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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Bounty by Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton

(12. - 1084.) The Bounty by Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton - A dynamic opening sees a “master thief” slipping into the Vatican whose security services have been alerted. They are aided by a lovely FBI special agent, Kate O’Hare, and the suave Nick Fox, a “world-class thief. (Kate is a hard driving agent while Nick has shifted sides to assist the agency in challenging investigations.) The combined forces are still unable to prevent the theft of a 75 year old map and the escape of the thief.


The map is a modern treasure map created at the end of WW II by members of Die Bruderschaft (the Brotherhood),”a group of Nazi officals and sympathsizers” as a guide to tons of hidden Nazi gold. The Brotherhood has a new generation of members. Nazis and now Neo-Nazis have served thriller writers well for almost 90 years.


The map was stolen by Quentin Fox, the father of Nick. Quentin was an art dealer who had a secret second career as a CIA operative. It is nice to have a clever 62 year old man swiftly scaling walls, creating diversions and escaping from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica by an SAS parachute.


Quentin and Nick become a dynamic duo pursuing the gold.


Kate goes rogue, ignoring her superiors, as she seeks to capture the pair. In her past she has caught Nick three times.


In a clever twist Kate’s father, Jake, joins the trio. Few thrillers have heroes joined by their fathers.


Deciphering the map is intriguing. The quartet careens around Europe. The action is non-stop. 


It is movie ready. Script writers need hardly do more than recite the existing dialogue. The spectacular settings for scenes are beautiful and dramatic.


It is an excellent classic contemporary American thriller. The story moves smoothly. Bodies accumulate in 8 different countries. I am finding it harder to enjoy thrillers where the good guys casually solve each problem by killing a few more bad guys. I was reminded of the Indiana Jones series.


Readers who enjoy current movies based on comic heroes will love The Bounty.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Imperium by Robert Harris

As I have not finished as many books as usual recently I am dipping into unposted reviews from years before I started the blog. Robert Harris has been an inconsistent author for me. Imperium was one of his good ones.

****

12. - 422.) Imperium by Robert Harris – Harris returns to Roman times. In the last century B.C. Cicero sets out to become one of the two ruling consul of the Roman Republic. The novel is written by his slave, Tiro, who has invented shorthand to take down the torrent of words spoken by Cicero as a lawyer and as a politician. Born into a modest provincial farm family Cicero lacks the 1,000,000 in sesterces to become a senator. He overcomes the problem by marrying the wealthy Terentia. He rises through the senatorial ranks despite lacking a prominent family or great wealth or a successful army command. He succeeds through his wits and golden tongue. Harris portrays a lively Rome. The checks on individual power are being eroded. Cicero must navigate between the ambitions of Ptolemy the Great, Crassus and Caesar. The tension is continuous. The integrity of elections and verdicts are damaged by bribery. Cicero is justly remembered as one of the world’s great orators. He was equally adept at politics arranging coalitions and maintaining relationships. Overall I was sad as I knew of the pending loss of the republic. The Sunday Times description of “masterful” is apt. Harris is among the best historical fiction writers of this generation. I believed I was in Rome. Only as I read reviews did I realize Harris had written a thriller in which the hero killed no one. Hardcover. (Mar. 22/08)

****

Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; (2016) - Conclave and The Conclaves of Malachi Martin, Walter Murphy and Robert Harris; (2020) - The Second Sleep; Hardcover or paperback (See also in non-fiction)

Monday, April 5, 2021

Actual Cross Examination of Hitler

I rarely repeat a post. Tonight I decided to put up again a post of a review of the biography of an unfortunately little known German lawyer who cross-examined Hitler. I am adding to the post excerpts of the actual cross-examination. The post also appears in The Advocate, a journal published by the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association. The BBC production Hans Litten vs. Adolf Hiter: To Stop a Tyrant is focused the trial.

****

Crossing Hitler by Benjamin Carter Hett – Hans Litten was a radical Berlin defence lawyer. In 1932, acting as a private prosecutor, he joined the government prosecution of SA storm troopers charged with attacking Communists at the Eden Dance Palace. Litten convinced the Court to summon Adolph Hitler to testify about the SA. Litten carefully crafted questions that challenged Hitler to reconcile the Nazi Party’s public proclamations of pursuing power only by legal means with the SA taking violent actions in the streets of Germany. Litten’s probing questions provoked Hitler into a profound rage. While Hitler escapes perjury charges he fully recognizes the danger Litten has been to his political goals. Most remarkably, Litten is only 29 years old. The title cleverly has a double meaning.


