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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten

26. – 658.) Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten (1998) – The first in the series is an impressive debut novel though it did lag abit at the end as I thought it did not need to extend to 371 pages.

D.I. Huss, closing in on 40, is an experienced police office in Göteborg, Sweden. She enjoys the loving support of her husband, Krister, and her twin 13 year old girls, Jenny and Katarina.

A dreary November day becomes dramatic when Richard von Knecht smashes into the pavement below his luxury apartment. Sylvia, his wife of 30 years, and his son, Henrik, almost witness the fall arriving in a car moments after Richard’s death. The police immediately form a large team to investigate the death of the wealthy and prominent von Knecht.

Having just turned 60 I reflected alittle more on the death of a victim who has just celebrated his 60th birthday.

A sense of the marriage of Richard and Sylvia comes from the oft used expression in the book that it has been the Thirty Years War.

The detectives are more than alittle awe struck as they search the almost antiseptic apartment featuring the combined smells of javex and cigars. Every likely spot for fingerprints has been wiped clean by the powerful cleaner.

Superintendent Andersson is in charge of an often fractious team. He keeps some order while fairly providing assignments to all the members of the team.

The relationships between the detectives felt real. It is an era when female detective inspectors are not yet common. Sexist remarks are frequent at the police station.

The investigation is painstaking. There are no highly dramatic discoveries. The detectives keep assembling evidence as they carefully sort through the lives of the von Knecht family.

While they are shocked by Henrik’s death it is hard to find a family member who actually mourns Richard’s passing. Henrik and Sylvia look forward to the millions of kroner that will flow their way.

There is a haunting episode where Huss interviews a young man dying of AIDS in a hospice. It evoked memories of my representation, starting in 1991, of hemophiliacs and blood transfused who were all infected with HIV. Most of my clients died of AIDS. Each one died hard.

I liked that Huss went home each night to an average family. Her girls are not perfect. Jenny impulsively becomes a skinhead dating a neo-Nazi and aspiring to play in a skinhead band.

I was intrigued and impressed by Huss being a judo champion. At the same time I found some of the references to judo expressions puzzling. The phrases in English did not always fit.

The nasty wet cold weather persists through the book. My older son, Jonathan, lived near Göteborg for a year. He recalled getting depressed when he did not see the sun for a month. I am going to see if agrees with Göteborg being nicknamed “Soaking-borg”.

It is not really a suspenseful mystery as the pool of suspects is so small but Tursten does a good job of building tension through the book. It is a very good police procedural which I enjoyed. Huss is a strong character about whom I want to learn more in further books. (May 13/12)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen

25. – 657.) Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen – The 13th Joanne Kilbourn is one of the best in the series. The opening of the book sees Joanne retiring as a political science professor at the University of Regina. It is a time of conflicted emotions. She is ready to retire but still filled with energy. Her immediate goal is to enjoy summer at the cottage just outside Regina.

Her paraplegic husband, Zack Shreeve, is still practicing law at a frantic pace. One of the firm’s clients is Leland Hunter, a real estate developer, who is engaged to the lovely Margot, a partner of Zack. Hunter has started work on a massive project in Regina to re-develop the warehouse district and the adjacent North Central neighbourhood. Both areas are across the tracks, figuratively and literally from downtown. (In real life the North Central area has become one of the most notorious neighbourhoods in Canada.) Leland’s ambitious plans have upset some of the area’s residents, especially the Indian gangs.

Joanne, a staunch believer in “left of centre” politics, has to work to hold her tongue as she and Zack meet for supper with Leland and Margot at the loft condos their hosts own in the warehouse district. It is intriguing to see how Joanne, still committed to progressive politics, is now living a life amidst the rich and the powerful free from the stress of financial limitations.

While Leland is thinking about community relations Joanne and Zack are shocked when they receive a call at the cottage that a bomb has exploded in the garage of their Regina home destroying the garage and severely damaging the house. Members of the Red Rage gang are suspected of the bombing.

Joanne, Zack and Taylor, Joanne’s adopted 14 year old daughter, move into Leland’s condo while he moves in with Margot.

It is a frightening and confusing time for Joanne as she tries to figure what has happened to her orderly life but she has little time for reflection as life events crowd her.

The book features two wonderful weddings.

