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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

New to Me Authors for January to March of 2014

2014 is moving right along with today being the end of March. The last day of the third month means it is also time for a quarterly post on New to Me Authors which is hosted by Kerrie Smith in her fine blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
For the first three months of 2014 I read:
1.) Open Secret by Deryn Collier;
2.) I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes;
3.) Lineup by Liad Shoham translated by Sara Kitai;
4.) The Missing File by D.A. Mishani translated by Steven Cohen;
5.) Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller;
6.) December Dread by Jess Lourey; and,
7.) Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns.
I read one work of non-fiction, Hitler’s Savage Canary by David Lampe, a book on the Danish Resistance during World War II. I expect to have a review next quarter.
It was an average quarter for me in reading about 7 new fiction authors.
It was an easy choice for my favourite new author. Norwegian by Night is an exceptional book well deserving of its numerous awards.
My second choice, I Am a Pilgrim, is an exceptional thriller I expect will sell very well when published in North America this spring.
Third best would be December Dread which introduced me to a captivating new sleuth in Mira James from Battle Lake, Minnesota.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Trial & Error by Paul Levine

Trial & Error by Paul Levine – The fourth Solomon and Lord book opens with another dramatic flourish. Masked intruders make a late night entry into Cetacean Park seeking to capture two highly trained dolphins, Misty and Spunky. Bobby Solomon, 12 year old nephew of Steve Solomon, is at the park visiting with the dolphins. The brilliant boy, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been working out dolphin language and can communicate with them.  Steve, searching for Bobby, arrives just in time to disrupt the escaping invaders. Racing to intercept an intruder on a jet ski he launches himself into the channel and knocks a wet suit clad Gerald Nash from the jet ski. While Steve subdues one of the trio the second escapes and the third is killed by Park owner, Wade Grimsby.

Bobby is distraught at the dolphins escaping into the ocean and begs Steve to get them back. In classic Solomon wit Steve muses:

            "How, I don’t know. A writ of habeas porpoise, maybe."

(Trial & Error is now listed as Habeas Porpoise on Levine’s website.)

Always one to take the opportunity for a new client Steve Solomon advises Nash he would be interested in representing him.

Nash is facing a murder charge for while Grisby, rather than Nash, shot Nash’s partner in crime it is felony murder because Nash’s participation in the crime, breaking in and theft, brought about the shooting.

The next morning at the courthouse, Victoria Lord, is taken aside by the State Attorney, Ray Pincher. A special prosecutor is needed as Nash is his nephew. Pincher convinces Victoria to become the Special Assistant State Attorney.

When Steve and Victoria realize they are opposing counsel on the murder charge against Nash they each insist the other should resign from the case. Being trial lawyers both of them are too stubborn to withdraw.

Victoria brings an application to have Steve removed from the case. He is a potential witness and they are living together. She brings ample authority to the hearing of the motion. Steve brings his quick mind. (In Steve winging it in court I was reminded of early Calgary lawyer, Paddy Nolan, who equally relied on his lightning mind reflexes rather than dedicated legal research.) In a funny and clever exchange with toy train loving Judge Erwin Gridley, who is also a devout University of Florida Gator fan Steve convinces the judge they will both vigorously contest the case in the same way that opposing college football coaches who are father and son or brothers work just as hard to beat the family member across the field as they would to battle strangers.

Bobby is becoming an increasingly interesting and complex character. Though lacking any discernible athletic skills Steve has signed Bobby up to play on a Jewish baseball team. Bobby goes along with Steve, who loved baseball while being best remembered for being picked off third in a crucial game when he was playing for the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Most of the book is consumed by the trial. I was glad to see Solomon and Lord facing off again in the courtroom. In their last book, Kill All the Lawyers, the plot barely involved court.

For all his cleverness Steve is discouraged. Victoria has carefully assembled the State’s evidence and it is clear and overwhelming.  She is giving him any opening.

After she has skilfully presented her case in her opening statement Steve uncharacteristically decides not to immediately respond:

The strategy – or lack of strategy – violated yet another one of his rules, based on the psychological concept of “primacy”. People are more receptive to information at the beginning of an even than in the middle or at the end. Sure, some lawyers believe in “recency,” that people remember best what they hear last. But Steve always told Victoria to get off to a quick start.

Steve is struck by the case against his client being so air tight. He reflects on one of Solomon’s laws:

6. When the testimony is too damn good, when there are no contradictions and all the potholes are filled with smooth asphalt, chances are the witness is lying.

In discussion with Bobby he realizes the attack on the park was not an act of eco-terrorism to free the dolphins. You will need to read the book find out the real reason behind the attack.

