About Me

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi

In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi – In 1946 a young American officer and scientist, Francis Bacon, is assigned to review the testimony of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg for inconsistencies in their evidence. Bacon has been a mathematical prodigy starting to think about algebra when he was 5 and graduating from Yale with an undergraduate degree in physics at 20.

The narrator of the book, Gustav Links, is a talented mathematician who was saved from execution in the People’s Court of Nazi Germany as a conspirator in the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944 by a bomb killing the judge, Rudolph Fleisler, during his trial.

In examining the evidence from Nuremberg Bacon finds information about a mysterious figure, Klingsor, the pseudonym adopted by a German scientist who decided what scientific war research was conducted for the Nazi regime. Klingsor is an epic pseudonym using the name of a figure from German mythology.

The book has a clever premise as Bacon sets out to find this mysterious mastermind of the WW II German atomic research.

Links serves as Bacon’s advisor and ultimately partner in the search which proceeds at a leisurely pace.

I would have been happier with a shorter back story than the 100 pages it took to reach the start of the search.

The structure of the book is an effort to follow a scientific process of proposing laws and corolloraries and then testing them. An example is:

        LAW II: All men are liars

If, as stated by Godel’s theorem, every axiomatic system contains undecidable propositions; if, as stated by Einstein’s relativity, absolute time and space do not exist; if, as postulated by the rules of quantum physics and as a consequence of the uncertainty principle, science can offer only vague and random approximations of the cosmos – then we can no longer rely on causality as an accurate predictor of the future. And if specific individuals possess only specific truths, then all of us – made up of the same material of which atoms are made – are the result of paradox and impossibility. Our convictions can only be considered half-truths.

It is a book physicists will love. For the rest of us it is slow going for considerable stretches as we learn about the lives and work of Germany’s most prominent physicists prior to and during WW II.

Volpi shows how Nazi ideology interfered with research. The Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg was denied a leading position at the University of Munich after the following attacks upon him:

“In July of 1937, in an unsigned article published in Das Schwarze Korps, you were insultingly referred to as a ‘white Jew’. Stark quickly followed this with a series of articles: ‘Science has failed politically,’ ‘White Jews in Science,’ and ‘The Pragmatic and the Dogmatic Spirit in Physics,’ this last piece published in the English journal Nature.

The book has some intriguing use of scientific terms. The subject of a search is described as elusive as an atom.

It is hard to sustain drama in a search being conducted through interviews of scientists who spend their time either thinking or in labs.

Now physicists do have far more dramatic sexual lives than I anticipated. When not thinking they are constantly active in the bedroom.

The book touches upon some major issues such as whether science is a substitute for religion in a conversation with the great physicist Max Planck:

“Not for a skeptic, because science also requires a spirit that believes. Anyone who has seriously studied a scientific subject knows that there is a sign above the entrance to the temple of science which says You must have faith. Scientists cannot ignore that. Anyone who analyzes a series of results obtained through a scientific experiment must be able to imagine the law he is seeking to prove. Then, he must bring it to life with an intellectual hypothesis.”

In many ways the book sets out in fiction the information contained in Heisenberg’s War which was my previous post on Wednesday.  In my next post on Sunday I will discuss how Volpi changed history to help his story.

The book is very well written. Volpi is a skilled writer. It is a good book for a reader wanting to know about German efforts towards building an atomic bomb without reading a non-fiction account of the program. It would help to have an interest in science.

The following deals with some issues I had with the book. They may be spoilers for some readers:

1.) It took 365 pages to find out why a pseudonym was used rather than Klingsor’s real name;

2.) It took even longer into the book to learn why it was important to find Klingsor; and,

3.) The process of investigation is awkward and unconvincing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers

Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers - As WW II was about to begin America had gathered in many of Europe’s leading physicists either because they were Jewish or, if German, because they did not want to work in Nazi Germany. Werner Heisenberg, the Nobel Prize winner for the development of his “Uncertainty Principle”, was repeatedly urged during his 1939 trip to the U.S. to leave Germany. He stayed and was the leading physicist in Germany as the war began.

The German physicists who stayed in Germany during the war, led by Heisenberg, wanted to be perceived as avoiding the development of the science needed for the atomic bomb. Early in the war they appreciated the importance of the discovery of plutonium and sent messages, at peril of their own lives, to American scientists that they had sought to “hinder the idea of making the bomb” but expected pressure to work hard on developing the bomb. As common in war the messages were discounted or viewed sceptically.

