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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thoughts on Questions and Answers with Jill Edmondson

This weekend’s Jill Edmondson posts conclude with an essay on her answers to my questions posted last night. After reading Jill’s essay Spenser to Yeats I had a better understanding of the origins, character and actions of Sasha Jackson.


In her essay Spenser to Yeats Jill quotes Raymond Chandler’s wonderful 1944 definition of the hardboiled detective:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  … He must be a complete man and a common man, yet an unusual man.  He must be …a man of honor.  He is neither a eunuch nor a satyr.  I think he might seduce a duchess, and I’m quite certain he would not spoil a virgin.  If he is a man of honor in one thing, he’s that in all things.  He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all.  He is a common man or he could not go among common people.  He has a sense of character or he would not know his job.  He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without due and dispassionate revenge.  He is a lonely man, and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.

She looks to author Jon L. Breen to add to the defining of hardboiled:

Urban atmosphere, the tough slang, the p.i. code of honor, the snappy repartee, the colorful villains, the contrast of low life and high society, plenty of physical action… and vivid violence, gallows humour, picturesque prose (including similes)…

Jill’s thoughts on assorted fictional hardboiled detectives led me to reflect on their nature. Tough girls and guys see little grey in the world. They live in the stark absolutes of black and white. Sasha is no exception. She has an opinion on every subject and has no doubt she is correct. Compromise is not in the vocabulary of the hardboiled.

Jill provides her own assessment of the genre:

Toughness and raw, pared-down characters and styles seem to be uniformly present within hardboiled fiction, but those characteristics alone do not identify or define hardboiled fiction.  Many of the genre’s hallmarks have to do with the characters’ attributes and conduct (Blade 69), both of which are, or have in recent years become, malleable and elastic.  One feature, however, is stoically present in all hardboiled fiction, whether classic or contemporary.  Eclipsing habits and foibles as hardboiled imperatives is the “moral code” or “code of honour” (Blade 70).  The private eye may drink or not, he may have a family or not, but the one inviolable tenet of the prototypical hardboiled detective is the ever present, often unique and occasionally contradictory moral compass.  Chandler stated this moral compass may permit the spoiling of a duchess, but commands respect for a virgin; in doing so Chandler defined by omission the unfailingly amorphous internal value system that guides a hardboiled sleuth in all matters.  

I have long admired Spenser’s strong sense of integrity as he solved mysteries around Boston. Hawk was far more flexible with personal morals but equally strong when wrong had been done.

Sasha is strong in her moral code but does have what Jill referred to in her essay as an “ethical elasticity”. It is most evident in Sasha’s readiness, even eagerness, to commit break-ins during investigations. Were she not the hero her actions would be called home invasions.

Hardboiled detectives are often noted for their quick retorts and sharp wit. Jill’s essay quotes W. Russel Gray’s description of hardboiled language as “blue-collar poetry”.

Humour brightens the hard edged world of the tough detective. Jill speaks of Stephanie Plum. I loved the casual humour of Elvis Cole, especially in the early books of the series. Sasha, especially in Dead Light District, is funny. Were it not for her humour Sasha would be a grim and bitter creature.

I think of Elvis Cole rather than Spenser when I compare Sasha to leading tough guy characters (I was going to say “tough person” but it sounded pretentious in the hardboiled world and too conscious an effort at political correctness). Spenser is a generation older than Sasha. If I ever read Sasha has cartoon momentoes and knickknacks in her office I will know she is a soul mate of Elvis. In the female world of detection she is a worthy Canadian cousin for Stephanie Plum.

One of my regrets with many current hard boiled heroes is the extremely high body count they leave in their wake. I hope Sasha can remain a tough girl without littering her adventures with mounds of bodies.

Jill sets out in her essay that the gun is not a requirement of being a hardboiled detective. With strong laws against carrying handguns it is no surprise that Sasha does not tote a gun around Toronto.

Sasha is more like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone in turning killers over to the authorities rather than meting out personal punishment.


I think the Danforth is a wonderful neighbourhood. My best friend in Toronto lives just off the Danforth. Sharon, myself and our family have enjoyed many fine meals in the Greek restaurants along the street. Long may it stay a bastion of independent businesses.

Just across the Don Valley is my favourite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street.


I cannot see a tough guy detective on foot. There is something in the male psyche that would make it almost impossible for a tough guy to walk around a city. Walking would diminish the tough guy image. It works well for Sasha to have time to think while walking and her tough girl persona remains intact while she walks (I almost said strolls) across Toronto.


Jill’s comment today sets out her action after receiving the condom covered cucumber. If the story should appear in Sasha’s future I am sure Sasha will tell the “movie producer” where he could place the item.


  1. Thanks so much Bill! The cucumber may show up in book #4 (which has to do with the porn industry).

  2. Thanks Jill. That cucumber is going to be remembered.

  3. Here are a few more thoughts...

    Once upon a long time ago, I heard Rosemary Aubert giving a talk about mysteries and writing crime fiction. One thing she said that really stuck with me was “Know the genre. Learn the genre. Find out what’s out there” Her point was that in doing so, you would also know what is NOT out there and what gaps there could be for an aspiring writer to fill.
    Rosemary’s words were the best advice I ever got. EVER.

    As for “learning” the genre... Rosemary was talking about being familiar with it, with who the top authors are, what readers expect, what trends are hot or not. I took “learning” quite literally. I did a fair bit of my graduate studies on Crime Fiction in general and Women in Crime Fiction in particular.
    What I learned from my academic foray into the genre was this:

    1. There really aren’t any (many?) tough, hardboiled PIs in Canadian crime fiction. This has really started to change in recent years (my studies were done 2006-2009). But, hey, even with the introduction of a few ass-kickers, we can always use more.

    2. There definitely needs to be more hardboiled female sleuths, in both Canadian and American mysteries.

    3. More sex. Yes, more sex. Sex sex sex. There, I said it. Sex. This deosn’t necessarily mean the detective needs to get laid, but he overtones need to be there. People like sex. Sex sells.

    4. Another gap in the genre is that of single mothers. Look around you: how many single moms do you know (whether they are single moms by chance or by choice)? It’s conceivable that – given crime fiction’s propensity to reflect socio-economic trends & demographics, that there ought to be more single mothers in mysteries.

    I did a research paper on this and there are really only two single mothers in crime fiction: Joanne Kilbourn by Gail Bowen and Joanna Brady by JA Jance. Yes, there are a few others, but they usually get paired off by the third instalment in the series.

    5. Multiculturalism. Also during my MA, I did a fair bit of work on Minority Literature (in Canada). I loved it and learned a lot. There is room in the Canadian Crime Fiction oeuvre to introduce diversity and characters with a wider range of backgrounds.

    Just a few thoughts on Crime Fiction... Cheers, Jill