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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Email Exchange with Robert Dugoni on Legal Ethics

In my last post I put up a review of Murder One by Robert Dugoni. There was a legal ethical issue that troubled me. The following exchange of emails with the author delves into the issue. Potential readers of the book are warned that the remainder of this post does contain spoilers. Dugoni graciously advised that I could post the following portion of his email with spoilers.


In a week I am going to be posting a review of Murder One on my blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, which is located at mysteriesandmore@blogspot.com.

I found it a very good legal thriller.

I am a lawyer whose practice includes civil and criminal litigation.

There was an ethical issue that troubled me in the book.

In Saskatchewan David Sloane would have been in deep trouble with the Law Society had he taken on the representation of a client with whom he was having a sexual relationship.

To represent her on a criminal charge while publicly having an affair just could not happen here.

Can it be in Washington that lawyers can sleep with their clients?

If not, I would be interested in knowing why you set up the plot for them to be sexually involved while he represented her.

I may write a post about the issue but it would be subsequent to the review and state that it may contain spoilers for readers.

….. (I am omitting a portion of my email as it contains a spoiler directly about the ending) …..

If you would like to respond to this email and have your response in the post please let me know. If you would prefer to respond but not have the response posted I would not put up the reply.

I am glad to have found a “new” legal writer to read from America.

Best wishes.

Bill Selnes

Thanks for the email.  Yes, this was a potential conundrum. Here in Washington Professional Rule 1.8 (j) provides that the attorney cannot represent a client unless the sexual relationship pre-dated the date he is asked to represent the client. That is one of the reasons why, in Murder One, I had to establish the relationship before the request for representation.  While I don’t advocate an attorney representing a client he is sleeping with, for the purposes of the story I needed that bond. You will note that after the point in the book where Sloane figures out Barclay is guilty (not announced to the reader until the end) he manages not to sleep with her. For a while I considered not granting Barclay bail for this reason also. It is important to my readers that Sloane’s moral compass point north.

A second conundrum was whether a court would let Sloane represent her at all given his lack of criminal defense background.  I debated having John Kannon stay involved and represent her but that would have been a different book. I needed Sloane to be the main focal point. Again my criminal defense and prosecutor friends told me it was more probable he could represent her so long as the State was not seeking the Death Penalty.

….. (I omit a portion of the email related to the ending that I consider too much a spoiler.) …

My current novel involves an interest legal issue as well. A Post Conviction Relief Hearing for a convicted murderer. I’m having a lot of fun with it and with Blackstone’s Maxim about the guilty going free being better than one innocent being convicted. 

Thank you for taking the time to write and the mentions. I always enjoy hearing from readers, especially lawyer. I don’t always get things right, but I still work at it.

My best to you. I visit your country every year for the Surrey Writer’s Conference

Bob Dugoni

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"D" is for Murder One by Robert Dugoni

“D” is for Dugoni, American author and lawyer. I am posting a review of his book Murder One
Murder One by Robert Dugoni – Seattle civil litigator, David Sloane, is recovering from the murder of his wife, Tina, when he has a chance encounter with Barclay Reid, the lovely managing partner of a large law firm. Sparks fly and they immediately enter an intense relationship.

Reid is also dealing with the consequences of a devastating personal loss. Her daughter, Leenie, has died from a heroin overdose. Reid is intensely frustrated when Filyp Vasiliev, the supplier to the dealer who sold the heroin to Leenie, is not convicted of trafficking because the Federal Court trial judge finds his rights have been violated because there has been an unlawful search of his car dealership.

Dugoni has some deft touches. On revenge Sloane speaks to a Catholic priest, Father Allen who says to him:

Thoughts of revenge are natural, David. You suffered a great loss, a great injustice. You wanted someone to pay for it. But always remember, it’s our actions that define us, not our thoughts, and even then God will forgive those who seek His forgiveness.   

