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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Baseball Coming Out in Mystery Fiction

In my last post I reviewed Safe at Home by Alison Gordon. She wrote a series of mysteries featuring Kate Henry, a sports writer for a Toronto newspaper, who covers the Toronto Titans, a fictional major league ball team.

While the mystery in Safe at Home involves the search for a serial killer the more compelling story involves one of the players, Joe Kelsey, who seeks out Henry wanting her to write a story to let the world know that he is gay.

It is a testament to the reluctance of big league ballplayers to make known their sexual orientation that no active major leaguer has yet to make a real life announcement he is gay though 26 years have passed since the book was published.

In Safe at Home there was a mixed reaction to the news among Kelsey’s teammates. A few were very accepting. A few were very negative. Most were unsure of how they felt about Kelsey coming out.

Many in the sports media of the book were uncomfortable with being required to cover the story. It meant they would have to think about a societal issue in their reporting on baseball.

What surprised me were the number of players and media in the book who wished he had not come out as it disturbed their sense of team. They would have preferred he not be a distraction by staying in the closet.

Gordon had personal experiences as a woman that helped her write the story.

As the first woman sports reporter to be a beat writer for a major league ball team she faced many of the same situations as Kelsey.

Too many players and management did not want a woman sports reporter.

Ballplayers were as uncomfortable with a woman in the locker room as they would be with a gay man.

Devout Mormon, Barry Bonnell, a Blue Jays outfielder did not want Gordon in the locker room asserting she was “sick” and was attempting to “spy” on naked ballplayers.

I read Toronto manager, Roy Hartsfield, would not answer her questions for a time and encouraged players not to talk to her.
Alison did face a couple of situations unlikely to be encountered by a gay ballplayer. In her autobiography, Foul Ball: Five Years in the American League, she said she was offered $200 by an unnamed ballplayer if she would sleep with him. It was further reported that his teammates had offered him $500 if he could get her to sleep with him. Several reports said some players would deliberately come out of the shower room naked and stand around her while she was conducting interviews.

Gordon gained grudging acceptance. Major Leaguer Manager Earl Weaver calmed one fear by stating that she was not a “pecker checker”.

Considering how Jason Collins of the NBA was treated when he came out some of the more crass comments faced by Gordon would be unlikely today. Still it would take courage for there would be massive media attention and some negative comments.

The immediate media coverage today would be more intense as we live in a very demanding news world. Still I expect the scrutiny would fade quickly. As Collins stated in an article he wrote for The Players Tribune:

After a couple weeks, the media coverage shifted off of me because there are only so many ways you can write a story about having a gay teammate. It went back to being about the team and how we were making a push for the playoffs

Gordon could appreciate how a gay ballplayer would hate his sexual orientation being the story rather than his performance in games. In her first year covering the Blue Jays she was constantly a story as she visited each major league park in the American League. In Safe at Home Gordon, through Henry, alludes to the discomfort produced when you are an actual distraction from the game.

One of these days an active major league ballplayer will come out of the closet. As a sports reporter for 39 years I expect reporters will now be the most accepting group in dealing with a gay big league ballplayer. The primitive attitudes of yet again too many media members in Safe at Home and some of Gordon’s fellow reporters when she started covering the Blue Jays, I cannot call them colleagues, have changed. The reporters of the 21st Century would see a player’s sexual orientation as a personal matter that should not affect an athletic career.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Safe at Home by Alison Gordon

Safe at Home by Alison Gordon (1990) - Kate Henry is back in Toronto after spending spring training in Florida with the Toronto Titans. Henry, having covered the team for several seasons, no longer finds Opening Day as exciting as it was when she started writing about the team for the Toronto Planet newspaper.

Setting the story firmly in Toronto is that
Opening Day is the Titans first game in a new stadium with a retractable roof. It is clearly modeled on the Skydome, now the Rogers Centre, which has been the home of the Toronto Blue Jays since 1989.

What does excite Henry is that she can resume her relationship with Staff Sgt. Andy Munro of Toronto Police Services. Putting the relationship on hold for two months while she was at spring training has been hard.

The joy of reunion is interrupted repeatedly as Munro is searching for a serial killer. Three boys have been taken and killed and sexually assaulted.

Munro is frustrated. The victims appear to be random choices. There is no way to protect a metro area with hundreds of thousands of young boys. Will they have to wait for more murders to gain enough information to find the killer?

Back at the ballpark Henry is writing about a transition at first base for the Titans when she gets a call from their outfielder Joe Kelsey.

The Titan player has decided to confide in her. Kelsey comes to her home with Sandy Montgomery. He startles Henry by telling her that he is gay and Montgomery is his lover. He wants Henry to write the story of his coming out to baseball and the rest of the world.

