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, June 16, 2021

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Not having a current review ready I am looking back over a decade to a short review of a book I enjoyed so much it was 2nd on Bill's Best of Fiction for 2008. Walter is a good writer though it has been a decade since I read any of his books. In any event, Citizen Vance, is an exceptional book. 

****

8. - 418.) Citizen Vince by Jess Walter – Vince Camden is a donut maker / small time credit card fraudster / smaller time pot dealer in Spokane. He rises each day at 2:00 am to make his rounds of the modest underworld of Spokane before working from 4:00 to noon making donuts. In November of 1980 he is proud to register to vote for the first time in his 36 years. Vince has never voted because he has been felon all his life back in New York. Vince is in the witness protection program because he informed on his gang. Whenit is clear a Mob killer from New York is coming for him Vince decides to return home to make right his misdeeds. While there he finds twists in the story he never anticipated. At the same time he is focused on the presidential and local elections. Politics had never mattered. Interwoven are stories of the final days of the presidential campaign. Vince contemplates on the meaning of life, whether a man can change and for whom should he vote. It is a vivid portrayal of one of life’s losers who is no longer satisfied to be a loser. Alan Dupree is a rookie detective whose subtle mind and stubborn integrity are little respected within the profession. A wonderful book. Hardcover. (Feb. 16/08)


Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw

(17. - 1089.) A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw - Lanette “Lane” Winslow has left England for the apple orchards of central British Columbia. While her family is English she started life in Latvia. She served England in World War II and now seeks to become a writer in the quiet countryside of yet another country.

Arriving at King’s Cove near Nelson in June of 1946 the lovely Lane finds herself amidst a small group of families with apple trees in abundance. The community is focused around the post office whose post mistress, Eleanor,  provides flowers and vegetables to those picking up the mail. Most of the residents are at least a generation older than Lane.

There is a leisurely opening to the book until a body is found near Lane’s home. Inspector Darling and Constable Ames come from Nelson to investigate the murder. The pace was so languid I almost lost interest.

Just over 100 pages in the reader gets meaningful information on Lane’s life during the war. I would have preferred more of the back story earlier. I became engaged in the book when Lane’s role as a British agent making multiple trips to Occupied France was revealed. Those experiences explain her sangfroid when dealing with a body.

Lane, used to concealing emotions, displays no anxiety when Darling insinuates she knows more than she has told the police.

There is a touch of English formality to relationships.

Lane’s situation is made more precarious by her oath under The Official Secrets Act not to reveal her wartime activities.

As the investigation proceeds, unexpected connections between rural British Columbia and distant England, over 7,000 km away, are revealed.

A back cover blurb from Reviewing the Evidence spoke of the book being “In the vein of Louise Penny ….” While I do not usually read or reflect on blurbs I thought about this comment through the book. I did not find it “in the vein”. 

What I did find “in the vein” of was the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Both Lane and Maisie are bright capable women who had an active role in war. Lane was a secret agent. Maisie was a front line nurse in WW I. Neither is intimidated by officious men. 

Each women is precise and logical and thoughtful. They have a comparable approach to organizing information in an investigation. Maisie uses the reverse side of cut down rolls of wallpaper. She writes upon the wallpaper the facts and people. She draws lines showing connections. Lane drew a map of the area around her home and wrote up note cards about what happened and about her neighbours. She lays the map and cards out on the floor of her vacant attic. Her knees tire from the extended kneeling as she considers her work. Knee pads or tables need to be in Lane’s future.

Having grown up in a small rural community I thought Whishaw portrayed well the close relationships that develop between families in the country. I knew my neighbours, young and old, well. We cared and helped each other.

I swept through the last two-thirds of the book. The early effort to get involved with the story was worth it. I do plan to read more in the series. I hope subsequent books have a less leisurely opening.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Anthony Bidulka and Hesitation Over the Cover Photo


To: Anthony Bidulka

Who likes having their picture taken? Not I. Not most people I know. There are not many narcissists with regard to photos of yourself. I consider Donald Trump an exception. Cats seem to do the best as they are totally indifferent to the camera.

I appreciate professional photographers who can make their subjects look good in photos.

Canadian photographer, Yousef Karsh, was one of the best portrait photographers of all time with his black and white photos of celebrities and politicians. His photo of Winston Churchill with a wisp of cigar smoke in the air is one of the best known images of Churchill.

