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, June 30, 2014

An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James

26. – 773.) An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James – I do not think this book was intended for the average male reader. I can sum up my reasoning in a sentence. The slim lovely Jillian Leigh meets the tall, dark and handsome Inspector Drew Merriken and they encounter ghosts and ….

At their first meeting:

I looked down. His hand was on my arm. Something made my breath stop in my throat. I raised my eyes to his.

And just like that, something arced between us. My body flushed hot. His hand on me felt almost familiar, as if he’d touched me before. His gaze darkened as he looked at me, his grip flexed, and for just a second I felt a pull – so brief I thought I’d imagined it – as if he were about to draw me to him. In that second, I would have gone my body understanding before my mind could protest.

In the early 1920’s Jillian is a student at Somerville College for Women at Oxford. She is called to the village of Rothewell on the western coast of England to identify the body of her deceased uncle Toby and deal with his personal effects.

Toby was a renowned ghost hunter and was in Rothewell pursuing Walking John, a 17th Century ghost, who has haunted the woods outside the village for almost three centuries. John Barrow had been a smuggler who died in terrible circumstances. No villager will venture into the woods at night.

Toby was staying in Walking John’s home, Barrow House, a lonely stone building on the edge of the woods at the time of his death.  He died from injuries suffered in a fall from the cliffs overlooking Blood Moon Bay.

Drew comes to Barrow House to make inquiries about Toby. There are suspicions his death was neither an accident nor suicide.

A fighter pilot during WW I Drew was emotionally damaged during the war.

With regard to ghosts Jillian approaches her first night alone at Barrow House with conviction:

           I did not believe in ghosts. Of course I didn’t – no
           sane person believed in ghosts. 

I believed in Oxford, and cobblestoned squares, and old bricks thick with ivy, and rainy days curled up reading books. I believed in my mother’s strong coffee and in the lonely, aching scent of early dawn before anyone else in my boardinghouse was awake. I believed in my favourite men’s cardigan and the way the wind felt on the back of my neck. I believed in life as it lay before me, spinning out slowly, day after day of warm springs and thurderstorms and laughter. These were the things I believed in.

Curious about Toby’s ghost hunting instruments she experiments with them especially the galvanscope which measures “the electric current generated by an object’s magnetic field”.

As a storm rages outside the house she is reading Toby’s journal when a crash causes her to jump. The fire wavers, lamps go out and there is another crash. Finding a shutter loose she goes outside. While attaching the shutter she “turned to see the garden gate fly open as if thrown by an unseen hand”. She is “overcome, in slick certainty, with sheer terror”. The shaken Jillian pulls her bed away from the window. Her certainty there are no ghosts has been shattered.

The intrepid Jillian assists the Inspector in his inquiries. There is a strong element of a young woman heading into danger alone.

I know my review reflects a prejudice with regard to romantic suspense and is condescending in tone. In my next post I am going to reflect on those personal issues.

I expect readers who enjoy romantic suspense mysteries will enjoy the book. The book is well written. Jillian is a striking character.

The cover is wonderfully designed combining photos to evoke the mood of the book(June 28/14)


An Inquiry into Love and Death is my 16th and final read in the 7th Canadian Book Challenge which ends in half an hour. Shortly I will be summarizing my reading for the Challenge.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Personal Connection to Bennett Jones

My last post, a review of The Hero of Hopewell Hill by Barbara Martin, discussed an adventure involving Fenians attacking New Brunswick and the young Richard Bedford Bennett, a future Canadian Prime Minister.

In the book the young Bennett dreams of becoming a schoolteacher and maybe even a lawyer. In real life he was a schoolteacher by the time he was 16, principal of a school at 18 and by 20 was in law school at Dalhousie in Halifax.

He started his legal career in New Brunswick but was lured west to Calgary in the mid-1990’s by James Lougheed, a prominent lawyer. Bennett arrived in mid-January to a classic Western Canadian weather welcome. It was -40.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography ascribes the following traits to the young Bennett:

He was something of an outsider from the very first. Never one to follow the crowd, he neither smoked nor drank and he dressed formally at all times. He could work like a horse, long hours with no play.

He had some classic legal battles with Paddy Nolan who smoked, drank, dressed as he pleased and savoured long hours of play.