While the book features the questioning of Hitler it is mainly a biography of the complex Litten. He is the privileged son of an East Prussian Jewish law professor and an aristocratic mother. A rebel with a sour relationship with his father, he becomes a lawyer. In his career, as much from spite at his conventional father as from his idealism, he specializes in defending Communists. Litten is a true lone wolf who fits within no political party or religion. He is simultaneously drawn to his Jewish and Christian heritages.


With his large round glasses and portly frame he looks like a pure academic rather than a fierce fighter. Yet he is a fearless defence counsel who uses every strategy possible including deliberately provocative actions that upset the judicial establishment. His sole concerns are his clients. He is not interested in going along with accepted behavior.


Hitler never forgets Litten. Upon the Nazis rise to power Litten is immediately imprisoned. The unceasing efforts of his mother, Irmgard, to secure his release are moving. Using every connection inside and outside Germany she advocates for her son.


When, after 5 years in prison, Litten gives up and commits suicide I was reminded of the observation of Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, in Man’s Search for Meaning that in the camps to lose faith in the future was to die.


It is a well written book that is free from academic convolutions.

****

Excerpts from Litten’s cross from the Cross-Examination Blog (Here is a link to the blog which has many other interesting cross-examinations http://wwwcrossx.blogspot.com/):


Q You didn't discipline or expel Goebbels, but instead made him Reich Propaganda Director. Mustn't Goebbels' example rouse the idea in the Party that the program of legality hasn't gotten very far.

A [Hitler begins to stutter and search for an answer] The whole Party stands on the basis of legality and Goebbels likewise on this basis. He is in Berlin and can be called here at any time...

Q Herr witness, is it correct that on the occasion of the so-called SA revolt last year you were accompanied on your tour of Berlin restaurants by armed SS men [for purposes of protection against the SA]?

A [Again outraged]. This is complete lunacy! In all the taverns I was greeted with stormy enthusiasm [Much laughter and merriment in the spectators gallery by Hitler's unintended pun of "stormy enthusiasm" from the storm troopers.] ....

Q I have just learned that this pamphlet is sanctioned by the Party, that it is sold at all Goebbels' meetings and that it is available in all Party bookstores ...

A [Hitler yells with a bright red face] Herr Advocate how can you that is a call to illegality? That is a statement that can be proven by nothing!



Q How is it possible that the Party publisher took over this text, which stands in clear contradiction to the party line?


At this point, Hitler was saved by the judge, who overruled the question and refused to allow any further inquiry.


Q Did you promise Reich Chancellor Bruning to dissolve the SA in the event of your joining the administration….show[ing] that you yourself saw the SA as something illegal.


A [Hitler now is extraordinarily excited] I insist that Bruning has not offered me any participation in his government…Dissolving the SA would mean for me the end of the Party…


Q In your opinion, what is the spirit of the Free Corps [another Nazi subgroup]?


A The Free Corps spirit lived in those who believed that a change in the fate of the German nation could be brought about through….physical strength….


Q Do you also include the notorious crimes and killings that were committed by the Free Corps as a part of this spirit?


A [Hitler now is outraged]. I refuse to acknowledge that that kind of thing happened. The Free Crops committed no killings. They defended Germany.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick

(11. - 1083.) The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick (2005) -
The brazen robbey of The Scream painting in Olso in 1994 gained worldwide publicity. Edvard Munch’s most famous work was snatched from the National Gallery in Oslo by a pair of thieves who took a ladder from a construction site, leaned it against the outer wall, climbed up, smashed a window, grabbed the painting off the wall, slid it down the ladder and drove away. A hapless oblvious security guard was not watching the monitors showing the theft and thought the alarm going off from the broken window was a false alarm.


In England Charley Hill and the other members of the Art Squad at Scotland Yard are intrigued and decide to pursue The Scream. The Norwegian police, getting nowhere, are appreciative.


