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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith

Three years ago my son, Michael, recommended a non-fiction book he had read in a German history class on a murder in Germany early in the 20th Century. It proved fascinating. Tonight I post my review of the book. On Monday I will post an exchange of emails with the author concerning the book.


17. – 480.) The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith – I had never realized that the myth of Jewish ritual killings at Easter for blood to be used in making Passover Matzo had persisted into the 20th Century. In 1900 Ernst Winter, a 19 year old student, was killed and dismembered in Konitz, West Prussia. Rumours arise that he was killed by the community’s Jews in a ritual murder. Attention is focused on Adolph Lewy, a butcher, for the cutting of the body was done by someone skilled in cutting meat. Riots ensue. The Jewish population is saved from physical harm because the State protects them – twice sending in the army to maintain peace. State investigators pursue non-Jewish leads but the majority of the population is convinced of Jewish culpability. Smith proceeds to a history of alleged Jewish blood murders going back to 1200. He dis cusses the systematic killing of Jews in Western Europe through the Middle Ages because of non-existent blood murders. The Vatican consistently condemned the killing of Jewish people and found no proof of ritual killings but the belief that Jews killed for blood stubbornly persisted. With such a depth of anti-Semitism simmering in the population it is far easier for me to understand how the German people would participate in the Holocaust. When the State turned against the Jews they were ready to follow. (The same murderous spirit concerning the Jews was present in enough of the Polish and Slavic populations to the East to help the Nazis kill Jews as set out in Hitler's Empire.) I have a better understanding why Jewish people fiercely react to anti-Semitic remarks and actions. A millennium of violence over the blood libel is barely a century past. In Monday's post will be the exchange of letters with Smith on the investigation and a startling statement from the author with regard to the murder that is not within the book. It is an excellent book. (May 6/09)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

“M” is for Mystery Bookstore is No More

Last year as part of my posts about mystery bookstores I have visited I put up a post about the “M” is for Mystery Bookstore in San Mateo, California. It was a lovely store and I enjoyed my visit there during a trip to San Francisco.

Unfortunately, “M” is no more. Owner, Ed Kaufman, closed the store in January of this year. While another bookstore, Third Avenue Bookstore, will occupy the space it is sad that “M” is gone.

Ed said that he had been a lawyer for 41 years and then a bookstore owner for 16 years. At 81 it was time for him to stop owning the store.

It was obvious even from meeting Ed for only a couple of times that he loved books and loved authors.

It is ironic that the store is being awarded a Raven Award at The Edgars banquet next month.

I wish I was writing about the opening of a new mystery bookstore.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sanibel Flats (1990) by Randy Wayne White

Sanibel Flats (1990) by Randy Wayne White – M.D. “Doc” White, 36 years old, has returned home to Sanibel Island on the Florida Gulf Coast after serving in a secretive U.S. government agency in the fictional Central American country of Masagua (a thinly disguised Nicaragua).

Trained as a marine biologist he buys a stilt house and sets up a pen in the ocean next to his home for some large bull sharks. To earn income he is dissecting small bull sharks and shipping them to schools to be studied.

High school classmate and fellow Vietnam veteran, Rafe Hollins, contacts him. After the break up of a bad marriage Hollins lost custody of his son when his wife began an affair with the judge. Taking his 8 year old son Hollins, a pilot, becomes involved in some shady transport from Masagua. He swears he was not flying drugs. He is seeking Doc’s help as he has stolen from his Masaguan suppliers and they have kidnapped his son. Before Doc can work out a plan he finds Hollins dead on an island hideout.

The authorities at Sandy Key who have authority over Hollins death have no interest in an investigation and swiftly determine it was a suicide.

Back at Sanibel, Doc is being wooed by Jessica McLure, a lovely neighbour, who is a painter. It is Jessica who wants to turn the friendship intimate.

Doc has strong morals in business but his relationships with women are hardly honourable. His attitude helps keep him from being perfect but it is certainly chauvinistic.

It is not hard to figure out what Doc will do about his friend’s son being held captive but how it takes place is both clever and chilling.

