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.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sleuth – Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master (Part I)

Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries - A lifetime of reading, writing, teaching and reflecting on the art of mystery fiction is distilled into this slim volume of 144 pages. The book is a master class on the writing of mysteries. Gail's exploration "how" she has applied the advice in the book in the writing of her mysteries makes Sleuth a vivid and fascinating book.

This year Gail was awarded the title of Grand Master by the Crime Writers of Canada. I wanted to extend my congratulations in a post. As I read Sleuth and thought about a review it struck me that I should combine the posts. Thus this post and my next post will reflect on Gail and upon Sleuth.

I openly acknowledge bias. I know Gail. I have visited her. We have exchanged emails.  I have read all 17 books in the Joanne Kilbourn series. She is one of my favourite authors and a wonderful person.

From knowing Gail Sleuth reflects her personality. She is a woman of great learning. She has read widely and thought about what she has read. At the same time she is not burdened by her knowledge in Sleuth. She is not pedantic. She dispenses her advice with flair and self-deprecation. 

Only when you note the sources and contacts supporting her thoughts on writing do you appreciate the breadth of her knowledge about the genre and the writing of crime fiction.

I have always believed that principles are best explained by examples. And the best examples are personal examples for they connect the teacher with the student. Sleuth is filled with examples of Gail's writing experiences.

You need not have read any of the Joanne Kilbourn books to understand the examples but readers of Sleuth who have read books in the series will gain a deeper understanding of the stories and how and why they were written.

In a chapter on the narrative perspective Gail sets out why she uses the first person narrative:

I’ve used a first-person narrator for both the Joanne Kilbourn series and the Charlie Dowhanuik series. I’ve also used first person for one novella and one very short piece. It’s a good fit for me. I like getting inside a character’s head, and I like imagining what life must look like through her or his eyes. It’s a personal call, and I seem to slip into it easily, but it might not be for you.

With her confident personality I would have been surprised had she chosen a different form of narrative.

It is no surprise that Gail has thought about evil. Murder is wicked. Life has been deliberately taken.

She sees “three distinct perspectives on evil”:

“First, evil is inherent in all human beings; in other words, it is a character problem….”

“Second, evil is a social problem, created by institutions that diminish or destroy the poor, the alienated, and the powerless….”

“Third, evil is both inherent in who we are and susceptible to growth in a society whose citizens don’t take their moral obligations to one another seriously….”

I consider it telling that in none of her perspectives is the evil doer a monster.

With regard to her murderers she states:

With the exception of three sociopaths, the murderers in the Joanne Kilbourn series are not monsters. They are ordinary people who find themselves in circumstances that, in their minds, justify the taking of a human life.

In creating killers who are not monsters Gail is becoming an exception in contemporary crime fiction. In Michael Connelly’s latest books in the Harry Bosch series the killers have been one dimensional monsters. Recent I read The Taken by Robert Crais. His killers were irredeemably brutal.

Gail rightly emphasizes character development in Sleuth. It is discouraging to me when the least developed character in a mystery is the killer.

I appreciate many readers have little interest in the minds of killers. Maxine Clarke, a blogger friend now gone almost 6 years, told me in a comment on a post where I was lamenting Connelly’s killers:

I agree that his villains can be weak as characters but personally I don’t like reading too much from the “sick mind of the villain” point of view, so I am glad he does not go in for that.

For myself, I think the greatest crime writers are not simply those authors with the best sleuths but those writers who create villains worthy of their sleuths. Gail points to the example of Professor Moriarty. Having Sherlock challenged by the evil genius continues to fascinate readers over 125 years later.

I wish more mystery writers recognized the devil is a subtle and devious, often charming, evil doer.

(Part II in my next post.)
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the MendelThe Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose StreetQ & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle; Hardcover 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Full Disclosure Within Full Disclosure

In my last post I reviewed Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin. The title is a clever play on words for a legal mystery. There are multiple issues of full disclosure within the book.

While I do not reveal the ending in this post it does have spoilers for potential readers of the book.

Every defence counsel seeks “full disclosure” from their client with regard to the case. It rarely happens. In the book Jilly Truitt’s client, Vincent Trussardi, is less forthcoming than most criminal clients. He clearly has secrets that he is keeping from his lawyer. I appreciate Truitt’s frustration. I continually tell clients, civil and criminal, to provide me with full information. Let me decide what is important for the case.

A murder case where the accused denies killing the victim will mean “full disclosure” of the victim’s life. It is hard to know what may have provoked murder without delving deeply into the life of the deceased. There is no privacy in murder.

In the book the victim, Laura Trussardi, had been carrying on an affair. Was it over as she proclaimed? Had her distraught lover, who created a scene at the funeral by chasing after the hearse, killed her in anger over the end of the affair?

