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.


  1. Thoughtful discussion of this prize and this year's contender's Bill. And I'm looking forward to your next post, too. I've often wondered about how certain books get onto certain shortlists - and sometimes even win.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Shortlists can be a mystery.