Joanne’s longtime friends, Barry and Ed, marry in a lovely urban wedding. In a wonderful twist Joanne is their best man. Following tradition in a new era the grooms select her wedding dress, a far more fabulous dress than she would have chosen.

At their vows they recite to each other “The Bargain” by Sir Philip Sidney from the 16th Century:

            My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
            By just exchange one for another given;
            I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
            There never was a better bargain driven.
            My true love hath my heart, and I have his.
            His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
            My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides;
            He loves my heart for once it was his own,
            I cherish his because in me it bides;
            My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

In a wedding that tugged at my heart Margot weds Leland in her hometown of Wadena (just 140 km down the highway from me). It is a classic rural Saskatchewan wedding of which I have attended dozens in my life. It is a community event filled with the participation of friends and family. It reminded me of the rural Saskatchewan wedding Nelson Brunanski portrayed equally well in Burnt Out.

We are in a new age of professional women. Prior to the wedding Joanne attends a power women supper of Margot’s friends that, in decades past, would only have featured men.

Back in Regina, Leland is working to involve the neighbourhood in his project. There is a terrific phrase in the book. We have all become accustomed to the phrase “collateral damage” as a euphemism for the unintended rather than intended injuries, death and damage from a bomb. In Kaleidoscope I was introduced to “collateral good” being an unexpected good event resulting from a bad situation.

Joanne continues to enjoy, though with a mother’s hesitancy, Taylor maturing, reaching out for relationships with boys and getting ready to start high school.

At work Zack is in the midst of a very demanding murder trial.

With great skill Gail brings together the threads of Joanne’s family, marriage, friends and mystery. I enjoyed the mystery but I loved the continuing development of Joanne’s life. Gail has never let Joanne’s life be static. I look forward to each book’s joys and heartaches. (May 2/12)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"B" is for Gail Bowen

A profile of Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen, will be my entry at “B” in the meme, the Alphabet in Crime Fiction in 2012, hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I was glad Gail’s surname is early in the alphabet as it allows me to actually make this a week with Gail Bowen. I will be posting on Tuesday a review of her newest book, Kaleidoscope, in the Joanne Kilbourn series. I may be able to follow up with Q and A with Gail later in the week.

I obtained some basic biographical information off the Canadaka.net website:

Bowen, Gail (b. 1942). Born Gail Bartholomew in Toronto, she learned to read by age three from tombstones in Prospect Cemetery, a facility that was extremely useful when she was struck by polio two years later. She was educated at the University of Toronto (B.A.), University of Waterloo (M.A.), and the University of Saskatchewan, where she almost completed a Ph.D. After a series of extension-course teaching contracts in small-town locations across Saskatchewan and a ten-year sessional stint with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, University of Regina, she was granted tenure in the English department of the university in 1986.

She recently retired from teaching at what is now the First Nations University of Canada.

Last year Gail was writer in residence with the Calgary Public Library.

Her husband, Ted, is from Texas. He was also a university professor. They have 3 children (Hildy, Max, Nathaniel) and 2 grandchildren (Madeline and Alejandra).

What I can add to the official information is that Gail is a wonderful person to visit and with whom to share a meal. Conversation sparkles with Gail and Ted. They are interested, involved and ready to talk on any topic. If any reader has the chance to spend time with Gail I encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity. You will be stimulated and informed.

Gail has a unique home in Regina in that she has the only house in Saskatchewan that I know of that has a Cold War bomb shelter in the backyard. I was going to describe it as inaccessible but Gail advised me that Nathaniel has recently opened it up and pumped it out and shown it to some of the curious. It has been sealed up again.

Her backyard was also noteworthy on a visit Sharon and I had to her home for having mirrors hanging along the fence. It was an intriguing means of livening up the backyard.

You will not find Gail at an airport. She does not fly. When she needs to get to Eastern Canada to promote books or for other reasons she takes the train for that 2,500 km journey. She is currently on her way back from an author tour in Ontario.

I have read all of the Joanne Kilbourn series and reviewed most of them. You can find my reviews by clicking on Saskatchewan mysteries on the right hand side of the blog and going to the section on Gail.

All of the books in the series are based in Saskatchewan and feature elements of our lives in this province. Our geography, weather and people are all featured in her books.

I especially enjoy the development of Joanne’s family during the two decades of the series. Joanne has gone through raising her 3 children and is now involved in the lives of a stepdaughter and 2 granddaughters.