The book is a rollicking ride through the Florida court system. Steve is the lawyer that the average trial lawyer dreams of being with his irreverent bravura saying whatever he wants to judges, clients and opposing lawyers. Victoria is the lawyer most litigators are in real life. She is conservative, well prepared, careful in every statement. I hope there are more to come in the series though it has been 7 years since there was a book.
Levine, Paul – (2006) - Solomon v. Lord; (2009) - The Deep Blue Alibi; (2011) - Kill All the Lawyers; (2102) - "L" is for Paul Levine; (2014) - Trial & Error

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fingerprints Past and Present

In Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns and Identical by Scott Turow fingerprints played an important role in each book.

In Who Killed Sir Harry the existence of a fingerprint from the accused, Alfred de Marigny, on a screen in the bedroom of the murdered Sir Harry Oakes was powerful evidence introduced by the Crown Prosecutor.

By the time the defence, led by barrister Godfrey Higgs, had finished challenging the fingerprint the prosecution case was in tatters.

The Duke of Windsor had called in a pair of Miami detectives for supposed investigative expertise. Captain James Barker was trained in the taking of fingerprints and their analysis. Yet he left his fingerprint camera behind when he rushed to the Bahamas.

Of the pair of fingerprints of the accused he said he found in the room one he claimed was on a panel of a wooden screen damaged by fire after the murder.

Immediate suspicion of his credibility arose because he never took photos of the fingerprint on the screen before lifting it off the screen. His actions meant there could be no confirmation of its location.

His evidence fell completely apart when it was shown that the fingerprint could not have come from the screen as set out by Cathleen LeGrand in her fine article “Another Look at a Bahamian Mystery: The Murder of Sir Harry Oakes: A Critical Literature Review” in the International Journal of Bahamian Studies:

Even more suspicious, the lifted fingerprint lacked any of the background detail  from the screen, detail that would normally be picked up. When asked to demonstrate in the courtroom, Barker could not replicate a clean lift of the print without the background detail. Higgs' conclusion—the detectives lifted deMarigny's fingerprint from some other object and not from the crucial screen..

The frame-up of de Marigny was established when it was shown Barker had manipulated the accused into drinking a glass of water. It was clear the fingerprint had come from the water glass rather than the screen.

In Identical the story takes place 65 years after the de Marigny trial. In Turow’s book the fingerprint analyst deals with the fingerprints of identical twins. They will be close to the same but not identical.

While they have same DNA (as science evolves it may be possible to distinguish their DNA) they do not have identical fingerprints. The book sets out how fingerprints are formed in the womb and can be altered by the hand of the foetus touching the wall of the womb.

If you prefer scientific language you can review "Mechanical Control of Tissue Morphogenesis" by Parth Patwari and Richard T. Lee in Circulation Research which sums up the process of forming fingerprints for a foetus:

However, the ridges are not always regularly spaced: there are ridges that divide and ridges that suddenly end. These irregularities are easily changed by small variations in their local environment, so they are not predetermined. Even monozygotic twins will have different positions in the uterus and experience a slightly different environment. In genetically identical twins, then, subtle differences in the mechanical environment of the embryo in utero are sufficient to drive a developing system toward different morphogenic outcomes.

As I looked for information on fingerprints of identical twins I learned that it has been difficult to locate fingerprints from children because they do not have sebum, the oily substance coming from the sebaceous glands. Adults with dry skin, for the same reason, have fingerprints that can be hard to find with traditional fingerprinting technology.

New technology, called micro-X-ray fluorescence, detecting such salts as sodium chloride and potassium chloride, can detect fingerprints left by dry skin fingers.

Most modern forensic crime stories, whether in books or T.V. series or movies, look to flashier forms of science than the search for fingerprints and their analysis. Yet the lowly fingerprint remains at the heart of forensic investigation.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Identical by Scott Turow

Identical by Scott Turow – Paul Giannis, state senator and successful lawyer, is running for mayor of the Tri-Cities in Kindle County. His identical twin, Cass, is about to be released from serving 25 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Aphrodite, known as Dita.

Hal Kronon, brother to Dita, and heir to the shopping mall empire assembled by their father, Zeus, is outraged that Cass is getting out of jail. Since the murder of his sister Hal has been convinced Paul had a role in the death.

At the parole hearing in which Cass receives a few month early release Hal rashly accuses Paul of being involved in the murder of Dita. He follows up by preparing and paying for ads targeting Paul because of his alleged involvement in Dita’s death.

The campaign against Paul immediately brought to mind the Swift boat ads used against American presidential candidate, John Kerry.

Hal’s V-P for security for his company ZP is Evon Miller, a former FBI agent. She counsels him against inciting Paul for there is no factual information Paul had any involvement. The billionaire does not care if he loses a libel suit or what damages could be assessed against him.

At the same time Hal does not fit the image of the classic evil business mogul. He deeply loves his wife and children. He is generous to and respectful of Evon. He accepts her being a lesbian as it is who she is in life. He wears rumpled suits because of his excess weight. Overall he is actually a bit of a billionaire bumbler.

