions for some on each side of the racial divide. Though their relationship fails Gail presents them in a positive way as a couple.

With our province continuing to have issues over the relationships between white and indigenous Saskatchewanians I have appreciated the continuing respect for indigenous Canadians shown by Gail in her fiction.

With 15% of our provincial population being indigenous I am hopeful a new crime fiction writer will create an indigenous Saskatchewan sleuth.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cultural Issues for Non-White Crime Fiction Sleuths

While reading Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke I was struck by how Daren Mathews, in his position as a Texas Ranger, was affected by being an African American. Though we are well into the 21st Century some white Texans were still uncomfortable with him being a Ranger. They would respect the badge but retained their prejudices towards the man.

Locke states:

      Without the badge, he was just a black man traveling the highway alone.

Locke provides an example of the Ranger badge through Uncle William, one of the first black Rangers. Mathews recalls as a boy visiting a police station with Uncle William:

And they showed him a level of deference Darren had never seen from white men. They had no choice. William outranked every last one of them. To this day Darren believed his uncle took him on that ride to show him the power of the Rangers badge.

Within the Ranger bureaucracy there are tensions related to race. There is a unit dedicated to public corruption. When Mathews wants the Rangers to create a unit devoted to hate crimes his report is rejected:

The report had done little more than mark him as overly interested in something for which he was imagined to have an outsize personal stake, which brought little respect from his highers-up and courted the resentment of more than a few white Rangers.

In the book Mathews grudgingly earns the respect of Sheriff Van Horn, the white Sheriff of Shelby County.

The roles of non-white police officers intersecting with their racial background and racial issues is present in several other mystery series.

At one time the best known example would have been the great fictional Australian sleuth, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte who is part Aborigine. His interactions with Aboriginal life are prominent in numerous books.

In The Will of the Tribe, written in the early 1960’s, Bony is in northwestern Australia on a vast cattle station where the whites definitely consider themselves superior to the blacks. It is a time of transition as there are wild blacks living the traditional lifestyle on the land, station blacks working in laboring jobs who live in a camp at the station and educated blacks who live on the station.

In The Bone is Pointed he deals with a traditional Aboriginal form of punishment. “Bone pointing” can threaten the life of an Aborigine who believes in its power.

In The Bushman Who Came Back Bony must deal with both blackfellow law and whitefellow law. One of the issues involves a young woman, Meena, being owned by Canute, the leader of a group of Aborigines.

In Cake in the Hat Box we see the whites communicating by radio and the Aborigines by sophisticated smoke signals. As well Bony finds out there is a parallel traditional black murder investigation to his official investigation.

Through the series Bony’s expert knowledge in traditional tracking skills is often used.

In America it has been too long since I read any of the Tony Hillerman books featuring Navajo police officers,  Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, for me to remember the details of their lives as indigenous officers. 

I have read and enjoyed the mysteries of Stan Jones featuring Alaskan State trooper, Nathan Active, who has a different background to the above sleuths. He is Inuit and was born in the fictional town of Chukchi on the northwest coast of Alaska. Where the officers mentioned above grew up in black or indigenous cultures Active was adopted by a white family and raised in urban Alaska in Anchorage.

Many of the continuing racial issues for Active in the series revolve around questions of his Inuit identity. There is a feeling that he is not really Inuit having lived much of his life away from Chukchi on the northwest coast. He is looked at as more white than Inuit.

His birth mother wants him a part of Inuit culture. She seeks to find him a nice Inuit wife. Active is trying to fit back in Inuit culture but it is not easy. A local delicacy provides an example. From my review of Tundra Kill:

It is a land where a man is viewed with suspicion who is not interested in muktuk supper:

The two women looked at each other and shook their hands in astonishment at the idea of an Inupiaq man passing up a nice chunk of boiled bowhead whale skin with an inch or two of fat still on. “Not even if it’s fresh!” Arlene said.

In Frozen Sun Active goes in search of the beautiful Grace Sikingik who moved to the city to go to university. She has disappeared into a life of sex and drink on the infamous Four Street in Anchorage. Too often young indigenous men and women have ended up in a self-destructive lifestyle in the big city.

I have more examples from Canadian mysteries which I shall discuss in my next post.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Quintet from Sleuth of Baker Street

In my last post I discussed attending an author event on Sunday at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. As always I did some book shopping at Sleuth.

Having listened to the descriptions of the books and excerpts from each book I decided to buy The B-Team by Melodie Campbell. I was attracted to the book by the quirky characters and Melodie’s well known and well recognized sense of humour. Her website is titled funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.ca.

Melodie spoke of the challenge in trying to write fiction that is funny. At the end of the writing process, having read the book so many times she said she has to send it away to the publisher to judge its humour as she can no longer tell if it is humorous.

As I went around the bookstore looking at shelves and tables I spent most of my time looking for authors who are harder to find in stores. I can find the books of the best sellers in almost any bookstore.

I did look for a book bound to be a best seller. Jason Mathews’ new book, The Kremlin’s Candidate, has just been published. With the success of Red Sparrow and Victim of Treason I expect the third book in the trilogy, The Kremlin’s Candidate, will be a best seller. Dominika Egorova is a fascinating spy.
My second book purchase was Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany which is the second in her series involving Emma Doyle in her Sherlockian bookshop in Massachusetts. In the first book I enjoyed Emma’s intense powers of observation and her surprise that the rest of the world did not always appreciate the swiftness of her mind. A boyfriend did not propose marriage when she told him in advance she knew he was going to propose.

In a recent comment on The Kings of London, fellow blogger and friend Moira from Clothes in Books, said she was not ready at the moment for a depressing story. I can understand the thought. Part of the reason I bought the above two books is that each of them is not going to depress me in the reading.