One of the reasons the quest is interesting is Doc being joined by Tomlinson, an eccentric ocean neighbour with a Ph.D. from Harvard, whose life has been on a meandering course because of his affection for recreational pharmaceuticals.

I was struck by similarities between Doc and Travis McGee. Both are big articulate men. They are veterans who fought in the Vietnam and Korean Wars respectively. Each lives on the Florida coast in the ocean – Doc in the house on stilts and Travis in his famous houseboat. Each has a stern moral code. Neither has serious long term relationships with women.

They have comparable attitudes a generation apart on the development of Florida. Each condemns the relentless urbanization of the Florida coastal areas. They disdain the driving habits of the crowds upon the highways of the state.

The book has some philosophy and deft dialogue that also brought to mind John D. Macdonald. An example is Tomlinson’s reflection on danger:

“You know what I think about danger? I think if you’re walking on thin ice anyway, why not dance?”

There is a brisk pace to the book. I understand why the series is popular. There are interesting characters. Doc fits well into the classic American loner in pursuit of justice.

One of the early books in the series I want to read another before reaching conclusions about the series. It is entertaining thriller fiction. I expect I would have enjoyed it even more had I been able to go read it on the beach after buying it at the Murder on the Beach bookstore. (Mar. 21/12)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Alphabet in Crime Fiction (2012) Meme

Last year I joined the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her excellent bog, Mysteries in Paradise, a few letters into the alphabet. I had a posting for all the remaining letters of the alphabet though a couple of my posts stretched the boundaries of the meme.

Kerrie’s rules are simple:

“Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book’s title, the first letter of an author’s first name, or the first letter of the author’s surname, or even maybe a crime fiction “topic”. But above all, it has to be crime fiction.”

It was fun last year coming up with a weekly post and reading the posts of other participants. Several weeks there were multiple posts of the same author or even the same book. The differing perspectives added to the enjoyment of the meme.

My posts from 2011 can be found through clicking the label on the side of the blog for the Alphabet in Crime Fiction.

It is easy to become a participant in this year’s meme.. Click here to reach Mysteries in Paradise and follow the instructions.

There are already 8 bloggers signed up to take part in the meme.

While the meme does not start until May it has prompted me to think about what I will post this year. I have taken a look at my reading over the past 12 years and am going to try to make each post about an author. I have read books by authors whose first letter of the surname covers all the letters of the alphabet.

It is going to an interesting 26 week journey through the alphabet.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dark Voyage by Alan Furst

Dark Voyage by Alan Furst – It is the spring of 1941. With World War II well underway Furst takes us to another location on the edges of the great conflict. Captain Eric DeHaan commands the tramp freighter, Noordenham. In Tangier, Morocco, he is contacted by representatives of the intelligence department of the Dutch Government in exile. They are working with the British on missions against the Nazis.

DeHaan has spent his adult life at sea traveling the oceans of the world on modest freighters. Intelligent, unmarried by choice, he is generally content with his life but anxious to strike at the Nazis who have occupied his homeland and cut him off from his family.

With the approval of the ship’s owner he is asked to aid the Allies by undertaking a short trip along the North African coast. His cargo will be a group of British commandoes on a mission to acquire information on German electronic capabilities to find Allied ships. With over 1,500 Allied ships sunk since the start of war 1 ½ years earlier it is a desperate struggle at sea.

Over night the Noordenham is transformed into the Santa Rosa, a comparable Spanish ship, fortunately docked on the Mexican coast for repairs. With her new paint drying the Santa Rosa sails for Cape Bon. Ultimately, while costly in human life, the mission is successful.

With the success they are ordered to take the Santa Rosa on another even more dangerous voyage with the goal of further aiding the Allied efforts in the electronic sea war.

DeHaan does not hesitate to commit himself and his crew to the new mission. It was striking how little say merchant seamen of that era had in their lives. When the Captain undertakes a voyage they are required to go with him. On the Noordenham / Santa Rosa is a group of sailors exiled, like DeHaan, by the war from their homes. They include a Polish engineer, a Jewish medical student acting as the ship’s doctor, an Egyptian radio operator and a Greek Army deserter.

