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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bosch - T.V. – Season One

Bosch - T.V. – Season One – During January Sharon and I watched the first season of Bosch on Crave TV. It is a great crime series.

What I liked most about the series is that it was a story told in 10 episodes. In most network series such as Blue Bloods each show is self-contained with a few minutes of ongoing family and work stories. Connelly said on his website that he knew the Bosch stories were not well suited for network T.V. and sought out a different format.

Each episode of Bosch advances the overall story. Longmire came closest to that concept in my recent television watching with an ongoing story that went through the whole season but there were still individual stories in each episode. The full season plot made Bosch a little better than the last season of Longmire.

Sharon and I are gradually getting used to the concept of watching shows in a series on Crave and Netflix whenever we want and not waiting a week between shows. We have not gone to binge watching episodes. We took just a week to watch the 10 episodes of Bosch.

For readers of the books by Michael Connelly the plot of the first season draws upon a combination of books = City of Bones, Echo Park and The Concrete Blonde – and a short story, Cielo Azul.

In particular, I recalled the search from City of Bones for the boy whose bones were found 20 years after he had been killed on a hillside in Los Angeles.

In Connelly's books Harry was born in 1950 and an Army veteran of the Vietnam war where he served as a tunnel rat. Some of those war experiences surface in the latest book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. The literary Harry is in his mid-60’s

For the T.V. show changes were made concerning Harry. Connelly discussed some of them on his website in an article from 2014:

The basic status of Harry in what we are filming is that he is 47 years old and a veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991, where he was part of a Special Forces team that cleared tunnels. He has now been a police officer for twenty years with a one year exception when he re-upped with the Army after 9/11, as many LAPD officers did. He came back to the force after serving in Afghanistan and again encountering tunnel warfare.

The story which involves both the investigation of the boy’s death and the search for a serial killer of young hustlers is well told and absorbing.

Connelly has had a significant role in the series:

My involvement in the pilot has been full time and I have approved everything we are doing every step of the way, including the casting of Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch.

Louise Penny was also an executive producer on the T.V. movie of Still Life which was a good show but far from the brilliance of Bosch. I think she would have been well served to have looked to a series like Bosch rather than reducing a complex story to a couple of hours in a movie.

The most important difference between the movie, Still Life, and the series, Bosch, is the casting of the lead character. I understand Louise supported Nathaniel Parker. He never worked well for me as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Welliver is perfect as Bosch. My next post will discuss Welliver as Bosch.

Further enhancing the Bosch series was the casting of Jason Gedrick as the serial killer, Raynard Waits. Too often T.V. and movies has the evil one a physically unattractive, even grotesque, character. Gedrick, as Waits, is handsome and bright and charming and convincing and totally chilling. His career has featured several roles as a killer.

Gedrick discussed his role in an interview on the TVgoodness website:

He dove into the psychology of how serial killers begin, and that was tremendously helpful in creating the character. “I started asking questions of our technical advisor. I read a lot of books on psychology,” he explains. “The first description that was explained to me was that there was a portion of the brain that in the early formative years, if it experiences trauma, it hardens like a rock [and] can’t be malleable again, and that was a great overall understanding of why this guy does what he does. He’s been through so much that there was no compassion left.”

“In order for me to play it, I don’t have to perform any of the actual events, but I have to understand a sense of justifying why he does what he does. It’s literally a scale–when he was abused, the weights were pushed onto his side, so he keeps going until the scales are level. Once I got there, it got me to think about [historical serial killers and rampage killers]. There is either a long-term or short-term snap based on some sort of psychosis or breakdown that they’ve experienced. It made me realize anyone is capable of having that kind of break where you [lose] compassion and empathy.”

Finally there are some American T.V. crime series to rival the English crime series I have enjoyed over the years. Season Two of Bosch arrives on Crave in Canada in March. Sharon and I are looking forward to the show.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; Hardcover

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Where is "Gemma" From?

After reading Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany I was struck by the name of her latest sleuth, Gemma Doyle. Clearly the Doyle related to Sir Arthur but what about Gemma. After investigating the name I exchanged emails with Vicki.

I have just finished Elementary, She Read and fallen in literary love with Gemma Doyle. Her name intrigues me and I have been wondering about why you chose Gemma Doyle for her name. I felt I should try to deduce the origin.

I did some internet sleuthing in an effort to determine if the name connects with the Sherlockian canon or Arthur Conan Doyle.

