About Me

My photo
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, November 30, 2011

The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd

64. – 624.) The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd – This thriller came highly recommended by J.D. and Marian at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore. I was not disappointed.
            Steve Vail is contentedly working as a bricklayer in Chicago. He had been an FBI agent for a few years specializing in tracking people. He left the Bureau because of his aversion to structure, authority, supervision, reporting, teamwork, official procedures and praise. It is a wonder he lasted any number of years. Vail is the classic lone American law man.
            The book opens with a flourish. Caught in a bank robbery Vail deftly disarms both bank robbers and tosses them through the bank’s windows before disappearing as the customers and staff stream out of the bank.
            At the same time the FBI is confronted by a group of extortionists, the Rubaco Pentad, who have made the FBI the target of their extortion. They are requiring the Bureau pay them! After receiving the first demand for $1,000,000 the Bureau, following standard protocols, attempts a fake drop but is outwitted by a fiendishly clever drop plan at an abandoned naval prison.
            The Pentad ups the ante and the consequences and demands $2,000,000. When the agent designated to make the delivery and the money both go missing the FBI is almost paralyzed.
            Desperate for a solution before the story becomes public and facing another demand the Bureau reaches out to Vail to find the disappeared agent and money. In Los Angeles Vail works with Kate Bannon, Deputy Assistant Director on the search.
            In the investigation Vail encounters situations that are dangerous puzzles. Boyd has created enough clever traps for several books. There is even an excellent contemporary locked room mystery within the plot. Boyd’s skill in devising traps reminds me of Jeffery Deaver.
            Not surprisingly the agency’s bureaucracy is very unhappy with a renegade leading the investigation but their reliance on procedure has them continually led astray by the distractions and misleading clues left by the Pentad. While they flail about Vail is relying on his ability to think more than his brawn. It was a pleasure to see the hero’s mind challenged in a thriller.
I read through the book eager to see the next devious trap unraveled. The cleverness of the Pentad brought to mind some of the early Harry Bosch mysteries of Michael Connelly.
My only lament is a regret I sometimes experience in Deaver books. The twists are unpredictable and well done but there is one too many of them.
Boyd has created the most promising thriller series in years. It is the second thriller I have read this year featuring a Chicago hero. Michael Harvey created a high octane thriller in The Third Rail. Harvey’s book raced along with the hero, Michael Kelly, having no time for reflection. Boyd’s book is a better book as he emphasizes thought amidst the action. (Curiously both Harvey and Boyd have the FBI blundering about ponderously investigating the crimes.) The Bricklayer has great visual images. It will be an excellent movie if Hollywood will trust Boyd’s skill in plotting. (Nov. 28/11)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone – The book has been sitting on the TBR pile for a lengthy period of time. It is a challenging mystery.
            Max Mingus, private detective and former Miami Police Department officer, is being released after 7 years in jail for killing a trio of thugs who had brutalized and killed a young woman. He is also struggling to deal with the unexpected death of his wife, Sandra, while he was still in prison.
            The wealthy Carver family wants him to come to Haiti to search for Charlie Carver who was three years old when kidnapped two years earlier. Initially, Max repeatedly declines but after his release goes to Haiti to take on the case. He is not yet ready to be alone.
            It is late 1996 shortly after the U.S. and U.N. have intervened and have troops stationed in the country. Stone describes a Haiti of incredible desolation. The countryside has been devastated by deforestation. In Port-au-Prince the infrastructure of the city has collapsed. Much of the city is a slum. Amidst the utter poverty the Carver family lives comfortably insulated from the people.
            Mingus understands it is a risky investigation. Of the two previous American private detectives who had attempted to find Charlie one had been viciously killed and the other wished he was dead.
            Max begins his investigation with the aid of the beautiful Chantel, a trusted employee of the Carvers. Almost immediately he encounters the voodoo culture prevalent in the country. Most people believe in the power of practitioners of black magic. There are rumours of a mythic figure Tonton Clarinette who lures young children. It was shocking to read children may be sacrificed for certain rituals.
            The Carver family has dark secrets. Mingus is in an uneasy relationship with the family as he seeks the missing child. Independence in an employee is a foreign concept to the rich.
            Mingus is part detective, part vigilante, part avenger. He operates well in a country where the Rule of Law is a distant academic concept. At the same time I struggle to accept a hero who so readily, even casually, accepts violent action and cruel death.
            I am not sure whether I will read the next book in the series. Haiti is, without doubt, the most depressing country I have read about in mystery fiction. Yet the primary reason for my hesitation was the extreme graphic violence in certain scenes which caused me to put the book down for a few days. At the same time Stone is a gifted writer who creates interesting characters and a vivid plot. It is not a book for the sensitive book lover. (Nov. 22/11)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