It was interesting to read how both the Allies and Axis nations used ships of neutral nations to further their war efforts.

They undergo remarkable adventures on their missions for England but they are not the cartoon stories of most Hollywood movies. As the ending approaches there is a buildup of tension and anticipation that drives a reader to reach the ending.

In his personal life the reflective DeHaan thinks about the intense but so brief relationships he has had ashore with women.

DeHaan and the crew are the ordinary people of war. Once again I felt as if I was reading one of John Le Carre’s spy novels. There is no glitz or glamour. There are people doing their best amidst gritty circumstances. As in a Le Carre book there is no certainty of a happy ending.

Furst weaves another superb tale of life in the shadows of the battles, intrigues and politics of Europe in World War II. (Mar. 12/12)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Associate by John Grisham

10. - 473.) The Associate by John Grisham – Kyle McAvoy, son of a small town Pennsylvania lawyer, is getting ready to graduate from Yale law school. His plans to do public law for a few years before heading to the big firms of New York are turned upside down by threats related to a potential multiple date rape by his fraternity brothers early in his university life. Industrial spies get him to join the world’s biggest law firm with the intention he will provide secret information on a gigantic corporate lawsuit over the development of a new U.S. Air Force bomber. Grisham portrays the total grind of life in a New York legal factory. McAvoy starts at and goes late into the night every day. I cannot see why anyone would accept such a life. Billing is worshipped and questionably calculated. I am busy as a lawyer but I am able to carry on activities and be part of organizations. Grisham continues to create page turning plots. I raced through the book. For the first time there was a twist or two that did not ring true. The ending was subtler than I expected. I wonder what my son Jonathan, considering entry into a demanding big firm, would think of the book. The relationships and opportunities between small town and big city law in the book are so close to our lives. I hope Grisham is back to Mississippi in his next book. Hardcover one more time. (Feb. 23/09)


Since writing the review my son, Jonathan, has joined a big firm in Calgary. The contrast in the book between the practice of law in a huge urban centre and a small rural centre resonates deeply with me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Invention of Murder – How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders (Part II)

Photo of Judith Flanders by Clive Barda
 On Saturday I started my review of The Invention of Murder – How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders with a post in which I discussed the importance of murder in the newspaper and plays of the century. I touched upon the painful development of the modern criminal trial. In this post I will continue by examining how Flanders addressed the development of crime fiction in Victorian times.

Flanders puts forward Mr. Buckett in Bleak House (1852-1853) by Charles Dickens as the “first fictional detective”.

It was interesting to read that Dickens in Bleak House and Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White both drew upon the murderess, Maria Manning, in writing those books. Flanders has an extensive description of Manning and her crimes.

She offers definitions of crime fiction and sensation fiction and explores the origins of crime fiction in England.

Flanders points out that, long before there were real life female police officers, there were fictional women detectives in the 1860’s.

From her descriptions of the books I concluded that Flanders did not think much of Victorian crime fiction. There were not many positive comments.

She extensively discusses Dickens book after book as works involving crime fiction.

Flanders sees Sherlock Holmes as the extension of the detective to a character neither a member of the police nor pursuing investigations for money.

She effectively concludes with a recounting of the public fascination, more obsession, with Jack the Ripper. She points out the interest of the literate middle class was from a safe distance to the murders of the lower class women. Unlike a multitude of authors she does not attempt to identify Jack. She does show how the reams of newsprint on Jack demonstrated how murder sells in real life and fiction.

Blog readers need to know before starting the book that her descriptions of Victorian crime fiction are spoilers of virtually every book. She sets out full plots. Endings are freely discussed. If you are interested in reading Victorian crime fiction without summaries of the books it is best to skip over those sections of the book.

I found the detail excessive at times. Following all the permutations of print and theatre for decades about a murder made reading slow going in too many sections of the book. I think quite a few of the 466 pages could have been left to footnotes and produced a better narrative. I was glad I read the book. The analysis is solid and convincing. I learned a lot about murder, newspapers, law and crime fiction in the 1800’s.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Invention of Murder – How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders (Part I)

The Invention of Murder – How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders – There were but 15 murders among the 10,000,000 people living in England and Wales in 1810. While the number of murders was modest, by current standards, for the rest of the century murders became the primary entertainment of the masses in Great Britain.

