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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

Trinity Six by Charles Cumming – What mystery reader has not heard of the quintet of English spies (Burgess, McLean, Philby, Cairncross and Blunt) who went to Cambridge together in the 1930’s and then spied for Soviet Union. The note at the start of Trinity Six says they were described as the “Magnificent Five” within Russia. British intelligence was devastated for a generation by their betrayals. 

Yet were the Five the extent of treachery among the students at Cambridge in the 1930’s? Was there a 6th spy who has never been identified? Many in real life have thought there was another spy. This fall Andrew Lownie in Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess states physicist Wilfrid Mann was the 6th spy. Cumming turns to fiction to find the 6th man.

In Trinity Six Sam Gaddis is an unlikely spy hunter. He is a 43 year old academic teaching Russian history at University College London. He becomes involved in espionage for the simplest of reasons. He needs money. Income tax authorities have levied a claim over 21,000 pounds. His ex-wife is seeking thousands more for the education of their daughter, Min, in Spain. He does not earn enough to meet his obligations.

Yet he does not become a spy. With writing and research his only marketable skills he casts about for a story for a popular non-fiction book. Rumours reach him that there was a 6th man. It would be an easy sale if he can identify a 6th man.

His friend, Charlotte Berg, wants him to join her in writing about the hidden spy. He is tempted. Before he has made his decision Charlotte dies of an apparent heart attack. Readers know she was actually poisoned by the Russian FSB.

As Gaddis probes her research files he cannot find her sources. A dogged researcher he checks calendars and phone records. He finds a couple of leads and pursues the threads.

Gaddis believes he is onto a story when he learns British Intelligence faked the death of a British diplomat shortly after Communism collapsed. Why would they resort to such extreme measures?

While it is clear why British Intelligence would not want the 6th man to be identified there is no clear motive for Russian intelligence to take violent action to prevent discovery.

Gaddis is an amateur in the professional world of espionage feeling his way through spy craft and trying not to get killed.

Trinity Six is far from American thrillers with their double digit body counts though there are violent scenes.

Within the plot there are crosses and double crosses and triple crosses. There are enough crosses to leave everyone paranoid about who can be trusted.
I was reminded of the real life Eddie Chapman in Zig Zag by Ben Macintyre. Chapman is at least a double agent convincing both British and German intelligence that he is spying for them.

Russian head of state in the book, Sergei Platov, is a thinly disguised Vladimir Putin. Cumming follows the traditional approach of creating a character like Putin but with just enough difference. Jason Matthews in Palace of Treason actually named Putin. I expect the different approaches reflect different libel laws between America and England.

While the ending is credible it does not have the bleak conclusion of most John Le Carré espionage novels.

Trinity Six was a good book and I expect to read more of Cumming.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Chessmen by Peter May

The Chessmen by Peter May – I started 2015 by reading the first two books in the Lewis trilogy – The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. As the end of the year nears I have completed the trilogy.

The book opens with a flourish. Fin McLeod is camping with his friend, Whistler Macaskill, on a mountain in southwest part of the Isle of Lewis. In the morning they look down into the valley and the loch that had been there the night before is gone. The whole lake has disappeared. There is nothing there but “a big empty hole”. Whistler says there has been a bog burst. It is a wonderfully evocative phrase.

When the pair look more closely at the great hole Fin sees something red and white. Through binoculars he sees it is a small one engine plane. He is able to read its call sign on the fuselage and recognizes it is the sign for the plane owned by their friend Roderick Mackenzie who went missing with this plane 17 years ago.

While Whistler does not want to get involved beyond reporting the plane Fin insists on going out to see the plane. When they reach it Fin is startled to see the plane is undamaged. More important there is a body in the pilot’s seat. When they open the door they can see terrible damage to the head. Their friend Roddy has been murdered.

Whistler has been Fin’s friend since they met at the boarding school in Stornoway that the boys and girls from the island attended after they completed elementary school. The book takes us back into their school lives.

At school Fin also became friends with Roddy who was already on his way to fame having formed a Celtic band that includes Whistler on flute and the lovely Mairead as the lead singer. While teenagers they are an accomplished band and play all over the island. They have a unique blend of traditional Celtic music with rock music.