It would take a very imaginative writer of crime fiction to create a sleuth as dramatic as Charley:


“.... half-English and half-American … an ex-soldier and ex-Fulbright scholar who flirted with academia, and then the church, and eventually landed a job as a cop walking a beat in some of London’s diciest neighorhoods ….swaggers when he walks …. can be charming and engaging …..he’s restless and impatient, with a bad temper that flashes unpredictably ...not a good man to cross.”


What he is not is classically handsome. Charley was “a tall, round-faced man with curly brown hair and thick glasses”. I wish more writers would let their sleuths be average in appearance.


Charley gained his reputation as the “rescue artist” for his undercover operations recovering great works of art.


Shortly before going after The Scream he had recovered a famed Vermeer that had been stolen from a mansion just outside Dublin.


Clearly a man who would have been a great actor upon the stage and screen (if it was improv rather than scripted) he played the role of a representative of the wealthy Getty Museum negotiating the return of the painting for the Norwegian government so that the Getty could gain goodwill and the chance to exhibit The Scream in a special exhibition. It seems thin as a cover but Charley was convincing. He has a talent for being what villains expect him to be in his role.


In a you-can’t-make-this-up moment the initial negotiating discussion scheduled without looking at the hotel’s conference schedule turns out to be on the opening morning of the Scandinavian Narcotics Officers Annual Convention!


Charly, while an honest man, had a strong anti-authoritan streak that rang true to the villains of the world when he went undercover. He explained his primary skill:


“Pissing people off is what I’ve done best in life.”


He almost flunked out of college though he enjoys books, had earned a promotion in the army before picking a fight with an officer that returned him to private and said “[A]t Scotland Yard, nearly every higher-up was a ‘complete dunce who talked through his ass.’ “


Because of his personality, style and appearance no villain thought he was a police officer.


During his career, in addition to his “art” speciality,  he went undercover on investigations involving many crimes including counterfeit money and guns.


Along with the fascinating portrayal of a sting to recover The Scream there is a primer on how to be a successful undercover operative including lessons on lying. Go with the truth on small things and reserve lies for big matters.


The book establishes that, while stealing art can be lucrative, the financial rewards can be limited. Dolnick speaks of it being an iron rule in the underworld that stolen art is worth 10% of its fair market value at auctions or galleries. As well, insurance coverage ranges from non-existent to modest. The Scream was not insured. And pre-eminent works such as The Scream must be discounted as they can never be displayed.


Art thieves are motivated by more than money:


Great paintings will disappear, as well, because when thieves steal great art some of the luster of the masterpiece spills upon the thieves themselves. This gilt by association is almost entirely undeserved, but the notion of the dashing thief is so appealing that it thrives even without any evidence to support it.


Hill loved art:


To create beauty was rare and lofty work, but to safeguard cultural treasures was no paltry thing. “You’re just trying to keep these things in the world,” Hill went on. “It’s simply a matter of keeping them safe and protected and in the right places, where people can enjoy them.”


The Rescue Artist is well written. Dolnick moves the story briskly. The characters are better than most fictional creations. It could easily have been an excellent work of fiction instead of real life adventure. I enjoyed it immensely.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar translated by Martin Schifino

(10. - 1082.) Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar translated by Martin Schifino (2006) - Inspector Caldas is weary. He has just endured participating in the Patrol on the Air radio show listening to the calls from fellow disgruntled Galician citizens in and around Vigo. On his return to the office Caldas is sent to investigate a murder.


The victim is Luis Reigosa, a 34 year old musician. Reigosa played the saxophone, listened to jazz music, read crime fiction and trusted a lover who tied him to his bed and cruelly tortured him to death. There is significant detail of the damage to the body concentrating on the genitals. His water-blue eyes are wide open.


Caldas equally loves jazz. His prefers classic jazz performers.


Aiding the inspector is the massive Rafael Estévez, involuntarily transferred from Zaragosa. He has a quick temper and the Galician talent for ambiguity constantly frustrates him. Interviewing the cleaner who discovered the body, a “youthful sixty-four” year old woman, sets him boiling with answers of “more or less” and “[I]t was pretty much as it says there, yes” and “[I]t might have been roughly the way you describe it”.


