About Me

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

And You Think Your TBR Pile is Big!

From the Humboldt Journal

For the past few years a Saskatchewan resident, Shaunna Raycraft, has been dealing with a TBR pile of 350,000 books!

Seven years ago Shaunna and her husband heard that the widow of a recently deceased neighbour, Keith McCoy, was having difficulty coping with her husband’s book collection. When they visited her they found a 3 storey home filled with books from floor to ceiling. The widow was considering burning the books. Loving books Shaunna and her husband did not want to see them destroyed.

I spoke to Shaunna today. She said her neighbour had started building the collection by buying books conventionally. He went on to buy extensive numbers of books through library sales and the Saskatoon Symphony book sales. He would also buy collections at Saskatchewan farm and home auctions. He just kept adding to his collection.

I thought about assembling a 350,000 book collection. If he was buying over 50 years it is still 7,000 books a year or almost 20 books every day for over 13,000 days!

Included in the books are a lot of religious books, a considerable amount of fiction, many children books and tons of baseball books.

Pooling their savings at that time they offered her $823 and purchased the collection.

Where to store tonnes and tonnes of books? They ended up purchasing a house and moving it to their acreage and filling it with the books. Last year the weight of the books started collapsing the house and causing roof leaks. While they dealt with the structural problems it was time to dispose of the books.

She sought volunteers and over the summer of 2011 about 70 people helped her sort books. She was able to give away about 100,000 books to non-profit organizations such as the Northern Literacy Program of North Woods College.

Unfortunately, her marriage has failed and it is time to deal with the remaining 250,000 books. Shaunna turned down a couple of commercial offers for the books not wanting to see them sold for profit.

Shaunna has decided on a grand week long book sort this coming week. She has invited volunteers to join her during the week. She told me in addition to Saskatchewan residents there are people coming from Vancouver, Toronto and the U.S.

She will be donating as many books as she can to Saskatchewan organizations such as the Gabriel Dumont Institute, a Metis group, and Saskatchewan cadets.

Through connections with a priest thousands of books will be going to schools and monasteries in Africa.

Whatever books are not dealt with this week she will regretfully burn. She says there has been a lot of interest so she hopes there will not be many books left at the end of the week.

Shaunna urged me to come to visit her. She said there are mystery books I could take home. I said I would try to find the time to travel the 250 km to Pike Lake. I am tempted.

If you have some spare time and want to see 250,000 books being dealt with and participate in the sort you can get in your car or on the next plane to Saskatchewan. You can find out more about Shaunna’s plans this week by going to the Raycraft Book Collection Group on Facebook.

And I thought I had major TBR piles on my desk and a few neighbouring book shelves. My total TBR are barely worth mentioning next to Shaunna.

(With barely a million people in Saskatchewan there are inevitably connections. It turns out that Shaunna’s mother and my sister and my wife were friends in high school at St. Ursula’s Academy in Bruno.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

When Corruption was King by Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin

5. - 468.) When Corruption was King by Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin – Bob “the Mechanic” (because he could fix anything) Cooley is an excellent storyteller but his legal career and the Chicago judicial system of the 1960’s (probably earlier) to 1990’s was appalling. He was a willing participant, both as a police officer and a lawyer, in the casual pervasive corruption of Chicago’s courts. While describing himself as a saint and a sinner in his youth there were precious few examples of sainthood. His vices and scrapes with authority make it doubtful he would be able to become a lawyer today. He was a talented trial lawyer with a flair for courtroom dramatics (48 and 2 record in jury trials). How many were honestly won is not stated. I was stunned by the ease with which judgments were purchased. In almost 34 years as a lawyer in Saskatchewan I have never even dreamed there was a corrupt judge in the province. Immersed in a gambling lifestyle (actual a successful gambler) with a host of mob friends Cooley impulsively decided to become a federal informant. The pivotal reason seems to be as an act of atonement to his deceased father, a scrupulously honest Chicago police officer. The wired Cooley ultimately devastated the Chicago mob (“the Outfit”) and destroyed the First Ward political/mob machine and brought about desperately needed reforms in the court system. Several senior judges were convicted. Despite a $1,000,000 bounty and not being in the federal witness protection program (he preferred his wits to moves orchestrated by the FBI) he remains alive. Cooley was scathing in his assessment of fellow mob lawyer, Ed Genson. He described him as sloppy, ill-prepared, belligerent and incompetent at cross-examination. At times I thought part of the criticism was personal spleen. Still, while never stated, you have to think about Genson’s role in the system after hearing about Cooley’s role. After reading the book it is easier to understand criticism of Genson’s defence of Conrad Black. With Governor, Rod Blagojevich, facing impeachment over trying to sell the senate seat of President Barrack Obama in 2008 I wonder about the current Chicago judicial system. (Jan. 21/09) (Tied for third most interesting of 2009) Since writing the review Blagojevich has been convicted of corruption joining a long list of convicted Illinois politicians.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

