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 22, 2022

The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James

Reading more slowly than usual so I am reaching back for a review written in 2008 that I have not previously posted. Not one of the best books of James but better than many authors.

****

11. - 421.) The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James (1982) – I had not realized it was her female private detective, Cordelia Gray, who is the heroine. Gray, whose detective agency in London specializes in finding lost pets, is hired to be the companion / protector of actress Clarissa Lisle who has been receiving notes containing quotes from the Bible and classic plays concerning death. The beautiful aging Clarissa, who has failed in several recent plays, is attempting to resurrect her career by appearing in an amateur production of The Duchess of Malfi in a private theatre on the island of Courcy off the Dorset coast. Ambrose Gorringe, a passionate Victorian, has restored the castle and a 100 seat theatre. After arrival they learn of the bloody history of the island including a sordid death in World War II. Clarissa is a manipulator of the highest order with her husband Sir George Ralston (her trophy old soldier), dying theatre critic and former lover Ivo Whittington, stepson Simon, host Ambrose, her sister Roma Lisle and long time servant Tolly. When she is bashed to death all are plausible suspects. The castle room featuring objects and memorabilia of Victorian days is a predecessor of museum featured in her recent The Murder Room. The isolated setting is her preferred choice when not set in London. I unreasonably missed Adam Dagleish in the novel. While I could not get as excited about the characters and plot the solution was deft and fair which I have not always found in her mysteries. (Mar. 9/08)

****

James, P.D. – (2000) - A Taste for Death; (2001) - Death in Holy Orders; (2003) - The Black Tower; (2004) - The Murder Room; (2005) - Death of an Expert Witness; (2006) - The Lighthouse; (2008) - The Skull Beneath the Skin; (2009) - The Private Patient; (2009) - Cover Her Face; Always hardcover (See non-fiction as well)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Death on Darby’s Island by Alice Walsh

(15. - 1130.) Death on Darby’s Island by Alice Walsh - “Secrets have a way of destroying us”.

In the summer of 1975 it is big news when a hypnotist, Prospero, comes to Darby’s Island off the coast of Newfoundland. Entertainment is limited on the island. The one television channel broadcasts dated shows. With just under 800 residents, little live entertainment comes to the island.

Blanche Ste. Croix is among the first women to join the RCMP. She is determined not to let the “mistreatment” drive her from the force. The patronizing and condescending attitudes of most fellow male officers is frustrating. Blanche grew up on the island and is back to investigate a complaint about the nursing home manager.

At the same time she is cautiously exploring a reconciliation with her separated husband, Coop Pickford. 

The constant nagging of her mother-in-law, Gert, has worn on her. Whether Blanche is with Coop or separated, Gert whines and complains about her.

Even Gert’s sharp tongue is briefly stilled when Archbishop Malloy, is found murdered on the shore and her husband, Jake, had been hypnotized and disappeared is now the prime suspect.

A vicious winter storm with “the wind gusting about a hundred knots” (185 km per hour) prevents other RCMP officers from coming to the island. Blanche’s reluctant superiors have to let her investigate. They are comforted that another officer, Martin Birsay, on leave to help with his wife who has Alzheimer’s, is on the island.

I am very familiar with small communities from growing up in rural Saskatchewan where everyone knows each other and family histories and most secrets. In fiction Darby’s Island is very different from the prosperous Three Pines of the Armand Gamache books of Louise Penny. Most barely get by on Darby’s Island.

Where and when I grew up in Saskatchewan life was between the comfortable Three Pines and the hard existence on Darby’s Island. While the bare times of pioneer life were easing in Saskatchewan, lives remained modest. 

The book moves back and forth between the early 1960’s and 1975. Blanche grew up hungry and cold in a dysfunctional family.

The caring of and for neighbours is and was common in rural Canada. When someone is killed in the country the community is shocked. On Darby’s Island, as inevitable, rumours abound.

I admired Blanche. I started my legal career in 1975. There were few women RCMP officers. They had no easier time in Western Canada than Atlantic Canada.

Blanche is no superwoman but she has a fierce resovle at her core to succeed as a police officer. At the same time she is not driven to work 24 hours a day. She understands the frightening power of secrets and their power over us.

It was an unusual book in that Blanche is both the investigator and either the relative or friend of the people she is investigating. Both Blanche and those she questions appear alright with her dual role.

It was a surprise to me to see Blanche stationed in her home province. In the mid-1970’s, at least in Western Canada, RCMP officers would be stationed outside the province in which they grew up. Well into their careers they might get a chance to get back to their home province.