After confirming Kelsey understands the publicity storm that will erupt Henry is delighted to write the story. It will be a story that gets national and international attention. No active major leaguer has come out of the closet.

There is a degree of hesitancy as the day for publication approaches. There is as much apprehension as excitement for Henry.

The reaction to the story is mixed. Acceptance and tolerance and rejection are all present. In my next post I shall write further of the media story.

In an apt example of societal priorities Henry's story on Kelsey's coming out is given greater play on the front page of the paper than the story of the hunt for the serial killer.

Titan players and fans uncomfortable with Kelsey's story find the world has not changed because Kelsey is openly gay.

The book is well written. Not surprisingly Kelsey's coming out dominates the book. I read swiftly wanting to know how he was treated in a world of men not known for their sensitivity concerning sexual orientation.

The mystery was the weakest part of the book. It was not very mysterious. It is rare I can see the solution long before the end of the book. I appreciate it is not easy to have a credible character for the serial killer but there was not enough doubt about this killer. It might have been better to simply have identified the killer early on and made the plot about finding him.
Gordon, Alison - (2011) - Prairie Hardball; (2014) - Night Game; (2015) - Alison Gordon has Died

Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Twas the Night Before Christmas for Bloggers Repeat

Put this version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas up in 2013 and thought I would repeat on a wintery Saskatchewan Christmas Eve. It was -27C with a wind chill of -37C this morning. Will bundle up for Mass this evening. Merry Christmas to all!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a computer was stirring, not even a mouse
Mystery bloggers everywhere had inserted their flash drives with care;
In hopes St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The bloggers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of new books danc’d in their heads.

And Sharon in the kitchen, and I in the den,
Had just settled from our computers for a long winter's nap -
When on my computer there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the monitor I flew like a flash,
Tore open Google, and avoided a crash,
The moon on the screen of new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to the icons below;
When, what on the screen to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny bloggers,
With my little old computer driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his bloggers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name;
"Now! Margot, now! Moira, now! John, now! Kerrie and Bernadette,
"On! Tracy, on! Prashant, on! Norman and Jose Ignacio;
To the top of the screen! To the top of the fire wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As letters before a computer storm fly,
And when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the cloud;
So up the computer screen they flew,
With the sleigh full of e-books - and St. Nicholas too;
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the speaker
The prancing and pawing of each little blogger.
As I drew back my head, and was spinning around,
Down St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with glitches and errors;
A bundle of e-books flung on his back,
And he look'd like a reader just opening his hard drive;
His eyes - how the pixels twinkled! His dimple; how merry,
His cheeks were like Apples, his nose like a cherry
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it floated over the screen like a wreath
He had a broad face, and a round little belly
That shook when he laugh'd like a bowl of jelly;
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his pixels and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the flash drives; then turn'd with a jerk
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a shake, up the screen he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his bloggers gave a nod
And away they all flew right into the screen,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight -
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

- With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Merry Christmas to bloggers and readers around the world!!!!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Losing the Rule of Law in Mexican Drug Wars

In my last post I reviewed Cartel by Don Winslow. It was a powerful and disturbing portrayal of the drug trade in Mexico this century. Cartel shows what happens if a nation abandons the Rule of Law. When guns take over chaos and death follow.

In Canada there are major criminal organizations. The Hells Angels, Indian gangs, Asian gangs and Mafia families are all carrying on the drug business. While there is conflict between them and constant police pressure the Rule of Law prevails in Canada.

As our nation deals with organized crime there is a constant tension. Our courts and Parliament balance individual freedoms against effective enforcement of the laws against drug dealers.

Respect for the law is being challenged by our evolving approach to marijuana. Canada is on the verge of decriminalizing possession of marijuana. Growing and selling marijuana is going to be big business in Canada.

The issue at this time involves the current laws on possession of marijuana are not being consistently enforced in Canada. It is a rare event for a recreational user of marijuana to be prosecuted in Vancouver. It happens every day in Saskatchewan.

It is never good for the Rule of Law to have selective enforcement of laws.

I am not sure of the consequences when marijuana is decriminalized. I will be glad to see marijuana removed from the products being sold by criminal organizations. Even more important we will return to a nation-wide enforcement of drug laws.

In Mexico, the issue is not an erosion of respect for the law but rather no respect for the law as the law appears irrelevant with respect to the business of drug trafficking.

Cartel stated there were 7,000 murders in Ciudad Juarez by 2010 with barely any prosecutions. Who can respect the law when it is not enforced? 

Out of all the participants in the legal system of Mexico the courts of that nation play no role in the book.

Where large sums are paid to the police and to the military and to politicians there are no payoffs in the book to judges and prosecutors. It would appear there is no need to buy them off. They have a negligible impact on the drug trade.

