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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Saskatchewan Mystery Authors Explain their Sleuths with Families

This post concludes a series of posts discussing the role of families in mysteries. Almost all Saskatchewan mysteries have strong family involvement. My last post Saskatchewan Sleuths with Families sets out the varied families. I asked several Saskatchewan mystery authors why their sleuths had families. Anthony Bidulka, Nelson Brunanski and Gail Bowen graciously provided me with the following thoughts.

From Anthony Bidulka, author of the Russell Quant series:

Hi Bill,

This is an interesting topic. One I must admit I hadn't thought about before now. And maybe that is your answer right there. For certain writers - Saskatchewan writers? - family is such a major part of our lives, that to write about a main character who does not have family in his life, would be like writing about a Saskatchewan detective who doesn't own a winter coat (interesting idea though... but I digress.) It is second nature to us.

I wonder if the fact you've seen an upshot of the family centric mysteries post 1990 is related to the growth of mystery genres in that time, and the popularity of the shall we say, less than traditional mystery. Whereas the noir and procedural thrillers are still successful, there has come to be more room for the type of book I write, which I often refer to as 'traditional with a twist', which allows for a little less mystery, and a little more character development. With that, in Saskatchewan at least, and I'd guess elsewhere too, family involvement (entanglement) quickly comes to the forefront.

Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Bill. I'll be interested to see what your collection of sleuth-creators has to say.

To you, and all you hold dear, have a splendid Christmas season.


From Nelson Brunanski, author of the Bart Bartkowski series:

Hello Bill

Thanks for your interest in my Small-town Saskatchewan Mysteries.

My reasons for including family:

1) The family provides plenty of drama for sub-plots, to which average people can relate.

2) Families are involved in the mysteries by virtue of the protagonist's (amateur sleuth) involvement and therefore suffer the same perils.

3) My murder mysteries rely on character, customs and the social fabric as much as on the crime itself. Families naturally provide links to these subjects.

4) Families thrive in small-towns and provide a real context for story telling, evoking prairie values as well as idiosyncratic attitudes.

5) I draw on my experience growing up in small-town Saskatchewan where family ties are strong and everybody knows everybody else's business.

6) Characters without families (or characters who are new to the town) provide an opportunity to draw comparisons and bring unorthodox points of view to the stories.

I hope this helps,

All the best


From Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn – Shreeve series:

Here you go, Bill.  Happy 2012!

Gail Bowen – Blog entry on Saskatchewan crime fiction and the fact that our protagonists have and love their families and domestic circumstances.

The question Bill Selnes raises is a good one.  Certainly the protagonists of crime fiction in England and the U.S. tend to be lone wolves, fighting the institutions that they believe corrupt others and themselves.  Not surprisingly, the first institution these protagonists reject is family. These protagonists trust nothing and no one and that includes those to whom they are tied by blood and history.

 A second reason why many crime writers separate protagonists from their domestic circumstances is pragmatic. For all of us family is the most complex and formative relationship in our lives.  And for many crime writers this is a good and sufficient reason to cut their protagonist loose from the web of relationships that link protagonists to their families.  Simply put, for writers whose fiction is plot driven, families are a distraction that keeps them from the real business of their work: developing plot.

But Bill Selnes’ question centres on the fact that when it comes to families and domestic circumstances, Saskatchewan writers of crime fiction tend to deviate from the ‘norm.’ I’m certain the reasons for this deviation are many and varied, but I can offer one that is true of my work.  

This summer a reader approached me at the Farmers’ Market and told me that she and a friend had posed a general question about fiction writers than intrigued them. Here’s their question:  “If you could live in the fictional world that you have created, would you?”  My answer was that I do live in the fictional world that I’ve created.  Mine is a world that centres on the people close to me. Nothing matters to me more than my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends and my community.

Alastair MacLeod says that ‘writers write about what worries them’. What worries me is anything that threatens the safety or the happiness of the people I love. I believe this is a universal fear, but certainly it is a fear that is shared by the people to whom I’m closest, and they are largely Saskatchewan people.

I’ve always believed that Joanne Kilbourn-Shreve is a very Saskatchewan protagonist.  She is driven by her love for those around her but she is also driven by her awareness of the inequities of her world. Like J.S. Woodworth, Joanne believes that “What we desire for ourselves we wish for all.  To this end, may we take our share in the world’s work and the world’s struggles.”  In Kaleidoscope, the 13th novel in the JK-S series, Joanne commits herself even more fully to the world’s work and the world’s struggles.

As someone who taught fiction (International, U.K. and American) I’ve been tantalized by the question of a writer who has ‘created’ a world. Would they wish to live there?”
Thank you to each of Anthony, Gail and Nelson. Each of you has given me more to think about with regard to sleuths with families.


  1. Bill - What fascinating perspectives! What a pleasure it is, too, to hear from the authors themselves what their views about family in their stories are. Thank you so much for sharing. I really like those answers, too! All three authors give lots of "food for thought," and I appreciate that.

    All the best to you and your family for 2012!

  2. Margot: Thanks for your comment. Each author definitely added to the discussion.

    I equally want to wish you and your family the best in 2012!

  3. VERY interesting post, Bill. I like a detective with a family (or any crime solver with a family) and I read several series in which the hero has a relatively happy home life.

    It's not the norm, certainly, but if done well, it works.

    I'm not as familiar with Canadian authors as I should be.

  4. Yvette: I had always been surprised by the infrequency of family in crime fiction. To me family completes the personality of characters.