30. – 662.) The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe – The second Hazel Micallef mystery opens with Hazel flat on her back in bed in the home of her ex-husband, Andrew, and his new wife, Glynnis. Any reader thinking it reflects some kinky relationship will be disappointed. She is recovering from back surgery and her home was unsuitable for recuperation. Her mother, the feisty Emily, has moved with her to provide not so tender nursing care.

Hazel is a poor patient. She dearly wants out of Andrew’s home. She is bored of looking at the walls. She is starting to like too much the little white Percocet pills. Time is passing too slowly in a house filled with clocks.

Officer James Wingate drops by occasionally to update her on the Port Dundas OPS detachment and seek some guidance on files. Hazel remains in charge of the detachment while on sick leave.

It is the start of summer in cottage country and the local paper, The Westmuir Record, is running its traditional work of summer fiction in several installments. It is a creepy story of a pair of fishermen hooking a body in the lake.

Her return to the office is accelerated when a pair of tourists hook and then lose a body in a local lake. When the police return they find the body but it is a headless mannequin. It has been weighted down to lie on the bottom of the lake.

Hazel and other officers are puzzled by anyone going to that much effort with a mannequin. It is equally a mystery why the story in the paper and the incident mirror each other.

As Wingate looks into the mannequin he finds it has been subtly altered. When the police figure out what has happened they are led into a bizarre spooky scheme.

As they solve one puzzle another one is set before them. Hazel is very frustrated as the police are manipulated. I was reminded of Lincoln Rhyme mysteries of Jeffery Deaver where Lincoln is often trying to unravel mysteries of manipulation.

During the investigation Hazel must travel the two hours to Toronto to get information. Toronto City Police are barely civil to the visitors from the country.

At home Hazel is not looking forward to her 62nd birthday. Between growing older, getting divorced, having major health problems and a troubled grown up daughter she has many personal issues. Mainly she is lonely. The book does have a birthday present for Hazel I will long remember.

Hazel does not direct the investigation but is fully involved. At one point there is a fight. It has been a long while in the crime fiction world since I can remember reading about a woman in her 60’s mixing it up physically.

Wolfe has some finely written passages. Wingate responds to Hazel’s question on how he, her temporary replacement, is being treated:

            “They resent me with a smile.”

I thought the book was long in the middle. As the conclusion nears the pace becomes far more compelling.

Hazel remains an intriguing and inviting character. I acknowledge a bias towards liking a sleuth within a couple of years of my own age.

I appreciated that the book is far different from The Calling where she dealt with one of the most unusual serial killers in crime fiction.

The 3rd book in the series, A Door in the River, is due to be published this summer. I will be interested to see if Hazel remains a member of the OPS. She is of an age that police forces do not favour for serving officers. In The Taken she is referred to as a dinosaur.

Next week I will be writing about the effect upon me of reading a book by Wolfe who has remained a pseudonym while knowing the identity of Alix Bosco, a former pseudonym while reading Slaughter Falls. (June 16/12)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"F" is for Zoë Ferraris

This week the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise reaches the letter “F”. I am doing a profile of the American author, Zoë Ferraris.

Zoë was born in Oklahoma. Her father was in the American military. On her website she speaks of growing up in the Presido, the former American military base in San Franscisco, and currently resides there. Sharon and I had a walking tour of the Presido a few years ago. It is a fascinating lovely area.

