About Me

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

7th Canadian Book Challenge Roundup (Part I)

Almost a month after the close of the 7th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog this post will list the books I read for the Challenge from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014:

1.) Stranglehold by Robert Rotenberg;

2.) The Third Riel Conspiracy by Stephen Legault;

3.) Diefenbaker for the Defence by Garrett Wilson and Kevin Wilson;

4.) The Shaman's Knife by Scott Young;

5.) The Gifted by Gail Bowen;

6.) How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny;

7.) Fire on Ice by Darrell Davis;

8.) Furies by D.L. Johnstone;

9.) A Cold White Sun by Vicki Delany;

10.) Frisky Business by Jill Edmondson;

11.) Open Secret by Deryn Collier;

12.) Kill All the Lawyers by William Deverell;

13.) Gold Web by Vicki Delany;

14.) Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe;

15.) Walls of a Mind by John Brooke;

16.) Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier;

17.) An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James; and,

18.) The Hero of Hopewell Hill by Barbara Martin.

Other years I have participated in the Challenge I barely fulfilled the Challenge to read 13 books by Canadians during the 12 months from Canada Day to Canada Day. With 18 for the 7th Challenge I expect I have reached my maximum. I doubt I will read as many during the 8th Challenge.

Out of the 18 books read during the 7th Challenge 4 were part of the shortlist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. I have now finished the 5th book on the shortlist and next week will have a post discussing the shortlist and stating which one I liked the best.

My next post will examine the books I read for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eyewitness Evidence Six Decades After World War II

John Demjanjuk on Trial in Israel
My last post reviewed Once We Were Brothers by Ronald D. Balson. In the book Holocaust survivor, Ben Solomon, alleged that Chicago billionaire, Elliott Rosenzweig, was really his foster brother, Otto Piatek, who had served in the SS in Poland during WW II, participated in the Holocaust and stole from Solomon’s family.

Lawyer, Cat Lockhart, is pushed by Solomon to launch a lawsuit against Rosenzweig / Piatek (hereafter “Piatek”) for the theft of Solomon family property. Cat wants proof beyond Solomon’s visual identification of Piatek. She is justly concerned about eyewitness evidence 60 years after Solomon last met Piatek is unreliable.

Solomon insists that it is not just the appearance of Piatek he relies on for identification. He says Piatek’s way of speach, his manners and his gestures are the same as Piatek he lived with for 6 years in Poland.

Still the evidence is Solomon’s memory and perception. It is clear he hates Piatek. Can he be objective? Cat wants more.

While never discussed in the book I was reminded of the lengthy prosecution of John Demjanjuk, a retired steelworker, living quietly in Cleveland when a journalist investigating ethnic Ukrainians who had moved to North America, using information received from the U.S.S.R., alleged Demjanjuk had collaborated with the Nazis. Evidence was primarily an ID card and 5 camp survivors who identified him as a guard.

Demjanjuk is accused of being Ivan “the Terrible” a vicious guard.

Ultimately Demjanjuk, deported to Israel, was put on trial. In a dramatic trial he was convicted.

During the trial it was demonstrated that the card was almost certainly a forgery. (Later evidence was even more conclusive.)

The primary evidence against Demjanjuk was eyewitness evidence. One of the Jewish camp survivors insisted, after looking into Demjanjuk’s eyes, that he was certainly Ivan “the Terrible”. Then it was determined that witness four decades earlier had sworn in a deposition that Ivan “the Terrible” had died in a prisoner uprising.
I remember how public opinion was sure from the eyewitness evidence that Demjanjuk was evil and deserving of the death penalty.

On appeal the conviction was overturned because of extensive new evidence. As set out in Wikipedia:

On 29 July 1993, a five-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict on appeal. Their ruling was based on the written statements of 37 former guards at Treblinka that identified Ivan the Terrible as "Ivan Marchenko." Central to the new evidence was a photograph of Ivan the Terrible and a description that did not match the 1942 appearance of Demjanjuk. The accounts of 21 guards who were tried in the Soviet Union on war crimes gave details that differentiate Demjanjuk from Ivan the Terrible—that his surname was Marchenko.

