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.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Who is Susan Wolfe?

My last post was a review of The Last Billable Hour by Susan Wolfe. After reading the book I was interested in reading more mysteries by Ms. Wolfe. It has proven impossible. My search across the internet found The Last Billable Hour was the only mystery written by her. 

Her name is common enough that searches pull up lots of Susan Wolfe's with several of them being authors. 

On goodreads.com there are The Last Billable Hour, Promised Hand, The Deer from Ponchatoula and From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley. Only The Last Billable Hour is a mystery. The Promised Hand is a “turn of the century” story about an arranged marriage. The Deer from Ponchatoula is a children’s story. From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley is essentially the story of the primary author and architect, Goodwin Steinberg. 

There are also numerous books by Susan J. Wolfe and then there is Australian author, Sue Wolfe. 

On Amazon the Susan Wolfe who wrote The Promised Hand is set out: 

Susan Wolfe, an award-winning author and community leader, is a graduate of Stanford University and the prestigious Wexner Heritage Foundation Seminar in Jewish studies. Her professional honors include the Kathryn D. Hansen Publication Award for 1994. The author of three previous works, Ms. Wolfe and her family live in Palo Alto, CA

On alibris.com Susan Wolfe is described as: 

Wolfe is an award winning author and community leader, and is a graduate of Stanford University and the prestigious Wexner Heritage Foundation program in Jewish studies.

The Susan Wolfe who is listed as writing From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley with Steinberg is reported to have been born in 1950.

Google has the Susan Wolfe who wrote The Last Billable Hour and The Promised Hand to also be born in 1950.

At the same time on Linkedin the Susan Wolfe who was a co-author on From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley it states:

Susan holds a degree in communication from Stanford University and was selected in the first cohort of the esteemed Wexner Heritage Foundation program in the Bay Area. After a career in newspaper and television reporting, Susan served as assistant director of the Stanford Centennial Celebration, responsible for marketing and communications. Her professional honors include an award for her television public service campaign for the Stanford Centennial and, for one of her books, the national Kathryn D. Hansen Publication Award. Among her other published books, From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley, co-authored with the late Goodwin Steinberg, FAIA, was published in 2002 by Stanford University Press.

No degree as a lawyer is mentioned.

Her work history states:

Susan Wolfe, an award-winning author and community leader, began her tenure as an Associate Director at the Hoover Institution in January of 2011. Previously, she served the Koret Foundation since 2003, most recently as Director of Grantmaking Programs and Communications.

In a short line of posts on a discussion on Amazon the participants say that Susan Wolfe worked in law and business, did not write a sequel, retired in 2007 and is working on another book.

The last post from Hermia this past summer states:

Susan is working on another novel. It's not a continuation of this series, but it is, so far, very enjoyable. Not quite ready for market yet.

I am not really sure if I have been describing the same Susan Wolfe or two different Susan Wolfes. Maybe a reader can help me. It is surprising to me that it is so difficult to be clear on the author who won the Edgar in 1990 for best new mystery novel.

I hope she does write another mystery shortly so that the mystery of the real Susan Wolfe can be solved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Last Billable Hour by Susan Wolfe

The Last Billable Hour by Susan Wolfe (1989) – Howard Rickover, just graduated from law school, gains an unexpected job with Tweedmore & Slyde (T & S), the hottest firm serving Silicon Valley. Through skill and determination they are swiftly gaining clients though their office is in San Mateo rather than the Valley. Most of their clients are SVM’s (Silicon Valley Millionaires) who have made fortunes in the computer industry. Howard simply longs to be SMS (Silicon Valley Solvent). 

Howard is known in the firm as How, Big How or Howie. Shortly after being hired he is caught up in the maelstrom that is life for a neophyte lawyer in a busy law firm. Everything is new. The demands of partners are unreasonable. How to address the expectations of clients is intimidating. He is left scrambling long into nights and weekends to try to keep up. Howard is exhausted. 

While unrealistic in real life for him to be given such responsibility Howard has been designated to be a leading member of the firm’s new estate planning department. As the firm works to achieve its lofty goal of being a leading full service American law firm it needs to expand from handling the corporate and litigation needs of the Valley to include the estate needs of its suddenly wealthy clients. 

