About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Secret Lovers (1977) by Charles McCarry

Secret Lovers (1977) by Charles McCarry – In the early 1960’s Paul Christopher is in Berlin to receive a package from Horst Bulow, a long time low level agent working for American intelligence. The transfer is successfully made. Moments later a car roars past Christopher and strikes Bulow killing him.

Christopher learns that the package contains the hand written manuscript of an epic Russian novel on life in the Soviet Union. It is effectively an expose of Communism. I was reminded of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago. The writer, Kiril Kamensky, has recently been released from prison camp. He has been working on the book for decades. The manuscript has been smuggled to the West through a series of couriers.

Christopher is puzzled by the killing. If it was the KGB that has killed Bulow why would they wait until after the transfer and why have the earlier couriers not been immediately captured and interrogated.

Christopher, after returning to Paris, consults the aging Otto Rothchild and his much younger wife, Maria, about the manuscript and the circumstances of Kamensky. The aging and ailing Rothchild was raised in Russia before the Revolution of 1917 and has a comprehensive knowledge of the people and events who have shaped European history in the almost 50 years after the Communists seized power.

Should the manuscript be published now or when Kamensky has died or left the U.S.S.R.? What will be the consequences for Kamensky if published now? What is gained and lost by publication?

Christopher, always in tight control of his emotions, also spends time in Rome with his stunning wife, Cathy. She is the bored and spoiled child of wealthy Americans. She is unfaithful to Christopher and makes sure he knows it. The story is uncommon in a thriller or mystery in the lead character accepting an unfaithful partner.

McCarry has a powerful description of secrets and the effect upon their relationship:

“I wish I had another life, the way you do, Paul,” she said. “Maybe I could stay inside it, as cold as you, and learn the secret you told me when I told you about Franco.

“The secret?”

“Of how to love, and feel nothing.”

Christopher sets out to determine who was responsible for Bulow’s death. It is a difficult search. He moves around Europe seeking out information. Christopher must dig deeply into the major conflicts that have defined Europe during the 20th Century. The answer is deep in the shadows of the world of espionage during the height of the Cold War.

It was an interesting book but the story did not catch me. I do want to read another to see if I feel differently. It has somewhat of a Le Carre feel to the story. McCarry is uncompromising in his portrayal of international intrigue. (Apr. 26/12)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Case of Trish Vickers and the Empty Pen

In my daily journey through the blogs I follow I was looking at the blog of Saskatchewan mystery author, Anthony Bidulka, a few days ago and clicked on a link to the New York Times and the remarkable story of Trish Vickers. I went on to read stories about her in The Telegraph, The Mail and the Dorset Echo.

Mrs. Vickers, 59 years old, resides at Charmouth and lost her sight because of diabetes 7 years ago.

She took up writing. Not using a computer she was able to write with a pen on paper with rubber bands stretched across the page to keep the lines separated.

Initially she wrote poetry and then turned to writing a novel.

The Times stated:

Mrs. Vickers told reporters that her book, which she has tentatively titled “Grannifer’s Legacy,” centers on a woman named Jennifer who loses her job, her boyfriend and her great-great-grandmother, her lifelong mentor, and who then successfully rebuilds her life.

Her son, Simon, would visit each week to read back to her what she had written and a volunteer would type up her latest work.

She had a productive stretch of writing one week that had her complete 26 pages. Unfortunately, when Simon came to visit he had to tell her the pages were blank. Her pen had run dry as she started to write and nothing was on the paper.

I thought of how frustrated I get if I manage to lose a few pages on the computer. To have 26 pages disappear of handwritten work would be devastating. Every writer can relate to Mrs. Vickers.

When Simon and Mrs. Vickers could not come up with a means of restoring what she was written they called the Dorset police and asked if the fingerprint section could help them.

The police offered to help and a female expert during her lunch hours, using lights at different angles to read the indentations left by the pen on the paper, was able to recover what had been written.

In The Telegraph she said:

“I could remember the gist of what I had written but there was no way I could have written exactly the same way again,” she said. “I am so grateful. It was really nice of them and I want to thank them for helping me out.”

It is a real life mystery story without a body in sight and a happy ending because of a dedicated member of the police going out of her way.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Launch in Saskatoon for Dos Equis by Anthony Bidulka

Tonight Sharon and I attended the book launch of Dos Equis, the 8th book in the Russell Quant series, by Anthony Bidulka. The event was in the Prairie Ink Restaurant at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon.