When someone happens to be arrested for participating in the drug trade there appears a good chance from Cartel they will be convicted and sent to jail. While conditions are brutal any high ranking narco will be well treated and there is the constant prospect of a jail break. Drug business is not even interrupted by a jail term.

Most frightening in the book is the shift, led by America, to assassinate enemies rather than arresting and trying them.

Within Cartel that philosophy is set out as shifting from counterinsurgency to anti-terrorism. Instead of preventing attacks and building relationships it is a philosophy of killing, especially drug lords. Mexican marines, apparently the only non-corruptible force in Mexico, look to “arrest them if we have to …. kill them when we can”.

Last year I remember reading a news report of a raid on a Mexican ranch where 42 narcos were killed against 1 dead police officer.

Hitler and Stalin make mockeries of the judicial systems of Germany and the U.S.S.R. with show trials of those individuals considered dangerous to the government. In Mexico of the 21st Century, Cartel depicts a criminal justice system that does not even have show trials before executions.

The trials at Nuremberg after WW II were to mark a new approach to dealing with war crimes. In recent years the ICC has sought to codify the prosecution of war crimes.

The new killing approach is eliminating the Rule of Law as there are no trials.

I do not know how to restore the Rule of Law in Mexico. The law is being ignored by narcos, law enforcement and politicians. Who can lead the way to enforcing the law?

There is a brave attempt by women in The Cartel, living in the vicinity of Ciudad Juarez, one of the major drug entry points to America. They take over positions in municipal administrations and local police forces because the men were afraid of being killed. Clearly outgunned by everyone they are challenging the narcos with their belief in the Rule of Law.

I hope the citizens of the Western World realize how important the Rule of Law is to preserving freedom.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cartel by Don Winslow

Cartel by Don Winslow – More of a docudrama in writing than pure fiction Cartel is Winslow’s account of the brutal cartel wars of Mexico from 2004 to 2012.

The book was published 10 years after The Power of Dog in which Art “Killer” Keller battled Mexican drug lords, Adan and Raul Barrera, the leaders of the El Federacion in Mexico

Keller, half Mexican and half American, left the DEA at that time after decades of fighting drug dealers in Mexico. He has lost his soul and his marriage during that quest.

One of his last actions was to coerce Lucia the wife of Adan Barrera, into luring him across the border. His daughter, Gloria, was in America receiving treatment with regard to her deformed head. Lucia falsely tells Barrera that Gloria is days from death. When Barrera comes to the hospital he is arrested and convicted.

Barrera, displaying practicality rather than any criminal code of silence, successfully bargains for his transfer to a Mexican prison by providing information on drug dealers not a part of his family in Sinaloa. It is a cunning exercise. He gains the transfer home and eliminates a number of rivals.

Back in Mexico he lives lavishly in a Mexican prison. After careful manoeuvering and lavish bribes Barrera arranges his escape from prison by helicopter.

Keller, upon hearing of the escape seeks to return to a DEA more than reluctant to see him back. Ultimately, because of his vast knowledge of the Mexican drug organizations he is allowed to go to Mexico to help hunt down Barrera.

Finding and capturing Barrera is difficult. He is well protected in Sinaloa by a private army and a population that respects him.

The Mexican drug business is a form of brutal capitalism. There are competing organizations with shifting alliances. Taxes are paid for moving product through border points to the organization controlling that area.

Disputes may be negotiated but efforts to gain territory and increase an organization’s share of the business often lead to violent conflict.

Barrera, more disciplined than his competitors, diligently works to expand his organization.

Soon the northern border of Mexico is aflame with multiple organizations of drug dealers fighting with each other. Civilian casualties are common. Billions of dollars can buy a lot of guns. There is no shortage of recruits.

The city of Ciudad Juarez becomes a dirty battleground. Hundreds of deaths drive legitimate and illegal businesses out of the city.

Millions of dollars flow to high ranking government officials. It is easy to determine which narcos have paid to influence the government fight on drugs. The federales attack the other groups.

The horrors reach deep. Winslow fictionalizes the real life story of an 11 year becoming an assassin. In Cartel he is utilized by the Zetas (the drug organization formed from former members of Mexico's special forces).
While Keller wants Barrera captured and Barrera wants Keller dead (he puts a $2,000,000 bounty on Keller) each is denied their goal by the complex interactions between the narcos (internally and externally) and the Mexican government.

The brutality is horrendous. Torture is routine. Executions are often painful and prolonged. It is hell on earth and Winslow keeps the narrative driving. I grew numb in the reading.
I wish the story was unbelievable, that Winslow strained credulity, but I recently read there have been 17,000 murders in Mexico in 2016 associated with the war on drugs.

Overall it is a compelling, if depressing story, of the impact of drug trafficking on Mexico. Cartel hammers home the war on drugs will fail as long as there are billions of dollars to be made in selling illegal drugs in America.

