About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction

Young Blue Andalusian
Lee Crawford, in What’s Left Behind by Gail Bowen, is a Saskatchewan farmer who raises heritage poultry. The birds include “Blue Andalusians, scarlet-combed Langshans, Swedish Flower , Ridley Bronze turkeys and pink-billed Aylesbury ducks”. She is raising the birds to help keep the varieties alive and promote diversity in poultry. I had never heard of any of these birds.

In the book they are described as beautiful distinctive birds and Joanne's daughter, Taylor, creates paintings of the birds.

I went through the internet to learn about and find photos of these heritage poultry.

According to Wikipedia the Blue Andalusians are:

The slate-blue plumage of the Andalusian is caused by a dilution gene, which, in combination with the E gene for black plumage, produces partial dilution of the melanin which gives the black colour. Not all Andalusians are blue: birds with two copies of the gene have near-total dilution, and are off-white; birds with no copies have no dilution, and are black; those with one copy have partial dilution, and are blue. Blue birds occur, in Mendelian proportion, twice as often as each of the other colours. All are present in the population

The Livestock Conservancy website advises that Langshans are large feather legged chickens who originated in China:

Langshans Chicken with feathered legs
The Langshan had been bred in this damp district for centuries and was prized for good reason. The breed, though smaller than the Cochin and Brahma, is a large breed with males weighing 9.5 lbs and females 7.5 lbs. Langshan chickens lay a large number of very dark brown eggs; the eggs sometimes having a purplish tint. The breed has white skin, full breasts, and an abundance of white meat rich in flavor. The white meat of the Langshan is also particularly white in color.

Greenfire Farms on its website advises it brought Swedish Flower Hens to America:

Swedish Flour Hen Cock
Swedish flower hens are the largest breed of chickens native to Sweden. Roosters can weigh as much as 8 lbs. With the commercialization of Sweden’s poultry flocks in the last half of the 20th Century, this breed almost became extinct. A couple of decades ago remnant flocks were identified in three small, rural Swedish villages and a focused effort was made to save the breed. By the late 1980s fewer than 500 birds existed in the world. Today, about a thousand Swedish flower hens live in about fifty scattered flocks, and until Greenfire Farms began working with this breed, few if any could be found outside remote villages in Sweden.

I was startled to learn that the Ridley Bronze turkeys originated in Saskatchewan! I think of breeds coming from far off lands such as the Langershans rather than just down the road. I feel I should have known about them. The Heritage Livestock Club of Eastern Ontario sets out their background:

The Ridley Bronze turkey was developed by John Richardson of Saltcoats, SK during the 1940’s. He wanted a calm, hardy, meat turkey that was prolific and could reproduce naturally. He sought out the best stock available, crossed them together and created his ideal. While doing so, a turkey strain unique to Canada was born.

Ridley Bronze Turkey
During the 1940’s and ‘50’s, the Ridley family became involved in farming this turkey strain as well. Maree Willis (nee Ridley) and her husband Fred established their own turkey farm also in Saltcoats, SK, followed by her brother George Ridley who developed his own turkey breeding farm in Leslie, SK. In the early ‘80s, the University of SK obtained turkey stock from George Ridley for study and breeding.  It was at this time that this turkey variety garnered the name “Ridley Bronze” by way of the university. By 1981 the Ridley families were no longer turkey farming and had dispersed all of their turkeys, so the Ridley Bronze turkey remained solely in the hands of the university as well as a handful of private breeders. In 2008, budgetary constraints resulted in the closure of the University of SK program and their flock dispersed to private breeders across Canada. This dispersal went poorly with the result being that they all but disappeared.

Sadly their survival remains precarious. There were but 250 breeding females identified in 2015.

The Beauty of Birds website has a great story on walking Aylesbury ducks:

The breed was developed around the early 18th century and became a cottage industry in Aylesbury in southern England. The ducks were walked to the markets in London, some forty miles (64 km) to the south, stopping at night at inns which provided large enclosed yards for a charge of a few birds. Each morning the feet of the birds were given some protection by driving them across a shallow ditch filled with cold tarry solution which made their feet sticky, then through sawdust which adhered to their feet.