The event was a great success with mystery lovers jamming the restaurant. The restaurant, with a seating capacity around 75, was filled before we got there. Even when the manager scrounged every chair in the store there were not enough seats. Sharon and I waited half an hour in line to get a place to stand in the restaurant. I estimate there were 150 - 200 people at the launch.

Included in the crowd were many members of Anthony’s family. His partner, Herb, took photos through the evening. We met his mother Johanna who was in from the farm near Prudhomme. His sister, niece and grandniece also made the trip from Melfort.

Anthony and the restaurant staff had arranged free snacks including fruit to dip in the chocolate fountain, small tortillas, chips, guacamole, salsa, rice and beans. Everyone was offered a complimentary drink of either beer or dirty banana.

It was a wonderful, happy, vibrant atmosphere.

Anthony explained Dos Equis sees family and friends headed to Mexico with Russell on this adventure. He read from the book about two friends, Anthony and Jarrod, accompanying Russell’s mother, Kay, on her first airplane flight. Kay does not fare well with airport security having thought the rules Russell carefully explained to her were only guidelines. She sparked so many warning lights she receives a full body pat down. She says she wished the young security officer had just given her a massage. The whole security line is brought to a halt as her carryon bag has a padlock and she cannot find the key. Once removed security is not happy that she was trying to take on to the plane a jar of borscht and a container of perogies.

The evening proceeded to a question and answer session.

Each book is set partly in Saskatoon and partly in some distant location. Anthony said he sees the story develop and then puts it in a locale that works with the story. However, he continued that he was not following that path with the next book. During a month of travel in southeast Asia he had especially enjoyed Vietnam and readers can expect to see the next book involve travel to that country.

Anthony was asked how he came up with Russell Quant. He said over a decade ago he was a Chartered Accountant who wanted to become a writer. He was looking to come up with a distinctive character who would stand out in the crowded mystery world. Intending to follow the dictum of writing about what you know he wanted to set Russell in Saskatoon. He wondered if there was enough crime for a P.I. in a city with less than a dozen murders a year. In the end, he made Russell’s home in Saskatoon. He gave Russell a love of travel and good food. As well Russell is a gay man who grew up in rural Saskatchewan. What Anthony actually knew least about was a private investigator.

On the evolution of the series he said that when he wrote the first book he had in mind plots for 4-5 more in the series. As he finished the last of the original ideas he realized that the characters had become so much a part of him that their voices directed him forward to new stories.

Anthony announced that he has created a new character, Don Saint, who will be featured in a book, When the Saints Go Marching In. Saint, a disaster recovery agent, will travel from Saskatoon to calamities around the world.

The book signing lineup was so long Sharon and I went for supper next door. When we returned over an hour later the line had dwindled and we visited with Anthony and Herb for a few minutes. Anthony is a warm and witty man with a superb memory. He recalled our older son had written an essay on one of the Russell Quant books for a university English course on mysteries.

If you get a chance to attend an author event with Anthony it will be fun.

I can hardly wait to read the book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Boomerang – Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis

(19. – 651.) Boomerang – Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis – On Saturday I posted a review of Meltdown, a fictional book about financial disaster, published just ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. Tonight I have a review of another fine book by one of America’s best contemporary popular historians. Having explored the financial crisis of the last decade in America in The Big Short Lewis turns his attention to case studies, mainly of nations, caught up in the disaster.

He starts with Iceland where a conservative nation went wild with speculation in assets around the world with borrowed money. Led by their banks they went on a buying frenzy. In 2007 Icelanders owned 50 times more foreign assets than they had owned in 2002. The banks made paper profits by selling to each other assets at over inflated prices.

Lewis sums up the process as “a handful of guys in Iceland who had no experience in finance were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then relending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets – the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising – thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them – they appeared to be making money”.

He provides an example of one of those guys in Stefan Alfsson who, having only working as a fisher, quit at 20 years of age to become a currency trader who spent two years selling “people, mainly his fellow fishermen, on what he took to be a can’t-miss speculation: borrow yen at 3 percent, use them to buy Icelandic kronur, ant then invest those kronur at 16 percent”.

