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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

(1. – 931.) Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – After seeing Bluebird, Bluebird on many 2017 lists of best books and enjoying the reading of Black Water Rising I asked Santa for Bluebird, Bluebird and it was under the Christmas tree. I am glad I received the book. It is a wonderful book which has rightly propelled Locke into authorial superstardom.

It is a classic American Western with the lone lawman, Darren Mathews, fighting a powerful criminal gang. Mathews is a big man with a .45 on his hip and a 5 tipped star badge upon his chest riding into Lark, Texas in his Texas sized truck. Among contemporary Western American fictional lawmen I thought of Sheriff Walt Longmire from the series by Craig Johnson.

That the lawman is African American and the gang is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas brings the old West into the 21st Century. Too often I find mysteries with a police officer acting on their own not credible but Locke has created a believable plot.

Making Mathews a Texas Ranger cements the iconic Western theme.

His family has deep roots in East Texas. They are a part of the black establishment of the region with a family home still at the center of their lives no matter where they work.

Continuing another Western tradition Mathews has a lovely wife back in Houston who, weary of worrying about her husband riding into danger, has demanded he leave the Rangers or she will leave the marriage.

Mathews thinks of resigning from the Rangers and returning to law school.

Yet he cannot resist the lure of solving a double murder in Lark. Michael Wright, a black man with roots in Texas, but now resident in Chicago, is found dead in a bayou outside Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, a country cafe. He has been brutally beaten. Two days Missy Dale, a young white woman, is found dead in the same bayou behind the same café.

The story veers from the simple blacks and whites of Western lore into the complexity of racial relationships in the 21st Century of rural Texas.

The black residents know the local white sheriff, in a different American tradition, is looking to arrest one of them for the murder. Little effort will be made to investigate Michael’s death.

Mathews, a man of stubborn integrity, will not abide an investigation looking only for a black killer as resolution.

With the authority given him by his status as a Ranger he probes more deeply into the lives of white folk and black folk. What does not fit evil Southern tradition of exacting vengeance on black woman when a white woman is attacked is that the black man was killed before the white woman.

Locke shows the discomfort the white residents have with a black Ranger but equally the respect they have for his badge. The world of race relations is being turned upside down.

I have not even discussed the remarkable characters who fill the book. Just one will suffice to illustrate the superb characterization.

Geneva, almost 70 years old, grieves her husband Joe, murdered 6 years ago. The book opens with her visiting his grave:

Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Late morning sunlight pinpricked through the trees, dotting a constellation of lights on the blanket of pine needles as Geneva’s feet as she snaked the cord between Mayva’s sister and her husband, Leland, Father and Brother in Christ. She gave the cord a good tug, making her way up the modest hill, careful not to step on the graves themselves, only the well-worn grooves between the headstones, which were spaced at haphazard and odd angles, like the teeth of a pauper.

Locke has created a Western lawman for this century in Mathews. I hope Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in a series. I want to read more of his adventures.
Locke, Attica - (2016) - Pleasantville; (2017) - Black Water Rising and Wishing I had Read the Books in Order

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Kings of London by William Shaw

The Kings of London by William Shaw – Det. Sgt. Cathal “Paddy” Breen has been enduring life. His father, Tomas, had a long slow dementia descent. Work and caring for his father have occupied all his time. The swinging London scene of 1968 is far from his gritty London life.

When his father dies alone in hospital while Breen is investigating a death there is a guilt that will last his lifetime.

The death is unusual in that the deceased was badly burned in a fire at a derelict home. His superiors are content with it being ruled an accidental death of “some drunken vagrant attempting to light a fire to keep himself warm in the wet weather”.

Breen is troubled by the circumstances which do not seem accidental and by the inability of the police to identify the deceased. To the frustration of his detachment he keeps photos of the deceased in his desk drawer.

Change is coming to London police. Temporary Detective Constable Helen Tozer has been added to the detachment. While she has been hired her duties are highly restricted. She chafes at being limited to interviewing women and children. Her fellow officers are cruel and openly sexist. While she has the fortitude to cope with her workmates she is leaving the force out of frustration over the limits placed upon her.

Breen and Tozer jointly start an investigation of another unusual death. In a home badly damaged by a gas explosion they find the body of a young man. Skin has been peeled away from his legs and arms and his body has been drained of blood. It is a disturbing sight. He is soon identified as Francis Pugh, the son of Rhodi Pugh, a Minister in the Labour government of Harold Wilson. Breen is firmly advised the investigation will be conducted in a way to avoid publicity. It was still a time when the Establishment could conceal its secrets.

Adjacent to the younger Pugh’s home is a group of squatters. A group from the long haired new generation are living in a communal lifestyle rebelling against society. The “pigs” are their foes. The pigs are basically puzzled by the squatters.

