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 29, 2011

A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong

For the letter "X" in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction hosted at Mysteries in Paradise I have featured Qiu Xiaolong with a short biography, a review of Death of a Red Heroine last night and a review tonight of a later book in the series.

23. - 582) A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong – In the mid-1990’s Chief Inspector Chen Cao is given the challenge of investigating the highest profile anti-corruption case in China. The exploding economy has provided has provided irresistible opportunities to officials up and down China’s huge bureaucracy. Xing has intertwining connections that reach upward as far as high comrade cadre children and possibly higher. Comrade Zhou from the Party Discipline Committee reaches out to Chen to lead the investigation. He is appointed the Emperor’s Special Envoy with an Imperial Sword. He has the right, in an emergency, to search and arrest without warrant.
            Knowing he must proceed carefully Chen begins to probe the relationships of Xing. While he believes he is proceeding delicately there is an immediate reaction. In his first interview he is skillfully offered a bribe and has his mother’s safety threatened. Moving with greater subtlety and sometimes using non-official sources Chen starts to make progress.
            Abruptly he is pulled from the investigation to lead a Writers Delegation to the U.S. Chen suspects he has been getting too close to the top.
            In America the poetry loving and writing Chen does his best in his new role. At the same time he continues to find ways to lead the anti-corruption investigation.
            While an honest men there are some uncomfortable personal connections. Chen receives benefits, modest but useful, from businessmen to help him with the investigation. When does money to assist an investigator to do his job become a corrupt payment?
            The descriptions of meals are amazing. Chinese chefs create special dishes from every part of fish, fowl and animal.
            In America Chen renews his fragile relationship with Catherine Rohm from the U.S. Marshals Service.
            Bzyantine is an inadequate phrase to describe the complex relationships that dominate modern China.
            Exquisite Chinese poetry enhances the plot and produces a reflective detective. It is a powerful contrast to the crude language of many modern detectives. You will not find the following in hard boiled fiction talking about a couple apart:
                        So many days, where have you been –
                        like a traveling cloud
                        that forgets to come back
                        unaware of the spring drawing to an end ….
            It is an engaging book giving insight into China while being an excellent mystery. (May 5/11)      

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

On Sunday I posted a short biography of Qui Xiaolong. Tonight is a review of the first book in the series featuring Inspector Chen. I am linking this review to the Alphabet in Crime Fiction at Mysteries in Paradise where it is a week for the letter "X".

26. - 489.) Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong – It is a great experience when a mystery illustrates a culture, has vivid interesting characters, delves into the personal lives of the characters and includes a convincing narrative. In 1990 the body of a young woman is found in a little used canal. The victim, Guang Hongying, turns out to be a model worker. In Communist China, early into its economic revolution, the Party is supreme. Work and housing are determined by the Party. Status in society is set by rank within the party. All aspects of life are political. Chief Inspector, Chen Cao, of the Shanghai police leads the investigation of this high profile victim. Chen reminds me of Adam Dagleish in that he is a published poet. Chen is constantly referring to classical Chinese poetry. As the investigation leads to a high cadre child (HCC) the investigation becomes even more political. The Party’s need to solve the murder confronts the Party’s need to protect the children of ranking members from scandal. Which political imperative will take precedence? Chen and his dutiful stubborn aide, Comrade Yu, seek the truth. The classic lone lawman pursuing justice despite or against the establishment takes place in a new setting and culture. The conflicting imperatives are subtly drawn. The result is never certain. The solution is suitably political. Lisa See’s mystery looked inside contemporary Communist China but was half American / half Chinese. Xiaolong’s book is all Chinese. I look forward to the next in the series. Chen is a wonderful character. Hardcover or paperback. (July 4/09) (Second Best of 2009 fiction)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

“X” is for Qiu Xiaolong

Kerrie Smith’s Alphabet in Crime Fiction at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, is close to the end of the alphabet. I encourage readers to look up all the terrific books and authors that have been profiled on her blog for the past 23 weeks. For “X” I have chosen Qiu Xiaolong.


Qiu Xiaolong is a Chinese born mystery author and poet. He has created a wonderful mystery character in Inspector Chen. I have enjoyed two books in the series – Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities. On Tuesday I will post my review of Death of a Red Heroine. Wednesday I will be posting my review of A Case of Two Cities.

Qui was born in Shanghai and grew up in China. While studying poetry in Bejing he translated the complete works of T.S. Eliot. He came to the United States in 1988 to write a book on Eliot. After the Tianmen Square Protests in 1989 it became public knowledge he had raised money for Chinese students. Fearing prosecution in China he stayed in America. He earned a doctorate in English and teaches at Washington University. He is currently a resident of St. Louis, Missouri.