In a subsequent convoluted process he was tried in Germany when he was 90 and convicted of being accessory to murder on the basis that though he was not Ivan “the Terrible” he had served as a guard in a concentration camp.

This post is not about the issues of prosecuting Demjanjuk but to illustrate the fraility of eyewitness evidence decades after an event.

It seemed to me that Balson had in mind the Demjanjuk case when he wrote the book. In Once We Were Brothers the real Otto Piatek, with the slightly different surname of Piacek, is supposedly residing in Cleveland. As well, after the court action is started there is evidence Piatek was known as the Butcher of Zamość.

Undoubtedly dramatic Cat filed the case with Solomon her sole witness. There is a little more evidence than Solomon's testimony but I am doubtful a real life lawyer would have filed a lawsuit against Piatek on what was available to Cat. Solomon essentially wanted to get the further evidence to identify Piatek from questioning Piatek. Every litigator has started court actions based on a single witness but not where the evidence is about events six decades in the past.
The mists of time have their greatest effects on eyewitness evidence.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson – Ben Solomon needs a lawyer. It is 2004 and the 83 year old survivor of the Holocaust has seen Chicago insurance billionaire, Elliot Rosenzweig on television.  Though 60 years have passed Solomon is convinced that Rosenzweig is actually Otto Piatek, an SS officer, who participated in the Holocaust and stole Solomon family assets. Trying to scare Rosenzweig into confessing Solomon confronts him at the Opera with a WW II Luger handgun. The gun is unloaded. When the gambit fails Solomon is left with pursuing Rosenzweig in the legal system.

With no resources to fund a lawsuit Solomon tries to find a lawyer who will take up his cause pro bono. No lawyers are interested. Who wants to take on one of the most prominent citizens of the city for no tangible benefit? While lawyers love causes they need income.

Solomon is further limited in the type of lawsuit he can bring against Rosenzweig. Limitation periods have long expired for a claim that Rosenzweig personally harmed Solomon. What remains is a claim for the return of property or the value of the property Solomon claims was stolen by Rosenzweig.

Private investigator, Liam Taggart, puts Solomon in touch with Catherine Lockhart, better known as “Cat”, a 39 year old woman looking to resurrect her legal career after a disastrous marriage.

Cat carves some time out of her busy schedule at a large Chicago firm to meet with Solomon. She insists she will only consider the merits of his case. If she thinks he has an action she will refer him to the Federal Department of Justice or a lawyer willing to take up the cause.

Then his story grabs her. Solomon grew up in Zamość, Poland where his father ran a successful glass manufacturing business and is an important member of the Jewish community. He tells her that Piatek, he refuses to call him Rosenzweig, was informally adopted by his family during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Piatek, while non-Jewish, fits well into the Solomon family.

During 1939 with war looming Piatek’s parents contact the Solomons. His mother, Ilse Piatek, working as an assistant in the office of Reinhard Heydrich, warns the family of the dangers of the Nazis and urges her son to leave the Solomons.

Solomon’s family story takes up 2/3 of the book. It is a history of the Holocaust through the life of a Jewish family.

The book delves into the decisions to be made by a family threatened by events they can hardly comprehend. Do you abandon home, community and relatives because of a threatened danger? Can the Nazis really be so evil for the Germans are a civilized nation?

Piatek’s transformation once he joins the SS is insidious. It reflects how many Germans are drawn step by step into the Final Solution.

Yet is Rosenzweig actually Piatek? Rosenzweig insists Solomon is wrong. While acknowledging he left Europe after the war he fiercely asserts he is not Piatek.

Our legal system is based on evidence not belief. Unlike the Nazis our legal decisions require proof. Rosenzweig should not be condemned and his hard earned reputation destroyed because of an accusation.