After an unflinching recounting of the wars the ending was somewhat disappointing. It approaches but not does quite become a conventional thriller conclusion. A finish appropriate to the rest of the book would have made it a great work but I doubt would have been accepted by a publisher.

If you can stand the slaughter you will not put the book down. Winslow will keep you turning the pages. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie Dobbs is meeting with a group of costermongers, the men who sell fruit and vegetables on the streets of London. It is a return to her youth when her father was a coster. Life changed with the death of her mother. Maisie went into service but she has never forgotten her origins.

The proud and fiercely independent costers have taken time from their busy days to consult with Maisie in her position as a private enquiry agent.

They bring sad news. Eddie Pettit, the gentle giant of their streets, has died at a paper manufacturing plant. A huge roll of paper has crushed him. The costers have doubts it was an accident and want to retain Maisie to find out what happened to Eddie.

Maisie is shaken to think someone could want Eddie dead. He was a special person. Every age struggles to describe those with mental limitations. In our era Eddie would be designated mentally challenged. I prefer the phrasing of the early 1930’s. Eddie was a simple man. He has abit of learning and can undertake basic tasks. He is fortunate to live with his mother, Maude, and her friend, Jenny.

What makes Eddie unique is that he has a gift for working with horses. When help is needed with a horse who is distraught or ailing or agitated Eddie will be called. With empathy and a gentle touch he can calm the most disturbed horse. Whatever his mental limitations Eddie is a master with horses.

Maisie undertakes the assignment and sets out to investigate what is happening at Bookhams Paper, the factory where Eddie was killed.

She sends her assistant, Billy Beale, out to conduct some discreet interviews at a pub frequented by the workers at Bookhans. She is shocked the next day to learn he has been viciously assaulted and is unconscious in hospital. A disturbed Doreen Beale rails at Maisie for her interference in their lives.

At the same time Maisie is uncomfortable in her relationship with Viscount James Crompton. She enjoys their physical intimacy. (Their disregard for Depression mores does not feel right.) It is the emotional depth and future of the relationship that bother her. James would propose if he thought she would accept. She realizes that at the heart of her unease is that she would have to give up control of part of her life were they to wed.

It is an issue she finds sweeping across her relationships. In frank discussions psychologist, Elspeth Matters, and her best friend, Priscilla Partridge, point out to her that she seeks to control rather than help other lives producing increasing resentment to her good intentions.

Whether it is providing a house for the Beale’s at minimal cost or paying for the education of her assistant, Sandra Tarpley, Maisie, to her dismay, realizes that she has moved past help to a manipulation of lives. She is leaving those she would assist beholden and, even resentful at times, towards her.

As she probes Eddie’s death she learns he was being exploited and that there is a vast effort at national manipulation under way.

Maisie is forced to assess her need for control. The book made me think of my personal need for control in my life.

Unlike many current mysteries there is a subtle ending. Maisie and myself are left conflicted by the resolution. While she seeks her usual round of meetings to assure satisfaction with the conclusion of the case she can achieve but a partial satisfaction.

The 9th book in the series is the first not to have a major connection with World War I. Fifteen years have passed since the end of that war. Readers know World War II is but 6 years away. It is becoming clear that the rise of the Nazism is a threat that will challenge Maisie in future books

Winspear’s development of Maisie reminds me of Joanne Kilbourn in the mysteries of Gail Bowen. Joanne has aged 25 years through the series. For Maisie, as it is for Joanne, family is important and integral to each mystery. I realized in reading Elegy for Eddie that I am as interested in Maisie’s life as the solving of the mystery.
Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs; (Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death; (2016) - A Lesson in Secrets; Hardcover or paperback by choice

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear – In 1932, Maisie Dobbs, having adjusted to the death of her mentor, Maurice Blanche is making her way with a renewed confidence in herself. As primary beneficiary of Blanche’s will she is financially secure, even wealthy including owning the estate, Dower House, where Blanche resided.

Her private enquiry business is doing well and she decides to take on a young woman, Sandra Tapley, as a part-time secretary. Sandra is recovering from the sudden death of her husband, Eric, at the garage where he worked.

Maisie is recruited by the British Secret Service to become a junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis, a new institution at Cambridge. Her brief:

You must report back on any observed activities – by anyone – that are not in the interests of the Crown.

She will be an internal spy. Her brief reminded me of the role John Le Carre played at Cambridge a generation later in spying on fellow students. Maisie is less conflicted than Le Carre.

St. Francis was founded shortly after WW I to provide an education for English and foreign students, in

…. English and European literature and the moral sciences. It is no secret that an emphasis on the maintenance of peace in Europe underpins much of the teaching.

