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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Personal Connections to Saskatchewan NHL Players

Young Saskatchewan Hockey Players
My last post was a review of Fire on Ice by Darrell Davis. The book is about Saskatchewan born NHL players. In the book Darrell puts forward the oft made statement that everyone in Saskatchewan knows someone either currently playing in the NHL or formerly played in the league. I am no exception. Going through the book I found myself thinking of my connections with NHL players.

In the early 1970’s Lorne Henning was a skilled player who was an important member of the New York Islanders when the team was winning Stanley Cups. I knew him better as a fastball softball pitcher for the Resource Cardinals. I played against him several times in local sports days.

Rex Jennings would drop into the family farm to discuss wildlife and water fowl issues with my father. His son, Grant, grew up in Melfort and reached the NHL as a defenceman with the Pittsburgh Pennguins. We talked several times about playing professional hockey. Grant married the daughter of a Melfort judge.

In the book Darrell never caught up with Wendel Clark, a star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wendel grew up at Kelvington about 175 km from Melfort. During the mid-1990’s I remember talking to Wendel as a reporter after he had returned to Toronto for the first time after being traded to the New York Islanders. He had a special bond with the fans of Toronto and even with the media of the city. Until that night I had never seen a Toronto sportswriter invite a player for a drink later that evening. I think his willingness to patiently talk to people including reporter after reporter asking the same question reflected his Saskatchewan upbringing. He was a star without pretention.

Todd and Jeff Nelson are from Prince Albert. Their maternal grandmother is from Meskanaw which is my hometown.

Dave “Tiger” Williams was a rough tough junior hockey player for Swift Current. One of my best friends in law school played junior hockey with Tiger. He told me 40 years ago about Tiger inciting a brawl one night before a game even started.

After his NHL career ended Marc Habscheid turned to coaching. He was the coach of the Melfort Mustangs, the local junior team, in the late 1990’s and I spoke with him often about hockey.

I take exception with one statement in the book. Darrell says Derek Boogaard grew up in Regina. He actually grew up in Melfort where he was in the same grade as my older son in elementary school and junior high before he left to pursue a hockey career. Derek was by far the biggest guy in each grade.

Derek used his size and determination to reach the NHL as a fighter and an enforcer. Tragically his addiction to prescription painkillers led him one night in Minneapolis to combine too many pills with too much alcohol and he died at 27. I continue to wonder about the transformation of the big young boy I knew to the addicted man at his death.

Tyson Strachan, who has spent time in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers, was a good friend of my sons. I coached him for several years in minor baseball.

In our province there are 1,100,000 people. With 487 NHL players from Saskatchewan in the last 96 years it is not a surprise there are many personal connections with professional hockey players.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fire on Ice by Darrell Davis

51. – 740.) Fire on Ice by Darrell Davis – In addition to mysteries one of my passions is sports. During the years I have covered the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League as a columnist for the Melfort Journal I met Darrell. He was a sports writer for the Regina Leader Post newspaper who wrote about the Riders for over two decades. I acknowledge he is a friend in writing this review of Fire on Ice, a book he has written about Saskatchewan hockey players boldly sub-titled, Why Saskatchewan Rules the NHL.

There are approximately 50 NHL players currently playing in the league out of about 700 players. Yet Saskatchewan is far more disproportionately represented in the NHL. Our province produces NHL players at 4.8 players per 100,000 people while the next leading province, Manitoba, has 2.6 players per 100,000.
Current Edmonton Oiler forward, Jordan Eberle, wrote the forward to the book. He grew up on Janzen Crescent in Regina just down the street from the home of Darrell and his wife, Eva, playing street hockey with Darrell’s sons.

Darrell accompanied L.A. forward, Jarret Stoll, and the Stanley Cup back to the village of Neudorf (283 people) where he started playing hockey and the city of Yorkton (18,000 people) where his family moved as a teenager. (For readers unfamiliar with Stanley Cup tradition each player on the winning team is allowed to take the Cup anywhere they want for a day after the Championship season. Most players take it to their home towns.) Over 1,000 people went to the celebration in Neudorf and hundreds had their photo taken with Jarret and the Cup.

Not surprisingly for Saskatchewan two other NHL players, Brian Propp who played in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and Eddie Litzenberger who played a generation earlier, came from Neudorf. Darrell also notes the village honours Henry Taube, a Nobel Prize winning chemist, who grew up there.