I never knew poultry could be so interesting. What you are inspired to learn from crime fiction.
Bowen, Gail – (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; (2011) - Deadly Appearances; (2012) - Kaleidoscope; (2013) - Murder at the Mendel; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind; Hardcover

Monday, March 28, 2016

What’s Left Behind by Gail Bowen

What’s Left Behind by Gail Bowen – The 16th Joanne Kilbourn mystery involves urban and rural Saskatchewan and their interaction.

In Regina Joanne is in the midst of a bruising political campaign over a referendum on bylaws that would restrict urban sprawl and promote mixed use developments in the city. She is leading the Yes forces against the city’s largest developer and past adversary, Lancaster Developments.

In the country the beautiful Lee Crawford is an intriguing young woman. A graduate of the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan she returned to run the family farm after her stepfather, Colin Brokenshire, was killed in a farm accident.

While it is no longer unusual for a woman to be a farmer what is unexpected is that Lee is raising heritage poultry, heirloom apples and heirloom vegetables. In particular, the poultry caught my attention - “Blue Andalusians, scarlet-combed Langshans, Swedish Flower Hens, Ridley Bronze turkeys and pink-billed Aylesbury ducks”.

Lee is also a member of the Citizens for Planned Growth Group (CPG), a collection of organizations, providing volunteers for the Yes campaign but they are a fractious group.

Within the family Joanne and her husband, Zack Shreeve, are hosting the wedding of their oldest son Peter and Maisie, the twin sister of Lee, at their cottage at Lawyers Bay. They are an optimistic family planning an outdoor wedding in May. While our province finally sheds winter and becomes green in May there is the risk of snow not just rain through the month.

Their confidence is well founded as the sun shines wedding morning but tension arises. Simon Weber, the emotionally troubled former lover of Lee, appears off shore in a yellow canoe. Constrained by a court order from coming ashore he still desperately wants to see Lee and sits there watching the festivities for over four hours.

During the wedding reception, Lee accepts the long standing proposal of her neighbour, Bobby Stevens, and Joanne ends the day happy but a little uneasy.

During the night Lee’s heritage poultry are killed. The next day emotions are roiling everywhere as accusations and denials flow back and for between the Yes and No forces.

Rumours are floated about Lee’s background. At a meeting she asks not be made the focal point of the campaign fueling more speculation. Joanne and her trusted advisor, Milo, work to dampen the fury and keep their supporters focused on the issues.

When Lee is murdered in the barn at her farm I was surprised. I did not see Lee becoming the victim. She was a fascinating character with an interesting background and future yet there are real issues in her past. It is not often an author can create such a sympathetic victim who still arouses murderous passions in other characters.

It is a book filled with emotions in and out of families past and present.
Not many mysteries discuss the impact on a woman of being the mother of young children:
    The dagger nails were now short and unpolished, the flaxen hair  
    had returned to its natural honey blond, and these days Margot's
    wardrobe was pretty much wash and wear. That morning she was
    in sneakers, blue jean cutoffs, and a T-shirt that read "Childbirth:
    A Labour of Love."

Bowen follows with an affectionate remark on breastfeeding.

What’s Left Behind is not one of my favourite stories in the series. The mayoral election was the focus of the previous book in the series, 12 Rose Street. I would have preferred a theme in this book other than having another political campaign, the referendum on the bylaws, but a short time after the election. Lee’s role in the referendum fight did not connect with her being a farmer and resident outside the city did not work as well for me.

What did work very well was Joanne as sleuth.

As she is neither a private investigator nor a police officer her role in investigations is always limited. What she has over the police is a better sense of the connections between the characters and their motivations.

It is not often I read mysteries solved by the sleuth’s ability to think. So many current mysteries involve the sleuth crashing around. Joanne is not cerebral in the mystery in the context of formal academics though she spent her working life as a university professor. What’s Left Behind showcases Joanne’s talents in analyzing information and understanding relationships. She has a great sensitivity to the nature of personal relationships.