As the story progresses we learn of the personal histories of Fin and his friends and some more history of the island.

In the present Fin has found employment as head of security on the Red River Estate. They need an experienced investigator as poachers are seriously damaging the salmon stocks. While there have always been locals who poached a fish or a hare or a deer the poaching has become organized and threatens the business. Awkwardly for Fin his friend, Whistler, is a brazen poacher though only for food.
The murder investigation is difficult 17 years after Roddy’s disappearance. It is hard to even understand why Roddy and the plane would even be at this remote loch far from the area of his flight plan.

In their personal lives Whistler is attempting to live off the land as much as possible. To gain some money he has carved a large set of the Lewis Chessmen. (The original Lewis Chessmen were found on the shore of the island in 1831.)

Fin and Marsalis continue to renew a relationship broken for 20 years. Marsalis remains wary of the reliability of a man who her cast her aside at university and later separated from his wife when their child died.

In a subplot Donald Murray is facing a trial within the Scottish Free Church over whether his violent actions at the end of The Lewis Man make him unfit to be a pastor within the church. He will be tried before 12 members of the Church in an open trial. Fin will have to testify as he was an eyewitness.

The Chessmen is a wonderful book. Readers are caught up in the lives of real people. May has created lively interesting characters with nary a stereotype among them.

While no character could rival Tormond Macdonald of The Lewis Man slipping deeper into dementia Whistler is a larger than life character, physically and emotionally, with a vivid personality

The story of Sòlas, the Gaelic island rock band, and their rise to international fame is fascinating.

Along the way the mystery is solved but the life stories of the characters and the Isle of Lewis make The Chessmen a great book.

While life problems and relationship issues remain there is an element of hope in The Chessmen that was absent in the darkness of The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man.
I hope that May returns at some date to Lewis to provide us further sagas on Fin and the other islanders. They are a memorable group living average lives with passion.
May, Peter - (2003) - Snakehead; (2014) - The Blackhouse; (2014) - The Lewis ManBookmark Inspiration for the Outer Hebrides

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series

During the summer I read and reviewed the 15th Joanne Kilbourn mystery by Gail Bowen. I have had a chance to do a Q & A with Gail on writing and the series. As always she is forthright and interesting. I thank Gail for her candour and look forward to the next mystery to be published next spring.
1.) When you started the series did you have a plan for how many books would be written?

No!!!  #16 in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series will be published on March 1, 2016 and I’m well into writing #17.  When I started the series, I had three children at home; I was teaching full-time at the university; I was very involved in politics and I was teaching Sunday School.

The opening of Deadly Appearances grew out of an old fashioned political picnic when Roy Romanow had just become leader of the party. The picnic Joanne is attending is exactly the picnic I was attending. I remember looking at the truck flatbed we were using as a stage.  A carafe of water for the new leader was sitting on the edge of the flatbed and I remember being so proud that we lived in a country where a leader’s carafe of water could be left unattended with a few hundred people swarming about.  Then I thought, “What if someone slipped poison into the water.”  That was the beginning, and I had no plan to go beyond that one book.  Then the idea for Murder at the Mendel crept into my mind; after that, The Wandering Soul Murders began to take shape.  The ideas have kept coming and I’ve kept writing. 

2.) Anthony Bidulka has told me that his Russell Quant series is on indefinite hiatus. He said his passion for writing was taking him to new projects such as his Adam Saint series. You have continued to write excellent books featuring Joanne. What has been able to keep you inspired to write more Joanne Kilbourn mysteries?

First, I should say that I wish Tony would revisit to the Russell Quant series. I loved those books. 

About me.  I made the decision to have Joanne age in the course of the books and that’s been a great boon.  Her life changes; new people come into her life; the nature of her work changes; her children grow up; she has relationships and her priorities change.  All of these changes have given me rich material from which to draw.

The continuing cast of permanent characters has also been a gift and a source of inspiration.  Readers care about Joanne’s children and the friends who have become constants in her life: Howard Dowhanuik, Jill Oziowy, Margot Hunter, Brock Poitras, Delia Wainberg, Blake Falconer, Chris Altieri, Kevin Hynd to name a few. Each of these characters has a story and those stories give me firm ground from which to explore issues that concern me.