Darrell, after a story on Stoll’s willingness to do what is best for the team set out the characteristics of a Saskatchewan player:

That’s typical of a Saskatchewan hockey player – somebody you want on your team. He’s the glue who holds the dressing together, A back-checker. Somebody who never floats through a shift and doesn’t care if his accomplishments are recognized by the fans or the media, as long as his teammates respect his efforts. He remembers his roots, where he came from, who preceded him, who helped him, and he respects the sport’s tradition, how it binds Canada together on every frozen pond and indoor arena from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

Exploring the roots of Saskatchewan hockey Darrell makes a 3 hour drive to Wawota to watch a Big Six Senior League hockey game. Saskatchewan’s love of hockey has hundreds of teams of men playing organized hockey for the joy of the game. Wawota has several citizens who made the NHL and a major contribution to their Zamboni came from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

Darrell uses the example of Brooks Laich from Wawota on the attitude of Saskatchewan hockey players. After his team, the Washington Capitals, lost the 7th game of a hard fought series to be eliminated from the playoffs he was driving across a bridge where he saw a car with a flat tire. He stopped and changed the tire for a mother and her daughter. No one who lives in Saskatchewan was surprised he pulled over to help them.

Saskatchewan hockey players are consistently tough men. Dave “Tiger” Williams holds the NHL record for penalty minutes racking up 3,966 minutes during his career. Darrell tells a powerful story about Tiger inspiring a young Bryan Trottier to keep playing by becoming his personal protector.

The first aboriginal player in the NHL, Fred Sasakamoose, came from Saskatchewan. His life is filled with accomplishment and addiction.

I loved the stories in the book but found the recitation of player statistics and backgrounds took away from the stories at times. I wished Darrell could have included more stories. I wanted to learn more about the players.

The book will help readers understand Saskatchewan hockey but I regret that Darrell did not really analyze the information and offer his thoughts on what has made Saskatchewan so successful in producing NHL players. Knowing him he had the ability to provide such analysis. Maybe there is another book to be written. (Oct. 21/13)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Recommendations for Sharon for a Christmas book for Me

Each year for Christmas my wife, Sharon, likes to give me 1-2 books as a part of my Christmas presents. She finds it impossible to keep up with all the books I buy so she asks me to give her recommendations.

I have been thinking about what I would like to get for a book this year. The first book I thought of is Scott Turow’s new book, Identical. I have consistently enjoyed his books, especially the legal mysteries involving Rusty Sabich.

I was then reading the October of 2013 issue of The Merchant of Menace published by the wonderful Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. Marian highlighted Lineup by the Israeli writer Liad Shoham. She describes it as “a combination legal thriller and police procedural, compelling and complex”. The combination sounded good to me. I have found the recommendations in the newsletter to be reliable guides to good mysteries.

Sitting at my computer today set me to thinking maybe fellow bloggers and readers of this blog could help in the Christmas book cause.

I would invite readers to provide in a comment the name of a book, please one rather than a dozen, they would recommend Sharon buy for me for this Christmas.

It can be newly published or a classic.

I would request that it be a book published in paper as she will be looking for the book in bookstores.

Thank you for helping Sharon. (I do appreciate that you are really benefiting me!)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Death on a Pale Horse by Donald Thomas

Death on a Pale Horse by Donald Thomas – Having enjoyed two collections of Holmes short stories by Thomas I purchased a copy of his most recent full length Holmes novel. I was disappointed.

The book opens with a vivid description of the British Army disaster in 1879 at Isandhlwana in South Africa when Zulu warriors killed over 1,300 British soldiers. In the book the defeat was blamed on the sabotage of ammunition boxes and the ammunition itself.

A shadowy figure, Colonel Rawdon Moran is thought to be the mastermind of the betrayal.

The book then follows Dr. John Watson as he is deployed to the English Army in Afgahnistan where they are fighting to ensure the Russians do not take over the country. We read how Watson was badly wounded in another British Army catastrophe, the battle of Maiwand.

While interesting the telling of the stories means Watson does not actually meet Holmes until almost 100 pages into the mystery.

There is a sparkling picture of Holmes by Watson:

From the start, I knew that Holmes was a man who never admitted failure or defeat. I have sometimes been asked to describe his appearance and manner by those who had not known him. I have suggested that they should imagine the stance and manner of Sir Edward Carson, QC, that most vigorous and astute of cross-examiners, combined with the combative and self-assured manner of Lord Birkenhead, the former Mr. F.E. Smith. There was also a dash of the late Lord Curzon with his taste for what he called effortless superiority. But even all that does not do him sufficient credit for his nobler character. Holmes would put away ambition in order to work tirelessly and without reward on behalf of the poorest and humblest client. Indeed, it was “poor persons’ defences” which gave him the greatest satisfaction and which, he undertook, without reward, for pure love of justice.