By the end of 1941 Heisenberg’s experiments had established that large scale reactors could produce plutonium. At this time the Allies and Germans were about equal in bomb science.

It was the Allies good fortune that the leading German physicists were not dedicated Nazis. Led by Heisenberg they did not want to place the bomb in Hitler’s hands.

In early 1942 the critical decisions were made in the U.S. and Germany on developing the bomb. America committed vast resources to the Manhattan Project. 

In Germany Heisenberg at a pivotal meeting with Albert Speer in 1942 stressed the problems in developing the bomb and the probability it could not be developed in time to have a role in the existing war. He was prescient in estimating that America could not develop a bomb for use before 1945.

In the West scientists took the lead in emphasizing the danger of atomic bombs and the risk they were being developed in Germany. The German physicists never stressed the risks of Western development of atomic bombs.

Still had the German physicists led by Heisenberg pushed, as scientists normally do, for massive funding to pursue new frontiers and develop practical applications the Nazis would have had a chance of developing atomic bombs. Speer would have found them money had they indicated a bomb was feasible in the near future. Instead of seeking millions of marks they asked for hundreds of thousands.

In Gitta Sereny’s book, Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth, Speer says he offered far more but Heisenberg said their research was too far behind America at that point to benefit from much larger amounts of research money.

Heisenberg had a vague idea that the world’s physicists could delay the bomb in every country if they discouraged their respective governments that the bomb was a very expensive project with only potential results long into the future.

German scientists in 1942 again sent messages to the West that their focus was on developing a nuclear reactor rather than the bomb. With most of the messengers and recipients non-scientists once again the messages were downplayed or misinterpreted. Allied scientists and intelligence consistently over-rated German progress. They assumed the same efforts were being made in Germany as in the West.

In hampering German atomic bomb development the Allies correctly identified the production of heavy water in Norway as a key resource. Between sabotaging the plant, then bombing the plant and finally sinking the ship transporting the last major shipment to Germany they prevented any significant quantity of heavy water reaching the scientists in Germany.

There is a long stretch of the book which discusses the American atomic bomb program and the intelligence efforts to gather information on German atomic research.

Most of the intelligence plans sound amateurish. Part of the problem was the reluctance to give any agents information about atomic research to be knowledgeable enough to obtain useful information.

It was interesting to read about the plots, never attempted, to either kidnap Heisenberg or bomb his Institute. A primary reason for not proceeding was the Allies did not want to give notice they considered atomic research important.

I would have preferred the book concentrate on Heisenberg. Still if the book had been solely about his war it would have been a short work. He was engaged quietly in research focused on developing a nuclear reactor rather than a bomb.

Heisenberg had social and scientific contacts with numerous plotters in the 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler. Innate caution kept him just far enough away to escape arrest and execution.

There was a fascinating section on Moe Berg, former major league baseball catcher and polymath, turned OSS agent who was sent to Switzerland in late 1944 and attended a seminar and a meeting at which Heisenberg was present. It was clear his instructions were to kill Heisenberg if he felt the German scientist was involved in atomic bomb research. Fortunately, both for Heisenberg and the relationship of the U.S. with Switzerland he saw no need to pull out his gun when the seminar was a discussion of S matrix physics.

After the war many American scientists, led by Samuel Goudsmidt, mocked the German program and its physicists as never understanding what was needed to build the bomb.

To the contrary, I believe German physicists could have led a bomb building program and had Heisenberg been as committed as Robert Oppenheimer, probably would have progressed faster for Heisenberg had a better mind. At the same time I expect the Allies would have attacked the program by air with even greater vigour than the attacks on the rocket program. I doubt the Nazis could ever have won a race for the bomb.

Moral qualms proceed by degree in war as touched upon in the book. To help end WW II in Japan was it worse to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians through the atomic bombs or through incendiary bombs or through a land invasion? Should weapons of mass destruction have been used to minimize casualties of the attacking Allies?

I liked the book though its title was misleading in that a major part of the book had nothing to do with Heisenberg. The subtitle of The Secret History of the German Bomb better describes the book though far from accurate since there was no German bomb project. Ultimately, it is hard to put together a biography where the subject is not doing more than research at a modest pace with limited resources. (Nov. 2/12)


My next post will review a mystery, In Search of Klingsor, involving the German atomic bomb research of WWII.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Legends of the Lake on the Mountain by Roderick Benns

The Legends of the Lake on the Mountain – An Early Adventure of John A. Macdonald  by Roderick Benns – The Legacy and Leaders series for Young Adults continues with the second book in a series featuring the adventures of Canadian Prime Ministers when they were between 11 and 13 years of age. It is 1828 and young John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, is 13 years old and residing at the community of Stone Mills (now Glenora) in Prince Edward County near Kingston, Ontario.