At 19 she met a Saudi-Palestinian Bedouin studying English in America. They married and had a daughter. After the birth of their daughter in 1991 they went for a short visit to his family in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and stayed for almost a year. In a very interesting interview at the BookBrowse website she said:

You have to stay until his mother stops having heart episodes every time you go to the airport

While there she was a keen observer of life in Saudi Arabia.

After returning home to the United States the marriage ended. Zoë and her daughter stayed in America. Her former husband returned to Saudi Arabia and married a woman found for him by his mother.

She has written 3 books set in Saudi Arabia.

I read the first book, Finding Nouf, and liked the book. I thought it provided a vivid picture of life in the Kingdom. Parts of the book would challenge traditional roles for Saudi women. I wondered about official reaction to the book. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, she said there has been no official reaction.

In the BookBrowse interview she described a confrontation with the religious police while she lived in Saudi Arabia:

Women weren't allowed to leave the house alone. If you did, you'd get chased around by the religious police, maybe smacked with a camel whip. One guy went after me with his shoe. When I caught the shoe and ran in the house, he stood at the window and asked for it back.

She had an interesting comment on the burqa in the Haaretz interview:

That's a broad question. My sense is that most Muslim women are on the fence, honestly, about the burka. It's part of their cultural and religious identity, and there's something galling about having someone tell you not to [wear] it. On the other hand, wearing a burka is annoying, it's not natural, so one can easily think, let's get rid of it. Among the women that I know, most are ambivalent, and I'm inclined to agree with those mixed feelings. I wouldn't wear it in America, but I do wear one when I'm in the Middle East. I'm glad that it's become an issue of debate, as it has opened up a discussion worldwide. But suddenly a bunch of women who might not have been asking questions will decide, yes, I will do it.

There are plenty of Muslim countries where plenty of women don't cover themselves. I meet Muslims who are newly arrived in America, and they say that U.S. Muslims are especially radicalized. There's a real polemic about it here, with people insisting on it as a matter of identity. Many women get pushed into a corner to cover their heads.

She is currently working on a YA adult book, Memory of Seas.

As set out above I enjoyed Finding Nouf and expect to read more of the series. In my review of Finding Nouf I found it a thoughtful mystery especially in the way Z tested the attitudes towards women of her sleuth, Nayir ash-Sharqi, when he actually spent time working with Katya Hijazi, a woman who was not at home, but a lab technician in the coroner’s office.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Crime Fiction Sleuths do not Watch T.V

I have been noticing how sleuths do not watch television in crime fiction. I have been noting for a couple of months what sleuths do in their spare time. It is remarkable how different sleuths are from the vast majority of people as they do not watch television.

In the early 1990’s in Black Echo the author, Michael Connelly, has Harry Bosch, living in Los Angeles, listen to music, especially jazz, and drink heavily. Twenty years later he drinks less now that Maddie is in his life.

The next sleuth was Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg of the RCMP in Sechelt, British Columbia living on the Sunshine Coast in 1984. He has a small house. In The Suspect by L.R. Wright he gets a library card to help fill his spare time.

Travis McGee, created by John D. MacDonald, lives on his houseboat, The Busted Flush, in Fort Lauderdale in the mid-1960’s. He enjoys listening to jazz musicians such as Dave Brubeck playing Cole Porter and playing chess with his friend Meyer.

Guido Guerrieri, an Italian lawyer, in the series written by Gianrico Carofiglio spends quiet evenings at home. He does use the T.V. Mainly he rents movies to watch as, in his words, “the local stations had taken to showing hard porn again”.

Paul Christopher in Secret Lovers from the spy series by Charles McCarry back in the 1960’s seems to spend all his free time in fine restaurants but never before the television.

In Stray Bullets by Robert Rotenberg the lawyers are either too busy working (defence counsel Nancy Parrish) or partying (Crown attorney Ralphie Armitage). The police led by detective Ari Greene, equally have no interest in television.

Russell Quant in Dos Equis by Anthony Bidulka will curl up in bed to watch videos, especially the original Charlie’s Angels, with his dogs but he did not watch a current T.V. series.