And Joanne becomes a grandmother again. How many sleuths are proud grandparents?
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; Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series Hardcover

Friday, March 25, 2016

Creating a Credible Catastrophe

Nick Leeson 
Jérôme Kerviel 
Great thrillers based on a danger that threatens a country or the world require the threat of a credible catastrophe to create the tension that drives readers to keep turning the pages or pressing next page on your favourite electronic reading device. Great characters and settings frame a thriller but it is the danger that is the pivot of the plot.

It is not easy to find such a plausible threat.

Louise Penny, in The Nature of the Beast, sought to establish a doomsday scenario with a supergun being found in the woods near the village of Three Pines in Quebec. In the plot former Chief Inspector Gamache and members of the Sûreté du Québec  hunt for the plans to the gun before they can be sold to a rogue country.

The plot never had the tension needed for a thriller because in 2016 it is not plausible that a gun designed over 30 years ago can be a modern threat to world order.

There is good reason that the gun, designed by Canadian Gerald Bull, on which the plot was modeled has never been built. It is not an effective weapon. It is too easy to be detected, by its signature once fired, and then destroyed because it is immobile.

In I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes there is a modern terrifying threat to America. The evil Saracen, a committed Islamic fighter, concocts a means of re-introducing a variation of the plague into medicine that will be widely used in America. No vaccine exists to stop its spread.

It is a conceivable form of biological warfare on a vast scale that can be waged by one man.

Such an attack could shake America.

I recall the tampering of containers of Tylenol in 1982. Potassium cyanide had been put in capsules and 7 residents of the Chicago area died. The tampering caused panic in America. Had the tampering been effectively repeated or more widespread or identified with a specific group America would have been de-stabilized. The case has never been solved.

Drew Chapman, in The King of Fear and The Ascendant has perfected a new type of thriller – technological financial attacks. In my last post I put up a review of the book.

The evil Ilya Markov’s devilishly clever planned assault on America’s financial systems in the book was frightening.

Yet, in the current world can one man really threaten the finances of United States?

There have been recent examples of the damage a single man can do to a great bank.

Nick Leeson was a trader for Barings Bank in Singapore. Evading internal controls he made risky investments on behalf of the bank in 1995 that resulted in losses of $1.4 billion and brought about the collapse of the bank.

In 2008 the Société Générale Bank of France lost $6.4 billion during 3 days of trading. The Bank said Jérôme Kerviel was another rogue trader using fake trades to far exceeded his authority. He claimed superiors were aware of his actions and their hasty selling upon discovering his actions greatly increased the losses. He was convicted and sent to jail.

In both cases a single trader devastated huge banks. In neither case was the intent to cause losses.

In The King of Fear Markov with his access to billions of dollars and his recruitment of talented computer hackers was intent on financial havoc. In New York City Markov managed to have ATM’s malfunction and many credit card transactions denied. There were mobs within a day.

The King of Fear makes clear how much of our financial systems are based on trust and confidence in the systems.

Had Markov been able to carry through his subsequent plans a chilling Armageddon awaited America’s finances.

I eagerly await Chapman’s next thriller.

Chapman, Drew - (2014) - The Ascendant; (2016) - The King of Fear

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The King of Fear by Drew Chapman

(14. – 856.) The King of Fear by Drew Chapman – I have just read the thriller of the year. The King of Fear sets a new standard for contemporary thrillers. It should be a No. 1 bestseller yet I doubt its prospects for reaching the top.                

The King of Fear is the second thriller by Chapman that features Garrett Reilly as the hero. Reilly is an unlikely thriller hero. He is of average build. He is not dramatically handsome. He does not carry a gun. He is extremely intelligent.
Reilly continues to struggle with the effects of a major head injury. He has moved from self-medicating with marijuana to prescription drugs. He is addicted to powerful painkillers. Reilly has reached the point where he is suffering hallucinations. He is dysfunctional in many ways. While I have tired of the dysfunctional hero I am fascinated by Reilly. His dysfunctions balance his brilliance. 