His father, Hugh, is running a flour mill powered by a waterfall coming out of the Lake on the Mountain, a lake on a plateau above the town.

It is late summer and John is conflicted about his imminent return to school in Kingston. He enjoys life both in the city and in his small home town.

While helping out at the mill there is still lots of time for John and his best friend, George Cloutier, a French Canadian boy to explore the mountain. John generally tolerates his 9 year old sister, Lou, joining them on their adventures. Her only regret in life appears to be that she is not a boy. His older sister, Molly, is more adult than child and uninterested in exploration.

Their quiet community is shaken when a local farmer disappears and his blood stained shirt is found on the edge of the lake. The anxiety level rises when there are reports of a lake monster. It sounds a lot like the Loch Ness monster with a big head and humps coming out of the water.

With John leading the way the young trio of John, George and Lou climb out on the branches of a huge twisted oak. They extend well into the lake. When the boys end up falling into the lake the creature appears in the lake. The terrified trio rush from the lake.

When the local constable also disappears the community is in an uproar over the missing men and the monster of the lake. Amidst the terror John does not panic and seeks a solution to the mysteries of the missing men and the lake.
At the same time the young people are entranced by a third mystery involving a French admiral from the time of the Seven Years War almost 70 years earlier.

Politics is already of interest to the young John. It is the time of the Family Compact, a group of elite families, who controlled Canada West (now Ontario) by overruling the legislature when they did not like decisions.

John is opposed to the Compact but, foreshadowing his adult life, does not believe in revolution to achieve democracy. He does not want the American model of revolution adopted in Canada to solve the challenges of dealing with an oligarchy.

John is the acknowledged leader of himself, George and Lou. He is already demonstrating the determination and eloquence and intelligence that made him successful in politics. His cleverness in negotiating with a bully will bring a smile to the reader.

For my adult life my image of John has been of him as the “Grand Old Man” of Canadian politics who led the way in achieving confederation in 1867 founding Canada and was re-elected our Prime Minister a generation later. This book has caused me to reflect on John as a young teenager. Few books look into the youth of the famous of the world.

I enjoyed the book. I thought the mystery in the first in the series, The Mystery of the MoonlightMurder, involving the young John Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan was a better mystery. The Legends of the Lake on the Mountain made me want to read the next in the series which involves a young contemporary Primer Minister, Paul Martin, who is still alive.

I continue to hope all who love Canadian history encourage young adults to read the series. They learn of important issues in Canadian history and how they impacted the lives of young Canadians who happened to be our future leaders. (Nov. 21/12)


This book will be my 5th book in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge. I have reached the Double Double level. Each level is named for a Canadian food or drink. Continuing with my single question quiz related to each book in the series does any reader know what a Double Double is in Canada?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Links to All My Posts in the 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction Meme

The 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise has taken me to 26 very different mystery authors. My profiles, reviews of some of their books and some commentary follow. Please click on the title of the post to be taken to the post:
1.) "A" is for Rennie Airth;
2.) "B" is for Gail Bowen;
3.) Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen;

4.)  "C" is for Robert Crais;

5.) "D" is for William Deverell;

6.) "E" is for Jill Edmondson:

7.) "F" is for Zoe Ferraris;

8.) "G" is for John Grisham - Part I;

9.) "G" is for John Grisham - Part II;

10.) "H" is for Robert Harris;

11.) "I" is for Greg Iles;

12.) "J" is for Stan Jones;

13.) "K" is for Joseph Kanon;

14.) "L" is for Paul Levine;

15.) "M" is for Seicho Matsumoto;

16.) "N" is for Stuart Neville;

17.) "O" is for Gregg Olsen;

18.) "P" is for Edward O. Phillips;

19.) "Q" is for Kwei Quartey;

20.) "R" is for Robert Rotenberg;

21.) "S" is for Josef Skvorecky;

22.) "T" is for Donald Serrell Thomas;

23.) "U" is for Arthur W. Upfield;

24.) "V" is for Michael Van Rooy;

25.) "W" is for L.R. Wright;

26.) "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again;

27.) A Loyal Character Dancer;

28.) "Y" is for Scott Young;

29.) Murder in a Cold Climate by Scott Young;

30.) Traditional Outdoor Journeys in Crime Fiction;

31.) "Z" is for Zubro;

32.) The Truth Can Get You Killed by Mark Richard Zubro; and,

33.) 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction Meme Roundup.