We learn more about how Holmes and Watson came to share lodgings at 221B Baker Street.

Together they join in the investigation of a murder at Carlyle Mansions, a simple building of discount lodging, especially for members of the military.

Mycroft provides information on the sinister Moran.

Holmes is brilliant in assessing the murder scene. His powers of observation and deduction are well set out by Thomas.

Holmes and Watson are threatened. Watson provides a powerful description of fear and terror:

I had known fear on the battlefield, where I expected to find it. But then I had been in company with my comrades. Terror, I was to learn is faced alone. There is no comrade to turn to, no rhyme nor reason to what is happening.

I struggled with Moran as a great criminal in the mode of James Moriarity. It is not easy to remain plausible in a book in which the mastermind moves and acts freely while being pursued by British police and British secret agents. For a man intent on revenge and criminal profits Moran is remarkably public.

It has the feel of a plot from over 100 years ago when great criminals were often the foe for great detectives.

The title is misleading in that Holmes spends little of his time on Her Majesty’s Service. Far more is spent on criminal detection supplementing the efforts of Scotland Yard.

The short stories of Thomas involving Holmes are more engaging. With few exceptions, such as Laurie R. King’s series involving Holmes and Mary Russell, I think the short stories are a better format for Holmes and Watson.

I shall read more short stories by Thomas but do not expect to read again a Holmes novel by him. (Oct. 17/13)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Comparing The Gifted and How the Light Gets In

Recently I read books by two of my favourite Canadian authors. They were The Gifted by Gail Bowen, the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn (Shreeve) series and How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, the 9th in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I enjoyed The Gifted more and have been thinking about why I liked it better than How the Light Gets In. I do not believe I have spoilers in this post but it may have more information about the books than some readers would like to have before reading them.

Both series feature sleuths who are engaging and not burdened with addictions and profound psychological problems. Each sleuth has a family whose ongoing lives are chronicled in the series.

They are each set in a locale that is present in almost every book of the series. Bowen’s books take place in Regina, Saskatchewan. Penny’s series is usually located in the fictional village of Three Pines in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

In my review of How the Light Gets In I felt the continuing internal conflict within the Surete, the provincial police agency of which Gamache is a member, was a distraction from the mystery which was an investigation into the death of an elderly woman, Constance Pineault.

Yet in The Gifted the ongoing story of Kilbourn’s family and their relationships with friends and the work of her husband, Zack, made the murder secondary for much of the plot.

I claim the right as a reader and blogger not to be required to be consistent in my assessment of books but I have reflected on my preference for The Gifted.

My first concern was over the murky conspiracy in the Surete which has been unfolding over several books in the series. While the leading protagonists in the conspiracy are set out the nature of the conspiracy was elusive. I am not a big fan of secretive conspiracies. A generation ago I loved Robert Ludlum’s books featuring conspiracies but have found few in recent years I enjoyed.

In How the Light Gets In the murder of Pineault is separate from the battle inside the Surete. Essentially there are parallel stories.

In The Gifted the murder is integrated into the lives of the family and friends of Kilbourn. The murder is a part of the story involving the disintegrating marriage of friends and the blossoming artistic career of her daughter, Taylor.

Pineault’s murder is connected with Three Pines. She was a friend of the bookshop owner and former psychologist, Myrna Landers. It is actually a murder with a better hook than in The Gifted.  Having Pineault one of a famed set of quintuplets evokes the mystique and lives of the real life Dionne Quints grabbed my interest.

Unfortunately, this excellent story is swept aside by the Surete drama. The solution to Pineault’s murder is revealed in a few pages after the resolution of the Surete story.

To me, if Penny had wanted to focus on the Surete issues, she could have written a strong book that dealt with the mysterious death of a female civilian employee of the Surete that took place at the beginning of the book. It would have been a book about the investigation into the death that would have been entertwined with the internal contest. Three Pines could have been featured in the story in the same way it was for much of the actual book.

Two stories were grafted together in How the Light Gets In. I believe it would have best for each story to have had a separate book.

The plot would not have worked well in The Gifted if there had been a huge conflict in Shreeve’s law firm as well as the murder in the circle of family and friends. An earlier book in the series made conflict in the firm resulting in death the mystery for the book.