Breen persists in his investigation. He is not a plodder but he is methodical and dogged in his pursuit of the truth. He has insights that are clever but not the blinding brilliance of Sherlockian deductions. There is a measured pace to the book that reflects Breen’s personality.

The detachment is hidebound in more than its treatment of women officers. There is rough, even brutal, enforcement of the law. It is striking how casually violent are the officers, the kings of London.

There was an excellent blend of police work and personal lives.

The story was almost too depressing but then there are moments of genuine joy. Breen enjoys an Irish family Christmas party.

I do wish at least one of the officers was reasonably happy with their life. I was 16 in 1968 and do not recall life in Canada as grim as the London of The Kings of London.

The Kings of London is a solid police procedural and Breen is a man of integrity.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

11th Canadian Book Challenge Half Way

For its 11th year the Canadian Book Challenge moved last July from the Book Mine blog to The Indextrious Reader blog of Melanie. I am glad she was willing to carry on the Challenge. I have read several new Canadian authors as I read at least 13 books each year of the Challenge to meet the Challenge.

With January upon us we are half way through the year in the Challenge. The Challenge each year runs from Canada Day, July 1, to June 30.

The surprise for me in this Challenge is that almost half of the Canadian books I have read are non-fiction.

The books read are:


1.) Wishful Seeing by Janet Kellough

2.) The Winners' Circle by Gail Bowen

3.) Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

4.) Glass Houses by Louise Penny


5.) More Tough Crimes edited by William Trudel and Lorene Shyba

6.) The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes

7.) The Work of Justice by J. Pecover

Out of the fiction my favourite to date is The Winners' Circle. For long time readers of the Joanne Kilbourn series there will be a surprise in the plot of this book.

From the non-fiction I expect to long remember The Work of Justice. The book is the story of Robert Raymond Cook, the last person to be executed in Alberta. He was convicted of murdering his father, stepmother and five half-siblings. He asserted he was innocent and never wavered. He went to the gallows stating he was innocent.

As usual I have no plan for the last half of the Challenge year beyond reading books from the shortlist for Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Fiction Novel.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Fictional Porcupine Plain

Lou Sabatino, in Whipped by William Deverell, is on the run in a Canadian way.

After writing an expose on the Montreal mafia and corruption in the construction industry there is an assassination attempt that he survives in a classic Canadian escape from death. In mid-February, Sabatino, back home after some celebratory drinks, is “wheeling the big green recycle bin to the curb”:

Fortunately for the slightly tiddly ace reporter he slipped on the icy walkway, and the bin went down and so did Lou, just as a black sedan cruised by just before a burst of automatic fire went over his head and took out the snowman behind him.

In the spring, wearying of life in the witness protection plan and wanting to find his wife he takes the bus to his the home of his mother-in-law and father-in-law in northern Quebec. When she is not there he decides to go to Calgary in western Canada where her sister is resident. It is a journey of about 3,000 km. With little money he travels west hitchhiking and riding the bus.

On June 21 he runs out of money in southwest Saskatchewan at the small town of Porcupine Plain. I was startled at the name for there is a real life town of Porcupine Plain about 110 km east of Melfort.

It is ironic that the fictional town is set up in treeless hills of the southwest while the real life town is in the midst of bush and farmland in the northeast.

I was not sure if Deverell was creating a subtle joke with the placement of the fictional Porcupine Plain. Real life porcupines live in forests. Southwest Saskatchewan barely has any trees.

In the fictional Porcupine Plain Sabatino finds an unlikely inroad into the community. Finishing an all day breakfast with the last of his money at the Quill Café he overhears another customer, Oscar, lamenting issues with his laptop computer. Sabatino, proficient in building and repairing computers, offers to take a look and repairs Oscar’s wonky computer.

Other customers ask him to deal with their electronic devices. A small business is born.

Oscar offers Sabatino a bedroom in his home while Sabatino establishes himself in town.

The real life Porcupine Plain is an equally friendly community. Our law firm has a branch office there which my partner attends weekly.

The community mascot of the real life Porcupine Plain is a statue of a porcupine called Quilly Willy. A photo of the distinctive mascot is at the top of this post.

In the fictional town Sabatino earns a modest income from his computer repair expertise. He supplements his business income by creating and selling those ubiquitous lists with photos that infest the internet. Examples of his work include “TWELVE JESUS QUOTES YOUR MINISTER WILL NEVER READ” and “YOU’LL BE WIPING TEARS OF LAUGHTER AT THESE KITCHEN VIDEOS” and “EIGHT SECRETS TO A LASTING ORGASM”.

While I am not aware of any real life people devising such lists it is credible he could make a living dealing with problem computers. Much of rural Saskatchewan is a long drive from any place a computer might be repaired.