Can the law provide a measure of justice six decades after the wrong? I have seen it done in Canada. We have gradually been addressing wrongs done to Indian nations as far back as the 19th Century.

The book addresses good and evil from personal to national levels. Can the legal system confront evil for an individual?

What should a lawyer do about a worthy case that his/her firm is not prepared to launch in court?  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ time and expenses would be involved. Relationships with clients will be affected. In a firm not just the lawyer commencing the lawsuit is affected by a major court action.

Solomon never waivers. He is going to sue Rosenzweig and prove he is Piatek. He has lived his life by a motto he picked up from Polish partisans during the war – “never surrender”.

Having read a significant amount about WW II much of the information about the development of the Holocaust was already known to me. For a reader unacquainted with details of the Holocaust it will personalize the death of 6 million Jews.

It is excellent historical mystery fiction with a legal element. I wish the law had taken a greater role in the book.

Even before looking I could tell it was the author’s first novel. The dialogue is not as natural as that of authors who have been writing books of fiction for some time.

Once We Were Brothers will challenge a reader. I find reading about the Holocaust depressing. At the same time Balson does not limit the story to the bad in the lives of the Solomons. He shows life as it was in Occupied Poland. Sorrow dominates but there is joy. Ulimately I was reminded that the fabric of civilization is thin and uncomfortably fragile. (July 20/14)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane

The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane – The 2014 winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Mystery Novel is a unique mystery whose story and resolution is closely tied to its era and locale. 

Seeking to see the world, for almost half of 1868 newly graduated lawyer, Chad Hobbes, sails on a small English warship from England to Victoria, British Columbia. He travels with a letter of introduction to Mr. Justice Begbie, the senior judge in the colony.

On his arrival Hobbes finds a stagnant economy for the Cariboo Gold Rush on the mainland has ended. With no employment as a lawyer available he takes a job as a police constable.

Over the winter he deals with the usual petty crime and drunken problems of the residents and visitors to Victoria.

The Victoria of 1869 is so different from the cultivated English enclave of the late 20th Century. At the time of The Devil’s Making it is a pioneer town with few families. It is a crude raw city filled with transients.

The late 1860’s are a time of transition and tension for the distant English colony on the west coast of North America. The British have established their presence. The Indians of the Northwest are trying to adjust to the demands of the newcomers. At the same time the U.S. is pressing north. There are a substantial number of Americans living in Victoria. Which nation shall have San Juan Island is disputed and both countries have troops stationed on the island.

The Indians have names for the two major groups of whites. The British are called King Georges and the Americans are Bostons.

In the spring of 1869 American alienist, Dr. McCrory, is murdered just outside Victoria. Compounding the crime, he has been mutilated before dying. The nature of the murder and the mutilation cast suspicion on a group of coastal Indians from the Tsimshian tribe who have come to the area on a trading expedition.

Their chief, Wiladzap, is immediately arrested and lodged in the cells at the Victoria courthouse. McCrory had been spending time alone in the forest with Lukswaas who the police understand to be the wife of Wiladzap.

Hobbes is not convinced of Wiladzap’s guilt. He commences an investigation into the lives of McCrory and Wiladzap.

McCrory has been absorbed in studying the principles of the mind of that era. He has studied such topics as Phrenology, Mesmerism and Psychology. He believes in Universal Fluid. He is particularly interested in sexual issues.

His treatments are unconventional for our time. I was startled by “electric testicules”.

Wiladzap has been living a traditional lifestyle. He has had significant contact with the white newcomers. With Wiladzap reluctant to talk Hobbes looks for information from Lukswaas.

Hobbes is attracted to the lovely young Indian woman. They come from vastly different circumstances. She has grown up in the camps of her tribe while he is the conventionally educated son of an Anglican minister. They communicate in Chinook, a lingua franca, of the West Coast.

There are vivid contrasts explored involving the cultures, social mores and lifestyles of the West Coast Indians and the Victorians (the distinctions between Americans and British of the time are also examined.) 