Bennett was a good lawyer and a better investor and businessman. He was an early investor in oil, grain, cement and power companies. A staunch Methodist he made a practice of donating 10% of his income each year to charity.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography further describes his character:

He loved hard work for the sheer satisfaction of mastery, in finance, accounting, law. He was a wizard with legal precedents and uncanny with errors in a balance sheet. At the same time he was a sublime egotist, clever, irascible, unsparing of himself or others. Forgiveness was one of the Christian virtues he found difficult to practise. He had a volatile temper, explosive while it lasted. Wound up in the coils of his own nature he seems rarely to have considered the effects of his words and actions. His receiving antennae were weak; sometimes they did not appear even to be deployed. R. B.’s limited receiving capacity was often the source of his strength and courage. His future rival William Lyon Mackenzie King’s sensitive antennae made him timid, his hypocrisy more crafty as he got older. Bennett scorned hypocrisy. He had the dangerous habit of saying what he really thought. What drove Bennett was his own mind, not what others might think of him.

After spending time in federal politics he lost his seat in Parliament and returned to the practice of law. After almost 30 years together there was a messy breakup with Lougheed. As happens too often when law firms separate there was litigation between the partners.

In 1922 Bennett formed a new firm Bennett, Hannah and Sandford with two colleagues from the old firm.

Through various names the firm has endured 92 years with the last three decades being known as Bennett Jones.

It is now Calgary’s largest law firm with hundreds of lawyers.

Considering Bennett’s personal combination of lawyer and businessman I expect he would like the current firm’s motto:

            Your lawyer. Your law firm. Your business adviser.

R.B. Bennett is a Canadian success story growing up in the Maritimes shortly after Confederation and helping develop Western Canada before becoming our 11th Prime Minister.

I hope his firm likes The Hero of Hopewell Hill. It provides a vivid portrayal of the firm founder as a teenage boy bravely and decisively fighting for Canada.

My personal connection to the firm is that my younger son, Michael, started work there as an articling student two weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Hero of Hopewell Hill by Barbara Martin

25. – 772.) The Hero of Hopewell Hill by Barbara Martin – Richard Bennett, Canada’s 11th Prime Minister, grew up on a farm near Hopewell Hill on the coast of New Brunswick. He is featured in the 4th book of the Leaders & Legacies series. Each book is about a future Canadian Prime Minister involved in an adventure when he or she was 12 or 13 years of age. Bennett is 13 in 1883.

Making a living by the 1880's has become a challenge for the Bennett family. The once busy shipyard of Bennett’s grandfather is a lonely place of memories as steel hulled ships have replaced the elegant wooden ships his grandfather built to sail the oceans.

Bennett and his friend, Len Tilley, like all young teenage boys, crave some excitement in their lives and are intrigued by mystery. One night they venture on to the cliff above the Hopewell Rocks to see if a local Indian legend can “be true – that the rocks were the trapped spirits of Indian warriors, waiting to be released”. While no spirits appear they hear sounds of men moving something on the side of the cliffs.

When he returns home, Bennett’s father, Henry, is upset over this foolish escapade. He wants Richard to start working full time on the farm as he is busy as a blacksmith. His mother, Henrietta, is more understanding. Trained as a teacher she understands Bennett’s desire to go to Normal School so he can become a teacher.

In town Bennett encounters the broad shouldered and surly Michael Killian who has been making inquiries about the local militia.

Despite the threat of punishment Bennett and Tilley return to the cliffs by rowboat to find out what has been happening there. Living on the Bay of Fundy they must be wary of the largest tides in the world which rise and fall 2-3 meters an hour to a total of 16 meters.

What they encounter leads them to realize there is a new Fenian threat. Memories are still fresh in Hopewell Hill of the attempted Fenian invasion at Campobello, New Brunswick 17 years previously. The Fenians remain confident Irish Canadians will rise to join them and they can take over New Brunswick. Bennett is determined to do his part to thwart the Fenians.

In challenging the Fenians Bennett displays several character traits that will serve him well as a lawyer and businessman in Calgary and then as Prime Minister. (Bennett, Prime Minister from 1930 – 1935, had the most difficult time to be Canadian Prime Minister as the nation struggles during the Great Depression.)