The rise of newspapers in the 19th Century, needing content of interest to readers, was a striking comparison to the rise of internet journalism in the 21st Century. As with current media, there was a constant embroidering of reporting murder with a great willingness to spread rumour.

As the 19th century progressed lurid theatrical plays, sometimes transposing the stories of real life convicted killers into tragic, often sympathetic characters, were eagerly watched. There were often multiple plays based on the same murder. There was little respect for copyright of the words crafted by an author or playwright.

Absolutely amazing were the porcelain sculptures of the scene of the crime and the participants. Fowler provides a fine photo of “The Red Barn” sculpture modeled after the location of a famous 1828 murder.

As a lawyer it was interesting but disturbing to read how trials were conducted in the 1800’s.

There is an amazing story from 1818 where Abraham Thornton, acquitted of murder, is charged again when the deceased’s brother, William Ashford, invoked an ancient legal procedure, appeal of murder (it was a time before appeal courts existed) whereby a family member could appeal a not guilty decision. Thornton’s unnamed but very clever lawyer has Thornton turn to the equally aged English procedure of trial by battle. Thornton throws down a gauntlet before Ashcroft who declines the challenge and the appeal ends. The law is subsequently revised.

You can barely call the poisoning cases of the middle of the century trials. Men and women, especially women, were found guilty on rumour without even proof of poisoning.

It was frightening how Palmer was convicted of poisoning with strychnine when none was found in the body. At his trial only a 19th Century “expert” could render an opinion that poisoning occurred because he could not find other poisons and the deceased exhibited signs of poisoning at death though the “expert” acknowledged he had never witnessed strychnine’s “actions on a human subject”.

Public hysteria over alleged poisoning for death benefits in burial clubs undoubtedly produced false convictions.

As the public realized the dangers of convictions on such flimsy evidence trials became fairer. There was the gradual introduction of real expert evidence such as post mortem analysis of bodies, fingerprints and crime location study. By the end of the century the modern criminal trial process had been put in place.

A murder such as Palmer was good for newspaper circulation. It was the first major trial after the newspaper tax was abolished. The Illustrated Times special on the trial had double the existing circulation at 400,000 copies.

The popularity of murder was evident from the thousands who thronged executions until 1858 when they ceased to be public spectacles. Flanders does not spare the cruel deaths suffered by numerous convicted because of incompetent or careless hangmen.

Flanders includes some remarkable statistics. A prominent example involved murder of spouses. From the 1840’s to the 1890’s the number of women who killed their husbands decreased from 20 to 7 per decade while the number of husbands who killed their wives increased from 55 to 158 per decade. The author is careful to report that the statistics were for women and men charged with murder.

Within the book Flanders has a great deal of discussion on the development of the mystery novel and my next post will be upon that subject within the book.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Update on Canadian Book Challenge

Back in the middle of 2011 I signed up for the Canadian Book Challenge. It is the only Reading Challenge in which I am participating this year. It is hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog. John, a resident of Yellowknife in the North West Territories, runs the challenge each year from July 1 to June 30 of the following year. He chose the middle of the year for the start of the challenge as July 1 is Canada Day. The challenge asks readers to read 13 books authored by Canadians over the 12 months.

The Challenge has gone pretty smoothly for me. I have read 9 books since July 1 and have 3 more ready to be read by the end of April.