I can tell you in advance of the post that Kaleidoscope is an excellent addition to the series.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts on Q & A with Anthony Bidulka (Dos Equis)

Last week I posted my review of Anthony Bidulka’s new book, Dos Equis. Russell Quant split his time between Saskatoon and Mexico. On Wednesday I posted Q and A with Anthony. Tonight is a post with my thoughts on those Q and A.
I started by asking Anthony why there was no connection in the book with The Most Interesting Man in the World advertising character. As he pointed out not everyone knows The Most Interesting Man in the World. For readers who do not watch sports in the United States and Canada on T.V. The Most Interesting Man in the World is in ads for Dos Equis beer. He makes gentle mockery of the pretentious man of the world attitude. Wikipedia has a good article about the character who is played by Jonathan Goldsmith. To see him action you can check him out on a compendium of the ads on youtube.

I asked Anthony if he was considering a cookbook featuring Russell. In the books Russell savours his mother’s hearty Ukrainian cooking. Colourful Mary’s eclectic restaurant is a continuing meeting place for Russell. When he travels Russell seeks out the best local food available. In real life Anthony loves food just as much as Russell. I think Anthony could come up with a cookbook that would rival any in the world for variety. I know they would all be personally tasted.

On Russell spending little time discussing fees I understand Anthony’s rationale in giving Russell some money to avoid the situation too often in crime fiction where sleuths without incomes solve crimes for free. At the same time I think it is interesting to read about detectives working out fees for their services. Nero Wolfe was only motivated by money and Rex Stout created intriguing scenes where Wolfe demanded and received large sums to take on cases. I think Russell should require significant retainers from clients.

Anthony indicated he was not sure of my question when I asked if he would ever have Russell accompany a Saskatoon based gay mystery author to a mystery convention. Anthony wondered if I was asking if he would have someone pretend to be Russell and go with him to a convention. I understand his negative response. What I actually meant with the question was whether Anthony in one of Russell’s mysteries would create as part of the plot a trip where Russell went with a fictional Saskatoon based gay mystery author to a warm weather destination. Thus we would have Anthony able to portray himself as he would like himself to be as a fictional character. Anthony could even go so far as to arrange his own fictional death for Russell to solve.

On Anthony commenting that writing went faster once he created scenes for the ongoing characters but that the overall time for a book was about the same because he was looking for challenging scenes and new characters was a good explanation for why the series remains fresh to me. While the formula of a mix of locations between Saskatoon and some exotic locale continues from book to book the circumstances and people keep changing. Having Jane die in Dos Equis and J.P. come into the series is a good example.

Anthony said he had not realized that there were few children in the series. Most crime fiction does not involve children as meaningful characters. Gail Bowen, in the Joanne Kilbourn series, has always had children as significant characters. I think Russell could have an excellent adventure with a favourite niece joining him. Anthony has a niece I know in Melfort who might inspire him. Now Russell has a sister but she is far different from Anthony’s real life Melfort sister. With Russell reaching 40 I think the youthful exuberance of a niece would be nice.

If you did not follow Anthony’s amazing trip for his 50th birthday drop in on his blog and take a look.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Q and A with Anthony Bidulka (Dos Equis)

Last week I posted my review of Dos Equis, the 8th book in the Russell Quant series by Anthony Bidulka. Anthony, even though he is on vacation in southern France with his spouse, Herb, provided answers to some questions I sent him. Tonight's post features those Questions and Answers. On Friday I will post my thoughts on the Q and A. I appreciate Anthony's thoughtful responses to the questions. The Q and A are:

1.) I do not recall in the book reading any references to "The Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials for Dos Equis. If I am correct, what held you back from exploiting The Most Interesting Man?

Although many people are aware of The Most Interesting Man tie to Dos
Equis, many are not. It was not forefront in my mind either when I wrote or titled the book. It was more about the association of Dos Equis to Mexico and the other symbolism factors I mention in the opening acknowledgement section of the book.

2.) Have you considered publishing the Russell Quant cookbook? I believe there is a Nero Wolfe cookbook featuring the recipes favoured by Fritz. Perhaps you could start by confirming whether his mother Kay's sauce for her meatballs in red sauce contains more than a mix of heavy cream and ketchup.