The dialogue captures the lilt of the speech of Newfoundlanders. Walsh uses local expressions aptly. I thought she must have lived in Newfoundland even before I read the author’s biography.

I was not fond of the ending. It was the only part of the book that felt wrong. Overall, Death on Darby’s Island is a good book. I would like to read another book featuring Blanche. I hope it will be located off the Island. I would like to see Blanche in a different Newfoundland setting. 

(Death on Darby’s Island is the second book on the shortlist for the Crime Writers of Canada shortlist for Best Canadian Crime Novel Set in Canada. It is a sound choice.)


Friday, June 10, 2022

Libel Trials and History


I sometimes write to authors about their books. After reading Kleptopia and then about the libel case over the book I thought of past posts I had put up on libel cases involving historic events. I wrote to the author, Tom Burgis. That letter forms this post. To date I have not received a reply. Should he respond and be willing I will put up has response.

****

Dear Tom -

I am a lawyer and blogger living in Western Canada.

Most of my blog posts concern crime fiction. Some are about non-fiction. Each year my sons search for a couple of books, usually non-fiction, for Christmas presents to me.

Last Christmas my books included Kleptopia though it took the boys a few months to get me the books. I am very glad they included Kleptopia in their choices. It is excellent. A link to my review is below.

As I read the book I thought you were going to be irritating, more likely angering, some very wealthy and powerful men. It was little surprise when I reached the afterword to read court proceedings had been launched against you.

I was glad to see that you and HarperCollins prevailed in the English libel suit filed by ENRC. A link to my post discussing the judgment is below.

Over the last 30 years I have thought often about how libel cases have dealt with what happened in historic events.

In 2002, after reading The Holocaust on Trial by D.D. Gutenplan, I wrote to the author about his well written book on the libel trial in which David Irving had sued Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, over the book, Denying the Holocaust. The defendants convincingly proved in Court the Holocaust took place.

I included the letter in a post, a link is below, I put up in early 2021. In the letter to Gutenplan I discussed ostensibly personal libel cases from England, Canada, Germany and Israel that were actually about history.

I was prompted to post my letter by the court actions undertaken in America by Dominion Voting defending its reputation against Sidney Powell, Rudolph Giuiliani and others who asserted its voting machines of Dominion Voting had caused election fraud. Should the defendants be unwise enough to proceed to trial I believe a U.S. Federal Court will find the allegations against Dominion Voting were false. I include a link below to that post.

As a lawyer I have been directly involved in Federal Commissions of Inquiry seeking the truth about historic events. The first was a national inquiry into the Canadian Blood System over the thousands of Canadians who contracted AIDS and/or Hepatitis C in the 1980’s from transfused blood or blood products. The second was with regard to fraud over 100 years against local Saskatchewan Indian bands. Thousands of acres of land were taken. I also attach a link to that post.

While your case did not reach trial for the good reasons set out by Mr. Justice Nicklen, I thought the case still contributed to the historic record of the actions of “the Trio” and ENRC. The deliberate decision of ENRC to not pursue a libel action, over allegations of corruption for which damages could be sought, effectively vindicates the statements in your book.

I have a few inquiries for you.

Have you read libel cases such as those mentioned in this letter to get a sense of what and how you should write about such topics as the flow of “dirty money” in Kleptopia

It is clear to me from the book that you have a keen understanding of libel law.

Am I correct that you write with the expectation that you will have to be able to prove in a court the facts stated in your work?

I have not seen any articles or books on libel cases and commissions of inquiry establishing what happened in historic events. What are your thoughts on the role of libel cases and commissions of inquiry in determining history?

I have been involved in some libel cases in Canada and have been struck by the challenge most plaintiffs face in proving damage to their reputations and actual financial consequences from the libel. In reading your case I wondered how ENRC would ever demonstrate they suffered financial loss because of your book. I thought of the work of fiction QB VII by Leon Uris in which an English jury awarded a single half-penny, the smallest amount they could award, to a doctor defamed over his work in a Nazi concentration camp. If the number is available what amount did ENRC claim in their defamation action?

I can understand the Trio not taking personal action in which they could expect to be directly questioned. Those unaccustomed to having their actions probed can find the witness stand very uncomfortable. Adolph Hitler fared badly when cross-examined by German lawyer Hans Litten in 1932. (A final link below is my post on Crossing Hitler by Benjamin Carter Hett).

I will be posting this letter in a few days. If you are willing to reply and to have your response posted I will include it in that post or a separate post.