After mutual consolation in the bedroom Reid broaches with Sloane having him represent her in a wrongful death lawsuit against Vasiliev. She will seek to break Vasiliev financially. It is the same type of suit that the families of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown pursued against O.J. Simpson. It is not an easy action for Reid. Whereas the Goldman and Brown families needed only proof on a balance of probabilities O.J. was the killer, in an action against Vasiliev the connection for finding him liable for Leenie’s death is far more tenuous. He did not sell any drugs directly to her. As she prepares to sue Reid continues to pursue the passing in Washington of drug dealer liability laws that would make it easier for civil actions to be taken against traffickers such as Vasiliev.

Reid has a good reason to want to retain Sloane. He is famed as the lawyer who does not lose.

While Sloane is leaning to representing Reid the question is rendered moot when Vasiliev is murdered with a single shot to the back of the head in his home.

Seattle detectives, Kinsington Rowe and Tracy Crosswhite-Jones, investigate the murder. Their office has a macabre symbol to identify the next team to handle a homicide. The “skull of death” is hooked to the top of the appropriate cubicle.

With Reid’s prominent public statements about Vasiliev she becomes a suspect. As the police investigates the evidence becomes stronger against Reid and she is charged with Murder One.

To Sloane’s surprise Reid wants him to be her defence counsel. Not practising criminal law he is reluctant to take on the case. She insists that he represent her. While some readers and lawyers may not find it credible to have a civil lawyer take on a major criminal trial it is realistic to me as I try both civil and criminal cases.

The trial is the best part of the book. Sloane faces a very competent prosecutor in Rick Cerrabone. While not as flashy as Sloane he skilfully presents the evidence.

It is not a predictable trial. The result is hard to forecast.

Dugoni does well in presenting forensic evidence in an interesting way. He demonstrates the challenges inherent in cross-examining expert witnesses while showing a well prepared lawyer can weaken an expert’s evidence. It was nice to see the hard work of document review rewarded in the trial.

I found abit too much of the “beautiful” and “handsome” protagonists in the book. As the trial took place the roles of their physical appearances diminished.

I had heard of the book because it was short listed for the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction but did not make the effort to look up the book until reading a review by Norman Price in his fine blog, Crime Scraps Review, who said he had been led to read the book by my reference to it in this blog from a post on the Harper Lee Prize. The world does go round and round.

There was a legal ethical issue in the book that troubled me. I will discuss it in my next post as the discussion contains spoilers. Dugoni graciously provided information I was able to use in the post.

It is a very good legal thriller. I am going to keep an eye out for other legal fiction by Dugoni. (Apr. 19/13)
My connection to "D" is for Dugoni is that both of us are lawyers and a significant part of my practice involves litigation.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Questions and Answers with Caroline Woodward

Earlier this week I posted a review of Showdown at Border Town by Caroline Woodward, a teenage Ottawa author. On Tuesday I put up a post setting out how she won a contest from Fireside Publishing to write the book. After reading the book I wrote to Caroline and put forward some questions that she kindly answered. I am impressed by her writing, her email reply and her answers to my questions. I am putting up her entire reply and inserting in bold the questions I asked her. She has a bright future before her.
Hi again,

Here are my answers. Thank you so much for profiling me on your blog. It's much appreciated!

1) Many writers have multiple personal and writing commitments. What responsibilities do you have to balance?

Mainly, I've had to balance being a high school student and writing a book. At my school, I'm involved in the environmental club and the debate club. I'm also enrolled in a specialized Literary Arts Program, where we do a whole variety of creative writing. This meant that while writing the book, I always had other writing assignments on the go too.

2) Writers write in different places at different times. Where and when did you write Showdown?

I wrote the majority of Showdown during the summer of 2011, working up in my room, at the dining room and often times on the back deck (I ended up with a pretty good tan as a result!)

3) Was there an event or a time in your life that you can identify that said you were going to be a writer?

I don't think I ever formally decided I wanted to write. But I do remember working on one of my very first short stories in Grade 8 and realizing "hey, I like to write."

4) Most authors have to look back decades in their lives to recall the voices of teenage characters. It was only a handful of years since you were 13 but the teenage characters of your book live 63 years ago. Their voices sounded authentic to me. Did you do any research on how teenagers in 1950 were speaking?