Its founder, Greville Liddicote, had been a Senior Fellow at Cambridge, who also wrote children’s books, until he was forced to leave his position after he published a children’s book “about a group of fatherless children who go to live in the woods, and who decide to journey to France to end the war”. The book created such a stir it was banned.

Secrets are plentiful around St. Francis. When Liddicote is killed which secret prompted the murder? Beyond the shock of violent death in an institution devoted to peace was it related to activities “not in the interests of the Crown”?

Liddicote’s literary past is not all that it seemed.

As with all the books in the series there are aspects of the plot related to WW I. Can it be that a children’s book had consequences at the Front that have remained secret?

Maisie’s secret purpose in being at the College fits well with the book’s theme of secrets.

On “activities” at the College I anticipated the Communist penetration of Cambridge that produced a group of proficient Russian spies in real life and a never ending sequence of works of fiction speculating on undiscovered spies. I was to be surprised. There are other activities of concern.

The book reminded me there was a powerful desire for peace around the world in the 1930’s. Pacifists were now respected in contrast to the scorn and imprisonment of conscientious objectors, “Conchies“, during WW I.

Though WW II is not yet on the horizon forces of darkness are starting to assemble in Europe.

Personally, the relationship of Maisie with Viscount James Crompton has deepened but is love enough to sustain them:

She had yet to trust happiness, that much she knew. It had been so fleeting with Simon, and she wondered what it might feel like for happiness to be a constant, so that she could rest in its cradle, rather than looking across the parapet for a marching army ready to shoot her contentment down in flames.

A Lesson in Secrets is a good book. It does not have the personally emotional power of Maisie in Among the Mad and The Mapping of Love and Death but it shows Maisie as a mature woman in her 30’s looking more to the future than the past.
Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs; (Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death;

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Conclaves of Malachi Martin, Walter Murphy and Robert Harris

In my last post I reviewed Conclave by Robert Harris which is about the election of a new pope after the death of a pope inspired by the current Pope Francis. Reading the book set me reflecting on other works of fiction I have read involving conclaves and the effect of the backgrounds of the authors on how they described the process of conclaves.

Over a decade ago I read Vatican by Malachi Martin. The book was first published in 1986. The book is focused on the life of Richard (Rico) Lansing, an American priest who arrived in the Vatican just after World War II.

In my review at that time I said:

He is to spend the next 40 plus years in the Vatican bureaucracy serving (while not directly named) Pius XII (the epitome of a pope for the author), John XXIII (a dreamer of love who sets the church adrift), Paul VI (an ineffective leader who supports decentralization), John Paul I (a man of deep faith who is assassinated by the USSR) and John Paul II (a man of great potential limited by the effects of the attempted assassination by a Western Capitalist super-elite). Each of the popes was effectively chosen by the Curia before the conclave.

Martin is the only writer described in this post who has personal knowledge of the Vatican. He was a Jesuit priest and a theologian at the 2nd Vatican Council.

He was a traditionalist as further set out in the description of his positions in my review:

…. staunchly favours a Church run by a strong pope who listens to a strong Curia. The bishops and people have little role in his Church but to follow Rome. New thoughts on contraception and the Mass in vernacular are heresies that have brought the Church into great decline.

After the Council was completed Martin, upset by the changes in the Church, left the Jesuits.

Some years earlier I had read The Vicar of Christ by Walter Murphy which was published in 1979. It is a grand sprawling saga about Declan Walsh. In the first part of the book he is a young Army officer who becomes a hero for his skill at commanding and saving a unit that is caught behind Chinese Army lines. After the war he becomes a lawyer and is chosen Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A personal tragedy leads him to resign and join a Trappist monastery. Papal Nuncio to the United States, Ugo Cardinal Galeotti, helps Walsh gain acceptance to the monastery. When a conclave in Rome becomes Galeotti calling on his knowledge of Walsh convinces the conclave to look outside the College of Cardinals and Walsh is chosen Pope. Galeotti thinks of Walsh as an American pragmatist.

Walsh in an eerie foreshadowing of the current pope chooses the name Francisco and adopts a progressive agenda.

(Lest anyone think Walsh’s election is impossible the pope is not required to come from the College of Cardinals. While long established policy is to choose a cardinal the electors could choose outside their ranks.)

Murphy was born into an Irish Catholic American family and attended both Catholic and secular universities. He was a long time law professor at Princeton.  

Harris in Conclave has as his protagonist, Cardinal Lomelli, who supports a progressive candidate. Personally he would be considered a moderate whose principles fall between the traditionalists and the progressives.

I will not give the identity of the pope chosen in Conclave as it would a huge spoiler.