This is a good thought, and I have seen it done before with crime novels. Another example is Patricia Cornwall - I think the book was called Scarpetta's Table - or something like that. To pursue this would be great fun. I think it would be a great way to spend time with my mom, getting her to help me with the recipes. I actually had used a few of her recipes in a manuscript I worked on a couple of years ago; one which I never ended up pursuing for publication. The challenge would be finding the time to do such a project as you suggest. But, who knows. May happen. I never say never.

3.) How much does Russell charge for his services? He is never short of money but he seems so casual about fees.

I was quite specific about this in the first book. But I laid off this aspect of his career in later books. I'm not exactly sure why, but it has always bothered me when a detective is scrambling for money or does a case for free when he/she has an empty bank account. (This seems to be a recurring event in this genre of books). I think my discomfort stems from the fact that if I like a character - which usually I do if I'm bothering to read about them - the practical/accountant side of my brain worries about them too much (instead of just enjoying the story). How will they pay rent? How will they feed the cat? What will happen to them when they retire? I wanted to remove those type of concerns from the Russell Quant books. I decided to keep that part of his life vague, other than to make small references to the fact that he has enough savings (likely from the death of his uncle - see Amuse Bouche) to be comfortable now and in the future. He can't afford not to work, but he isn't destitute either. If he wants a good bottle of wine or to repaint his office, he can do it. But most of the big ticket items, like his travels, are almost always paid by a client.

4.) With your love of travel and, being in demand for panels at mystery events, do you ever see Russell accompanying a well known gay Saskatoon author to a mystery convention, especially if it were in some warm weather destination?

Not sure I follow the question. Do you mean having someone pretending to be Russell attend a conference with me? If so, I'd have to say the answer is no. As real as Russell may be to me and to my readers, I think he belongs on the page and in our minds. Until, that is, he ends up on a TV or movie screen!

It has never failed to amaze me when someone tells me who they think Russell is, or what he looks like, or what kind of person he is. These descriptions are rarely similar or in agreement with my own perceptions of Russell. I think this is a wonderful thing. Russell can be many things to many people. He is relatable in ways I'm not even aware of. A doppleganger created by me, might ruin that.

5.) You mentioned at the book launch that Russell and the remaining cast of characters have become so vivid in your mind they take you to the next mystery. Has that meant the writing of current books in the series is taking less time than the earlier books?

I don't think they necessarily take less time. It would be a disservice to those characters to just let them take care of themselves. I still want to challenge them, and put them in situations - professionally or personally - which will stretch them as characters. I find it interesting to make my characters uncomfortable and watch how they strive to escape that discomfort. That makes for good story telling. I think where the time saving comes from is in how they react to these situations on the page. That part (of the writing process) does seem to come more naturally and smoothly now that they are such full and realized characters. I tend to use up that time saving however, by creating vivid new characters to interact with Russell and Errall and our other regular cast members.

6.) There have been few children in the series. Was that intended?

No. Actually I hadn't even realized that was the case until you mentioned it. I had at one point thought I wanted to introduce a young character who would be Russell's nephew or niece (via his little heard-about brother). But the pages have simply filled up too fast over the course of the books with other things. I did introduce Ethan's daughter a few books ago. But again, she was only going to be a regular character if the relationship between Russell and Ethan was successful. It was not. But I didn't know that until later! I don't know at this moment whether or not children (youth) will be a part of the series or not. Russell life story is far from over.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"A" is for Rennie Airth

The 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme has started at Kerrie Smith’s blog, Mysteries in Paradise. Last year I joined the meme some letters into the alphabet. For 2012 I join 17 other participants in the meme at “A”. My goal is to go through the alphabet providing profiles of authors I have read during the past 13 years.
To start the alphabet, “A” is for Rennie Airth, a South African born author, who gained immediate fame in 1999 for publishing River of Darkness, the first in the John Madden trilogy.

Airth was born in South Africa in 1935 and educated there. He currently resides in Cortona, Italy.

Airth was a journalist working for the Johannesburg Star and then Reuters. For the latter he was a foreign correspondent stationed in such places as Havana, Washington and Saigon.

Prior to turning to the Madden books he wrote Snatch in 1969 and Once a Spy in 1981.

