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, October 30, 2015

A Woman and Her Gun

In my last post, a review of Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke, I set out how Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle of the French Judicial Police, had been referred to a psychologist because she had not wearing her gun in the 20 years she has been a police officer.

Tropéano’s Gun has psychological involvement with characters beyond Aliette but I will focus on Aliette in this post.

In both books I have read in the series Brooke has dealt with the psychology of police officers.

In probing the minds of police officers Brooke did not look to the superficial – the very evil v. the very virtuous or the dysfunctional v. the supremely competent - in Walls of a Mind. He dealt with the nuances of the relationship between two women in authority, Chief Inspector Nouvelle and Agent Margot Tessier from the French Internal Secret Service.

There are no physical confrontation between the women but there is a subtler conflict of words and attitudes. They challenge the will of each other.

Each has obviously had to deal with male bias on their way to authority but there is no gender solidarity. The women in authority find it no easier to co-operate than men.

Nouvelle projects a moral superiority to the secret agent. Tessier patronizes the police officer.

They inflict wounds of the mind.

In Tropéano’s Gun Aliette’s superiors require her to see a psychologist about her reluctance to carry her gun. While she professes not to wear it because she has never needed to use the gun in her police work her answer is unconvincing.

By not carrying a gun she creates risk for fellow officers if she is unarmed in a dangerous confrontation. The problem arose in Walls of a Mind.

Equally she may not be able to protect members of the public if a situation spirals out of control or arrest a criminal.

What is inside Aliette’s head that caused her to leave her gun in her underwear drawer for 20 years?

To remain an officer she starts carrying her gun and going to the shooting range.

Carrying a gun does not mean she will use it but Aliette starts thinking differently with a gun on her hip. She is a little less careful. She will venture more readily alone into risky areas of the city. She becomes more aggressive.

How some men relate to her is different. There are men who are excited about a woman with a gun.

We usually associate guns with men. Readers can instantly visualize a man with a gun. Do we see a woman with a gun differently?

Jill Edmondson, in her series with Sasha Jackson that is set in Toronto, does not have her tough girl P.I. carry a gun. In an interview she said she will probably have to get Sasha carrying a gun to be credible.

I would say men think little about a gun. In Tropéano’s Gun Aliette thinks a lot about her gun. She has a sense of power from carrying a gun that is absent when she is unarmed.

When Aliette is forced to play in her sandbox it is the psychologist who places a toy handgun in the sand to get her started. Aliette scraps a hole in the sand to the bottom of the box. She associates the blue bottom with the sea. Told by the psy to do as she wants in her world Aliette leaves “the gun at the bottom of the sea”.
Brooke, John - (2014) - Walls of a Mind and Clashing Women in Authority; (2015) - Tropéano’s Gun

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke

Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke – Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle of the French Judicial Police presents a problem to her supervisors that has never been an issue in the United States. She does not wear her gun.

The Saint-Etienne Walther P38 she was issued on her graduation 20 years earlier from police academy has spent two decades resting at the back of her underwear drawer. (She does not advise where it has been store.)

The absence of the gun has become an issue because of the incident at the end of the last book, Walls of a Mind, where there was a shootout and she could not help as she was unarmed.

Aliette explains her reasoning for not carrying her gun:

“Because I have never ….. I mean to say, I don’t believe in …. I mean to say, a gun has never really fit with …. with my way of doing things. With all due respect, sir.”

The Divisional Commissionaire, Gael Doquès, advises her she must have respect for rules and operational procedure. He presents here with a “brand new flat-black SIG Sauer SP2022” and a detached silencer. She undertakes to wear it while on duty and practise regularly.

Before she leaves he tells her that she has been assigned to see a psychologist, Gabrielle Gravel, to deal with the issues she has with her gun. Aliette needs to get with the program.

A reluctant Aliette attends at the office of PsychoDynamo, where the stylish psy tells the officer she will “help you come to terms with your role as an officer of the law”.

