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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Choice for the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

The finalists for the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction  in the order I read them, were:

1.) Terminal City, by  
 Linda Fairstein;

 2.) The Secret of Magic,
 by Deborah Johnson; and,

 3.) My Sister’s Grave, by 
 Robert Dugoni.

At the heart of the criteria for the Award is that it is to go “to a book length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change”.

The criteria made my choice much easier than last year when I narrowly chose Sycamore Row by John Grisham over When We Were Brothers by Ronald D. Balson.

Terminal City by Linda Fairstein features long time fictional Assistant District Attorney, Alexandra Cooper in which the New York City lawyer appears in the 16th book of the series.

Except for one brief appearance in Court that was part of a subplot Cooper was not even close to a courtroom in the book. She spent her time working with homicide officers investigating a series of deaths around Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Manhattan.

Working with a police team of investigators may be a relatively new form of lawyering but it really means the lawyer is acting far more as a police officer than a lawyer.

With regard to the criteria it may “illuminate the role of lawyers in society” but it has nothing to do with “their power to effect change”.

I was actually disappointed Terminal City had made the shortlist. I would have preferred those choosing the shortlist had waited until Fairstein had written a book with Cooper that has her working as a lawyer.

In My Sister’s Grave there is a lawyer working on a criminal case that reaches the courtroom of Cedar Grove, Washington where Dan O’Leary successfully argues a post-conviction relief application.

In this book O’Leary is doing legal work seeking the release of a convicted killer, Edmund House, on the grounds there are grave questions over the reliability and sources of evidence used against him at the trial two decades earlier.

It fits the criteria for O’Leary is effecting change through the process of the Courts to challenge a conviction that was not founded on reliable evidence. A conventional appeal is not possible because O’Leary needs to show how and why the evidence is not credible. Legal systems need a means of setting aside wrongful convictions.

What weakens the book for the Award is that O’Leary is the secondary character. The book is about Tracy Crosswhite’s 20 year quest to determine what really happened to her sister, Sarah.

Had the book had O’Leary as the main character it would have been a much harder decision between My Sister’s Grave and The Secret of Magic.

In 2015 The Secret of Magic was the clear winner for me.

Young Negro (the description from the 1940’s when the book was set) lawyer, Regina Mary Robichard, is the lead character in the book and working as a lawyer when she travels to Mississippi to investigate the death of a decorated WW II Negro veteran.

The book directly follows the criteria in using a lawyer to effect change. Regina is committed to using the legal system of the United States to fight segregation in the American South. The legal establishment is working to maintain discriminatory statutes and separation between the races. Regina is undeterred. She will use the law of the nation to challenge the white supremacists of Mississippi.

The South is not ready to honestly investigate and try a white man for killing a Negro but now there is a real investigation led by Regina. She is of the trailblazers of her generation leading the American civil rights movement which tore down segregation.

The ABA (American Bar Association) Journal conducted a poll where readers could vote for the book they thought should win the Award. Their choice counted as a vote for the Award. The voting mirrored my ranking:

            1.) 20.64% for Terminal City;

            2.) 37.47% for My Sister’s Grave; and,

            3.) 41.89% for The Secret of Magic.

My next post will further discuss the winning book.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

29. – 826.) My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni – Tracy Crosswhite has spent 20 years investigating the death of her sister, Sarah, which occurred after a shooting competition in the State of Washington. She left her position as a high school chemistry teacher to become a Seattle police officer where she is now a homicide detective. A previously convicted rapist, Edmund House, was found guilty of Sarah’s murder but she has found inconsistencies in the evidence at trial. With no body Tracy has been stymied.

Everything changes when a dam is taken out near her home town of Cedar Grove and Sarah’s grave is found in a shallow grave. It had been in a area covered with flood water from the dam that was completed shortly after her disappearance.

Tracy has been haunted by Sarah’s death. Tracy has felt guilty. As the older sister she felt responsible for not ensuring that Sarah got home that rainy night after the competition.

Sarah’s disappearance and death devastated Tracy’s family. Finding out what happened has become her obsession.

With new evidence available from the analysis of Sarah’s remains that supports her concerns over the trial evidence. Tracy looks for a lawyer who would be willing to challenge the conviction of House.