The teenage Bennett is caring of others. He is quick and decisive in making decisions. He is physically brave and not afraid to take on a tough situation.

As always in the series I learned something of both the future Prime Minister and of aspects of Canadian history. I had not realized the Fenian threat had reached as far east as New Brunswick. I had thought the Fenian attacks on Canada were limited to Upper Canada (Ontario) just after the end of the American Civil War.

It is a good book though I liked the earlier books in the series better than The Hero of Hopewell Hill. I would have preferred a more rounded portrayal of the young Bennett and further information on his family. He is abit too perfect. No flaws beyond stubbornness are set out. I wish his mother, obviously a very important person in his life, had a greater role in the story.

I am glad the series continues to bring to life historic adventures of future Prime Ministers. As the series builds in number young Canadian readers are getting a chance to see how our Prime Ministers have come from many different backgrounds.

My next post will discuss R.B. Bennett's later life and my family connection to his ongoing heritage in Calgary.

The Hero of Hopewell Hill is the 15th of 13 books I have read during the 7th Canadian Book Challenge which ends at midnight on next Monday evening. Canada Day, July 1, starts the 8th annual Challenge for reading Canadian authored books.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Murder Trials at the Old Bailey in 1675, 1775 and 1875

In my last post I discussed the Old Bailey Online which contains records of criminal trials at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913. Interested to see how the reporting of trials evolved I took a look at murder trials from July to December in each of 1675, 1775 and 1875.

The 1675 trials were recorded in 1-2 paragraphs clearly being summaries of evidence or assessments of the evidence as set out in this heart rending statement:

J. D. a little boy about 14 years of age, for murthering a Citizen and Silkman in Milk-street, which he confessed: Young in years but old in wickedness: yet had he been older he could not have been more sensible of his fact, nor more apprehensive of his approaching death, nothing more troubled him in the Prison, than that he was so dye so early, and that he had so soon imbru'd his hands in blood, this youth had not many words to express himself, but he supply'd that defect with his tears, weeping continually …..

A century later in 1775 there are actual transcripts with questions and answers recorded.

One trial involved a killing at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Captain David Roche was acquitted of killing Captain David Fergusson. Probably the most interesting part of the report is the ornate wording of the indictment:

THE Jurors for our lord the King upon their oath present, That David Roche, late of London, gentleman , not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 4th day of September, in the thirteenth year of the reign of our sovereign lord George the Third, by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, and so forth, with force and arms, at the Cape of Good Hope, on the coast of Africa, in parts beyond the seas without England, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did make an assault upon John Fergusson, then and there being in the peace of God and our said lord the King; and that the said David Roche with a certain drawn sword, made of iron and steel, of the value of five shillings, which he the said David Roche in his right hand then and there had and held, then and there feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did strike, stab, and thurst the said John Fergusson in and upon the upper part of the breast of him the said John Fergusson , above the left pap of him the said John Fergusson ; and that the said   David Roche , then and there feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did give to him the said John Fergusson, then and there with the drawn sword aforesaid, in and upon the said upper part of the breast of him the said John Fergusson, above the left pap of him the said John Fergusson, one mortal wound of the breadth of half an inch, and of the depth of five inches; of which said mortal wound the said John Fergusson then and there instantly died: and so the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do say, that the said David Roche, in manner and form aforesaid, then and there feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did kill and murder the said John Fergusson , against the peace of our lord the King, his crown and dignity.

By 1875 the lawyers representing the Crown and the Defence are set out in the heading to the report of the trial.

How a doctor examines a body in 1875 is considerably different from our current times:

Supposing a fall, the result of a push, I do not think that would cause such injuries as I saw on the head—it would be violence, but not sufficient to produce what I saw—it would depend on the force that came in contact with the body, there should have been some protruding body to have got under the lower jaw to produce what I describe, and I have no evidence to show me that there was anything of the kind—if she was expelled from the house and fell on the edge of a stone step, in my opinion that would not account for the abrasion and discoloration I observed on her head—I do not think that would account for what I saw—I made a careful examination—I did not open the body or head, my opinion was founded on the external appearances—I considered the external examination sufficient to enable me to account for the death—I am a surgeon of twenty years' experience, I have been an army surgeon, and have seen every kind of wound—I have been for many years in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, where we have every kind of injury—I was nine and a half years in the army, and have seen every possible kind of injury that could be inflicted by force—I describe the abrasion as a slight one—the ribbon was tight but not sufficiently tight to—cause strangulation—it was pinned in the ordinary way—I described it as tight before the Magistrate—I should say it fitted accurately round the neck, but not so as to produce any injurious effect—I cannot suppose that it could cause strangulation if she were drunk and rolling about the road, because on removing the ribbon there was no mark of tightening, which must have been there if it had produced any injurious effect—there must have been a regular mark left on the neck, but there was not—there would have been a line all round the neck if it had produced congestion of the upper part of the head—I did not smell her breath, there was no breath to smell, it was all gone—I had no means of ascertaining whether she had been in liquor.

No medical examiner today would be given any credence without conducting an internal as well as an external examination of the body.

As well juries at that time could, as part of the verdict, recommend mercy for the accused.

Currently case reports cover the judgment given by the trial judge. Transcripts of a trial must be ordered and paid for by a Defendant or the Crown wanting a copy. In Saskatchewan court staff will burn a DVD of taped trial evidence (there have been no court reporters taking down evidence in Saskatchewan for three decades) within 1-2 days of evidence being given.

I expect to go back periodically to the Old Bailey Online to sample other trials. It is an immense trove of information on English criminal trials.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Old Bailey Online

While looking at the New York Times Online Edition last week I found an article, Computing Crime and Punishment, involving records of trials held at the Old Bailey in London from 1674 to 1913 have now been archived online.

It is an amazing online research resource for English trials for over two centuries:

The corpus includes 121 million words describing 197,000 trials over 239 years. According to researchers, it represents the largest existing body of transcribed trial evidence for historical crime; it is, they say, the most detailed recording of real speech in printed form anywhere in the world.

The article discussed how academics using computers to read the over 2,000,000 words had studied the transformation in England of how crime was treated between the mid-18th and mid-19th Centuries.

The article sets out in 1765 you could be hung for stealing “a watch and a hat” and you could be hung for murder.

Within a century picking a pocket would usually involve a fine.

How England approached crime had changed:

In the early 1700s, violence was considered routine. A trial about theft, Dr. DeDeo said, might include testimony “in which people gouge out each other’s eyes, are covered in blood and get killed.” But by the 1820s, the justice system was focused more on containing violence — a development reflected not just in language but also in the professionalization of the justice system. “The changes occurred under the radar,” said Dr. Hitchcock, the British historian.

What was most interesting to me was learning of the immense record of English criminal trials.

Multiple means of searching trials are possible.

Some trials were deemed inappropriate to report as in Oscar Wilde’s misguided decision to prosecute his lover’s father for criminal libel:

336.   JOHN SHOLTO DOUGLAS, MARQUESS OF QUEENSBERRY , was indicted for unlawfully publishing a false, scandalous and malicious libel of and concerning    Oscar  Wilde. To this the defendant pleaded NOT GUILTY, and put in a plea of justification, stating the contents of the alleged libel to be true in substance and in fact, and that it was published for the public benefit.


The details of the case are unfit for publication.

At the close of the case for the prosecution, and whilst MR. CARSON was opening the defence, SIR EDWARD CLARKE interposed and stated that he had consulted with his client, and was prepared to accept a verdict of NOT GUILTY , which the JURY at once pronounced, adding that they considered that the publication was justified and for the public benefit.

If you want to read the transcripts from that trial they are available on line through the University of Missouri at Kansas City which has a website on the Trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895.

I have dipping into the Old Bailey Online to see how trials were recorded. I looked at murder trials for the same period of the year in 1675 and 1775 and 1875. My next post will provide my comments on the changing of how trials were reported during those 200 years and aspects of the trials.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman

24. – 771.) The   Ascendant by Drew Chapman – I was swept into The Ascendant. It has been quite awhile since I was reading in bed and suddenly realized it was 2:00 in the morning of a work day and I still wanted to keep reading. I was reminded of how I was caught by the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I had to know what was going to happen next in the story.