It is immediately and continually stressed to Howard that the golden thread through all the departments is the “billable hour”. In increments of 6 minutes he is expected to bill through the day and into, if not through, the night. Non-billable hours are a sin. While he is not given a billing target the partners make clear his future with the firm will be brief if his total billable hours are modest. 

At an office party Wolfe recounts one of the lawyers gaining laughs by saying partner, Leo Slyde, is met at the Pearly Gates by God as God wanted to meet the oldest man to reach heaven. When Leo protests that he is but 32 God demurs saying his total billable hours mean he is at least 195. 

Leo calls on Howard to change Leo’s personal will. Howard is startled that a young woman lawyer in the firm, Constance “Connie” Valentine, is named as a beneficiary but not Leo’s wife. 

Howard is a touch naïve for a real life law school graduate. He appears to be surprised by the demands upon him. Everyone going to work for a large firm knows the work will be relentless and the hours punishing.  

While Howard parses such matters as “generation skipping trusts” his personal life dwindles into insignificance. 

Everything changes at a party to send off on his honeymoon one of the firm’s lawyers. The lawyers and staff gather in the firm lobby to drink and nibble and gossip. As traditional for lawyers much of the conversation is about how busy they all are at the office. 

The party comes to an abrupt halt when Leo is found stabbed to death in his office. With the elevators locked off it is clear the killer is someone who is at the party.

Detective Sarah Nelson leads the police investigation. Taciturn by nature she is a thorough investigator taping witness interviews. 

She becomes interested in Howard. After listening to a series of lawyers and staff say everyone loved Leo she is intrigued when she asks Howard if he loved Leo and Howard replies: 

“Of course not, I thought he was a flaming asshole like everybody else did. I mean, a successful asshole, I don’t mean to be disrespectful ….” 

Sarah draws Howard into helping her by becoming her informant on the office. Howard has already figured out he is likely to be fired or quit in the near future. He has no loyalty to the firm.

As they move forward a personal relationship builds between Howard and Sarah but credibly rather than the instant leap into intimacy of many modern mysteries. 

It is a lively look at life in a major law firm. Little has changed in the 25 years since Wolfe wrote the book. If anything the pressures and work required of young lawyers has increased. 

Wolfe does well in integrating the mystery into the life of the law firm. The motives for murder are plausible and based on actual law firm issues.
Written at a time when authors did not need at least 300 pages to tell a mystery it is a briskly told story that is complete in 182 pages.

I would like to read more of Ms. Wolfe. My next post will discuss that challenge.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cool Canadian Crime Fiction On a Dark and Stormy Night

It is a dark and stormy night in Saskatchewan as we have our first winter storm. It rained yesterday to put down a layer of ice. Now we are getting several centimetres of snow to cover the ice. I expect we will have the snow until April.

This evening Sharon and I went to Mass. There were less than 20 people at church. The wind and snow kept most of the Melfort Saturday night Catholics at home.

After we got home Sharon and I watched an episode of the Castle T.V. series while eating some buttered popcorn. It is nice to be snug at home.

It also seemed a suitable night to do some wandering about the internet with regard to Canadian crime fiction.

The highlight of the month is the release on November 29 of The Women of Skawa Island by Anthony Bidulka. The Saskatchewan author is having his book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon.

Sharon and I would have been there but we are going to be in Vancouver for the Grey Cup (Canada’s Professional Football Championship) that weekend. I have media accreditation and will be reporting on the game.

I sent an email to Anthony advising of our regrets. He graciously wished us a good time in Vancouver.

I am looking forward to reading the book in December. It is the second in the Adam Saint series.

Another book launch in November took place in Toronto a week ago for The Glass House by David Rotenberg. It is the third book in the Junction Chronicles chronology. I enjoyed the series but my review of The Glass House provided but modest praise for the book.
Other book releases for November noted by the Crime Writers of Canada are:

Rick Blechta, Roses for a Diva, Dundurn
Jen J. Danna, No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall
Klaus Jakelski, Dead Wrong, Blue Denim Press
J. A. Menzies, Shadow of a Butterfly, MurderWillOut Mysteries

Probably the most interesting stat of the year is that the Crime Writers of Canada have listed 70 books being published in 2014 by members of the CWC. I think of it as a good number for Canada. Alas, I have read but a fraction of all the Canadian crime fiction for this year.

More information is available in the CWC Cool Canadian Crime Quarterly.