Aliette is surprised, I was startled, when Gabrielle says the primary therapy will involve Aliette playing in a small personal sandbox with any of the hundreds of figures and objects Gabrielle has assembled. If she wants Aliette can wear a mask from Gabrielle’s extensive collection or make her own mask.

After a wary initial interview Aliette returns to work. While her territory is some distance from Béziers she is often at headquarters for meetings.

Within the city there is a developing major investigation. Two street people have been stabbed to death. The killings appear random but bizarre notes in the same hand writing have been found near the bodies.

Within the Judicial Police tension has been rising because of the appointment of Nabi Zidane, a French Chief Inspector of African descent, to lead the elite city squad. The unit is the most prestigious posting in the region. Zidane is resented because of his North African heritage by many within the Judicial Police who felt it should have not gone to anyone from an African background.

When a police officer is the next victim and his gun is taken the investigation becomes intense. The internal divisions with the Judicial Police are exacerbated.

Back at the office of the psy Aliette is carefully exploring her feelings about being a police officer and wearing a gun and why she needs a gun. As with most people she is a private person not anxious to explore her own psyche.

The mystery proceeds with the search for the killer roaming the streets at night and with Aliette continuing therapy with regard to her gun.

Tropéano’s Gun is far from the North American thriller. Violence is there but does not dominate the story. Instead, the book focuses on the dangers within our minds. My next post will delve into the psychological issues. Tropéano’s Gun is a mystery which requires the reader to think rather than just riding the flow of the action. (Oct. 27/15) 
Brooke, John - (2014) - Walls of a Mind and Clashing Women in Authority

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (Part II)

In my last post I started my review of The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. For the first time in reading the Armand Gamache series I advised I was disappointed. I outlined my frustration with a huge supergun being unknown within half a kilometer of Three Pines. This post completes the review and further explains my frustration.

Ultimately, the murder investigation includes a desperate search for the plans to the Supergun.

The hunt takes the last section of the book from a murder mystery to a thriller. The shift is my greatest concern with the book. The thriller does not work. Gamache and Three Pines do not fit a thriller. Gamache is not a super action hero. Isolated and peaceful Three Pines is not thriller country. The residents of the village are not thriller characters.

Worse yet Penny seeks to have the chase for the plans a race against Armageddon. It takes great skill to develop a credible weapon of mass destruction plot that convinces the reader to suspend disbelief. The plans for the Supergun are not a believable base for Armageddon.

Race against time thrillers with the fate of the world at stake can be exciting but the reader has to be convinced there is a real risk. In The Ascendant by Drew Chapman there is technological warfare between China and the United States accompanied by the respective militaries encroaching on the air and sea space of the other nation. Plans that are three decades old for a Supergun that has never even been tested do not create cataclysmic fear in the reader.

There was no rising tension with regard to the plans as I could not believe finding the plans before the deadline really mattered. My disbelief was heightened rather than suspended.

Dropping the thriller into the mystery also resulted in two endings. There is the world to be saved by the deadline and murders to be solved. The solutions to each are plausible and Penny connects them but I did not find the thriller and mystery fitted well together. 

I understand authors who do not want their plots to become purely formula but going to thriller mode with thoughtful characters is not a good route. I lamented the Elvis Cole stories shifting to thrillers. More recently I have felt uneasy about the course of the Longmire mysteries of Craig Johnson.

If Penny wants to write thrillers I would suggest a new lead character and a different setting. Let Gamache and Three Pines remain in thoughtful mysteries focused on characters, setting and the world of the arts.

I appreciate the impetus to make the Supergun the focal point of the story. It is a dramatic object. Unfortunately, it was not done in a credible way.

In real life that was a smaller version of the Supergun actually built in Quebec's Eastern Townships near the fictional Three Pines. I will discuss it in my next post.

The Nature of the Beast went astray on the implausible secret Supergun and becoming a thriller. I hope the 12th in the series will be a real mystery.

Three Pines - Fictional Location) Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In and Comparing with The Gifted; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I)    

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (Part I)

(35. - 32.) The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny – Armand Gamache is one of my favourite sleuths. There is no fictional place I like to visit more than Three Pines, Quebec. Thus it is with regret I am disappointed with the 11th book in the series. I have found flaws in some of the earlier books but never dissatisfaction. The Nature of the Beast left me unsettled. Over this post and my next post I will discuss the plot and the reasons for my unhappiness.