Evon enjoys her work but is in a turbulent relationship with a younger woman, Kathy, who was a model. It has been awhile since I read a book with the challenges of a lesbian relationship dealt with frankly by an author.

When Paul reluctantly sues Hal for defamantion at the insistence of his campaign manager Hal calls upon Evon. She is to work with aged P.I. investigator, Tim Brodie, who has been on retainer to ZP for decades. They are instructed to find information that would support Hal’s contention that Paul must have been involved in the murder.

Tim is yet another interesting vital 80 plus character who remains a talented interviewer while coping with a bad leg and intense loneliness. I have read several recent books where octogenarians were active in their lives and important to the plot.

With a less skilled author Evon and Tim would embark on a campaign to ferret out questionable facts dishonourably and create evidence if necessary. Instead, Evon and Tim counduct a scrupulous investigation going over the police records which were filed with the court at the time of the guilty plea.

They find a statement made Paul that his brother did not commit the murder. Hal exploits the statement in his ads as dishonest for his brother acknowledged committing the murder by pleading guilty.

As part of the plea bargain worked out by defence counsel, Sandy Stern, Cass was granted the unusual privilege of serving his time in minimum security. The investigators cannot find anything improper in the sentencing process.

The investigation also sends Evon and Tim deep into the history of the close knit Greek community whose social life has been focused around the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church for decades. Long standing antagonisms have carried on for generations within the congregation.

Paul was right to be wary about commencing the lawsuit. Court actions never proceed predictably.

Paul never expected that advances in fingerprint science and DNA analysis could look into long buried secrets. I had not realized that evolving DNA technology is on the edge of allowing identical twins to be identified separately.

Turow has twists and turns in both the court action and the overall plot. While all readers can appreciate the plot shifts I found fascinating his skill with the courtroom stratagems.

It is not a great book like Presumed Innocent or Innocent. It is a very good book. To say what reduced its status to me would result in a spoiler.

I do strongly recommend the book. Without preaching Identical will make a reader think about how the current American political election process is being powerfully swayed by the vast sums of money being spent to influence voters. Attack ad campaigns have become the norm.
Turow has written a modern Greek myth. (Mar. 19/14)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring is Legal Mystery Reading Season

Prior to Sharon and I going on our trip to the Bahamas and Florida earlier this month I said to myself I will not buy any books on vacation because I have lots of books on the TBR piles. I took 5 with me to guarantee I had enough reading material for 2 weeks. It is a good thing I did not swear an oath or I would have needed to go to confession for having grievously sinned.

On the island of Grand Bahama there are no real bookstores. There a couple of places in Freeport that sell some books. H.L. Bookstore is mainly stationery and school texts but they do have a small selection of fiction.

Initially Sharon and I went into the store to look for a coffee table book with photos of Grand Bahama. When the clerk said they had no books of photos I could not resist temptation and checked out the fiction. There were a couple of mysteries set in the Bahamas. I bought Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns. As my recent interview indicates I regretted the purchase.

After we were in Orlando I was avoiding bookstores until Sharon decided to have a day looking around the Florida Mall. Seeing a Barnes & Noble bookstore as we drove to the mall my resistance crumbled and I was soon in the store. I was disappointed they had very few mysteries that did not involve well known authors.

As I was looking through new fiction I came across Identical by Scott Turow. I had been waiting to buy the book since I was not given a copy at Christmas. I rationalized that I was going to purchase it anyway so why not now and a copy of the book left the store with me.

A couple of days later we went on a trip outside Orlando to Winter Haven for a Rotary Club meeting. It was held at the lovely old Garden Ballroom which is part of the Old Towne Square building. After the meeting Sharon found an interesting shop across from the ballroom. Rather than sit waiting for her I went down the street to Book Traders, a used bookstore. I justified this walk by saying to myself that Sharon suggested I check out the bookstore instead of just waiting for her.

When I walked in the store I knew I would be leaving with books. They had a large room filled with books. Unfortunately, they were just starting a going out of business sale. They said they were not having enough business.

As I started looking I realized I was on a roll reading legal mysteries. I had just finished The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly on the beach. I had started Who Killed Sir Harry. I had Identical lined up next to read.

I started looking for legal mysteries. I decided spring would be my legal mystery reading season. (It does not feel like spring today in Saskatchewan. It was -24C when I got up this morning.)

At Book Traders I found too many legal mysteries. After moderate angst over which not to buy I purchased four of them.

The first is Trial and Error by Paul Levine. It is the fourth book in the Solomon and Lord series. I will have a review on it later next week.

The second is A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein. Last year I had read Havana Requiem, the third book in his Michael Seeley series. Havana Requiem won the 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. I had greatly enjoyed the book. I had been keeping an eye out for earlier books in the series and was glad to find A Patent Lie.

The third is Jury Master by Robert Dugoni. In 2012 his book, Murder One, had been one of the finalists for the Harper Lee Prize. I had enjoyed the book so I looked for an earlier book in the series featuring Seattle lawyer, David Sloane, and decided on the Jury Master.