When I searched for Gemma and Sherlock Holmes I came up with a new book by Gemma Halliday and Kelly Rey, called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde. That hardly seemed an inspiration for you.

As well there was Gemma Chan, the British actress who portrayed Soo Lin Yao, in an episode of the new BBC series, Sherlock. Since she was a Chinese museum employee and murdered in the episode she did not fit with your Gemma.

When I enquired Google about Gemma Doyle the immediate response was the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray. Wikipedia describes the series as “a cross between period fiction and fantasy”. The article continues:

In the first book, they find out that this group of sorceresses was forced to disband after one of their own, a woman named Sarah Rees-Toome, betrayed them. Throughout the series Gemma learns of her own heritage and the magical powers she possesses, including the ability to enter "The Realms," a magical world in which dreams can become reality, but everything seems to have a cost.

I could see no connection to your Gemma Doyle.

Typing in Gemma Doyle and Arthur Conan Doyle brought forth several links for the trilogy and a reference to a movie concerning Sir Arthur with Gemma Burns playing a maid.

Looking up Gemma and Vicki Delany brought me to your post on the blog, Type M for Murder, in which you discussed the book. I liked your comment on writing:

The trick is not to come up with an original idea, because you probably can’t, but to make it your own.

And thus you “reimagined” a favourite character, Sherlock, and made “it your own”. While better understanding the genesis of the book it did not help me source Gemma as your sleuth’s name.

Having failed with connections I went, as one always should, back to the basics and did a search of “gemma”.

After getting past the images of scantily clad Gemma’s I saw on Wikipedia that Gemma “is a female name of Italian origin, meaning ‘gem’ or ‘gemstone’ “.

The article further stated it “was the third most popular female name in 1984 in the UK” which would be fully appropriate for the 32 year old Gemma Doyle of your book.

Reflecting on Elementary, She Read I recalled that The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins was a favourite book of your Emma Doyle and that she was re-reading that early mystery classic during Elementary, She Read. Some years ago I enjoyed Collins’ story of murder and the search for the fabulous diamond called the Moonstone. Might Gemma have been inspired by that beautiful gem and wonderful book?

If not, I would be interested in the actual source of the name Gemma Doyle.

Thank you for sending me an ARC of Elementary, She Read. It is an excellent book and I have posted my review tonight.

All the best.

Bill Selnes
Thanks Bill. I saw the review and I’m delighted you liked the book. I can say that out of all my books these are the ones I’m having the most fun writing. A Body on Baker Street will be out in September.

You have over-thunk it! Doyle, is of course obvious. I wanted her to have an English name, something not “strange” but not entirely familiar to American readers. So Gemma.

In the original concept of the story, Gemma just owned a Sherlock bookshop. She wasn’t “Sherlockian” herself. But almost from the first page, she became so. I have wondered since if I should have found something more closely related to the Great Detective.

Jayne Wilson is obvious – I thought of Watson, but dismissed that.

Did you get detective Estrada? (Lestrade)

Ah, the perils of over-deduction. Those of us who like to deduct want connections to justify the deduction. We can lead ourselves astray.

Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in
     Clothing Descriptions

     4.) The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries with Gemma
     Doyle - (2017) - Elementary, She Read and Fictional and Real
     Life Bookshops and Sherlock

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fictional and Real Life Bookshops and Sherlock

Gemma Doyle, in Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany, is part owner and manager of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in the town of West London on Cape Cod.

She describes the books stocked:

As well as reprints of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books, we carry new books representing anything and everything in the pastiche or vaguely derived from the Holmes legend. From Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (a.k.a. Mrs. Holmes) mystery series to The Case of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to Holmes for the Holidays and all the myriad short story collections inspired by the canon …… one wall of shelves is labeled “gaslight” and features novels or anthologies, mysteries mostly, set in the late Victorian or early Edwardian period. Another shelf is for nonfiction, including biographies of the age, anyone and everyone Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have bumped into in his travels, as well as the histories of the times in which Sir Arthur lived.

Collectibles join them to create a Sherlockian atmosphere.

As I read of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium I thought of my favourite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street, located in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto for almost 40 years. For the over 25 years I have been going to Sleuth it has been owned by J.D. and Marian.

Their stock has far greater range than the fictional bookshop of Emma Doyle. At Sleuth you can find books by a huge number of contemporary and classic crime fiction authors.

What makes the bookshop in Elementary, She Read especially inviting is a reader’s nook with a big armchair. The cover above provides a wonderful image.

