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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rating the Shortlist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Best Crime Fiction Novel

In recent weeks I have read the five books on the shortlist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Novel. The winner was Open Season by Peter Kirby. This post has my ranking of the shortlist.

Coming in 5th was The Night Bell by Inger Ash Wolfe (pseudonym for Michael Redhill) while Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair was 4th.

While I love Hazel Micallef as a character I have not enjoyed the last two books in the series as much as the first two books.  The Night Bell saw Hazel return to the character she was in the opening books.

I found several similarities between Hungry Ghosts and The Night Bell.

Each dealt with a contemporary social issue. In The Night Bell it was the abuse of children in institutional care decades ago. In Hungry Ghosts it was the murder of indigenous women and prostitutes.

Both books looked decades back into the youth of a lead character. In The Night Bell it was Hazel as a teenager in a middle class family residing in a small town in Ontario. In Hungry Ghosts it was Ottawa police officer, Charlie Pike, going back in his mind to his teenage years when he was a runaway from an Indian Residential School living on the streets of Winnipeg and surviving on what he could steal by break-and-enters.

There were three story lines involved in each of the plots. I found they came together more successfully in Hungry Ghosts.

Normally I am not fond of the paranormal in crime fiction but I found the ghosts haunting Inspector Ramirez in Hungry Ghosts intriguing especially their efforts to communicate without words.

The Storm Murders by John Farrow was 3rd best. It does not involve great social issues but is a sophisticated police procedural.

What put The Storm Murders ahead of The Night Bell and Hungry Ghosts was a wickedly clever and ingeniously simple method of murder. As I rarely can work out how fictional murders are committed before the sleuths I may be giving too much credit to Farrow. Yet I could not figure how there were no footprints in the fresh snow outside a murder scene but the investigating police officers cannot find the killer during a search of every room in the house and are killed before backup police can arrive.

It was also interesting for the retired Inspector Emile Cinq-Mars to involve his wife, Sandra, in the investigation.

There were two issues that kept the book from being ranked higher. There was a connection between murder victims in Quebec and New Orleans that should have been identified by the police far sooner in the book. As well, the Hollywood style conclusion was not credible and clashed with the skilled police work in the rest of the book.

Second best was A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt which involved murder in Salt Lake City during the Great Depression.

It ranked ahead of the earlier three books because it involved a unique assignment, a difficult task when you have read a lot of crime fiction, for a police officer. Early in the book Detective Lieutenant Art Oveson is appointed head of the newly established Anti-Polygamy Squad.

Oveson is tasked with prosecuting the fundamentalist Mormon men who have disregarded edicts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abandon polygamy. They are carrying on with plural marriages being officially married to only one woman and “sealed” to many more.

His investigation into the murder of a leader of a fundamentalist sect takes Oveson into deep into the organization. Two evils of such sects, the taking of child brides and the banishment of surplus teenage boys, were as much a problem 80 years ago as they are today.

A Killing in Zion did not reach the top for me because of another Hollywood ending that was even more extreme than The Storm Murders.

First was Open Season by Peter Kirby. I agree with the panel judging the Award that Open Season was the best of the shortlist. (I choose again not to say where the books on the shortlist would have ranked overall with regard to the Canadian crime books I read in 2015.)

Detective Inspector Luc Vanier is a wonderful character. While struggling with commitment concerning his girlfriend he is a thorough, imaginative and dedicated Montreal police officer.

The investigation he conducts with Detective Sargeant Saint Jacques is meticulous as they work to resolve the kidnapping of a Guatemalan journalist whose application for refugee status in Canada has been denied before she was abducted.

I had reservations about the lack of dimension in the villains but what made Open Season the best for me is that it was the only book of the quintet that I found a page turner. I was drawn through the book faster than any other on the shortlist. I cannot clearly explain what kept the pages turning but they flowed by.

Having chosen Open Season as the best I would say that none of the shortlist this year was a great book. They were good to very good but not more.


  1. Thanks, Bill, for your thoughts on this short list. A few of the entries are on my wish list anyway, and it's good to know your thoughts on them. Oh, and I agree with you about 'Hollywood' endings. They really take away from a book as far as I'm concerned.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get to read the entries on your wish list. "Hollywood" endings should stay in the movies.

  2. Thanks for this Bill. Your reviews always seem to be fair. and they are always interesting. I'm one of the Prairies Directors of the CWC. If you ever need help getting hold of copies of books to review, let me know and I will do what I can to help

    1. Kevin: Thanks for the comment and your kind words. I also appreciate your work in keeping the CWC a strong organization for the crime writers of Canada.

  3. I have obtained 2 of these books already, based on your past reviews. You are very influential!

    1. Moira: Thanks for the kind words. You made me blush. I am confident you are the first commentator to say I am very influential.

  4. Well, I am interested by Open Season and A Killing in Zion based on these reviews. Hope I can find them in my library.
    My only reservation about Hunt's book is that I despite what's done to girls and young women in these polygamous cults, and also the expulsion and devastation of young men. If I can stomach reading about this, I'll read it.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I try to read a variety of books and not exclude books where I disagree with a point of view or lifestyle.

  5. Well, you may be more tolerant than I am. If some atrocity were just fiction, that's one thing. But where a work of fiction reflects real problems and oppression in society, it is upsetting. It is disturbing that many girls, women and young boys are subjected to this abuse and little is done about it, at least that we know about.
    I've read and seen on TV news shows a great deal about this situation and it is awful.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. A never ending issue. How much do we read about what upsets us? I shy away from some books. I expect most readers avoid certain books.