27. – 490.) The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King – As Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell return to England after several months abroad in 1924 Sherlock is contacted by his son, Damian Adler, who is the son of the late Irene Adler who bested Holmes in the story, A Scandal in Bohemia. It is striking premise. Holmes did not know of Damian, who was a French officer, until after World War I. Damian is a brilliant surrealist who has returned from Shanghai with a Chinese wife Yolanda and, the suprises continue, a daughter Estelle who is Holmes’ granddaughter. Yolanda moves from religion to religion seeking a spiritual home. In London she becomes involved with the Children of the Light. They are a mysterious religion, really a cult, following the “Master” who has written Testimony, his Bible which is amalgamation of religious traditions including Christianity and Norse mythology. Russell and Holmes examine killings at pre-historic religious sites around Great Britain. The investigation is better than some of her recent books. The mystery plot was predictable. The additions to Holmes’ life are brilliantly done. The book does not have the depth of some of her earlier mysteries. While I forsaw the denoument I did not foresee the ending. It is a step back from The Art of Detection. Good. Paperback. (July 19/09)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alternative Oaths to Swearing on the Bible

For 36 years I have been seeing witnesses sworn in to give evidence at trials in Canada. A witness is called upon to swear upon the Bible (usually the New Testament) that the witness will tell “the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God”. It is a familiar oath used in every book, movie or play featuring trials.

Yet it is far from the only oath that has been used in court proceedings even in Canada. I had known there were some different oaths used decades ago and started searching on the net.

The Stream, the British Columbia Courthouse Libraries blog, had an interesting article on Uncommon Oaths.

As late as the 1920’s there were special Chinese oaths occasionally used in B.C. Courts.

Most spectacular was the Chicken oath. The article states:

“The oath involved the witness signing his name on a piece of paper, followed by a ceremony outside the court in which a rooster's head was chopped off on a block and the paper oath was set on fire.”

The actual words are:

“Oath made by --- (witness signs his name) --- being a true witness, I will enjoy happiness and my sons and grandsons will prosper forever.

If I give false evidence I shall die upon the street, earth will destroy me, and I shall forever suffer in adversity, and all my offspring will be exterminated.

In burning this oath, I humbly submit myself to the will of heaven which has brilliant eyes to see.”

The article went on:

“Other non-Christian Chinese oaths consisted of the candle oath (whereby the witness holds their hand over a lit candle while swearing the oath and then extinguishes the flame), the saucer oath (when the witness breaks a saucer and then swears to tell the truth) and the paper oath (the witness signs their name to a piece of paper and then burns it).”

The wording of the paper oath was:

“The evidence which you shall give to the court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or your soul shall be consumed by fire, as is this paper.”

The blog quoted from a 1965 article on some African oaths:

"Colonial Magistrates used to encounter many strange customs. ... [I]n North Kenya some tribes used to bite skin from a live dog and say 'as I bite this dog, so may I be eaten if I lie.'  A Masai presented the court with cooked rice decked with seven yellow solanum berries.  In Tanganyika a member of the Akimbu tribe once held a deadly puff adder before his face saying, 'If I am going to tell lies may this snake kill me.'  The snake did not.  Nevertheless, the tribesman lied heartily and was jaoled for perjury."

The Scottish oath has grandeur to it:

“I swear by Almighty God as I shall answer to God at the great day of Judgment that I will speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

The Japanese oath is:

“The statement I shall make before the Court shall be in the whole nothing but the truth according to the custom, religion and belief of this country and my own.”