I do not believe the posts have spoilers but, to explain my concerns, there will be more information than some readers would want to see before reading the book.

The story opens in Three Pines with 9 year old Laurent Lepage engaging and disrupting the community with his wild stories. With his long stick serving as his lance / sword / gun he charges into town on his bike and relates to the residents startling stories.

On a fine fall afternoon with “moss and leaves and twigs in his hair” he runs into the bistro knocking glasses off a table in his enthusiasm. He desperately wants Gamache to accompany him to the forest to see what he has found in the woods. He excitedly describes it as a humongous gun:

    “As big as this building. And there was a monster on it. With

Because Laurent has exaggerated so often his discoveries Gamache humours him in the way of adults and takes him home instead of to the woods.

Laurent had disrupted a discussion with the leaders of the local theatre group, Antoinette Lemaitre and Brian Fitzpatrick, who have found a brilliant new play. Antoinette, trying to build a sense of mystery to hype the play, has not released the author’s name. Brian, unable to hold back, blurts out that it was written by John Fleming.

When Gamache recalls that Fleming is one of Canada’s worst serial killers he is upset that the group would put on a play by Fleming. Gamache is adamant that it is wrong to produce a play by a mass killer and that sometimes censorship is justified. He discusses the play’s connection with its author:

“It has everything to do with him,”……”If John Fleming created it, it’s grotesque. It can’t help but be. Maybe not obviously so, but he’s in every word, every action of the characters. The creator and the created are one.”

If the story had followed through on the issue of how a work of art, here a play, should be considered when its creator is evil there would have been a plot line worthy of Penny. Instead, the question is barely addressed through the book.

Everyone in Three Pines is shaken when Laurent is found dead just off the road to his farm home. It appears he has fallen from his bike.

Unconvinced Gamache pushes for a further search as Laurent’s stick is missing. To the shock of everyone searchers find the stick near a massive gun, the firing chamber is tall enough to stand up in, hidden in the forest just outside the village under vines and camouflage netting. It has clearly been there for decades. At the base of the gun is an etching of a monster. Laurent had been telling the truth.

My disappointment started with the assertion that the gun was unknown to the village. It is the third time Penny has created a “secret” in the forest. In The Brutal Telling it was a hermit and his shack a 20 minute walk from Three Pines. In A Beautiful Mystery it was a monastery with priests and brothers that was unknown though the monks interacted with their neighbours. Now a giant gun was supposedly secretly built and hidden in the forest half a kilometer from the village.

If anything rural people are more curious than city people. They know exactly what is happening around them. The huge secret gun defies credibility as much as the hidden underground casino and rooms in A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe (Michael Redhill).

Had Penny written that the gun, long abandoned, had been forgotten over the decades I would have believed the story.

Penny does skillfully bring Canadian arms designer and seller, Gerald Bull, into the plot as the creator of the gun. In real life Bull gained notoriety in the late 1980’s for his contacts with Saddam Hussein as Bull sought a country willing to build his supergun that would shoot a projectile into the upper atmosphere high enough to orbit.

Penny also does well in outlining the challenge for the Sûreté officers investigating the crime. Gamache, their former superior, is present and a valuable resource but he is no longer a member of the force. He wields no official authority but his presence commands respect.

An interesting addition to the investigation are two CSIS (Canadian Intelligence Security Service) agents. We do not often think about Canada’s federal intelligence agency. They profess surprise at the existence of the massive gun but it is clear they have far more knowledge about Bull and his Supergun than they are revealing to the police. The agents, Mary Fraser and Sean Delorme, are portrayed as dowdy and almost bumbling. Are their appearances and actions contrived?