“Full disclosure” also applies to important witnesses. The life of the family housekeeper, Carmelina, will be carefully scrutinized to establish her relationship with both the accused and the victim. When she holds back a secret, until questioned by the Crown Prosecutor Cy Kenge, that is embarrassing to her and damaging to Trussardi there is reason to suspect the reliability of her evidence.

Carmelina is not alone in her futile attempt at privacy. All the main characters are maintaining secrets for personal motives.

For Canadian lawyers the title evokes the Crown duty to provide “full disclosure” of its case to the defence. The Crown is obligated to produce witness statements, forensic reports, police occurrence statements, photos and copies of evidence.

The requirement of “full disclosure” was absent when I started my legal career after in 1975. Crown prosecutors were inconsistent in the information they would provide to defence counsel. Trial by ambush was not uncommon.

In the 1991 Supreme Court decision of R. v. Stinchcombe, a decision referred to in the book, our highest court made “full disclosure” by the Crown mandatory. McLachlin does not mention in the book that she was a member of the unanimous panel of judges who made that decision.

The judgment by Mr. Justice Sopinka does include a reference to McLachlin writing about disclosure:

       In R. v. C. (M.H.) (1988), 46 C.C.C. (3d) 142 (B.C.C.A.), at p. 
       155, McEachern C.J.B.C. after a review of the authorities stated
       what I respectfully accept as a correct statement of the law.  He 
       said that:  "there is a general duty on the part of the Crown to 
       disclose all material it proposes to use at trial and especially all 
       evidence which may assist the accused even if the Crown does 
       not propose to adduce it".  This passage was cited with 
       approval by McLachlin J. in her reasons on behalf of the Court 
       ([1991] 1 S.C.R. 763).  She went on to add:  "This Court has 
       previously stated that the Crown is under a duty at common law 
       to disclose to the defence all material evidence whether 
       favourable to the accused or not" (p. 774).

Through the rest of her 37 year career on the bench the author periodically dealt with the implementation of “full disclosure” in Canadian criminal cases reaching the Supreme Court.

Within the book "full disclosure" by the Crown becomes a major issue.

Shortly before the trial Truitt attends a party at Cy's home. While there his impaired wife, Lois, blurts out that Cy has a police occurrence report:

       Something about Laura Trussardi crying in the street outside  
       her house a couple of days before the murder.

Truitt downplays the significance of the report to Lois because she rightly states 

     "Cy can't use the report in evidence unless he gives me

Even if the Crown never intended to use the report it is important evidence that should have been part of the initial disclosure or, if not known to the Crown at that time, immediately upon it coming into the possession of the Crown.

Disclosure of the report by Cy is only made at the end of the trial when Trussardi has testified on cross examination that his wife had no reason to fear him and would not have been crying in the street shortly before her murder afraid to return home.

Cy wants to use the report in rebuttal in an effort to show Trussardi was lying. Treat objects on several grounds including the failure to disclose.

Cy asserts she had been told the report may exist. Truitt says the information came from Cy's wife at a party.

To my surprise and dismay the trial judge admits the report stating:

      "You knew that this report might exist before you put your 
      client on the stand, and now you complain that using it to bring
      forth the truth is unfair."

To have indirect disclosure through the prosecutor's wife works well in the story but I cannot see any real life judge admitting the report.

Cy's actions in using his wife's statements as disclosure are unethical and contrary to the legal principles of disclosure. They would invite the trial judge to refer the matter to the Law Society for investigation on whether he should be disciplined for conduct unbecoming a member of the Law Society.

Thus it is ironic that that author, the just retired Chief Justice of Canada, has a judge commit the one clear legal error in the book.

As a defence counsel I would have loved to have seen her write the scene in the courtroom with the trial judge sternly rebuking the Crown Prosecutor for gross misconduct and refusing to admit the report. There would have been a wonderful opportunity for the trial judge to have righteously upheld the sanctity of "full disclosure". Maybe in her next book.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Full Disclosure by Beverly McLachlin

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – One of the most anticipated works of crime fiction this year of 2018 was from an author new to the genre but very familiar with crime. McLachlin has spent the last 29 years of her life as Canadian Supreme Court Justice finishing her judicial life as the first female Chief Justice of Canada. In Full Disclosure she demonstrates she has kept in contact with life on the front lines of the legal profession while she labored at the top.

Prior to purchasing the book I wondered if she would have written a book about an appellate judge or possibly a case reaching the Canadian Supreme Court. Instead, she has returned in fiction to Vancouver where she was a lawyer, professor of law and superior court judge before going to Ottawa as a Supreme Court justice.

Wealthy businessman and patron of the arts, Vincent Trussardi, has been charged with the murder of his wife, Laura. They were one of the “beautiful” couples of Vancouver with wealth and charm and good looks. They were not averse to media cameras.