The fourth is Defending Jacob by William Landay. It was the third book in the finalists for last year's Harper Lee Prize. Regular commenter Kathy D. had strongly recommended the book to me.

I may add another Canadian legal mystery, Kill All the Lawyers, by William Deverell to the list.

Thus I am embarked on reading at least six consecutive legal mysteries this spring. I am half way through the sextet. It is going to be a good spring of reading. I wish I knew when real life spring will reach Saskatchewan.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Theory on Who Killed Sir Harry

Harold Christie
In my last post I wrote a critical review of Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns concerning the murder of Sir Harry Oakes in the Bahamas in 1943. Part of my frustration was the author did not have his fictional sleuth tell the reader who he decided had killed Sir Harry. It was not like Mimms did not have multiple options to draw from in selecting a murderer.

Marshall Houts in his book Kings X, also titled Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes, asserted that American gangster, Meyer Lansky, sent henchmen to the Bahamas to intimidate and even assault Oakes but not to kill him during a secret late night meeting away from the Oakes mansion. It was alleged that Lansky was upset that Sir Harry was opposed to a casino being opened in the Bahamas. The murder was supposedly not intended and that Oakes body was returned to his home. The author further asserted that Oakes friend and colleague, Harold Christie, was working with Lansky and a participant in the murder.
The theory sounds like fiction.

James Leasor in Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes somehow ties together the burning of the liner Normandie in New York Harbour in 1942 and the Allied landings in Sicily.

John Parker in King of Fools added further to the involvement of Meyer Lansky. He suggests the investigating Miami detectives were on the mob payroll. He further suggests the Duke of Windsor had business connections with Lansky.

Charles Higham in The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Story as set out in Wikipedia:

His conclusion in the second edition is that Oakes was murdered by an African ritual specialist from South Florida, who had been hired and brought into Nassau by airplane on the day of the murder by Harold Christie, a Bahamian mulatto business associate of Oakes. Christie and Oakes, the much wealthier man, had been friends and business partners for many years, and Christie had facilitated Oakes' move to the Bahamas. The two had apparently fallen out shortly before Oakes' death, because of Christie's dealings over the sale of Bahamian property on the island of New Providence, which was scheduled to be used for a new airfield by the Royal Air Force, a project of which the Duke would certainly have been aware and involved with since it had important strategic and economic implications, and would involve large expenses.

It sounds even wilder than the Lansky theory.

James Owen in A Serpent in Eden returns to Alfred de Marigny being the alleged murderer though he was acquitted at trial. He asserts he had seen documents in the British National Archives not publicly released.

Owens is another author reaching for a theory.

John Marquis in his book, Blood and Fire: the Duke of Windsor and the Strange Murder of Sir Harry Oakes rejected the Lansky theory and considered the murder was brought about Bahamian businessmen, including Christie, who feared Sir Harry was moving his fortune to Mexico.
De Marigny in his book A Conspiracy of Crowns said:
``In my mind there is no doubt whatsoever that Harold Christie should have been tried and hanged for the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. While hired hands acted for him, it was Christie who ordered the fatal act committed that turbulent night in Nassau.``

He further concluded the Duke of Windsor was one of the conspirators against him.

I think Marquis is closest to the truth but I do not think there was any Bahamian conspiracy. I think it was Christie acting on his own. He was staying in the house that night. It is probable that he was facing default issues over loans with Oakes. He was the suspect with best access and best motive. He also implausibly said he heard nothing of the murder a short distance from his bedroom.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns

Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns – I picked up the book in Freeport, Bahamas looking for a mystery set in the Bahamas. I wish I had left it on the display stand.

I was intrigued as I knew the book was to be a fictional exploration of the murder of Sir Harry Oates, the American born mining magnate, who made a vast fortune when he found gold in northern Ontario and built the Lake Shore gold mine.

While purportedly a work of fiction the book is not a mystery but a non-fiction narrative of the intertwined lives of Sir Harry, Harold Christie (Bahamian real estate developer and promoter), Count Alfred de Marigny (accused of murdering Sir Harry) and the Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VII serving as the Governor of the Bahamas).

Minns tossed in a narrator, George McNeilly, a former Toronto Star newspaper journalist who has left Toronto in 1946 for the Bahamas after the failure of his marriage because of his chronic alcohol abuse. Sober in the Bahamas McNeilly is a chain smoker who constantly needs to be holding a cigarette.

McNeilly, drawn to the mystery of Sir Harry’s death, decides to solve the murder. He makes inquiries into the 1943 murder and trial of de Marigny. He is discreet for he is aware that individuals investigating after the trial had died.

Unfortunately the narrative is rather disjointed. It is not easy to follow the information provided about the quartet at the heart of the mystery.

