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.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

What to Take Reading on a Cruise

Sharon and I are getting ready to leave on a Mediterranean cruise. While she is reviewing her clothes and perusing combinations I am thinking about the books I want to take with me. In terms of the suitcase I am willing to give up some clothes to have the books I want with me. I still prefer reading paper books over electronic books so most of my choices will be carried by me overseas.

I had intended to have already read Louise Penny’s new Armand Gamache mystery, Glass Houses, but have gotten sidetracked by some other books. Glass Houses will be the 13th book in a series which has now become Canada’s best known mystery series. Glass Houses spent 3 weeks on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestseller list before fading off a week ago. I have loved the series though there have been a few that disappointed me. Since the last book in the series, A Great Reckoning, was one of the best I am very hopeful. Glass Houses will be the first book Penny has written since her husband, Michael, died last year after a long struggle with dementia.

A year ago Attica Locke won the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction with Pleasantville featuring Houston lawyer, Jay Porter. I thought it was an excellent book and looked up Black Water Rising, the first book featuring Porter. I found it in one of the Fair’s Fair used bookstores in Calgary. It has spent almost a year on my latest TBR pile so it is time to get it read. Regular commentator, Kathy D., recently advised me in a comment that Locke has a fine new book out, Bluebird Bluebird, which does not have Porter as lead character.

Toronto author, Anna Dowdall, recently contacted me asking if I would be interested and reading one of her two books featuring Sally Ryder. While I do not take up every author offer I decided to try a book by Dowdall and chose After the Winter, the first in the series.

I will have one electronic book on the laptop. Russ Atkinson is the author of a police procedural series, the Cliff Knowles mysteries. He contacted me as he is starting a new cozy series and invited me read The  Cryptic Crossword Caper. Russ described the puzzles in an email to me:

There are several puzzles in the book which can be worked by the reader, including a hybrid cryptic crossword, a Sudoku, and two cryptograms. These provide clues to the murder. The crossword and Sudoku are available online where they can be worked interactively or downloaded and printed out to be worked on paper. Details on how to do so are available in the Appendix.

Since I occasionally enjoy a crossword puzzle and Russ is a lawyer (retired he advises me) I took him up on his invitation. It will be the first crossword puzzle mystery I have read since 2004 when I read Puzzled to Death by Parnell Hall.

For a 5th book I am debating whether to take a work of classic crime fiction, He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr, or a legal mystery, The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez. I have read a few of Carr’s books while Gimenez is a new author to me. Coincidentally I bought both books in Jacksonville at the Chamblin Bookmine store while on holiday in the spring in Florida.

Do not be surprised if I succumb to temptation and buy at the airport bookstore the newest Scott Turow book, Testimony. Jeffrey Toobin, well known for his legal commentaries on CNN, describes the book as Turow’s most ambitious and most complex book. I have been eyeing Testimony in bookstores through the summer. 

Actually I have yet to read all the books I take on cruises. We will be back on the Marina and there is a 2,000 book library on the ship. I have always ended up getting books from the ship library and spending as much time reading them as reading the books I brought with me. I do intend to leave on board for the ship library any of my personal books I have read while cruising.

Monday, September 25, 2017

An Iron Rose by Peter Temple

It has been about a year since I put up one of the reviews I wrote before becoming a blogger. My reviews were shorter 9 years ago.
27. – 437.) An Iron Rose by Peter Temple – Mac Farraday is settling into rural life in the potato growing country near Sydney, Australia after being forced to leave the Australian Federal Police. Using his father’s forge he is assisted by professional smithy Allie. His world is turned upside down when good friend, Ned Lowey, is found hanging. Mac cannot accept it was suicide. A trio of newspapers in Ned’s effects on the finding of the body of a young woman sets Mac off on a course of investigation that winds back into Ned’s life and eventually intersects with his past. The language is harsh and profane. Mac reminds me of Travis McGee, another big tough man, with an eye for the ladies and a willingness to get physical while also maintaining a highly principled philosophy of life. Rural Australia comes alive. The local Australian Rules football team reminds me of rural Saskatchewan hockey/baseball teams and local rivalries. Hardcover or paperback. (July 2/08)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Unknown children of Ari Greene, Travis McGee and Harry Bosch

Robert Rotenberg
In Robert Rotenberg’s book, Heart of the City, there is a surprise opening for long time readers of the series. Toronto detective, Ari Greene, is returning to Canada after spending time in England after he was cleared of killing his lover, Jennifer Raglan, in the previous book, Stranglehold. With him is 20 year old, Alison Gilroy, his daughter.