The Devil’s Making is a very interesting mystery. It is alittle slow in pacing to start the book but it is well worth the effort to read the book. Haldane has skilfully portrayed the different peoples intersecting in Victoria. It is an adventure about Hobbes in which there is a mystery. Still the book is focused on the mystery. It is different from any other Canadian mystery I have read. (July 18/14)
The Devil's Making is my 1st of 13 in the 8th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Billy Strobe and Movies Involving the Law

John Martel
In Billy Strobe, which I reviewed earlier this week, the hero refers to and draws lessons from movies that involve the law. While growing up in Enid, Oklahoma Billy had constantly watched movies featuring legal themes with his father. He says he learned a lot about the law from watching those movies. 

Early in the book he quotes Paul Scofield, portraying Sir Thomas More, in a Man for All Seasons:

            I’d give even the devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s

He says his father liked what Dana Andrews wrote in The Oxbow Incident before being lynched:

            Law is the very conscience of humanity.

Beyond his father Billy’s heroes were lawyers such as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men.

A pretty girl reminds him of Betty Bedelia in Presumed Innocent.

While functioning as a jailhouse lawyer, when he is an inmate at Soledad, he has difficulties with an inmate client:

I was having more trouble with this guy than Jimmy Stewart did with his clients in Anatomy of a Murder.

On whether his inmate client was framed for murder he again thinks of Bonnie Bedelia in Presumed Innocent claiming she pulled off a better frame-up with “a cocktail glass and Harrison Ford’s semen”.

Billy goes as far back as the movie, Fury, from 1936 where Spencer Tracy orchestrated a frame with a “burnt ring”.

The Verdict was his father’s favourite movie. Billy asked his father if Paul Newman’s actions in the movie by breaking the law and breaching professional ethics were acceptable:

“When you take up the fight against Satan, son” he said, “whether its big firms like James Mason’s or prosecutors for the state of Oklahoma, you’ll have to battle ‘em tooth and nail and fight fire with fire. The Lord only helps those who help themselves.”

His love of law on the screen is limited to movies. When, after being released and joining a prestigious San Francisco law firm, a lawyer talks to Bill about coping with “Ally McBeal wannabes and refugees from L.A. Law reruns. Billy says he “is not familiar with those shows”.

When Billy starts earning good money and being able to buy a car and some new suits he feels like “Tom Cruise at the beginning of The Firm”.

When he is dumped on by an antagonistic partner he says Andrew Beckett, the lawyer with AIDS, in Philadelphia was treated by better by his firm.

Struggling at trial with little knowledge of procedure on how to question a witness about a document he recalls Glenn Ford in Trial and asks permission to approach the witness.

After he pushes too hard to get a specific answer from a witness he stops himself from going further by remembering how George C. Scott in Anatomy of a Murder lost the case by asking one question too many that he did not know the answer to on cross-examination.

The many references to the movies were a clever way to give Billy legal knowledge and added a nice touch to his character. He also liked country music. In Billy, Martel created an interesting and well rounded personality.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ascendant -A Recommendation for Maxine at Petrona Remembered

Since offering to write the first post for Petrona Remembered on a book I have read in the past year that I would have recommended to Maxine I have been thinking about the 50 some books I have read since the middle of 2013. What might Maxine have liked?

My favourite book over that time would be Gail Bowen’s mystery, The Gifted, which is the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn series but it is not the book I have chosen to recommend.

The book I have selected is The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. My review of the book is being re-posted as part of this recommendation.
I was primarily led to recommend the book because of its skilful description of nations using technology to attack other nations. Not a bullet is fired or a bomb dropped but devastating attacks are launched between the China and United States. I remember and was impressed with Maxine’s knowledge of the internet and the technical aspects of blogging. Her obituary from Nature noted that she was a “researcher in the biophysics of muscle contraction” before joining Nature. I think she would have appreciated the information technology nuances of The Ascendant more than I understood them and she might very well have had a trenchant comment for my review.