The books I have read in the 5th Canadian Book Challenge are:

1.) An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy – It is the most unusual of the 9 as it features a criminal seeking to go straight after moving into a Winnipeg, Manitoba following release from prison. The transition does not go smoothly mainly because of the local residents;

2.) Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen – My second book in the challenge was the first in Gail’s series featuring University of Regina English professor, Joanne Kilbourn. It is unique in featuring as victim, the province’s Premier, who is obviously patterned after an actual Premier;

3.) A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny – The Armand Gamache series has reached international status and I expect will become the best known mystery series from Canada this decade surpassing the mysteries of Kathy Reichs. In this book Louise returns to Three Pines in Quebec with a vivid exploration of the world of painters;

4.) The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns – I rarely read Young Adult fiction but could not resist a mystery featuring the only Saskatchewan born Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, solving a mystery while a young boy living on the family homestead near Borden;

5.) Snow Job by William Deverell – Arthur Beauchamp is struggling, essentially with boredom, while living in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, with his politician wife. He gets involved in the bizarre assassination of Central Asian politicians visiting Canada. I know of no other Canadian mystery writer whose book was also nominated for a national humour prize;

6.) Burnt Out by Nelson Brunanski – The small town Saskatchewan series holds a special place in my heart as it is set in a town 80 km away from Melfort. With each book I enjoy Nelson’s deft portrayal of life in rural Saskatchewan;

7.) The Placebo Effect by David Rotenberg – It is an unusual thriller in that it moves between the United States and Canada featuring a character who is an synaesthete with the talent of being able to tell if someone is telling the truth. It struck me as a somewhat frightening skill to possess. We all are probably better off not always knowing if we are being told the truth;

8.) The Lies have It by Jill Edmondson – Jill continues to improve in each mystery of the Sasha Jackson series. There are not a lot of hard boiled sleuths in Canadian crime fiction. Sasha is even more special as a female hard boiled detective. Her wit rivals the humour in the Arthur Beauchamp novels; and,

9.) I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell – It takes an author of great skill to blend stories taking place 50 years apart involving the same characters. It is an impressive book with Beauchamp remembering his first murder trial in 1962. It makes me feel alittle old as I well remember 1962.

I have 3 mysteries I am looking forward to reading in the next two months.

The first will be Stray Bullets by Robert Rotenberg. It is his third legal mystery and will be published at the beginning of May. I have greatly enjoyed the first two in the series.

The next two are books by my favourite Saskatchewan authors, Gail Bowen and Anthony Bidulka. Each has a new mystery being published in April.

I have not decided what book will be my 13th book for the Challenge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Felony Murder by Joseph T. Klempner (1995)

(13. – 645.) Felony Murder by Joseph T. Klempner (1995) – Dean Abernathy is making a living as a New York City criminal defence lawyer. With most of his clients indigent he receives modest fees from the government. He effectively functions without a secretary.

He stays busy steadily disposing of the variety of cases coming his way. At the same time he is unusual in crime fiction and, for many lawyers in real life, by regularly taking time away from the office. On a quiet day he may go climbing. He might spend a weekend in the mountains skiing. He has a balance in his life.

His life changes when he is assigned the defence of Joey Spadafino, a street person, charged with felony murder of the Police Commissioner, Edward Wilson. The charge differs from the conventional murder charge in that Spadafino is not charged with having intended to kill the Commissioner. Instead, the charge results from the Commissioner dying from a heart attack in the midst of an alleged robbery by Spadafino.

With a signed confession and two eye witnesses Abernathy sees it will be a difficult defence.

He approaches the case diligently testing, weighing, assessing and considering the admissibility of each piece of evidence. The first half of the book is a legal procedural, the equivalent of the police procedural featuring the police following clues and assembling evidence.

The legal process is well described. Abernathy takes a closer look at the confession after hearing from his client and confirming from a video statement that Spadafino asserts that he did not threaten the Commissioner but only stole money from him when he had collapsed and was laying on the ground.

Gradually Abernathy, working alone, finds weaknesses in the State’s case or contradictory information. He reminds me of my practice where clients cannot afford investigators and multiple lawyers. It is Abernathy and Spadafino fighting the State.

Even with this major case occupying much of his time Abernathy continues to deal with numerous other cases. Michael Connelly, to a degree, has Mickey Haller, especially in The Lincoln Lawyer, involved with multiple cases but Klempner does it better as Abernathy deals with other files right through the preparation for the murder trial.

There are remarkable descriptions from Spadafino on what life is like in prison on months of remand. There have been lots of books and T.V. shows and movies discussing accused being held in Rikkers and the Tombs but none have done it better than Klempner.