Ari had never known he was a father until after Alison’s mother had died. Following instructions her solicitor contacted Greene to advise he has a daughter. Shocked but elated he travels to England. The solicitor arranges for him to meet Alison and she learns that her birth father was Greene not the unnamed New Zealander she had understood was her father. After some time together she expresses interest in going to live in Toronto and they return to Canada.

Her presence adds several dimensions to the book.

There is another generation of the Greene family. Ari’s father, Yitzhak, is delighted to have a granddaughter:

…. [He] is the opposite of Ari. Outgoing and fun, he hugged and kissed her all the time. Within days she was calling him Grandpa Y, and soon he was fixing up a room for her in the basement of Ari’s house to give her some privacy.

There is a new dynamic for Ari having an adult daughter. They are establishing a parental relationship while living together.

She becomes a part of the story through her anonymous blog, Kensington Confidential.

Alison’s unexpected entrance into the series reminded me of two other famous fictional sleuths who learned they were fathers long years after the child’s birth.

I remember being caught totally off guard over 30 years ago when I read The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald. In the final book of the Travis McGee series he learns that he is the father of a teenage daughter, Jean, whose mother, Puss Killian, had been McGee’s lover in Pale Grey for Guilt.

Jean has an unnerving unseen presence for the normally unflappable McGee through the book as he keeps finding cat shaped pipe cleaners outside the door to his houseboat, the Busted Flush. Only at the end does he actually meet her.

It was very clear that McGee was excited by the new relationship and it is a regret that MacDonald died before he could have developed that relationship in more books. I expect Jean would have wanted to become part of McGee’s “salvage operations” but McGee, more conscious of danger for her than himself, would have unsuccessfully sought to keep her out of the operations.

A generation later Harry Bosch, in the double digit series by Michael Connelly, learns he has a 4 year old daughter, Maddie, with former FBI agent, Rachel Wish. The abrasive hard nosed detective is softened by being a father. He enters her life somewhat tentatively.

In the book series she comes to live with him after her mother is killed while Harry and Rachel are seeking to rescue Maddie from kidnappers.

In last year’s addition to the series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Maddie has finished high school and Harry is dealing with the emotions of her going away to university.

In the television series a different storyline is developing. Rachel and Maddie come to spend time with Harry in Los Angeles after a killing puts their safety in Las Vegas in issue.

Each of Greene, McGee and Bosch are hard men made a little softer by learning they are fathers.

I found it interesting that all 3 unknown children were girls. I do not have a theory why each of the authors chose the unknown child to be a daughter. I invite comments on the authorial choice of girls.
Rotenberg, Robert – (2011) - Old City Hall; (2011) - The Guilty Plea; (2012) - Stray Bullets(2012) - "R" is for Robert Rotenberg; (2013) - Stranglehold; (2017) - Heart of the City and Lawyers Hate to Lose

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lawyers Hate to Lose

In my review of Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg posted a few days ago I expressed my regret over the minimal role of lawyers in that mystery. In one of the few scenes where a lawyer was important long time defence counsel, Ted DiPaulo, is frustrated over a client who had lied. He says:

“I’ll tell you what happens with clients like you,” DiPaulo said through gritted teeth. “They get convicted. They go to jail. I lose. I hate to lose. When I lose, I don’t sleep for days. And I like to sleep. How can I possibly represent you now?”

DiPaulo expressed a sentiment common to trial lawyers, both criminal and civil. Lawyers hate to lose. In discussing whether to proceed with a trial I tell clients I do not recommend a trial unless I am confident we can win. I finish the discussion by saying I hate to lose.

Contrary to public perception lawyers want to win according to the rules. A competition without rules is impossible. Civil court actions proceed under the Rules of Court. Saskatchewan’s Queen Bench Rules are 479 pages in length. In Western democracies we live under the Rule of Law.

While trial lawyers can be overtly or quietly aggressive in court their common character trait is competitiveness. You need passion to succeed as a trial lawyer. Without passion the long hours of preparation and the stress of conducting trials could not be endured.