On cyber attacks The Ascendant is very much current. Today's New York Times has an article on Chinese hackers attacking American government agencies and how the U.S. government has penetrated Chinese companies.

I expect the hero’s talent in seeing patterns would further have appealed to Maxine’s scientific mind.

I also looked at the “About” section of Petrona Remembered and noted that Maxine “…..particularly enjoyed those novels which explore a social issue, political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition”.

The Ascendant delves into an important social and political issue in China - a fictional grass roots movement challenging the Communist Party because of the Party's corrupt and arbitrary actions in furtherance of economic development. I think Maxine would have been intrigued by the all powerful Party being confronted.

As well Maxine always loved a good story and The Ascendant has a plot to grab the reader.
Please drop over to Petrona Remembered.

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, July 13, 2014

Billy Strobe by John Martel

Billy Strobe by John Martel (2001) – Ambitious Billy Strobe, born and raised in Enid, Oklahoma, has made his way to California where he is in 2nd year law at UCLA on a scholarship. With his scholarship at risk a quartet of wealthy classmates induce, more accurately seduce him with the thought of easy money, to participate in an insider trading plot. They would steal secret corporate information from their fathers so they could make money buying and selling shares. 

When caught the classmates turn on Strobe claiming he is the ringleader of the group. Unfortunately for Strobe only his name is on the trading account. While the others get minor sentences Strobe is given a penitentiary term in Soledad. 

I found the most interesting part of the book Strobe trying to survive the brutal world of maximum security. Ethnic gangs run the prison. Lives can be valued in cartons of cigarettes. 

Strobe gains a protector, barely staving off the intimacy demanded, by promising to successfully appeal the protector’s conviction. 

While his status as a true jailhouse lawyer provides Strobe with a unique niche in the prison he is in constant danger. There are too many inmates who do not care about the consequences of violence. 

Strobe uses his time in Soledad to complete his law school degree through correspondence at Golden State Law School. I have never heard of a Canadian inmate being able to complete law school while in jail. (It would be difficult in real life for Strobe with his conviction to be admitted to the Canadian bar because of the requirement of good character. He might get the chance but I doubt it would happen immediately upon release from jail.) 

Martel creates powerful images of the frightening world of contemporary American prisons. 

How Strobe gets out of prison is brilliant and plausible. 

He joins a prominent San Francisco law firm, Stanton and Snow, best known as S & S. Martel makes the leap for Strobe from inmate to big law firm associate plausible. I admire Martel for finding a credible means for the transition. 

While inundated with work upon corporate files Strobe’s true passion involves two private cases.  

He vowed to fellow inmate, Darryl Orton, that he will get him a new trial with regard to the murder for which Orton was framed. 

Strobe is equally determined to clear his father’s name from the stigma of a conviction for faking documents. 

Within the firm Strobe pursues the lovely Dana Mathews who deflects his interest. Devoted to work and her young daughter Mathews refuses to date within the firm. 

There is great tension within S & S which has had recent financial struggles. While senior partner, Hale Lassiter, is glad to mentor Strobe equally senior partner, Rex Ashton, has no use for the ex-con. The hiring was forced upon him and he is eager to rid the firm of Strobe. 

Strobe’s quests with regard to Orton and his father are essentialy his own. Orton has no resources and less hope. In Oklahoma Strobe’s mother and sister are overwhelmed with alcoholism and illness respectively. Information is hard to find in both California and Oklahoma. 

Strobe is actually the classic Western American lawman, armed this time with a law degree rather than a Colt .45, fighting long odds to gain justice. 

Just when I felt irritated by perceived clichés Martel would confound me with an unexpected twist. Enough time is spent in the courtroom and legal strategies to be a legal thriller / mystery. 