Unfortunately, the book turned from a legal procedural to a conspiracy. The basis for the conspiracy against Spadafino was unconvincing from the start. It is hard to present a credible conspiracy. Klempner’s conspiracy became less credible as it progressed.

If Klempner had continued with the legal procedural or even a minor conspiracy he could have had a great book. The book he wrote reminded me of too many Hollywood movies where a grand conspiracy is deemed necessary to create drama.

Klempner, a practicing lawyer and former undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, has written several other books. Because the first half of the book was done so well I think I will try another of his books.

As well, he does provide an explanation I had not considered for how famous court cases are described in the media. If the victim is prominent the case will be named for the victim. In the book it was the Wilson case. If the victim is obscure the case will be know by the name of the accused. It applies accurately in real life when you think of well known cases. (Mar. 4/12)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Murder Stone by Louise Penny

11. - 474.) The Murder Stone by Louise Penny – Sometimes four books into a series there is a dropoff in quality. Setting a mystery away from the series home rarely improves the series. Not this time. The Murder Stone is the best of the Inspector Gamache series. (Since writing this review I would say Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light are better.) Set an hour away from Three Pines Gamache and his wife, Reine Marie, are at a beautiful summer resort, Manoir Bellechasse, for their annual summer stay. They arrive to find the wealthy Morrow family has gathered for a family reunion. The Morrows are a lifetime dysfunctional unit who have assembled this year for the unveiling of a statute of the deceased patriarach, Charles Morrow. Their cruelties to each other are precise after a lifetime of practice. The Gamaches provide a powerful contrast. About to celebrate their 35th anniversary they deeply love each other. They share humour and quick wits. They are happy to meet their friends from Three Pines Peter and Clara. They had not realized Peter was a son in the Morrow family. When Morrow daughter, Julia, is killed by the statute falling on her everyone is a legitimate suspect. (The book maintains Penny’s tradition of unique methods of murder.) Not only is there an abundance of suspects the Surete cannot figure out how the heavy statute was moved. Amidst the investigation we learn of the scandal and death of Gamache’s father. Gracefully interwined are the Morrow saga, the Gamache marital relationship, the history of Gamache’s father and a murder investigation. The solution was imaginative and cleverly done. The atmosphere of the Manoir is as wonderful as Three Pines. I now wish I could jump in my car and head to the Manoir on the way to Three Pines. (I heard Louise on the radio say that Gamache is her dream husband. She said if she had to live with a fictional character by writing about him she wanted someone she would marry.) Superb. (Mar. 4/09) (Tied for Fourth Best fiction of 2009)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Updates on Uncle Edgar’s and Once Upon a Crime Bookstores in Minneapolis

An overbooked flight home from our Florida vacation meant a day in Minneapolis. I took advantage of the opportunity to visit both of the fine mystery bookstores in Minneapolis, Uncle Edgar’s and Once Upon a Crime. With time somewhat limited I took a list of books I have been interested in because of fellow bloggers and asked staff about availability. Happily they were able to find most of my choices.

At Uncle Edgar’s they poured through their computer of new and used books finding for me:

1.) A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott;

2.) White Nights by Ann Cleeves;

3.) Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Configliario; and,

4.) Sun Storm by Asa Larsson.

The large room remains filled with mysteries. They have an amazing selection of mysteries. If a reader also likes science fiction the front of the store has a huge selection of science fiction in Uncle Hugo’s.

At Once Upon a Crime I was ably assisted by Pat Frovarp. Her mind is her computer and she has full knowledge of the books in the store. Her recall of mysteries was very impressive.

I started by asking for the anthology Once Upon a Crime. I believe the store is unique in having a book written by authors under the name of the store. I am very interested in reading the 24 stories in the book.

In the main section of the bookstore I found:

1.) The Writing on the Wall by Gunnar Staalesen; and,

2.) Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar.

Pat Frovarp directed me to their annex, a room down the hall, full of older and/or used books. In the annex I debated which Charles McCarry book I wanted to start in my reading of his Paul Christopher series. After considerable internal debate I decided upon one of the earlier books, Secret Lovers.