Once I am done shoveling tomorrow morning I can get back to reading some Canadian crime fiction. After watching what happened in Buffalo this week I am not going to complain about dealing with a few centimetres of snow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst – In 1938 American film star, Fredric Stahl, is sent by Warner Brothers to star in a movie Après la Guerre being filmed by Paramount in Paris. The Viennese born Stahl had spent 8 years in Paris as a young man after World War I. He loved Paris and became a successful actor before being enticed to America by Hollywood. 

Après la Guerre is a drama featuring a trio of French Foreign Legionaires released from a Turkish prisoner of war camp at the end of World War I. 

While not anxious to return to a turbulent Europe, Stahl accepts that when Jack Warner wants a star to do a movie the star accommodates Warner. 

Stahl is excited when he arrives in Paris. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the cuisine, the people – the spirit of the city are all as he remembered. 

As he starts learning his role as an officer in the Legion he is invited to a cocktail party being hosted by Baroness Cornelia Maria von Reschke aund Altenurg. The party is filled with French citizens sympathetic towards Nazi Germany.

Stahl meets businessman, Phillippe LaMotte, who is a director of the Comité Franco-Allemagne, an organization working for “the re-establishment of harmony, of good relations” between France and Germany.
The Nazis want a film star of Stahl’s magnitude to use his celebrity to publicly reflect admiration for their regime. 

I had forgotten how the Nazis had pursued political warfare before WW II. They spent millions in France to influence French politics and public opinion. French fascists were well funded. They seek to have leftists, Jews and other undesireables marginalized in France.
In an earlier book, Red Gold, set after Germany defeated and occupied France Furst's story had featured money being sent to France by the Soviet Union to advance its aims through French communists.

In Mission to Paris the Nazis do not accept being rebuffed in their advances.

Uncomfortable with the unsubtle approach and opposed to the Nazis, Stahl receives a request, really a summons, to the U.S. embassy. Meeting with Mr. J.J. Wilkinson, a diplomat with vague responsibilities, Stahl is immediately put on edge by Wilkinson raising that Stahl has remained a resident alien in America rather than become an American citizen. 

After warning Stahl to be careful in dealing with “these people” Wilkinson hints that the movie star could be helpful to American interests while in Europe.  

Wilkinson says Stahl would be an agent of influence for the Nazis if he accedes to their requests. It is an intriguing term and set me reflecting on how fame can and has been used politically and diplomatically around the world. Whether it is the film maker, Leni Riefenstahl, of the 1930’s or the Bono of our time artists have had a political influence. 

Stahl, a man of integrity and loyal to the United States, is caught up in intrigues designed to sway public opinion. 

Furst has created another fascinating quiet hero in Stahl. Though a film star, Stahl is not a flamboyant Hollywood character. His publicity appearances are restrained. His personal life is mundane. He enjoys making movies not being a star. 

Furst convincingly delves into the murky world of political warfare. It is another world of shadows that he has explored brilliantly in book after book. 

Mission to Paris is not his best but it is a very good book. Fredric Stahl is a character I will remember. 

The tension at the end of the book made me rush to read the final pages. It has been awhile since I raced to find out the ending. (Nov. 19/14)
Furst, Alan - (2002) - Kingdom of Shadows; (2004) - The Polish Officer; (2010) - Spies in the Balkans; (2012) - Dark Voyage; (2013) - Red Gold (1999); and (2013) - Alan Furst's Quiet Heroes - Paperback

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Behind the Exhibits at the Royal Tyrrell Museum

In my last post, a review of Bones To Pick by Suzanne North, the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta was the setting for murder. 
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is one of the world’s great dinosaur museums. More scientifically inclined would focus on its immense collection of fossils. Having raised two sons the Royal Tyrell was all about dinosaurs.

Set within the river valley winding through the Badlands just outside Drumheller the museum is in a perfect setting for a dinosaur museum. The striated valley walls show the geological history of the area for eons. The building is contured to the landscape.

Inside there are lifesize replicas of various dinosaurs who roamed the area millions of years ago.

When my sons, Jonathan and Michael, were young boys it was the one museum that entranced them. They happily spent hours looking at and reading about the dinosaurs.

The Tyranosaurus Rex with its fierce appearance was always a favourite. The three horned Tricertatops was appealing. They took note of the Albertosaurus as it is named for being found in Alberta.