Sir Harry has led an incredible life pursuing gold in Alaska, the Yukon and Australia before finding gold in Ontario. He becomes the wealthiest man in Canada and is singled out for taxation by the federal government. He leaves for the Bahamas because of the lack of taxes in the islands.

Christie has been instrumental in developing Nassau and the rest of the island of New Providence. He is constantly promoting the Bahamas.

De Marigny, born in Mauritius, eschews the title of Count. In the parlance of the time he is a playboy who marries Sir Harry’s daughter, Nancy, when she is 18 and he is in his early 30’s.

The Duke, in exile, after giving up the throne for the woman he loves, Mrs. Simpson, has been sent to be Governor as he is perceived as a Nazi sympathizer and being posted to the Bahamas will keep him out of the way during the war.

Within a couple of days after Sir Harry’s death de Marigny is charged with murder.

The book covers the trial which ended in de Marigny’s acquittal and an unusual recommendation from the jury that he be expelled from the Bahamas.

The trial is the most interesting part of the book as de Marigny’s skilled counsel, Godfrey Higgs, wreaks havoc with the sloppy investigation.

McNeilly develops a love interest in Pat but their relationship is almost an afterthought grafted on to the factual narrative.

I persevered to the end of the book as I wanted to find out the facts and see who Mimms had decided killed Sir Harry

In the unlikely event you might actually read the book do not read further in the post.

There is dramatic evidence over fingerprints, usually a routine part of trials. The defence cleverly uses the science of the day. The skilfully mounted legal defence scientifically shows a pivotal Crown fingerprint could not have been on the part of the screen the fingerprint was alleged to have come from in Sir Harry’s bedroom.

The trial is not enough to rescue the book.

At the end I was just plain frustrated when a plot twist denied me the chance to know who McNeilly had identified as the killer. The title is a teaser.

The unique aspect of the book was a CD in a sleeve attached to the back cover that contains a song, Who Killed Sir Harry, that Minns wrote and performs. If he was as good an author as he is song writer and singer it would have been a good book.

Interested readers would be better off to purchase a non-fiction account of the murder. (Mar. 8/14)

Friday, March 14, 2014

The “Bloody Flag” Move is Sleazy and Unethical

Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller
In the opening pages of The Gods of Guilt Mickey Haller is representing Leonard Watts, allegedly the “Bumper Car Bandit”, charged with violent carjacking. When it is clear his accuser will not be shaken as a witness and his client is bound to be convicted the accused attacks Mickey in court. The assault brings about a mistrial. To my chagrin it turns out the assault was a trial trick planned by Mickey and his client to avoid a guilty verdict. Mickey calls it the “bloody flag move”.

The “bloody flag” portion of the description is undoubtedly drawn from the American political tradition of “waving the bloody shirt”. It is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as follows: 

bloody shirt, in U.S. history, the post-Civil War political strategy of appealing to voters by recalling the passions and hardships of the recent war. This technique of “waving the bloody shirt” was most often employed by Radical Republicans in their efforts to focus public attention on Reconstruction issues still facing the country. Used in the presidential elections of 1868, 1872 and 1876, the strategy was particularly effective in the North in attracting veterans’ votes.

Wikipedia looks back to Anthony’s funeral oration in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Casear:

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd;
And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow'd it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock'd, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
Quite vanquish'd him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey's statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish'd over us.

Essentially it is a tactic to divert attention away from real issues.

Mickey justifies his action as “the sworn duty of the defence counsel to present the best defence of his client. If that means tipping a mistrial when the chips are down, then so be it.”

I call it sleazy and unethical and hope it can only happen in American fiction.

None of the Canadian legal mysteries I have read by William Deverell, Robert Rotenberg, Douglas Schmeiser, Garrett Wilson, Rosemary Aubert and Gail Bowen (one of her primary characters is lawyer Zack Shreeve) use such deceitful underhanded tactics.

I understand and appreciate the need for a vigorous defence of an accused. I do not accept such tricks as the “bloody flag move”.

In the rest of the book Mickey conducts a powerful defence without resorting to such underhanded tactics. He fights hard to find the facts and law that will save his client. Mickey does not descend again into the depths of defence quackery.

If the “bloody flag move” was meant to show Mickey has no boundaries in his defence of accused I deplore such actions as much as I condemn fictional police and prosecutors who blatantly ignore the rights of accused on the principle the end of convicting the guilty justifies the means.

The Rule of Law, which has been carefully crafted and adjusted over the past 8 centuries in the English legal tradition, only works when all officers of the court – prosecutors, defence counsel and judges - uphold the rules.

I cannot see Mickey’s stunt taking place in Canada in fiction or real life.

An accused attacking his own lawyer in a Canadian court would face, in addition to his existing charges, a new set of charges including contempt of court and assault. He is going to face severe consequences, significant jail time, simply for acting with such contempt of the court.

Mickey expects his associate, Jennifer Aronson, to be able to handle the continuing defence of Watts. In Canada he would have had to get a new lawyer from another firm.