The Gifted found further favour with me as it is a mystery. I felt How the Light Gets In was more thriller than mystery. In the context of each series I think the hybrid of How the Light Gets In did not work well.

I regretted that in How the Light Gets In Gamache’s wife, Reine Marie, was in France and his daughter, Annie, had but a minor role. I consider his family an integral part of the series. The Gifted maintained the importance of Kilbourn’s family.

Lastly I was more comfortable with the ending in The Gifted which had drama but not the Hollywood flash of How the Light Gets In.
Re-reading this post has made me realize I do not want the author to stray too far from what I have enjoyed in earlier books of each series.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

49. – 738.) How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny – The clash between Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Superintendent Sylvain Francouer of the Surete for the province of Quebec is reaching its climax. Gamache, weary from the conflict, receives a call from Myrna Landers, the bookstore owner in the village of Three Pines that her friend, Constance Pineault, has not arrived for a scheduled pre-Christmas visit.

The book develops the character of Myrna. The former psychologist is a skilled listener. While retired she is always willing to listen.

Gamache and his trusted agent, Isabelle Lacoste, go to Pineault’s modest Montreal home where they find her dead. While a case in the jurisdiction of the Montreal police they are quite ready to turn over the investigation to Gamache and the Surete.

There is no forensic evidence pointing towards a killer. Gamache is grateful to have a reason to travel to Three Pines to renew his friendships with the villagers. I am glad that the series returned to Three Pines. The books are at their best in the village. Three Pines and its residents provide a haven from the trials and troubles of the big city.

While Myrna is the closest to Pineault all are surprised that the flinty abrasive foul mouthed poet, Ruth Zardo, and her pet duck, Rosa, have a good relationship with Pineault.

The murder investigation threatens to become a public sensation when Gamache learns that Pineault is the surname of the mother of the murdered woman. She is actually the last member of the famed Ouellet quintuplets. Born to a poor Quebec farming family in the 1930’s the girls were raised by the government as a tourist attraction. Their highly public upbringing left the Quints intensely private and struggling to form meaningful personal relationships.

Who would want an intensely private 77 year old woman dead? Can her connections with Three Pines have brought about her death?

Penny sets out that the Ouellet quintuplets were inspired by the story of the real life Dionne quints. Born to a poor rural Ontario family in the 1930’s the Dionne girls were raised with equal publicity. Penny emphasizes that she chose not to learn of the actual lives of the Dionne Quints as she thought it would intrude upon their privacy.

As Gamache is looking into the murder he is being ever more isolated by Francouer and his supporters. It is clear they are planning something major but Gamache cannot find evidence of their plans.

He has one senior ally in the Department, Therese Brunel, a museum curator who entered the police force in her 50’s and quickly rose through the ranks to become a Superintendent. Her husband, Jerome, is a retired doctor and skilled computer hacker.

With their aid Gamache seeks to penetrate the secrets of the conspirators.

A few years ago I might have found a conspiracy of corruption and violence at the highest levels of Quebec’s provincial police force lacked credibility but the current public inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry has produced revelation after revelation of corruption involving Quebec municipal politicians, administrators and construction companies.

I liked the book better than The Beautiful Mystery. This book did not have a glaring lack of credibility concerning a major premise of the book.

I did find the conspiracy within the Surete a distraction from the murder investigation. In this book the effort to penetrate the conspirators takes over from the murder investigation as the major theme. I am thankful that the internal Surete battle is concluded in this book. I thought the series was better when it focused on murder mysteries. There was a great story in Constance and her sisters but it became secondary to the drama of the Surete story.

The ending makes this book well suited to a Hollywood North movie. I expect I am being paranoid in feeling this book was written with a movie in mind. Still there is a real surprise at the very end of the book for readers to discover.

I will continue to read the series. As stated it is my hope that the next book will concentrate on a murder mystery. (Oct. 10/13)
How the Light Gets In will be the 5th book I have read in the 7th Canadian Book Challenge at the Book Mine Set blog.
Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Maybe ____ Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead; (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hartley R. Nathan - Canadian Sherlockian and Lawyer

Canadian Lawyer magazine in its September of 2013 issue featured an article on Hartley R. Nathan, a Toronto lawyer at Minden Gross LLP, who is a devout Sherlockian. The cover photo shows Hartley ready for action.

After reading a two volume set of Holmes in 1971 he attended a gathering at the Toronto Central Library where there was a series of lectures on crime fiction. The library had acquired a significant collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.