It is a good time to be reading crime fiction.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction Roundup

The 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction Roundup hosted by Kerrie Smith at her excellent blog, Mysteries in Paradise, has been fun. In last year’s meme I posted a combination of book reviews and author profiles. This year I resolved to put up 26 mystery author profiles of authors whose books I had read. I was successful.

Depending on which time zone of the world in which you read this post I put up my first post in the meme exactly six months ago, May 21, when I started with “A” is for Rennie Airth.

Over the course of the next 25 weeks I followed with profiles of a wide variety of authors. I chose to have the greatest concentration of profiles of Canadian authors. I had posts on seven Canadian authors:

            1.) “B” is for Gail Bowen;

            2.) “D” is for William Deverell;

            3.) “E” is for Jill Edmondson;

            4.) “P” is for Edward O. Phillips;

            5.) “V” is for Michael Van Rooy;

            6.) “W” is for L.R. Wright; and,

            7.) “Y” is for Scott Young.

In addition to the profile of Gail Bowen I was able to post a review of her newly published book, Kaleidsocope.

The saddest profile of the 26 involved Michael Van Rooy because he sadly died last year of a heart attack at 42. He was just establishing himself as a coming mystery author in Canada when he died.

My profile of L.R. Wright unexpectedly brought to me a very nice comment from her daughter, J. Wright. In that comment she spoke of her mother’s attitude towards the cancer that killed her when she was 61:

About her battle with cancer, she asked us to say that when she died, the cancer died with her. It was a draw.

Having completed seven Canadian profiles and, having a few from last year, I anticipate setting up a page in the near future of an alphabetical list of Canadian mystery writer profiles.

Moving outside Canada there I was introduced to a new pair of writers because I was short of existing authors in “Q” and “Z”. For “Q” I read a mystery of African, now American, writer Kwei Quartey. For the end of the alphabet I read a book by Chicago author, Mark Richard Zubro.

I profiled two authors I had also profiled in the 2011 meme – Qiu Xiaolong and Arthur Upfield. I found a new way to add to my profiles with each author. For Xiaolong I was able to have Q & A over his use of poetry in his mysteries. With Upfield I explored the origins of his character, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte and found he had been less than candid in his official explanations.

It turned out that “N” for Stuart Neville has become the most popular post I have put up on the blog as it found its way into the top of some search engines. There have been thousands of page views of the profile.

Out of the 26 profiles my favourite is “Y” is for Scott Young. I had known Young as a sportswriter and a novelist of young adult hockey fiction but never knew he had written any mysteries among his 40 plus books. It was a good surprise to find he had written two mysteries set in the Canadian  Arctic. I enjoyed Murder in a Cold Climate and appreciated Young making his sleuth the first Inuk RCMP Inspector, Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak, and refreshingly normal in appearance.

My next post will provide links to all my posts for the meme.

Thanks again Kerrie for hosting this meme which has enriched my reading of mystery fiction.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Where was Bill Reading?

On Thursday I put up a post that reviewed the settings of the 44 mysteries I have read this year. It turned out I had read books set in 12 different countries and 2 books set in multiple areas. I felt I had been reading more books set outside North America than before I became a blogger. To test the hypothesis I looked back to my reading during 2010 when I read 31 mysteries.

As I expected the greatest number of mysteries were set in Canada and the United States. I read 8 mysteries set in each country.

In Canada I read 3 mysteries set in my favourite place, Saskatchewan. I read 5 more mysteries set in 5 different locales – Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Nunavut.

For the United States I generally ranged around the perimeter of America. I read 2 mysteries set in California. There were 2 books in MassachusettsBoston and Provincetown. There were single books in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and New York City. Out of the 8 books only 2 were off the coast. One took place in the Catskills of upstate New York and one in Chicago. After completing this review I noted that in 2012 I have not read a single mystery set in New York City.

Of the remaining 11 countries in which I read mysteries in 2010 there were 2 countries with 2 mysteries.

From Sweden I read mysteries set in Stockholm and Ystad, Skane.

I read Australian mysteries set in Sydney and Melbourne.
I read books set respectively in Ireland, Germany and Greece.