Though I do not know I expect Mickey’s client would have faced additional charges in the United States such as contempt of court.

On a practical note Mickey undertakes a personally risky action with the “bloody flag” move. A client, realizing the move has caused as much trouble for him through additional charges though it has put off conviction on the original charge, could very well turn on Mickey and seek to make a deal with the District Attorney implicating Mickey as the leader in the “bloody flag” move.

If a lawyer’s participation is determined in such an unethical action the lawyer would also face a contempt of court charge, obstruction of justice and almost certain disbarment.

Connelly’s example works well to show how zealous Mickey is in the defence of clients. It works badly as an illustration of the tactics of defence lawyers.
The “bloody flag” move made me cringe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly – It is a brilliant title for a legal mystery. I had never heard the phrase in the almost 40 years I have been a lawyer. I will appropriate it for future real life discussions of the power of jurors. L.A. lawyer, Mickey Haller, calls the jurors in a criminal trial the Gods of Guilt as they alone decide guilt. The police gather evidence. The prosecution provides the evidence against the accused. The defence counters. They judge provides interim orders and keeps the trial moving in court. Yet it is the jury which holds the accused’s future in their hands. The expression reminded of the story famed American lawyer, Gerry Spence, used several times with jurors of a young man holding the power of life or death for a bird in his hands to illustrate to the jury that make the choice whether to set free or imprison, sometimes kill, an accused.

Mickey’s life is a mess. He has lost the election for D.A. because a client he had successfully defended on a DUI, while drinking and driving again, kills two women in a car accident. His teenager daughter has estranged herself from him over the same accident unable to accept her father represents the guilty as well as the innocent.

Financially his modest firm, he is still operating out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car, is struggling as mortgage foreclosure work as eased with the gradual improvement in the California economy.

Mickey’s spirits are lifted, as they are for any defence lawyer, when his office gets a call from Andre La Cosse is in serious trouble and needs their representation. La Cosse has called from Men’s Central as he has been charged with the murder of a female escort, Giselle Dallinger. Nothing gets a defence lawyer adrenaline flowing faster than a call saying I need your help.

Mickey rushes to the county jail where he learns the slightly built La Cosse is a gay man carrying on a new variation of the world’s second oldest known profession. He is a digital pimp for Dallinger. He set up social media including websites and email needed by Dallinger to ply her trade. In return he takes a cut of her earnings.

He is accused of murdering Dallinger by strangulation after he believes she is holding out on money she should have received from a client she was to meet at the Beverley Hills Wilshire.

The new case has the office scrambling to find the time needed to defend La Cosse. Mickey says:

There is never just one case. There are always many. I liken the practice of law to the craft of some of the premier buskers seen working the crowds on the Venice boardwalk. There’s the man who spins plates on sticks, keeping a forest of china spinning with momentum and aloft at the same time. And there’s the man who juggles gas-powered chain saws, spinning them in the air in a precise manner so that he never shakes hands with the business end of the blades.

I am very familiar with spinning plates but fortunately have few chain saws to deal with in my practice.

Mickey is convinced La Cosse is not merely guilty, he is innocent. Practical as always he demands a substantial retainer of $25,000. Double that sum is paid through the delivery by armored truck of a kilo of gold.

While he does not have a formal office, in exchange for legal services, Mickey has a conference room in the loft of a building undergoing foreclosure proceedings,

Mickey is puzzled when La Cosse advises that Dallinger recommended that he retain Mickey if he was in trouble. Mickey does not recognize Dallinger’s name. The case becomes far more personal and considerably more complex when he realizes that Dallinger is the new identity for a former client, Gloria Dayton, better known professionally as Glory Days.

They had an ongoing relationship that ended when Mickey gave her enough money to end her career as a prostitute 7 years earlier. Having not heard from her Mickey thought she had escaped the profession. He is deeply saddened to learn she returned to being an escort.

As Mickey and his investigator, Cisco Wojciechowski, examine what happened in the hours before Dayton’s death they find details supporting La Cosse’s contention he did not kill her.

Even more startling information emerges when Mickey probes her past. He is shaken to learn how he has been used.

Mickey, to defend La Cosse, must take on multiple police agencies.

Much of the book deals with the preparation for trial. The actual trial portion of the book skips over the State’s evidence. It is an example of a master storyteller determining how best to maintain the flow of the plot.

As the trial moves to its conclusion the pace accelerates and I could hardly put the book down.

The lonely Mickey finds an unlikely love interest.

Connelly has written an excellent legal thriller / mystery. I do have a major issue with the opening which I will address in my next post. (Mar. 8/14)
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; Hardcover 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Minnesota Nice and Saskatchewan Polite

My last post was a review of December Dread by Jess Lourey, a mystery set in rural Minnesota. As I read the book I thought of the Small Town Saskatchewan mystery series written by Nelson Brunanski. Both series capture rural life in the respective state and province.