The Crown has a strong case. Laura was killed in the matrimonial bed with a gun owned by the accused.

Defence counsel, Jilly Truitt, has spent 10 years learning her craft in the criminal courts of Vancouver and is now a prominent defender. At 34 she is also one of the “beautiful” people of the city. She knows that heads turn as she walks through public rooms.

Jilly had a difficult childhood through a succession of foster homes. She has chosen not to search out the identity of her birth parents.

In her first meeting with Trussardi she asks the crucial question when defending an accused who denies committing murder. If it was not him does he have any idea who was the killer? Trussardi briefly hesitates and shakes his head. Truitt lets the answer go unchallenged for the moment.

While every defence counsel challenges the evidence of the Crown there needs to be a realistic alternative to the accused. Reasonable doubt is created by another plausible killer. There are other potential killers in Full Disclosure but is there enough evidence to make them credible suspects?

As Trussardi maintains he was not at home when the murder was committed his defenders search for witnesses who can provide alibi evidence.

Jilly and her defence team spend long hours reviewing the boxes of Crown disclosure.

As with all of us in real life each of the fictional characters has secrets that make it harder to know the truth.

A murder trial brings a harsh light to bear on the lives of its participants. Secrets are unearthed and then their relevancy to the murder is determined.

The trial is well done. I consider the trials in Canadian courts created by William Deverell and Robert Rotenberg to be better done.

McLachlin provides an apt description of the feeling of lawyers when a trial is about to begin:

Already I feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies each new trial. It’s my only remaining addiction – the addiction to risk. Despite the disclosure, all the rules, there are always surprises, and this case will be no exception. Witnesses who say more than they should. The push in cross-examination, always calculated, but sometimes going further than safe.

There is a twist at the end of the trial that I never foresaw. It explains unease I had with some of the earlier plot. McLaughlin does a good job of setting up the reader.

I had some disappointment in the ending. It became the conventional ending of many North American legal mysteries.

I consider the strength of the book in the lawyers. I compare all fictional lawyers with those created by John Grisham. He has created so many interesting lawyers. McLachlin does well in that comparison. Jilly is very much a woman of the 21st Century. Crown counsel, Cy Kenge, is somewhat of a dinosaur but still a talented and wily prosecutor.

The title is a clever choice which has inspired my next post on the layers of meaning it has within the book. The post will include a discussion on a decision by the trial judge on disclosure. It is ironic, if not Freudian, considering the author’s background that the one probable legal error within the book was that decision.

I hope McLachlin will continue with a series of Jilly Truitt books. There will never be a shortage of interesting crimes in Vancouver from which to draw inspiration.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron

Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron - Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He is clever and well educated, a combination not always appreciated by his fellow wardens and superiors. Obedience to authority is a challenge for Bowditch.

His current posting reflects his situation:

Here they’d gone and exiled me to the easternmost county in the United States – a desolate outland where game wardens were hated and oxycodone abuse was epidemic – but still I refused to explode.

With forest covering the region all work and play is connected to the forest. The area has been in economic decline for decades. The major employer, Skillen Lumber, has shrunk dramatically and is hanging on as a business.

Elizabeth “Betty” Morse has made a dramatic entry into the area. After amassing a $500 million dollar fortune from the sale of “herbal health supplements” she had concocted she has purchased 100,000 acres of forest land in northeastern Maine. She instantly became infamous when, with regard to her newly purchased lands:

…. she’d promptly declared (them) off-limits to loggers, hunters, all-terrain-vehicle riders, fishermen and snowmobilers. Her intention, she announced, was to donate the land to the federal government to create a new national park where timber wolves and woodland caribou would once again roam free.

Anger against “Queen Elizabeth” is intense as residents fear for their jobs and resent the loss of freedom to roam and hunt and fish her lands.

There is a dichotomy in the American psyche that prizes private ownership of land but expects access for recreation to large tracts of private land.

Bowditch’s friend, Billy Cronk, is working for Ms. Morse. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan he has not found the transition to civilian life an easy process.

He calls Bowditch when he finds moose killed upon Ms. Morse’s property. After examining the corpses of a mother moose and two offspring they start searching her property and find there has been a series of killings the previous night. They find 6 moose slaughtered and left to rot. A more detailed search determines there were at least 10 moose killed. It is the worst wildlife crime in Maine history.

It appears the killers were crack shots. They have used .22 rifles and rarely more than a single shot to kill the moose. It takes skill to kill a moose with a .22.

A task force is formed by the wardens led by Lieutenant Marc Rivard. There is mutual distrust between Bowditch and Rivard. Bowditch knows he will have little role in the investigation though the crime has taken place in his area. His expectations are met when Rivard assigns him to go through area gravel pits where gun owners routinely practice shooting. He is to seek out .22 casings to see if any match the casings left behind at the killing sites on the Morse land. It is useless work.