In current times Canada has abandoned exotic oaths if a witness does not want to swear on the Bible. A witness affirms, simply promising to tell the truth.

While the current processes of swearing an oath on the Bible or affirming to tell the truth are efficient they seem rather dull and prosaic compared to other possible oaths.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

29. – 492.) The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly – Wesley Carver is the Scarecrow of a huge data farm scaring off hackers attempting to steal some of the crops of data being stored. Jack McEvoy is an L.A. Times reporter, previously appearing in The Poet, who is being laid off as the Times seeks to cut costs. (Connelly obviously laments the diminishment of a currently great newspaper.) He is given the opportunity to prolong his departure by training his replacement, the young and photogenic and less expensive Angela Cook. He looks for a last great story and settles on clearing a young Latino from a murder charge where the body of a young woman is found in the trunk of a car on a beach that came from the inner city. Checking out other trunk murders leads him to Las Vegas and rural Nevada where former lover and FBI agent, Rachel Walling, saves him from a killer. When Angela is murdered he is even more determined to find the killer. Together they pursue a twisted trail that leads them to the Scarecrow. The amount of information whose security is dependent on the security of independent data storage companies is frightening. The main clients of the Scarecrow’s company are large law firms. Connelly is in fine form. Carver is a character who sends chills up your spine. You cannot stop reading it. (Aug. 2/09)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb

31. – 494.) Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb – I had some vague idea that Adolph Eichmann had escaped to Argentina shortly after the war through a network assembled by ex-SS members and been discovered in Argentina through information gathered in Europe and that the Israelis knew of his existence there for years before they kidnapped him. He actually was in Germany for 8 years after the war in various prisoner of war camps and working and farming. Shortly after the war he escaped detection as his role in the Holocaust was not well understood. For most of the war his leadership was understated. Later it was difficult to find him as he had avoided being photographed. He did leave Europe through the network aided by members of the Catholic Church. On finding him the German state of Hesse prosecutor, Herman Bauer, provided information to Israel which conducted a superficial search that did not confirm Eichmann’s identity. Remarkably it was a former girlfriend of Eichmann’s son Nicholas in her early 20’s, who spurred the investigation, by going to Eichmann’s home and openly asking him if he was Eichmann and finding his denials unconvincing. Israel was not positive it was Eichmann until they had actually kidnapped him. The decision to proceed came from Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who instructed the head of the Mossad, Iser Harrel, to capture Eichmann. Methodically he put together a team of experienced operatives, several of them survivors of the Holocaust, who carefully made a plan with extensive contingencies. Even with precise plans and many rehearsals the capture did not go smoothly and they were fortunate not to be detected. They spent over a week holding him before the El Al plane to transport him could be available. The stress of being with Eichmann who followed their orders exactly and was so ordinary weighed heavily on each man. To avoid any inspections in Brazil they made a trans-Atlantic flight landing in Senegal with but minutes of fuel left in the plane. The search was incredibly haphazard and the capture minutely planned. In reading about Eichmann I found myself reluctant to accept that the man who orchestrated the Holocaust was so average. (Aug. 11/09)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Update on Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore

In January I wrote about my favourite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street, in Toronto. At that time the store was preparing to move to a new location at 907 Millwood Avenue not far from its longtime home on Bayview Avenue. Last week I was in Toronto and visited the store on Saturday afternoon with my older son, Jonathan.

For those traveling by car it is easier to park at the new location. Last Saturday, as usual on Bayview, all the parking spaces on the street were full and we had to search for a place on one of the side streets. When we traveled down Millwood to the little strip mall where the new store is located there were numerous open spaces.

Going to the store on Millwood is a destination. There are not the interesting shops and diverse restaurants up and down Bayview. Still with Bayview only a kilometer away it is easy to just go up to the old store neighbourhood.

The new store is smaller in size but there remains a wonderful collection of mysteries and thrillers. To simplify finding books the books are arranged in alphabetical order by author starting with the “A’s” to the left of the entrance and then proceeding around the store to the “Z’s” to the right of the entrance.

There is a shelf of books recommended by J.D., Marian and Cottage Lady.

In the middle of the store are tables with current hardcovers and paperbacks.