With regard to his personal beliefs Harris in an article in the Catholic Herald on whether he believes in God said:

“I dislike easy atheism,” he says. “I think atheism is an easy route, a boring route, to take. I am rather drawn to people who take the more difficult route and try to engage with a greater thing. I have empathy with that.
“I was never baptised. I have always mildly resented this, as I have felt one should be plugged in from birth, just like one is given inoculations.”
He adds: “I don’t think this book could have been written by a complete atheist.”
As we are all influenced by our personal beliefs it is probably not a surprise that Martin looks for a conservative pope, Martin has a progressive for his pope and Harris has a middle of the road cardinal as his lead character.
Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; (2016) - Conclave

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Conclave by Robert Harris

Conclave by Robert Harris – Cardinal Lomelli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is called to the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican City at 2:00 in the morning. His fear that the Holy Father, the pope, has died are confirmed on his arrival. He is shaken by the suddenness of the death and the consequences for himself and the Church.

The late pope, a character clearly inspired by the current Pope Francis, had agitated the upper leadership of the Church. His willingness to consider and occasionally embrace change has upset the traditionalists. His commitment to reforming the finances of the Church has scared the many who have profited from their positions. The Church is among the world’s most bureaucratic of institutions at the Vatican.

An unsettled Church must now select a new pope through a conclave of the cardinals who are under 80 years of age.

Cardinal Lomelli, as Dean, organizes and presides over the conclave. Following precise rules set down over centuries he prepares the Sistine Chapel for the voting and the Casa Santa Marta as the residence for the cardinals.

Over the next 3 weeks 117 cardinals arrive in Rome from all the corners of the world. Among Lomelli’s first surprises is the arrival of Vincent Benitez from Iraq. He provides documentation that the deceased pope had recently created him a cardinal in pectore (in his heart). It is an appointment where the pope, usually for the safety of the new cardinal, does not announce the appointment even to the highest ranking members of the Curia. There will be 118 voters.

For the election each cardinal is to look into his conscience and vote for the cardinal he considers best. Campaigning is discreet but fierce. Will the papacy be returned to an Italian after a trio of non-Italian popes? Could it be a cardinal chosen  from one of the First World countries who have never had a pope? Can the cardinals support a candidate from one of the poorest nations of the world?

What struck me was the measured pace of a vote for each and every ballot. Each of the names of the cardinals is called out and he affirms his presence. Each writes his chosen name on a ballot and, in order of seniority, individually goes to the urn and deposits the ballot. Those counting the vote announce the name on a ballot as it is unfolded. It is a ritual so different from modern voting practices where large groups vote with the push of a button and the results are tallied instantly. Each vote of the conclave takes hours. The process offers time for contemplation and prayer.

With the cardinals sequestered from the world there is never a break from the intensity of the decision. They eat, talk and vote together.

Unexpected issues arise that affect the leading candidates. The cardinals are not without sin. It is a thriller but with a stately tempo. Bodies do not fill the Sistene Chapel.

I appreciated how Harris creates a tension that builds and builds. I wish more thriller writers could accept tension does not have to result from constant violent action.

I found myself anxious to know the result of the next ballot. Harris convincingly places the shifting vote totals between the traditionalists, the progressives and the non-aligned.

As a Catholic I appreciated his balanced approach. Many writing about the Church today can focus on no more than scandals. Little regard is given to the dedicated religious who work to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of the faithful.

Harris writes so well of historic events. He effortlessly inserts information that enhances the plot. However, I was disappointed in the ending. There was one twist too many with that final twist a contrived political statement about the Church. It spoiled my enjoyment of a well written book. But for the conclusion Harris had a great book.
Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; Hardcover or paperback (See also in non-fiction)  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Crossing the Atlantic

Sharon and I are back at sea on the Rivieria. Part of the Oceania Cruises fleet the ship has a capacity of 1,250 passengers plus almost 800 crew members. We are on a transatlantic voyage and staying on for a Caribbean sojourn. We came aboard in Barcelona and entered the Atlantic last night. Tomorrow we spend the day in Madeira and then across the Atlantic.

I am not sure how often I will be posting. We will see how encouraging the weather is for being outside and how involved we get with ship activities.

From the approximately 2,000 book ship library I have a couple of Maisie Dobbs books and Until Thy Wrath be Past by Asa Larson.

Currently I am reading Conclave by Robert Harris. Moira Redmond at her fine blog, Clothes in Books, piqued my interest with her review of the book. It is off to a fine start and I have become absorbed in the conclave.

I will close as it is time to go to the Captain’s Reception.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sam Wiebe on His Sleuths

After reviewing the Invisible Dead I wrote an email to the author, Sam Wiebe, with a few questions. I appreciate his quick response and thoughtful answers. Our emails form this post. I recommend readers look up his books Last of the Independents and Invisible Dead.