There was a historical mystery from the U.S.S.R. that started in Moscow and moved east along the railway.

I went to South Africa for a mystery set in and around the Krueger National Park.

I read one South American mystery. It was set in Peru.

There was a thriller that was split between the Middle East and Pakistan.

I also read a book about mysteries, Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James. It is an excellent work.

After reviewing 2010 my theory about being North America centric at that time in my reading was unfounded. I read mysteries set in 13 different countries in 2010 versus 12 countries so far in 2012. Out of the 31 mysteries in 2010 just over half at 16 were set in North America. In 2012 it was 26 out of 44 being North America. By number of countries and percentage I read more around the world when I was not a blogger. Once again reality crushes perception.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where is Bill Reading?

Since I began blogging I believe I have been reading more varied crime fiction. In particular, I think I think I have been going more outside North America in terms of authors and the setting of books. Yet “believing” and “thinking” can be wrong. Consequently, I took a look through my reading to date in 2012 to see if my beliefs and thoughts are backed up by a review of my actual reading this year. In this post I will list the countries in which I have read mysteries, the locations within the countries and how many books per country. The list goes in a descending order by the number of books per country. As always, no list fits all categories. At the end are a couple of books that did not have a primary country for their setting. My list is based on setting not residence of author.

Thankfully, Canada was first on the list. I do not say it will be so every year. This year I read 13 books with Canadian settings. Leading the way was Ontario which was the setting for 5 books. Tied for second with 3 books each was my home province of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. I read 1 book from each of Quebec and the Northwest Territories.

The United States with 10 books was the country with the second largest number of books read. Settings were California (3), Chicago (2), Wyoming (2), Florida (2) and Boston (1).

Three countries tied for third with 3 books per country.

From England I read one book set primarily in London, a second book split between London and rural England and a third was set in Yorkshire.

I read 3 books set in Australia. One took place in rural Victoria, another was in a distant suburb of Melbourne and the last was set in the vastness of Northwest Australia.

The third country with 3 books was South Africa. I read two set in and around Capetown. The third took place near Durban.

There were a pair of countries with 2 books.

I read books from Italy that were set in Sicily and Naples.

My reading included two books from Sweden. One took place in northern Sweden and the other was in Goteberg.

There were 6 countries with one book set in that country.

I read a book set in Shanghai, China.

There was a book set primarily in Auckland, New Zealand with a secondary setting in Brisbane, Australia.

I read a book set in Moscow during the time of the U.S.S.R.

My reading had a book set in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

One book took place in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The sixth country was Norway with the book set in Bergen.

Two books could not be tied to a single nation. One moved from Northern Africa to northern Europe during the book. The other had the characters almost equally spending their time in Germany, France and Italy.

I also read some non-fiction. Two were set in the United States, one in Saskatchewan, one in England, one in Germany and the last one in several European countries.

As you were reading this post were you trying to figure out the characters and authors by the settings? I was not making this post like one of the wonderful quizzes of Margot Kinberg at her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. It would be impossible to know all of the books be the limited information but some should be easy. If you think you identified any of the books feel free to list in a comment or an email the books you have determined.

By my count I read 44 mysteries so far this year set in 12 specific countries. With Canada and the U.S. accounting for 23 books just under half of the books were set outside North America. Having completed the post I realized it does not really tell me if my horizons have broadened unless I go back to looking at the settings of the books I have read before blogging. I will check out the settings of my 2010 reading and make that the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Truth Can Get You Killed (1997) by Mark Richard Zubro

45. – 677.) The Truth Can Get You Killed (1997) by Mark Richard Zubro – Paul Turner is a Chicago Police Detective in Area Ten who happens to be gay, widowed (from his wife’s death) and the father of two teenage sons (one in a wheelchair because of spina bifida).

On New Year’s Eve Paul is enjoying an evening out with his lover, Ben, at Au Naturel, a hot hot gay bar, featuring barely clad young male dancers. More interested in each other Paul and Ben return home shortly after midnight.

It is bitterly cold the next morning when Paul and his partner, Buck Fenwick, are assigned to investigate the murder of a middle aged man whose body has been found in the back alley adjacent to Au Naturel.

The victim is Federal Court of Appeal Judge Albert Meade, a staunchly conservative jurist, who has recently gained attention for a ruling favouring a local anti-gay ordinance.