Lewis points to interesting facts that applied to both the Wall Street and Icelandic disasters such as women had little to do with either calamity. He pointed to Kristin Petursdottir, the only women in a senior position at an Icelandic bank, who quit in 2006 because she did not like how Icelandic men were handling finances and set up a financial services business run totally by women. She wanted to bring feminine values to finance. Since the disaster money has poured into her business for investment.

From Iceland he moves to Greece and then Ireland and then Germany before concluding with the fast developing financial disaster of California especially at the municipal level.

The city of Vallejo went bankrupt and, when Lewis visited City Hall, the city manager had 1 employee to help him run the city. He said public employees ended up with 20 – 30% of what was owed them.

I would be very uncomfortable if I were a California resident in a public defined benefit pension plan. After reading Boomerang I cannot see where governments, state and municipal, are going to have the money to pay the benefits promised as they lack the ability to adequately fund the plans.

Humour is a part of the book. In the chapter on Germany he discusses at some length the national fascination with excrement, especially human excrement. Using cruder language Germans feature it in a multitude of descriptions, sayings and nicknames.

It is fascinating, if frightening, reading on how entire nations in recent years have made collective horrible financial decisions that are going to be devastating for their countries long into the future. (Apr. 10/12)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meltdown by Martin Baker

18. - 481.) Meltdown by Martin Baker – Some novelist usually anticipates a great event or series of events. Baker’s mystery featuring a global economic meltdown because of currency and other financial shenanigans was prescient of the black fall of 2008. Oxford academic, Samuel Spendlove, is lured into pursuing the secrets and manipulations of Paris financial trader, Khan. The story vividly portrays how a single man, with the backing of a bank, can send a billion dollars or more into financial markets in a matter of minutes. The unscrupulous seek to use those investments to manipulate markets. They care not if financial instability is the result. The rewards are great when right but the risks are worse when wrong. The story vividly illustrates the lack of consequences to the traders. They benefit when right and the bank loses when wrong. The danger is for the bank rather than the trader who will only be fired if too wrong. The speed at which huge sums are made and lost is too fast. Being able to buy and sell huge positions so easily is bound to be dangerous for future markets. The story shifts to mystery when fellow employee and lover (only once) Kaz Day is murdered. The authorities are glad to concentrate on the foreign trader who is alleged to have caused the great meltdown. The story moves quickly with some good twists. The pace seemed abit jerky at times. I wonder what the author might attempt to forsee next in the financial world. (May 13/09)

Having been published 8 months before the late 2008 financial crisis Meltdown gained significant attention after the crisis had occurred.

Baker's website sets out that Meltdown is the first in a triology involving Samuel Spendlove in the world of finance. The second book, Version Thirteen, is set in contemporary Moscow and is to be published this year.

Having read a fictional account of the financial disaster of 2008 I turn to a non-fiction exploration of issues causing and arising from that crisis in Boomerang by Michael Lewis. A review of Boomerang will be my post on Monday.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Canada's Arthur Ellis 2012 Short Lists

Tonight, in a rolling series of short list events across Canada in 3 of the 4 ½ time zones that make up Canada, the Crime Writers of Canada announced the short lists for the Arthur Ellis Awards. There were events with representative authors in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The short lists are:

Best Crime Novel

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, St. Martin’s Press
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, McClelland and Stewart
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, Doubleday Canada
I'll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell, McClelland and Stewart
The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg, Simon & Schuster

From the lists I have only read books from the Best Crime Novel list. I have read A Trick of the Light, I’ll See You in My Dreams and The Guilty Plea. I loved all three of them. I am going to have to think which of the trio I would pick as the “best”.

Best First Novel

The Man Who Killed by Fraser Nixon, Douglas & McIntrye
The Survivor by Sean Slater, Simon&Schuster
The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton, House of Anansi Press Inc.
Tight Corner by Roger White, BPS Books
Watching Jeopardy by Norm Foster, XLibris

Best Crime Book in French

La chorale du diable by Martin Michaud, Les Editions Guélette
Pwazon by Diane Vincent, Editors Triptyque
Pour Ne Pas Mourir ce soir by Guillaume Lapierre-Desnoyers, Lévesque Éditeur