It was a lot of fun to learn about 1950 and about what kids would have been like at that time. Wanting to make it authentic, I watched movies from the 50s, read up on the trends and talked with people who were kids during that time. My grandparents told me a lot of details about the 1950s, like about clothing styles, meals and slang.

5) When my sons were teenagers in the late 1990’s most of their friends had little interest in Canadian history. What drew you to writing a historical adventure of a teenage future Prime Minister?

I'm very interested in both Canadian history and Canadian politics, so this seemed like a good match. I think it's really important to understand our country's past. Of course, the credit for the really cool concept -- of combining Prime Ministers and mystery -- goes to Fireside Publishing House. My book is the third in a series which features former prime ministers as kids detectives.

6) Did former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, provide you with information that helped you understand him as a 13 year old? If so, I would interested in any particulars you can share.

Yes, Paul Martin has been really helpful. I talked with him early on in my research and he told me all about his summers at the cottage in Colchester. He told me about the park where he played with his friends, about his love of baseball and about travelling with his father to numerous constituency gatherings. He also connected me with his sister who still lived at the cottage in Colchester. I was fortunate enough to visit her there and hear stories from the perspective of a younger sibling. She talked about their friends at the cottage, specifically mentioning a time where she tossed stones at her brother (I put this scene into the book).

7) Do you like mysteries? If you do, who are your favourite authors and why are they your favourites?

I definitely like mysteries. When I was younger, I adored Nancy Drew Novels -- and was inspired by them for my own book. Currently, I'm enjoying the stories of Sherlock Homes. They're such fun reads because they're griping and have so many unexpected twists.



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Contest to Write an Early Adventure of Paul Martin

Paul Martin and Caroline Woodward
In my last post I reviewed Showdown at Border Town – An Adventure of the Young Paul Martin by Caroline Woodward. I was excited when I learned she is a teenager. Roderick Benns, co-founder of Fireside Publishing House which has published the Leaders & Legacies series on the adventures of young future Canadian Prime Ministers provided me information on how Caroline came to write the book. He provided me with an excerpt from a speech he was giving to a Rotary club about the book and series:

To generate excitement for the third book in the series, we held a national contest and it was to be about one of our living former leaders, Paul Martin. We called it ‘The Early Adventure of Paul Martin’ contest. We asked any student in Canada – whether secondary or post-secondary – for the first chapter of a book on a 13-year-old Paul Martin as well as a one-page outline. The winner would receive a publishing contract for their book and it would be published as the third book in the Leaders & Legacies series. Obviously, we expected a university student to win, perhaps someone in a writing program.

The quality of the entries was indeed excellent. But we were even more surprised with our favourite entry – because it was created by a 15-year-old girl from Ottawa by the name of Caroline Woodward. Caroline’s proposed outline was well-researched, well thought out, and her ability to foreshadow young Paul Martin’s life to come was what drew us to her entry.

When we told Mr. Martin what we had planned he was beyond generous. He did media interviews while the contest was on, he read the manuscript itself and made helpful suggestions. He wrote the foreword for the book. He asked his sister to open up their family cottage to Caroline so she could tour it, in order to capture that level of realism for the novel. Then, to top it all off, he agreed to do a joint book signing with young Caroline in November. As you can imagine, there was a crush of media – from CTV, Global, CBC, the Globe and Mail, and talk show programs.

Roderick told me later this year they are publishing the 4th book, which may have the title of Richard Bennett – The Hero of Hopewell Hill, in the series. It will be the first in the series in Maritime Canada. Bennett grew up in New Brunswick.
The website for Fireside, http://www.firesidepublishinghouse.com/default.html, has extensive information about the series.

My next post on Thursday will feature a Q & A with Caroline. She is a gifted young woman. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"C" is for Showdown at Border Town by Caroline Woodward

"C" is for Caroline Woodward in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme being hosted by Kerrie Smith at her excellent blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
17. – 706.) Showdown at Border Town by Caroline Woodward – The third Young Adult book in the Leaders & Legacies series of the adventures of young future Canadian Prime Ministers features a 12 year old Paul Martin in an adventure in and near Windsor, Ontario in 1950.   

