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, May 25, 2018

2018 Winners of the Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Fiction

Last night at the annual Toronto banquet the winners of 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards were announced. The press release providing particulars and some comments is below.

I have not read any of the winners. I do intend to read Sleeping in the Ground. It must be an excellent book to have won over Gail Bowen's book, The Winners' Circle. I had hoped she would be the winner this year, especially when she was named Grand Master for 2018. I will have a post shortly on Gail who was a deserving choice for Grand Master.

With a family wedding this summer and having just finished a long cruise I am going to forgo reading the full shortlist for Best Novel.

My congratulations to the winners and all the authors on the shortlists. Crime fiction is flourishing in Canada.

Announcing the Winners of the 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards
for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing
TORONTO, Ontario May 24, 2018 --- Crime Writers of Canada is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing.

Best Novel
Sleeping in the Ground, by Peter Robinson, publisher McClelland & Stewart

What the judges said, “From the first few words in the beginning chapter the impact of Sleeping in the Ground was visceral - it packs a heck of a punch. Peter Robinson paints a stunning portrait of a horrific murder scene that makes you feel as shocked and horrified as if you were standing right there. Then you are plunged into a frolic to figure out the who and why. There are so many twists and turns that it is hard to catch your breath. You find yourself swept along by the great mystery of the murders as well as the intricacies of the inter-relationships of Banks and his fellow homicide detectives, and the suspects as well.”

Best First Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo
Full Curl, by Dave Butler, publisher Dundurn Press

What the judges said, “Dave Butler brings to life the most compelling and complicated protagonist that Canadian crime fiction has seen in a long time. Jenny Willson is one tough cookie whose hard-edged nature and sharp mind make her the perfect candidate to solve this very out-of-the ordinary mystery. With a realistic time-line, multiple murders, and intricate attention to detail, Butler keeps his readers guessing from beginning to end. Truly Canadian in every essence, the scenery practically leaps off the page, making it both a love letter to the Canadian wilderness and a compelling and fast-paced mystery.”

Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
How Lon Pruitt Was Found Murdered in an Open Field with No Footprints Around, by Mike Culpepper, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, by Dell

What the judges said. “Elegant. If there was a word out of place none of us noticed. This story and these characters transported us in time and space and by the end left us in tears.”

Best Short Story
The Outlier, by Catherine Astolfo, published in 13 Claws, by Carrick Publishing
What the judges said, “The Outlier grabs the reader's attention from the first sentence. There was good foreshadowing and tension, with a solid ending and good believability. Prose was well done (showed rather than told) and the dialogue moved the plot along well. The protagonist was interesting and original, as was the diabolical plot. An unexpected twist ending reveals a criminal familiar to many of us, and this time he’s getting away with murder.”

Best Book in French
Les tricoteuses, by Marie Saur, publisher Héliotrope Noir

What the judges said, “Avec Les tricoteuses, Marie Saur nous plonge dans une intrigue prenante et originale tout en nous amenant dans un pan d’histoire moins connu du militantisme féministe au Québec: les grèves déclenchées par les ouvrières dans les usines textiles pour améliorer leur condition de travail. Sans jamais tomber dans les pièges du genre et les stéréotypes, elle nous offre une galerie de personnages pittoresque et un texte d’une grande qualité littéraire, en particulier dans ses dialogues. Le récit policier intéresse, et Marie Saur l’ouvre au roman social en dénonçant les puissants, assurés de leur bon droit. Elle y écorche au passage le milieu des médias prêt à tout pour attirer l’audience. Le tout avec une sensibilité, une subtilité et une teinte d’humour noir qui font de Ses tricoteuses un polar incontournable.”

Best Juvenile/YA Book
Chase - Get Ready to Run, by Linwood Barclay, publisher Penguin Random House Puffin Canada

What the judges said, “The plot is inventive and captivating from the opening chapter where the reader is taken into the mind of a dog as Chipper, the Border Collie, escapes from a top secret, scientific facility. This is a highly imaginative but believable story exploring the potential of cyber crime using a dog to mask the nefarious goals of his handlers. The book has strong boy and girl characters with the girl, atypically, being the computer expert and the boy expressing well the emotions and difficulties of being an orphan. It quietly introduces an emerging boy girl relationship suitable for the juvenile age group. The author employs age appropriate language and uses humour to temper the more frightening aspects of the story. “

Best Nonfiction Book
The Whisky King, by Trevor Cole, publisher HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

What the judges said,  “The Whisky King uses the lives of two protagonists to tell the history of prohibition and liquor smuggling in Canada. It combines the stories of a charming rum runner who became king of the bootleggers and the perennially underpaid Mountie who helped to shut him down. It captures the atmosphere of the 1920s and 30s in Hamilton and Toronto, a time when law enforcement didn't have the tools available today to bring about convictions and when the criminals told bold lies in court to enable them to, quite literally, get away with murder. The story-telling draws the reader in like a good novel. The book exhibits a high degree of professionalism in its research, writing, editing and presentation.”

Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Destruction in Paradise by Dianne Scott

What the judges said. “A unanimous choice, the judges were intrigued by the location of the book in both time and space. The choice of Toronto Island offers a relatively closed community providing a framework to contain the action. And the Island, along with its myriad engaging inhabitants, is well enough described to become a character in its own right. The choice of the 1960s as the timeframe furnishes an opportunity to set the book in an external milieu of social issues which integrate well with the main plot. The judges were impressed with the protagonist, finding her well-rounded with her own character arc and with an interesting subplot of her unusual family life. While not unduly complex, the plot hangs together well, with the ending growing organically out of what had gone before.”

The recipient of the Crime Writers of Canada Grand Master Award for 2018 is Gail Bowen
Gail Bowen is being recognized by Crime Writers of Canada for her long and illustrious career as a crime fiction author. She has almost 20 books in her long running Joanne Kilbourn series, several of which were either nominated for or received awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 1994, for A Colder Kind of Death. She has also written four Rapid Reads novellas and several plays. She is well established in Canada, highly respected in the writing community and much sought after by readers. She is frequently a guest at literary events. Several of her Joanne Kilbourn books were turned into a TV series.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been announced by the University of Alabama and the American Bar Journal. From the 27 submitted entries the following books were chosen:

         1.) Exposed by Lisa Scottoline;
         2.) Proof by C.E. Tobisman;
         3.) Testimony by Scott Turow

What strikes me about the list that all of the titles consist of a single word. As lawyers often struggle with brevity I doubt they were chosen by lawyers.

I have not read any of the books on the shortlist. I have read several of Turow’s books. Some I thought brilliant. Others I considered average.

I had expected Turow’s book to be on the shortlist. It has done well in sales since publication. As well, from the trio of best know popular American legal fiction authors – Turow, John Grisham and Michael Connelly – he was the only one not to have won the Prize. As winners are no longer eligible it was a probability Turow would be on the shortlist with his latest book.

It has been 14 years since I read Scottoline’s book, Dead Ringer. I thought it a good book but have not read more of her legal fiction.

I am not familiar with C.E. Tobisman. A quick search disclosed that Cynthia E. Tobisman is an appellate lawyer with the California law firm of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland. She has been listed in the Southern California Super Lawyers as an appellate lawyer for the past two years. For her writing career she states on her website that she is the “author of books, comics, screenplays and anything else fun”.

The judging panel for 2018 as set out in the University of Alabama press release is composed of:

        They are: Dr. Hilary Green, Assistant Professor History in the     
        Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of
        Alabama; Jini Koh, Attorney and University of Alabama 
        School of Law Graduate; Tony Mauro, U.S. Supreme Court 
        correspondent for Law.com and The National Law Journal;
        and Sent Jeter Naslund, Author, Co-founder and former 
        Program Director of the Spalding University MFA in Writing.

As with the Award in recent years readers of the ABA Journal will form a 5th voter for the Award.

The Award will be presented again at the Library of Congress during the National Book Festival.

Following my reading practice I plan to read the shortlist and provide posts on each book and my thoughts on the winner.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Wanted by Robert Crais

The Wanted by Robert Crais – It has been a few years since I read an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mystery. I had loved the early books in the series but found later books unabsorbing. The humour had diminished to insignificance while the violence quotient had grown in equal proportion to the decrease in humour. The series had lost its sparkle for me.

Still Elvis held a place in my reading heart. When I saw The Wanted in the shipboard library I decided to try the series again.

Elvis is retained by Devon Connor, a single mother and the office manager of a modest law firm, to find out why her teenage son, Tyson, suddenly has thousands of dollars and a genuine Rolex watch. She can think of no good reason for his sudden affluence. Elvis concurs and swiftly determines Tyson has even more money than his mother suspected.

A search of Tyson’s car turns up a pair of women’s Gucci sun glasses.

Later that morning, using sources in the insurance business Elvis learns that the watch was stolen from a wealthy family. It was taken in a burglary committed by two men and a woman.

LAPD has put together a task force to find them as they have successful committed 18 burglaries of the well to do and well connected of Los Angeles.

In a recent robbery a security camera captured an image of part of the face of one of the burglars. It is Tyson.

What has kept them free despite leaving fingerprints and other evidence is that the burglars have never been charged with any criminal offences.

Elvis, known in past books as The World’s Greatest Detective, is able to report to Devon within the day that he has solved the case and has a plan to minimize the consequences for Tyson.

What he does not know is that a pair of unscrupulous, actually evil, investigators Stemms and Harvey are pursuing the young thieves for an item stolen during one of the burglaries. To conceal their investigation they are willing to kill witnesses once they have provided information. What was taken by a trio of amateur thieves that could be so important?