The Holy Thief by William Ryan takes place in the 1930’s before there was television. In his new shared apartment Detective Korolev does not appear to have access to a radio. I do wonder how many Russians of that era had any chance of listening to the radio for entertainment.
Joanne Kilbourn-Shreeve and her husband Zack Shreeve in Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen certainly watch the news as Joanne has been involved with Nation News but they do not sit in the living room watching sitcoms or dramas.

Helene Tursten’s sleuth Detective Inspector Irene Huss in Detective Inspector Huss has an average family with her husband, Christer, and their teenage daughters, Jenny and Katarina. While they spend time together it is not in front of the T.V. in Goteborg.

I will be back with another post on the subject of sleuths and T.V. after another 10 books.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“E” is for Jill Edmondson

As we reach the 5th letter of the alphabet in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise I am remaining in Canada for another week with “E” is for Jill Edmondson.

Her academic credentials include a B.A. in History from York University and an M.A. in Integrated Studies from the University of Athabaska in Alberta.

Jill has had varied work experiences including pharmaceutical R&D, advertising, and bartending.

She is currently teaching in Toronto.

What has made Jill special to me is her sparkling personality. A good example comes from her blog below where she takes a short bio of herself at Iguana books (plain) and adds her personal comments (bold italics):

Edmondson is the author of the Sasha Jackson mystery series. There’s a thin line between Jill and her sleuth Sasha, although Jill has never worked at a phone sex hotline (I'm pretty sure my uncle Doug believes I worked my way through college at a smut line!), and Sasha isn’t a language geek. (For fun, I read books about language (English or Yiddish usually), language history and evolution, word origins, and about grammar.) By day, Jill is a post-secondary communications professor and ESL assessor (that means I evaluate non-native English speakers in their ability to use/write/comprehend English).

When she’s not writing whodunits or busting people for improperly using semi-colons (just skip them all together if you don't know what a subordinate clause is), Jill enjoys bumming around any country where they speak a Latin-based language. (I went to Italy this summer and - surprisingly - spoke French most of the time).

She is amongst the most candid people I know. I have never had a dull exchange of emails with Jill. Ask a question, any question, and be prepared for an uninhibited answer.

I have never had an author provide me an anecdote to rival the condom covered cucumber she received as a tip while working as a real life bartender. I remain confident the story will appear in a Sasha Jackson mystery.

I have had two excellent Q and A with Jill. The first was after reading her first two books. The second followed her third book. You can find my reviews, Q and A and Thoughts on Q and A on the blog under the Rest of Canada.

One of the events in her life that led her to writing mysteries was serving as a judge for the Arthur Ellis Awards. She said she read 57 mysteries in 4 months and called it “like a boot camp for how to write a good crime novel” in the University of Athabaska’s newsletter for the Master of Arts – Integrated Studies.

Even when writing academically Jill is engaging. (I have not often found reading academic articles as entertaining as Jill.) She has posted her essay From Spenser to Yeats: Jane Yeats, That Is or Feminism's Version of the Hard-boiled Sleuth is on the Wagon and Rides a Harley Essay on the Thrilling Detective website. Here is a link to the essay.

She starts the essay with a flourish:

Start with one serving of fingertips severed during a rather unfortunate version of Miller time.

Blend in a blinding hangover buttressed by a British beer.

Add the roar of a Harley drowning out the raspy hacking of a heavy smoker. Simmer until cynical, edgy and acerbic.

Then garnish with a loaded gun, an attitude and a leather-jacketed protagonist.

Voilà! That's the recipe for the archetypal hard-boiled detective, except in this case the hard-boiled sleuth wears a bra and answers to the name Jane Yeats.

What first drew me to her series was her character, Sasha Jackson. She is a memorable private detective walking the streets of Toronto. She is irreverent in the manner of Elvis Cole. She swears with the best hard boiled detectives in fiction. She is witty, if sometimes too sarcastic. She has the good sense to have chosen a lawyer as her lover.