I rarely repeat blurbs but the words of Marysue Rucci, Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief of Simon and Schuster resonated with me:

     I love this book and tore through it     in two sittings.
Chapman has created a striking contemporary hero in Garrett Reilly. The former California surfer has become a bond analyst on Wall Street for a medium size firm. The job barely holds his interest. Most days he smokes some marijuana to gain the “fuzzy, contented peace” he needs to let him deal with the constant agitation of trading in bonds.
He has two special gifts. He has a photographic memory for numbers and a talent for detecting patterns:
     Just the barest hint of a pattern – in numbers, colors,
     sounds, smells - would start a tingling feeling at the base of his
     spine, the faintest electric shock that was somewhere between
     pleasure and alarm. As the pattern, whatever it happened to be,
     became clearer to him, the tingling dissipated, melding quickly
     into hard fact ....... It didn't matter if there was purpose or intent
     behind the patterns; Garrett simply saw them, felt them,
     everywhere, and the recorded them in his brain. Just like that.
     Every minute of every hour of every day.
On a rare sober day he senses an unusual pattern in the market for American Treasury bonds. Because he can remember the identifying numbers on Treasury bonds issued years ago Reilly, by looking closely at the Treasury bond market around the world notes that someone is selling the bonds purchased at a single auction of the bonds twelve years ago. What excitement can there be in the sale of bonds? Their sale becomes breathtaking when the total sold is $200,000,000,000.00.
Reilly advises his boss, Avery Bernstein, that China is attacking the U.S. through the sale of the bonds. Confirming other evidence is the timing of the sales. They took place in a repeating loop 4 and 14 minutes apart through the day. In Chinese culture 4 means death and 14 means accident. They are “the two most unlucky numbers in China”.
When Bernstein passes the information on to the Treasury Department the information is intercepted and assessed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
As the American government recognizes Reilly’s remarkable talent to see patterns in the chaos of modern society’s ceaseless flow of information they seek to recruit him to determine the patterns in Chinese actions.

The diplomatic corps has already noted a change. Chapman's narrative ability is demonstrated by the following summary of diplomacy:

     Diplomacy with the Chinese was, to U.S. Ambassador Robert  
     Smith Townsend's mind, ceremonial theater. A carefully
     choreographed dramatic set piece, with a first act, an interlude, a
     second act, the occasional reversal or surprised, the 
     reintroduction of an early plot point, a denouement, and then a
     neatly wrapped-up resolution. Each actor knew his or her role,
     what was expected, and how the drama would turn out.

     But not this time.
Reilly is a master of modern information technology. At the same time he is abrasive and self-absorbed and amoral. He is volatile. Simmering with anger he flares into violence. He is a team of one. No one could be more ill-suited to work in the military.

It is no surprise he is resistant to joining the DIA. Beyond his innate distaste for working in a group, having his older brother killed in action while a soldier has left him bitter towards the American military.

At the same time  Reilly is so brilliant at patterns that the DIA continues his recruitment.

The American military realizes that soldiers are inevitably unready for the next war because they have studied and are influenced by the last war. Reilly is free from the mould of conventional military training.
Within China Hu Mei, a young peasant woman, is leading a growing movement against the regime which has no hesitation in trampling the working people in pursuit of economic development. Can she be having an effect upon the Party leadership?
Reilly and readers of the book are suddenly caught up in a conflict between China and the U.S. that is being waged by technology rather than soldiers.
A video game has become real life. Attacks, without using a bullet, bomb or rocket, are being launched through computers.
Chapman has imagined a new form of conflict for the 21st Century that entranced me.

Reilly's cleverness is amazing. While a genius, his behaviour is often boorish and immature. I was reminded of Lisbeth Salander - another brilliant, emotionally damaged, amoral character with immense computer skills. What a pairing Salander and Reilly would have made!

It is not a book you want to pause and reflect upon while reading for you are bound to question the reality of the plot. Just settle in for the ride and prepare to be astonished adopting  the words of the New York Times on Maisie Dobbs, the first in the series by Jacqueline Winspear. Not many books justify the use of the word thriller. The Ascendant is a genuine thriller.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Social and Cultural Issues in Miss Montreal

Howard Shrier’s book, Miss Montreal, is an excellent mystery which delves into historical, cultural and social issues in Montreal without losing its character as a mystery.

The victim, Slammin’ Sammy Adler, was beaten to death in a predominantly Muslim area of Montreal. Adler’s Jewish heritage instantly raises the issue of whether his murder was a hate crime.