I look forward to reading more of your work.

All the best.

Bill Selnes

****

Burgis, Tom - (2022) - Kleptopia and ENRC v. Burgis Over Kleptopia 

Court Cases to Determine the Truth About Historical Events

Dominion Voting v. Powell - Defamation Action to Set History

Commissions of Inquiry Determining History

Actual Cross Examination of Hitler


Sunday, June 5, 2022

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

(14. - 1129.) While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams - United States Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn’s mind is deterioriating. Memory is no longer dependable. He gives a commencement address that is a rant which concludes:

“Laugh if you will, you carrion of society. But mark my words - hell has come to earth, and your parents have elected its offspring.”

That night he rages to his nurse on the perfidy of the leaders of America and speaks of a conspiracy he has uncovered. After combining powerful medication with alcohol he is on the edge of unconsciousness when, with barely enough strength to speak, he beseeches his nurse to pass on a message to one of his clerks, Avery Keene, giving her clues to finding his research.

The next day Keene is summoned to the Chief Justice’s office where she is advised by the Chief and Major Vance from Homeland Security that Wynn, now in a coma, had executed documents months earlier appointing her as his power of attorney and legal guardian.

I was electrified. She now has access to all of his documents not covered by court privilege and his financial affairs with the authority to deal with them as she considers in his best interests. As his legal guardian she will make medical decision with him incapacitated.

Homeland Security and the White House (President Brandon Stokes) want to know why a clerk was given these grave responsibilities. She has no knowledge why but she will honour his trust in her.

Keene’s personal life is chaotic. Her mother, Rita, is a severe drug addict lurching from crisis to crisis.

Avery has a photographic memory. It has served well during university and as a clerk.

Abrams provides some early information on the conspiracy, a wise decision by the author. I find conspiracies more interesting and more credible when we know their outlines. 

Avery acts swiftly when she realizes the judge’s life is in danger. 

What Justice Wyrnn wanted done by her is obscure. Clearly there are issues over a pending decision by the Court with regard to a proposed merger of high tech companies as the judge has obsessed over the case but she has but a few cryptic clues to guide her.

She is aided by Wynn’s personal lawyer, Noah Fox, and the Justice’s estranged son, Jared Wynn and her roommate, Dr. Ling Yin. The quartet, brilliant and resourceful, face a powerful conspiracy.

The book delves into the complex situation of a disabled Supreme Court Justice. Being America there are issues for the Senate and the House of Representatives. President Stokes, as will all Presidents, is anxious to have the chance to appoint a new Justice of his choice. 

The “Originalists” of the American legal establishment cannot look to the intentions of the Founding Fathers. As the Democratic Leader of the Senate says:

“Hell, in the Framers’ day, we didn’t have ventilators and artificial nutrition and living wills.”

Celeste, Justice Wynn’s estranged wife is bitter at her exclusion and anxious to challenge the guardianship documents.

Justice Wynn uses chess terminology in some clues including reference to a famous double bishop sacrifice strategy.

The conspiracy involves dangerous scientific research. It is truly frightening what some scientists are exploring. I wish the conspiracy was not so believable.

Abrams balances the high functioning Avery of the Supreme Court clerkship with the struggling Avery coping with an addicted mother. She has spent most of her life juggling her life with the needs of Rita.

The book concludes with one of the most interesting legal hearings I have ever read. The issue is important. The participants include the highest in the land. The interplay between the Court and the lawyers is eloquent and insightful. Aspects of the hearing challenge the credibility of a lawyer reader but do not detract from the power of the hearing. I wish I could describe it in more detail but I cannot figure out a way without spoilers.

Abrams is a clever plotter, writes convincing dialogue and provides a credible, less conventional, ending. I appreciated that she kept the body count down. If the state of Georgia does not elect her Governor in the fall I look forward to more legally based thrillers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

ENRC v. Burgis Over Kleptopia

As I read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis I was thinking the author is a brave man and his publishers braver men and women yet. Describing corrupt actions of East European oligarchs, dictators, their financial and legal advisors takes courage. I was not thinking of physical courage though too many journalists in the world have perished while reporting. I was thinking of legal fortitude. In Kleptopia the reputations of powerful men (very few were women), their companies and their governments were severely tarnished. Libel actions were probable.

Burgis was clearly aware of the risks of a defamation action. He documented every statement. He invited comments from everyone potentially defamed. He noted their responses. Many did not reply or provided minimal commentary.