In the Mystery Readers Journal on London Mysteries II from 2011 Airth contributed an article A Profile in History. It is an excellent article. He explains the origins of Madden:

The idea of embarking on the Madden series came some years ago from an idle thought: how would the police have dealt with the problem posed by serial killers before they were recognized as such—before the very concept of forensic psychology had been developed? By chance, at around the same time I happened to be going through some old family albums and came across a scrapbook kept by my paternal grand-parents in memory of their elder son who was killed in the First World War. Paging through it I discovered something I hadn't known before: that the telegram they had received advising them of his death had arrived the same week as another from the War Office informing them that their second son, my father, who like his brother was an officer in the British army, was missing. Luckily he proved to have been captured, but I was struck by how appalling these twin blows must have been to them at the time and from that point on I began to read more about that terrible conflict and the scars it left on society. These two trains of thought came together and eventually led to the first of the Madden books, River of Darkness, in which the psychological damage inflicted on both protagonists, hunter and hunted, by their experiences in the trenches plays a major part in the story.

About Madden’s character he states:

Madden is one of the few to understand the dire message of the carnage inflicted in the trenches. That now we truly know ourselves and the world will never be the same.

River of Darkness was nominated for the Edgar Award in the US, the Historical Dagger award in Britain and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France.

I read River of Darkness in 2000. My note of that time describes it as “a 1921 English mystery featuring traumatized war veteran, Inspector Madden, pursuing a murderous rural psychopath”. I was powerfully moved by the book. It was my favourite work of fiction that year becoming the first fiction winner of my annual “Bill’s Best of -----“.

I read the second in the trilogy, The Blood Dimmed Tide, in 2004. It is set during the Depression 11 years after River of Darkness. Madden is again in pursuit of a psychopathic killer. I was not as excited about the book. My conclusion was “Good. Alittle disappointing as the opening novel was great.”

I have not read the third book The Dead of Winter.

Out of the series of post World War I mysteries I have read (the Madden books, Ian Rutledge in the Charles Todd series, Bess Crawford in another Charles Todd series and Maisie Dobbs in the Jacqueline Winspear series) I consider River of Darkness the best. It is a remarkable book.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Are Rural Mystery Series more Unique than Urban Mysteries?

My thought for this post was inspired by a post, Calling Out Around the World, of Margot Kinberg at her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. She wrote about how crime fiction can be used to teach students about the culture of lands and peoples. As an example she drew on the Donna Leon’s series and Andrea Camilleri’s series, both from Italy, which demonstrate how Italian people approach food and dining.
I posted a comment which referred to three series which I consider so closely connected with their location that they could not have been set anywhere else in the world. They are:

1.) The Nathan Active mysteries of Stan Jones set on the northwest coast of Alaska;

2.) The Walt Longmire series of Craig Johnson set in Wyoming; and,

3.) The Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte mysteries of Arthur Upfield set in Australia.

A common element of each series is that it takes place in a rural area.

It has led me to think that it is more common, easier seems inappropriate, for a mystery series to be a full part of its setting if it takes place outside a big city.

Each of the above series has a physical location that is very much a part of each series. Nathan Active is stationed in a village where life is still dependent on the resources of the land of that region. Walt Longmire is sheriff of a rugged county on the edge of the mountains. Bony goes to different communities and locations far from urban Australia with the countryside being an important part of each book.

Each of the books draws heavily of the lives of the people who live at those locations for the mysteries.

For comparison I have picked three examples of prominent sleuths whose mysteries are set in big cities:

1.) The Sherlock Holmes mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle;

            2.) The Nero Wolfe mysteries of Rex Stout; and,

            3.) The Harry Bosch novels of Michael Connelly.

Sherlock Holmes is automatically identified with London. Undoubtedly the mysteries draw on London locations and London residents but I suggest Doyle could have placed Holmes in Oxford or Edinburgh and the mysteries would have been equally effective in the different cities.

Nero Wolfe is always remembered for residing in his Brownstone on West 35th Street in New York City. The persons who came to see him were representative New Yorkers but I think he could just as well have resided in a home in Chicago or St. Louis and had the same people coming to his home to resolve mysteries.

Harry Bosch lives in a house perched over a Los Angeles canyon and has spent the last 20 years of his fictional life, but for a brief retirement, working for the LAPD. As I think about the series I believe he could live on the hills of San Francisco and be a member of the SFPD and solve the same crimes.

I think big cities as bigger communities make it harder for a series to be as close to the community unless it is placed within a group or area of the big city.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dos Equis by Anthony Bidulka

23. – 655.) Dos Equis by Anthony Bidulka – Russell Quant has spent a long year away from Saskatoon plagued by regrets over the ending of his last case and in sorrow over the end of a relationship because of his career. The usually chipper sleuth has been very depressed. With the passage of time he has reconciled himself to his losses and is now ready to return home.