In the book there is a story of a Muslim father burning to death in a house his daughter who refused to wear her “scarf”.

Recently there was a real life trial in Canada in which a Muslim father was convicted of killing female family members as a matter of “honour”.

In the book the Jewish Adler had been reaching out to a different group of Muslim immigrants. An Afghani family has set up a successful rug business and is adapting to Canadian culture.

Arthur Moscoe, who hired Jonah Geller, to solve the murder had grown up poor in Montreal at a time when Jewish residents were marginalized. Quotas were in place to limit the number of Jews who could attend professional colleges such as law and medicine.

Still Moscoe was a part of the English community of Montreal which dominated Quebec economically. Moscoe built a successful life in the 1950’s and 1960’s. To the working class French he was part of the English elite who controlled Quebec business and rarely learned to speak French. Prejudice lingers. One of the detectives calls Jonah a maudit juif (damned Jew).

Moscoe was a part of a migration to Toronto of many Anglo Quebeckers when the Parti Quebecois gained power in the 1970’s and pursued their separatist agenda.

For some Franco Quebecois, at the heart of the movement is a desire to exclude from the province those who do not meet their French standards.

The book highlights the current tension with Muslim immigrants who do not want to conform to a secular French Quebec society. They refuse to be conform to French Quebec.

Sammy was probing a new political party, Québec aux Québécois, which embraced such a philosophy. The founder, Laurent Lortie, is a proud pure laine (pure wool) a descendant of the early settlers to New France hundreds of years ago. It is another form of elitism.

Lortie seeks checks and balances needed with regard to certain communities:

And yes, since you raise the issue, I speak of Muslims – not all of them, just those who resist our way of life. Who would impose their will if we allow it. If we insist that Quebec will never again be dominated by the Church, we most certainly will not submit to the laws or practices of unassimilated minorities.

And then there are recent Muslim arrivals to Montreal in the book from Syria fleeing the civil war but still connected to the conflict.

Who has the ironic Slammin’ Sammy so disturbed in this volatile mix of culture, religion and politics that they would brutally murder him?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier

Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier – The fourth Jonah Geller mystery is set entirely in Canada. The first three books had involved Canada and the United States.

Jonah is hired by 83 year old Arthur Moscoe to find out who killed his grandson, Sammy Adler, in Montreal. It was a brutal murder. Sammy had been beaten to death. Moscoe is dying in Toronto and cannot bear just waiting for the police to investigate the murder.

Sammy was the same age as Jonah and they attended Jewish summer camp as pre-teens. For a climatic summer ending toss ball game, when they were 12, Jonah works with the un-coordinated Sammy to create a decent swing. The result is a nickname for life – “Slammin’ Sammy”.

As an adult, Sammy moved to Montreal where he became a journalist gaining fame within the City for his insightful, often funny, columns on city life.

Jonah travels to Montreal with Dante Ryan, the former organized crime hit man, who provides support and gun protection for the unarmed Jonah. His actual partner, Jenn Raudsepp, is recovering from injuries received in their last case in Boston.

To ensure they have enough firepower for any situation Ryan takes the following with them in his special case for transporting guns:

His had foam cut-outs that matched his .22 target pistol and its suppressor; the favourite of his Glocks, a G22 that carried only fifteen rounds, as opposed to the usual seventeen, but fired .40-calibre bullets that blew bigger holes in the target, the compact version of the Baby Eagle; an army-issue Beretta that’s his throwaway if needed, and the one I think of as his persuader, a chrome Smith & Wesson revolver with an eight-and-three-eighths barrel, long enough to churn butter or a man’s insides.

Ryan is also a guide to Montreal. While Jonah spent time there in university Ryan grew up in the city.

Arriving in Montreal they meet with Sammy’s editor, Holly Napier. Ryan and Jonah clarify Ryan’s position:

“Don’t say apprentice,” Ryan cut in. “Don’t say trainee. And do not say assistant.”

“He’s my friend,” I said.

For mystery fans think of Spenser’s friend Hawk.