It is ironic that within 3 months I have now read 2 books in which police detectives work to challenge the convictions of murders with which they were involved 20 years after the murders. In None So Blind by Barbara Fradkin, one of the 2015 finalists for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, it was Ottawa Police Inspector, Michael Green who was shaken when the evidence called into question the conviction.

Dan O’Leary, who had grown up with Tracy, has returned to Cedar Grove after the breakup of his marriage in Boston and his burnout at a big law firm. He now has a modest general practice with an emphasis on criminal law. (It sounds like my practice except I do more family law.)

Dan is interested in helping Tracy and they travel to the prison in Walla Walla to see House. The creepy House, seeing his best chance at release is with them, agrees to be represented by Dan on a post-conviction relief application.

Back in Cedar Grove the prosecutor and police chief who worked together to convict House are very uneasy about the application. In a heavy handed manner they try to persuade Tracy to abandon the her pursuit of what happened 20 years ago.

A hearing in which witnesses from the original trial is held back in Cedar Grove. As in Dugoni’s book, Murder One, the courtroom action is the best part of the book.

Dan is a skilfull litigator and he has been well supplied with information from Tracy’s investigation.

I liked the book a great deal until I reached the ending which was way too Hollywood for me. It did not need that style of ending. In America it appears hard for even a courtroom drama not to have a Hollywood thriller ending. To say more would be a spoiler

My Sister’s Grave was the 3rd and final book on this shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. My next post will discuss the 3 books and set out which book I think should win the Award which will be presented at the end of this week.
Dugoni, Robert - (2013) - Murder One and Email Exchange with Dugoni on Legal Ethics; (2014) - The Jury Master

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Regina Mary Robichard and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch

Deborah Johnson
The reading gods can work in mysterious ways. The last book I read was The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson featuring 26 year old Regina Mary Robichard. A month ago I read Go Set a Watchman where the lead character is 26 year old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. There was no plan to read the books so close together. I am grateful I did read them this summer. There are so many comparable characters and issues.

Both are set shortly after WW II with The Secret of Magic in 1946 and Go Set a Watchman in about 1955.

In each book the young woman is residing in New York City and travels to the deep American South. Regina is on her way to rural Mississippi and Jean Louise to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama.

They travel by train which brings about the first difference in their experience based on race. Regina, a Negro in the language of that era which I shall continue to use in this post, is shunted in Richmond, Virginia to an inferior colored car for the balance of her journey. Jean Louise rides with comfort in the white section all the way to Alabama.

In each book lawyers play prominent and secondary roles. In important roles Regina is a fresh law school graduate while Atticus Finch has been a lawyer for 40 years. District Attorney Nathan Bedford Forrest Duval V better known as Bed and young Henry Clinton are more modest characters.

In each book the legal establishment is prejudiced against Negroes. Both Bed and Atticus believe Negroes need to stay in the place white society has assigned them. Each of them is a segregationist.

Yet both are part, albeit a very small part, of coming change in race relations.

Bed convenes a grand jury to investigate the death of a Negro, Joe Howard Wilson. While it is perfunctory and ineffective it is a step towards justice for Negroes in the South.

Atticus can see Negroes participating in the governance of the South though he does not believe them ready to take on the role.

Each book sets out the increasing presence of the NACCP lawyers in the South.

Regina is sent by Thurgood Marshall of the New York City office of the NACCP. She is one of numerous young lawyers being sent to the South to defend Negroes and challenge the segregation statutes.

A decade later in Go Set a Watchman Atticus and Henry take on the defence of a Negro charged with vehicular manslaughter partly to avoid having an NACCP lawyer sent to defend the young man.

How the legal system of the South approaches the murder of a Negro, The Secret of Magic, and the killing of a white man, Go Set a Watchman, is predictably different. The death of Joe Howard is ignored. The death of the white man sees the Negro accused promptly charged.

At the personal level Jean Louise is the centerpiece for a garden party of the leading white ladies of Maycomb. Regina stops all conversation and draws a racist remark when she walks through a grand party on the lawn of Calhoun Place in Revere.

Each book has a prominent white woman, Mary Pickett Calhoun and Aunt Alexandra, staunchly maintaining the traditional social structure of the community. Neither would even think of a Negro woman being involved in their activities.