Russell provides a poignant reflection:

"It’s been said gay people experience a retarded adolescence. We’re too busy fighting doubt, fearing revelation, hiding who we are, to deal with the all other “regular” stuff adolescence throws our way. We have to do that later. Maybe this past year had been my time. My adolescence.”

In Zihuatanejo, Mexico, his favourite destination in Mexico, he is startled by a phone call from his old antagonist, Jane Cross, the Regina private detective. She is asking for his help. On his way back to Saskatoon he stops to see her in Regina but is stunned when he finds her dead on the floor of her office.

He has no time to deal with the shock for he is attacked in her office. His assailant escapes but not before leaving a clue unlikely to be detected by a straight male detective. Russell smells the distinctive notes of Tom Ford cologne. While upset over the attack Russell is impressed by his foe’s taste in male fragrance.

Back in Saskatoon Russell is greeted eagerly by friends glad to see him return. Only his first dog, Barbra, is aloof. She is not happy he has been away a year.

Russell is determined to help find the killer of Jane. After all, the network of Saskatchewan private detectives, especially gay and lesbian, is tiny.

Searching out the people involved in Jane’s last files takes him out of Saskatoon to the village of Muenster. It is a place I know well having graduated from St. Peter’s College at the Benedictine abbey adjacent to Muenster. I keep hoping Russell will return to his rural routes for a future adventure based in the country.

At Muenster he speaks to a couple of ladies about Jane discussing her investigation into the death of an elderly and wealthy female neighbour.

The mystery features a winter death well suited to Saskatchewan.

A new man, J.P. Taine, enters Russell’s life in an unconventional way and Russell is swiftly smitten. They work together on the investigation.

J.P. and Russell find a document that refers to an ending fee with for an elderly woman. It is a creepy but very clever euphemism for a contracted murder. Anthony, the former accountant, noted that it was a deduction on an income statement.

As they struggle through computer searches J.P. suggests a Saskatchewan winter evening walk to clear their minds. Russell hesitates:

“Are you crazy? It is almost ten at night. Not to mention that with the wind chill it’s probably minus forty. And, in case you havcn’t noticed, it’s snowing like mad out there.”

They go for the walk.

Ultimately Russell, his friends and his family all head south to Zihuatanejo to solve the mystery and enjoy some time away from the brutal Saskatchewan winter. Anthony’s descriptions of Zihuatanejo have me ready to jump on the next flight. It would have been even harder to resist going had I been reading the book in January.

Anthony’s colourful witty language is best on display with regard to his 70 year old mother, Kay, taking the first airplane flight of her life with his friends, Anthony and Jarod. I described the passage in my post on the book launch.

The characters are better than ever. Anthony has created a vibrant community of friends and relatives for Russell in Saskatchewan.

The mystery itself gave me some problems. The concept was not as credible as I would have liked. It is hard to say more without compromising the story.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I find myself sailing through Anthony’s books eager to learn what is going to happen next in Russell’s busy life. (May 6/12)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

National Crime Writing Month in Canada

May is National Crime Writing Month in Canada as proclaimed by the Crime Writers of Canada.

Events are taking place at libraries and bookstores across Canada.

David Russell has talking about and signing copies of his new book in several communities around British Columbia.

Owen Laukkanen is at the Drumheller Library and other places talking about his first book, The Professionals, which is a thriller.

I found interesting that a pair of brother authors I have read are appearing at a bookstore in the small Ontario town of Fergus on Thursday of this week. The promotion says:

Robert Rotenberg will join his brother and fellow thriller
author David Rotenberg at Reflections Bookstore in Fergus to
meet with fans and discuss the art of crime writing.

And then there is this year’s FICTIONista tour which has made its way across Canada.

They have a very interesting blog / website.

They describe their program as:

FICTIONistas is a unique reading series conceived in 2006 under the leadership of Coteau Books. It’s a collaborative project among independent publishers to bring together Canadian women writers for events with a difference.

The FICTIONistas describe their events:

Each event has four authors, usually hosted by a FICTIONista alumna, with Q&A and discussions this year, led by Book Clubs in the Adopt-a-FICTIONista program!