Holly can provide no leads. While Sammy annoyed some people, especially in authority, he did not create enemies with features and his columns. With regard to columns Holly tells them:

There’s an old newspaper saying about columnists,” she said with a sad smile. “They come out on the field when the battle is over and shoot the survivors. Sammy waited for the reporters to dig the dirt, do battle, then he commented. Put into his perspective.”

Jonah seeks information from the investigating detectives. Reynauld Paquette allows  Jonah to struggle with his limited French for a few minutes before ending the language humiliation and switching to English. His partner, Rene Chenêvert, refuses to talk to him in English.

Knowing Moscoe has authorized Jonah to use Moscoe’s team of lawyers to take court action to gain police information the detectives grudgingly supply some documents.

Jonah and Ryan start to explore the last pair of features Slammin’ Sammy was working on when he died.

One was a story about Afghani immigrants adapting to Canada and succeeding in their new land. It was to be a counterpoint to a recent story of an “honour” killing within a Canadian Muslim family.

The other was about a new provincial party, Québec aux Québécois, which is a nationalist party with strong opinions on immigrants, especially Muslims wanting a conservative Muslim lifestyle.

Jonah patiently assembles information with his friend Ryan.

It is the book I wish Shrier had written in the first two of the series - Buffalo Jump and High Chicago. While I liked those books I doubted I would read another book in the series because of a level of violence I found excessive for the story.

In Miss Montreal the violence is less and the plot is more. Jonah is still hard boiled but the streets of Montreal are not layered in bodies.

It is excellent crime fiction. My next post will delve into the societal issues addressed in the book.
Miss Montreal is the 3rd book of the Arthur Ellis shortlist for Best Novel in 2014. Once again it was not the winning book but it is certainly worthy of the shortlist. It becomes the 14th of the 13 books I have read since last July 1 for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge.
(Toronto and other cities - see titles) Shrier, Howard – (2010) - Buffalo Jump; (2013) - High Chicago

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Clashing Women in Authority

John Brooke
Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle as lead police officer and Margot Tessier as lead agent for the DST were pivotal characters in Walls of a Mind by John Brooke. My last post was a review of the book.

It was the first book I can remember reading where it was a woman who was in charge of the investigation at competing law enforcement agencies.

It is not a surprise to have women in charge. We are a generation away from the pioneering days of Helen Mirren as the commanding officer in the T.V. series, Prime Suspect. It is not uncommon in real life for women to lead police services. I have met woman sergeants administering rural Saskatchewan RCMP detachments.

What struck me in the book was that there was none of the male resentment of the officers serving under Mirren. Nouvelle and Tessier are accepted as in charge. Their subordinates may have issues with their superior but it is not because they are women. They give orders to their male and female team members and their instructions are carried out.

I certainly acknowledge prejudice towards women in authority continues to exist but not in this book.

What was fascinating to me was the relationship Brooke set out between Nouvelle and Tessier when they butt up against each other in the investigation.

There was no gender solidarity in that each was a woman and that they should share information as women trying to make their way in leadership positions in what is a man’s world.

Their attitudes as they confront each other are different from what I would expect from men in the same situation. For men there is bound to be a macho component. It would be almost inevitable to have physical aggressiveness and, possibly even a fight. Nouvelle and Tessier wage a subtler war of words and attitudes.

Nouvelle challenges Tessier’s right and need for secrecy as Nouvelle investigates a murder. Tessier is instragient dismissing the requests for information as contrary to national security.

Nouvelle persists threatening Tessier with legal and political consequences rather than physical violence. Tessier is unmoved and projects her position through her attitude. She is secure in her knowledge of DST priority in the conflict over information. She disdainfully rejects Nouvelle.

Nouvelle is upset about the patronizing attitude of the older Tessier.

At the same time Nouvelle projects a moral superiority. She is solving a murder of an actual French citizen. She is not taking advantage of authority to abuse citizens for the sake of a potential anarchist risk.

Nouvelle is reluctant to carry her gun unless there is a clear need. Her policy causes her problems. Tessier is always well armed and ready for action.

Nouvelle and Tessier carry on their conflict in frosty exchanges through the book. There are many barbed comments especially by Tessier.

The test of wills between the women may not be as overt as male battles but it is as real and as fierce.