When Sleuth was in its second location on Bayview Avenue – it is now in its third spot - there was a reading corner with a fireplace. There were two big inviting leather armchairs. In the mid-1990’s our teenaged son, Jonathan, was so wrapped up reading a mystery he did not notice that his running shoes were smoking.

Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray, Florida also has two big armchairs in the store. While I browsed one afternoon Sharon said they were most comfortable.

Welcoming visitors to the fictional bookshop is Moriarty the cat. Quite accepting of shoppers Moriarty disdains any attention from Gemma.

For three decades Sleuth had a series of resident cats – Porky, Winston, Popi aka Ploppy, Princess, Peaches, Petosky, Perry and Paddington. Their presence added to the presence of the store.

Since 2008 the resident pet has been a dog called Percy. Sadly Percy is suffering from cancer. A couple of months ago I read in Sleuth’s newsletter, Merchant of Menace, a new dog, Pixie, has joined Percy at the store.

The fictional store has an adjoining café, Ms. Hudson’s Tea Room. Its presence reminded me of the café almost next door to the Murder on the Beach bookstore.

Gemma Doyle, in Elementary, She Read, speaks aloud the dream of mystery lovers everywhere:

If I didn’t have to earn a living, I’d keep the bookstore as my own private library. I wouldn’t let anyone else come in. I could regularly order the newest books and reread old favourites. The shelves would be neatly organized, and I’d never have to search for anything misplaced by a careless employee or absent-minded customer ….. I enjoy being alone in the Emporium before it opening. It’s quiet and peaceful, and everything is in its proper place. Just me and the books. And Moriarty, glaring at me over the arm of the chair in the reading nook.

We all have our own visions of heaven on earth.
 Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in

     4.) The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries with Gemma
     Doyle - (2017) - Elementary, She Read

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany – I love Gemma Doyle. From England she is tall, angular, quirky and possibly a distant relation of Arthur Conan Doyle. She is possessed of a keen intelligence, powerful observational skills and a precisely deductive mind. Were she to smoke a pipe and play the violin we would have a 21st Century Holmes. As it is she is a great new sleuth in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.

The setting of Elementary, She Read is equally well done. Gemma is part owner and manager of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium at 222 Baker Street in West London on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Through a connecting door is Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room providing sandwiches, pastries, coffee and tea to tourists and locals. They are so vivid I can see the shop and tea room and wish they were real. My next post will discuss the Bookshop and its connections in my mind to real life mystery bookstores.

Not all cross Atlantic transplants work but Emma fits very well into America. Maintaining her accent and British reserve she is perfect in the Emporium and the subsequent investigation. Knowledgeable but not fanatical about the Holmes canon, Gemma enjoys mysteries.

Jayne Wilson, pert and blonde, is Gemma’s best friend and is the manager / part owner of Mrs. Hudson’s.

Spring has arrived and the tourist season is building. On a lovely afternoon a bus full of touring bridge ladies arrive for tea and then to shop at the Emporium. After filling themselves at the Tea Room over 20 mature women descend upon the shop buying books and Sherlockania. Mugs, DVDs, posters, puzzles and other collectibles fly off the shelves.

Fully familiar with her inventory, “the computer is a functioning backup”, and obsessed with order, the books must be in alphabetical order, Gemma cannot abide the disorder on the shelves left by the ladies. Upon their departure:
      Shaking my head, I set about organizing them. A book with
      fading red leather binding had been shoved in the middle of the
      bottom shelf. I could tell instantly it didn’t belong there. That
      sort of leather binding should be with the historic books and
      magazines, not the current ones. I pulled it out. It had been
      slipped into a clear plastic wrapping. The binding was Morocco
      leather, adorned with gilt flourishes. A Study in Scarlet was
      embossed in ornate gold cursive on the cover. Judging by the
      thickness, it was probably not a book but a bound magazine ….
      A cold sweat ran down the back of my neck….. Beeton’s
      Christmas Annual. 1887.

It appears to be an original of the first magazine featuring the first Holmes story. Such a magazine has a value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After running through her memory of the afternoon customers Gemma quickly deduces the magazine was left in the store by a nondescript older woman. Seeking both to return the magazine and find out why it was left Gemma tracks the woman to a local hotel and finds her murdered in her room.

Gemma offers her analytical and deductive skills to the lead detective, Ryan Ashburton. The tall, dark and handsome officer declines the offer. While their contact is subdued it is clear to Jayne that Gemma and Ryan have been  a couple in the past.