Yet even the most confident of personalities quail at the thought of going in front of the lens.

You are one of the most photogenic people I know. The photo McNally Robinson booksellers in Saskatoon chose for the portrait gallery in the Prairie Ink Restaurant is above. You spoke of liking it but not your mother-in-law. You never indicated what your mother or Herb thought of the photo. If you are willing to share the reasons for the opinions of your mother-in-law and your mother and your husband I would add them to this post. I like the photo.

In your most recent post on your website blog, a link is below,  you revealed the book jacket description and cover photo for your new book, Going to Beautiful, which will be published next spring.

In the post you express your own hesitations on photos of yourself.

I expect you are not alone among authors. 

Of all the authors I read frequently I think Louise Penny has some of the best cover photos. 

I appreciate the pressure of the cover photo as I read an online post saying some readers judge the author and the book based on the author photo. I have some difficulty believing readers could be so shallow but I expect there must be some minuscule minority.

Of the photos in your post other than the new cover photo you spoke of some being favourites and cringing a bit over others.

I cringe over none but have mixed emotions about the photo in the canola field. I love the concept of a photo in an iconic Saskatchewan setting but would not have chosen it to represent you.

I would be happy if I looked as good as you in any of the photos. I do like the photo chosen for the new book cover. It reminds me of the wry, always witty, guy I have come to know.

I am looking forward to the book. I did not read the book cover description as I prefer to read the book before looking at notes and blurbs.

All the best.

Bill

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https://anthonybidulka.com/a-silk-purse-from-a-sows-ear-and-a-big-reveal/?fbclid=IwAR1NPGurhE3bcJ87jKY1BsDoUGcWGPg6Njn2toZQ4_277MEWjTO36H169EU






Monday, May 31, 2021

Downfall by Robert Rotenberg

(19. - 1091.) Downfall by Robert Rotenberg - A young Somali immigrant, Jember Roshan, is casually knoc
ked from his bike by an SUV near the Humber River golf course in Toronto. Tumbling down the hillside he lands upon a homeless woman who has just been killed. Another homeless woman wearing a designer coat helps Roshan and then disappears.

Melissa Copeland was a talented corporate lawyer at a big firm in the towers of downtown Toronto. Obsession with work led to marital strife to mental breakdown to chaos. Ultimately she joins the homeless of Toronto to help them. At the same time she tests, often breaches, the restraining orders and bail conditions that deny her contact with her ex-husband, Karl, and his new spouse, Lydia, and her daughter, Britt. In her spiral down Melissa refuses mental health treatment.


Through stalwart representation her defence counsel, Nancy Parrish, has kept her out of jail. Now Melissa insists on a trial for her latest charges against Parrish’s advice for it is likely she will be found guilty and a jail sentence is inevitable. Melissa rejects the advice.


Complicating the situation Melissa, Nancy and Lydia were once the Three Amigas, close friends in law school and at the same big law firm.


In a head spinning moment Ari Greene appears as the Head of the Homicide Division of Toronto Police Services. Two books ago he had left the force after being charged with murder. In the last book he was a construction worker / defence investigator. Now he has not only returned as detective but ascended to leadership of an elite department.


Reflecting his progression within the force Greene’s protege, Daniel Kennicott, is now an experienced detective taking the lead on investigations.


The consequences of the homeless woman’s death become complicated as she is the second homeless person in days to be murdered by the golf course. The method of killing is the same and the killer leaves a signature clue with each body. Is there a serial killer after the homeless?


The prevailing public opinion is that the police conduct but perfunctory investigations of the deaths of the homeless. Greene and Kennicott see no routine murders. Every death gets their full attention. In the words of Harry Bosch “everybody counts or no one counts”.


The issue of a serial killer of the marginalized is a sensitive issue in current real life Toronto. There is resentment over a serial killer of gay men remaining undiscovered for years.


Should an alert go out to the homeless thousands to be wary? Can they do anything to protect themselves?


With a strong advocate for the homeless being a major character the city’s neglect of the homelessness is a steady theme. Rotenberg moves to the edges of preachiness. Not all homeless are the prominent felled by personal demons.


At the same time Melissa is a striking character. There was a secret to her life  that startled me and twisted the narrative and made the book far better.