Paul is spending the long lazy days of summer with his parents, Paul Sr. and Nell, and his younger sister, Mary Anne, at their cottage on Lake Erie at Colchester. In that pre-electronic era Paul joins his friend, Abby, and other neighbourhood kids in ball games and other outdoor activities. 

While his father, the local MP and Federal Minister of Health, spends time each day on government business it is a relaxing time by the lake. 

In nearby Windsor an investigation has begun into police corruption and an increase in crime. 

Paul’s summer takes an unexpected turn when Tom Whitehawk, a 15 year old Indian, from Walpole Island on the other side of Windsor finds work on a Lake Erie fishing boat. Because it is too far from home to commute and he cannot afford to rent a place Paul Sr. and Nell invite him to stay with them and share Paul’s bedroom. A sense of social responsibility was imparted to Paul by his parents. 

There is something unusal about Tom’s employer, Bud Brunner. His catch is modest but he is driving a new Cadillac. How can he afford such an expensive car? 

When Tom makes an overnight trip home to the reserve to see his sister, ill with polio, Paul goes with him. Paul is struck by the poverty of the reserve and the lack of economic opportunity. 

On their return Paul, aided by Abby, starts probing into what is happening around Brunner’s place. 

The young John Diefenbacker in The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder displays the oratorical skills that were to serve him well as a lawyer and politician. The young Paul Martin is not an orator but he does display a quick understanding of ledgers and accounts. In real life he becomes a very successful businessman and Federal Minister of Finance before being Prime Minister. 

In a scene forecasting his determination as Finance Minister to balance Canada’s budget, Paul watches his father talk to a constituent facing personal economic hardship because he borrowed too much money. After the conversation Paul Sr. explains to Paul the dangers of excessive debt and the cost of interest. 

Woodward evokes the economic promise of the early post-WW II years in Windsor and Detroit. 

She develops well the Martin family. While Paul Sr. is Cabinet Minister they do not live lavishly. They have a nice home and good relations with neighbours of all backgrounds. 

Woodward passes on a wonderful Martin family story about the independent spirit of Nell. Shortly after Paul Sr. was elected to Parliament Nell met the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. She told the P.M. her husband thought he was a great man. The P.M. asked what she thought of him. She said she would “take some convincing”. The P.M. took up the challenge and took her for a walk the next day. 

While I enjoyed the plot I especially enjoyed the characters. All the kids are credible Canadian young people.   

What made the book special is that the author is a teenager. Winning a contest at 15 to write the book Woodward had it finished it by the time she was 17. Showdown at Border Town is an impressive accomplishment for a writer of any age.  

With each new book in the Leaders & Legacies series young Canadians get an opportunity to see that future leaders of our nation at 12 - 13 were a lot like them. I look forward to future books in the series. (Apr. 1/13)
The first two books and my reviews are TheMystery of the Moonlight Murder and The Legends of the Lake on the Mountain.

I anticipate in my next post some Q & A with Caroline.
I have now reached 9 of 13 in the 6th Canadian Book Challenge at the Book Mine Set blog.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shortlists for 2013 Arthur Ellis Awards Released

Tonight in a series of events across Canada the shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada were announced. It is a little discouraging as I have not read any of the books listed in any of the categories. The shortlists are:

Best Novel

  • Linwood Barclay, Trust Your Eyes, Doubleday Canada
  • Giles Blunt, Until the Night, Random House Canada
  • Sean Chercover, The Trinity Game, Thomas & Mercer
  • Stephen Miller, The Messenger, Delacorte Press
  • Carsten Stroud, Niceville, Knopf

Best First Novel

  • Peggy Blair, The Beggar’s Opera, Penguin Canada
  • Deryn Collier, Confined Space, Simon & Schuster
  • Peter Kirby, The Dead of Winter, Linda Leith Publishing
  • Chris Laing, A Private Man, Seraphim
  • Simone St. James, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, NAL