Gemma can be irritating:

      …. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that some people
      don’t understand my attention to detail and thus misunderstand
      the conclusions I draw from it. I have tried to stop, but I might
      as well stop thinking.

In a brilliant example of how Sherlockian deductiveness interferes with personal relationships Gemma had agreed, a few years earlier, to marry Ryan before she had been asked. Gemma had explained to Ryan:

      “You’re wearing your best suit and a brand new tie, if I’m not
      mistaken. You’ve gone to the trouble of shaving after work
      which you normally don’t do. You’ve even polished your
      shoes. You have a touch of sweat on your brow but this room  
      isn’t hot. Somewhat to the contrary, I think. They’ve turned the
      air conditioning on too early. The bulge in your jacket pocket is
      the size and shape of a ring box. You gave the waiter an
      unobtrusive nod that had him grinning like a fool, and if I’m not
      mistaken, he’s bringing the champagne now, Veuve Clicquot,
      excellent choice.”

The proposal did not proceed.

In the book Gemma will carry on with her own investigation especially when the other lead detective, Louise Estrada, makes very clear that Gemma is her lead suspect. Gemma does not aid her circumstances when she points out to Detective Estrada the flawed reasoning of the officer in suspecting Gemma.

It is a great start to a new series. I have enjoyed Vicki’s books. Elementary, She Read is the best principally because I think Gemma is her best sleuth. The book will be released on March 14th and I expect it to be very successful. Gemma is a strong candidate for my favourite new sleuth of 2017.
Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in
     Clothing Descriptions

Thursday, January 19, 2017

10th Canadian Book Challenge Half-Way

The Canadian Book Challenge is hosted annually by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set Blog. It runs annually from July 1 (Canada Day) through June 30. Participants strive to read and review 13 books written by Canadian authors during the 12 months. The end of December marked the half-way point in the 10th Challenge.

(The logo for the Challenge changes each year. I consider the logo to the above to be one of the best.)

The Challenge is going better for me this year than most years. Last year in March I had read 9 books for the Challenge. As of the end of 2016 I had already read 9 books. Within the next couple of weeks I will have completed another 3 books. It may be the earliest year I will have reached the 13 books for a successful Challenge.

The books I have read for the Challenge to date are:

1.) Open Season by Peter Kirby;

2.) A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley;

3.) The Scottish Banker of Surabaya by Ian Hamilton;

4.) A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map

5.) A Candle to Light the Sun by Patricia Blondal and Patricia Blondal

6.) Jack - A Life with Writers by James King

7.) Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe

8.) Safe at Home by Alison Gordon

9.) Set Free by Anthony Bidulka

With 3 of them, A Great Reckoning, A Candle to Light the Sun and Jack - A Life with Writers, being on my Best Lists of 2016 the Challenge has had excellent reading.

Out of the remaining 6 books Set Free was my favourite read. Anthony has written an intriguing thriller.

What I just recognized is that out of the 8 works of Canadian fiction I have only read 2 new authors. I need to be more open to reading Canadian writers I have not read previously. I am going to have to head over to the Crime Writers of Canada to look up some "new to me" Canadian mystery writers.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Set Free by Anthony Bidulka

Set Free by Anthony Bidulka – Anthony’s first standalone has a setting distant from the Saskatchewan based mysteries of his earlier two series featuring Russell Quant and Adam Saint.
Set Free mainly takes place in Boston though the locale is not immediately clear at the start of the book. Anthony unfolds action and then adds back story. The reader gradually discovers the characters and their histories.

The book is more complex in structure than Anthony’s previous books. It opens with an excerpt from a book written by Jaspar Willis, his protagonist. That book, also called Set Free, and therefore Anthony’s book Set Free have a great opening line:

      I would have packed less if I knew I was going to die.

The Jaspar Set Free non-fiction is the Bidulka fictional Set Free.

Jaspar is kidnapped in Marrakech, Morocco on his way from the airport to his hotel. He is held in a dismal room. While there he is beaten and photographed as his kidnappers pursue an unknown goal.
Why Jaspar is in Morocco subsequently unfolds.

Jaspar and his wife, Jenn, unexpectedly had a daughter, Mikki. In a reversal of traditional gender duties Jaspar stays home and Jenn is the primary earner. While at home Jaspar pursues a relatively undistinguished writing career. Jenn is working hard as a lawyer.