I could not call Billy Strobe great but it is a solid interesting book. I will look for more of Martel. After my next post which is my recommendation for Petrona Remembered I will have another post about Billy Strobe featuring movies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Canadian Bookstore Given to Employees

Jim Munro, the owner of Munro’s Books in Victoria, British Columbia is giving his bookstore to four of his long term employees. At 84 years of age Munro has decided to retire and is taking a unique approach to the bookstore he has operated for 51 years.

He has decided to give the store for a token payment to store manager Jessica Walker, senior buyer Carol Mentha, comptroller Sarah Frye and operations manager Ian Cochran. Walker will be majority shareholder.

It is not a gift of a failing business. The bookstore continues to be successful. The gift includes the 30,000 book inventory, computers and furnishings. In a Toronto Star article Munro estimates the value of the gift at $1,000,000. He will retain ownership of the building and rent it to the new owners at a below market price.

It is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores in its old bank building in downtown Victoria. No book lover can pass its doors without entry. The photos with this post from the store website show the exterior by night and the interior all the time.

I was there four years ago and was entranced. I wish I could go
there every week. The store is so inviting and the staff are very knowledgeable.

The Star story further sets out the reasons for Munro’s decision and the reaction of his professional advisers:

         Lawyers and
         accountants have
         told him he’s nuts.
         Crazy generous.

         Munro sees it differently. “Without them there, the business
         isn’t worth anything.

         They are like an extended family.

 Munro has three daughters with ex-wife Alice Munro, who 
 last year won the Nobel Prize in Literature. “We all totally
 agree that the store should go to the staff, that we hold the
 building and that we want the Munro name to continue,” he
In a story in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper Walker said about the gift:
Walker said that she, Mentha, Cochran and Frye don’t take the compliment lightly. “The idea of being responsible for making sure the store continues and thrives is a real honour for us and we take it seriously. It’s something daunting, but exciting at the same time,” she said.
The store has survived the opening of a Chapters, one of the bookstores in the Canadian chain, which opened two blocks away a few years ago.
I cannot recall a comparable gifting of a bookstore. It is a remarkable action.
I love the store's unofficial motto - "tactile pleasures of the physical book".

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This is All Around the World

This is All Around the World* - From Margot Kinberg's fine blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, I am re-blogging a post about Petrona Remembered.

Hello, All,
One of the best things about the online crime fiction community is sharing books we’ve loved, and getting ideas from others’ top reads. In that spirit, I’d like to remind you if you did know, and tell you if you didn’t, about Petrona Remembered. 
Petrona Remembered is a blog dedicated to the memory of the late and much-missed Maxine Clarke, a true friend of the crime fiction community. The aim of the blog is to develop a resource of great crime novels that crime fiction fans can use to broaden their horizons, and that those new to the genre can use to get started on their own crime-fictional journeys. I’ve no doubt Maxine would have been pleased at the idea of a blog that gathers posts by crime fiction lovers from all over the world.
Now that you’ve got the background, here’s some exciting news about the blog. Thanks to a terrific idea from Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan,we’ll be continuing to honour Maxine’s memory and continuing to build the virtual library, and you’re invited to be a part of it. Here’s Bill’s idea: Contributors will write an annual post on an excellent crime novel they’ve read that year, and would recommend to Maxine. If you never got the opportunity to meet Maxine either in real life or online, feel free to check out the About section of Petrona Remembered. That’ll give you a clear idea of the sort of reader she was. Each contributor’s post will go up simultaneously on the blogger’s site and on Petrona Remembered. Each blogger chooses a month, so that Petrona Remembered can offer great recommendations all year long.
We’ll be starting on 15 July with a post from Bill Selnes. He’ll do a similar post next July. In August, I’ll take my turn. Get the idea? Want to be a part of it yourself? Sure you do!! Just let us know which month you’d like and of course, let us know if you have any questions.
Also, if you’re interested in being a part of Petrona Remembered, please consider re-posting this announcement and add in your own plan for taking part or for letting others know. Thanks!
Here’s to lots of fine crime fiction for all of us!
I hope lots of mystery review bloggers will drop over to Margot's blog to sign up to post an annual recommendation from their reading in the past year that they would like to have recommended to Maxine. It would be great to fill up all the months of the year more than once.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