At the lecture there was passed around a sheet to sign up if an attendee was interested in forming a Sherlock Holmes Society. He joined up. The new group named themselves the Bootmakers of Toronto because:

The group’s name is derived from the Hound of the Baskervilles (Nathan’s favourite) in which Sherlock Holmes pulls a boot out of the Grimpin Mire and inside he finds the words: “Meyers, Toronto.”

Soon after Hartley recruited a friend and fellow lawyer, Cliff Goldfarb, to join the Bootmakers.

They have jointly written 9 papers on the Jewish connections of Holmes. Most recently they have written a book Investigating Holmes – The Jewish Connection and Other Inquiries.

Cliff has contributed to preserving and honouring crime fiction by founding the Friends of Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Metro Toronto Reference Library. Their website is http://www.acdfriends.org/index.html.

The origins of the Arthur Conan Doyle collection at the Library are set out on the website:

Arthur Conan Doyle Room at the Toronto Reference Library
The Collection was started in 1969 with the purchase of over 150 volumes, part of the estate of Toronto collector, Arthur Baillie, and a lot of over 1500 items from Harold Mortlake of London, England. In 1970, the Library acquired an extensive collection of Sherlockian ephemera from Toronto collector Judge S. Tupper Bigelow.

Over the years the Collection has grown with the purchases and donations of a many items, including numerous editions of Conan Doyle's Sherlockian and other published works, several of Conan Doyle's letters, a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887, which contains the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in print, and the manuscript of Conan Doyle's unpublished play, Angels of Darkness.

Hartley’s Sherlockian fervour led the Baker Street Irregulars of London to invite him to join them under the name of the Penang Lawyer. The name was chosen because of his occupation:

         It is a reference from the Hound of the Baskervilles when
         the story opens with Holmes and Watson examining a
         walking stick called a Penang lawyer.

In his legal practice Hartley has focused on corporate law and has written well respected texts such as Nathan’s Company Meetings.

His research and writing about detective fiction are discussed in the article:

While Nathan enjoys the detective work involved in uncovering details about literary characters, he prefers his chosen field of the law over any aspirations to become a sleuth himself. “I like the research because you learn a lot about history and it’s not that different from researching legal papers,” he says. “You need to find an interesting topic, you have to go through the cases and consider the arguments on both sides. I admire the different detectives portrayed in the various stories, but I don’t think I have those qualities. In writing about literature you have to make sure your scholarship is right in the same way you research a legal problem. I found my legal training to be very useful.”

 I think each blogger on crime fiction brings a perspective to their writing which benefits from their chosen occupation.

You have to love a lawyer who, outside his office on the 21st floor of a downtown Toronto office tower, has a small ceramic plaque bearing the number 221B.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Q & A with Gail Bowen on The Gifted

In my last post I put up a review of The Gifted by Gail Bowen. It is the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn, now Kilbourn Shreeve, series. After finishing the book I was in contact with Gail and I appreciate her answering some questions. I am in plain text and Gail is in bold. It was exciting to learn abit about the next book in the series.

I recently finished The Gifted. My review, to be posted next week, follows this message.

The book lifted my spirits during a difficult week.

Hello again, Bill.
Here are the answers to your questions. 

If you have time to answer a few questions I would appreciate your thoughts on the following:

1.) In the book Zack thinks about running for mayor. When I look at the relationship of Joanne and Zack it has always seemed to me that she is the more overtly political partner with a long history of involvement in politics. I think Joanne would have been an excellent candidate for mayor. Did you consider making her the mayoral candidate? If you did, what led you to Zack being the chosen one for the candidacy?
I notice often that characteristics of mine show up in Joanne. I'm very political, but I am most comfortable working behind the scenes. In 12 Rose Street Joanne manages Zack's campaign. Policy and planning are the areas of politics she enjoys, and she's good at the work. Unlike Zack, Joanne doesn't enjoy the spotlight and she find being 'on' 24/7 wearying. In this case, Joanne did what I would be most comfortable doing: staying on the sidelines and calling the shots.

2.) Having visited with you I know you love art, especially contemporary paintings. Have you always had a passion for art?
The Fafard sculpture referred to by Gail
My passion for art is lifelong. I've always loved going to galleries and of course, now that we have some work that we like I love looking at it. Many of the pieces of art Joanne and Zack have are pieces I lust after. In 12 Rose Street, Zack gives Joanne a Joe Fafard sculpture of the painter Ernest Linder (an old friend of Joanne's and of mine). I would crawl the full length of Albert Street to own that piece!