Finally, Alistair MacLeod once said, “Writers write about what worries them.” And there seems to be no shortage of issues that worry me.

3.) I must admit I regret Zack leaving the courtroom for city development and now municipal politics. Might we have Angus stepping forward into legal cases with Zack providing some mentorship?
In book 17 Zack’s life changes radically.  I can’t say much more than that, but in The Winners Circle, the firm of Falconer Shreve, Altieri, Wainberg and Hynd is once again front and centre.

4.) As with some of the characters residing in North Central Regina I have clients with multiple challenging issues in their lives. While they retain me to address their legal issues I find myself occasionally providing advice that is more properly related to their personal problems. I justify it on the basis that were they to better address personal matters they would have fewer legal problems. At the same time I realize I have been blessed in my life not to have all their challenges. I was impressed that Joanne recognizes the difficulty of helping from a position of privilege. What did you draw on to make Joanne a practical activist?

Truly, I drew upon my own experience. In my adult life I’ve moved from starry-eyed idealism to a much more pragmatic approach to how we can create a community in which everyone has a chance to create a good life. Like you, I am acutely aware of the fact that I have been blessed, but to paraphrase J.S. Woodsworth, I believe we have to work for a world where these blessings are shared with others.

5.) I can barely believe that I have just realized that I have never asked you in our past exchanges why both of Joanne’s husbands have been lawyers. There are lots of occupations. It cannot be accidental that each of her husbands is a lawyer and that one of her sons is a lawyer. I would be very interested in knowing why lawyers are so prominent in Joanne’s life.

It happens that I know a number of lawyers and I know a disproportionate number of judges. They don’t always talk shop when they’re around me, but the topic of the law does come up, and their very different attitudes towards the law intrigue me.  A judge friend says the law is simply plumbing, and lawyers are plumbers.  Other lawyers see the law as a beautiful and complex intellectual construct. One thing they all agree on is that there’s a lot of drudgery in the day to day work, but there are also some immensely satisfying moments, especially in trial law.
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail; 2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the Mendel; The Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Hardcover

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz – The fourth book in the Lisbeth Salander / Mikael Blomkvist saga could have been a great book.

A pair of brilliant new characters are introduced. Frans Balder is a Swedish computer genius who has recently returned to Sweden from the United States with a computer full of research on his breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. He has come back to care for his young son, August, who has major developmental issues.

Once August is in his custody Balder sees, to his astonishment, that the 8 year old August can produce drawings of events that are startling in their precision and accuracy. He also appears to have a genius level talent with numbers.

There is a convincing evil organization, the Spider Society, with Russian criminals at its core. Their successful efforts at stealing leading computer technology are a real threat to the world. Their connections with America’s NSA (National Security Agency) is truly frightening.

Balder had originally left Sweden over issues of industrial espionage and theft of his research and had been in contact with Lisbeth.

Lisbeth is back in hacking glory. She has been lured by the Hacker Republic into launching a cyber-assault on the NSA. Using all of her hacking skills she penetrates to the heart of the NSA. It does not read like a fantasy.

Blomkvist is in a funk having not been involved a major investigative reporting story for some time. He is stagnating.

Yet it did not all come together for me.

Balder’s death took one of the two most interesting characters out of the book.

The mythic figure of “Thanos” leading the Spider Society felt contrived. With the identity of numerous members known it was hard to believe there was a secret leader.

Lisbeth becomes an almost conventional heroine in saving August from harm. Lisbeth has never been conventional. She verges on the maternal in her relationship with August.

Her ability to carry out despite multiple serious injuries was too much the comic book hero of many contemporary thrillers.

It is a rather clumsy scenario when a young associate of Balder, Linus Brandell, contacts Blomkvist to convince him that Balder is the next great “scoop” for Millennium.

The introduction of a new family antagonist for Lisbeth was my least favourite plot line and could have been omitted without damaging the story.

The best part of the book was August’s relationship with Lisbeth. Neither mind operates well in our world. Their capacities leave them ill-equipped to function well in modern society. August, who may have Savant Syndrome, is on the verge of being institutionalized.