Initially, Paul is concerned about being perceptions of bias. He is worried a conviction of the killer might be jeopardized because he, a gay man, is investigating the murder of a homophobic judge. It is an interesting twist on how L.A. detective, Mark Fuhrman, was pilloried as an untrustworthy police officer in the O.J. Simpson murder trial because of some racist comments unrelated to the case. Paul’s commander sees no reason to remove him from the case.

Considering the location of the body, Paul and Buck wonder if the deceased judge was a closeted gay man. As they go forward they are met by a gay wall of silence. There is a strong reluctance in the gay community to talk about any man who wants to stay in the closet, even after death.

Buck has some difficulty understanding why there are a significant number of gay men in the late 1990’s who remain in the closet.

Paul, who does not hide his orientation but does not make it overtly public, does his best to explain there are many gay men afraid of the consequences of being out in their families, at work and in the community.

When sources place the judge in Au Naturel on New Year’s Eve the gaydar of the detectives is tingling. As they move forward they find perception and reality are not always the same.

The fears of gay men wanting sexual relationships but afraid to be open are explored throughout the book. Members of the gay community who are totally out are not always understanding of those still in the closet. The book explores a challenging gay issue without becoming a polemic. In my last post, a profile of Zubro, there are comments from Zubro on introducing gay issues into his mysteries.

Paul and Buck have a deft, sometimes witty relationship.

Paul becomes the first gay detective I have read parenting a pair of boys on his own.

Reading the Russell Quant series by Anthony Bidulka a decade later is to see a far more open gay detective though the issues of the closet remain very real as explored in Flight of Aquavit.

It is a good book. I appreciated the author telling his story in 211 pages. I regret to say I would not have read this book if I was not looking to read “Z” author so I could profile the author in the 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme. I am going back to the library to read another Paul Turner mystery.
This will be my last post in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. Six months have gone swiftly by. Thank you to Kerrie for setting up the meme. Next week I will have posts about my author profiles for the meme.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

“Z” is for Mark Richard Zubro

The end of the alphabet has been reached this week in the 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise. I am concluding 26 weeks of author profiles with “Z” is for Mark Richard Zubro.

The American author was a Grade 8 English teacher at Summit Hill Jr. High in Frankfort, Illinois. He has been president of the teachers union.

He lives in the Chicago suburb of Mokena.
At the kareenacolcroft website there is an interview between Zubro and his character Tom Mason from the Tom and Scott series. In the mysteries Tom is a high school teacher and Scott a professional baseball player. In the interview Zubro and Tom discuss Zubro’s mysteries delving into gay issues.

Tom: But isn’t the mystery genre limiting? How can those kinds of books be socio-political?

Zubro: A writer is only limited by his or her imagination. I set out to do some very specific things with my characters. I knew I was going to have happy, loving gay people as protagonists. Talk about socio-political! There is a significant portion of the population who are angry simply because gay people exist. Then if we dare to present ourselves as happy, we might as well have announced the wend of western civilization and/or the destruction of the planet. Writing anything with gay characters is socio-political simply because it exists. Remember, the first book in the series, A Simple Suburban Murder, came out in 1989, when you could the number of happy, openly gay characters in print and on screen on one hand.

The topics include the decision on whether to come out and the challenges of coming out. In a shift from my usual approach I will include some comments of Zubro on these topics which are featured in his book, The Truth Can Get You Killed, which features Chicago gay detective, Paul Turner. I will post a review of the book on Tuesday.  

Tom: How many team sport athletes are out at the professional level? And the ones who came out after their playing days are over don’t count.

Zubro: People make arguments about dangers to their careers. I’m out in my life. I’m afraid I become far more judgmental about their decisions than I have a right to be.

Tom: Something as mundane as coming out can be such a plot point?

Zubro: What planet are you on? Sure, coming out is reasonably easy for you. You’re a saint about the whole thing. In the real world it is never that simple. Coming out, as you well know, is a life-long process. Unfortunately, even in this day and age it can be an issue.

The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books provided some information on the retired Zubro and summarizes who is at risk in his books:
He retired from teaching in 2006 and now spends his time reading, writing, napping, and eating chocolate
One of the keys in Zubro’s mysteries is you do not want to be a person who is racist, sexist, homophobic, or a school administrator. If you are any oh those, it is likely you are the corpse, or t the least, it can be fairly well guaranteed that bad things will happen to you by the end. And if in Zubro’s books you happen to be a Republican and/or against workers’ rights, it would be far better if you did not make a habit of broadcasting this. If you did you’re quite likely to be a suspect, or worse.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Traditional Outdoor Journeys in Crime Fiction

On Tuesday I reviewed Scott Young’s mystery, Murder in a Cold Climate, set in the late 1980’s  in the Northwest Territories. In the mystery RCMP Inspector Matthew “Matteesie” Kitologitak undertakes a search for criminals in the bush of the southern Territories by dogsled.