Before going on with similarities Minnesota and Saskatchewan, though fairly close geographically, are described differently. Minnesota is a part of the American Mid-West. Saskatchewan is a part of Western Canada.

As I looked at the cover for December Dread I was struck by how the cover design resembles the Small Town Saskatchewan series. Copies of the respective covers are above and below this paragraph.

Living  in rural areas of the Mid-West America and Western Canada is different from living in the major metropolitan areas of both countries.

Reading December Dread will help a reader understand the phrase “Minnesota Nice”. Saskatchewan is known as one of the most polite provinces in a polite country.

There is a sense of neighbourliness evident in the books that echoes my experience.

Everyone knows each other. With modest populations in the countryside each person, young and old, knows everyone else in and around town. Whether or not you are in school you know the activities at school.

Classmates, as in December Dread, will often know each other from Grade 1 through Grade 12.

All is not sunshine in rural areas. The closeness of contact and relationship can cause intense and long lasting personality conflicts.

Mira is still scarred by the actions and words of her teenage high school classmates over 12 years earlier.

Bart has had long term personal conflicts over the community run local golf course.

Church is important to the mother of Mira James in Minnesota. It is not a Sunday event. She is participating in her Catholic parish activities every week. When the funeral for one of the victims is held at her Church Mira’s mother is part of the ladies group providing lunch.

Church life as set out by Lourey brought to mind a play Sharon and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. It was one of the earlier plays in the Church Basement Ladies series of plays set in rural Minnesota. Those ladies, while Lutheran, gathered in the same way Mira’s mother and her friends to work and socialize in their church.

The line I remember best from the Church Basement Ladies play was that:

            “Catholics have all the fun.”

They were referring to an era in the 1950’s when Minnesota Lutherans did not dance. Growing up Catholic in Saskatchewan I had not appreciated we had the fun.

Whether in Minnesota or Saskatchewan, communities gather for meals prepared by the local ladies.

For many rural Saskatchewan weddings a community group provides the wedding supper. In my review of Frostbite Bart laments that his daughter’s “wedding supper will not be dominated by the traditional trinity of sausage, perogies and cabbage rolls”.

In Burnt Out Bart’s wife, Rosie, helps Crooked Lake celebrate its centenary by contributing “her design skills to the float being put in the parade by the Junction Stop, a local gas station”. Parades in rural Saskatchewan will either be dominated by or be wholly composed of homemade floats.

Absent from both series are the big events of cities such as major entertainers and plays and gala meals all conducted by professionals. In the country people make their own entertainment and act and produce their own plays.

I am glad each series provides a positive picture of life outside the cities. Readers will get an understanding why I loved growing up in rural Saskatchewan and continue to reside in a community of 6,000 people.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

December Dread by Jess Lourey

December Dread by Jess Lourey – While in snowy Minneapolis in January I met Jess Lourey at her book launch for January Thaw at Once Upon a Crime bookstore. She recommended I start reading her series of Murder by Month Mysteries with December Dread. I finished the book on the beach in the Bahamas today.

Mira James, part-time librarian and part-time local newspaper reporter, is eking out a living in Battle Lake, Minnesota when she is advised the Town Council has decided to close the town library for 2 weeks at Christmas as a budgetary measure. Her editor, Ron, who is also a town councillor urges her to return home to Paynesville where she grew up to spend the Christmas season with her mother and attend a week long Private Investigator Course. When he pays the tuition for the course she is on her way home.
Mira dreads the return home as she has unresolved issues from high school. Her drunken, verbally abusive, father died in an accident in which he killed two people. Never a popular girl the circumstances of his death left her even more isolated. Her memories of high school are vivid and mostly bitter.

Her mother gratefully welcomes Mira home though Mira is less positive:

If there’s a phrase scarier to a 30 year old woman than, “Your room is just as you left it,” I have yet to hear it.

Mira describes her bedroom as she left it for university 12 years earlier:

I was greeted by Led Zeppelin and a Footloose-era Kevin Bacon poster on the wall, loaded bookshelves, a multi-colored dresser with Cabbage Patch stickers down the front, worn quilt on wrought-iron bd with my childhood sock monkey perched in the center and lingering smell of AquaNet and Love’s Baby Soft.

Being in the room returns her to memories she had worked to forget after leaving Paynesville.

Mira is credibly insensitive to her mother’s feelings. She rushes out to spend time in almost any way other than with her mother.

Mira finds the private investigator’s course more interesting than she had expected. The instructor, Mr. Denny, has experience as an investigator and as a former police officer.

While the class occupies part of her day the attention of Mira, as with every woman in the Midwest, is drawn to a serial killer who has been working his way west from Chicago each December. Two years earlier there were murders in Illinois. A year ago it was Wisconsin. Now it is Minnesota.

