About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Getting the Law Wrong in Glass Houses

I enjoy reading about fictional court cases, criminal or civil, and was intrigued when Louise Penny in Glass Houses wove into the plot a trial of the murderer with Armand Gamache as the prime witness. It took considerable cleverness to conceal the identity of the accused and the murder victim while recounting testimony at the trial.

Penny’s trial also has a hidden agenda that is fascinating, even brilliant.

Unfortunately Penny’s description of the trial could not have taken place in Canadian criminal courts. I acknowledge every writer can adjust real life norms to fit their fiction but it grates on me when trials are described that do not follow real life procedures and rules of evidence. If such “details” are of little interest to you read this post no further. If you have expectations of crime fiction featuring trials to be “real” you will find this post of interest.

I acknowledge it is hard to portray a trial if you have not been a trial lawyer. The actual rules of conduct and evidence are complex. I found it difficult to know whether Penny knew the rules but chose to disregard them.

Feelings are not evidence. Evidence of feelings will rarely be allowed as the feelings of a witness are not facts but the opinions of the witness.

In one exchange:

“How did it strike you,” the Crown asked, “when you saw Lea Roux come to the defense of the cobrador?”

“I would’ve been surprised to see anyone standing between a man swinging a fireplace poker and his target.”

A judge would not want Gamache’s opinion on the actions of Ms. Roux. The judge would want the narrative of what happened.

At another point the prosecutor asks:

          “What tips someone over into murder?”

The question allows Gamache to give a lecture on his theory of murder:

“What makes someone kill isn’t opportunity, it’s emotion,” Gamache spoke quietly, softly even. As though confiding in a good friend. “One human kills another. Sometimes it’s a flash of uncontrollable anger,. Sometimes it’s cold. Planned. Meticulous. But what they have in common is an emotion out of control. Often something that has been pent up. Buried. Clawed away at the person.”

When the prosecutor objects that Gamache’s statement is irrelevant the judge denies the objection as Gamache is the Crown’s witness and the prosecutor had asked the question.

As I read the passage I was saying no in my mind. Even without objection from the defence no judge would have allowed the question let alone the answer. Once again it is not evidence but opinion.

The prosecutor could in his address to jury set out an argument on how the evidence supports a theory of murder but no witness would be allowed such a speech.

Later the prosecutor invites Gamache to speculate on knowledge there was murder:

“When you arrived at the restaurant, Chief Superintendent, did you get the impression the people already knew?”

It is not for Gamache to provide his opinion on what they “already knew”. If the prosecutor wants to “know” what they “knew” he needs to call the people at the restaurant as witnesses.

Procedurally the trial judge would never invite the prosecutor and witness, Gamache, into her Chambers without including defence counsel and the accused.

Only in the most exceptional circumstances will the accused not be present when a trial matter is being discussed. Not long ago in Saskatchewan a new trial was ordered when the accused was not included in a conference involving judge and legal counsel.

As a final example no author should ever have a Canadian judge wielding a gavel. There are no gavels in Canadian courts.
Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness


  1. What an interesting post, Bill. And I can see how it would grate on you when a fictional courtroom sequence doesn't follow those rules about what can and can't be admissible in court. It makes sense, too, that feelings, opinions, and so on wouldn't count as evidence. If I were an attorney, that would probably grate on me, too, as I like to keep my disbelief with me when I read.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I believe authors can create just as much drama while getting the law right.

  2. Good to read this. I'm from the USA, and would have thought I was learning something about Canadian courts. Thanks for the clarification.

    1. Abbie: Thanks for the comment. There are differences between Canadian and American trials - a topic for another post.

  3. Oh dear, this is getting worse. I often think that you should offer yourself as law consultant to crime writers...

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I would be willing to help. I have been consulted once. After receiving my answer the author changed the plot line.