While most of the time Matteesie searches while in an airplane or on a snowmobile he goes back to the old ways on this search.  It is a return to an earlier era when travel by dogsled was the only effective means of ground transportation in the Arctic.

It is done a classically understated Canadian way rather than the over the top American Hollywood like chase of Sheriff Walt Longmire in Hell is Empty. Longmire goes forward alone and on foot through the mountains in a way that stretches belief.

It is not to say there are not real life epic journeys in the Arctic. In Sledge Patrol by David Howarth there is recounted the 230 mile winter journey in Greenland on foot of Danish officer, Ib Poulsen. Remarkably he set off with neither winter boots nor supplies. He wrapped his feet in sacking to provide some protection. Poulsen survived by managing to reach supply huts set up for travelers needing assistance.

The journeys in the Arctic are beyond the personal experience of most readers. The vast majority of the world’s population does not experience travel in -40 weather (It does not matter which temperature scale is used. Both Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same at -40.)

In the Australian mysteries of Arthur Upfield there are often great trips made in the outback. Several involve aborigines walking great distances with little food and less water.

In Wilbur Smith’s book, The Burning Shore, French aristocrat, Centaine de Thiry, undertakes a dramatic trip across the Kalahari Desert with a family of bushmen. It is the best part of the book.

Matteesie’s dogsled trip also recalls great stories of my youth when RCMP officers routinely undertook long dogsled journeys to accomplish their duties.

There was always danger. In 1911 a  RCMP patrol of four officers became lost. Unable to find their way they perished before a relief patrol could find them.

What makes Matteesie’s journey unique are the trio on the trip. Matteesie is an Inuk as well as a police officer. George “No Legs” Manicoche is a disabled Metis. Edie McDonald is a white woman teacher. Surprising for that era it is her sled and dog team and she is the driver. Twenty-five years ago putting a disabled man and a woman in the group heading into the bush was equally rare in real life and fiction.

There are reasons for using the dogsled rather than snowmobiles for the search but they are best left for a reader to discover in the book.

I do appreciate chases in the empty spaces of the world that do not rely on planes, cars, snowmobiles and other motor driven means of travel. They force the participants of those journeys to rely on themselves and their ability to adapt to the land and weather rather than rely on modern technologies. I admit there is also an element of romance for me in these trips becoming quests.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Murder in a Cold Climate by Scott Young (1988)

Murder in a Cold Climate by Scott Young (1988) – Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak is the most unique sleuth I have encountered in years. He is from the last generation in the North to have spent their early years living off the land. During his lifetime he has gone through the dramatic transformation of northern life to a contemporary lifestyle. Joining the RCMP when indigenous northerners were limited to being “special” constables he has reached the rank of Inspector, the only Inuk RCMP Inspector of the late 1980’s. In appearance he is far from a handsome chiselled hunk. He is 5’6” with a developing pot belly. He is unhappily married to Lois in Ottawa. Though committed to the marriage he has a long continuing intimate relationship with Maxine in Inuvik.
Lastly, he has a mischievous, witty, slyly humourous, bantering personality illustrated by his nickname, Matteesie. (In my reviews of Stan Jones books set in northwest Alaska I discuss the same playful indigenous communication.)
The book is set in the harsh northern winter. Young evokes the Canadian approach to winter. Only in Canada and other far northern countries is the following conversation credible. I have heard it throughout my life:

As we walked our breath made little frosty clouds that blew between us as we walked. There wasn’t much to say.

“Minus thirty-five, according to the radio,” I said.

“Yeah, but not a bad morning. No wind.”

Matteesie is getting ready to leave Inuvik for an Arctic Institute Conference in Leningrad in the U.S.S.R. when he is directed by the RCMP Commissioner to investigate a plane that has gone missing in the area of Fort Norman. The son of Canada’s Finance Minister happened to be the pilot. Adding to the mix his passengers are suspected drug dealers.

On Matteesie’s flight to Fort Norman a stretcher is loaded on the plane. A Northwest Territories Metis leader, Morton Cavendish, has had a stroke and is being airlifted for treatment in Edmonton.