Qui is both a poet and a translator of poetry. His mysteries have a unique feel to them because of the frequent quotations from Chinese poetry. The quotes do not make the books pretentious. They add to the setting, the plots and the personalities of the characters.

In Cara Black’s excellent interview she asks Qui if living in St. Louis gives him a “needed distance” to write about China. He agrees completely with her and provides a quotation in confirmation. He quotes  Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo, "You cannot see the true face of Mount Lu, / Because you are in the mountains."

While I like the plots of the book I love the vivid portrayals of life in China during the 1990’s as the country undergoes a massive economic transformation while maintaining a Communist government. Qui’s books show how the leadership of the Communist Party had developed an elite status for themselves and their families in the 1990’s. What has happened to the socialist ideals that were at the core of the Party? His books delve into the values of a society in transition.

If you are interested in reading about Qui and the translation of Chinese poetry to English there is an interesting article at http://thebrowser.com/interviews/qiu-xiaolong-on-classical-chinese-poetry. Qui starts by explaining the challenges of translation “because classical Chinese poetry is rhymed and each line consists of five or seven Chinese characters, not to mention a specific tone pattern involving each character in the line”.

Sources for this post include his website is www.qiuxiaolong.com/, the biography in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qiu_Xiaolong and the interview of Black at http://www.mysteryreaders.org/athomeqiu.html.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

He Left Them Laughing When He Said Good-bye by Grant MacEwan

28. – 587.) He Left Them Laughing When He Said Good-bye by Grant MacEwan – Patrick “Paddy” Nolan was a colourful Irish lawyer who arrived in Calgary in 1889. He had been classically educated at Dublin University and Trinity College. With a restless spirit he passed up New York City, too lonely a place for a stranger, for Calgary, a roaring town on the prairies.
            Nolan quickly became known for his humour, acting talent and courtroom skills. Paddy lived life with gusto. Always ready for one or more drinks of whiskey he was a convivial companion with an abundant collection of jokes and stories.
            One of his best friends was Bob Edwards, the founder of the Calgary Eye Opener, who wrote columns in a breezy intimate style that still reads well over 100 years later.
            My favourite parts of the book were the courtroom scenes where his wit and fierce determination to win every case made him a formidable opponent.
            Often appearing against him was Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, some decades before he became Prime Minister. Where Bennett would arrive in court loaded with books of learned precedents Paddy would rely on his extensive memory of the law and passion. One memorable day Bennett was, rather officiously, calling out for the boy to get texts for him as he made his argument. When he was done Paddy called on the boy to get him Bennett on Bluff.
            Doubting the alleged victim in a fight suffered a injury that prevented him lifting his arm above his shoulder Paddy asked him how high he could lift his arm since being injured and groaning the man lifted it to his shoulder. Paddy quickly followed up with how high could he lift it before being hurt and he raised his arm significantly higher to the amusement of all present.
            It was a time when rustling cattle or horses occupied much of the criminal dockets. While ranchers looked down upon and aggressively pursued cattle rustlers the lines were blurred with regard to mavericks, unbranded cattle, found on the range. Rancher roundups usually kept mavericks instead of seeking out owners.
            Where most humour in our current era is focused on sex and swearing, Paddy’s humour concentrates on national caricatures (Irish and Scottish). At the same time he was a master of the quick retort. He loved word play and puns.
            Paddy lived in Calgary as the town became a city at the end of the 19th Century. Then, as now, Calgary was filled with energy. Oil had not yet become dominant. At its heart the city had a cowboy culture.
            In the 21st Century it is hard to think of a lawyer in Western Canada renown for wit in court. Occasionally there is a funny story or a well said remark but there are fewer characters in the courts. We are the worse for not having modern Paddy Nolan’s to enliven and create interest in court proceedings.
            Shortly before his unexpected death it was reported that he advised his fellow Knights of Columbus to “seek justice, hurt no living creature needlessly, and plant the seeds of laughter.
            MacEwan, provided with clippings from a Paddy Nolan file, quotes a fitting farewell for a man such as Paddy in “I shall not wholly die. What’s best of me shall surely ‘scape the tomb”.
          The author, a prolific chronicler of pioneer Western Canada, actually grew up in Melfort. He is a solid writer content to let characters tell their stories. There are no dramatic embellishments. It does not really flow but MacEwan was 85 when he wrote the book. (May 28/11)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