Both experienced police officers and myself were stunned by the bizarre, extremely painful, means of murder.


I appreciated that they are officers who take time for a meal of fresh sardines and potatoes and local cheeses washed down with a jug of local white wine. Too many fictional sleuths are too driven to stop for a nice meal.


Caldas is dismayed that the popularity of Patrol on the Air means he is known as the radio policeman. Estévez is amused by the discontent of his superior.


As Reigosa was gay the investigation takes the inspector into the gay community. Caldas has but a little knowledge of gay life in Vigo.


The investigation is guided by evidence and the clever mind of Caldas willing to trust instincts honed by years of experience.


The plot moves smoothly. The characters are interesting. The detail on the murder was very graphic and clearly intended to shock. While I did not find the detail exploitive I hope the next book is frank about murder but less gruesome in the particulars.


In a refreshing change from the current fashion for 300 page to 400 page to even longer novels, Villar wrote a fine mystery in 167 pages. I shall read the second. 

****

Jose Ignacio at his fine blog, The Game's Afoot, has a review of the book and biographical information on Villar


Monday, March 22, 2021

Handwritten Notes Are the Best

In The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver the sleuth, Colter Shaw, eschews computer technology for making notes. I was won over when Colter pulled out a “Delta Titanio Galassia fountain pen, black with three orange rings toward the nib”. At $250 it is a serious pen. 

I enjoy fountain pens. I currently have one crafted in Melfort. While Colter justifies his pen as easier on the hand for making extended notes I really think he just loves the feel of writing with a fine fountain pen. I know I appreciate a flow with a fountain pen lacking in writing with a ballpoint pen.

He has precise small writing which further appealed to me as it is the same form of writing that myself, my father and grandfather all have in our writing. My sons, while gratefully legible, do not have the same style of writing.


At times I have found it difficult to find a fountain pen with a fine enough nib. Most fountain pens have a broader nib that is ill suited to my handwriting.


Colter has a theory on writing by hand:


“When you write something by hand, slowly, you own the words. You type them, less so. You read them, even less. And you listen, hardly at all.”


I have learned to make notes effectively on the computer but I find I type more in notes because I can type significantly faster than I can write. I am as efficient with handwriting as I make more focused notes and use contractions more easily.


In Court I cannot make notes with a computer. I need to make them by hand. Using a computer I am too caught up in the note making process.


Few lawyers I know make computer notes during a trial when they are conducting examinations and cross-examinations. 


Within our office the three of us who go to court all prefer making handwritten notes. Jeff says there are studies that say handwritten notes are better.


Brandi spoke of remembering better when making notes by hand.


My son, Jonathan, says he makes notes either by handwriting or on his laptop. If he is assisting another lawyer he will make them on the computer as it is easier for senior counsel to read notes off the screen. 


Most Saskatchewan judges still make notes by hand. 


As a sports reporter I equally make handwritten notes. In the pressbox I find it easier to highlight and find important notes if they are handwritten.


I have tried making notes on the computer at trials and found I had to go back to handwritten notes. There is something in my brain that prefers handwriting notes of a live event.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver

(9. - 1081.) The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver - I love tracking down people books or the reverse of escaping trackers books. Over two decades ago I loved the early Jane Whitefield books of Thomas Perry in which Jane helped people disappear. In The Never Game, Colter Shaw finds people. There is no shortage of missing people to be found. As a “reward seeker” he makes his living from the rewards he is paid for finding the missing.


He parks his Winnebago at a trailer park in Silicon Valley and visits the modest shabby home  of Frank Mulliner. His daughter, Sophie known as Fee, is missing. Mulliner is deeply worried as Sophie has not been in contact with him concerning her dog, Luka.


As with Ava Lee from the series by Ian Hamilton, Colter starts each case with a blank notebook for writing down information and ideas.


Colter is a calculating tracker. While observation helps he spends more time assessing what he thinks the missing person would have done. Taught by his father he determines the percentages of any prospective action. He puts possibilities at percentages and rigorously goes with the highest percentage. It is very logical but highly dependent on Colter’s ability to be accurate in his percentages.