There is no change in the warm welcome of J.D.

There is no better selection of mysteries in Canada and few better anywhere.

Despite wanting to take home 1 or 2 boxes I restricted myself. I kept putting down with regret books I wanted to take home. In the end I bought 5 books.

Having enjoyed two books from Qiu Xiaolong’s series featuring Inspector Chen this year I bought the second in the series, A Loyal Character Dancer.

Over the year I have been reading reviews of lots of Australian crime fiction on the Fair Dinkum blog. Leah Giarratano’s books have sounded interesting and I picked up Vodka Doesn’t Freeze.

Marian had highly recommended Noah Boyd’s books. Of the pair on display J.D. suggested The Bricklayer.

I have been interested in reading from Ann Cleeves series set in the Shetland Islands. I purchased Raven in Black the first in the series.

Sleuth is not limited to new books. I had been looking for a copy of Judas Window by Carter Dickson. Searching the computer J.D. said they had 3 copies. None were upstairs. He went downstairs where they have stored a huge number of books and came up with a hardcover 1938 edition of the book.

Sleuth remains a wonderful place for mystery and thriller lovers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kill All the Lawyers by Paul Levine

61. – 521.) Kill All the Lawyers by Paul Levine – The third book in the Solomon v. Lord series has a striking opening with Miami attorney, Steve Solomon, finding a 300 pound marlin impaled through the peephole of his front door. Former client, Dr. William Kreeger, recently released from jail for involuntary manslaughter has left a message for Solomon. The psychiatrist knows Solomon failed to represent properly him in the trial and he is not happy. In addition to psychiatry, Kreeger has become a radio talk show host and is using the airwaves to excoriate Solomon. While trying to think through a suitable response to the Kreeger offensive, thinking being a trial for the reactive Solomon, personal life is increasingly chaotic.

Solomon’s relationship with the beautiful conservative Victoria Lord is undergoing the challenges of becoming a committed relationship. Solomon is a male cliché with his reluctance to discuss feelings.

Adding to the challenge of the Solomon and Lord romantic partnership is the presence of Irene Lord, The Queen, the mother of Lord. Her lofty disdain of the crude Solomon automatically creates sparks when the two of them try to share any space.

His father, Herbert, ever unpredictable in language has unexpectedly become orthodox in his religious beliefs while adhering to a wild Florida image.

Most interesting is the brilliant Bobby, the nephew Solomon rescued from his drug addled sister. Teenage hormones have arrived a year early. The 12 year old finds studying with fellow 6th grader, the attractive Maria Munoz-Goldberg, very exciting.

While all the clashing family members are interesting and the Kreeger – Solomon battle is intriguing there is precious little legal conflict in the book. As I made my way deeper into the book I missed the wonderfully funny courtroom legal antics, especially of the first book Solomon v. Lord. There is a legal theme to the story over Solomon’s ethics and actions with regard to the trial defence of Kreeger but it is secondary to the ongoing bedlam of Solomon’s life.

With the book concentrated so heavily on Solomon there is but a limited role for Lord. I wish she would have had a greater presence in the book.

Even Solomon’s laws of this book are less connected with the courts. As an example:

7. When you run across a naked woman, act as if you’ve
seen one before.

The author’s website speaks of Levine drawing on his 17 years of legal practice and 3 marriages for this series of books. In this book the definite source was the marital experience.

It was entertaining. Levine is truly skilled at writing humorous scenes. While disappointed with the focus of the story I will look for the 4th in the series because of the brilliance of the first two books. Still, unless the next in the series spends more time in the courtroom, I think I will pass on continuing to read the series. (Nov. 15/11)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Quentin Rowan - A Literary Thief

Today I have been reading about an astounding example of plagiarism by Quentin Rowan, writing as Q.R. Markham. His novel, Assassin of Secrets, did not merely plagiarize one source but stole from many sources.

I came across the story in John's blog Pretty Sinister Books and thank him for a post about plagiarism of which I was unaware.

It was striking to read Edward Cameron's post exposing the depths of the plagiarism.

Lastly, it was hard to read Jeremy Duns on the pain of being duped.