There is an exception to hating to lose for those trial lawyers who are prosecutors. Their role is not to win but to present the facts and law to the judge. Yet prosecutors must be competitive to fulfill that role.

I cringe when reading books in which victims of crime think of prosecutors as their lawyers. It is worse when fictional prosecutors espouse the cause of victims. Such personal identification with victims is great for drama but bad for objectivity. Canadian prosecutors represent all members of society as counsel for the Crown (the provincial or federal government).

The fear of defeat drives lawyers harder than the anticipation of victory. Some years ago I wrote to Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen that no lawyer, except in fiction, gets to win every case. She replied:

I think it would be good for Zack to lose a big case, especially if the case was one readers really wanted him to win and felt he deserved to win.  Any suggestions? 

I took up the challenge and sent an email to Gail providing her with three examples of such cases – a medical negligence action, a criminal case and a family law custody case – in which the lawyer expected to win but lost each case.

I added that if you really want to devastate a lawyer have him or her lose all three cases in a row. While such an experience is crushing real life trial lawyers go through such losing streaks. You can say to yourself as a trial lawyer that you do not win or lose but in reality it hurts to lose. It is modest comfort in a losing case to say you have done your best as the advocate for your client.

Tough Crimes contains a collection of stories written by real life Canadian criminal lawyers on memorable cases. It was not a surprise to me that several of the lawyers chose cases that they had lost in court. In particular, there were a pair of Saskatchewan cases where defence counsel I personally knew, Brian Beresh and Mark Brayford, saw their clients convicted. While both Brian and Mark faced overwhelming odds in their respective cases each continues to doubt their clients should have been convicted.

The pain of defeat is intense. You have expended everything you have and lost. It is a despair I have often in seen in 40 years of covering sports, especially CFL football. The most extreme example involved the Saskatchewan Roughrider football team after the 2009 Grey Cup. On the last play of the game, a missed field goal, they were assessed a penalty for too many men on the field. Montreal won the Grey Cup when they kicked the field goal after the penalty. There was a silence in the locker room I had only previously experienced at funerals.

Yet lawyers, as with athletes, are optimists. After a loss there is a belief we – I personally join in that belief – will win the next one. A competitive urge keeps trial lawyers going to court. It is the same urge that sends the trial lawyer back to the office the day after winning or losing a trial to deal with the next case for only in fiction does the lawyer not have a desk full of pending cases needing attention. If that competitive urge ebbs a lawyer will cease to be a trial lawyer.
Links to the posts concerning Gail Bowen referred to in this post -

Links to Tough Crimes and the cases chosen by Brian and Mark -

Monday, September 11, 2017

Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

(33. – 920.) Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg – (Spoilers are inevitable in this review with regard to previous books written by Rotenberg because he carries on the story of many of his characters from book to book.)

There is not the explosive crime opening of earlier books such as a famous radio host announcing to his newspaper delivery man he had killed her (his second wife is dead in the bathtub) in Old City Hall or a shocked widow delivering to a defence lawyer the knife used to kill her husband in The Guilty Verdict or a stray bullet killing a child in a coffee shop parking lot in Stray Bullets or a Crown prosecutor, Karen Raglan, found strangled in a motel room awaiting her lover police detective Ari Greene in Stranglehold.

There was a dramatic opening with regard to Greene, who after months away from Toronto following being cleared of the murder of Ms. Raglan, is returning to the city with Alison Gilroy, the 20 year old daughter, he never knew. She was born to an English lover who gone back to England and has now died.

Greene has made a quiet return to Toronto with Gilroy. He has just started working as a construction worker on a condo development being built by the high profile developer, Livingston Fox. The young aggressive Fox has managed to gain the enmity of anti-development community. He has gained the derisive nickname of Mr. Con Dough.

Leading the charge against a further condo development in the Kensington Marker area, near where Greene is working, is 67 year old Cassandra Amberlight. She is a “progressive” aggressively on the front lines of every protest against commercial development with personal bullhorn in hand. She has been equally aggressive in private life having been convicted of assaulting a pair of ex-spouses. In a twist on conventional spousal abuse she has assaulted both male and female spouses.

As in Stranglehold it is Greene who finds the body. In a shed at the back of his work site Greene finds the body of Fox impaled on the floor by a length of rebar. Unlike Stranglehold he immediately calls the police. The case is assigned to his protégé, Daniel Kennicott.