I recently read and reviewed Invisible Dead for my book blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. I enjoyed the book.
Last year I read and reviewed Last of the Independents. I consider it an excellent debut.

I am writing to you as I am puzzled about the similarities between the private investigators in your books.  

In Last of the Independents Michael Drayton is a 29 year old former police officer turned P.I. who has an office on East Hastings in Vancouver. He is very opinionated, scornful of authority and obsessive in his investigation. His prime investigation is corporate related but his passion is searching for missing people. That passion focuses on seeking children for parents. I described Drayton in my review as having a “physical presence and an innate stubbornness”. He is single and living modestly. 

Each of the above statements apply to Dave Wakeland in Invisible Dead

I had expected there would be series of books featuring Drayton when I read Last of the Independents. He was an interesting character. I loved his supporting cast of the Hastings Street Irregulars.

When I heard of Invisible Dead I thought it would be the second mystery in a Drayton series. Instead, I learned that Last of the Independents was a standalone and Dave Wakeland would be the sleuth in a continuing series.

Most authors I have read who create multiple sleuths will make them significantly different characters. Going back to the Golden Age of crime fiction Agatha Christie created two of the most popular sleuths ever – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple – who are very different people. Jeffery Deaver has Lincoln Rhymes and Kathryn Dancer. In Canada Vicki Delaney has three different women in Fiona MacGillivray, Molly Smith and Lucy Richardson (while writing as Eva Gates). 

I would be interested in knowing:

1.) Why you created Wakeland when you already had Drayton;
2.) Why they could be half-brothers;
3.) From looking at photos of you how much, if any, of the description of the sleuths is based upon yourself; and,
4.) Will Wakeland’s further cases be set in locales away from the streets of downtown Vancouver.

Thank you for considering my questions. If you are able to reply I would appreciate it if you would advise whether I can put your replies in a post on my blog.

Best wishes on future writing. I consider you one of Canada’s best young crime fiction writers.

Bill Selnes
Hi Bill, 

Thanks for the kind words. By all means use this response on your site, if you want.
1. When I wrote Last of the Independents I wasn't really thinking about doing a series. In some ways I think the ending wraps up Mike's story; he'll go on or he won't, but the major decision in his life is over.
With Invisible Dead I was writing about a more serious subject matter with a slightly more realistic tone (in my opinion, of course), and with an agent and a new editor/publisher to bounce ideas off. I had the luxury of thinking and re-thinking what I'd want to do with a series character, how I'd want to set things up. Wakeland inhabits a world that more closely resembles the real Vancouver, with financial constraints that more accurately reflect what a lot of people in their late twenties/early thirties are going through (again, my opinion only). I also wanted to write someone who was a bit less of a typical hero, less comfortable with violence if no less familiar with it.

2. There are absolutely similarities, but that's also because I wrote both of them! 
3. I don't know; I don't picture either character as looking like me. I sort of follow the lead of Ross MacDonald and Chandler in that the character is a vehicle for the readers to view the story, so tons of description would only create a gulf.
4. The second Wakeland novel, Cut You Down, will be out February 2018, I believe, and will include Vancouver as well as some Eastern and American locales.
Thanks again for reading these, Bill. I appreciate it.
Sam Wiebe

Monday, November 14, 2016

Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe

Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe – Fiction and real life intersect in the opening scene. Private investigator, Dave Wakeland, is at the Federal prison in Agassiz, British Columbia:

Ed Leary Nichulls was serving eight counts of second-degree murder up in Ken. “Scrapyard” Ed lured runaways and prostitutes out to his family salvage lot, killed them, eventually, and eventually disposed of the bodies. He didn’t avoid the authorities for long, once they’d started looking. But that had taken years.

In real life Robert Pickton, a pig farmer just outside Vancouver, was convicted of killing 6 prostitutes on his farm. (Once convicted 20 more charges of murder were stayed. He was suspected of killing a total of 49 women.)

Having taken on the investigation of a long missing prostitute, Chelsea “Charity” Loam, Wakeland is interviewing Scrapyard Ed to see if he has any knowledge. It is a creepy conversation.

Wakeland is a tough private investigator based on East Hastings in downtown Vancouver. He had followed his father into the Vancouver Police Department but soon left. Discipline and orders are anathema to Wakeland.

Recognizing his non-existent business skills he has joined with the clever business oriented Jeff Chen. Where Wakeland is a P.I. Chen is a security consultant. Chen sees the business building a corporate clientele providing discreet services for difficult company situations. Wakeland can assure the suits of an appropriate physical presence in the firm.

Wakeland does have an addiction that limits his attention to corporate clients. He is devoted to handling at least one difficult personal case all the time.

Charity came from an indigenous background. Taken in by Gail Kirby she turned wild as a teenager. Choosing the streets and drugs led her to hustling and down to prostitution. Eleven years later her foster mother wants Wakeland to search for Charity and has $200,000 available.