A few years ago I read a book called The Spinster and the Prophet. A single Toronto woman wrote a history of the world during WW I. It was sent to a publisher and rejected. Subsequently H.G. Wells wrote his own history of the world. It was clear from her subsequent unsuccessful court case that Wells engaged in literary theft but the establishment of the time was not interested in having such a prominent author exposed.

I had thought it would be much harder for a "Wells" of today to achieve such a theft but after reading of Rowan's deception am less certain.

It appears to me Rowan was partially successful because he was so brazen who would expect such blatant thievery.

In an interview with The New York Daily News he revealed his motivation for writing the book:

    Rowan was frank about his intention to for the money.

   With the economy so bad, there's no room for a writer to worry   
   about selling out, he said. "People who were writing thoughtful 
   short stories about suburban malaise are now writing vampire 

Everyone who writes is inspired by others. Fortunately most authors use their own imagination to develop their ideas into fiction of their own.

His circumstances are far different from the lawsuit by the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suing Random House that The Da Vinci Code infringed their copyright. The trial decision clearly set out there may have been use of ideas but there was no infringement and the ideas were not new. As well Dan Brown listed The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a source. The authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail underwent a painful cross-examination about their sources. What was most unique about the judgment was the embedding of a message by the judge in code in his judgment.

The Court of Appeal, while not amused by the trial judge's code found no merit in the appeal. They unanimously dismissed the appeal in their judgment.

In the appeal judgment Lord Justice Lloyd provided a definition of copyright:

    Copyright does not subsist in ideas; it protects the expression of 
    ideas, not the ideas themselves. No clear principle is or could be
    laid down in the cases in order to tell whether what is sought to be
    protected is on the ideas side of the dividing line, or on the
    expression side.

There is no "gray" about Rowan, a Brooklyn bookseller. He was a carefully calculating plagiarist whose actions have been justly condemned by most commentators. He deserves to be remembered as a thief.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

dot.dead by Keith Raffel

32. – 495.) dot.dead by Keith Raffel – (The first book I have purchased because I met the author. Keith was at the author event at the “M” is for Mystery bookstore in San Mateo and then across the street at the sports bar. He had an excellent marketing device in giving out a business card listing the book and websites. I bought the book at “M” a couple of days later.) There is a clever premise with Silicon Valley rising star, Ian Michaels, developing a personal connection with his weekly maid, Gwendolyn Goldberg, through exchanges of personal notes. When she is murdered in his house the Palo Alto police are justly suspicious of his assertions they have no direct relationship. As the investigation focuses on Ian he is supported by his best friends Paul and Kathy Berks. Paul heads a tech firm, Accelenet, where Ian hopes to become COO. Intertwined through the plot are Ian’s personal relationships, a tech story at his company and the murder investigation. There is a convincing portrayal of defence counsel, Ms. Ishayama. There is a far subtler relationship than usual in mysteries between Ian (primary suspect seeking to clear himsel) and the investigating police officers. Even before reading the author bio it was clear Keith was a part of Silicon Valley’s technology world. The story is precise and completely logical. There is a scientific process to solution. I wish there had been at least one average looking person among the major characters. Ian is an engaging individual. I look forward to his next adventure. Hardcover or paperback. (Aug. 19/09)
When Kerrie from the Mysteries in Paradise blog was holding her Alphabet in Crime Fiction earlier this year I profiled Keith in "R" is for Raffel.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Bushman Who Came Back by Arthur Upfield (1957)

60. – 520.) The Bushman Who Came Back by Arthur Upfield (1957) – Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte is called to the Lake Eyre region of northern South Australia about 700 km north of Adelaide. At the remote Mount Eden homestead Mrs. Bell, cook and housekeeper, has been murdered and her 7 year old daughter, Linda, has been abducted.

All attention has been focused on finding Ole Fren Yorky an itinerant stockman with a great fondness for strong liquor whose tracks were found leading away from the yardsite. Bony is suspicious when aborigine trackers cannot find where Yorky has gone. How do a man and a child disappear even in a vast wilderness? The limited locations of water in the desert are well known.

To find out what has happened Bony pursues information with the local group of aborigines headed by the blind Canute. There are fascinating descriptions of aborigine gatherings and storytelling.