While a great day for finding excellent mysteries it was a bad day for the TBR pile. It is getting harder to rationalize what are actually TBR piles. The February trip has resulted in its own TBR pile. It is going to be a good spring of reading.

Any mystery lover arriving in Minneapolis should visit each store. It is easier than you might expect as the stores are but a few minutes apart by car.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Winterkill by C.J. Box

(11. – 643.) Winterkill by C.J. Box – Having just read The Dragon Man where the mystery is set in Australia in the midst of a Christmas heat wave it was by accident that my next book occurs at Christmas time in Wyoming with a vicious snowstorm shutting life down in Saddlestring. There could have been no greater Christmas weather contrasts.

Once again Box creates a dramatic opening that grabs a reader. Game warden Joe Pickett is having a quiet afternoon near the end of elk season when suddenly a hunter starts shooting a herd of elk. By the time the firing ceases 7 elk are dead. To his astonishment the wanton hunter is Lamar Gardiner, the district supervisor for the local national forest. After arresting Gardiner there is another embarrassing moment for Pickett reminiscent of the first book, Open Season. Gardiner escapes from Joe in the midst of the forest. The frustrated Pickett is shocked when he finds the supervisor dying, pined to a tree by a pair of arrows and his throat slashed.

Pickett gets Gardiner to town but the investigation cannot commence because of the snow and wind of the winter storm. You learn to respect the power of nature if you have been out in a true blizzard.

Pickett’s daughters Sheridan, April and Lucy are delighted to have their father forced to stay home with them because of the storm. With no outside distractions the girls and Joe have a great time. His enthusiasm is tempered because his mother-in-law, Missy, is equally storm stayed with the Pickett family. Their relationship is generally polite.

Unlike the grim Christmas dynamics of the Australian families in The Dragon Man there is a happy Christmas in Wyoming with the Pickett family enjoying a wonderful Christmas Day.

While Pickett tries to help in the murder investigation life becomes more complicated for the family when April’s birth mother, Jeannie Keeley, returns with a group of survivalists and other Western American outcasts to camp in the local forest. She wants April back.

The campers become known as the Sovereigns because of their view on the rights they believe they are entitled to under the American constitution.

Adding to the volatile mix is Melinda Strickland, an official with the Federal Forest Services, who is determined to prove local citizens are conspiring to attack federal administrators.

When Nate Romanowski is arrested for the murder of Gardiner he calls Pickett instead of a lawyer thinking his best chance for freedom is to have the local game warden search for the real killer.

Box creates a story that rushes forward to its conclusion. I enjoyed the interplay of Pickett’s personal and professional lives. It remained for me a very good rather than great book because some of the key characters, unlike the Picketts, remained one dimensional.

The demanding Wyoming winter and landscape play a central role through the book. I love how Box makes the setting an integral part of his books.

I will keep reading the series. No one writes more dramatic openings than Box.

As an aside, Romanowski has the ultimate American handgun, a .454 Casull revolver manufactured in Wyoming that is the most powerful handgun in the world. With a 7” barrel it is more of a mini canon. (Feb. 27/12)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore

While on holiday in Florida two weeks ago Sharon and I visited the Murder on Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. It is tucked into a nice little strip mall downtown on Pineapple Grove Way in the arts district.

We visited on a sun drenched Florida February Sunday afternoon. If ever there was the perfect bookstore to visit before heading to the beach it is Murder on the Beach.

On walking in there are a series of bookshelves filled with Florida mysteries. Most of the time, I have to search bookstores for local mysteries. At Murder on the Beach the number of Florida mystery choices were overwhelming. On their website which is http://www.murderonthebeach.com/ they list and have connections to 65 Florida mystery authors!

Turning to the staff that Sunday, she recommended Off the Chart by James W. Hall and Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White. Not having read either author I bought both books.

In mystery bookstores I look for authors not easy to find in the big block bookstores.

I found a new print of what I believe is Helen Tursten’s initial book in the Irene Huss series, Night Rounds.

Having seen many bloggers write positive reviews of Andrea Camilleri’s series featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano I was able to get The Shape of the Water.