While I enjoyed the book I was less excited about the plot of the first book, Bride and Groom. I have found Edmondson continually improving her mysteries in Dead Light District and The Lies Have It. I am looking forward to the fourth in the series.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Before the Frost by Henning Mankell

6. - 469.) Before the Frost by Henning Mankell – The first and apparently last Kurt and Linda Wallender novel is a great mystery. It opens with a survivor’s recounting of the Jonestown, Guyana massacre of 1978. It continues 23 years later in August of 2001 with Linda returning to Ystaad after completing her training as a police officer. (I was immediately struck that Jonathan began living in Sweden in August of 2001.) As with several in the series an unknown character commits a horrorific inexplicable crime. This time a group of swans are set afire. Further ritualistic killings of animals take place. One of Linda’s high school friends, Anna, disappears after claiming to have seen her father who had deserted Anna and her mother over 24 years ago. Linda, putting in slow time, while she waits to start her police career tries to determine what has happened to Anna. Gradually Linda is drawn into the investigation with her father. The connections with Jonestown remain hidden to them. While waiting for her apartment she is living with him. Their complex relationship adds tremendous personality to the mystery. In most previous books Kurt had almost no personal life. He is far more human in this book. They have a real parent-child relationship. As usual Mankell skillfully builds the tension as the disparate threads of the investigation ever so slowly come together and then suddenly accelerate to a dramatic conclusion. As in Firewall a conspiracy is made very plausible. The last 100 pages raced by. He is a great author. (Jan. 27/09) (Tied for Fourth Best fiction of 2009)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – Rebecka Martinsson is grinding away day and night as a tax lawyer in Stockholm for the law firm of Meijer & Ditzinger when she gets a call from childhood friend, Sanna Strandgard, about the death of Sanna’s brother, Viktor. Sanna found the body and the police are going to question her and she is in shock and feeling overwhelmed. Rebecka says she will come north.

Rebecka returns reluctantly to her hometown of Kiruna in far northern Sweden as distant culturally as it is physically from Stockholm.

Viktor, known as Paradise Boy after a near death experience, had inspired a spiritual revival of the Free Churches of Kiruna. Physically beautiful he had devoted his life to God. People from all over Sweden came north to talk and pray with him. When he is found brutally murdered and mutilated in the beautiful new Crystal Church there is intense public interest in the murder.

Sanna’s explanation that she awoke in the middle of the night, felt something wrong and had gone to the Church at in the morning with her daughters where she found Viktor is sceptically viewed by the police.

One of the lead police officers is Inspector Anna-Maria Mella, nine months pregnant and very ready to deliver her fourth child. I do not believe I have read crime fiction where a police officer was investigating crime so late in a pregnancy. I thought of Frances McDormand being a very pregnant Sheriff in the movie, Fargo. With both book and movie set in the middle of winter my image of Anna-Maria is the movie image of McDormand.

Sanna is a loving, if mentally uncertain, mother of Lova and Sara. The young girls fit well into the story.

Back at the Church the three co-pastors are building a wall of secrecy around the Church. The investigators find it difficult to get information on the members of the church and their relationships with Viktor.

One of the reasons the book works well is that Larsson, as recommended by P.D. James in Talking About Detective Fiction, has created a powerful victim. A reader wants to know why the charismatic Viktor was killed.

Rebecka, obviously tightly wound and organized, is very frustrated with Sanna’s vague attitude toward life.

In the investigation Rebecka draws on her knowledge of Swedish tax law to develop her theory on why Viktor died. I thought of V.I. Warshawski more than Kinsey Milhone in the use of financial information by Rebecka.

There is no courtroom legal mystery. Rebecka barely appears in court for Sanna. I will sill count it as a legal mystery as Rebecka makes good use of her firm connections and knowledge of the law to help solve the murder.

I expect I will venture back to Sweden for further mysteries involving Rebecka. (May 25/12)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Completion of the 5th Canadian Book Challenge

The Canadian Book Challenge was my only Reading Challenge in the past year. Hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog it goes each year from July 1 to June 30 of the following year. John selected July 1 for the start of the challenge as it is Canada Day. In the challenge readers are to read 13 books written by Canadians over the 12 months. With 2 weeks to go in the Challenge I have completed the challenge and will finish the year having read 15 books by Canadians.
Back in March I put up a post updating the challenge. At that time I had read 9 books.