He is idling away trading bonds on Wall Street when he receives a phone call from Captain Alexis Truffant, that the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York City has been murdered and the woman who killed him, moments before committing suicide, said Reilly made her kill him. 

Reilly runs from his office minutes before the FBI arrive to arrest him. Leading the FBI investigation is Jayanti Chaudry, the first East Indian female special agent in the New York office. She is an intriguing character as a woman of colour in the dominant white male world of the FBI. 

On the run Reilly contacts a fellow computer friend, Mitty Rodriguez and starts looking for a pattern to what is going on. All life is a recognition of patterns for Reilly. 

In his mind before the murder there had already been unease about an obscure pattern he he has sensed in the global financial world. Someone is orchestrating small scale financial disasters. Most recently a run has taken place on a bank in Malta that destroys the bank and sends tremors through Europe. 

Reilly feels there is a dark pool of billions of dollars being used to finance these attacks: 

The tug and warp of invisible money created gravitational ripples, and next would come the visible criminal strike. This was a surefire pattern; Garrett could feel it in his bones. Complicated. Dense. Dark. And coming this way. 

He sees a threat developing against America.

Where the United States is obsessed with attacks by Islamist terrorists it should be far more concerned about technological terror. The Islamist physical attacks create intense fear but cannot threaten the nation. Vulnerabilities in America’s financial system are far more dangerous. 

Through a skillful use of probabilities Reilly believes that an Eastern European with extensive financial and computer knowledge is coming to America with a plan to create financial havoc and de-stablize the nation’s democratic structure.

A man with a gun, even an atomic bomb, cannot cause as much damage as a man who penetrates America’s financial system. 

Truffant follows up Reilly’s profile and determines that Ilya Markov, a Russian with a Chechen background, has just entered the United States. He disappears upon entry. 

Markov is just as brilliant as Reilly with tremendous skills in organization and assessing weakness. Reilly calls Markov a great con man. 

Who would send such a man to attack the United States? Tendrils stretch back to Russia. 

As Markov arrives in America there is turmoil in Belarus where a reformist party seeking to turn the nation to the West is unexpectedly doing well in the election of a new President. Russia is not prepared to see one of its neighbours venture into the Western orbit. Chapman is clearly drawing on Russia’s reaction to the westward drift of the Ukraine for his depiction of Russia’s intervention in Belarus. 

Reilly sets out to hunt down Markov before he can carry out his technological onslaught of America’s financial systems. 

There are not an abundance of great adversaries in thriller fiction. Often foes have a cartoon level of complexity. Markov is a complex character. While ruthless in his attacks he has carefully considered the nature and consequences of Western capitalism in the 21st Century.

The book is a swiftly paced chase with the FBI after Reilly and Reilly after Markov. The King of Fear rivals The Day of the Jackal for a great quest. For the second Reilly thriller in a row I was up to 2:00 in the morning of a work day unable to resist the pull of the next page. 

My unease is that the book is too intelligent to be a bestseller. How many bestsellers contain the following type of passage: 

“The global economy is not healthy right now. Government debt is high. Bank exposure to exotic instruments is murky, and their capital requirements are too low. And civil unease is growing across the planet. The worldwide system is not prepared for a true shock. A small virus, a less than lethal flu, can kill a patient with a compromised immune system. To my mind, our system is dangerously compromised.” 

Christopher Reich’s later thrillers have been huge sellers with barely two dimensional characters. I worry that a thriller that calls on the reader to think amidst the action is too sophisticated to sell well. I hope I am wrong. Chapman deserves to be known as a great thriller writer. 

As the end of the book neared I thought it was headed to a Hollywood finale. It was dramatic but the end startled me as it was not a conventional thriller conclusion. It was unexpectedly totally credible drama. 
 Chapman, Drew - (2014) - The Ascendant

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Wail of the Wendigo by Steve Pitt

(12. – 854.) The Wail of the Wendigo by Steve Pitt – The 5th book in the Leaders & Legacies series of adventures of future Canadian Prime Ministers features Pierre Elliott Trudeau our 15th Prime Minister and probably the best known Prime Minister of the last 60 years.