Alison Preston was part of the group crossing the country. She was talking about her new mystery, The Girl in the Wall.

For the online community the CWC have created the National Crime Writers Blog which goes year round. This month Canadian mystery authors are putting up posts on why they turned to crime.

Who could have guessed that Anthony Bidulka was inspired to write about crime while a teenager in rural Saskatchewan because of his love for the original Charlie’s Angels T.V. series.

The CWC has partnered with our national public broadcasting system, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At the Canada Writes website there are several activities taking place. One of the most interesting is a crime fiction master class with Louise Penny. In a recent post she discussed the creation of Armand Gamache. She starts:  

      It was a mistake. I'd initially wanted Clara and Peter Morrow to
      be the main characters. An updating of the Thin Man series.  
      It would be a series of  books featuring these amateur 
      detectives, who'd have the help of a Surete du Quebec homicide
      detective, Chief Inspector Gamache.

And thus a great series is born with an unplanned lead sleuth.
The month ends with the Bloody Words Conference in Toronto

Why not make an online trip this spring to Canada and visit some Canadian crime writers!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse

22. – 654.) Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse – In my previous post, a review of The Decision, I discussed the fight to prevent G. Harrold Carswell from being appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Becoming Justice Blackmun is a biography of the man, Harry Blackmun, who was nominated after Carswell’s rejection.

Justice Blackmun grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Throughout his life he wrote about himself. From the age of 10 until he was 27 he wrote daily in a diary. He also typed out hundreds of pages on his life. When he was on the Supreme Court he listed events he attended and made a chronology of significant events. He made an order of his life. I think he would have been a blogger if he were living today posting daily stories about his life.

One of his best friends was Warren Burger. They grew up 6 blocks away. It is amazing that these two boys from Minnesota ended up serving together as Justices on the Supreme Court. While previously aware they were friends I had not realized the close bond between them before they were on the Court. There were constant letters over decades in which each of them candidly expressed their deepest feelings.

When Blackmun won a scholarship to Harvard he had never been east of Chicago. In an era when flight around the world is routine it is hard to think there was a time 90 years ago when many people had not even travelled in their own country.

When Blackmun started his legal career in the midst of the Depression he actually supported his parents as his father was struggling to find work.

I think it would be doubtful he would be chosen today for the Federal Court of Appeal. As a lawyer for the Mayo Clinic his primary work was not litigation.

When he was nominated for the Supreme Court as Nixon’s 3rd choice he won swift approval. There were no obvious defects in his personality or his past or his ethics. He spent but a few hours before a Senate committee and won unanimous approval from a Senate eager to avoid another confirmation battle.

He was expected to a solid Mid-American conservative who would support Burger’s efforts as Chief Justice to move the liberal minded Court of Earl Warren to the right.

To Burger’s dismay and, ultimately at the cost of their friendship, Blackmun proved far more independent in thought and gradually became recognized as a liberal member of the Court.

He will always be remembered for being the author of the majority decision in Roe v. Wade, the most famous decision by the Court of the last 40 years. In that case Blackmun effectively created the right for women to have abortions in America.

While the decision has become personalized as Blackmun’s decision I had forgotten that he was writing for a 7-2 majority. Even noted conservative justices such as Burger supported the decision.

When he wrote the decision Blackmun was actually thinking little of a “right to abortion” for women. It was more about the doctors. He wrote:

“The decision vindicates the right of physicians to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention. Up to those points, the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.”

In subsequent decisions defending the original decision he gradually came to support a woman’s right to abortion based upon the right of privacy.

His turn to the liberal side of the Court was confirmed in the Callins decision in which he decided he would vote against the death penalty being imposed in any circumstance. In one of the most famous comments (drafted by one of his clerks which he acknowledged) of an American Supreme Court justice he said:

            “From this day forward, I will no longer tinker  
            with the machinery of death.”

He could accept the concept of the death penalty. At its core his opposition to its imposition was based on his conviction there was no way to both properly word it in a statute and administer it justly.

By the time he retired after 24 years on the Court he had moved from being a solid conservative to a strongly liberal member of the Court.

He was a quiet humble man. Until security required a change he drove a blue Volkswagon Beetle to the Court each day.

Greenhouse, a long time reporter for The New York Times, covering the Supreme Court has written a very readable biography of an unlikely liberal icon. (Apr. 30/12)