The history and language of dinosaurs was learned far better by them during those visits than from any book or television show.

At the end of each visit they would pour over the miniature dinosaurs in the gift shop assessing which dinosaur they could take home with them.

When we have had visiting guests and are driving to Calgary we always stop at the museum. The Royal Tyrrell never disappoints.
Our family and a family we know well in Calgary had a special visit to the museum almost 20 years ago. I received an invitation to have a private tour which would take us into the non-public areas of the museum. I had grown up at Meskanaw with the father of the family in Calgary. They had been generous in their hospitality to us and I had never had a real way to reciprocate before that day. I was able to invite them to join us on the tour and they promptly arranged for their children to skip a day of school for this unique opportunity.

It was like going into a hidden world as we ventured into the back rooms, workshops and labs. The description in the book of the storage area and work labs brought back memories of our backstage visit.

On our tour we were surprised by the extent of fossils stored for study and potentially future display. They will never run out of study material.

To see the workshops let us understand the imagination used by the staff in the creation of the wonderful exhibits.

In the labs we saw staff carefully working to extract fossils from excavated earth. We were seeing fossils emerge from the ground in which they had been buried for millions of years.

The museum came alive for us in ways never possible when we were limited to looking at the public displays.
Should you be in Alberta, the Royal Tyrrell is a museum that persons of every age will enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bones to Pick by Suzanne North

44. – 791.) Bones to Pick by Suzanne North – The third Phoebe Fairfax mystery is set at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. I know the museum well and my next post will discuss the Royal Tyrell. It contains displays on the dinosaurs and their fossils from the Badlands of central Alberta.

The crew of the Calgary T.V. program, A Day in the Lifestyle, is on their way to the museum for the opening of a visiting display when they are delayed by protesters from a small group of creationists, Geologists for Jesus, who are upset about the new display which will feature fossils of what is claimed is a newly found hominid species.

Producer Ella, the ravishing interviewer Candi and camera person Phoebe are dressed in their best for the evening. (Phoebe wears a 1930’s “deep blue Vionnet satin” gown and high heeled evening sandals. I have never seen a camera person in real life so dressed.) For the show they will conduct an interview with paleoanthropologist, Dr. Graham Maxwell, who had discovered the fossils in Africa and then stay for a formal dinner.
The scientist is news as he grew up in Alberta and has chosen that night to announce the name he has chosen for the new species.
The gorgeous blonde Candi leaves men breathless while sometimes affecting an airheaded blonde attitude to those males with overinflated sexual vanity. She will cheerfully skewer those men who consider her mindless.
She deftly puts the 65 year old Dr. Maxwell, whom she describes as an old lech, in his place. At the start of the interview she emphasizes his age by how long it has been since he left Alberta to go to graduate school and that her mother was born that year.
The display at the Museum is compelling featuring two sets of adult bones and part of a child’s skeleton. 

Out from Calgary for the evening is Professor Adam Woodward and his elegant wife, Diana. Professor is an intriguing character. He is conducting a field study of de-evolving man in the forest near Phoebe's acreage. He is spending his summers with progressively less tools as he seeks to live like ever more primitive man.

Phoebe is startled when she finds the leader of Geologists for Jesus, Stan Darling, at the event. 

The surprises continue for Phoebe. Maxwell, Woodward (husband and wife) and Darling were all classmates at the University of Calgary over 40 years ago.

While the evening goes well there is lots of tension within Maxwell’s team. Young scientist, Gillian Collins, personal assistant and more to the great man is distraught over the attention paid to Candi by Dr. Maxwell. Simon Visser, who has worked for Dr. Maxwell for 20 years, is resentful of him. A prolonged argument between Visser and Dr. Maxwell ends the evening.

By morning there has been murder and one of the classmates is dead.

From her discovery of the body to the solution of the mystery North skilfully weaves Phoebe into the investigation in a way that reminded how Gail Bowen works mysteries into the story of Joanne Kilbourn's life.

North has a wry sense of humour. When Phoebe is quite irritated because her boyfriend ends their relationship at a meal before Phoebe has a chance to dump him as she had carefully planned Candi tells her:

      "If you're that out of control, maybe you should seek
      professional help. You might give serious thought to attending
      some classes in miff management. Of course, you realize that
      I'm telling you this as a friend."