The killer has become known as the Candy Cane Killer because a candy cane or canes has been sent to or delivered to each victim.

Once the killer has slain a classmate of Mira’s in nearby River Grove she is determined to help find the killer.

She is joined in her quest by one of her best friends from Battle Lake, Mrs. Berns, who is under 5’ in height and over 80 years in age and has a tart and engaging tongue. As with Sheldon Horowitz in Norwegian by Night an octogenarian is a lively spirited character.

Their investigation leads them to an online dating service. Mira’s reaction:

“Ugh.” I had a theory that one should never shop online for leather pants or men. I could see why other people did it. It was so lonely in these parts, and if you didn’t fall in love at work or go to church, that left only bars and blind luck. There was just something about it that didn’t fit me right.

Such services are outside my experience.

When Mira is reluctant to go to a Christmas party of her high school classmates Mrs. Berns says:

“Only jocks, prom queens, and dumbasses hang on to high school this long. Everyone else goes on to better things. Go. Confront your past. Get over yourself.”

The mystery is well done but the real heart of the book is small town Minnesota. Lourey is very convincing in her portrayal of life in rural Minnesota. My next post will consider that portrayal with Small Town Mysteries in Saskatchewan.

Mira is a clever interesting woman. It is too bad Lourey is approaching the end of 12 months of mysteries in the series. Her publicist at the book launch was quick to say they will find a solution. (Mar. 6/14)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Reading on the Beach in the Bahamas

I was sitting under one of the thatched roofs today
Sharon and I are on vacation at the Island Sea Resort at the island of Grand Bahama.

Having just left Saskatchewan where it was -28C on Monday morning for the +28C of the Bahamas late Monday afternoon it has been a pleasant weather shock.

We had a quiet day on the beach.

I made some progress reading December Dread by Jess Lourey which is set in rural Minnesota in the cold weather of Christmas time. There is a special pleasure for someone from Saskatchewan in reading such a book on the beach.

I would read abit and then drift alittle and then people watch and then sea watch and then read some more.

There was a trivia contest with only myself and another man participating. I knew my odds were good when they pulled out the questions and answers from the original Trivial Pursuit game. I do well with the original. Not so well with the current versions. Knowing the Parthenon is on the Acropolis won me a Bahamas ball cap!

We have just come in from having supper at the Tiki Shack just down the beach from our resort. The cook was using half barrels for barbecuing and boiling. We sat at picnic tables on the beach watching the sun set and eating corn on the cob, rice and barbecued chicken and ribs. Two Bahama Mama’s complemented the meal. The evening was topped off by a big beach bonfire. All for $20.00 a person.

It has been a good day.

Further posts for the next couple of weeks may or may not be regular.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Jewish Sleuths and a Jewish Hero

As I read Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller I realized that I was reading the third book in a row that featured a Jewish primary character. In Lineup by Liad Shoham it had been Detective Eli Nachum. In The Missing File by D.A. Mishani it was Detective Avraham Avraham.

Nachum and Avraham were detectives living and working in and around Tel Aviv, Israel. Sheldon Horowitz lived his adult life in New York City until his granddaughter, Rhea, and her husband, Lars, persuaded him to move to Norway.

Somewhat to my surprise it was Horowitz, the non-Israeli, whose Jewish faith and heritage played a significant role in the book.

He has been driven to fight for justice since he learned of the Holocaust. Too young to fight the Nazis he fought in the Korean War.

Horowitz knows the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He invokes Saul, the persecutor of early Christians who converted and became St. Paul. He reflects on God’s actions and powers in the Old Testament. His God is real and part of his life.

For Nachum and especially Avraham there is no role in the book for their Jewish life. Being Jewish does not guide or overtly influence their lives.

Both Nachum and Avrahm appear to be secular, non-religious Jews, as I do not recall any parts of the book showing either is religious.

To the contrary Avraham, on Shabbat, goes to the office when he does not need to be there. It is a very quiet day with few other officers present and even fewer calls.

One of the few signs of Jewish life for Nachum and Avraham is that their day of rest is Saturday rather than Sunday.

Every author must decide which aspects of personality to focus on in their books. Shoham and Mishani concentrated on Nachm and Avraham being solid hard working police officers. I do not think you would have known they were Jewish but for their names and being Israeli. The importance of being Jewish made Horowitz a far more interesting character to me than either Nachum or Avraham.

Every action taken by Horowitz is affected by being Jewish. He cannot abandon the child whose mother is murdered in his aparement. From his tangled mind he calls the child Paul in memory of his son, Saul, and the Christian St. Paul.

Being Jewish compounds Horowitz’s isolation in Norwegian by Night. With but 1,300 Jewish people in Norway he is a member of one of the country’s smallest minorities. Yet Horowitz will not forget that Norway allowed the Nazis to take 772 Jews to concentration camps with but 34 surviving the war.

Horowitz may have lost faith in God but he is still fiercely Jewish.