When Tyson learns of the plan assembled by Elvis he bolts from his home.

Who will find Tyson and his fellow burglars first – Elvis or the wicked Stems and Harvey.

There is some effort to develop Stemms and Harvey as characters. They share banter and there is a striking scene involving music in a Mexican bar but in the end they are barely two dimensional characters. They could have been more formidable characters with a touch less violence and considerably more character development. Bad guys can be multi-dimensional.

 The plot proceeds swiftly and logically to its inevitable brutal ending. While there was a twist in the conclusion I regret to say the sparkle was not back. There is the occasional quip or witty comment but they are modest in number. Crais has the inherent ability to draw a reader effortlessly through the plot and I read the book swiftly. In the end I found it an average book and I doubt I shall return to the series.
Crais, Robert – (2001) - Demolition Angel (Best fiction of 2001); (2001) – Hostage; (2003) - The Last Detective; (2004) - Indigo Slam; (2005) - The Monkey’s Raincoat; (2005) - Stalking the Angel; (2005) - L.A. Requiem; (2005) - Voodoo River; (2006) The Forgotten Man; (2006) - The Two Minute Rule; (2007) - The Watchman; (2008) - Chasing Darkness; (2010) - The First Rule; (2012) - "C" is for Robert Crais; (2012) - Taken; Hardcover

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Take Down by James Swain

Take Down by James Swain – Billy Cunningham is the most memorable character I have read in 2018. As a professional cheater he has been successfully scamming Las Vegas casinos for years. Careful planning and an inventive mind are behind his scams. His glib tongue has saved him in many bad situations. A generation earlier he would have borne the nickname of Slick.

As the book begins Billy has just been arrested at the Galaxy Hotel and Casino where several people have been killed during a raid by the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Commission is ready to send Billy to jail for decades.

After a night in jail Billy, with some subtle assistance from the best defence lawyer in Las Vegas, offers to explain why he was in the Casino at the time of the raid. The offer is accepted. Billy’s explanation takes up the next 380 pages with the occasional diversion into his life history.

Billy, brilliant in math, is equally proficient in scams by a single person, a couple or a team.

In recent months Billy has assembled a team of cheaters to carry out complex schemes. There are a pair of beautiful ex-porn actresses to provide diversions. A pair of young grifters who are learning their craft. A veteran cheater is skilled in the manipulation of cards and dice. A former jeweler handles adaptation and/or creation of such gambling equipment as dice.

A few days before the raid at the Galaxy Billy carried out a scheme with Ly, the girlfriend of a jailed fellow cheater. She is a dealer at a blackjack table in a small casino. Using a gaffed chip, red on one side and green on the other side, they take the casino for $1,200 that evening.

Later that night an old grifter, Crunchie, who has been his friend for years tracks him down to propose a scam against the Galaxy with a huge payoff. He has a plan:

“I’ve been making a killing off a blackjack dealer at the Rio named Jazzy,” Crunchie said. Jazzy has this bad habit of rocking her hands and flashing her hole card every fifth hand. The other day I found out Jazzy left the Rio and took a job dealing at the high-roller salon at Galaxy. I racked my brain thinking of who I knew could play a whale. Then it hit me. I’ll call Billy.”

Billy is the perfect cheater to play the high roller in the plan.

It turns out Billy's trust in Crunchie was misplaced and he is forced to attempt to identify a group of modern American gypsies before they run a scam on the Galaxy. Even though his life is at stake Billy is reluctant to actually identify the gypsy scam. Cheaters do not catch cheaters. It is contrary to the cheaters code by which Billy abides.

Over the next few days Billy is continually adjusting to multiple schemes involving the Galaxy. His ability to react instantly reflects an agile mind.

It was amazing to read of the cleverness of cheaters. While casinos spend millions on security the cheaters continually evolve techniques to scam the casinos. At one end of the spectrum large sums are spent by both sides on electronic devices. At the other end is the sleight of hand of the traditional cheater.

Billy is amoral except for his crew and fellow cheaters. He has no qualms or remorse at scamming casinos. Casinos create the illusion of chance but the odds are always against the gambler.

With the importance of the gambling industry in Nevada the state gaming board aggressively pursues and prosecutes cheaters. Billy is continually fending off and deflecting both casino security and gaming board agents.

With all the schemes and deception in his life it is no surprise that Billy has no stable romantic relationship. Women are attracted to him but relationships are superficial.

I found Take Down reminded me of the cleverness and planning of gambling deception in the movie, The Sting. As we are decades later the level of violence is higher but intelligence is more important for being a successful cheater than brawn. I think Take Down would be a great movie. I am going to look for Bad Action, the second in the series when I get ashore.