Best Juvenile or Young Adult Crime Book

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones, Candlewick Press
Charlie's Key by Rob Mills, Orca Book Publishers
Empire of Ruins by Arthur Slade, HarperCollins Publishers
Held by Edeet Ravel, Annick Press
Missing by Becky Citra, Orca Book Publishers

Best Crime Nonfiction

A Season in Hell by  Robert Fowler, Harper Collins
Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art by Joshua Knelman, Douglas& McIntyre
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by Steven Laffoley, Pottersfield
The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahader, Harper Collins
The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob by Adrian Humphreys, Wiley

Best Crime Short Story

A New Pair of Pants by Jas. R. Petrin, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Beer Money by Shane Nelson, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
The Girl with the Golden Hair by Scott Mackay, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
The Perfect Mark by Melodie Campbell, Flash Fiction Magazine
What Kelly Did by Catherine Astolfo, North Word Magazine

Best Unpublished First Novel - “Unhanged Arthur”

Gunning for Bear by Madeleine Harris-Callway
Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe
Snake in the Snow by William Bonnell
The Rhymester by Valerie A. Drego
Too Far to Fall by Shane Sawyer

The winners will be announced at the annual banquet which will be held in Toronto this year on May 31.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Involuntary Witness (2002) by Gianrico Carofiglio

(18. – 650.) Involuntary Witness (2002) by Gianrico Carofiglio – Avvocato Guido Guerrieri is in a deep deep funk. His partner, Sara, has ended their relationship. He cannot sleep. His attention to work is minimal. He is barely functioning. At 39 his life is a mess. He starts to resurrect himself by resuming a passion of his youth – boxing.

Into his professional life comes an African lady, Abajaje Deheba, who asks him to defend her friend, a Senegalese peddler, Abdou Thiam, who has been charged with murdering a 9 year old boy, Francesco Rubino known as Ciccio, near Bari, Italy. Previous counsel has made a perfunctory effort at defence and she is searching for another defence lawyer. Guido meets with Abdou and decides to review the evidence.

Guido sees the prosecutor and reads the assembled evidence. It appears Italian police reports are as ritualistic and laden with jargon as Canadian reports. The reports read authentically though I found they slowed the book by their length. I would have preferred excerpts and then summaries.

After completing his review Guido decides to take on the defence though there is little money available to pay him and Guido puts the chances of success at 5 – 10%..

There is heavy pressure on Guido and Abdou to accept the shortened procedure and accept a plea deal rather than proceed to trial and risk a life sentence. Abdou declines and the charges proceed to trial.

Guido, rousing himself from his torpor, prepares for the trial carefully weighing and assessing the evidence.

His professional recovery is ahead of his personal life especially in relationships.

The trial is the best part of the book. Unfamiliar with Italian court procedure I found it interesting to see the cut and thrust of cross-examination and argument. It was closer to a Canadian trial than I had expected.

Guido is a skilled observer of human nature:

“A person’s laugh is important because you can’t cheat. To know if someone is genuine or fake, the only sure way is to watch – and listen to – his laugh. People who are really worthwhile are the ones who know how to laugh.”

In the trial Guido skillfully defends his foreign client. It is obvious Italian society looks far down upon the African immigrants trying to make a better life in Italy.

I was initially irritated over Guido’s attitude towards his clients. He speaks of discomfort in representing low lifes and other forms of criminal. Do not become a defence counsel if you only want to represent people such as Abdou. As the book continued I thought better of Guido as a defence lawyer.

It was not a major problem but I did not find the evidence against Abdou as overwhelming as presented in the book. To have a real discussion in a review would be to give away too much of the book. If a reader of the blog wants further thoughts on the issue they can email me. It is a challenge for writers of legal mysteries to have enough evidence to make the charges credible but not so strong as to make an acquittal incredible. Scott Turow is one of the best at striking that balance.

I am going to look for the next in the series. I want to see how Guido progresses as a lawyer and Carofiglio, described as an anti-Mafi judge in every description of him, as a writer. (Apr. 8/12)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Harry Bosch: The First Twenty Years

In my last post on Thursday I put up a review of the first Harry Bosch mystery, Black Echo. A few weeks ago I posted a review on the latest in the series, The Drop. I have been reflecting on Bosch. It has been 20 years since Connelly created Bosch.

It was interesting to go back to read the first in a long running series where I have read most of the other books. I found myself understanding later developments better from reading the opening mystery. I was reminded why I try to read series sequentially. 