Both books set out the emphasis on manners and language of the South of that era. At the same time there is the constant presence of racism where a white will often not bother to greet a Negro by name. Underlying all is the constant threat of violence against Negroes who do not live by the white imposed codes of conduct.

Neither Regina nor Jean Louise is prepared to accept those conventions. Each is a member of the generation in which Negro and white Americans will desegregate the United States.
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

28. – 825.) The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson – There is a rising sense of doom in the opening of the book that I could almost not bear to read as I dreaded the consequences. Lt. Joe Howard Wilson, decorated WW II veteran and discharged from the Army, is riding the bus back to Revere Mississippi. Struggling with what we would call PTSD he is desperately looking forward to seeing his father Willie Willie.

After fighting for America he has returned to the stifiling segregation of the American South. (Joe Howard is a Negro in the language of the times. In this review I will use Johnson’s descriptions of African Americans in the 1940’s). Already forced to sit in the back of the bus, when a white police officer demands Joe Howard give up his seat for a German prisoner of war, he snaps and refuses to surrender his place on the bus and swears at the officer. 

As the bus crosses from Alabama to Mississipi, less than 30 miles from home, a group of white men wearing hoods take Joe Howard from the bus. 

Over a year later a letter arrives at the office of the NACCP Legal Defense Fund in New York City. Regina Mary Robichard, a newly graduated lawyer, opens the letter. It is from Mary Pickett Calhoun in Revere asking Thurgood Marshall, the real life lawyer who led the Fund, to come down to Revere to investigate the death of Joe Howard. 

Regina has spent her life working hard at her education and being proper. She longs to prove her worth as a young female Negro lawyer and asks Marshall to let her go to Revere. 

Both Regina and Marshall recognize the letter writer’s name. M.P. Calhoun has written The Secret of Magic, a work of fiction for young adults, 16 years earlier. A pivotal character is a wise colored man, Daddy Lemon: 

He knew about the land, and his land was Mississippi. He had hold of its secrets and its magic.

In the book 3 children, 2 white and 1 Negro, want to find out about a murder. The book had enthralled Regina when she was a pre-teen girl who loved reading.

Regina’s family history provides her with a compelling reason for her to seek justice for Joe Howard and M.P. Calhoun has offered to pay expenses. Marshall agrees to Regina going to Mississippi.

When Regina arrives she finds a community rigidly segregated yet whites and Negroes interact daily. In the North she had not lived with legal segregation but whites and Negroes lived separate lives.

Mary Pickett, while disappointed it is not Marshall, grudgingly allows Regina to stay in the small house that had been the home of Willie Willie.

A wise old man Willie Willie is clearly the inspiration for Daddy Lemon. He works to help Regina understand the dynamics of the town.

It is clear what has happened to Joe Howard but what can a young Negro woman lawyer in 1946 do about the death of a young Negro man in Mississippi when the grand jury, after the briefest of hearings, has declared that he “met with the adventure of an accident and was drowned”?

Regina asks questions. She follows up answers. She is not reckless but she has the determination of the young lawyer to right a grievous wrong through the law.

Chased out of the District Attorney’s office twice by the receptionist she sits outside upon the steps atop her lacy handkerchief until invited in for an interview with the D.A.

Regina does not fit into the place set for Negroes in Revere.

She is an admirable lawyer. Many lawyers of any generation would hesitate to embark on a futile cause with an unknown personal danger. I have taken on difficult cases but none with the element of personal risk.

Regina’s quest for justice for Joe Howard is a fascinating journey into life and law and justice in 1946 Mississippi.

I found the middle of the book dragged abit but The Secret of Magic, both the book of Regina and the story of Daddy Lemon, are striking with vivid powerful characters. I love John Grisham’s legal mysteries set in Mississippi 40 years later in time. Johnson has written a book of Mississippi and law that equally captured me. It is the second book I have read from the shortlist for this year's Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Regina Mary Robichard is a fictional lawyer to be remembered.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Mystery of FDR's Armored Train and Grand Central Terminal

The rail car on Track 61
In Terminal City by Linda Fairstein set in and around Grand Central Terminal in New York City one of the striking and enduring images is the armored train car located at Track 61 below the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Fairstein sets out how the train car has been sitting there for decades. When the detectives go inside they find china bearing the Presidential seal. There is discussion about how the President’s Pierce Arrow car would be driven off the rail car with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the car and taken up an elevator to gain access to the hotel. Everything was being done to conceal FDR’s inability to walk because of polio.