(The rest of the review on Wednesday.)
(Three Pines - Fictional Location) Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In and Comparing with The Gifted; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I)

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Postage Stamp Provides the Motive

British Guiana 1 cent magenta
Laurence “Jacko” de Luce, the father of Flavia, in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley loves postage stamps. Where Flavia’s passion is chemistry Laurence is devoted to philately. While she happily spends hours in the family laboratory he spends even more hours in his office working with his stamps.

I can appreciate how Laurence can spend so much of his time focused on his collection of postage stamps. When I was a teenager I thought every day about my collection.

Some of the time I was considering the options for adding to my collection. Most often I would get packets of stamps from dealers through the mail on approval. After examining them I would return the stamps not purchased. Rarely would I have the chance to get to a stamp dealer and actually examine stamps in a shop.

I spent time examining the stamps. Some were mundane. More were miniature works of art. Living in rural Saskatchewan there were no major galleries or art museums for me to attend. Buying stamps was my only opportunity to buy art.

Stamps fueled my interest in countries outside Canada. I wanted to learn about the places, animals, objects and people featured on stamps.

Handling the stamps properly took quite abit of time. To avoid damaging them or reducing their value required me to be precise and careful.

In 1967 I went to Expo ’67 in Montreal. I spent as much time in the shop of each country’s pavilion looking for the stamps that country had issued for the Exposition as I did exploring the exhibits. Reading the book prompted me to go back and look at my old album in which I had mounted my Expo stamps. They are still as fresh and vivid as when I placed them on the pages.

As an adult I collected stamps and I have maintained my membership in the American Philatelic Society but I have not been an active collector for several years.

While there was a time in my life when I could have spent as much time with my stamps as Laurence there was a fundamental difference to our respective collecting.

I never had any valuable stamps. Laurence had the resources to assemble an impressive collection.

Any object which is rare can provide a financial motive for murder.

Earlier this year in Split to Splinters by Max Everhart it was the baseball thrown by major leaguer, Jim Honeycutt in his 300th win, whose immense value as the symbol of a great sports moment brought about murder.

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie it is a variation of the first postage stamp, the penny black of mid-Victorian England. Only two copies of this variation were said to exist in the world.

Just as baseball fans will pay exorbitant amounts for a baseball so stamp collectors will spend comparable sums for a tiny piece of paper.

Currently the most expensive stamp in the world is the sole known copy of the British Guiana 1 cent magenta stamp which sold last year for $9,480,000 in an auction last year to American designer and shoe manufacturer, Stuart Weitzman. It is the only major stamp not in Britain’s Royal Philatelic Collection.

While post offices are struggling around the world and email dominates communication the lure of postage stamps remains strong.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – I had not read any of the series involving Flavia de Luce despite many positive reviews. I have so many series I am reading I hesitated even though the author lived in Saskatchewan for 25 years. Prompted by an article I will be writing about Saskatchewan mysteries I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and regret I had not started the series sooner.

Within a few pages I knew I had encountered a special character in Flavia. I do not read many books featuring 11 year old sleuths. In the Leaders & Legacies series the young future Canadian Prime Ministers are 12 – 13 years of age. The books are written for a young adult audience. While such an audience can appreciate The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie it is a great book for every age of reader. I had the same feeling reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie I had when I read the first Harry Potter book. I was taken into a new world of a fascinating young person that enthralled me.

I was also closely reminded of the impact Scout Finch, 6 years old in To Kill a Mockingbird, had upon me. Harper Lee had created a wonderful young character to lead the story. At the same time Lee’s characterization was appropriate for Scout’s age.

Flavia lives with her older sisters and her widowed father in the de Luce ancestral home of Buckshaw in the English countryside. It is 1950 and England is still recovering from the war.

The sibling rivalry between Flavia (Flave), Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy) is unending. While it is really Flavia versus her combined older sisters the odds do not trouble Flavia. She knows she is brighter and fiercer than Feely and Daffy. Feely is absorbed in her appearance. Daffy is constantly reading. Flavia is a scientist with a devious mind.

Flavia loves chemistry. She has a particular affection for poisons. Her knowledge of chemistry is impressive and was accelerated by the full equipped laboratory that was set up in Buckshaw by a scientifically inclined uncle. She is constantly conducting experiments.