Seeing Irving’s efforts to get Bosch fired in Black Echo makes it clear why Bosch was so surprised in The Drop to have Irving reach out to him to lead the investigation into the death of Irving’s son.

It is striking in Black Echo how Bosch is a chain smoker who can barely stay in a room without lighting up a cigarette.

Right from the start of the series Bosch has the appealing trait of fearlessness. He can neither be intimidated by superiors nor criminals. I believe he attracts readers as a person who speaks bluntly, especially to authority, what many, more polite and careful, wish they would say to those who seek to control them. I have met a few men like Bosch in real life who have been equally unafraid. All but one were big powerful men who been tested physically to the limit and met the challenge.

Physical danger has never deterred Bosch as a detective. At times he verges on the recklessly brave. Being a tunnel rat in Vietnam burned the fear of death out of Bosch. He is a man you would want beside you in a dangerous situation.

Still, even Bosch’s stubborn attitudes to authority are affected by life. In Black Echo he is willing to take chances in his investigation and does not worry about being fired. By The Drop superiors would undoubtedly still see him as insolent but Bosch is trying to adjust a lifetime of disdain for the system to use the bureaucracy to maximize the length of his career.

Life is hard for perfectionists. Bosch is no exception. Nothing but precise investigations satisfy him. He antagonizes partners and supervisors with his intolerance of average police work.

Bosch is a hard man in Black Echo without the family around that helps soften him in The Drop. It is hard to think of the driven, often caustic Bosch of Black Echo being the affectionate father of the teenage Maddie two decades later in The Drop. If Bosch did not have Maddie I worry what would happen to him when he is forced to retire in 3 years. It to Connelly’s credit Bosch can credibly change in his personal life over two decades.

From Black Echo to The Drop Bosch works by the principle everyone counts or no one counts. He believes all victims of violent crime deserve a careful thorough investigation.

While readers would want Bosch investigating the murder of a loved one he remains so driven through the whole series it is hard to see going out with him for a beer. Of course, Bosch could care less whether someone wanted to spend time with him.

In both books, as common in many of Connelly’s books in the series, the identity and character of the bad guys is revealed relatively late in the book.

One of the distinctions through the series involves the character of the bad guys. In Black Echo there are realistic multi-dimensional bad people. In The Drop the bad guy is almost a cartoon character being nothing but evil.

I hope Connelly creates villains worthy of Bosch in coming books. While Elvis Cole is a self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Detective I would say Bosch is L.A.’s Greatest Detective. Cartoon style bad guys should be left for the lesser detectives of southern California.

Bosch appears destined to spend his senior years alone. His work obsessed character has made a long term female relationship impossible over the past 20 years. In The Drop he tries to slow down but is soon seeking ways for Maddie to get by without him at home. I wonder if Connelly is setting up Bosch to ease the pace of life abit and find a lady with whom to share his life.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Black Echo (1992) by Michael Connelly

(15. – 647.) Black Echo (1992) by Michael Connelly – I had not realized I had not read the first Harry Bosch mystery until, after reading The Drop, I started thinking about how the series has evolved and noted I had not read the first book. Bosch is already 40 years old when the series starts.

I have always thought of Bosch as a big guy. Instead, he is “a few inches short of six feet and was built lean”. His size is consistent with him being a member of the American Army tunnel rats in Vietnam.

Connelly provides a powerful description of Bosch’s war:

“Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death in there. But, still, they went.”

It is little wonder that Bosch is still affected by his service in Vietnam.

His bleak life as a child in foster homes is touched upon in the book.

As the book begins Bosch is called out to investigate a body found in a tunnel on the Mulholland Dam in Los Angeles. He is startled when he recognizes the deceased as Billy Meadows, a fellow tunnel rat, who has struggled with heroin addiction since coming home.

All present at the scene are content to conclude Meadows died of a self-injected heroin overdose. The meticulous Bosch refuses to accept the easy solution. By carefully examining the body, the tunnel and the apartment of Meadows he determines it was murder.

When Bosch makes a connection with an unsolved bank heist he contacts the FBI and meets agent Eleanor Wish. It is a frosty first contact in her office.

Bosch riles fellow officers and other government agencies with his investigation. We meet Deputy Commissioner, Irvin Irving, who wants Bosch, clearly not a team player, out of the police force.