Best Novella

  • Lou Allin, Contingency Plan, Orca Rapid Reads
  • Vicki Delany, A Winter Kill, Orca Rapid Reads
  • Barbara Fradkin, Evil behind that Door, Orca Rapid Reads
  • Christopher Moore, "Reunion", Phnom Penh Noir, Heaven Lake Press

Best Short Story

  • Melodie Campbell, “Life without George” in Over My Dead Body Mystery Magazine, August 2012
  • Sandy Conrad, “Sins of the Fathers” in Daughters and Other Strangers, The Brucedale Press
  • Scott MacKay, “Cruel Coast” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 2012
  • Jas R. Petrin, “Mad Dog” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 2012
  • Yasuko Thanh, “Spring-blade Knife” in Floating Like the Dead, McClelland & Stewart

Best Nonfiction

  • Anita Arvast, Bloody Justice: The Truth behind the Bandidos Massacre at Shedden, John Wiley & Sons
  • Guy Lawson, Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con, Crown Books/Random House
  • Steve Lillebuen, The Devil’s Cinema: The Untold Story behind Mark Twitchell’s Kill Room, McClelland & Stewart
  • Bruce Livesey, Thieves of Bay Street: How Banks, Brokerages and the Wealthy Steal Billions from Canadians, Random House Canada

Best Juvenile/YA

  • Lisa Harrington, Live to Tell, Cormorant Books
  • Y.S. Lee, The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel, Candlewick Press
  • Sylvia McNicoll, Crush Candy Corpse, James Lorimer & Company
  • Shane Peacock, Becoming Holmes, Tundra Books
  • Elizabeth Stewart, The Lynching of Louie Sam, Annick Press

Best Crime Book in French

  • Mario Bolduc, La Nuit des albinos: Sur les traces de Max O’Brien, Libre Expression
  • André Jacques, De pierres et de sang, Druide
  • Jean Lemieux, L’homme du jeudi, La courte échelle
  • Martin Michaud, Je me souviens, Goélette
  • Richard Ste Marie, L’inaveu, Alire

Best Unpublished First Crime Novel: the Unhanged Arthur

  • William Hall, Cold Black Tide
  • Ilonka Halsband, The Raffle Baby
  • Coleen Steele, Sins Revisited
Tickets for the Arthur Ellis Awards Gala on May 30 at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto are now available.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

“B” is for the Saskatchewan B’s

Anthony Bidulka
My province of Saskatchewan is large in area but limited in population with just over 1,000,000 people. There are three mystery series set in Saskatchewan and all are written by authors whose surnames start with “B”. They are Anthony Bidulka, Gail Bowen and Nelson Brunanski. They are the Saskatchewan “B’s”. Collectively they are my “B” for the 2013 Alphabet in Crime Fiction hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise.

Gail Bowen
Being a lawyer rather than a statistician I do not know the odds of having three mystery authors setting their books in the same province and having the same letter of the alphabet to begin their last names but it must be long odds.

Of the trio Tony and Gail reside in Saskatchewan. Nelson grew up in rural Saskatchewan at Wakaw which is just over 80 km. from my home in Melfort.

Nelson Brunanski
The author backgrounds overlap. Gail grew up in Toronto and moved to Saskatchewan where she was an English professor at the First Nations University until she retired. Tony grew up in rural Saskatchewan on the family farm. He has had a series of jobs including bull cook at a uranium mine (not a job for the sensitive), waiter, teacher and shoe salesman. He appeared to have settled into being a chartered accountant until he decided to become a mystery writer. Nelson grew up at Wakaw where his family published the local weekly newspaper. He was an English teacher in British Columbia until he retired. Tony and Nelson actually grew up about 60 km from each other with Nelson being a few years older.

Their books are set in three different parts of Saskatchewan. Tony’s books featuring Russell Quant are based in Saskatoon which is the largest city in the province with approximately 270,000 people. Gail’s series with Joanne Kilbourn take place in Regina, the capital of the province. Nelson’s mysteries with Bart Bartkowski are set in the small town of Crooked Lake which is a thinly veiled Wakaw.