It departs from the format of earlier books in the series in that it is not an adventure set in the area where the future Prime Minister is growing up at the time of the story. Rather than a plot set in Montreal The Wail of the Wendigo sees the 11 year old Trudeau travel across Canada to the Yukon with his father, Charles-Emile Trudeau.

It is a book filled with references to real life people and scenes linking the young Trudeau to his time as Prime Minister that most young readers are unlikely to appreciate but are certainly clear to readers of my age.

The book provides the most intriguing reason why Trudeau, as Prime Minister, wore a fresh red rose every day.

When they reach the Yukon Trudeau meets Pierre Berton, also 11 years old. As an adult Berton became Canada’s best known popular historian writing over 50 books.

To avoid confusion the two Pierres are called Trudeau and Berton.

Charles-Emile has hired Berton’s father, Frank, as a mining consultant to evaluate a claim that he has purchased on the Rat River in the North West Territories. The evaluation to be conducted by panning for gold will take most of the summer.

Trudeau is startled to find Dawson City in the Yukon is but a town of two story wood buildings hanging on thirty years after the end of the Klondike Gold Rush. Trudeau had been expecting a metropolis in the bush.

The Berton’s and the Trudeau’s are flown into the bush in a float plane piloted by Wilfrid “Wop” May, another real life character who was a WW I fighter pilot and was being chased by the Red Baron when the German ace was shot down.

Exploring for gold in the wilderness sounds likely an exciting summer but panning for gold is less romantic than repetitive hard work. The boys are dreading a long dreary summer until their fathers decided to have them go hunting and fishing to provide meat and fish for the camp.

While credible to me, I was a good shot by the time I was 11, it is unlikely today that a pair of 11 year olds would be given a .22 rifle and directed to go hunting on their own.

The city boys are poor hunters and the story is dragging when they meet Henni, a mainly indigenous 11 year old girl, who is living in the bush with her parents to avoid being sent to residential school. She quietly provides Trudeau and Berton with some of her game and fish and then teaches them how to be hunters.

The story takes off when there is an attack upon the camp and the Wendigo, an evil spirit in the spiritual world of Canadian Indians, takes the story into the paranormal. While I do not venture often into the world of the parnormal it is clearly a very popular genre for young and not so young Canadians in 2016. It was equally popular 85 years ago. Trudeau loves reading books featuring monsters and the paranormal in 1931. I certainly know I am not the target audience of the series.

The involvement of the Wendigo brought the book alive. I wish the Wendigo had arrived sooner in the plot.

The Wail of the Wendigo is a solid book.

The book is plausible in taking Trudeau into the bush and having him comfortable far from city life. In real life Trudeau loved the outdoors and was an accomplished canoeist. He passed on his love of the outdoors to his sons. His oldest son, Justin, is now our Prime Minister.

I hope young readers draw inspiration from the book. As set out in my last post the backgrounds of the five future Prime Ministers in the series to date are very different. The series shows young Canadians everyone has the potential to become Prime Minister.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Leaders & Legacies Quintet

There have been five books published in the Leaders & Legacies series by Fireside Publishers with the publication of The Wail of the Wendigo which I will reviewed in my next post. The diversity of backgrounds to these young men, they are between 11 and 13, who became future Canadian Prime Ministers should inspire young Canadians that any young Canadian has the opportunity to become Prime Minister.

The first in the series, The Mystery in the Moonlight Murder, will always remain closest to my heart as it features, John Diefenbaker, the only Saskatchewan born future Prime Minister. It is set in 1908 near Borden, Saskatchewan where Diefenbaker’s father had homesteaded and was teaching school. Young Diefenbaker grows up working hard on the farm while acquiring an education in a one room school for his elementary education. It is a struggle as the family works to establish a farm and Diefenbaker’s father is so busy between teaching and farming.