As Matteesie prepares to leave the plane by the rear exit a man walks up the exit steps, moves up to the unconscious man and fires 3 shots into Cavendish’s head. The shooter, before Matteesie can reach him, rushes out of the plane and jumps on an idling snowmobile and disappears into the bush next to the runway.

Frustrated and mad at both being unable to prevent the murder and pursue the killer Matteesie is determined to find the murderer.

Cavendish’s son, William, has disappeared and Matteesie starts searching for him in Fort Norman. While few are willing to talk Matteesie eventually gets some information from George “No Legs” Manicoche, a trapper who had his legs amputated, He had gotten drunk and passed out in the snow and his legs were badly frozen.

While Matteesie uses modern transportation most of the time he and No Legs join a white teacher, Edie McDonald, on a dogsled search into the wilderness that harkens back to an earlier era of the North. I will discuss their trip in my next post on Thursday.

Matteesie knows the resolution of the case will be found in the bush. He is glad to spend time outdoors. His status as an Inspector and then working with the Federal Government has kept him indoors. Riding a snowmobile he reflects:

As I bumped along, a feeling of peace gradually came over me. Much of my life, both before I signed on as a special and after, I’d spent time out in the bush or the tundra with snow machines or dog teams. On long trips I might have an objective many days away but the important thing was always just to get through the next few hours before night and food and sleep. On such a trip the mind roams free. I hadn’t felt this good for a long time, leaving behind conferences, memos, reports, the trying to convince others this policy was good and that bad, being polite with deputy ministers and deferential with the political ministers who came and went like migrating geese.

If you are ready to leave the city and head into the wilderness of northern Canada search out a copy of Murder in a Cold Climate. It is worth the effort. While Young may have spent most of his life writing about sports he has crafted a good mystery. The characters are true northerners. The geography and weather of the North play an important role as they do in real life. The North is integral to the plot. I expect readers will long remember Matteesie. I longed to join Matteesie on a northern journey. (Nov. 6/12)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

“Y” is for Scott Young

As we reach the 25th letter of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise I am staying in Canada. I am profiling Canadian author, Scott Young, for “Y”.

Scott spent the first half of his 87 years known as one of Canada’s sportswriters with forays into fiction and non-fiction books. He spent the last half of his life being identified as the father of singer / songwriter, Neil Young. Scott ended up writing a book about their relationship called Neil and Me.

His youngest child, Astrid Young, is also multi-talented. She is a singer, songwriter, writer and painter.
Scott was born in Manitoba in 1918 and grew up in several communities in Western Canada including Prince Albert, Saskatchewan which is about 100 km from Melfort.

While he quit school at 16 Scott was a writer early in his life submitting stories that were usually rejected. At 18 he found employment at The Winnipeg Free Press and was soon a sportswriter. An editor telling him that he would never be worth more than $25 a week to the paper prompted him to move to Toronto.

He covered most major sporting events in Canada for Toronto newspapers and was also a broadcaster on the Saturday night telecasts of Hockey Night in Canada. He was fired from the broadcasts because he ran afoul of the Toronto Maple Leafs owner who threatened the sponsor if Scott stayed on the broadcasts.

He was a man of strong principles. He quit The Globe and Mail because of the paper using anonymous comments. He abhorred unattributed comments.

Through and after his journalistic career he was writing books. Overall he wrote 45 books.

Almost 50 years ago, when I was a boy on the farm at Meskanaw I devoured his Young Adult hockey trilogy – Scrubs on Skates¸ Boy on Defence and A Boy at the Leafs’ Camp. The books followed the path of a young boy’s progression from learning to play hockey to reaching the NHL. Scott put vividly to words the dreams of every young Canadian boy of my generation.

Of his impressive total of books there were two mysteries – Murder in a Cold Climate and  The Shaman’s Knife. I will be posting my review of Murder in a Cold Climate on Tuesday.

Young placed his mysteries in the Canadian Arctic in the Northwest Territories. Young loved going North and the books resulted from his travels to northern Canada.

I expect he is the only mystery writer who is a member of two Sports Halls of Fame. In Wikipedia it states:

In 1988, Young received the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and was also inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.

In the blog Neil Young News there is a quote from Canadian writer, Kevin Chong, writing in The Globe and Mail about what Neil learned from his father:

“The most vivid way to get an idea across was to lay oneself bare in the knowledge that others would identify with the bareness, the sometimes painful truth."