I enjoyed how North was able to create an interesting mystery that effectively combined the setting of the Tyrell Museum, an exhibit of fossil research, paleoanthropologists, de-evolution and creationists. It is a book that really evokes Alberta.

My next post will discuss some personal experiences at the Royal Tyrell.
Bones to Pick is the 8th of 13 books for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Other Revews of A Door in the River

My last post, a review of A Door in the River, by Michael Redhill writing as Inger Ash Wolfe expressed my disappointment with the book. It was more disconcerting as I had enjoyed the first two books in the series featuring Hazel Micallef. Wondering if I had been unfair or misguided in my review I looked up a number of reviews of the book online. In this post I put up excerpts from the reviews I read. Included are reviews from 3 of the 4 largest newspapers in Toronto (the Star, the National Post and the Globe and Mail).

Yvonne Klein, at the blog www.reviewingtheevidence.com said:

I found it difficult to reconcile the two narratives, even more difficult at times even to visualize the architecture of the setting. The frequent shifts of point of view were also a bit de-stabilizing and added to my fancy that there were several hands at work here. Clearly, I was wrong in my surmise, but still I hope that the creator of the redoubtable Hazel Micallef will be allowed ascendancy over whatever aspect of the author's psyche is responsible for the loopier plot excursions that mark the series. She's a treasure, far to good to waste.

In The Toronto Star the review by Canadian author Jack Batten said:

Then the book identifies the driving force behind the crimes, and our reaction is, first, a feeling that this is preposterous, and, second, a sense of disappointment. But within pages, the narrative is restored, the tipped-over plot righted, all becomes well again. Redhill hasn’t changed the facts of the case. He’s just shown how deft he is at manipulating a good story.

Sarah Weinman in The National Post newspaper said:

Except that where others might close the aforementioned door, Hazel busts it wide open with a few choice questions and observations. That widens the opening even more to a nasty, shadowy world of gambling runs, illegal prostitution, extortion and serial kidnapping, as well as a murderer with a very bloody sort of revenge on the mind. Stones aren’t just left unturned but leave gaping, awful voids exposed to the surface, where the metaphorical cockroaches have nothing else to do but scurry for distant cover. Port Dundas, and Hazel, will be forever changed, psyches scarred in the process; but Wolfe wisely leaves the door open, too, for DI Micallef to win over readers’ hearts in another go-round in exposing the worst of her beloved community’s demons.

Kirkus Reviews concluded:

Darkens steadily from its deceptively quiet opening to its wild and woolly climax. But it’s only the shocking epilogue that reveals Wolfe’s true subject as the murder of innocence.

Luanne at her blog abookwormsworld@blogspot.ca said:

Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! The plot is an absolute nail biter. The tension was so high, I had a very hard time the last eighty pages not turning to the end to see what happened. I managed not to - and I'm glad I didn't. There are some twists I didn't see coming and I was lulled into a false sense of security by the last few pages. (Happily) Caught unawares again.

At mbtb-books@blogspot.ca the review said:
      It's a book I'd like to recommend to people who enjoy good
      characters, but the queasy psychopathic element is limiting.
      Nevertheless, I chose The Calling as a year's best pick in 2009,
      and, I continue to be a fan.
Margaret Cannon, the best known mystery reviewer in Canada for a major paper said in The Globe and Mail:

There are some big jumps in this plot as it morphs from a country killing into international slavery, and readers have to take a few coincidences with grains of salt. Still, the story holds up, the characters have depth and resonance, and the end is chilling.

It appears I am in a minority in my disappointment though Margaret’s review is but modest praise.

Reading the above views has not changed my opinion of A Door in the River. It is not the quality of mystery I expected from Redhill.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe

A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe – I cannot recall ever being more disappointed with a book in a series I have enjoyed. The first two Hazel Micallef mysteries had introduced a fascinating middle aged woman sleuth and interesting mysteries clearly set in Canada.

 A Door in the River has a promising start.

Henry Wiest, well regarded hardware store owner and talented repairman, in Port Dundas is found dead in the parking lot of a smoke shop on a nearby Indian reserve. (cigarettes can be sold for much less on the reserve as they are not taxed the same).

The autopsy concludes he has died from a heart attack caused by an allergic reaction to being stung by a wasp. The reserve police find no evidence of foul play.