Their lives are upended when Jaspar writes a book that becomes a best seller. Anthony takes the opportunity to become the reviewer of his character's book:

      In the Middle was a (mostly) fictionalized account of an everyday
      guy who takes a year-long leave of absence from regular life to
      travel the world. An earlier reviewer described the book as
      "gut-wrenching, side-splitting, surprisingly heartfelt, a
      must-read for anyone wading through the mess of midlife.
     When the New York Times called it "the Eat, Pray Love for middle
      aged men and the women trying to love them," sales exploded.

With success life becomes hectic. Jaspar rides the publicity wave now demanded of the famed in America. Some fortune accompanies the fame but Jaspar needs more than one best seller for a secure financial life.

Tragedy strikes the family living the American dream. To say more may spoil the book for some readers but I cannot review it without discussing those events. Venture no further if you prefer to limit your knowledge of the book.

Mikki is abducted. Jaspar and Jenn are left barely functioning. The intense strain is exacerbated by whether Jaspar is at fault. Their friend, Katie Edwards, a local T.V. reporter helps them cope with the media onslaught.

While the story of Mikki's kidnapping is being revealed Jaspar is moved from captivity in the city to the country. With little food his body gradually deteriorates. His mind becomes pre-occupied with Mikki. In the forms of a child and as a teenager she joins him at night. While surreal the story is powerful in imagining how body and mind react to prolonged deprivation.

As I was feeling uncomfortable that the story was drifting into the too incredible that diminished my enjoyment of Anthony’s previous book, The Women of Skawa Island,  Anthony brings the plot together in a truly unexpected and credible way.

I have not read a plot where the lead character is both the parent of a kidnapped child and a kidnap victim himself. Anthony delves into the mind of Jaspar in both scenarios. The title of the book becomes perfect.

Beyond those issues Anthony explores a writer’s responsibility to the facts and a journalist’s ethics in the midst of a huge story.

Anthony's real life love of travel is reflected in the book by setting a significant part of the story in Morocco. All of his books have had his lead character travel to a fascinating distant land as part of the plot.

Anthony does well in building tension and keeping the reader off-balance. Set Free is a rare intelligent thriller unlike most American thrillers in that there is not a steady accumulation of bodies. A reader can enjoy the book as a thriller yet be left thinking about freedom. Anthony has written a fine book. (And take a look at his website to see how the book was inspired by a trip made to celebrate his 50th birthday.)
** Bidulka, Anthony – Russell Quant series and Adam Saint series and standalone:

Russell Quant books - (2004) - Amuse Bouche (Most
Interesting of 2004 – fiction and non-fiction); (2005) - Flight of Aquavit (2nd Best fiction in 2005); (2005) - Tapas on the Ramblas; (2006) - Stain of the Berry; (2008) - Sundowner Ubuntu; (2009) - Aloha, Candy Hearts; (2010) - Date with a Sheesha; (2012) - Dos Equis; Paperback or Hardcover

Adam Saint books - (2013) - When the Saints Go Marching In

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Famous Holograph Will

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye a holograph (handwritten) will by 85 year old Whitney Vance is a vital part of the plot involving Harry Bosch’s search for a living descendant of Vance.

For the wealthy holograph wills can replace carefully crafted wills leaving estate plans in turmoil. Readers who watched the original version of the T.V. series, Dallas, may remember the tumult when patriarch Jock Ewing died and a holograph codicil turned up that completely altered the hundreds of pages of trusts in the will he had previously signed. Family conflict erupted.

Holograph wills are generally good business for lawyers as interpretation is often needed. What was clear to the maker of the will is not always clear to those who read it after death.

In Sycamore Road by John Grisham a holograph will by a white businessman, Seth Hubbard, gave the bulk of his multi-million estate to an African American housekeeper. (I am a little surprised some have thought Grisham showed a lack of originality in Rouge Lawyer with Sebastian Rudd having a strong resemblance to Connelly’s character, Mickey Haller. When Connelly used a holograph will I have yet to see a complaint that he was too close to Grisham’s use of such a will.)

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye there is a clever additional twist with regard to the holograph will. In the package mailed to Harry that contains the will there is the heavy distinctive gold pen used to write and sign the will. The pen was made from gold mined by Vance’s great-grandfather and has been handed down in the family from generation to generation.

The pen will make it easier to establish the holograph will is genuinely written and signed by Vance. In proving the writing and signing of the will the pen would be important for it was the pen used by Vance to sign documents. If the ink in the pen matches the ink on the will there is important proof supporting the validity of the will.

