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, August 12, 2014

Ranking the Shortlist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

Over the past couple of months I have read the 2014 shortlists for the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award for Best Mystery Novel and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. In this post I put up my analysis of the Arthur Ellis Award shortlist.

I was prompted to read the full shortlist as I only recognized one of the five authors on the shortlist and had not read any of the books listed. In a post after the shortlist was announced I took a look at the Canadian fiction I had read in the past year and wondered what could have been better than The Gifted and Stranglehold.

The first book I read on the shortlist was the Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe. It was a good book and I want to read more in the series set in a fictional (clearly Detroit to me) American border city with but a river separating it from Canada. The sleuths, Ray Tate and Djuna Brown, are intriguing unconventional police detectives.

The second was Walls of a Mind by John Brooke featuring French Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle. The book was set in the Midi of southern France. I found most interesting the interaction between the Chief Inspector and Agent Margot Tessier from the French Internal Secret Service (the DST). Nouvelle and Tessier clash constantly. I had not realized the power of the DST in contemporary France. They have unlimited power and need not to co-operate with the local police.

The most unique aspect of the book was Nouvelle being the first female sleuth of my mystery reading career to casually sun tan at the beach while topless.

Learning of the Nouvelle series through the nomination of Walls of a Mind was my find of the quintet. I will definitely read more in the series.

The third book I read was Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier. I had previously read two books in the Jonah Geller series and was not sure I would read another because of what I felt was excessive violence.

I was glad I read Miss Montreal. The violence quotient decreased and the plot was complex and interesting.

Not many mysteries tackle the intersection of the Jewish community in Montreal with Afghani immigrants and the proudly French descendants from Quebec’s earliest settlers. Shrier adds to the mix by going back several decades to the difficult relationships between Jewish Quebeckers and French Quebecois.

A reader will gain understanding of the dynamics of Quebec society as well as reading an excellent mystery.

The fourth was An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James and it challenged me as a work of romantic suspense. It is a sub-genre into which I rarely venture in my reading. When ghosts are added in I have even greater difficulty being objective.

Set during the 1920’s on the west coast of England the lovely young Jillian Leigh and the handsome Inspector Drew Merriken investigate the death of her Uncle Toby, a well known ghost hunter.

It is well written. I believe lovers of romantic suspense will enjoy the book.

The fifth was The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane. In the late 1860’s newly graduated British lawyer, Chad Hobbes, sails to Victoria, British Columbia to make his way in the New World.

It is another book of interacting, sometimes clashing, cultures. The Victorian English newcomers uncomfortably deal with the Indian peoples of the West Coast, many of whom are still living a traditional lifestyle. The Victorians relate little better to the Americans who have also come to Victoria.

After considering the shortlist I would rank them:

1.) The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane;

2.) Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier;

3.) Walls of a Mind by John Brooke;

4.) The Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe; and,

5.) An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James.

I happen to agree with the judges who chose The Devil’s Making as the winner of the Award. I appreciated its combination of history, culture and personalities. While Miss Montreal explores the same themes I thought they were done better in The Devil’s Making. Haldane did well in exploring a relationship between a white Englishman and an Indian woman while credibly working their relationship into the mystery.

I had thought about saying whether I would have replaced any of the shortlist with books I had read but decided not to at least this year. I am wrestling with whether it is unfair to say whether I would have chosen other books for the shortlist when I am not a judge and do not have time to read the long list. I am glad I read the shortlist and plan to do it again next year.


  1. Thanks Bill, interesting. I remember your review of Miss Montreal as one that has particularly interested me, so it was good to be reminded of it. I should definitely get it.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I hope you are able to soon make a reading trip to Montreal.

  2. Bill - Thanks very much for your thoughtful analysis of the shortlist. I've been wanting to read The Devil's Making; I like historical fiction, and this one sounds like a very good read. I appreciate the reminder of it and the others on the list.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think you will find The Devil's Making is a book to remember. Each of the books on the shortlist was a good book.

  3. Bill, I think I'd read "Miss Montreal" first because of the cultural mix in the form of the Jewish community, Afghani immigrants, and French descendants, which I find interesting and worth reading.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I think you would appreciate the cultural aspects of the mystery.

  4. Most of the books sound quite interesting, except I shun romantic suspense, as we've discussed before (hold up the garlic!).

    I'll try to get to a few but the TBR stacks are truly daunting, almost frightening around here and books keep magically appearing. And there are a slew of library books, too, so I dutifully write down the titles.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. On TBR piles I went to Calgary last weekend to see my sons. I was going to buy one book. I bought four books. Then at supper on Saturday my sons gave me two more as belated birthday presents. On Monday a publisher sent me another. Seven more when one was intended!