When a dead jack snipe, a stamp impaled upon its beak, is left upon the step Flavia is fascinated especially when her father is shaken after he closely examines he bird and stamp. What is the meaning behind this cryptic offering and why should her father have such a reaction to a dead bird?

A short time later a stranger is expiring in the garden, the cucumbers to be exact. With his final breath he utters “vale” (farewell) to Flavia. She is intrigued rather than frightened. She is determined to apply her scientific skills to determine what has happened.

Urgency is given to her investigation when her father, Laurence (Jacko), is arrested for murder of the stranger.

The investigation takes Flavia back to her father’s boarding school experiences at Greyminister 30 years earlier.

A philatelic treasure is at the heart of the book. Having been a member of the American Philatelic Society for almost 50 years I was very interested in the role of stamps in the story. I intend to write a further post on philately and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

There is cunning evil in the book. It was great to read a mystery with a worthy adversary for Flavia and for the mystery to be solved by intelligence rather than violence. It is far more sophisticated than many mysteries involving adult sleuths.

Flavia is precocious and credible. Her ardour for chemistry reflects a passion for a pre-teen I found believable.

I was glad to read a book about a young person who is academically bright. I recall being a pre-teen interested in books beyond the reading expected for my age. I equally remember contemporaries praised athletic skill far more than academic talent.

I know I have a good book when I am anxious to read the next in the series. Fortunately, I have already purchased The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. It has moved up the TBR pile.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thanksgiving Colours in Saskatchewan

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Yesterday I took a few photos of the fall colours in and near our yard. Leaves do not last long in the Saskatchewan fall but it is beautiful every day we have them. A Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Friday, October 9, 2015

Functional v. Dysfunctional - Canadian Sleuths

Last week Margot Kinberg at her superb blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, put up a post in which she considered 278 sleuths from crime fiction she has read. She was seeking to determine whether the percentage of dysfunctional sleuths had changed over the years.

She defined them as:

Dysfunctional sleuths may show that dysfunction in any number of ways (e.g. drugs/alcohol, a series of ruined relationships, psychological instability). None of this means that these characters can’t solve crimes; some are brilliant. And many (I’m looking at you, Inspector Morse!) are beloved. But they have blind spots, if you want to put it that way, that they just can’t seem to overcome.

In the post she set out from Golden Age sleuths the percentage was low at 5%. She acknowledged that her sample size was modest.

From 1950 – 1990 it was 25%. For 1990 – 2000 it was 34% and since 2000  the percentage is 30%.

The post inspired me to look at Canadian crime fiction sleuths I have read. I quickly noted in a comment on Margot’s blog that the major Saskatchewan sleuths (Joanne Kilbourn by Gail Bowen, Russel Quant by Anthony Bidulka and Bart Bartkowski by Nelson Brunanski) are all functional sleuths.

I decided to take a look at other Canadian sleuths I have read and see how many I would consider dysfunctional. My reviewing has covered 43 Canadian sleuths. For this post I am not looking at sleuths created by Canadians who live outside Canada.

Out of the 43 sleuths I would consider 7 to be dysfunctional by Margot’s definition. The percentage works out to be 16%.

I expect I lean to considering a sleuth functional though they may have some problems.

As an example I consider as functional Sam Parker, formerly Monte Haaviko, in Michael Van Rooy’s book, An Ordinary Decent Criminal, has spent much of his adult life as a criminal addict. In the book he has just been released from prison. While he spent much of his life as a dysfunctional person he has changed and in the book is functional and determined to go straight.

Another illustration of my approach is Hazel Micallef, the police chief of the fictional Port Dundas, in the series by Inger Ash Wolfe (the pen name of Michael Redhill). She has health and alcohol issues but I see her functioning well.

Of the 7 dysfunctional sleuths they were located in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan.

While I noted the primary Saskatchewan sleuths were functional I consider Anthony Bidulka’s new character, Adam Saint who is a disaster agent, dysfunctional though he is working on changing his life.