The picture of this historic train car stayed with me as I read the book. I was interested enough to look up on line what I could find out about this armored train car in Manhattan. I was surprised with American love of history that the site and train car had not been made into a tourist attraction.

There are lots of stories about Roosevelt’s armored train resting on Track 61 including the Daily Mail of England and the Connecticut Post.

There is a video from an NBC story with Matt Lauer talking about the train (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2008/05/matt_lauer_shows_us_fdrs_secre.html).  With him is Dan Brucker (a constant source in various stories about Track 61) from Metro North, the company running Grand Central, is telling the story. He speaks definitively of the platform and elevator being built strictly for FDR. He asserts the armored train car has been there since the 1940’s. He says it was painted a special presidential green. It is titled the Ferdinand Magellan on the video.

From the video I learned that it was not a passenger car below the Walorf Astoria but a 1940’s freight car.

One article states that after Roosevelt died in 1945 the train had not moved since that time.

The articles suggest it is not a tourist attraction as it is part of a plan to allow a President  to make an emergency exit from New York City.

Alittle more research brought me to an article published by Columbia University on the Waldorf Astoria platform (http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/abandoned/gct61.html).

The platform was actually built before the hotel was constructed. It was the loading platform for a powerhouse on the site. The elevator was put in when the hotel was built well before FDR’s Presidency. Both used by the Waldorf Astoria for guests arriving on private rail cars.

It took but another search to determine that the actual armored rail
The real Ferdinand Magellan armored rail car
car in which FDR rode was called the Ferdinand Magellan. It was one of 6 Pullman observation cars named for famous explorers. It was built in 1928 not for FDR but general service. It was originally painted “Pullman” green which was resistant to showing spots. During WW II it was adapted for Presidential use and was used by presidents subsequent to FDR.

The real life Ferdinand Magellan is located in the Gold Coast Rail Museum in Florida (http://www.gcrm.org/index.php/exhibits/ferdinand-magellan-us-car-1).

There is reason to doubt there was a second armored train car for FDR starting with the basic question of why the baggage car would need to be armored. Brucker suggests it had gun ports. One article suggested that if a reader believes the freight car at the Waldorf Astoria platform is an FDR armored train car the reader might be interested in buying the bridge to Brooklyn.

I admire how Fairstein added interest to the book through her creative use and adjustment of the rail car actually sitting on Track 61. She used authorial licence to make it a more interesting story.

What surprised me was how willing mainstream media has been to simply accept what Brucker was telling them.
Terminal City by Linda Fairstein

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Terminal City by Linda Fairstein

(27. - 824.) Terminal City by Linda Fairstein – The 16th Alexandra Cooper mystery is another well written book by Fairstein. The Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Cooper, better known by the police as “Coop”, is called to a suite at the Waldor Astoria hotel where a young woman has been brutally killed. After being sexually assaulted her throat has been slashed from ear to ear. Carved into her body are some designs in the shape of ladders. 

As a member of the Special Victims Unit of the District Attorney’s office Cooper is present to help participate in the investigation to help ensure the evidence is effectively developed for trial. 

She joins Detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace in the investigation. 

Not having read a book in the series for some years I do not know the background of the relationship between Chapman and Cooper. It is clear in the book they have been lovers but it is neither an open nor stable relationship. 

There are few clues in the suite. It was interesting to read of a new forensic device that can date when blood flowed from a body by its decomposition. It gives the investigators a more accurate and tighter range of death than a pathologist at the scene can give from examining the body. 

It is an unusual hotel killing in that the victim was not a guest and they cannot find a video image of her entering the hotel. Eventually they determine she was brought to the hotel by a means that prevented her entry from being seen. 

Small leads take the detectives and Cooper into the Grand Central Terminal. It is an amazing building but an absolute nightmare for a police investigation. It is a vast building above and below ground. There are passages unmarked on blueprints. There are active tunnels for trains and closed tunnels. There are exits almost beyond number. 

When there is a second murder whose victim also bears the carved designs the investigators realize they have a dangerous killer using the Terminal. 

The killer’s motive is unclear. The team struggles to find a reason for the killings especially the first murder. 