In the middle of the bookstore are a pair of inviting armchairs Sharon confirmed were most comfortable while I browsed for books. I wished I could have had the time to sit down for an hour or two and look at books.

Almost next door is a café where a reader can start reading their new books while enjoying outside something to eat and drink.

As with every mystery bookstore I have visited make sure you give yourself enough time to go through the huge selection of mysteries. It was tough limiting myself to 4 books.

On their website they set out that they will arrange an audience interactive, Murder Mystery Party, from groups of 20 – 500. I did not have time to discuss the Mystery Nights. They sounded like fun.

Drop in to Murder on the Beach if you are in south Florida. You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Dragon Man by Gary Disher

The Dragon Man by Gary Disher (1999) – The first Hal Challis mystery is set in the Peninsula on the edge of Melbourne at Christmas time. It is hot and dry and young women are being sexually assaulted and killed.

Detective Inspector Challis has few clues. The killer wears latex and does not leave his vehicle to dump the bodies. The victims have no connections. No one has seen anything.

Uncommon tire treads are a slender lead. As the only real clue the police make a major effort to track down sales of these tires.

Within the local police station few of the officers are looking forward to the holiday. Strained or broken relationships have left them with more dread than joy of the year’s greatest family celebration.

The solitary life of Challis is punctuated by calls from his wife in jail. She has been imprisoned for attempting, with her lover, to murder him. The calls are as sad as any I have read in fiction.

Christmas arrives in the midst of the investigation. It proves a difficult day for the police and their families. It is a blue Christmas on the Peninsula.

Aggravating the police and frightening the public are a series of letters from the killer to the local newspaper mocking the police investigation.

While police resources are concentrated on finding the killer they must still deal with the continuing local crimes.

Unlike most crime fiction involving the police there are multiple detailed police characters. Sgt. Ellen Destry, Sgt. Kees Van Alphen, Const. Scobie Sutton, Const. Pam Murphy and Const. John Tankard all have extensive roles in the book. The police station comes alive through their portrayals. Each of them has significant personal issues.

With the investigation stalling pressure builds upon the police. Superintendent, Mark McQuarrie, more skilled at detecting political currents than solving crimes, presses for results.

Challis keeps his men and women searching but clues remain elusive. When the break comes the book builds to a dramatic conclusion.

The Dragon Man, written over a decade ago, is an impressive debut mystery. I appreciate Kerrie from her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, and Bernadette at her blog, Reactions to Reading, for their recommendations of Disher.

Disher does an excellent job of the setting on the Peninsula. The semi-rural area adjacent to the big city has a varied population of working class people and the well-to-do. All are coping with the draining heat of Christmas in Australia. Just as Canadian writers know real cold Disher convincingly writes about real heat. (Feb. 22/12)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

14. - 477.) T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton – (WARNING - The following review may contain spoilers for some readers. I do not consider the review to have spoilers but it has information a reader might find too revealing of the plot.) The 20th Kinsey Milhone mystery is not one of the best. It is hard to write a great mystery about subtle elder abuse. The villain, a nurse with false credentials and name, is so evil and her great lump of a son, Tiny, a caricature. Kinsey’s neighbour, Gus Vronsky, has fallen and needs assistance. The situation is a challenge as Gus is a cranky old man with no relatives in California. Kinsey shames his niece, Melanie, into coming to California. After stabilizing the situation Melanie hires a nurse, Solona Rojas, to care for Gus. In the meantime Kinsey is investigating a curious accident in which very serious injuries have occurred in a low speed crash. She diligently goes through the tedium of searching for a missing witness. In a contrast to some of the mysteries the relationship with landlord, Henry Pitts, his brother William and restauranteur Rosie is an important part of the plot. Almost immediately Solona starts isolating Gus from his neighbours. It is cleverly done and illustrates the difficulty of discovering elder abuse. It is not a classic murder mystery. The pace picks up and accelerates to a great finish. I think it was hard to like the book because the villains were so evil, deceitful and cruel. It was good but not great. Paperback by choice. (Apr. 5/09)