I do not know if Deverell has a connection with the real life town. He did live in Saskatchewan and go to law school here before moving to British Columbia.

As to being able to hide out in rural Saskatchewan we are a long ways from the major cities of Canada but a newcomer does stand out and the tentacles of social media stretch around the world.

I acknowledge it was nice to see Deverell write positively of life in small town Saskatchewan.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Whipped by William Deverell

(43. – 930.) Whipped by William Deverell – Arthur Beauchamp is determinedly tending to his vegetables, goats, sheep and chickens on Garibaldi Island, one of the Gulf Islands, near Vancouver while his wife, Margaret Blake, with equal determination fights for environmental causes as the leader of the Green Party in Parliament in Ottawa. There could not be a greater difference in lifestyles.

Many days Arthur walks to the general store, a 7 km round trip, to pick up his mail and supplies such as netting to keep the robins off his strawberries. He enjoys conversations over a tea and muffin at the Brig, the local tavern. On his return he may savour some of the Roman poets, in Latin of course.

Margaret’s days in Ottawa are a scripted blur. She roars through meetings, addresses the myriad details of running a political party, works out policy positions with her staff, considers a coming election with the Deputy Leader and makes sure to attend sessions of Parliament.

Margot is a firebrand. There are not many in Canadian politics. While our politicians are not always as nice as the rest of us they strive for a gravitas and non-offensive speaking style that can make it hard to distinguish between them.

Margaret has no trouble speaking her mind. Words explode from her emotions. One fractious encounter with the Minister for the Environment, Emil Farquist, begins over a proposed oil pipeline to the West Coast and continues on to the effects of fracking for natural gas. The exchange, started in Parliament, extends to a media scrum in the hallway. Margaret gets off a parting shot by yelling “Frack you” at the Minister.

Back on the island a new movement has arrived. The Personal Transformation Mission Society establishes itself at Starkers Cove. Their handsome, even beautiful, guru, Jason Silverson is enticing islanders to join his devotees known as Transformers.

Back in Ottawa the Green Party is proving that it is like all other parties in digging for political dirt. Margaret meets with a journalist in Montreal, Lou Sabitino, who shows her a video of The Honourable Farquist engaged in a spirited session of BDSM with a dominatrix, Svetlana.

As Margaret ponders how to use the information she indiscreetly describes the video over an open microphone at a conference. Her words are overheard and become a viral sensation when tweeted.

The Minister immediately launches a massive lawsuit asserting defamation.

Margaret convinces Arthur, her life companion (the newest politically correct phrase for a spouse), to yet again interrupt his retirement to return to the courtroom to defend her. There will be no retreat from her dramatic description of the Minister being whipped. Her plea is that the words were the truth. It is a perilous approach to defending defamation. Should the defence not be able to prove truth in court the judgment will be far higher as there has been no apology and the integrity of the plaintiff has been further damaged by the failure to prove the defamatory words were truthful. Margaret is undaunted by the risks but the reporter and the dominatrix have disappeared.

In some books having a spouse as your lawyer would be implausible. Adding to the challenge is that Arthur has practiced criminal defence not civil litigation. Deverell makes Arthur’s representation of Margaret convincing. Arthur does not succumb to emotional excess. He keeps the process in perspective. Most important for credibility he draws on juniors in the firm with extensive experience in civil actions to assist him. Most realistically tensions arise between the lawyer and client arising from the marital relationship.

The story rollicks forward with The Transformers agitating the island folk as they promote love and peace while freely distributing a special drink, Gupa. As for Margaret she is fighting a two sided war - a fall election and the lawsuit.

An issue I had not comtemplated is raised in a newsletter published by a fictional national BDSM group. In today’s world does a practictioner of BDSM, whether whipper or whippee, suffer damage to his/her reputation by public relevation of their private pastime? You can only get a large judgment in defamation by showing actual damage to your reputation. Certainly political pretension is skewered in the book.

Tension rises through the winter. Svetlana has left Canada and a private investigator cannot find Lou. Readers learn Lou has found refuge in a rural Saskatchewan town with a real name. (I will discuss his experiences and the town in my next post.)

Deverell proves that civil litigation, here defamation, can be as interesting as a criminal case for a legal mystey. It may be that authors are grasping the possibilities of fictional civil cases. My favourite fiction of 2017 was Last Days of Night in which Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling in court over alleged patent infringement concerning the light bulb.

And, as always, Deverell is witty throughout the book.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Law Students and Integrity

The law students of The Rooster Bar by John Grisham made me feel uncomfortable. Having known and worked with recently graduated Canadian law students for decades, including both my sons, I was disturbed by the willingness of Mark, Todd and Zola to drop out of law school and be fake lawyers. There was a fundamental lack of integrity to their actions.