The books read to that date were:

1.) An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy;

2.) Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen;

3.) A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny;

4.) The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns;

5.) Snow Job by William Deverell;

6.) Burnt Out by Nelson Brunanski;

7.) The Placebo Effect by David Rotenberg;

8.) The Lies have It by Jill Edmondson; and,

9.) I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell.

Since March I have read:

10.) Bush Dweller (Essays in Memory of Father James Gray O.S.B. edited by Don Ward) – The only non-fiction book in the year was this collection of essays in memory of a Saskatchewan Benedictine monk, Father James, who taught me first year university English and lived as a solitary on the grounds of his monastery, St. Peter’s Abbey for 30 years while establishing deep and intimate relationships with a striking group of Canadians;

11.) TheSuspect by L.R. Wright – The first in the Karl Alberg series was a fascinating examination of the death of Carlyle Burke knowing from the first page was his neighbour, George Wilcox. It was a worthy Edgar winner;

12.) StrayBullets by Robert Rotenberg – The third mystery in the Toronto series featuring an assemble cast of lawyers and police dealt with a difficult murder. A 4 year old boy is killed in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s coffee and doughnut shop in Toronto. Nancy Parrish faces the challenge of defending a man universally despised;

13.) Dos Equis by Anthony Bidulka – Russell Quant, in his 8th mystery, delves into the death of a colleague, Jane Cross. The action takes him from Saskatoon to rural Saskatchewan to the Pacific coast of Mexico as Russell tracks down a ruthless killer; and,

14.) Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen – Joanne Kilbourn appears in her 13th mystery and it is one of the best in the series. Joanne retiring from being a university professor is looking forward to a quiet lake summer when she and husband, Zack Shreeve, become embroiled in a controversial project that would massively alter Canada’s most notorious neighbourhood.

The 15th book will be The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe which I am currently reading. It is the second in the series featuring Ontario police inspector, Hazel Micallef. The feisty Micallef celebrates an unusual 62nd birthday while dealing with a macabre, even grisly, mystery. I will be writing about Inger Ash Wolfe continuing to be unidentified. The third book in the series, A Door in the River, is to be released at the end of July.

I am glad I took on the challenge. With so many books on the TBR piles I am not sure I would have read 15 Canadian books over the year. I will identify my favourite at the start of the 6th Annual Canadian Book challenge in just over 2 weeks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

“D” is for William Deverell

I have chosen Canadian author, William Deverell, for the letter “D” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

I confess (a bad word for defence counsel) that I had not read this fine author’s books prior to 2011. Compounding my regret, he is a fellow lawyer whose practice focused on criminal law. Lastly, my guilt was exacerbated by both of us being graduates of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.

Deverell, now 75, worked for several years as a journalist before attending law school in Saskatoon. While in law he was night editor for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper. After law school he moved to Vancouver where he had a distinguished career as a member of the criminal defence bar. (It was reported he did some prosecutions.) His website said he was counsel in 1,000 cases including 30 murders. Considering the length of his career I expect he actually represented far more than 1,000 people charged with offences.

He won an Arthur Ellis Award in 1997 for Trial of Passion, the first book in the Arthur Beauchamp series. It was the first Deverell book I read and I thoroughly enjoyed the skillfully written book with absorbing courtroom scenes.

I admire his ability to create court dialogue that sparkles far brighter than real courtroom exchanges. I appreciate even more that his courtroom action follows the real rules of court. He demonstrates my belief that excellent courtroom scenes can be written within the rules.

In researching this post I learned from the author’s website that his actual home on Pender Island played a role in Trial of Passion as the fictional home to which Beauchamp has retreated to the Gulf Islands from the demands of Vancouver life.

Each of his books is rich in humour. Being funny is important to Deverell. It is a rare mystery author who has a mystery nominated for the Stephen Leacock Prize, the leading humour in fiction award in Canada.

One or more political issues appear in each book. In I’ll See You in My Dreams the issues of Indian Residential schools are a part of the plot both in the early 1960’s and 50 years later.

