About Me

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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Government Powers in Our Times and The Kill Room

Jeffery Deaver in The Kill Room goes into major contemporary issues that are not often dealt with in crime or thriller fiction.

This post does not directly involve spoilers but it does have more information about the books discussed than some readers may want to know about the books.

As set out in my review the criminal investigation involves the death of an expatriate American, Roberto Moreno, who is executed in a hotel room in the Bahamas by an American intelligence services drone airplane. What is the authority of the United States to kill its citizens or non-citizens without due process of law?

In an age where threats of terrorism and actual acts of terrorism occur what rights do governments have to pre-emptively kill those they believe will harm their citizens?

In Fool’s Republic by Gordon W. Dale which I reviewed 2 years ago the protagonist, Simon Wyley “has been cast into one of America’s new secret prisons where those persons, the authorities fear threaten her security, are held captive without rights”. Interrogators seek to break Wyley to get the information they want from him.

In my review I discussed the dangers of abandoning the Rule of Law:

Recently I was in Germany where I spoke with a German lawyer about the Nazi takeover of his country. The Rule of Law was thrown aside when the Nazis perverted the German judicial system. He expressed unease over the development of secret courts in the United States. I stated it was America’s public courts that restrained the legal excesses of the internal War on Terror. He remained concerned for America’s future when confidential charges and proceedings become part of the judicial system.

A year earlier I had reviewed Crossing Hitler by Benjamin Carter Hett. The book discussed the actions of a courageous German lawyer:

Hans Litten was a radical Berlin defence lawyer in 1932, acting as a private prosecutor with the public prosecutor, helping prosecutor SA storm troopers charged with attacking Communists partying at the Eden Dance Palace. Litten convinced the Court to summon Adolph Hitler to testify about the SA. Litten carefully crafted questions that challenged Hitler to reconcile the Nazi Party’s public proclamations of pursuing power only by legal means with the SA taking violent actions in the streets of Germany. Litten’s probing questions provoke Hitler into a profound rage.

When Hitler gained power he immediately imprisoned Litten who eventually committed suicide in prison.

In The Kill Room the good guys and the bad guys, with blurring on both sides as to character, use modern data mining techniques of the American Federal Government, often with no official authorization.

A vast increase in the power of police and intelligence agencies to investigate and surveil American citizens and non-citizens has taken place since the terrible events of 9/11. In the years after 2001 crime fiction dealt with these new powers.

Lost Light by Michael Connelly in 2003 was the first book I read involving these issues. Harry Bosch, in the interval when he is retired from the LAPD, finds out during a murder investigation how much power has been assumed by the anti-terrorism units of the FBI.

A year later, V.I. Warshawski, in Blacklist by Sara Paretsky explores issues involving the treatment of American Arabs and goes back 50 years to the McCarthy hearings on Un-American Activities.

Outside North America John Le Carre has dealt with the new world of intelligence in such books as Mission Song. In that book Congolese interpreter Salvo learns of the duplicitious nature of the English and other Western intelligence agencies while translating secret recordings of private conversations.

While this post reflects my concern with the actions of intelligence agencies apparently beyond the supervision of legislative bodies and courts I recognize that in an age of terror governments must have swift means to prevent and react to terror. Having been a criminal defence counsel and a lawyer for plaintiffs taking on big government and large corporations I am uneasy about abuses of the power entrusted to the intelligence services of our times.


  1. So am I, Bill. So am I. Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. It's a very big issue, and admittedly not one that's easily resolved. Hopefully if we keep talking about it won't get swept under the rug and people will be able to figure out the answer.

  2. This is an excellent and thought-provoking post Bill. This issue is one that troubles me deeply. As you point out there are plenty of examples in history of governments being quick to abandon the rule of law and I can't think of one where society is enriched as a result. Of course they always have a good reason for it, but while I might argue some of those reasons are more legitimate than others I grow ever more certain that the ends rarely justify the means.

    It's not really crime fiction - more of a thriller with vaguely speculative roots (in that the science is plausible even though it's not here quite yet) - but I found Daniel Suarez' KILL DECISION quuite fascinating in this respect. It deals with the idea of using robots to carry out warfare manoevres - robots that are capable of 'decision-making' as far as what to kill (or not kill). At first I thought it was all a bit far fetched but the technology is pretty close to realistic and when I read that under the present US government (you know the one that was supposed to be kinder and gentler than Bush Jnr's) there have been 50 civilians killed for every  terrorist killed by a predator drone I do worry that "we" have entirely lost sight of what it was "we" are protecting.

    I'm also intrigued by some of the writing that is coming out of Sweden which explores that country's relatively recent movement from left to right politically. In ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIVE Leif G.W. Persson goes into some depth on this issue as the story takes place across a 25 year period during which much of this shift takes place. By the end of the novel there's a Secret Police hidden within the broader Force and they're not averse to ignoring the rule of law if it achieves their aims. Here those aims are reasonably benign but the author does hint at the slipperiness of this particular slope.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. There is a reluctance in Canada to really discuss the balance of security needs and freedom from government.

  4. Bernadette: Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    As the military takes over Egypt there appears little chance for the rule of law in that nation.

    Kill Decision sounds very interesting. In The Kill Room the drone is essentially computer flown. There is a fascinating discussion on the impact of a drone pilot sitting in the United Sates and operating the aircraft thousands of kilometres away and then returning home to wife and family when the mission is done.

    Thank you for mentioning Sweden. Henning Mankell in Faceless Killers was addressing anti-immigration feelings in Sweden in the early 1990's.

    Stieg Larsson's trilogy had a frightening look at Sapo (the Swedish Security Service).

    I do not believe the Western democracies have effective checks on our current intelligence agencies.

  5. Bill, thanks for the many examples of fiction dealing with America's extra-judicial ways to prevent acts of terrorism on its soil. I think nearly every nation on earth practices it in some form or the other. Phone-tapping by successive central (federal) governments in India is an old issue and is used even now to keep tabs on the opposition.

  6. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. Your nation has directly experienced terrorist attacks. I wonder what the history of our times will say about how the world conducted its war on terrorism.

  7. Bill, I did not read all of your review because of your comments at the beginning. [And I really appreciate you noting that.] But I can tell from the comments it is an interesting book and I enjoyed reading all the comments.

  8. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I try to let people know when a post is going to involve discussion that may affect their reading of the book or books involved.