Inherently distrustful, Hazel is troubled. Why was Henry at the back of the parking lot late in the evening? Why was he on the reserve? What wasps are out at night? Why the allergic reaction when he has no history of problems with being stung?

Hazel forces a second autopsy and the pathologist determines Henry had actually been shot with some form of stun gun, an unknown variation on a Taser.

Returning to the reserve Hazel is troubled by the laidback attitude in the reserve police force to investigating what happened. The focus of the reserve is keeping its large and successful casino operating efficiently.

At the same time a mysterious young woman emerges from the woods and attacks Henry’s widow, Cathy, using the same weapon with which she attacked Henry. Cathy survives. While she was unconscious the assailant has searched financial records in the house and taken $2,500 in cash but left several thousand dollars more behind.

Hazel and her fellow officers become a task force investigating the crimes. She struggles to find connections in the evidence.

At the same time her feisty mother, Emily, almost 88 has suddenly aged. Emily, the octogenarian spitfire, has become muted. The spark that animated her is gone.

At the office the re-organization that will bring her former subordinate, Ray Greene, back as her commander is proceeding.

An intriguing mystery is under way but suddenly the plot veers from credible to a form of comic book reality. The second half of A Door in the River is a schizophrenic departure from the rest of the series. I found myself asking who wrote the second half and why?

As in some of the Armand Gamache books of Louise Penny there is a secret place in the countryside. Lots of people come and go. In A Door in the River the place is underground which makes it even more unreal. It could not have stayed a secret in rural North America. Rural residents know who and what is in their neighbourhood.

How the police penetrate the place takes too great a suspension of disbelief though what actually occurs in the secret place is unfortunately believable.

How Hazel acts and reacts as the plot is resolved is out of her character. She is not credible as a violent avenging police officer.

The second half would fit well into the script of a Hollywood blockbuster comic book movie. It does not serve Hazel and the reader well.
There was no reason for the plot to swerve into Hollywood. There was a good story. It did not need to be pepped up by some Indiana Jones type of location. Hazel is not a hard boiled detective.

A regular mystery does not transpose well into a wild modern thriller.

If the author, Michael Redhill, still writing under the pseudonym of Inger Ash Wolfe had wanted to venture into the unreality of modern thrillers he would have done far better to have just created a new lead character and written a thriller for the whole book.

If he was intending an allegory it did not work for me.

If it was recommended to him that he needed to increase the violence quotient and make his work creepy mysterious he received bad advice.

I do not know what happened to Redhill but it would be hard to convince me to read another Hazel Micallef mystery.

Because of my strong feelings with regard to the book I looked up other online reviews after writing this review. I wanted to see how other reviewers reacted to the book. My next post has quotes from those reviews.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Go Go Gato by Max Everhart

Go Go Gato by Max Everhart – Eli Sharpe is a former “successful” professional baseball player who is now a private investigator in Asheville, North Carolina. Eli worked his way through the minors to reach the majors but stayed for only a few games in The Show.

His drinking and reckless lifestyle overwhelmed his considerable athletic talent. I had an image in reading the book of Eli as Kevin Costner in the classic baseball movie Bull Durham.

After getting himself together the once promising infielder is now running his own one man detective agency out of a studio apartment. Most of his investigations are for professional baseball teams checking out the lives of potential players and other staff.

Eli is not a predictable personality. On the walls of his office are posters and photos of Richard Nixon. As a boy he had started reading about Nixon and putting up posters of the 37th President. Partly he did it to upset his father and because “he found Nixon to be a fascinating study in contradictions”. In his Nixon collection I was reminded of another quirky quick tongued sleuth, Elvis Cole, in the series by Robert Crais who loves Disney characters.

There is lots of back story for future books to fill in on Eli. He has been engaged 7 times but never married.

Into his life walks tall, blonde and beautiful Los Angeles lawyer and sports agent, Veronica Craven. She is dressed to impress:

    She wore a crisp white button-down with the sleeves rolled to the
    elbows, a gray pencil skirt, and Ruby red high heels.

She hires Eli to find her most prominent client, Almario (Go Go) Gato, an 18 year old Cuban refugee. A year earlier the Colorado Rockies had given him a $1.2 million signing bonus.

