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, June 14, 2017

After James by Michael Helm Continued

In this post I continue my review of After James by Michael Helm. In the second portion of the book the story revolves around James. As set out at the end of my last post he has come to Rome to analyze poems for August Durant who is convinced that the author of a poetry website, Three Sheets, has knowledge of his disappeared daughter.

Durant's conviction is based on a line in a poem:

       The sun winks and we play blind.

Durant had said those words to his daughter in their last conversation before she went missing.

Part of Durant's own analysis has been technical:

       You might know that in poetry the term "chiasmus" refers to
       a reflecting rhetorical device, as if a mirror has been set down 
       in the middle of a line or stanza. The primary early source is 
             A                  B                B              A
        the first shall be last and the last shall be first

       The ABBA structure can be made more complex, as in 
       ABCDDCBA, or disguised through separation so that each 
       letter is on a different line or so the ABCD is in one line, and 
       DCBA in another.

As he reads and thinks about the poetry James meets the lovely Amanda who has been his predecessor in studying the poems for August. She has also suffered personal loss with her brother recently killed in Guatemala. 

Each of August and James and Amanda is searching for the truth with regard to the loss of a family.

The poems have a cryptic quality providing many options for meaning.

It becomes clear that the parents of James have been murdered rather than dying in a car accident.

He travels to Turkey to seek out an explanation.

This section of the book has lots of mystery, especially mysterious strangers. It has elements of crime fiction. He ends his Turkish quest caught up in riot.

There is but a slight connection with the first section of the book.

Three hundred pages into the book the reader encounters Celia, her father and Armin Koss.

Father is an archeologist who has spent his career conducting excavations studying extinction. Celia is a virologist for a Vancouver company. Koss is a mysterious character who made money developing video games.

Father has an apocalyptic vision of the future:

        "It's time for some other organism to take over the world."      
        Her father outlined the so-called no-analog future currently 
        rounding the corner upon carbon emissions and acidification. 
       "Nothing like this has ever existed before. There's nothing to 
       compare it to. We've made something new and deadly and    
       can't stop repeating the mistake."

In the Cevennes area of France Celia and her father have a mystical experience in a cave that profoundly affects her father. There is a non-drug induced mind altering experience.

Father's conversion from "a man of science to a man of God" is accelerated.

Subsequently, Celia travels to an excavation site in Turkey. She is participating in what:

       Her father declared his last project to be finding a variant 
       genome of the Justinian plague, sixth century, thirty to fifty 
       million dead. New contagions were more accurately targeted if 
       they were known descendants of old ones.

Celia seeks samples of bacteria from long dead bodies that can be analyzed and studied to help counter modern plagues. A 2,500 year old tooth will provide the bacteria. I found the description of the extraction touching and poetic:

        He kneeled beside her and put his hands on the skull of the 
        adult female. He'd been working hard and smelled of sweet. 
        With slow delicacy he turned the face toward them and 
        removed the skull from the body.

She privately names the skull Alice.

The world still exists as the book ends and there has been no factual drawing together of the three sections of the book.

(My third post on After James will be my analysis.)


  1. Very interesting, Bill. I'm especially interested in some of the different topics covered in the book: poetry, paleobiology, and more. It seems like a very wide-ranging book, and I"ll look forward to your third post on it.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is wide ranging and demands the focus of the reader.