Later that day Greene is contacted by his former criminal defence lawyer, Ted DiPaulo, who has already been called by Amberlight. She knows instantly she is the prime suspect. DiPaulo wants Greene to assist him in the defence. He pays Greene, who is reluctant to accept money, a retainer of $100.00 which is the same amount, the only amount, Greene had paid him when Greene was charged with murder.

Gilroy becomes ensnared in the investigation as she strives to start a career in journalism through a blog. As a fellow blogger she is bound to be a favourite character of mystery review bloggers.

Fox’s parents are New Age eccentrics running a wellness clinic, the Foxhole Wellness Centre, just north of Toronto. Their parking lot sign reflects a laidback approach to life:

            Peacefully park your troubles this way.

The parents hold a highly public outdoor midnight candlight ceremony to celebrate their son’s life.

It would be hard to find a child, in fiction or real life, who was more different than his parents. It is little surprise that the hard driving Fox argues constantly with his father.

In the high stakes world of condo development financial disaster is but a project away. Fox has stretched himself thinly with a major new project on the waterfront.

It is a strong story and the pages turned easily but where are the lawyers? DiPaulo makes but brief appearances and Crown prosecutor, Albert Hernandez, makes but token appearances.

The front page blurb from the Telegraph-Journal that “Rotenberg is Canada’s John Grisham” is as ill timed as most blurbs. Until Heart of the City I would have found the claim plausible though William Deverell is another great Canadian writer of legal mysteries.

Heart of the City is a police procedural. The major characters are Kennicott and Greene. The investigation is carefully conducted.

Still there is a hidden legal moment in the book that ratcheted up the tension. Kennicott, a lawyer before he became a police officer, conducts an interview of Amberlight which is really a skillful cross-examination. I have read transcripts of lots of real life police interviews and trial transcripts and I see a lawyer pinning down Amberlight not a police officer questioning a suspect. It was the best scene in the book.

Heart of the City is a page turner but it is a conventional police procedural. The earlier books tackled major legal issues. While it is a well done police procedural there are enough police procedurals in Canadian crime fiction. There are too few good Canadian legal mysteries. In fact, I am writing to Rotenberg to ask where the lawyers went in Heart of the City.
Rotenberg, Robert – (2011) - Old City Hall; (2011) - The Guilty Plea; (2012) - Stray Bullets(2012) - "R" is for Robert Rotenberg; (2013) - Stranglehold

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

(32. – 919.) The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer – The opening of the book reminded me of The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre. Emmett Kohl, deputy American consul in Budapest, has been married to Sophie for 20 years. He is a modestly talented diplomat. They have spent their married life on postings away from the United States.

At a quiet restaurant Emmett elicits from Sophie that she was unfaithful to him while they were stationed in Cairo. She had carried on affair with Stan Bertolli, a CIA agent.

Moments later Emmett is shot to death by a professional killer.

Guilt and curiousity drive Sophie to go Cairo. I hoped the consequences of this quest for the truth behind a spouse’s death would not be as grim as in The Constant Gardener.

Shortly before his death Emmett had met with Jibril Aziz, a Libyan now working for American intelligence, and Sophie wants to know if there is a connection between Emmett’s death and Aziz.

John Calhoun, a contractor – free lance intelligence operative - hired by the CIA, has taken Aziz from Cairo across the border into Libya. Arab Spring has inspired demonstrations and revolutions through the Arab world and Libyans are rising up against Muammar Gadhafi.

A few years earlier Aziz had worked on a plot to oust Gadhafi by using Libyan exiles and a small elite group of American military. Aziz is convinced the plan called Stumbler has been put into action but would America be so reckless as to directly intervene in an Arab revolt? The concept seemed less plausible when the book was written in about 2013.

In Cairo there are dizzying layers of deceit. Most of are of the most challenging nature. They are the lies of partial truths.

As Sophie is enveloped in the shadows of espionage I thought of another skilled writer of spy fiction, Alan Furst. Had the book been set in and around World War II it could have been a Furst story.

As with Furst and Le Carre the clash of intelligence services involves the spies of multiple nations interacting in Europe and Africa.

A good book became great when a mole in Cairo is revealed. I had not an inkling of the identity of the leaker. The book reaffirmed my weakness at unraveling deceit. The clues were there but I did not understand them.

The book explores how much deceit can a person absorb and still function. Sophie is surrounded by deceivers. When you can trust no one perhaps it is best to trust everyone.