The pace accelerates with a meeting at Police Headquarters that surprised, amazed and intrigued me. Prominent defence lawyer, Phil Cutter, delicately manages his client’s disclosure while subtly conveying other information to the detectives. To discuss it more would be too great a spoiler.


As I read the book I tried to see a motive for killing homeless people. Who would have reason to murder the most marginalized of the city? As with many of my favourite mysteries the question of “why” grew greater and greater as I read. I never figured out the motive before the killer was revealed but I had identified the murderer. The motive was credible.


Downfall is the second book that I have read in the past year, the other being An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker, where there is a strong homeless character and a non-stereotypical portrayal of homeless people.


Rotenberg shows how an excellent lawyer / police mystery can be dramatic with neither a gun being drawn by a detective nor a lawyer committing a gross violation of legal ethics.


While Greene remains the lead in Downfall I was glad that the lawyers of Rotenberg’s fictional Toronto had a greater role in this book than in Heart of the City and will discuss balancing the roles of the characters in another post. I think Rotenberg is at his best when he is writing about lawyers and police officers.

****

Rotenberg, Robert – (2011) - Old City Hall; (2011) - The Guilty Plea; (2012) - Stray Bullets(2012) - "R" is for Robert Rotenberg; (2013) - Stranglehold; (2017) - Heart of the City and Lawyers Hate to Lose and The Unknown Children of Ari Greene, Travis McGee and Harry Bosch


Thursday, May 27, 2021

2021 Winners of Crime Writers of Canada Awards

The highlight of the year for the Crime Writers of Canada is the announcement of winners of the Annual Awards. While vaccinations take us closer to normal life the 2021 Awards still needed to be awarded virtually. A link to this year’s visual presentation is at the end of this post.

Congratulations to the winners. 


I am about to embark on reading the shortlist for Best Crime Novel. After reading the books I will see if I make the same choice as the judges.


In addition to the Awards for authors the Derrick Murdoch Award was presented to Marian Misters. A link to my post on Marian a short time ago following the news release she had received the Award is also at the end of this post.


The winners are:


Best Crime Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo, with a $1000 prize

Will Ferguson, The Finder, Simon & Schuster Canada

Best Crime First Novel sponsored by Writers First, with a $500 prize

Guglielmo D’Izza, The Transaction, Guernica Editions

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada sponsored by The Engel Family with a $500 prize

Katrina Onstad, Stay Where I Can See You, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Best Crime Novella sponsored by Mystery Weekly with a $200 prize

Sam Wiebe, Never Going Back, Orca Book Publishers

Best Crime Short Story sponsored by Mystery Weekly with a $300 prize

Marcelle Dubé, Cold Wave, Sisters in Crime - Canada West

Best French Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Roxanne Bouchard, La mariée de corail, Libre Expression

Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction) sponsored by Shaftesbury with a $500 prize

Frances Greenslade, Red Fox Road, Puffin Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book sponsored by Simpson & Wellenreiter LLP, Hamilton, with a $300 prize

Justin Ling, Missing From the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto's Queer Community, McClelland & Stewart

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript sponsored by ECW Press with a $500 prize

The Future by Raymond Bazowski

****

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x90rERt1jq4

https://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2021/05/marian-misters-bookseller-and-award.html


Monday, May 24, 2021

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

(16. - 1088.) To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear - It is May of 1940 and a new generation has stepped forward for war. Billy Beale’s son, young Billy, is with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Young Joe Coombes from the local pub is painting RAF bases with fire retardant paint. Priscilla’s oldest, Tom, is in the RAF. Her 16 year old, Tim, desperately wants to “prove himself” in the service of his country. Unlike contemporary wars the young from the English upper classes through those of working families sign up.

As the German armies press the British Expenditionary Force to the French coast Billy is deeply worried about our Billy. The Coombes, Phil and Sally, are equally concerned about a lack of contact from Joe.


When Joe is found dead on a railroad track Maisie feels compelled to find out what happened. The police, with all the issues of the war, can devote little time to the apparent accidental death of a teenager in the countryside.