Holograph wills are an exception to the requirement that wills to be valid need to have the signatures of two witnesses. Who can be the witnesses is a subject for another post.

For most holograph wills a handwriting expert is not needed if there is no dispute over the making of the will and there are people who can swear affidavits that the body of the will and signature are in the handwriting of the deceased.

As we now live in an era where some people rarely handwrite anything and some signatures are more printed than written I wonder how experts will give opinions on contested holograph wills in future cases. Experts need examples of uncontested handwriting to have the comparisons needed for analysis

While I have not researched California law in Saskatchewan the Wills Act provides that that a holograph will must be totally in the handwriting of the testator, the maker of the will.

As a young lawyer I dealt with a case where the testator’s wife had printed the will and he had then signed it. Though no one was challenging the will it was rejected for probate as he had not written all of the will.

Holograph wills need not be written on ordinary paper. I once probated a will that was written by the testator on the back of an envelope. We filed the envelope as part of the application for probate.

The most famous holograph will in Saskatchewan and, perhaps the world, was written in 1948.

A farmer in west Central Saskatchewan, Cecil Harris, was pinned beneath his tractor when it rolled on its side. While Harris could not free himself he could move his upper body. Taking out his jackknife he scratched on the fender of his tractor:

In case I die in this mess I leave everything to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris

While discovered alive he died from his injuries.

The family lawyer, George Stanley Elliott, arranged for the portion of the fender containing the holograph will to be cut out. He then tendered that portion of the fender to the Surrogate Court as the will of Harris.

It was accepted for probate. The fender will was the first will in the British Commonwealth not written on paper to be accepted for probate.

In the 1920’s a British court had refused probate of a will written on an egg shell.

When the Kerrobert courthouse closed the fender will and the jackknife were taken to the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon where I attended law school. The photo at the top of this post shows the display at the College of Law Library. The photo to the right shows the fender bearing the scratched words of Harris.

The fender will and jackknife are vivid legal artifacts of a Saskatchewan tragedy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly – I remain amazed by Connelly’s ability to create believable but unexpected new paths in life for Harry Bosch. At 66, because of his actual age and his lawsuit against the Department over his forced retirement due to age, Harry is clearly beyond any return to the LAPD.

In the previous book in the series, The Crossing, he had looked at a quiet retirement working on restoring a prized historic motorcycle and spending time with his daughter, Maddy. The sojourn into retirement lasted barely longer than a phone call from his half-brother, Mickey Haller, to help Mickey with the defence of an innocent man.

Conflicted over going over to the other side, criminal defence investigations, Harry held true to his conviction that “everybody counts or nobody counts” and pursued the investigation with all the vigour he brought to cases as an LAPD detective. Yet he remained clearly uncomfortable.

As the book ended I hoped, but was unsure, that Harry would work with Mickey again on criminal cases.

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye Harry has both found his way back into law enforcement and a niche as a private investigator.

Harry has joined the police force of the small city of San Fernando. While San Fernando is completely surrounded by Los Angeles the mainly Hispanic city has its own civic administration and police force.

With San Fernando still in financial disarray from the recession of the past decade the city has allowed Harry to join the Police Department as an unpaid officer. Harry is a part-time detective expected to work at least a couple of shifts a month. Of course Harry works far more often. Though members of the LAPD scorn Harry as part-time and small time Harry has a badge and is back solving cases.

Beyond Harry’s work with the SFPD (He is not beyond letting the public think he may be working for the San Francisco Police Department) Harry is available for hire as a private investigator.

As a P.I. he is retained by 85 year old Whitney Vance, a billionaire aviation businessman, to determine if Vance has a living heir. As a young man in 1950 in first year at the University of Southern California Vance had met a Mexican girl and she became pregnant. His father had forced the end of the relationship and Vance has never known what happened to Vibiana.

During the course of his investigation Harry is drawn back to the Vietnam War. He was the same age as the son born to Vibiana.

Memories of the war are never distant for Harry. While working out a restaurant to meet Maddy he refuses to go to any Vietnamese restaurant because during the war he had eaten Vietnamese food every day. Maddy does not understand. She thinks it is a racist reaction. Why, as an American soldier, was he not eating American food? Harry explained that as a tunnel rat he had to eat Vietnamese food so that he smelled Vietnamese. To have smelled like an American would have endangered him underground.