The resolution of the multiple threads to the plot is skillfully and, better yet, credibly done by Steinhauer. Without saying more the ending is the opposite of the finish to The Constant Gardener.

As I read the book I thought has it only been 6 years since Arab Spring began. So many wars and regime changes have taken place in the Arab world. I am sure those events occurring after The Cairo Affair was written will inspire more spy fiction.
Steinhauer, Olen – (2009) - The Tourist; (2010) - The Nearest Exit; (2013) - An American Spy;

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell

The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell – As set out in my previous post I was invited by Craig Sisterson to participate in a worldwide blog tour of the books short listed for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards in New Zealand. Craig asked me to review The Ice Shroud, one of the finalists for the Best New Fiction Award.

There is a powerful graphic opening to the book with a woman’s body being found frozen face down along the edge of a river in a gorge on the South Island not far from Queenstown. Becoming a rock descender, Detective Sgt. Malcolm Buchan goes abseiling down to the river to free the body from the ice. The title effectively evokes the book.

When he subsequently sees the body up top Buchan recognizes her as Edie Longstreet, a woman he “Had Known. Intimately.” With their relationship several years in the past he hesitates and then decides not to disclose the relationship. As Longstreet is a resident of the area he knows her identity will soon be established. Concealing the relationship does mean a continuing tension on whether the relationship will be discovered during the investigation. I did find it hard to believe a Detective Sergeant would conceal his relationship with the deceased.

Among the police officers assisting Buchan are a pair of women. Detective Constable Deborah Somerville is a young woman with an “athletic figure” and “shoulder-length blonde hair”. Traffic Sgt. Magda Hansen has a “pleasant, even motherly-looking face”.

I appreciated that the primary investigative methods involve the intelligence of the police officers.

While Longstreet enjoyed numerous sexual relationships the search
Ngaio Marsh Awards
for the killer, as with many investigations, turns to financial issues. At her death Longsteet was running a business, Figments, discreetly described as selling “saucy underwear” but the business is not doing well. It is actually failing. While Queenstown is a resort community the customer base for her merchandise is limited. How has she been able to keep the business afloat?

There is some deft phrasing. On how Longstreet was getting money:

‘I can’t understand how she got that,’ Constable Heaphy said. ‘It’s like she had a private line to the money god.’

Queenstown has 14,000 – 15,000 people and Longstreet has frequent interactions with members of the local business establishment, casually known as the “Gang”. Members of the Gang meet often for drinks at the end of the work day.

Reading about the Gang made me reflect on my role in the business community of Melfort, here in Saskatchewan. After 42 years in private legal practice I guess I would be considered part of the establishment. In our community of 6,000 the “establishment” does not gather socially as often as the fictional Gang in New Zealand. Our lives are also considerably less colourful than Ell’s businessmen.

The men who make up the Gang resent the impertinent police probing into their private and commercial lives. They are accustomed to their lives of privilege.

Ell provides a fine picture of life and landscape in the Queenstown region. The Ice Shroud is a distinctive New Zealand story. I did wish the unpleasant characters, especially men, were not consistently given unattractive appearances. 

I found the ending abrupt but convincing. I had the impression there was some major editing. Ell is off to a good start in crime fiction. I expect his next book to be better yet and I hope to read it. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards Blog Tour

Great ideas come from clever minds. Craig Sisterson is an inventive thoughtful blogger. Since I became a blogger almost 7 years ago Craig instantly comes to mind when I think of New Zealand crime fiction. His blog, Crime Watch at kiwicrime@blogspot.com, is a wonderful resource for New Zealand crime fiction. I might be influenced because he trained as a lawyer though he is not practising law.

On behalf of the Ngaio Marsh Awards for New Zealand crime fiction he contacted me a few weeks ago with a plan to promote the Awards around the world. He offered to send me a book from the shortlists and I would provide a scheduled review as part of a worldwide blog tour of reviews and/or interviews of the shortlists ant the authors.

I was glad to participate and will be putting up my review of The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell.

Craig’s concept provides a grand exposure of New Zealand crime fiction. As with many great ideas I wish I had thought of it. 

Below is a listing of the participants in the tour. I have started reading the daily posts and intend to follow them around the world:

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More information is available at Craig's blog or the Awards Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/NgaioMarshAward/.