Still I wondered if he and HarperCollins could prove in a court of law what he had written.

My sons gave me a paperback copy of the book for Christmas. As the book arrived sometime after Christmas my review is long after the holiday season.

In his Afterword of the paperpack edition Burgis says four months after publication of the book he was accused of corruption as American lawyers sought proof whether he “ ‘....was paid by third parties to publish the Book as part of a negative campaign against ENRC’ “. In England he was sued for libel by ENRC.

ENRC (Eurasian Natural Resources Limited) was for a time a public English corporation with 82% owned by the Trio (three Central Asian oligarchs), the Kazakhstan government (effectively its leader Nursultan Kazarbayev) and another oligarch. The remaining 18% was owned by the public. Ultimately the corporation faltered and was taken private by the Trio and moved to the friendly corporate confines of Luxembourg.

ENRC made a bold claim in its court action. It asserted that Burgis had stated that ENRC had murdered a trio of men and poisoned a fourth to protect its business interests. ENRC was certainly not going to raise the word “corruption”.

I searched out the case and found a decision, a link is below, of The Honourable Mr. Justice Nicklen. The lawyers for Burgis and HarperCollins made an application to dismiss the action for several reasons. The pivotal issues were whether the statements complained of could be defamatory of ENRC and whether they referred to ENRC.

Accusing a person of murder would be defamatory and subject to heavy damages if not true. Accusing a corporation of murder is less clear in defamation law.

The lawyers for Burgis looked back to the principle established in 19th Century English cases that ‘a coporation cannot sue in respect of allegations of murder, incest or adultery’ because a company, not being a real person, cannot commit those acts.”

ENRC’s counsel looked to an Australian case from early in the 20th Century that set forth a contrary principle:

The injury done to the reputation of a trading company by imputing to them criminal practices is in no way affected by the question whether they could be successfully prosecuted for them in a criminal court.

Justice Nicklin, in the 21st Century, concluded:

There is an unreality at the heart of the Claimant’s pleaded meanings. They attribute, to a corporate entity, actions, and a motive, that it simply cannot have. Only individuals can carry out acts of murdering or poisoning. Only individuals can be motivated to do so to protect some business interests. A company cannot. I reach that conclusion not by application of 19th century legal precedent but by a straightforward application of the principles that guide the determination of natural and ordinary meaning to the text of this book.

Media articles focused on this statement but the key paragraph of the decision is more nuanced:

I accept that it is possible to make an allegation that implicates a company in murder, for example, as I gave earlier, by stating that it procured it or to suggest that a company is legally or morally responsible for a murder. But this Book does not make any such allegation against ENRC. In short, the Book does not bear the defamatory meaning contended for by the Claimant because, read in their proper context, the allegations complained of by the Claimant do not refer to any ENRC corporation.

Meeting the “reference” standard is going to be a challenge for many corporations as they shift in structure. More importantly, as here, books and articles will inevitably concentrate on individuals making decisions rather than Boards of Directors.

The judge concluded his judgment with an intriguing proposal he had put to ENRC’s lawyers. In his reading of the book he noted references in the book to the assertion of corrupt acts by ENRC for which damages could be claimed. He said:

At the hearing I asked Ms Page (counself for the Claimant ENRC) whether the Claimant’s decision not to complain of this or any similar meaning was deliberate. She confirmed that it was.

I find it fascinating that ENRC chose not to have allegations of corporate corruption examined by an English court. 

I read in subsequent media articles ENRC has decided to drop the lawsuit. I think they were well advised to avoid further court scrutiny of the corporation.

The ENRC v. Burgis case involved important issues unlike the celebrity defamation actions of Deep v. Heard in the U.S. and Wagatha in the U.K. In the latter cases the greatest damages to reputations were self-inflicted.

****
Kleptopia by Tom Burgis


Monday, May 30, 2022

Kleptopia by Tom Burgis

(13. - 1128.) Kleptopia by Tom Burgis - We all know money flows swiftly around the world. We all know a significant amount of that flowing money comes from corrupt practices. We all know that most of that money stops flowing when it is laundered into Western world currencies. 

What I did not know is how the money flows nor did I know the staggering quantity of corrupt money nor did I know how it is washed clean.

Burgis provides the details of what we all know and what I did not know in a brilliant narrative on world corruption.

Kazakhstan provides the foundation for the story. Its dictator, President Nursultan Kazarbayev, took charge of the nation after the breakup of the USSR. Blessed with oil and other natural resources he has bestowed great wealth upon selected colleagues and family members and himself.