The other dysfunctional Saskatchewan sleuth is Dingonaslav Marion Radashonovich from The Joining of Dingo Radish by Rob Harasmychuk. Dingo is from a struggling rural family who supplements his income by theft and is a hard man.

While I was not surprised that a lower total of Canadian sleuths were dysfunctional than determined by Margot there was one sub-category I had not thought about until I did my Canadian analysis.

I have read books featuring 15 Canadian women sleuths. I would not consider any of them dysfunctional. Hazel comes close but I still consider her functional.

At least in Canada authors overwhelmingly create functional women sleuths. At the moment I have no reasons for the lack of dysfunctional women sleuths. I shall be thinking further about that issue.

I turn the analysis back to Margot on how many of her much larger list of sleuths were female and what percentage were dysfunctional.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

33. – 830.) Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman – The Blue Mountains of Australia near Sydney are a fine location for romantic suspense. In the book Evergreen Falls is the location of a grand hotel on the edge of the escarpment. 

In 1926 the Evergreen Spa Hotel is a beautiful place for the wealthy to spend leisurely vacations. Guests come not for a weekend but for weeks to months. By 2014 the hotel has sadly deterioriated and has not been open for decades.

Young women are the dominant characters in Evergreen Falls.

In 1926 pretty Violet Armstrong, having lost her job in Sydney, manages to find employment as a waitress at the hotel.

Flora Honey-Church Black, the daughter in a wealthy New South Wales farm family, is there with her younger brother, Sam, and her fiancé, Tony, and several of Tony’s friends.

Flora, though committed to her fiancé, meets Dr. Will Dalloway:

Flora looked towards the hotel, then back at Will. A beam of orange sun shot low through the trees and hit him in the eyes, and he raised his hand to shield them. In the sunlight, his eyes looked very green. Then the wind shifted the branches, and the beam of sun was gone. But the image stayed with her, the amber light on his face, his shining eyes.

In 2014 Lauren Beck arrives in Evergreen Falls to work as a waitress. She has left a difficult family situation in Tasmania. Lauren's character is established in the opening sentence introducing her:

If I’d had any experience with men, if I wasn’t a thirty-year-old virgin working in my first job, I might have known how to speak to Tomas Lindegaard without sounding like a babbling fool.

Tomas is a Danish architect working on returning the hotel to past glory.

Back in 1926 Flora is struggling with Sam. He is caught up in an addiction to opium. He spends much of his time smoking pipes of the drug. If Flora cannot find a way to get Sam to stop their father is likely to cut them off from financial support.

Violet, needing to support her mother, is grateful to have a job. She has lost too many jobs by not being serious about her work.

In present day, having spent 15 years in a family crisis Lauren is finally reaching out for independence. Having dared nothing in her life every action is tentative. When Tomas leaves behind at the restaurant a key to a closed wing of the hotel she is tempted to explore but hesitates having never taken a risk.

She uses the key. After accidentally knocking over some old furnishings Lauren lifts an early gramophone whose box has cracked and finds some hidden letters. She is startled and intrigued that the letters are steamy love letters from SHB.

Motivated by the letters Lauren undertakes a modern day search to identify the lovers.

Returning to 1926 we gradually learn the details of the passionate relationship that inspired the letters. With the book having opened in 1926 with a body being hidden near the Falls readers know there is tragedy as well as love to come in the story.

Writing about romantic suspense is not my strength. Last year I even wrote about my prejudices with the sub-genre. 2015 is the 3rd year in a row I have read a work of romantic suspense. I have decided, in a change from last year's opinion, that I will read a work of romantic suspense once in awhile and do my best to appreciate them.

I found the women in Evergreen Falls interesting. Each of the trio is trying to find their way in life and love. They want a committed loving relationship yet they neither want to be calculating nor reckless in love.

I was surprised late in the book. I thought I knew how the story would unfold and I was wrong.

I was even more startled when a winter storm had an important role. I do not associate major snowstorms with Australia.