Harry, while searching for an heir for Vance, is working on the case of the Screen Cutter rapist for the SFPD. There have been four rapes within the small city in recent years where the rapist has cut a screen to gain access to a victim’s home and assaulted her. The rapist is clever but also arrogant. He has never used a condom.

For the obsessive Harry there is a challenge in pursuing two investigations each of which would normally occupy him day and night.

The Vance investigation takes an amazing twist when Harry receives a handwritten will in the mail from Vance. In my next post I will discuss this holograph will and some real life holograph wills.

With the arrival of the will Mickey is brought into the story as Harry needs legal help to navigate treacherous legal waters involving wills. Mickey is far from a wills expert but, in the same spirit with which I approach the different areas of litigation in my practice, will do the research and get extra help, if needed, to handle the case.

Harry’s fire to solve cases is undiminished. As I am but two years younger than Harry I appreciate Connelly has found a way to allow a senior citizen, without ignoring age, to be a fascinating and vital sleuth. More great adventures await Harry.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Whistler by John Grisham

The Whistler by John Grisham – As usual Grisham had me hooked me in the opening pages. Once again he has created a fascinating lawyer in Lacy Stoltz, a staff lawyer with the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. I have always found his strength to be his lawyers.

The Board investigates complaints against Florida judges. Much of their time is spent investigating complaints concerning judges who have personal issues that have rendered them incapable of judging properly. One of her current investigations is a judge whose alcoholism is affecting him on the bench. However, the allegations sometimes involve corruption.

Lacy and another staff lawyer, Hugo Hatch, drive to St. Augustine to meet a mysterious source who claims to have information on a corrupt judge on a vast scale. While skeptical the claim is overblown they have agreed to the meeting. 

They meet Ramsey Mix, who has changed his name to Greg Myer, at a marina. A disbarred lawyer, Myer, has regained his licence to practise law. He is acting as an intermediary for a go-between who is representing a “mole” who has information on a circuit court judge in northern Florida. 

None of the trio is altruistic. They expect to gain millions under Florida’s Whistleblower statute which pays informants who provide information that allows the State to recover illicit funds. At the same time the trio is very wary convinced that their lives are in danger if identified. 

While the arrangement is convoluted Lacy and Hugo get enough from Myer to proceed with an investigation. 

They soon learn that the judge is Claudia McDover and the corruption involves a casino owned by the small Tappacola Indian Tribe. Though the Tappacolas are modest in number the casino is a gusher of money. Each member of the tribe, excepting married women who receive half the regular amount, is paid a monthly dividend of $5,000. 

The investigators wonder how McDover could be corruptly involved. The casino is on an Indian reservation with its own tribal court. Neither McDover nor the State of Florida have any jurisdiction on the reservation. The Federal Government has actually little interest in what is happening on the reservation.

McDover’s role comes from her position in the county adjacent to the reservation. She has a perfect record of deciding in favour of developers building golf courses, condos and other developments. She can also disrupt the casino for she has the authority to deal with issues involving the toll highway which is the only access to the casino. 

The judicial corruption is connected to a shadowy group of developers. Myer advises they are the descendants of the Catfish Mafia, a loosely organized crime gang, which has moved to Florida and evolved into the Coast Mafia. Such is their discretion they are but a rumour to legal authorities. 

Can Lacy and Hugo penetrate the carefully constructed web that conceals the corruption? 

The conspiracy reminded me of Grisham’s book, The Firm, which was set in Memphis and involved a Chicago crime family. 

I regret there is no action in a court. While I do admire his willingness to not restrict his stories to trials and appeals I prefer Grisham’s books involving court cases. 

I enjoyed the book and was glad it was not one of his books with an overtly political point of view but it is not one of Grisham’s best.  

There is a flaw in the story in that there are so few people who could be the “Deep Throat” source. In the Watergate scandal the source was never identified until he revealed himself because there were so many possible informants. 

More troubling was the last third of the book. It was an unfolding of the inevitable. While I deplore implausible twists there was no effective drama to conclude the book. For the first time in a long time I felt Grisham was just writing a narrative in that portion of the book. It was a letdown. 

I do appear to be in a minority on Grisham’s latest books. In the New York Times there was a glowing review of The Whistler and the Times thought The Whistler far better than Rogue Lawyer. I disagree. I consider Rogue Lawyer much better than The Whistler
 Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd;

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bill's Best of 2016 - Non-Fiction and Most Interesting

In addition to my Best of Fiction picks I highlight each year my favourite non-fiction reads and a category I call Most Interesting for books that caught my attention in some special way.