At the heart of the book are “the Trio” - Alexander “Sasha” Machkevitch from Kyrgyzstan, Patokh Chokiev from Uzbekistan and Alijan Ibragimov of Uihghur descent.

Led by the Trio the money gravitates West. Most goes to London though the United States is also favoured. Connections are made in Africa and other nations.

A significant portion of the book covers the travails of Mukhtar Ablyazov. He was a Kazak businessman who owned one of Kazakhstan’s largest banks until he made the decision to oppose Kazarbayev. Within a short time Ablyazov flees to England seeking asylum while the Kazk government pursues him and his wealth.

Burgis shows how cleverly Kazarbayev uses the subservient Kazak legal system to declare a criminal an oligarch who betrays him by trying to threaten his leadership. With willing English lawyers he then leverages the English legal system to grant judgments against the erring oligarch.

In Africa, Rober Mugabe, having bankrupted Zimbabwe uses an investment of $100 million to buy a final election that keeps him in power until he is forced from office in 2017.

Even in countries, such as Canada, where we believe it is difficult to invest corrupt money, the tentacles of Eastern Europe oligarchs reach into the nation. Alex Shnaider has become a billionaire. Burgis outlines how Shnaider's connections to his father-in-law, Boris Birstein, who was deeply connected to the Kremlin and the Ukraine for decades, let him and a partner purchase a Ukrainian steel mill for $70 million, a fraction of its worth. When Shnaider and his partner decided, about 10 years later to sell, they were forced to sell to Russian interests chosen by the Kremlin for $850 million. (From the purchase price $50 million went as a break fee to another buyer, $10 million to the partners and $100 million as “commission” to an unnamed party or parties.) Shnaider shifted enough money to Canada to invest heavily in Canadian real estate including the Trump Tower that used to be in Toronto.

What I did not see was mention of Canadian banks.

Swiss banks, despite agreements with the U.S. and other countries to prevent tax fraud, remain very active in the movement of international money.

I was surprised by how eager Conservtive and Labour politicians in England were to embrace the Trio and their “comrades”.

I learned the perils of modern black money. Between Western governments constantly investigating and rapacious unreliable colleagues there is constant personal danger. Best to spend the loot.

While the aging oligarchs are transferring money to family members it is not clear whether the connections of the fathers will be beneficial to the next generation.

Sometimes, journalists try to tell a long story by strung together self-contained articles. Burgis avoids that approach. He is a skilled and convincing storyteller. I am confident numerous oligarchs slept less comfortably after Kletopia’s publication. My next position will be about an oligarchial reaction to the book.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 Winers of Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence

I consider the highlight of the year for the Crime Writers of Canada is the announcement of winners of the Annual Awards. While life is getting closer to normal the 2022 Awards were awarded virtually. A link to this year’s visual presentation is at the end of this post.

Congratulations to the winners. 


They are:


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

Dietrich Kalteis, Under an Outlaw Moon, ECW Press

Best Crime First Novel sponsored by Writers First, with a $500 prize
Ashley Audrain, The Push, Viking Canada

The Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery sponsored by Jane Doe, with a $500 prize
Candas Jane Dorsey, What’s the Matter with Mary Jane?, ECW Press

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada sponsored by The Engel Family, with a $500 prize
C. S. Porter, Beneath Her Skin, Vagrant Press / Nimbus Publishing Inc.

Best Crime Novella sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $200 prize
Wayne Ng, Letters From Johnny, Guernica Editions

Best Crime Short Story sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $300 prize
Elizabeth Elwood, Number 10 Marlborough Place, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Best French Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)
Patrick SenĂ©cal, Flots, Editions Alire

Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction) sponsored by Shaftesbury, with a $500 prize
Kevin Sands, The Traitor's Blade, Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book sponsored by Simpson & Wellenreiter LLP, Hamilton, with a $300 prize
Nate Hendley, The Beatle Bandit, Dundurn Press

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript sponsored by ECW Press, with a $500 prize
Renee Lehnen, Elmington

Video link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjSQew_DnnA

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bookstores, Restaurants, Libraries and Peanuts In California

Sharon and I spent last week in San Rafael, California. She was in residence at the campus of Guide Dogs For the Blind (GDB) working on orientation and mobility skills. While Sharon was at GDB I had some time to explore Marin County and go across the bridge to San Francisco for the first game of the Golden State Warriors series with the Dallas Mavericks. When I travel I like to visit bookstores, libraries and sites with a literary connection.