Their sleuths have very different occupations. Russell is a private investigator. Joanne spent most of the series as a political science professor at the University of Regina and just retired in the latest book. Bart is the operator of a fly-in fishing camp in northern Saskatchewan.

I have thought about what common elements there are for their sleuths and their mysteries. In particular, I have reflected on aspects of the characters and the plots that I would associate with Saskatchewan.

Family is very much a part of the lives of each of the sleuths. Russell is very close to his mother, Kay. Joanne has recently remarried and is happy with her lawyer husband Zack (Who could not be happy with a Saskachewan lawyer husband?). Bart is in a strong marriage with Rosie. Joanne and Bart have children with whom they have good relationships.

Each of the families of the sleuths have problems but none are the desperately dysfunctional families I see so often in crime fiction. Their issues are the challenges all of us face in life.

Each sleuth has a character trait associated with Saskatchewan people. They are all polite. While politeness may be boring to some it is a provincial attribute with which I am comfortable.

None of the books are piled high with bodies. I am sure each of the authors could have written large body counts but they are content with 1 or 2 or 3 bodies. With Saskatchewan having a low rate of murder in real life the books reflect our province.

Each of the sleuths clearly enjoys living in Saskatchewan. They like their fellow Saskatchewanians. They appreciate lifestyles that are not in the midst of millions of people.
The sleuths reflect the egalitarian nature of Saskatchewan. Joanne has been a committed supporter of the left leaning social democratic party. Russell is far from an elitist associating with all kinds of people. Bart is an average guy who happens to solve murders.

Each of the sleuths is someone a reader would find easy to sit down with for a chat or meal.

The authors are equally fun. I have spent time with Tony and Gail. They are wonderful people with whom to have a conversation. I encourage any reader having a chance to attend an event with them to go see them. You will not be disappointed.
My connection to the Saskatchewan “B’s” is the simplest in the alphabet. Being a Bill I have been a Saskatchewan “B” all my life.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Real Arthur Ellis – Canadian Hangman

Canada's Last Hangman - John Ellis
The Crime Writers of Canada annually honour the best crime fiction and non-fiction in Canada with the Arthur Ellis Awards. The shortlists for the 2013 Awards will be announced next Thursday evening. I only vaguely knew the Awards were named after Canadian hangman, Arthur Ellis.

Arthur Ellis was actually a pseudonym. The first Arthur Ellis was Arthur B. English who had emigrated from England. Most sources say he was related to English hangman, John Ellis.

He became Canada’s official hangman in 1913 and continued in that role until 1935. It was claimed he presided or assisted in over 600 executions in England, the Middle East and Canada.

Arthur Ellis
B.A. McKelvie in an article My Friend, the Hangman, from the book Outlaws and Lawmen of Western Canada – Volume Two, discusses his personal relationship with Ellis:

Arthur Ellis was an artist. I like artists who take a pride in their work. Besides, he was a genial, kind hearted little chap, always ready to alleviate distress. I’ve seen him cry when told of the sufferings of a poor family.

His work he regarded as purely impersonal. His was a duty to perform, and he did it. “I am an executioner (he shunned the word “hangman” as being vulgar) because I believe that I can carry out the judgement of the law with less pain and anguish to the condemned than can any other man in the world,” he once told me.  

Later McKelvie was provided an explanation on the knot that sent a chill up my back:

“I’ll show you,” exclaimed Arthur. He grabbed his club bag, which I naturally thought had his pyjamas and brush and comb. He opened it and displayed a fine assortment of ropes and black caps. Deftly he tied a noose. “Now,” he said with mounting enthusiasm, “I’d place it right there,” and he indicated a point just beyond my left ear – and his cold hands rather fondly felt my neck. “I’d break the third vertebrae,” he boasted. Honestly, I didn’t quite like being a guinea pig for a hangman’s lecture on his art. Especially so, when to further demonstrate the exactitude with which the rope should be adjusted, he wanted to put a black cap over my head and the noose around my neck.