3.) Taylor is a talented artist the daughter and granddaughter of equally skilled artists. Zack and Joanne are doing the best they can to provide a prodigy with a normal upbringing. What inspired you to give Taylor the gift and burden of greatness?

Way back in Murder at the Mendel, the character of Sally emerged full-blown for me. Even her name was there from the beginning. There was a favourable long review in a Catholic newspaper, the Chelsea Journal, that said "Sally Love knew everything about sex and nothing about love." That stuck with me. When I thought about how Joanne would try to raise her incredibly gifted adopted daughter that line was never far away from my thoughts.
4.) You set the book at the time of the 101st Grey Cup being held in Regina next month. Will you and Ted be at the real life CFL championship game this November?

No such luck! But if you would like lunch beforehand, we're here. Let me know.

Thank you for considering my questions.

Best wishes.

Again my very best to all under your roof from all under ours.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Gifted by Gail Bowen

48. – 737.) The Gifted by Gail Bowen – The 14th Joanne Kilbourn mystery is one of the best in the series. I was smitten by the end of the first sentence:

"As my husband, Zack, slipped into the roomy yellow silk pyjamas that would transform him from a Saskatchewan trial lawyer into Rex Stout’s brilliant, food-loving, orchid-growing detective hero, Nero Wolfe, he was one happy guy."

Joanne accompanies him to a Halloween birthday party dressed as Archie Goodwin.

The party is to celebrate the reluctant 45th birthday of Lauren Treadgold. The former model remains gorgeous but can only see she is not as beautiful as she was at 16 on the cover of Vogue.

The guests have been requested to come as famous couples. The hosts, Lauren and Vince, are outfitted as Anthony and Cleopatra.

The fissures in the Treadgold marriage are made publicly clear at the party. Lauren is resentful when Vince, a surgeon, receives an emergency call and must leave for the hospital.

After his departure Lauren wraps herself around Julian Zentner, “tall and delicately boned, with blue-black ringlets worn long enough to curl on his graceful neck” and costumed us Narcissus. The 19 year old former art student is looking for a patron to help him establish an art gallery.

In her studio Joanne and Zack’s 14, almost 15, year old daughter, Taylor, has been painting a portrait of Julian called BlueBoy21, her take on the famed Gainsborough painting. Julian has made regular visits to the condo to pose for the painting which, together with another painting Two Artists, will be auctioned for charity. Taylor has refused to let Zack and Joanne see BlueBoy21.

At the auction Joanne and Zack are stunned when they see BlueBoy21 is a full frontal painting of a nude Julian. The painting instantly brings back memories to Joanne of the mural Taylor’s mother, Sally Love, had painted 11 years earlier that was filled with images of the penises and vaginas of men and women who had been Sally’s lovers. (More details of Sally’s life and art are in my review of Murderin the Mendel, the second book in the series.) BlueBoy21 creates a sensation which is heightened by the identity of the purchaser.

It is clear to all that Taylor and Julian are developing a romantic relationship. While never the parent of a daughter I can empathsize with the dread within Joanne and Zack as they contemplate their 14 year old daughter with a 19 year old boyfriend.

Julian presses that Taylor needs their relationship to produce great art. It is too close for Joanne to Sally Love who, when she was a 14 year old, had a 45 year old lover and proclaimed sex had inspired her art.

Family issues are occupying Joanne’s daughter, Mieka, who has been living with Riel Delorme. There are major tensions in their relationship as Riel deals with personal demons.

Outside the family Joanne is keeping busy in retirement helping her husband, Zack, who has taken leave from his law firm to be the CEO of the Racette-Hunter Centre, a large community building, that is to be the focal point of a huge redevelopment project in the North Central district of Regina, best known in Canada as the most dangerous neighbourhood in the country. Construction of the Centre is progressing well under Zack’s guidance.

Meetings involving the Centre are begun with a prayer from an Indian elder:

            Great Spirit – Grant us strength and dignity to walk a
            new trail.

The book portrays a vivid picture of life in Regina. Our province has yet to handle well the relationships between a large urban, disproportionately poor, indigeneous population and the majority white residents.

Frustrations with municipal politicians have Zack considering a candidacy for mayor of Regina. Knowing his wilder younger days will become public fodder Joanne cautions Zack about running for office. He replies “I have committed many sins but no crimes” to which Joanne responds “There’s a campaign slogan with traction”.