Asked by Canadian Living magazine how much Beauchamp resembles him, Deverell deftly replied:

I am now forced to insist with as much vehemence as I can muster that I am not an impotent alcoholic cuckold.

He is an excellent dramatist. His website says:

He wrote the screenplay Shellgame for CBC-TV drama, which served as the pilot for CBC's long-running series Street Legal, and he is the creator of that series, which has run internationally in more than 80 countries. He also authored several one-hour radio plays performed by the CBC in the Scales of Justice series and numerous film or TV scripts.

With regard to public advocacy he was a founding member of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

He has provided advice to other writers. On Allyson Latta’s blog Deverell provided 10 writing tips. I found No. 8 most interesting:

8. Roam your “wooded hills” (wherever they may be). Writing is solitary and sedentary, but that doesn’t mean a writer always has to be. In Costa Rica, Bill gets up at six every morning and takes a walk down the hill from his home to the beach and back before settling down to write. He likes to quote the German physicist Helmholtz, who said that great ideas come not at the worktable or when the mind is fatigued, but “come particularly readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day.

In addition to Trial of Passion and I’ll See You in My Dreams I have read Snow Job. The latest in the Beauchamp books, I’ll See You in My Dreams, was shortlisted for the 2012 Arthur Ellis Awards. Out of the trio I have read I consider I’ll See You in My Dreams the best. It is a contender for “Bill’s Best of 2012 Fiction”.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Holy Thief by William Ryan

27. – 659.) The Holy Thief by William Ryan – Moscow in 1936 is a bustling, fast developing, dynamic city. At the same time every citizen is at risk of being denounced by every other citizen. The constant fear of the NKVD affects everyone. There is the risk of arrest each night. Stalin’s purges are ongoing.

Captain Alexi Korelev of the CID in the Militia, a decorated veteran of WW I and the Civil War and the Polish War, is investigating non-political crimes. He is a dedicated police officer and Communist who believes in the Revolution. He works diligently to capture real criminals.

The book is not for the faint of stomach. There is a brutal torture and mutilation of a young woman to open the book. Vicious is too tame a description for her killer. General Popov calls on Korelev to find the killer.

As the investigation begins Korolev is advised by Colonel Gregorin of the dreaded NKVD that the political police must be kept informed of each step of the investigation. Korolev carefully complies with the directive. He treads a treacherous path and is really a type of informer passing information to the NKVD on fellow citizens.

He learns that the murder may have something to do with holy items of the Russian Orthodox Church which have been confiscated by the new regime. The woman victim, originally from Russia, had moved to the U.S. and become a Russian Orthodox sister.

Personally, Ryan is grateful when the General arranges for Korolev to share an apartment with a woman and her young daughter. In crowded Moscow it is a luxury to only have 3 people in an apartment in central Moscow.

As Korelev investigates he becomes aware of the involvement of The Thieves (organized criminals). They are easily identified by their tattoos, especially the blue tattooed fingers from prison. There is a remarkable scene where Korelev effectively determines a Thief’s life story from his tattoos. I was not aware these career criminals were tolerated rather than eradicated in Stalinist Russia.

I gained some understanding why organized crime flourished in Russia after the collapse of Communism in the early 1990’s. They were always there. When civil authority weakened they were ready to take advantage.

Ryan skillfully draws together the threads of the plot driving to a convincing conclusion.

Korelev is a worthy predecessor to Leo Demidov of William Rob Smith and Arkady Renko of Martin Cruz Smith. Each of the trio is a dedicated real, rather than political, police officer in totalitarian Russia. I look forward to further Korolev investigations. (May 25/12)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Return to Whodunit? Mystery Bookstore

Two years ago I was in Winnipeg for a Rotary Conference and visited the Whodunit Mystery Bookstore on Lilac Street. After starting the blog I put up a post on the store.

This weekend I am back in Winnipeg for another Rotary Conference and was glad to be able to return to the store. Witih "M" for Mystery having closed in California I am never sure whether a mystery bookstore will still be there when I can return to a city.

Whodunit has been having a difficult spring. Their roof started leaking and water came through the ceiling of the store. Fortunately it missed most of their books and only a few used books were damaged. They are in the process of repairing the store and the building will be back to normal shortly.