Almario, who hates the nickname Go Go, has disappeared from the Asheville Travellers minor league team and she wants him found before the Rockies start asking too many questions about the status of the prize prospect. Injured the year before his performance has been sub-standard for some time even though he has recovered from the injury.

Almario has been living with his fraternal sister, Maria, in a penthouse apartment. She is deeply worried about what has happened to her brother.

It is soon evident that the Almario was not ready for everything that comes the way of a handsome young professional athlete.

As he searches for Almario around Asheville, Eli is brought back to his experiences as a rising young professional ballplayer 15 years earlier. He equally did not handle well the temptations offered pro athletes.

Eli equally understands the enormous pressure to perform put on young pros on whom millions have been lavished. For most great athletes, as with Eli and Almario, the transition from amateur to professional is demanding. Expectations are high. When a young player struggles, as inevitable, it can become a burden to play the game.

In  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which I reviewed this summer, the young brilliant shortstop becomes incapable of making routine throws as he overthinks the game.

As Eli penetrates Almario’s life murder occurs and Eli searches for the killer.

Everhart was convincing in his depiction of Asheville. I had a good feel for the city from the book

It is an excellent debut. Eli is a memorable character. I thought his personal demons were a touch over emphasized. At the same time I enjoyed the realistic description of pro baseball and the challenges of youthful highly paid athletes. I look forward to reading more Eli Sharpe mysteries.
The author holds a Master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Alabama and is teaching at Northeastern Technical College and Coker College.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Harold Q. Masur - Hard Boiled Lawyers

After reading Bury Me Deep I was interested in learning more about the author, Harold Q. Masur. It was no surprise after reading Bury Me Deep that he was a lawyer. I learned a great deal about Masur from a fascinating article and interview from Gary Lovisi in www.mysteryfile.com.

Masur was born in 1909 and died in 2005. He became a lawyer in the 1930’s and practiced full time for several years.

Thinking he could write detective stories like he read in pulp magazines of the day he wrote a story and sent it to Ten Detective Aces and was accepted.

Encouraged to write more he told Lovisi that he invested $2.00 which bought him 40 magazines at $0.05 per magazine. He taught himself about characterization:

     Whenever I came across a character that interested me, I went
     back to see how he was introduced, how the author developed
     him, why I got interested in him in the first place. And I
     developed some theories about characterization.

Living in New York City benefited Masur in that many pulp fiction magazines were edited and published in the city. He could take a subway to see an editor.

As a source of inspiration he used the real life Law Journal. I can understand how he used actual court cases to create plots.

In the interview in 1991, when he was 81, he spoke of taking a contemporary as the basis of a short story. It involved a battered woman who, after being acquitted of murdering her husband, sued an insurance company for the proceeds of a policy the husband had taken out naming her as beneficiary. As she was not guilty of murder she was eligible for the money. What made the story unique was her court case to claim double indemnity on the basis that the cause of death was accidental. The Maryland Court of Appeal ultimately found in her favour concluding there was an accident because there was an unexpected event that caused injury.

On how Masur's relationship to his character:

    GL: Where did Scott Jordan come from? How much of Hal
    Masur is in Scott Jordan?

    HM: Well, he’s a lot smarter than I am.  A lot braver.  I think
    that he is an idealized version of what I would have like to have
    been.  He was an idealized version of the kind of lawyer I would
    have liked to have been, but I could not achieve.  I’m not as
    smart as Scott Jordan.

On who he wanted Scott Jordan to be like Masur said:

    HM: And I learned a lot from them until I found my own voice. 
    I’ll tell you what I wanted for Scott Jordan.  I wanted a guy who
    was as ingenious in law as Perry Mason, but who was as bright
    and as insouciant as Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin.  I wanted to
    get a combination between those two.  Whether I ever achieved
    it or not, I don’t know.  But that was the sort of a guy I wanted.

I thought Jordan in Bury Me Deep could have been Archie's brother. They had the same personalities and manner of speaking.

Of contemporary fictional lawyers the closest to Jordan would be Michael Connelly's lawyer, Mickey Haller, who has an equally lively personality. However, Mickey is not a pugilist. He is not a tough guy.

In developing plots Masur said that he liked to explore a different area of business in each book. I was reminded of the Emma Lathen series featuring New York banker, John Putnam Thatcher. Masur enjoyed research in new areas. For one book he studied art forgery. For another the stock exchange.

I plan to read more of Masur's books.