The second victim spent much of his time underground in the vicinity of the station. Cooper and the detectives explore the tunnels where hundreds are living in communities. It is a dark and dismal life. They are known rather derisively as “moles”. 

The connections underground between subways, trains and passages to buildings were so extensive as to be almost impossible to document. 

The book revealed to me there is an actual terminal city in central Manhattan. In Bone City by Jeffery Deaver I had learned of the extensive underground to Manhattan but I had not been aware of the majesty and complexity of Grand Central.

Unused tunnels hold unexpected artifacts such as FDR’s armored train sitting in the dark for decades.

The terminal gives the book its focus. While setting is often important it is vital to Terminal City. As the book went on I found myself look forward as much to learning more about Grand Central as I did to the development of the investigation.

It is an excellent police procedural. The detectives and Cooper are clever and determined investigators. If I had read the book expecting a criminal investigation I would have been happy with the book. However, I read the book as one of the three books on the shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Cooper functions as another criminal investigator in the book. It is a stretch to find anything she really does as a lawyer in the murder investigation. Her brief attendance in court is on a different case.

Cooper, being a lawyer assisting the police, does not fit with my expectation for a book nominated for a prize in legal fiction. The book is devoted to the investigation. Thus I am disappointed that it was chosen for the shortlist.

Fairstein is an accomplished writer with numerous books in the series featuring Cooper acting as a lawyer. It would be ironic if she were to win the Harper Lee Prize for a book in which Cooper is actually acting as a police officer. (August 8, 2015)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The (Ice) Berg Ships of Geoffrey Pyke

An illustration of the Berg aircraft carrier next to a conventional
aircraft carrier of WW II
Henry Hemming, in The Ingenious Mr. Pyke, describes the incredible life of Geoffrey Pyke who led an extraordinary life during the first half of the 20th Century. His brilliant mind challenged conventional thinking in many areas including education, public opinion polling and various military concepts. 

During his lifetime he was most famous for his idea to build huge ships of ice and wood during World War II. The British title for the book is Churchill’s

Pyke’s idea had germinated from his efforts at considering snow in Norway as a weapon against the Germans. Instead of an obstacle Pyke asked how could snow be used to the Allies advantage.

As he turned his mind to the Battle of the Atlantic he considered the major problem faced by the Allies in 1942 that they did not have land based aircraft with enough range to cover an area in the middle of the Atlantic. Airplanes that could be launched off aircraft carriers could not effectively attack the submarines. German U-boats feasted on Allied shipping in this strip of ocean.

Pyke was aware an occasional aircraft had landed on an iceberg. What about a manmade form of iceberg to serve as an aircraft carrier for bombers?

Building a ship out of ice was possible. Melting could be greatly reduced by insulating with wood. However, ice is brittle and would break up under the pressure of powerful Atlantic swells.

After reading an article that frozen sand could be harder than rock and speaking to a professor who said wood pulp added to water made a layer of ice stronger Pyke had the insight that made the project possible. He asked scientists to mix water with sawdust or cork.

Some quick experiments determined that if wood pulp was mixed with water and frozen the reinforced ice was stronger “than many varieties of reinforced concrete”. Beyond being extremely strong it was inexpensive to produce.

Just when I think I have heard of all significant WW II stories that took place in Canada I am surprised. I was not aware that large scale experiments were carried out on lakes on the edge of the Canadian Rockies. Under great secrecy conscientious objectors, mainly young Mennonite and Doukhobor men, worked in winter weather on the experiments.

Pyke, in English winter clothes, traveled to Western Canada. He must have been a hardy soul to survive out here in such winter wear.

Those working on the project that Pyke should be honoured and called the reinforced ice Pykrete using a variation of concrete.

Pykrete, just like icebergs, would not shatter but absorbed shells fired. It meant ships of Pykrete would be almost unsinkable.

The design berg ships would be twice the length and width of the Queen Mary. They would be long enough that full bombers could take off and land on them.

The inventors worked out the ships would be encased in wood that could easily be repaired. Interior pipes attached to refrigeration units would keep the ice from melting.

While Churchill wanted his berg ships immediately and Mountbatten was equally enthusiastic military bureaucracies were less excited and development did not proceed as quickly as Pyke and his supporters wanted.