Bosch had nearly been fired for his actions during the Dollmaker serial killer investigation. IAD, frustrated he was merely demoted from the elite Robbery Homicide Unit, is pursuing Bosch hard for evidence that would get him off the force.

Bosch has a partner in Jerry Edgar but is barely concerned whether Edgar even keeps up with him in the investigation.

In Bosch’s world there are no coincidences. He looks for information linking the bank job with Meadows death. Bosch and Wish become an unlikely team working the cases. Connelly creates an inventive and credible method of attacking the bank.

As they gradually close in on the killers Connelly displays his ability to build tension. As with most Connelly books I found myself racing to the end.

I thought the solution was alright but it was not as good as the balance of the book.

On Saturday I will be posting thoughts on how Harry Bosch has evolved as a character between Black Echo and The Drop. (Mar. 30/12)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Deep Blue Alibi by Paul Levine

9. - 472.) The Deep Blue Alibi by Paul Levine – Standing on a beach at Key West, Victoria Lord has just told Steve Solomon she is dissolving their partnership when a boat blasts out of the water at them. In the wreckage are Victoria’s Uncle Grif and Washington EPA bureaucrat, Ben Stubbs. The latter has the spear from a speargun in his chest. When Stubbs dies Uncle Grif is charged with murder. Steve is ready and eager to lead the defence. Victoria is determined to lead and no longer be second chair. She wants “autonomy” from an oft overbearing Steve. At the same time Steve is petitioning to have his father, Herbert re-instated as a lawyer. Herbert had resigned from the bench rather than face a corruption trial. Steve is certain his father was never guilty. It is a rollicking story. The action is non-stop. The dialogue is clever. The characters are fascinating. (Steve’s nephew, Bobby, is a flawed budding genius.) Steve continues to be beyond flamboyant. Victoria is the solid diligent litigator who could use some flair in the courtroom. The court scenes are well done reflecting Levine’s legal background. There are incredibly dramatic action sequences. It would be interesting if Solomon & Lord met Claire Matturo’s Lily Cleary. How can it be that Florida has the three funniest mystery lawyers in American fiction? Solomon’s laws are great:

4. You can sell one improbable event to a jury. A second “improb” is strictly no sale, and a third sends your client straight to prison.

Excellent. Hardcover or paperback. (Feb. 19/09)
See also my reviews of other books in the series - Solomon v. Lord and Kill All the Lawyers

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pale Gray for Guilt (1968) by John D. MacDonald

(17. – 649.) Pale Gray for Guilt (1968) by John D. MacDonald – With adequate funds on deposit in his houseboat, The Busted Flush, Travis McGee is enjoying one of his periods of retirement. It has been a long lazy hot summer and fall. McGee has been enjoying a lovely redhead, Puss Killian, sharing the houseboat.
Visiting his old football teammate, Tush Bannon, McGee finds his friend is struggling to make a go of a small marina / motel business as movers and shakers in the County want his place to complete an industrial development. Bannon choses not to ask McGee to undertake him as a salvage operation to recover what McGee can for him.

McGee is left with regrets when, just before Christmas, Bannon is killed by an engine block falling upon him. McGee knows it was neither a suicide (the official reason) nor an accident (too far fetched). Bannon’s widow, Janine, is devastated.

McGee, with the aid of Puss and Connie Alvarez – Janine’s friend – and Meyer, plot a salvage operation. They act promptly to secure the return to Janine of her foreclosed property by retaining a wily old Florida lawyer. She sells the property to McGee which lets him deal directly with the men who set up the failure of the Bannons.

McGee and Meyer develop an actual scheme. Unlike many simplistic modern blood soaked revenge mysteries they come up with a sophisticated con operation.

The bad guys are not cardboard figures. At the top they are clever businessmen. Those near the bottom are scrambling through life making deals. McGee plays on the inherent greed of all the crooked.

McGee is a master manipulator enjoying the plan he has concocted. There is a mix of intrigue, chicanery, skill and violence. MacDonald does very well balancing the scheme with violence. While McGee would prefer to use brain over brawn he is always ready to get physical.

By the story staying in Florida I found it a better plot than Sanibel Flats where Doc Ford heads to Central America to rescue a child from an army of revolutionaries.