New to Me Authors for April to June of 2014

Half of 2014 is gone. The first six months of the year have raced by for me. With regard to reading in the second quarter of the year I have read 6 new authors for me. They are:

1.) Defending Jacob by William Landay;

2.) Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe;

3.) Walls of a Mind by John Brooke;

4.) The Ascendant by Drew Chapman;

5.) The Hero of Hopewell Hill by Barbara Martin; and,

6.) An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James.

Of the sextet of newly read there was a clear choice for my favourite new author of the quarter.

The Ascendant captured me and held me to the end of the book. I have not read a book that so cleverly used technology to attack nations.

Walls of a Mind is a very good book and might have the favourite of the quarter but for The Ascendant. Brooke's novel is actually well into the series featuring French Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle. She is an engaging character and I plan to read more in the series.

I thank Kerrie Smith at her Mysteries in Paradise blog for continuing to host this meme which has made sure I read new authors every quarter of the year.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Prejudice in Reading Romantic Suspense

RITA Award
While I read a variety of sub-genres of mysteries I have rarely ventured into romantic suspense. As was the situation with my last book, An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James, it is not usually a planned foray. I had decided to read all the books on the shortlist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for the Best Canadian Mystery Novel and An Inquiry into Love and Death was on the list.

The previous book of romantic suspense I had read was In Plain Sight by Tara Taylor Quinn. I needed a book that involved the letter “Q” for the 2013 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I had also set myself a theme of having a personal connection to each post for the meme. In Plain Sight fitted my criteria by featuring lawyers.

Because of my infrequent reading in the sub-genre I have a limited knowledge of even what qualifies as romantic suspense. For guidance in the area I looked to the RITA Awards handed out by the RWA (Romance Writers of America).

The judging guidelines for the category of romantic suspense are:

In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

I have looked at the RITA award for romantic suspense for the last 10 years and I have not read any of them. I have not read any books by the award winning authors.

My primary reluctance in reading romantic suspense is the statement in the guidelines that “the love story is the main focus of the novel”. I want mysteries to focus on the mystery to be solved. When attention is concentrated on other subjects be it romance or violence or historical events I tend to lose interest.

Yet I have a prejudice against romantic suspense that cannot be explained by the focus of the story. It is a personal discomfort with romance being at the heart of the book. I am confident that I am not alone among males in finding myself ill at ease reading about romance.

Can our hearts be so dark that only noir is acceptable to the male? I say not as I am generally uncomfortable with strongly noir mysteries.

I believe I can relate to romance. I have been married for over three decades. Now it is entering treacherous territory to ask my wife if I am romantic. The word “romance” leaves men stumbling around verbally.

At least Canadian society when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s strongly saw romance in books as effeminate. Not being masculine it was not reading for guys. I doubt it is much different in the current generation.

The guideline that the “resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic” is a further block for me. While few mysteries do not have a resolution that is “satisfying” in that the mystery is solved and the bad guy/gal apprehended I at least have the illusion in regular mysteries that the ending will be a surprise.

For a reader wanting to explore different sub-genres in mysteries I find myself facing my own biases. I feel I should read mysteries that are well written whether romantic suspense or conventional mysteries.

Mysteries have already been looked down up as formulaic. To be prejudiced against romance suspense is to personally reflect a prejudice against a part of a literary genre I love.

An Inquiry into Love and Death is a well written book. It should be considered as a candidate for the shortlist of best mystery novel. Romantic suspense is a worthy sub-genre.

Yet I doubt I am ready to add books of romantic suspense to my TBR piles. Justified or not my prejudices are going to continue to take me away from the book store shelves which contain romantic suspense. It will take a work of romantic suspense appearing on another shortlist for me to reading romantic suspense again. I am feeling very unromantic at the moment.