Having women in authority has not reduced the level of conflict between competing government police agencies. I wonder how future crime fiction will deal with woman versus woman in law enforcement.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post titled Being Affected by a Male Author Creating aFemale Sleuth as I discussed New Zealand author writing under the name of Alix Bosco. I found myself distracted on whether McGee had created a “convincing” female sleuth.

At the end of the post I spoke about focusing on the book and quoted from a comment from the late Maxine Clarke, who I miss dearly:

Going forward I am going to do my best to just concentrate on the book. As blogger, Maxine Clarke, from the excellent Petrona blog said in a comment on my review of Slaughter Falls:

To me, the gender of the author is irrelevant. I have a review going up tomorrow of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain, which is such an accurate, and wonderful, portrait of a woman on all kind of levels. Amazing that it was written by a man? No. Just someone with talent.

I consider Brooke as someone with talent. I found that he created not only two convincing female characters he had insight into their minds and how women interact with each other. I shall be interested in hearing from female readers if they thought Brooke can write well of the female psyche. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Walls of a Mind by John Brooke

23. – 770.) Walls of a Mind by John Brooke – Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle has been transferred from the Alsace region to the Midi of Southwestern France after a bad ending to a relationship.

Walls of a Mind is the 5th book in the series but the first I have read. I would not have read the book if it was not on the shortlist for the Best Novel in the 2014 Arthur Ellis Awards sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada. It is my loss not to have read earlier books in the series.

On a lovely crime free afternoon the inspector decides to treat herself to a picnic on the beach. Taking book, beach towel, parasol and lunch (“jambon-beurre on frest baguette, one hard-boiled egg, a few black olives. Carrot Sticks. A white peach” and one bottle of 1664 beer) she settles down on the sand. Being just before the summer rush the beach is quiet.

In a first for female sleuths I have read, Nouvelle rolls down the top of her swimsuit so that she is topless for tanning. As a good looking man in a suit gives her but a cursory glance walking by it appears she has a tinge of disappointment in the disinterest. (The cover captures the moment.)

Shortly after she is called to lead an investigation into the sniper killing of Joël Guatto, a member of a well known local family and an obscure politician who gained less than 1% of the votes in the last election for a federal representative. He had run for a right wing agrarian party, the Chasse, Pêche, Nature, Tradition Party, better known as the Hunting and Fishing Party, railing against the actions of the EEC.

While the family vineyard appears to be doing alright there is a simmering resentment in the region to the influx of cheap Spanish wine. The EEC rules allowing products to move easily across national boundaries are threatening the smaller grape growers and vineyards. There is a history of violent protest going back a century against imports of low cost wine.

Yet what reason was there to kill Guatto. He had no influence. He could damage no one’s interests. His ineffectual political campaign produced scorn rather than anger in his opponents.

As Nouvelle pursues her investigation she is drawn to Stephanie McLeod, an Enarque who had studied at the elite L’école de Administration in Paris. McLeod had returned home to care for her dying mother. She has stayed after her mother’s death working as a waitress in a rural bistro with owner Chef, Avi Roig, an Israeli exile. More importantly, she was deputy (campaign adviser) and lover to Guatto but she had little use for Guatto by the end of the election.

Her background is also intriguing to the police. Her parents had fled Canada and changed their names. Her father had sabotaged some international economic interests. Her mother was a member of the FLQ, the separatist terrorist organization that created havoc in Quebec in the early 1970’s.

McLeod’s is of even greater interest to the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) the internal French Secret Service. Led by Agent Margot Tessier the DST aggressively questions McLeod.

While Tessier imperiously denies Nouvelle information it is clear that modern anarchists are being pursued.

Nouvelle learns that McLeod has/is also the lover of “Prince”, the leader of the anarchist group. McLeod is clearly at the centre of some complex relationships.

Yet how would the conservative Guatto be connected to anarchists? Their political goals are vastly different.

In a well constructed police procedural, Nouvelle carefully seeks out information on the murder while continually butting up against the DST.

It is a very good book. Nouvelle is a clever woman determined to do her job well but not with the obsessive compulsion of many contemporary North American fictional police to investigate 24 hours a day. She has time for good meals, for a new love interest and for reading – mysteries being her favourite.

I am going to search out earlier books in the series.

Walls of a Mind did not win this year’s award for Best Novel. It will be my 14th book for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge. I completed the Challenge with my 13th book and I am now reading bonus books.