Bony, half aborigine, is drawn into the local aborigine relationships. The aged Canute owns Meena, a young woman, promised to him by her mother, Sarah, when Meena was a baby. Meena and Charlie, a young member of the group, are interested in each other but denied a relationship because Meena is already owned.

Bony sets out on a personal inspection of Yorky’s fence line inspection route along Lake Eyre. Riding a horse he proceeds from camp to camp, sometimes days apart, where Yorky has stashes of food. It is a time when distance was measured by how far a horse could travel during a day.

Lake Eyre is a grim forbidding  expanse of mud surviving even a multi-year drought.

Bony demonstrates his accomplished tracking skills though he acknowledges the far greater skills of the aborigines. Bony’s keen skills at observation and interpretation are far different from modern police who rely heavily on forensic equipment and tests. In his ability to obtain information from scrutiny Bony reminds me of Sherlock Holmes.

Once again Bony must deal with both blackfellow law and whitefellow law.

The language is occasionally patronizing of the Aborigine people. The language would be unacceptable in current literature. Lacking any personal knowledge of Australia of the 1950’s it does remind me of the actual language and attitudes of Canadians toward Canadian Indians when I was a young boy.

While the language is not politically correct there is more respect for Aborigine people and the culture than condescension.

Anthony Boucher in a 1957 review of the book in the New York Times said:

“The complex half-caste Bony is, I think, my favorite fictional detective of the past twenty years; and he’s never appeared in a novel richer in adventure, suspense, local color, folklore and absorbingly studied contrasts in cultures”.

I enjoyed again how the mystery was a part of the culture and the land and the era in which it was set. It is an Australian story. Each time I read a Bony book I learn more about rural Australia of generations past. It was shortlisted for the 1958 Edgars. (Nov. 8/11)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva

33. – 496.) The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva – Gabriel Allon, Israeli super secret agent and art restorer, is caught up in the kidnapping of the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain by the Sword of Allah (a radical Islamist organization headquartered in Egypt). Allon pursues leads to the kidnappers through Europe. When the kidnappers demand the release of a leader in American prison or they will kill her in a week the pace of the plot accelerates. Allon and his fellow Israelis are willing to torture and kill to defeat the terrorist plot. Both Israel and the U.S. support the Mubarak regime in Egypt which features extreme amounts of torture against Islamists to preserve the regime. The twists are better than most thrillers. It is not the comic book unbelievable violence of most current movies. The book explores radical Islam in an increasingly secular Western Europe. I had never heard Londonistan before this book. The terrorists are willing to kill the innocent as are the allies of the heroes. The book recognizes that using torture perpetuates terror but is still willing to use torture. It follows the classic belief that torture applied immediately with credible consequences can produce important intelligence. It does not recognize the risk of false or misleading information from torture. It is a smooth compelling thriller with an underlying political discussion. (Aug. 22/09)

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Pleasure of a Great New Author

One of my annual pleasures from reading is finding 1-2 great new authors. Most often it turns out to an author that has come highly recommended but there are those special times when an unheralded author is found.

As I read The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen this past week I am putting him as a great new author of 2011.

Going back a year to 2010 the great new author was Tom Rob Smith and his book Child 44. I was immediately caught up in a time and place, Several years earlier I had learned about Stalinist Russia of the 1930’s and early 1950’s through reading Stalin by Edvard Radzinsky. The leader’s paranoia reached down through society to every citizen. The lead character, Leo Demidov, a rising officer with the MGB (secret police) and WW II hero is a strong character content to find enemies of the state. His comfortable life is turned upside down when he is personally denounced and murders are only to be solved by finding “undesirable” members of society as killers. The book was Bill’s Best Favourite Fiction of 2010.

2009 was a remarkable year of reading new authors as I found a trio of great new authors.

The first was Stan Jones with his book White Sky, Black Ice. In this book I was taken to the harsh northwest coast of Alaska where state trooper, Nathan Active, has returned to his birth community of Chukchi after being raised by an adoptive white couple in Anchorage. While Jones created an excellent character and a solid plot the book was made special by the character and plot being a part of the culture and setting of the book. Active, from his Inupiaq birth family and being raised in white culture, is a part of both of the intersecting cultures in Chukchi. Finally, the weather plays a major role in the book. In the remote regions of the world weather is a far more important part of life than urban areas. The book tied for Third Most Interesting of Bill’s Best of 2009.