On Sunday for the Alphabet in Crime Fiction I posted "Who is Inger Ash Wolfe?" Today I post my review of the first book written by Wolfe.
42. – 505.) The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe – At 61, despite a bad back and a long term alcohol problem, Hazel Micallef’s life as an OPP inspector, in charge, but not officially designated chief, of the Port Dundas detachment north of Barrie is routine, perhaps even boring, to a big city resident. Everything changes with the murder of Delia Chandler. Hazel is living with her mother, Emily, who is hardly heartbroken as Delia was her late husband’s lover. At 87 Emily is the feisty former mayor of Port Dundas. While Delia has been mutilated the police are surprised to find the damage was done after death. Paralleling the investigation is the story of the killer, a mysterious figure, who was invited into Delia’s home to kill the terminally ill woman. He uses sedatives to send her to sleep and an organic poision to kill her. As the story progresses the police determine they are searching for a serial killer who is traveling across Canada killing terminally ill people who want his help to die. There is a strange religious overtone to the killings. Hazel engages in unorthodox strategies to pursue the killer. There is ambiguity in the chase as it is clear the killing is being done at the request of the deceased. The police struggle to understand the post-death mutiliations and rituals. As they unravel the mystery the pace accelerates to a wrenching powerful conclusion. I have never read in fiction or non-fiction about a serial killer who evoked considerable sympathy. It is a very clever thought provoking plot. The police investigation verges on the surreal at times. Hazel and Emily are powerful characters. The other police characters start off as stereotypes but become more interesting during the mystery. At 57 I can relate to a 61 year old heroine. The setting of Port Dundas was integral to the plot. I hope there will be more mysteries featuring Hazel. (Parts of the web says Russell Smith is the author. I was surprised it may be a man.) Excellent. (Oct. 18/09)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"W" is for Who is Inger Ash Wolfe?

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has reached “W”. I have chosen a post to challenge fellow bloggers and readers. Who is Inger Ash Wolfe?

Wolfe has written two mysteries set in rural Ontario. Each features 61 year old detective inspector, Hazel Micallef, in the fictional town of Port Dundas. The Calling and The Return have been critical and popular successes. I have read The Calling and thoroughly enjoyed the book. On Tuesday I will publish my review.

The mystery within the mystery is the identity of Inger Ash Wolfe. The publisher, McClelland & Stewart, describes the author:

“Inger Ash Wolfe is the pseudonym of a well-known and well-regarded North American literary writer.”

When The Calling was published in 2008 there was a flurry of attention on the origins of the name and the actual identity of Wolfe.

The book was about to be published with the author’s name as Inger Wolfe. There arose a minor controversy because of the real life Danish author, Inger Wolf. At the last moment Ash was inserted into the name to make it more distinct. A questionable defence for the process of the Canadian name was offered that it was not realized that Inger Wolf had written mystery fiction when the name was checked.

The major issue has been Wolfe’s real identity. There was considerable speculation early on involving well known Canadian authors.

Jane Urquart was proposed until Wolfe’s agent, Ellen Levine, denied it was Urquart.

When it was asserted to be Linda Spalding she said that she wished she had written the book.

Michael Redhill coyly said that he had hired a lawyer and was told not to talk about the issue.

Other reports have claimed it is Margaret Atwood. I have not come across any statements from her or on her behalf with regard to the speculation.

Nicola Manning, a Canadian blogger, said Wolfe is Canadian author, Russell Smith, in her review of The Calling which can be found at http://back-to-books.blogspot.com/2009/11/207-calling-by-inger-ash-wolfe.html. Her source of information was audiofilemagazine in its review at http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/dbsearch/showreview.cfm?Num=35504. I have not found anyone who knows audofile’s source. It appears Amazon briefly picked up on the audiofile story.

I have not been able to find any source in which Smith confirms or denies he is Wolfe. His website at http://www.russellsmith.ca/ does not contain any information on the issue.

He has previously used a pseudonym. Amongst his works of fiction is Diana – A Diary in the Second Person which he wrote under the pseudonym, Diana Savage. Depending on the reviewer the book is either erotica or pornography. I do not know if Smith writing a book imagining a woman in sexual passion leads to him imagining a strong willed 61 woman police inspector but it is intriguing.

January magazine did an interview with the author which can be found at http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/wolfe.html. There is also a Facebook interview at http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=141697892508677&topic=164. In each Wolfe explains the choice of a pseudonym.

