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, September 24, 2013

“Y” is for The Shaman’s Knife by Scott Young

“Y” is for The Shaman’s Knife by Scott Young (1993) – The second Matteesie Kitologitak mystery is a brilliant trip into the far North of Canada.

Matteesie has just arrived home in Ottawa from a trip to Labrador when he receives a call that a double murder has taken place in Sanirarsipaaq and his 90 year old mother, Bessie Apakaq, has been injured. She has been medivacked to Yellowknife.

On the difference in surnames Matteesie explains:

The Inuit system of more or less picking our own surnames baffles some people, especially the whites, but it’s one of our traditional ways that we’ve been able to hang onto. It’s not based on patronymics, like in Russia, or matronymics, if that’s a word, but simply allows the individual to take the name he or she wishes.

It is one of but many lovely little examples of Inuit life.

As Matteesie finishes the call advising he is on his way to Yellowknife his wife, Lois, overhears the conversation and makes a rude remark about “the bloody North” not realizing the trip is to go to his stricken mother and then fly to Sanirarsipaaq to investigate the murders. It is a painfully awkward moment when Lois learns about her mother-in-law being injured, a woman she met early in their 20 years of marriage and has not seen again. Matteesie says Lois “apparently didn’t really warm to a toothless old Inuit woman with a tattooed face and only one eye”.

In the North, Aunt Bessie is a much loved woman who loves to travel from one family group to another, the nomadic spirit still strong in her.

On arrival in Yellowknife Matteesie finds his mother gravely injured but stable. She had been knocked aside by the killer fleeing the house in which the murders were committed.

Matteesie receives long distance comfort from Maxine, the Inuit woman with whom he has had an affair almost as long as he has been married.

Matteesie finds himself content to continue both relationships.

After Bessie stabilizes he travels to Sanirarsipaaq on the Arctic coast. The case gains widespread publicity when there is a suggestion that there are shamanistic aspects to the murders.

Even though it is officially spring in southern Canada it is still winter in the Arctic. For a snowmobile trip out of town he readies himself in case the weather changes:

Most of my heavy-duty cold wear had flown with me from Labrador last Monday. The rest I’d borrowed from Bouvier. I had on a thermal shirt next to my skin, down vest, pants of caribou hide with rubber bottoms, winter parka, fur hat and googles …..

Northerners learn to respect the weather.

Once in the small Arctic community he returns to the life of his youth where the residents make their living from the land hunting and trapping.

Comfortably settled into the local hotel Matteesie commences his investigation with the aid of Corporal Bouvier.

The deceased, a young man and his mother, have been brutally knifed to death. There is blood everywhere.

Forensic examination shows several types of footprints – some in the blood and some prior to the killings. I could not help but think they needed Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte to help them study the footprints.

Matteesie is a dogged investigator. He neither has brilliant deductions or swift insights into the evidence. He carefully proceeds with assembling the evidence.

He considers the local shaman, Jonassie Oquataq, a famed Inuit carver and sculptor. Matteesie thinks of the role shamans have traditionally taken in the North.

As the investigation proceeds the reader is fully taken into the life of an Inuit village far above the Arctic Circle.

There is little doubt about the killer but can Matteesie build a case?

The Shaman’s Knife is an excellent book. I was left regretful at the end that Scott Young wrote no further mysteries featuring Matteesie and the people of northern Canada. It would have been a memorable series. (Sept. 24/13)
Last year my entry for “Y” in the Crime Fiction Alphabet hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog Mysteries in Paradise also featured Scott Young in the following posts:
(2012) - Murder in a Cold Climate;  (2012) - "Y" is for Scott Young; (2012) - Traditional Outdoor Journeys in Cime Fiction

My connection to the book comes from its setting in Canada and the author being a Canadian. My next post will contain some further observations on life focusing on modern travel in the North.


  1. Bill - An excellent choice for Y. It's interesting how sometimes an author will write just one or two excellent books, where we truly wish a series had developed, and I can see why you feel that way about this case.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is one of the few times I wish there was another author to continue the series.

  3. Bill, I am glad you reminded me of this author. He would be a good choice for the Canadian Book Challenge, if I can find a copy (of the first one). Excellent review that entices me to find these books.

  4. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. Each of the mysteries is firmly set in the geography, history and culture of the Arctic.