He was forced into retirement in 1935 when he relied on a weight given to him for Thomasina Sarao in making his calculations for the execution. She was actually 35 pounds heavier. When she dropped she was decapitated. It was the last public execution in Canada.

His successor also took the name of Arthur Ellis.

Our nation’s last executioner used the name John Ellis. As abolition was being debated in Canada’s Parliament in the 1960’s he gave an interview to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The interview can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLKDsjLFx4s. Wearing a hood for the interview as seen in the photo with this post was chillingly apt. I found the interview disturbing.

As often the case I found the real story more powerful than fiction. I am grateful Canada no longer has a hangman.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes by W. Brett Wilson

1. – 690.) Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes by W. Brett Wilson – An inspirational autobiography by Brett who was born 5 years later than myself 300 km away in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. He graduated with a degree in Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan and moved to Calgary at the beginning of the 1980’s.
He soon entered the world of finance and, in the early 1990’s set up FirstEnergy, a merchant bank for the oil industry. Unlike traditional regular and merchant banks it concentrated on helping small oil companies be financed and raise money.

Brett was immensely successful in business but at an equally great cost to his personal life. He recounts his limited involvement with his children and the erosion and collapse of his marriage. As his personal life faltered he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

As the 20th Century ended he re-evaluated his life and priorities. Too late to save his marriage he re-established good relationships with his children. He took the time needed to treat his cancer. He re-balanced the time spent on work, family, friends and community.

Brett is among the few writers of business autobiographies and biographies to emphasize integrity is at the heart of his business deals. Striving for good deals he is not desperate to extract the last dollar out of every transaction.

Brett lives by prairie ethics. He says:

Ask anyone in the Calgary corporate community and they’ll tell you: if you want to hire a trustworthy person who understands that a hard day’s work earns a fair wage, just hire someone from Saskatchewan.

In his investments he hearkens back to an earlier era of business. He invests more with the people seeking his money than the numbers they present to him. I was reminded of famed American banker J. Pierpoint Morgan who said character was the most important asset in considering a loan.

In Canada he is best known for the 3 years he was a panelist on the Canadian edition of the T.V. series, Dragon’s Den, where real life business moguls evaluate pitches for investment from fledgling businesses and sometimes invest in those businesses. During his years on the show Brett was the most positive about ventures and made more investments than any other Dragon.

It can hard to evaluate whether a writer is truthful about their life. I do know one of the businesses in which Brett invested as a Dragon. He did make a fair deal. In his description of the investment in the book he did not over-state the facts. He provided an accurate picture of the investment and what has happened since he made the investment.

Even rarer is his business commitment to philanthropy. When Brett and his partners set up FirstEnergy they decided to donate 2.5% of the firm profits to charitable organizations. They have maintained that principle through the years.

In his personal life he has creatively raised millions of dollars. One of his favourite means to raise money is to host a party for which he pays all the expenses and then invites friends, colleagues and other members of the community to provide a cheque at admission for his charity of choice for the event. He asks them to provide what they would pay for a good meal and consider adding something more. Individual parties have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I was probably more impressed by his personal commitment. He travels almost every year to Mexico to physically help build houses for poor Mexicans in the Baja region.

Brett believes all students should be taught classes in:

1.) Marketing – “Understanding the value of brand, goodwill and the purchasing decision-making process is an invaluable competitive advantage over others, even when it comes to preparing your own resume and business card”;

2.) Entrepeneurship – “Studying examples of great Canadian entrepreneurs can plant seeds that will bear fruit decades later”; and,

3.) Philanthropy – “I fundamentally believe that giving back is an opportunity to change the world you and your family live in, to improve the brand of your business, to invest in the future”.

My only regret in the books is the lack of examples of business mistakes from which he has learned. He provides significant illustrations of his personal mistakes. I wish he would write another book on his business mistakes and what he learned from them.

Few people can match his passion and energy. All readers could benefit from a personal re-definition of success. (Jan. 6/13)