Jack and Wendy Bumsted carry on in the store while the repairs are being made and all the books are available.

It is a great place to go for mysteries. You are immediately at ease talking with them about mysteries. One or both of them know authors popular and obscure. It is far from the average bookstore where clerks barely know the best seller authors.

On this visit I was looking at Canadian and foreign authors.

I would have gotten the second book in the Michael Van Rooy series involving the former convict, Sam Parker, which is set in Winnipeg but they did not have it in soft cover.

I picked up a copy of Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. It won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Mystery Novel in 2012 beating out a trio of books I had read - A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, I'll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell and Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg. Also on the short list was I'm Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. As I thought the trio I had read were all excellent books I want to see if I agree Before the Poison is best.

I then found myself trying to decide between a Martin Limon book and another 2012 Arthur Ellis Winner, The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton, which won the Best First Novel.

Jack said Martin Limon was a superior writer and the Hamilton book was also very good.

In the end I decided to stay in Canada with The Water Rat of Wanchai. I declined to give way and purchase 3 books when I went determined to limit myself to 2 books.

Any mystery book lover who gets to Winnipeg should make time to get to Whodunit. It is worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Trial Lawyers by Emily Couric

8. - 471.) The Trial Lawyers by Emily Couric – Written in 1988 the book provides some of the best information and advice on how to be a trial lawyer I have ever read. Each of the trial lawyers has practical advice and insights on conducting trials:

1.) Fred Bartlit (civil litigation) – He uses wallboards to outline cases. He seeks to reduce complex cases to 2-3 points. He handles major interviews and questioning. He was leading the way in using projectors to demonstrate evidence;

2.) Linda Fairstein (prosecutor) – She dresses conservatively as juries expect such clothing. She is thorough and methodical being careful to address all issues. She prefers academic experts rather than professional expert witnesses;

3.) Howard Weitzman (criminal defence) – Make sure you obtain all the disclosure from the prosecution. Work closely with the client in preparing the case while staying in charge. Take the time to go through all the statements carefully;

4.) Fred Harney (medical malpractice – plaintiffs) – Even when you know what a witness will say listen carefully during examination for new opportunities on
cross-examination. Sarcasm can be useful in the right circumstance with the right lawyer;

5.) Arthur Liman (civil / criminal / legislative inquiries) - The “Gentle Lion of Litigation” was a gentleman. He emphasizes plain language asking what would impress him. Be your own personalty in court. He was not sarcastic. Think through cross-examinations before trial. Look for nuggets in examination for cross-examination. Go through all the documents;

6.) James F. Neal (criminal defence) – It is very difficult to win without putting the defendant on the stand. You need the defendant to articulate a rational defence. Do not take the chance that can result in a bad error. Do not put on too much cross-examination and do not put on a witness who might be great or a disaster;

7.) Philip Corboy (personal injury plaintiff) – For civil juries liability is determined in your opening statement. Tell juries what they want to know including unfavourable information. Avoid even an important witness who you think cannot control their emotions;

8.) Julius LeVonne Chambers (civil rights litigation) – When pursuing cases seeking a major change in society it is critical to spend the long hours assembling all the evidence required. Stay calm so you remain objective. He recommends legal specialization. Practise communication skills even if means talking to a mirror. He wants to handle witness depositions;

9.) Richard “Racehorse” Haynes (criminal defence) – Learn to explain clearly and simply. You talk to a jury. Be relaxed and confident in court. Listen carefully and look into the eyes to find the “truffles” – the lies of a witness. Use computers to track statements, He avoids the defendant testifying as he worries the jury will misjudge the defendant; and,

10.) Edward Bennett Williams (criminal defence and general civil litigation) – There is no substitute for knowing everything. Every hour in court means an hour in the evening. Control cross examinations. It is not good when a witness looks at the floor or testifies in low voice or puts his hand over his mouth. The best witnesses are strong, clear and forceful. Call the defendant.

I sent the book to my son, Jonathan, to read when he was at law school. He found it useful and passed it on to classmates (Feb. 8/09) (Best of 2009 non-fiction)