As always in the McGee series there are apt observations and philosophical musing.

Meyer contributes one of his laws advising Puss:

“In all emotional conflicts, dear girl, the thing you find the hardest to do is the thing you should do.”

Meyer’s law sums up in a sentence a lot of self-help advice.

McGee looks into the psyche of a killer:

“I had seen something cold in his face just as he had flicked the lead against her skull. It has been a moment of change and revelation, showing a pleasure of erotic dimensions, of sensual pleasure ….. They are the dark brothers of the slackened flesh, turned on in some soiled way by a total vulnerability.”

I will continue re-reading the series. I plan to stay reading in Florida for a mystery by another Florida author this month. (Apr. 3/12)

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Suspect (1985) by L.R. Wright

(16. – 648.) The Suspect (1985) by L.R. Wright – George Wilcox, 80 years old, stands stunned in the living room of his 85 year old neighbour Carlyle Burke. He has just killed Carlyle by smashing a WW II shell casing on Carlyle’s head. George sits down on the chesterfield and leans back. He looks around the room and reflects on what he has done:

“Gradually, as he sat thinking, it occurred to George that to give himself up was pointless. Even stupid. When they caught up with him, fine. He’d go to trial and prison without complaining, with dignity, even, if he could manage it. But to spend any more time locked up than was absolutely necessary – it made no sense.”

The author had captured me and I had to know what happened to George.

The investigation is led by Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg of the Sechelt Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He has been recently transferred to the quiet seaside town on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, a lovely area a ferry ride from North Vancouver.

Alberg is a thorough dedicated lonely police officer. His marriage has just collapsed. His daughters are both in university in Calgary 1,500 km away. Evenings in his small house are long.

Local librarian, Cassandra Mitchell, is 41 and single in a town with few male options in which she is interested. Taking action she takes out personal ads in a major daily, the Vancouver Sun, inviting suitable men to contact her. She travels into Vancouver to the paper’s office to pick up the envelopes in reply. The results of the first ad produced some dates but no relationships. The responses to the second ad include a letter from Alberg.

Mitchell and Alberg commence a halting relationship amidst the murder investigation.

As Alberg and his officers patiently assemble information the reader learns more about George and Carlyle. They become real persons. Both had come to British Columbia from Saskatchewan.

The tension is subtle but incredible. Will the RCMP be able to determine that George is the killer?

George maintains his life going to the library and working in his lush and beautiful garden. He responds to police inquiries. He thinks constantly about what he has done.

Wright has challenged the reader. Do I want Alberg to solve the case? I found myself in conflict. George committed murder but he is a good man. It has been a long time since an author created a killer I found as interesting as the deceased and the sleuth.

I found myself thinking about the characters of killer, deceased and police officer differently from most crime fiction. Wright’s approach is completely different from Michael Connelly with whom readers usually know little, if anything, of the killer until late in the book. Having the killer known from the first page brings readers into the heart and mind of George.

The book was comparable to the experience I have reading disclosure in a real life criminal case. I know what the accused has told me before I read what the police have done. In the disclosure I follow how the police investigation has unfolded and how they put the case together that has produced the charge against my client.

While I have never been to the Sunshine Coast the sense of the place is beautifully evoked by Wright. Barely touched by Canadian winters the area is a warm inviting part of our country.

It was no surprise at the end of the book to learn it had won an Edgar in 1986 for Best Novel. I will return to the Sunshine Coast to read more of Karl Alberg. (Mar. 31/12) (Possible Best of 2012)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New to Me Authors (January to Mach of 2012)

Kerrie Smith has a new meme at Mysteries in Paradise which welcomes posts of the best new mystery authors read between January 1 and March 31, 2012. Some contributors are posting all their new to them authors while others focus on the best. You can reach the meme by clicking here.

I had 5 new to me mystery authors in the first 3 months of 2012. The authors and the books I read from them are:

1.) Ernest Mallo author of Needle in aHaystack;

2.) Gary Disher author of The Dragon Man;

3.) Joseph T. Klempner author of FelonyMurder;

4.) Randy Wayne White author of Sanibel Flats; and,

5.) L.R. Wright author of The Suspect.

My top 3 of the quintet in the order I would rank them are:

1.) L. R. Wright;

2.) Ernest Mallo; and,

3.) Gary Disher.