The second book, The Legends of the Lake, is set in rural Ontario near Kingston almost a century earlier in 1928 and involves, John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Macdonald’s father is operating a flour mill which uses the water from a waterfall. Macdonald also works in the mill when he is not away at school in Kingston. The Macdonald family is doing well but is certainly not wealthy.

The third is Showdown at Bordertown set in the area of Windsor, Ontario across the river from Detroit. It is set in 1950 with young Paul Martin. His father, Paul Martin Sr., is a federal government Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party. At the time of the book Martin Sr. is the Minister of Health for Canada. The Martins live comfortably in a middle class neighbourhood.

Martin Jr. (never known as Jr.) is the only living Prime Minister to be the subject matter of a book and participated in the project including writing the foreword and joining the author, Caroline Woodward, for a book signing event that garnered great publicity.

Most unique about this book is that it was written by a teenager who won a contest to write the book.

The fourth book, The Hero of Hopewell Hill, returns to the 19th Century. It is set on the coast of New Brunswick in 1888. Richard Bennett, our 11th Prime Minister, is living on the family farm. His grandfather had owned a prosperous shipbuilding business but the advent of steel hulled ships brought an end to the family business. Bennett’s father main focus is his blacksmith business. Bennett is expected to work hard on the farm even though he is only 13. Bennett’s mother understands his desire to become a teacher as she had trained as a teacher.

The fifth book, mentioned above, is The Wail of the Wendigo, and features Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he was 11 years old. Trudeau grew up in Montreal. While his father came from a modest background he has prospered and owns a chain of gas stations in Quebec. Despite the Depression of the 1930’s the Trudeau family is doing very well financially.

The five future Prime Ministers come from four different provinces.

Of the quintet four come from rural backgrounds which is not a surprise. Until after World War II most Canadians did not reside in major urban centres.

There is no consistency in the occupations of their fathers.

None of the mothers worked outside the home in jobs. Once again these books are set at times when relatively few women had occupations away from home. Certainly three of the mothers worked on the farm or in the family business.

I acknowledge there is not as much inspiration for girls in reading the series. All the Prime Ministers of the series have been men. It will remain that way in future books as Canada has had but one female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, and she was in power for only a short time before an election decimated the Conservative Party.

What is common to the character of these boys who became Prime Ministers is that they came from families who valued education, hard work and discipline. Those traits remain a sound foundation for young Canadian boys and girls. 

I look forward to future books in the series to provide more interesting adventures about the men and woman who have been our Prime Ministers for 149 years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Flavia de Luce and Tom Swift Jr.

Reading the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley has sent me back to thinking about what I was reading as an 11 year old over 50 years ago.

Flavis is a precocious child especially in her chosen field of chemistry. I would call her a prodigy.

Her knowledge of chemistry is formidable. In each of the books I have read I have learned about a practical application of chemistry of which I was unaware before reading the book.

In this book she set out how she made chloral hydrate from alcohol, lavatory cleaner and a bottle of chlorine bleach. She fed some of the mixture in an apple to a pig who became famous as "The Remarkable Sleeping Pig" as the pig took 5 days and 17 hours to sleep off the effects of the chloral hydrate.

Looking back to when I was a boy there was a series involving science and adventure that I loved greatly. I was an avid reader of the Tom Swift Jr. series.

While listed as science fiction I would describe them as science adventure fiction.

The teenage Tom Swift was a gifted inventor of machines for travel, especially but always, in outer space.

My favourite was his Flying Lab, the atomic powered jet that cruised at 1,200 mph. There is an image of it in the photo above.
Tom could work on almost any project while in his lab.

While there is no real life atomic Flying Lab there is the Super Guppy, a huge transport aircraft that is the size of the 3 story Flying Lab.

Looking up information on the series there were 33 books by Victor Appleton II, a pseudonym for several writers. I managed to get over 20 of them.

Living in rural Saskatchewan there were no bookstores in the towns near us and the series was not in the library. A trip to the city of Saskatoon might happen once a year. We would occasionally come to Melfort where there was Beeson’s Stationery and they carried some books. It was a good day if I could get a new Tom Swift Jr. adventure.