As this new loss is absorbed Maisie’s mother-in-law, Rowan, expresses her long frustration over her son, James, risking and losing his life flying when Maisie was pregnant. Maisie tells her:


James died doing something he loved, and we all adored him for his passion. He chose to be an aviator, and chose to test a new fighter aircraft for the government - it was a fateful day and it changed all our lives. Yet it serves no one to go back and forth trying to apportion blame. Forgive yourself, Rowan. Forgive yourself and set yourself free of this blame, of regret.”


Regular trains are delayed by the troop trains bringing back troops evacuated from Dunkirk. Initially the English people were not told of the extent of the crisis. Only when the government realized it could not rescue the army with naval ships did the call go out for “pleasure craft” and “able-bodied men” and the civilian armada was created that crossed the English Channel to the beaches.


The anxiety level of the nation ratchets up as virtually everyone knows someone on the beaches or in the boats gone to pick them up.


The stress becomes almost unbearable when Priscilla and Maisie determine Tim and his 16 year old friend, Gordon, have taken Gordon’s family boat to Dunkirk. Reading of the  continuing fear of the families, for there is no communication possible, brought alive how agonizing it was during WW II for those on the home front worrying about their loved ones.


While they are now the older generation Priscilla and Maisie will do their bit for the war effort. They have signed up to be volunteer ambulance drivers in London. Readers with any knowledge of history cannot help but dread what they will experience in the Blitz. For now they are splitting time between London and the country trying to enjoy a fine summer.


Maisie has fallen in love. Originally she took over guardianship of the little girl, Anna, who lost her mother and grandmother and whose father had long ago returned to Malta. Anna had been sent to the countryside in the previous book, In This Grave Hour, with thousands of children for safety. Now Maisie desperately wants to adopt her. Bureaucracy, even or maybe especially in war, is making it difficult for Maisie to adopt as she is considered a single woman. Being widowed is a cruel disadvantage.


There is a most unusual subplot. I never knew the Bank of England essentially moved to the countryside during the war with most bank notes being made in Hampshire. And more banknotes than usual needed to be printed as existing notes were so constantly in circulation they wore out faster than in peacetime. It was interesting though a touch contrived to fit into the story.


All the books in the series are good but To Die But Once is not one of the best. The murder investigation gets lost at times in the personal dramas of the characters. There is not the flair and insight I am accustomed to from Maisie. She is a bit too much the bystander for me. 


Maisie, now 43, is gradually becoming part of the Establishment. She can easily afford an investigation with no paying client. While she avoids using her title her friends and associates are increasingly members of the upper classes. Being an upper class sleuth is an English fictional tradition but if Maisie is to be a mother will being a detective also count against her in the adoption process?

****

Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs(Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death; (2016) - A Lesson in Secrets; (2016) - Elegy for Eddie; (2018) Leaving Everything Most Loved; (2020) - A Dangerous Place - Part I on Maisie's life since the last book and Part II a review; (2020) - A Journey to Munich; (2021) - In This Grave Hour; Hardcover or paperback by choice


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fortune by Ian Hamilton

(15. - 1087.) Fortune by Ian Hamilton - Uncle remains the most calculating Mountain Master in the Hong Kong triads. 

He will need all his skills in communication, negotiation, compromise and violent reaction when killings in Macau spill over to Hong Kong and are intertwined with the coming Communist China takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 two years away.


Ten years of co-existence between the triads is threatened by intrigues between some of the Mountain Men who conspire to take over smaller triad organizations.


Always valuing information Uncle reaches out to his contacts in the other triad organizations, the Hong Kong police and Communist China bureaucrats. No other triad leader has his breadth of connections. 


A direct attack on the Fanling triads challenges Uncle’s position, resolve and determination. It is a mistake by the other Mountain Man. Uncle is unwavering as he prepares an immediate forceful response.


He knows he cannot be passive when his triad is attacked. While Uncle avoids violence as unproductive and disruptive to business he will respond to force with force. Where he differs from most Mountain Masters is that his response will never be a reflexive escalation. Uncle has a talent for swiftly responding to a crisis with a well thought out plan that will use violence as part of a measured plan to inflict maximum pain.


He does not project blustering bravado. The wise realize he has a quiet menace to his personality that is best not provoked. He is not an intellectual unable to spill blood. He speaks frankly to bullies.


His men appreciate his honour of the best in triad traditions and that he will be ferocious if needed. They know he will defend them and support them. They appreciate that he is personally brave. They are devoted to him.