As friends and family move on and the R-H Centre rises from the muck a murder occurs and Zack is back to being a defence lawyer as much as the Centre CEO.

The book flows beautifully as Joanne deals with family and murder while sharing joyful times with her granddaughters, Lena and Madeline.

It is a book to be savoured. Set yourself time for reading. I read it in just over a day eager to know what would happen in the book. My next post will be Q & A with Gail. The Gifted will be the 4th book of 13 I plan to read for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge. (Oct. 2/13)
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail; 2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the Mendel; The Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope;  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Paul Goldstein on Winning the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Paul Goldstein
My last post was a review of Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein. The author was presented the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction last month at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Library of Congress. In reading about his reaction to winning the prize and watching video of his acceptance speech it was striking how Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird, influenced Goldstein and how much respect he has for the book.

In an interview with the ABA Journal earlier in the year after winning the award Goldstein said:

“Apart from its many other virtues, To Kill A Mockingbird was the first novel to show me that it is possible to write about law and lawyers in a profoundly human, as well as literate, way,” Goldstein said. “More than 50 years later, it is impossible to study any of the better lawyer-heroes of today's novels without finding Atticus Finch looking back at you.”

“I like to think that Michael Seeley, the hero of Havana Requiem, embodies not only Atticus's integrity, but also his unvarnished nobility, and the Harper Lee Prize is not only a great honor for me, but evidence that perhaps I got it right.”

During his acceptance speech, as quoted in the ABA Journal he said:

“My personal celebration after learning that ‘Havana Requiem’ had won the Harper Lee Prize was to reread ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’’’ he said. “It had been some years since I had read it last. … It was just absolutely a joy and nostalgic, to be sure, to be captivated once again by the magic of those pages. It is absolutely an enduring, very special magic.”

He further said that most authors aspire to cast a spell like Harper Lee but that the magic of To Kill a Mockingbird is not easy to reverse engineer. He said he was not sure if the magic came from the translucent language, the special sense of place, the uncanny voice of Scout or the uncanny integrity of Atticus.

Having read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time this year I agree with Goldstein that it is a special book that sweeps you into rural Alabama of the 1930’s.

It was poignant to read of the reaction of Goldstein’s mother to hearing from him that he had won the award. Though her mind and health were failing at 100 (she died shortly after):

“She instantly engaged and said, ‘Harper Lee! “To Kill a Mockingbird”! Why that’s wonderful, Paul.’”

It was interesting that Goldstein focused on the word “integrity” in speaking of Atticus Finch. It applies equally to his character, Michael Seeley.
When I was a part of the committee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Law Society of Saskatchewan we looked to choose a word that exemplified what Saskatchewan lawyers aspire to in their practice. We chose “integrity”.  While there is public criticism of the legal profession I find people consider their personal lawyer to be a person of integrity who can be trusted.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein

Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein – Michael Seeley has returned to Boone, Bancroft, the large New York City law firm that dismissed him because of his descent into a gin bottle. Sober for a year, he is rebuilding his intellectual law litigation practice principally in the worlds of entertainment and publishing. Seeley has long been known for representing the interests of artists, famous or unknown, with regard to the legal rights related to their work.

Hector Reynoso, an aged Cuban musician, arrives in Seeley’s Manhattan office seeking to have Seeley represent him in re-gaining the rights to his music that he surrendered decades earlier. A chance to help a composer musician becomes the opportunity to aid a culture when Reynoso advises he is there on behalf of the Cuban composers of his generation – the men who made and played music before the Cuban Revolution of 1957.

There is but a narrow window for them to pursue the return of their music. Under American law they can serve terminations of the original contracts but there is a finite time from the creation of the music and that limitation period is about to expire for these men.

Earlier in his career Seeley had flourished generating large fees for the firm from wealthy clients and personal satisfaction from pro bono cases on behalf of struggling artists.

Reynoso explains the music of himself and his friends is not the music of the Buena Vista Social Club. It is the music of black Cubans inspired by their African past. It is the music of men who were banned from the best clubs in Cuba because of their dark skin. Goldstein sets out the racism deep in Cuban society.

Their songs were the pop music of their era and are still appreciated by lovers of Latin music and used extensively in advertising. Millions of dollars in royalties are being paid each year but not to the composer musicians.