There are a trio of ironies with my list.

First, each of the books is not set in the present day. Needle in a Haystack is in Argentina of the 1970’s. Felony Murder, Sanibel Flats and The Dragon Man are all in the 1990’s. Lastly, The Suspect takes place in 1984.

Second, none of the authors is new to publishing in 2011 or 2012. All are authors first published some years to a generation ago.

Third, I have not yet posted a review of The Suspect. I decided to have the list reflect when I read books rather than when I posted reviews. I will be posting my review of The Suspect on Good Friday. It is a wonderful Canadian mystery. I am alittle discouraged with myself that I had not read any of Wright’s books until this year. After reading The Suspect and looking at her website I discovered she had been born in Saskatchewan and spent part of her youth in Saskatoon.

Click over to Mysteries in Paradise. You will find interesting lists of “new to ------ authors”.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Exchange of emails with author Helmut Walser Smith on The Butcher's Tale

On Saturday I posted my review of The Butcher’s Tale. Tonight I am posting an exchange of email letters I had with the author, Professor Helmut Walser Smith that he agreed could be posted. For readers of the post who do not want detail about a non-fiction book and its conclusion it would be best not to read the letters.
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada

Dear Helmut,

My younger son, Michael, has been studying history and German at the University of Calgary. This winter he took a course in which he read The Butcher’s Tale. He recommended the book to me and gave me his copy before he left for Kassel earlier this month to complete the German portion of his double major.

After finishing a book I like to write a short personal review.
Here is my review:

Instead of repeating the review you can click on the link above.

I enjoy reading history and mysteries. It is great to have a book combining those interests.

During the day I am a lawyer with much of my practice involving litigation and have taken a look at the evidence in The Butcher’s Tale as a lawyer.

The evidence supporting the conclusion that Bernhard Masloff from the Jewish community was the killer seems weak and inconclusive to me.

I thought the evidence was strongest against the Butcher Hoffman.

If there was seduction involved I would see an 18 year old more likely to seduce another teenager than a married woman.

I did not see an explanation of where Masloff would have access to the knives and cleavers for cutting up Ernst Winter. Unless one knife did it all I find it hard to believe Masloff would have the necessary knives and cleavers. Did he have the full range of butcher’s tools? While forensic analysis of the time would be limited it should have been possible to determine whether multiple tools were used. In the end it would be more likely for a butcher to have everything necessary.

It would seem difficult for Masloff to conceal the blood and mess from carving up a body in his home. It would be far easier for a butcher to conceal the evidence.

Changing the analysis, in considering sexual liaisons, did the investigators consider a liaison between Ernst and a Jewish girl? In the book they seem to have only considered Ernst dallying with non-Jewish women.

If he corrupted a young Jewish woman it would certainly have been possible for a Jewish member of the community to have killed him for reasons that had nothing to with blood rituals.

I hope you find the time to explore other legal cases from a historian’s perspective. This mystery history was well done.

Best wishes.

Bill Selnes

Dear Mr. Selnes,

Thank you for sending along your kind review and comments about my book. I was also very intrigued by your observations as a lawyer. One reason I left the case open is of course that there was for Maslow, as you rightly point out, inconclusive evidence. This has partly to do with criminal investigations of the time. Less than 50% of the murder cases were ever solved. It also has to do with the very late date in which they took Masloff seriously as a suspect, so that had there been a mess in the cellar (and had the murder taken place there), roughly a year had already passed.

Yes--it was perhaps more likely for Winter to be with a teenager then a married woman, though in the social class to which Maslow belonged, these things happened. I don't have the book with me, and the material is now over six years old, but I think the age difference was not that far apart.

In the documents, there is no detailed information on which utensils were used. You are right to think that this should have been a major consideration. There was some suggestion however that the cuts were amateurish, though not clueless.

The anti-Semites tried to show that Winter was dallying with Jewish girls. But there was no evidence. Precisely because Jewish communities were so nervous about blood libel charges, the thought that they might retaliate if a Christian boy seduced one of their girls seems unbelievable. In fact, the Jewish community was extremely small compared to the Christian.

Finally, I actually suspect that neither Maslow nor Hoffmann killed Winter, but someone else. The dilettantish investigations made figuring this out impossible--at least for me.

Thanks again for your comments, best, helmut