As I think about Flavia and Tom I admire their boldness. I was shy and focused on books.

Flavia and Tom are full of action. They have the spirit and inventiveness I think we all dream we had as young people.

The adventures of Tom were far away and impossible to do more than imagine.

Flavia is a character that is closer, but not close, to real life. As with many children I had a chemistry set with which I conducted experiments. Flavia has a personal lab. What 11 year old has access to all the equipment and chemicals available to Flavia.

Even if I had a laboratory as a boy I doubt I would have been a scientist. Words not chemical reactions are my strength.

I still have a box of Tom Swift Jr. books. Neither of my sons was interested in them. I guess I keep hoping someone in the family will want to read them.
Bradley, Alan - (2015) - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and A Postage Stamp Provides the Motive; (2016) - The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – Flavia de Luce returns in the second of the series. Lying atop a tomb in the cemetery of St. Tancred’s church she contemplates what her family will think of her when she is dead (her preferred epitaph - A Maid whom there were none to praise / And very few to love). With her extraordinary hearing she hears a young woman intensely crying in another part of the churchyard.

Upon rising from the tomb she encounters Nialla, the assistant to Rupert Porson, the famed puppeteer whose Porson’s Puppets are the stars of BBC television on The Magic Kingdom. Well known to children throughout the land they still need to travel around England putting on local shows.

They have become stranded at Bishop’s Lacey as their aging Austin Eight van has broken down and they have no money for repairs.

Vicar Denwyn Richardson gallantly offers the church hall for a pair of performances that will get them the money needed for repairs and fill in the time until the local mechanic is back in the village.

Rupert has a well-developed upper torso but a crippled leg. He is also talented in designing and making his marionettes.

While chemistry is her passion Flavia’s curiosity is unbounded. She is enchanted by the puppets and the stage Rupert has built for shows.

Rupert and Nialla are given space at Culverhouse farm near the village to set up their tent during their stay at Bishop’s Lacey.

The farm is owned by Gordon and Grace Ingleby. Their lives were devastated 5 years earlier when their 5 year old son, Robin, died. He was found dead hanging from the decaying gallows used in generations past for hanging criminals. Grace Ingleby has never been able to adjust to the loss.

As Flavia makes her rounds on her bike, Gladys, she realizes that Rupert has some form of previous connection with the Ingleby family.

Never content to just observe Flavia wonders about Nialla’s outburst. She analyzes a discarded handkerchief used by Nialla and determines that Nialla is pregnant.

At the hall the stage has been erected and the first performance focused on the children of the village is a great success. Rupert is a master puppeteer.

The show is the classic Jack and the Beanstalk. The climax of the show sees the upper body of the giant crash upon the stage to great effect.

I do not know enough young children in 2016 to know if puppets are still as popular as they were 65 years ago. In 1950 television is in its infancy. (During the book the de Luces acquire their first television set.)

The evening performance sees many adults joining the children but it has a different dramatic conclusion. Rupert crashes on to the stage. He is dead.

Even in the chaos of the moment Flavia’s keen powers of observation and concentration let her see the evidence that allows her to determine the cause of death.

Inspector Hewitt is already at the performance so the investigation is begun within moments. Was it an accident or murder? Flavia knows.

Flavia continually draws upon her knowledge of chemistry as she investigates.

Flavia’s formidable Aunt Felicity visits the family. Her personality commands the house. An act of unexpected kindness by her towards Flavia relieves Flavia’s nagging unease over her relationship with her mother before her mother died.

Flavia has a growing relationship with the troubled Dogger. PTSD from World War II has left him a battered man but he has a keen intelligence that Flavia draws upon in her investigation.

Within the De Luce family a day of reckoning is at hand. Flavia’s father, drifting through life and absorbed by his stamp collection, has left the family on the verge of financial ruin. Fortunately, I have the third in the series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, to read shortly.

Early in the story I was not really caught up in the plot but it got better and better. I thought the ending moving and tragic.
Bradley, Alan - (2015) - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and A Postage Stamp Provides the Motive