Unlike the Supergun of Louise Penny’s most recent book, The Nature of the Beast, the technologies at risk of theft in The Girl in the Spider’s Web are a danger to world security.

The book has an intriguing subplot on the continuing travails of the magazine publishing industry. It is ever more difficult for a thoughtful independent magazine such as Millennium to survive in a media world driven by brief celebrity driven stories. A major Norwegian media empire has taken a significant minority stake in the magazine. Tension is rising between the business goals of the investors and the editorial leadership of Blomkvist and Erika Berger.

Lagercrantz cannot quite draw together the threads of a thriller like Larsson. I missed the driving momentum of the plots in the trilogy.

For the first time in a long time I felt a 400 page book was not long enough for the plot. Larsson’s original trilogy averaged over 600 pages per book. Except for the last book in the trilogy I thought the lengths suited the plots. The complexities of The Girl in the Spider’s Web could not be properly developed in 400 pages.

I am not sure whether I will read another by Lagercrantz in the series. As with most writers who try to carry on the series of a deceased author the new story goes well but not great. I kept wishing the 4th book had been the one Larsson had started before his death.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Personal Reactions to the Swedish and American movies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I watched both the Swedish (sub-titled) and American film versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy both movies. It has been infrequent that I enjoyed the movie version of a book.

It is impossible not to compare the lead characters from the two versions.

With regard to the Mikael Blomkvists I liked Michael Nyqvist in the Swedish version more than Daniel Craig in the American movie.

It was more that Nyqvist fitted my image of Blomkvist more than Craig. My mental picture of Blomkvist was not of a man with a sculpted body. I saw him as a good looking guy but not the hunk that is Craig. Of the journalists I have met over the few years few, very few, had a body like Craig.

My biggest surprise was Craig as an actor. Having only seen him in Bond movies before this movie I had no idea he was a good actor.

Of the Salanders I liked Rooney Mara from the American version more than Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version.

It is harder for me to say why I preferred Mara. Perhaps it was I saw in her the touch of vulnerability that underlies the hard edges of Salander.

In watching each movie I was struck by how visual images are sometimes more powerful than a written description.

When Salander is brutalized by her new guardian I was almost unable to watch the scene.

Later in the movie when Blomkvist is studying photos a vital clue appears far more vividly from the visual images.

The Swedish movie had a budget of about $10 million and grossed $104 million in world release.

The American movie cost almost $100 million and had a $232 million international gross.

While Swedish films were made of the whole trilogy only the first has been filmed in America. There have been many stories about sequels but none have been made.

In the past week there have been stories that Hollywood is looking at a sequel involving the latest book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is not part of the trilogy. They would skip the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy. As well it is reported that Crain and Mara would not be the stars. Ah, trust Hollywood to screw up an exceptional series of thrillers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

When I was done reading The Girl Who Played with Fire I desperately wanted to read the third in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but it was the fall of 2009 and the book had not yet been published in North America. During the winter the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto obtained some copies of the book from England where it had been published. I thought about buying the English edition but it was $60.00 and I had never paid that much for a work of fiction. I waited until it was published in North America and was glad I waited.


29. - 542.) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – The third volume of the triology is well crafted but lacks the unpredictability and passion of the opening two novels. It  did not exert the same hold upon me. As the books carried on the plot initiated in the first it would have worked better had I been able to keep reading from the second to the third. Lisabeth plays a surprisingly subordinate role spending most of her time in hospital recovering from her grievous wounds. The thriller revolves around Mikael’s efforts to gain support for Lisbeth and identify the members of the secret service conspiracy who are seeking to have her returned to a mental institution for life. The return from retirement of the conspirators who originally had her confined as a teenager was chilling. However, the forces mustered by Mikael were clearly superior and the ending was never in doubt. Larsson, not Greaney, is the true successor to Robert Ludlum. Mikael’s relationships with women remain unconventional. It was disappointing in comparison with the first two books but remains a wonderful story. I have heard a 4th novel had over 300 pages written before Larsson’s death. Considering the worldwide success with all three currently on New York Times bestseller lists - the second has been on the trade paperback fiction list for 55 weeks – I expect it will be finished and I will instantly buy it. (July 12/10)

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

In my last post I put up a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson as a part of my two weeks with Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the spring of 2009 and was anxious to read the second in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, as soon as possible. I was able to get a copy in the fall and I read it in a rush. It is my favourite in the trilogy. Tonight I put up my review. Thank you to those who have already provided their reaction to the series. 