When other advances closed off the strip in the Atlantic and the Battle of the Atlantic shifted to the Allied advantage there was no longer the same impetus for berg ships.

The vast ships of ice and wood were never built but they remain feasible should the cost of steel rise high.

There was one of Pyke’s innovative ideas that was specifically used in the war. Codenamed “Pluto” it was the underwater pipeline to deliver oil from England to France after D-Day in 1944.

It would have been amazing to see giant berg ships crossing the oceans of the world.
 The Ingenious My Pyke by Henry Hemming

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming – It has been a long time since I was astonished while reading a book. It is my preference to know as little as possible about a book before reading it. Following that principle led me to think that the The Ingenious Mr. Pyke was a work of fiction. The cover is unusual. The photo of Pyke looks like an actor made up for the part of an eccentric English genius. The blurb on the front cover from the Guardian says “reads wonderfully like an adventure story”. 

The incredible life described in the book continued my belief that it was fiction and barely credible fiction. 

Hemming told the story of a man who was more than a genius. While he never finished university he had a versatile and relentless mind that produced an unending stream of ideas. While priding himself on being an innovator rather than an inventor Pyke worked intensely hard to make real his ideas. 

How could any living man have had so many adventures and been so brilliant in so many areas?

As a university student of 20 in 1914 Pyke slipped into Germany as WW I started. His goal was to report back to an English newspaper on Germany. 

Betrayed, he is captured, threatened with death and then interned. Not content with sitting out the war he considers escape. 

Pyke had a compelling approach to problems: 

‘Before a problem can be solved it must be detected,’ he later wrote, and ‘it is easier to solve a problem than it is to spot what is the problem (as the whole history of science and technology shows). Almost any fool can solve a problem and quite a number do. To detect the right problem – at least so I have found – requires what [H.G.] Wells calls the daily agony of scrutinising accepted facts.’ This attitude had spirited him into Germany. Now he hoped it might get him out. His motivation this time was altogether different: he was drawn not by the intellectual thrill of confounding expectations though this remained satisfying but the fear he had that his body could not survive a full winter in Ruhleben. 

Applying his scientific approach to problems Pyke works out an escape route from the prison and a plan on how to get through Germany in the middle of the war. The escape of himself and a friend is successful. 

After the war he conducts a careful scientific study of financial markets and works out a profitable trading system for dealing in copper. 

He uses the money to establish Malting School, an experimental school in which young students were allowed free reign to study and investigate what they wished. Pyke viewed children as having a natural scientific curiosity. Careful documentation of what happened was used by English educators for decades after in developing English education. 

During the 1930’s Pyke established a program to provide re-cycled items to the Spanish Republicans and embarks on an ambitious program to combat anti-Semitism. 

All of the above was done before his most creative efforts with regard to fighting the Nazis in WW II. (My next post will discuss his amazing idea of huge ships made of wood and ice.) 

I thought the photos periodically inserted in the book were efforts to add realism to the story. 

Hemming’s biography reads like fiction including abundant dialogue. While I am not found of dialogue in non-fiction it works well in The Ingenious Mr. Pyke. 

The range of famous people with whom Pyke engaged was enormous. Pyke and Lord Mountbatten had a close relationship. Mountbatten was fascinated by Pyke’s ability to come up with novel solutions to problems. 

His greatest legacy involves a Pykean guide to innovation: 

His first step simple as it may sound was to be adventurous. Adventurousness could be defined as ‘a readiness to make a fool of oneself’ – something he called ‘the first duty of a citizen’. He lived by Dostoyevsky’s maxim that ‘the cleverest of all in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month’. Any mistakes that you made were ‘the social and purposive equivalent of Nature’s mutations’, without which there can be no progress. In other words to be adventurous one must also be prepared to look silly or be laughed at and that requires courage. Without this it is almost impossible to come up with a truly radical idea. 

It took me almost 200 pages before I realized that Pyke was a real person. I make that acknowledgement in the spirit of Pyke’s commitment to innovation means never being afraid of looking foolish. 

And lest you continue to wonder why I thought he was a fictional character at various times of his life he was considered an English spy, a German spy, a Russian spy.  

Lastly, as I was skimming the NY Times in May before I read the book I saw it mentioned as a wonderful beach read. Who reads non-fiction on the beach?