On Sunday I had a late lunch at Sol Food, a Puerto Rican restaurant. It has a boisterous atmosphere and the food was pretty good. I was assigned a stool at the bar. After lunch I visited the Copperfield’s Bookstore in San Rafael.

I was looking for and found a copy of Stacey Abrams book, While Justice Sleeps. I am currently reading the book. It is a well written book involving the death of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. One of his young clerks, Avery Keene, finds herself unexpectedly in the midst of a legal and political turmoil.

Browsing further I came across The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King. While I minimize reading blurbs I was drawn to the book which is subtitled “The Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance”.

After looking online I decided to go shopping for some colourful shirts at Louis Thomas Fine Mens Apparel in Corte Madera. It was a fine store and I came away with a pair of shirts, one featuring red flowers and the other a purple on purple design.

My salesman, Mark, recommended lunch at Pacific Catch a block away. I had a fine trio of seafood (shrimp, salmon and sea bass) with Mexican spiced corn on the cob and crab mashed potatoes.

I had not planned a bookstore stop but nearing the freeway I saw a sign for Book Passages. I succumbed to temptation. It was a wonderful store. There were thousands of books and a nice area for author events. I could have bought lots of books but my TBR piles are building again and I had just ordered four books from Sleuht of Baker Street from the shortlist for the Best Crime Fiction Novel set in Canada Crime Writers of Canada. In the end, I rationalized I had to buy a book and choose The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear. It will be the 16th book in the Maisie Dobbs series I have read.

On Wednesday I went out to West Marin County. I was surprised by how rural the County is once you get a few kilometres west of the 101 Freeway. I wound my way around and up and down the hills, usually going no more than 35 mph. With no ditches I drove through a small forest with the trees but a few feet from the roadway. It is a farming and ranching country. I felt like I was back in rural Saskatchewan except for the hills. And it is just over an hour from the heart of San Francisco.

I made my way to Nick’s Cove Restaurant on Tomales Bay where I had 6 excellent raw oysters. I wish I had ordered a dozen.

I drove down the coast to Point Reyes Station where I found Point Reyes Books. It is not often there is a bookstore in a town of 850 people. It has been there since 1969 with a series of dedicated owners. It is a very nice bookstore with a good selection of books. They mystery section is modest but I had to buy a book to support this independent bookseller. I found Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weider which is about Virgil Wounded Horse, an enforcer on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Thursday I went down to Sausalito for lunch at Scoma’s. It is a beautiful restaurant set on a small pier into the bay with downtown San Francisco in the background. The baked oysters I had were alright but I should have had the raw oysters.

Noticing the library was nearby I went for a visit. What I found most interesting were a pair of programs. For children they offer Reading to a Dog. It is focused on children who do not feel comfortable reading aloud. They are given a chance to read a book to a dog the staff described as loveable and patient. For teens and tweens they have set up a weekly Dungeons and Dragons board game with a staff member creating adventures.

Back in San Rafael I stopped at the library. What caught my attention was the mystery section. It wrapped around half of one outside wall and more than half of another wall. It just went on and on with multiple books by many authors. One way I distinguish significant collections is whether they have some lesser known but

quality authors. I was happy to see they had several Inspector Chen books by Qiu Xiaolong.

On Friday I went north to Santa Rosa where I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum. It was great to step back into the world of the Peanuts comic strip. Over 20 years have gone by since the last original strip was published. 2022 is the centenary of Schulz’s birth.

I went through the gallery setting out his development as a cartoonist and the history of Peanuts.

On the second floor they have re-created his office where he drew the strip on a simple easel while sitting in a comfortable chair. A photo is above. I was reminded of my visit to Hemmingway House in Key West where his writing room was restored.

Also on the second floor was a bright room with papers and pencils and crayons so you could draw for yourself. I decided to draw a picture of Snoopy on his doghouse flying off to face the Red Baron. A photo of my effort and the original is below.

Most vividly I watched one of the T.V. shows featuring Charlie Brown and the cast of Peanuts. It was about Charlie Brown competing in a school decathlon. As usual, he tries hard and comes close but fails to win. He is comforted for trying hard and being a good guy.

I wonder if that show could be made today. We have become a contradictory culture. Winning is emphasized in sports. At the same time children are shielded from losing through participation awards. I am glad to see recognition for taking part but losing is a part of life. Charlie Brown lost all the time in ball. He was frustrated but he kept playing and trying. There is much to be learned from losing in sports events.

On the way out I took the photo at the top of this post of our hero. I love you Charlie Brown.