Seeley’s adrenaline surges as he realizes the case is a return to the excitement of his law student days when he helped Professor Felix Silver successfully challenge the U.S.S.R. which, having seized ownership of the writings of four Russian authors, went to court in America seeking to use copyright law to prevent the publication of the writings. Now he has an opportunity to aid artists of another totalitarian regime take ownership of their music.

His partners have mixed emotions about his quest. Hobie Harriman, recently of the U.S. State Department, leads the opposition. He argues these poor old men are not the clients a rising big firm wants to represent and the firm should pursue the representation of big business. After a close vote Seeley is allowed to proceed.

What looks straight forward becomes mysterious and complex when Reynoso disappears from New York City.

Seeley travels to Cuba to get the necessary documents signed by the Cubans. With Americans officially barred from direct travel to Cuba he flies to Canada so he can get to Cuba.

He finds in Cuba a faltering socialist state. Corruption is rising and most of the people are very poor. Goldstein provides a vivid portrayal of a country in decay.

Complications arise immediately on his arrival. Powerful shadowy forces are opposed to the return of the music. The strongly principled Seeley persists.

Who knew copyright law could be the subject of a thriller? Goldstein has created an exciting story about the ownership of music. It is a book that melds music, race, international politics and money with copyright law.

Seeley is a talented lawyer but his private demon, alcohol, still taunts him in times of stress.

I can easily understand why Havana Requiem won the 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It is a much better book than The Wrong Man by David Ellis which was the other book on the shortlist I have read.

I appreciate a regular commenter to this blog, kathy d., who encouraged me to read the book.

There are two earlier Michael Seeley books. I am going to have to go find them.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflections on Posts in the 2013 Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme

 For the 2013 Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, I decided the post for each letter of the alphabet would have a personal connection for me. The theme proved as interesting as I had hoped.

Among the early letters "B" allowed me to highlight that the three leading writers of mysteries in Saskatchewan all have surnames beginning with the letter "B". Anthony Bidulka, Gail Bowen and Nelson Brunanski all write fine mysteries set in Saskatchewan. Next week I am going to have a review of The Gifted, Gail's newest book in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve series.

"C" was the most unique post. It was a review of Showdown at Border Town by Caroline Woodward. It is the third book in the Leaders & Legacies series featuring the adventures of young Canadian Prime Ministers. This book featured a youthful Paul Martin in the vicinity of Windsor, Ontario. What made the book unique is that the author, writing for the YA market, is a teenager from Ottawa who won a contest to write the book.

"F" set me to thinking about Female Fictional Lawyers. It was my most popular post of the Alphabet it had 436 page views. We live in an era where a majority of law school graduates are women. We shall see if become the majority in legal mystery fiction.

When thinking of an "I" post I looked to one of my bookcases where I had a copy of The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton. The simple appearing Father is actually a brilliant investigator drawing on the information shared with him by criminal parishioners. It is hard to see how a rather dumpy cleric solving mysteries with his brains would be published today. He is the opposite of flashy.

At "L" I was able to draw upon my experience as a lawyer to describe Real Legal Fiction. Where readers are accustomed to legal fiction being stories involving lawyers there are real life legal fictions. Examples include corporations, deemed to be individuals so they can own property and carry on business, and child adoption, where children are deemed to be the children of adopting parents.

For "P" I discussed Canadian author Louise Penny becoming one of the movie producers for the adaptation of Still Life, the first book in her Inspector Armand Gamache series. I subsequently wrote a review of the movie which was telecast last month. While I enjoyed the movie I think she should continue to make being an author her career. I am currently reading How the Light Gets In, the just published 9th book in the series.

The book I wished could have been the best in the alphabet was The Third Riel Conspiracy by Stephen Legault. The entry for "T" featured a mystery set at Batoche, about 125 km from where I live, set at the time of the Riel Rebellion in 1885. A book involving the history and geography of my area excited me. The book was alright but I had hoped for more. For a reader wanting to learn of pioneer life in Western Canada and its history the book is worth reading.

The visual images from Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong will stay with me for a long time. The beautiful red Mandarin dresses in which the murder victims were clothed were at the heart of the mystery.

My favourite book came at "Y" with The Shaman's Knife by Scott Young. Matteesie Kitologitak was a larger than life Inuit sleuth I would like to have known better but Young only wrote two mysteries with Matteesie. Life in Arctic Canada comes alive in the books and Matteesie is a lively character.

It has been another interesting 6 month journey through the alphabet. I encourage readers to go to Mysteries in Paradise to read of the posts of other bloggers of the meme.