35. – 498.) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson – The second novel in Larsson’s trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is as wonderful as the first. Lisbeth, after traveling the world for a year using the billions of kroner stolen from Wennerstrom, returns to Sweden. Fiercely independent and extremely reluctant to commit to any personal relationship she cuts off all contact with an extremely puzzled Blomkvist before her departure. On her return she looks for work to fill her life. While Lisbeth is adjusting to life with unlimited resources Blomkvist and Berger decide to publish both an issue of Millennium and a companion book on the sexual exploitation of young Slavic women lured or taken to Sweden for prostitution. Lisbeth’s legal guardian, the lawyer Bjurman, is plotting his revenge on Lisbeth and reaches out to criminal connections for assistance. In one horrifying night Bjurman, the writer of the expose, Dag Svensson and his partner Mia Johansson are murdered. When Lisbeth’s fingerprint shows up on the murder weapon, a gun owned by Bjurman, a massive womanhunt for Lisbeth is immediately launched. Tension builds from page to page as the police, her former employer Milton Security and the Millennium staff search for her. Cleverly Larsson goes weeks into the hunt without letting us know Lisbeth’s actions. Lisbeth is as frustrating, quirky, unpredictable, brilliant, violent and stubborn as the opening book. I could see every young Hollywood actress wanting the role. (There is a Swedish production.) It has been some time since I started or almost exclaimed aloud while reading a book. I did it twice in this novel. Lisbeth has become an unforgettable heroine. I raced along eager to read the next progression or twist in the plot. I hope the third book will be published this year. Larsson’s website said 12 million books have been sold out of the trilogy. Hardcover. (Sept. 4/09) (With The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo Best fiction of 2009)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two Weeks with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist

A few days ago I started reading The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz which continues Stieg Larsson’s series of thrillers featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. I read the original trilogy in 2009 and 2010 but have not posted those reviews written before I started this blog. I have decided to post those reviews in succession starting tonight with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In addition I will have another couple of posts connected with the books or their author, Stieg Larsson. I will conclude the two weeks with a review of The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

I believe I first heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from The Merchant of Menance, the newsletter published by the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. I was swept away when I started reading the book.

I am finding it interesting to go back 6 years to see my reactions at that time. I invite readers to comment on their reactions to the series as I spend a couple of weeks in thriller Sweden with one of the great duos in crime fiction.

12. - 475.) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – A remarkable debut crime thriller. The characters are amazing. Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist bound for jail for aggravated libel of Wennerstrom. Lisbeth Salander is a brilliant 25 year old investigator still deemed incompetent because of her resolute refusal to conform to society’s norms and absolute unwillingness to explain herself to experts. Henrik Vanger, an elderly Swedish industrialist, uses Salander to investigate Blomkvist and then hires him to determine what happened to his niece, Harriet, 37 years ago when she disappeared from their island home in northern Sweden. For over 30 years he has received a rare pressed flower on his birthday. With no better prospects and wanting to get away for awhile Blomkvist undertakes the study. He dreams of how he will get back at Wennerstrom who set him up for the libel conviction. At the same time Salander is dealing with personal challenges. The story accelerates to a page turner when they start working together. In addition to the complex plot each has a complicated personal life. Relationships are unusual. Blomkvist has a loving relationship with Erika Berger though she is married and her husband is aware of the relationship. Salander is a personality that defies easy description. The plot twists and explodes with excitement. I was reminded of some of the financial thrillers of Michael Thomas. I understand it was the first of a triology. I can hardly wait for the translation of the second. I read with regret that the author died just after delivering the books to be published. What a great pair of mysteries from Sweden this year. Hardcover. (Mar. 16/09) (With The Girl Who Played with Fire Best fiction of 2009)