1.) Church of Spies by Mark Riebling - Whenever I think I have exhausted the history of World War II a book comes along to surprise me with new information.

Riebling provided an abundance of information on how Pope Pius XII provided assistance and support for the German Resistance to the Nazis.

Had any of the plots succeeded in assassinating Hitler and installing a new government the Pope was ready to publicly assist peace negotiations.

Most remarkable was the story of a German Catholic hero, Josef Muller, a Bavarian lawyer who plotted against Hitler and was a courier between Germany and the Vatican. There is a great spy story to be written using Muller as inspiration.
2.) John Le Carre by Adam Sisman - I had barely known any of the personal history of David Cornwell until I read this fine biography.
With a father who was a self-styled businessman, but really a con man, Cornwell grew up in a world inhabited by vivid characters.

I had not known of his proficiency in languages, especially German, and his significant employment in British Intelligence until I read the book.

The discussions on how he wrote his books were fascinating with the depths of his research impressive.

I continue to believe it will be the definitive biography of Le Carre for this generation.
3.) This Old Man by Roger Angell - The author continues to write a few articles a year for the New Yorker in his 96th year.

While his primary vocation was editing fiction for the magazine his avocation has been covering baseball for over 50 years. As someone who has written a sports column while carrying on the practice of law I can appreciate the duality of his life.

In This Old Man are essays about himself, baseball and miscellaneous topics of interest. Sprinkled here and there are haikus.

Angell is remarkable for the grace of his prose. His words flow across the pages.

He faithfully follows the dictum of his stepfather, E.B. White, to "be clear" in his writing. 

3.) Jack – A Life with Writers by James King - I do not think I know any current publishers as men or women who are great characters in themselves.

Jack McClelland from the Canadian publisher, McClelland & Stuart, was very much in the public eye for over 40 years as a publisher after World War II.

Yet what made him unique was wide and varied and pungent correspondence with his authors.

You have to love a man who would write to one of Canada's leading poets, Irving Layton, as follows:

      Are you really all that bloody insecure? I could vomit. Let’s get
      a few things straight and on the record ……Another thing I
      should tell you, old friend, is that the most important thing that
      your poetry accomplished in this country is to make poetry
      respectably unrespectable. Of if you prefer, unrespectably
      respectable. Poetry in Canada used to be in the hands of old
      ladies and the odd gifted human being like Bliss Carman ….

1.) Tundra Kill by Stan Jones - I have enjoyed every book in the Nathan Active series set on the northwest coast of Alaska in the fictional town of Chukchi.

While the mystery in Tundra Kill is well done it is the character of Alaskan Governor, Helen "Wheels" Mercer, who makes the book one of my Most Interesting books:

      Active masked his astonishment as she swept into the room,
      complete with the Helly-Hansen parka, the rectangle glasses,
      the weapons-grade cheekbones, and a cloud of the famous
      perfume, though he couldn’t remember what it was called. And
      the calf-length high-heel boots – what was the brand?

Mercer was clearly inspired by former real life Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin. Mercer dominates Tundra Kill.

As she is a real northerner I was able to post a photo of Palin in a bright red parka.

2.) Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo by Joseph Greaves - The book revolves around the lives of the quartet of characters named in the title. All are real life people - Tom Dewey, Lucky Luciano, George Morton Levy and Cokey Flo Brown.

Greaves follows their lives through the first third of the 20th Century culminating in the highly publicized trial of Luciano in New York City that made Dewey famous.

The book reached Most Interesting for two reasons.

First, the book used actual excerpts from the transcript of the trial. Dewey's cross-examination of Luciano demonstrated the folly of Luciano refusing Levy's recommendation he not testify at the trial alleging he was the mastermind of prostitution in New York.

Second, Levy was a powerful example of a non-flamboyant very successful criminal defence lawyer. I admit bias in favour of an unassuming skilful litigator.

3.) A Candle to Light the Sun by Patricia Blondal - The book is an excellent portrayal of life in rural Manitoba during the Depression and after World War II.

Life was already bleak in Mouse Bluffs from the economic effects of the Depression. Adding drought and dust storms left many in despair.

What drew me to the book was the story of the author. Knowing she was dying of cancer Blondal voluntarily left her husband and children to spend three intense months writing the book. She died soon after knowing it would be published.