The search for Sophie swiftly produces results. It felt too easy. The kidnapper’s actions after grabbing Sophie do not quite make sense. The police are rather crudely drawn. Colter manages to get surprised a touch too often. Is Deaver, a master of deception, playing with the reader?


Colter meets Maddie Poole, a young woman who is a gamer girl working in the video game industry playing and reviewing games. Colter is virtually an alien to her. When he was young his university professor father and psychiatrist / professor mother moved off grid to live on 1,000 acres in the wilderness near the Sierra National Forest. They call their place the Compound. While Colter grew up with rooms full of books the family had no connection to the internet and he never played video games. Trying out a new 3D game with googles and a controller is a new experience. Maddie leaves him unsettled.


Another kidnapping takes place. With the second kidnapping the book gets away from stereotypes and into a complex fast moving investigation with a wickedly clever villain.


Colter becomes a consultant for the police aiding Detective LaDonna Standish in pursuit of “The Whispering Man”. He is a killer to rival the most diabolical killers in Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes series.


I was strongly reminded of the Lincoln Rhymes series with a survivalist loner instead of a quadreplegic loner pursuing a highly intelligent killer who enjoys being creative with victims and pursuers. When Colter is joined by Standish, a highly competent female police officer skilled with a gun, there was the same team as Lincoln and Amelia Sachs.


Deaver is very talented but I did not think The Never Game rose to the level of the Lincoln Rhyme’s books. It does have an interesting ending as an unresolved subplot was to be directly addressed in the next book in the series. I am not sure if I will read the next Colter Shaw mystery.

****

Deaver, Jeffery – (2000) - The Empty Chair; (2002) - The Stone Monkey; (2002) - Mistress of Justice; (2003) - The Vanished Man; (2005) - Garden of Beasts; (2005) - The Twelfth Card; (2006) - Cold Moon(Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2008) - The Broken Window; (2010) - The Burning Wire; (2013) - The Kill Room; (2014) - The Skin Collector; (2017) - The Steel Kiss; (2019) - The Burial Hour;  Hardcover if Lincoln Rhymes story


Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Canadian Fascinator Amidst Royal Hats

Not surprisingly in The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan there are lots of scenes involving clothes especially as Bex's relationship progresses with Prince Nick and she becomes a public figure besieged by paparazzi every day.

Royal expectations take the young American into the world of hats. When I visualize the real life Queen Elizabeth II I think of her hats. All the Royal women wear hats. Hats are a new experience for Bex. In America she had worn ball caps.

She begins by "shopping after work with Bea and Joss at a private room in Stephen Jones Millinery in Covent Garden". Trying on a "spiked fascinator" she thinks she looks "like a cactus".

My wife, Sharon, loves hats. She has several dozen. I have joined her for hat shopping in Europe, the middle of the Atlantic (Bermuda), the United States and across Canada.

One of our most surprising hat experiences was at Smithbilt hats in the Inglewood area of Calgary where our sons reside. Smithbilt makes thousands of cowboy hats every year for the famed Calgary Stampede. Looking through the store we were surprised to come across a board to which were affixed fascinators. The designer of hat bands and embellishments for the cowboy hats also creates women's hats. The fascinator at the top of this post is the fascinator Sharon bought that day. I think it would be suitable for a Royal event.

I am confident every Royal lady has worn a fascinator. Here is Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. Further examples can be seen at an amazing blog on royal hats:
https://royalhats.net/2014/02/26/hat-types-the-fascinator/

For Bex her most vivid hat day is at the Royal Ascot races. Invited to watch from the Royal Family box she must have an appropriate hat which "must have a base of four inches or larger".  

While many hats at Ascot are elegant there is a tradition of "wonderful, ridiculous" hats such as "a bust of David Beckham; a Mad Hatter's tea party recreated in elaborate clay sculptures, the Cheshire Cat's tail flicking the wearer's ear".

Sadly Bex's hat is not described. Thus I turn to the hats of the real life Royals at Ascot.

I like to think Bex would have chosen a hat such as the hat worn by Princess Kate in 2017 rather than ....

..... the hat chosen by Meghan (not sure how to address her in 2021) for Ascot in 2018.







Of all the Royal Ascot hats in recent years I think the Queen made a brilliant  choice in 2018.