My third book was Cut You Down, the second book in the Dave Wakeland series by Sam Wiebe. The author gained recognition in 2012 when he won the Unhanged Arthur Award for best unpublished novel with Last of the Independents. It subsequently became his first published book. He then embarked on the Wakeland series with Invisible Dead. The series, gritty but not depressing, is set on the mean streets of Vancouver.

The fourth book was All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards. I have enjoyed reading about Martin over my years as a blogger. Between his own fiction and collections of stories he has edited and his non-fiction work few can match the breadth of his crime fiction skills and knowledge. I had always been interested in reading his Harry Devlin series about a Liverpool solicitor. With Martin having been a lawyer I wanted to read what kind of lawyer he created. (That sentence sounds vaguely Frankensteinian but I will leave it as written.)

I was going to stop after four books but, as I was lined up to pay for my books (there is a scene not seen often enough in independent bookstores), on the shelf of staff recommended books was Take Down by James Swain. It sounded abit like The B-Team with a criminal seeking to do right. Being a book set in America, Las Vegas, I expect there will be more violence than the ladies of the B-Team in Hamilton. Still hesitating I asked Marian who had liked the book and she said J.D. Knowing it is not often they like the same book I asked her thoughts and she said J.D. had told her that he thought she would like it. She said he does not often make such a recommendation and she expected to soon read the book. Take Down became my fifth purchase. And it turned out to be autographed by the author.

I did take the opportunity to ask Marian if the store had any copies of the new Susan Wolfe legal mystery. I said I had liked The Last Billable Hour and was looking for the new book. She said she had loved The Last Billable Hour but had not heard of the new book. Her computer showed that the Canadian distributor did not have any in stock. She said she would contact them and see if she could get me a copy.

While there is no longer a cat to greet customers Marian has her faithful companion, Percy, quietly wandering the store and checking out visitors.
Lovers of crime fiction will never be disappointed if they visit Sleuth. I have been shopping there for almost 30 years.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Authors at Sleuth of Baker Street

The past week has not gone as expected. I plan to get back to reviews in the coming week but wanted to write this post and my next post about my visit today to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. With fewer mystery bookstores still in business I cherish every opportunity to visit a store dedicated to the genre I love to read and write about on this blog.

Today had an unexpected pleasure. I had not looked at the store calendar and did not know there was going to be a multiple author event at the store until I arrived this afternoon.

Three Canadian authors were involved. Melodie Campbell was there to talk about her newest book, The B-Team: The Case of the Angry First Wife. Alison Bruce was presenting her new book, Ghost Writer. Ginger Bolin’s book, Survival of the Fritters, the first in a new series was the third book. She was unable to attend because of the flu.

Hamilton based mystery reviewer and former university dean, Don Graves, read his reviews of The B Team and Ghost Writer. He greatly enjoyed each of the books. He spent several years writing reviews for the Hamilton Spectator and now writes reviews for the Bay Observer.

He had an anecdote about Sleuth. When he was a university dean in downtown Toronto he would often, sometimes even twice a week, slip away from the campus on a dean’s hour break to visit Sleuth and usually buy books. He has a personal collection of about 4,000 books with most of them being crime fiction and most of those purchased at Sleuth.

Don has an 8 year old grandson who has become entranced by Sherlock Holmes and is devouring Holmes’ stories. In the relentless way of children he asked his grandfather the source of his books. When his grandfather tired of saying they came from Sleuth and said one came from another source the grandson said “and why not Sleuth?” He said he would soon be bringing his grandson to see the store.

Melodie’s book is about an eccentric group of Canadian women who band together. From the publisher’s blurb:

        Del's great-aunt, Kitty, has retired from a life of crime and
        embarked on a new venture, the B-Team. Although Del works
        at an animal shelter by day, by night she, her great-aunt and
        their cohorts, Dino and Ritz, use their criminal skills to right

Alison’s story involves the paranormal. From the author’s website:

Jen Kirby has seen ghosts since she was a teen, but she can't talk to them or help them cross over. And, after a violent death in the family, she doesn't want to see them anymore. 

In her role as ghostwriter, Jen joins a Canadian Arctic expedition to document and help solve a forty-year-old mystery involving an American submarine station lost during the Cold War. The trouble is, there are people, living and dead, who don't want the story told, and they'll do anything to stop her.

She had a striking story of personal experience with ghosts as she recounted seeing her grandmother, soon after her death, at the foot of her bed trying to talk to her.

Boltons’ book is the start of a new cozy series. Kirkus Reviews states:

        Since the death of her husband, Alec, Emily Westhill has kept
        busy running Deputy Donut with her father-in-law, Tom
        Westhill. A former police chief himself, Tom is also a
         doughnut expert, and he and Emily cook up a truly dizzying
        array of confections from lemon-glazed blueberry to maple-

After the formal presentation on the books there was mingling and sweets to be consumed. On Melodie’s book is the figure of a black cat. Among the treats were cat shaped and decorated cookies. I brought back to our temporary apartment a pair of the cat cookies.

I enjoyed visiting with Melodie and Alison.

Melodie is the former executive director of the Crime Writers of Canada. She was in that position when I joined the organization.

It was nice to chat with fellow aficionados of mysteries. It appears Canadians use the phrase mystery fiction more often than crime fiction. I get few chances to visit with groups of mystery fans.

With the author event and visiting completed I looked through the store for some books. As with recent visits Sleuth I restrained myself by purchasing only five books. It is hard to show restraint at Sleuth. Don left the store with two bags of books.

My next post will discuss the store and my purchases.