There are no good places to look for a long missing prostitute. After learning nothing from the serial killer Wakeland goes down into the streets of East Vancouver.

He establishes a personal relationship with a source, Sharlene “Shay” Nelson, who is also reliant on drugs and prostitution.

Wakeland is a clever man. I have not encountered Greek philosophers in noir or any other sub-genre of crime fiction:

I put the flashlight in a grubby Canadian Tire bag and made my second trip down Alexander. Kid Diogenes, prowling the city with his lantern on a quest to find one honest man.

That quest includes a conversation Wakeland has with a famed local artist and lecturer on art:

They were missing the humanity with which I was trying to imbue my subjects – but then perhaps so was I. Perhaps I was so eager to become the Great White Protector, Champion of the Downtrodden, that I had done the exact opposite of what I’d intended.”

“So that’s why: ‘No faces, no races, no spaces,’ “ I said.

“Right,” he said. “Departicularize. It’s the only way to avoid all possible chance of misrepresentation.”

“I like you early stuff better,” I said.
While his time is spent mostly on dark streets Wakeland is the rare tough guy P.I. comfortable in the rarified air of academe.

His life has been difficult. Not many damaged private investigators appeal to me but Wakeland is an engaging sleuth. His obstinacy is self-destructive but he is only moderately reckless. Though obsessed with finding Charity he has relationships. Family is a real part of his life.

I liked Wiebe’s debut novel Last of the Independents. The Invisible Dead is better.

I was glad to read the Invisible Dead is the start of a series.
Wiebe, Sam - (2015) - Last of the Independents and The Unhanged Arthur Award

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Musings on Longmire In Its 5th T.V. Season

For the past few days Sharon and I have been watching the 5th season of the Netflix series, Longmire. I knew she was enjoying the latest episodes when at the end of the first couple of shows she turned and said to me “is it over already?”

We like to watch 1-2 episodes an evening and occasionally skip a few evenings. Our sons, now in their 30’s, and their partners more often will binge watch a series often viewing several episodes during a day or evening.

Sharon and I grew up on T.V. that had weekly episodes and do not normally binge on a series though Sharon may watch several episodes of a series during a day that has a marathon of a series.

I noticed in particular in watching Downton Abbey how our anticipation grew during the week between episodes as we spoke about what had happened and guessed what might take place in the next episode.

Getting back to Longmire we have enjoyed the recent seasons on Netflix more than the earlier seasons on A & E.

The last few seasons have had true continuing story lines that carry through the whole season of 10 shows. While the episodes are self-contained there are real themes.

A year ago we watched the saga play out involving deputy, Branch Connally, who ran against Walt for the position of county sheriff.

This year the casino on the Cheyenne reservation has opened and there is continuing interaction between Walt and Jacob Nighthorse, who runs the casino. Neither trusts the other but they must deal with challenging criminal issues connected with the casino.

I found the continuing story lines have allowed for far more character development and blessedly less violence than most American police shows. I now enjoy the T.V. series as much or more than the books.

In watching the series on Netflix I have come to reflect on some of the main characters.

I better appreciate Lou Diamond Phillips as Walt’s Cheyenne lifetime friend, Henry Standing Bear. Where he does not fit my physical image of Henry (he is smaller than the Henry of the books) his actions and languages accord with my expectations from the book.

A Martinez as Jacob Nighthorse is a terrific character. Not many current series are willing to have an indigenous American as a bad guy. It remains a challenge for Hollywood to have politically correct villains. As the series has developed Nighthorse has become a more complex character. Originally just a self-interested businessman on the Rez he has become a business leader providing work opportunities for band members previously unemployed or under employed.

It continues to irritate me how unprofessional Katee Sackoff as deputy, Vic Moretti, appears with her uniform shirt almost half unbuttoned and a top underneath. I have never seen a real life female officer who dresses like the T.V. Moretti.

Unfair or night I find it easier to accept the casual dress of the T.V. Walt. As the Sheriff I expect he has greater leeway. Maybe Vic could become Sheriff and just discard the pretence of a uniform.

Robert Taylor become my mental image of Walt. The casting was as perfect as many English series have in choosing a lead character. The Walt of the books always had a presence from his physical stature and strong, though quiet, personality. He is clearly in charge of situations. Taylor has that same charisma.

I just read that Netflix is committed to making a 6th season but has already decided that will be the final season.

Originally the series was cancelled by A & E after the 3rd season because the demographics of viewership were too old with the average age of viewers being 60 rather than 40. While the series remains very popular on Netflix it appears there are still not enough younger viewers. Our time has truly passed when a good T.V. series is axed because Baby Boomers are no longer a prime time audience.
Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish; (Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; Hardcover