I enjoyed Lauren’s story more because it was the unraveling of a mystery. What happened with Violet and Flora involved doomed love affairs. I am confident readers who enjoy romantic suspense will enjoy Evergreen Falls. (Oct. 4/15)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Q & A with Janice MacDonald on Another Margaret

Earlier this week I reviewed Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald as part of a blogger tour organized by Turnstone Press. Today I return to the tour posting Questions and Answers with Janice.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a few questions.

Randy Craig, in analyzing Margaret Ahlers, wants to learn about the author so that she can better understand the books of Ahlers. Before reading a new author, I prefer not to know about the personal life of a writer. I chose that approach after reading an unflattering magazine article on Patricia Cornwell that adversely affected how I read her books. Consequently, I have not read any articles about you personally before reading Another Margaret and I am interested in knowing:

1.) Do you think it would have been better for me to have read about you before I read Another Margaret?

No, I don’t think it would be necessary. And of course, Randy is moved to want to know more about Ahlers only after having read her first book. So, if you want to know more about me now, you could check out www.janicemacdonald.net, which is a lovely website maintained by my very supportive husband.
2.) Do you like to read about an author before you have read their work?

Not usually. However, when I fall in love with a writer, reading everything they’ve written, I often move toward reading biographies of them, and I do tend to go see them when they’re in town, to hear them talk. I prefer to turn the people I revere into celebrities, rather than just people famous for being famous.

Randy easily distracts herself even 20 years after graduating with her M.A. She will clean and shop and organize so that she has no reason not to focus when she starts her academic work. I am familiar with the issue. I studied in the basement of a United Church at university to minimize, effectively eliminate, distractions. My sons preferred to study with music playing and are not bothered by noise around them. In writing your fiction:

1.) Do you need a private place free of disturbances?

Yes. I am not one of those people who can sit in a café, writing. I cannot write with music that has lyrics to it, either, as I tend to get carried off on someone else’s words.

2.) If you do where is that spot and how do you make it distraction free?

I keep my alarm set to its weekday work time on weekends (5:43am) and I get up Saturday and Sunday mornings and work on my own stuff…until my husband wakes up and the rest of the world gets started.

In reading about the literary theft of Randy’s thesis on Margaret Ahlers I was reminded of the literary theft perpetuated by H.G. Wells of the work of Canadian Florence Deeks. He barely bothered to disguise his plagiarism of the world history she wrote during WW I. I was fascinated and saddened by the story and her unsuccessful lawsuit in The Spinster and the Prophet by A.B. McKillop. When developing that aspect of the plot of Another Margaret:

 1.) Did you happen to be inspired by her story?

No, I never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing that. It is such fun to hear about where my fiction takes people.

 2.) If not, was there another source of inspiration?

My original inspiration was Chatterton and Ossian, and how we read those works as just odd freakish bits of evidence, rather than actual poetry now, though they were revered when they first arrived on scene.

As for the later plagiarism, most of it is based on situations I’d heard of anecdotally happening several years ago. I hope that our credibility on the world academic stages has risen enough that American publishing houses would do a Library of Congress search before publishing someone’s text.

Thanks so much for having me on your site.



Thank you for considering my questions.


Bill Selnes
I thank Janice for her thoughtful answers. Another Margaret is a fine book.
Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New to Me Authors for July to September of 2015

The third quarter of 2015 was a 3 month period when I did not read as many books as usual. Between summer and a long cruise I read less rather than more. I wonder what that says about my priorities.

The new authors read were:

1.) No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings;

2.) Plague by C.C. Humphreys;

3.) The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming;

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

5.) Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald.

Of the quintet four were fiction with The Ingenious Mr. Pyke being the exception though, as I set out in my review, I thought it was fiction for almost half the book. The life of Mr. Pyke was so fantastical I thought it was fiction.

Most quarters I pick one of the new authors as my favourite. This quarter I am unable to pick between The Ingenious Mr. Pyke; The Secret of Magic and Another Margaret.

For these past 3 months I do note the five new authors to me have written very different books. From WW II to 17th Century London to a biography spanning the first half of the 20th Century to the post WW II American South to contemporary academic life in Edmonton, Alberta.

I will claim diversity for the quarter.

The New to Me Author meme is hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.