I appreciate the financial disaster facing them. Collectively they would owe $600,000 in student loans by the time they were to graduate from Foggy Bottom Law School.

At the same time they were willfully blind to the consequences when they went into law school. Every law student I know has assessed the risks and costs against the actual opportunities provided a law degree. It has long been known, especially in the United States, there are no guarantees of a well paid secure position after graduation.

Lawyer jokes to the contrary I consider integrity at the heart of the practice of law.

I was a member of the Law Society Committee that organized the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Law Society of Saskatchewan in 2007. As part of that celebration we thought about a word to represent our profession in Saskatchewan and chose “integrity”.

The students of my experience are much more like the law students in One L by Scott Turow than the students at Foggy Bottom.

I cannot see any of the law students I have known showing the lack of integrity of Mark, Todd and Zola.

On reflection I realized the students of Foggy Bottom are in a completely different system from the students I know.

The students at Foggy Bottom were ill prepared for law school and only realize after admission that the institution is focused on the $45,000 each pays in annual tuition. Professors know their task is to get them graduated. It is almost impossible to fail. Since no one cares about academic performance the students drift through law school and 50% will fail the bar exam.

The students I know excelled in university before they reached law school. They had to show they were superior students with quality LSAT scores. They were motivated to work hard at law school. Their professors challenged them. Their years in law school are illustrated by the reviews of One L written by my son, Michael, and myself that considered our real life experiences in law school in the 1970’s and the 2010’s.

America is often a land of excess. So it has become with law schools, especially for profit law schools, churning out grads unready to be lawyers.

The American Bar Association stated there were 37,400 students commencing law school in 2017. In Canada, with 1/10th of the population of America, there were approximately 2,500 students in first year law school.

Maybe readers should be glad Mark, Todd and Zola quit law school.
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; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar; Probably hardcover

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

(42. – 929.) The Rooster Bar by John Grisham – Gordon, Mark, Todd and Zola face disaster. They are third year law students at the little known for profit law school of Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C. with no prospects but a crushing debt load. Between them they owe almost $800,000 in student loans.

They had been lured to Foggy Bottom, a law school with a dismal record of graduates passing the bar exam, by a glossy website and heavy promotion that graduates had strong prospects of high paying jobs. Grades and LSAT scores were immaterial for entry to Foggy Bottom. Easy loans from the federal government financed students at the law school.

The reality they face is a job market that has no interest in graduates from schools like Foggy Bottom. There is on over supply of law graduates from better law schools.

Upon graduation they know they will be hounded to pay back their student loans.

Gordon, bi-polar, and off his meds goes through a manic phase ultimately determining a New York lawyer and businessman has been making millions off of his ownership of their law school and other for profit law schools. He is also the largest shareholder in Swift Bank, a huge bank with customer problems of the same nature being endured by the real life Wells Fargo Bank.

Ultimately Gordy crashes and commits suicide.

The surviving trio, filled with guilt and deeply depressed, see no future in completing law school. Lacking any skills except for the minimal legal knowledge they gained in law school they decide to become fake lawyers.

They will count upon crowded courts and busy lawyers not demanding their credentials as they practice law. That they lack the knowledge to actually know how to practice law does not trouble them. They will fake it.

Not surprisingly they choose criminal law and personal injury law. In each area they can pursue clients who have little education and are desperate to have a lawyer represent them.

They pay for fake identities and go into business. Their office address is The Rooster Bar where Todd has worked part-time as a bartender.

Grisham creates a credible narrative of what happens as they venture into the illicit practice of law. As in most occupations a little knowledge is dangerous. While understanding some of the risks the trio is unaware of many of the perils facing them.

I wondered for awhile if Grisham had lost touch with legal reality as the trio appeared to be succeeding as fake lawyers but their lies and inexperience caught up with them.

There is an intriguing subplot involving Zola’s family who, after 26 years as illegal immigrants to the U.S., are about to be returned to Senegal. Born in America Zola has American citizenship and is exempt from the deportation.

The ultimate scheme concoted by the trio is clever and leads to a thriller ending I could appreciate as not far fetched.

The heroes are less pure than in most thrillers. I wish the bad guys could have been equally nuanced.

The pages flow by as swiftly as usual and I enjoyed the book but it is time for Grisham to head back to the South, preferably Mississippi. Four books have gone by since Sycamore Row. He has produced good books with interesting, even great lawyers as characters, but it has been long enough since he wrote a great book. I took a look around the net but could not determine if his next legal mystery would return to the South. 

There has also been more than enough preaching in recent books especially Gray Mountain (railing against coal mining in West Virginia), Rogue Lawyer (injustices in the American criminal justice system) and The Rooster Bar (American for profit law schools and student loans).
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; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; Probably hardcover