The second was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The book had been strongly recommended by Marian and J.D. at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. I loved the book. Mikael Blomkvist was an interesting character facing unusual challenges with the court finding guilty of aggravated libel. He is humbled and more vulnerable than most sleuths. I cannot recall a more striking character than Lisbeth Salander. Few authors are willing to have a major character with unpleasant, even offensive aspects to their personality, but letting readers come to appreciate stubborn integrity. Together with The Girl Who Played with Fire it was Bill’s Best of Fiction of 2009.

The third was Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong. From the barrens of Alaska to the teeming millions of Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao is adjusting to the winds of change coming to Communist China from its economic revolution away from a state economy. His love of poetry adds rhythms to the plot that are rare in mystery fiction. It became a great book with a plot that was both an intriguing mystery and an exploration of the political upheavals of the time.

In looking at the five great new authors (I will include Adler-Olsen) I note the books have in common none are set in the major urban centres of the Western World. There is not a book set in London or Paris or New York or Los Angeles or Toronto. Denmark, Alaska and Sweden are all perimeter settings. The books set in Russia and China involved huge cities but in societies that have isolated themselves from the rest of the world. In a few weeks I will be looking back further to great new authors I read earlier in the decade.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

59. – 519.) The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen – I had been looking for the book for some months as bloggers around the world recommended it. Finally, it arrived in Saskatchewan in later summer and I was able to buy a copy. It is a great book.

Carl Mørck drew me in. The veteran homicide detective, having barely surviving an attack that killed one colleague and left another paralyzed, is designated to lead the newly created Department Q to investigate, in the words of his superior, “cases that have been shelved, but are of particular interest to the public welfare”. He would have found it easier to be fired than to deal with unresolved, long ago, crimes that have the least priority within the police services.

As I read the book I was reminded of character after character from other mysteries I have appreciated.

Department Q brought to mind the new Open-Unsolved Cases department to which Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is assigned after coming out of retirement.

Mørck is struggling to deal with his responsibility in the attack. Should he have reacted differently haunts his thoughts. I thought of Chief Inspector Gamache in Louise Penny’s latest books caught up in doubt and guilt over his actions in the battle that left colleagues dead and injured.

It is hard for Mørck to resist dark regrets when his partner, Hardy Henningsen, is lying paralyzed in a hospital bed wanting his friend to end his life. In an effort to convince his colleague that life still has meaning he pulls him into the investigation. Hardy brought to mind criminalist Lincoln Rhymes in Jeffery Deaver’s books staying alive because he can participate in and even lead investigations from his specially designed wheelchair.

Having been actually cast down into the basement Mørck is ready to coast along until retirement. In Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs a deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, has lost his spirit to be a police officer though physically recovered from a bullet wound. Saizarbitoria has “bullet fever”.

Mørck is gradually brought out of his lethargy by one of the most unique assistants in crime fiction. Assad is to take care of cleaning and administrative needs in the one man Department Q but the Syrian immigrant has a boundless energy and enthusiasm that sets him motivating Mørck to do his job. While totally different in background and appearance Assad reminded me of Archie Goodwin cajoling and pushing Nero Wolfe to carry out investigations.

Shamed into reading the file of beautiful politician Merete Lynggard missing for the past 5 years since disappearing on a ferry traveling from Denmark to Germany Mørck becomes intrigued and begins to investigate the file.

When Mørck finds a significant flaw in the past investigation he is revitalized and pursues the investigation with vigor and determination. Finding the flaw is a moment I have experienced in some court cases. You read and work and talk and think and review. It is a special thrill when you find the piece of evidence or case authority that will win the case.

I found myself as eager as Mørck to check out the next thread in the investigation. The book moved ever more swiftly to a striking and memorable conclusion. It is a strong candidate for Bill’s Best of 2011.

I will be buying the next in the series as soon as it makes its way to Western Canada. (Oct. 30/11)