Uncle conceives an approach to minimize inter-triad conflict. Will other Mountain Masters recognize that Uncle is an organizational genius? I thought of Lucky Luciano in the 1930’s setting up the Commission to reduce violence between the Italian crime families of New York and provide a structure for dealing with disputes.


It is the third pivotal moment in Uncle’s career.


In Fate Uncle acted decisively, as a young man, to stave off a threat to the Fanling triads and was elected Mountain Master in recognition.


In Foresight Uncle took a calculated risk in being an early investor in Communist China as the Party opened up economic development.


Now he has a chance to change how triads deal with each other.


The book introduces readers to Sonny Kwok a regular character in the Ava Lee series. It was fascinating to read the back story of the powerful bodyguard of Uncle and later protector of Ava.


I was so caught up in Uncle dealing with his own triads, working to avoid triad wars, facing attacks and negotiating with his rivals, the Hong Kong police and Chinese Communist Party . It was a book I could barely turn the pages fast enough and read the book in just over a day. My previous two posts are reviews of the first two books in the series.

****

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Foresight by Ian Hamilton

Normally I do not repeat a post but I am doing so with Foresight which is the second book in what Ian Hamilton planned as a trilogy involving "Uncle" from the Ava Lee series. As my next post will be Fortune, the third in the series, I thought it work best in the blog if I could have reviews of the three books appear consecutively.

****

(27. - 1052.) Foresight by Ian Hamilton - After reading Fate, the first in the “Uncle” Chow Tung trilogy I was anxious to read the second. I found it in Saskatoon a week ago. I enjoyed it just as much as Fate.

Foresight moves 12 years into the future from Fate. It is 1981 and the Fanling triads, led by Uncle, are seeking new means to make money. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has undercut the lucrative off-track betting shops of the triads by opening their own shops. Decreasing income has meant a cut in income for the triads. With rumours of discontent Uncle knows he must come up with a way for the organization to restore income and stay strong.

The core of the gang is utterly loyal as they know Uncle is devoted to making decisions that are best for all of them. He has none of the opulent trappings of a gang overlord. He continues to live simply in a one bedroom apartment sparsely furnished. His lone indulgence continues to be betting on the horse races. Where most of the world is drifting away race tracks, Hong Kong residents flock to the races.

He is resolute in refusing to sell drugs. It is not so much a matter of morality as he does not want the complications, especially of police pressure, that go with trafficking. More important, it would end his special arrangement with Inspector Zhang Delun of the Hong Kong police. Useful discreet exchanges of information and favours would cease if the Fanling triads were selling drugs.

In a discussion of the Fanling Triad executive Fong mentions their Mainland manufacturer of knockoff Lacoste shirts, Ming, is looking for investment to expand his business. Uncle also learns of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) as the Chinese Communist Party seeks to expand the economy.

Normally a man who takes abundant time to make a decision, Uncle immediately goes to see Ming just across the border in Shenzen which is one of the first SEZ’s.. 

Uncle instantly sees China is changing and there are unique opportunities for those who are investing early in the new China.

At Ming’s factory Uncle can see an expansion would bring enormous profits for the Fanling triads. With their own night market in Fanling and access to markets throughout Hong Kong they can move a lot of product.

It was disconcerting how casually the Chinese businessmen pirate brand names. They have no reluctance to rip off the Western companies who own the brands. 

Uncle is adept at dealing with those who make decisions and quickly reaches an accommodation with Peng, an administrator, who can make approvals of business applications succeed or fail.

Uncle is vague about their backgrounds. Triads have been hounded out of mainland China. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would move instantly and violently against Uncle and his executive working on the Mainland if they knew they were triads.

While business is lucrative, problems are inevitable. Uncle’s thoughtful approach and pragmatism serves him well. I appreciated that problems were not solved by constant violence. I consider it a better thriller when killing is used sparingly to resolve issues.

Yet even the most thoughtful of men cannot see all the political machinations within China.

Uncle’s principles are severely tested. Uncle is a man who prizes loyalty. Yet will he keep his word and remain loyal even if it means his death? 

Foresight is an excellent portrayal of the start of great economic change in China. Risks are great. Rewards are greater. It took me 2 days to read Fate. I needed but 3 days for Foresight. I look forward to Fortune, the concluding book in the trilogy.
****