I would be very interested if anyone out there has cracked the mystery of who is Inger Ash Wolfe?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Confession by John Grisham

29. – 588.) The Confession by John Grisham – The comfortable life of Kansas Lutheran minister, Keith Schroeder, is jolted when Travis Boyette, a warped sexually violent criminal staying in a halfway house, confides that he has raped and killed a Texas teenage girl some 9 years ago. He feels uncomfortable, remorse and regret do not exist in his psyche, that Donte Drumm, a young black man, is scheduled to be executed for the murder in 6 days.
        Schroeder seeks to contact Robbie Flak, Drumm’s attorney in Slone, Texas. Flak, wrapped up in the last days frenzy of trying to prevent an execution, brushes aside as just another irrelevant caller distracting his focus on keeping Drumm alive.
        Back in Kansas, Boyette suffering from a brain tumour, is manipulating Schroeder as he appears ready to go public and then backs away.
         In Texas, having conducted several hundred executions, the finely tuned execution machinery is running smoothly. The Criminal Court of Appeal is dealing promptly with last minute appeals. The Governor, a staunch proponent of the death penalty, is reviewing a clemency petition. The prisons involved are following their standard procedures. It is close to a bureaucratic exercise.
         Within Slone racial tensions rise with the white population convinced of guilt and the black citizens convinced of innocence.
        Will the innocent Drumm be executed? Grisham takes the reader on a legal race against death. The pages flow swiftly. I sat on my deck long into a chilly evening unable to put the book down as the suspense builds and builds and builds. With death looming closer each day the tension steadily heightens.
        In all his legal thrillers Grisham creates fascinating lawyers engaged in legal practice in an area of prominent public attention. Flak is no exception. He lives life Texas large with his practice devoted to fighting the battles of the common man in the courts of America. Drumm could not have a better advocate.
        It is Grisham’s second foray into a lawyer fighting against execution. I believe The Chamber may have been Grisham’s best book. In that book there was no question of the inmate’s guilt. At issue was whether he should be executed.
        In this death penalty book Grisham undoubtedly tackles the question of whether an innocent person can be executed in Texas because of the official statements in that state that there is no proof they have ever killed the wrong man or woman.
        It happened in England 60 years ago when Timothy Evans was executed for murders actually committed by David Christie, a fellow tenant in the same house.
        Within Canada we have gone through a series of cases in the last 15 years where it was determined that innocent men had been convicted. In Saskatchewan there was a case with many facts close to Grisham’s book. David Milgaard was a teenager convicted in Saskatoon, while I was in university in the same city, of the rape and murder of a nurse. His mother, aided by a courageous lawyer in Winnipeg, challenged the conviction for 22 years. A proper investigation and inquiry finally identified the real killer, a previously convicted rapist, and Milgaard was released. Had Milgaard lived in Texas he would have been executed long before he was exonerated.
        As a lawyer I am grateful there is no capital punishment in Canada. The pressure on a lawyer defending an accused in a death penalty case is overwhelming. Over 80 years ago, when Canada still had the death penalty, one of Saskatchewan’s best lawyers who was later our Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, took a murder case to trial when he likely could have pursued a guilty plea to manslaughter. His client was convicted and hung.
        It will be interesting to see if The Confession becomes a movie. It does not fit easily into the Hollywood mould.
        If you start the book give yourself the time you need to read 450 pages. If not, you will find yourself changing schedules to find the time. Excellent. (May 29/11)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hangman Blind by Cassandra Clark

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50. – 513.) Hangman Blind by Cassandra Clark – In 1382 Abbess Hildegard sets forth from her abbey in Yorkshire to deliver a secret missive to the archbishop at York. It is a time of great intrigue. There are competiting popes in Avignon and Rome. King Richard is uneasily on the throne with the country still unsettled over the brutal suppression of Wat Tyler and his peasant supporters. Hildegard, the widow of English knight, is well aware of the politics of the time but her ambition is more modest - to establish a small Cistercian abbey of 7 nuns using the inheritance she has received. Abbott Hubert of Meaux is unenthusiastic. She moves on to her childhood home at Castle Hutton to discuss a location with Sir Rodger. On the way she finds 5 young men executed by hanging and a 6th slain by the sword. Rodger’s steward, Ulf, is her childhood friend. At a massive banquet Rodger is felled by poison. Hildegard sets out to identify the poisoner. She is uniquely worldly and spiritual. In a savage and violent era she skillfully makes her investigation. It is a good book but it never grabbed me. The story is well told and Hildegard is a very interesting character. Her relationships with Hubert and Ulf hint at worldly depth but remain proper. The mysteries Adelia, Mistress of Death, a century earlier grabbed me. Hildegard and Adelia are fiercely independent women in a time where women had little public role. I am not sure if I would buy another in the series. Paperback. (Dec. 27/09)
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