The wardents seek suspects in the area. As always, no one wants the killers to be respected local residents. The community would be content were it a hermit like survivalist or an overweight unemployed poacher.

Bowditch’s relationship with Rivard is excerabated when, after Morse meets Bowditch, she regally requests Bowditch be assigned as liason between herself and the task force.

While there is some forensic evidence none of it is connected directly to any suspects.

As the investigation proceeds Bowditch is called to the city, a drive of over 4 hours, to see his mother. He has spent little time in recent years on their relationship. On his arrival he finds out she has stage 3 ovarian cancer. Her prognosis is grim. Guilt based on his neglect pushes him to reflect on the relationships of his life. It is a discouraging reflection.

Doiron draws the reader easily through the story. He is clearly very familiar with the woods of Maine.

While I enjoyed the book I thought the ending weak. It had the feel of an author who was struggling to find a way to conclude the story. The ending came abruptly and without the flow of plot that had marked the rest of the book.

I will look to read another in the series. Bowditch is an interesting sleuth. I appreciate the setting in Maine. There is character development, even of some of the bad guys. Doiron is a talented writer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine

While on our month long cruise Sharon and I visited Portland, Maine. On a quiet April Sunday, which happened to be my birthday, I took a walk looking for my favourite place for shopping, an independent bookstore. Longfellow Books on Monument Square was open and I was immediately at home.

The store has a wide selection of books and staff ready and eager to help with book selections. I sought out recommendations for mysteries by Maine authors. More specifically I asked if there was any crime by local writers. The staff suggested a pair of authors.

The first author was Paul Doiron and his series featuring Maine game warden, Mike Bowditch. While the first book in the series could not be found Massacre Pond was available.

Doiron was an editor of Down East: The Magazine of Maine when he retired make his life as a writer. His website sets out that:

He is also a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine with his wife Kristen Lindquist.

Kristen is a writer and poet.

The second author was Bruce Robert Coffin whose sleuth, Detective Sergeant John Byron is a member of the Portland police department. On the shelf for purchase was Beneath the Depths.

Coffin is certainly familiar with the Portland Police Department as he was a detective sergeant. His website sets out that at his retirement he “supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations in Maine’s largest city”.

I could have added a third unexpectedly Maine crime fiction writer. Famed mystery author, John Connolly, was born in Ireland but he also resides in Portland. Some of the books in his Charlier Parker series are set in Maine.

After returning to the ship I looked on the net for more information about the store and found it well loved.

In 2013 during a blizzard that dumped 31.9 inches of snow on Portland the storm broke a window and snow drifted into a room above the store and water started dripping down when it warmed up. As well a water line froze and broke causing sprinklers to dump water. When the fire department responded the fire fighters worked hard to save books. They used tarps used to help cover items in fires and physically carried books out of the store.

In an article in the Portland Press Herald co-owner at the time, Chris Bowe is quoted:

It was a reverse ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Bowe said, referring to Ray Bradbury’s 1953 science fiction classic, in which books are outlawed and burned by firemen.

(I remember watching the movie of that book as a teenager and being disturbed how believeable it could be that books could be banned and burned.)

Still 40% to 50% of the store’s 30,000 books were damaged.

The article states that when the owners said on Facebook they were closing indefinitely there were 200 customers who responded to the notice wanting to help.

Shortly after the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance organized events and fund raisers to help out the store.

Longfellow books, self-described as fiercely independent and a staunch member of Portland Buy Local, illustrates the benefits of a business focusing on being a local independent store.

Their website is https://www.longfellowbooks.com/.

I hope travels will take me back to Portland and I can visit Longfellow Books again.

In case you were wondering the store is named for Portland’s most famous native, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Decisions by Jim Treliving

Decisions by Jim Treliving – The Canadian Dragon gained public fame in his mid-60’s through his participation in the CBC television program, Dragons Den, on which budding entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to a quartet of prominent Canadian business people seeking to convince a Dragon to invest in their companies.

Watching him on television I saw Treliving as a direct, even blunt man, but had no idea he was a skilled storyteller. In Decisions he goes through his transformation from an RCMP constable to a pizza restaurant franchisee to a business tycoon as co-owner of the Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube franchises.

In one way the book is a manual on becoming and staying a successful businessman. At the same time it is an absorbing personal story.

Treliving grew up in Virden, Manitoba where his father had a barber shop. His Dad was a successful businessman who abhorred debt to the point of delaying marriage until he had enough money to pay cash for a house and enough money that his wife would not have to work. He married at 37.

Treliving is a passionate man about work. Play has always had a modest role in his life. His main recreation has been golf and he constantly uses golf games to assess those wanting to do business with him.

As a young man he joined the RCMP and was stationed in Prince George, B.C. and then transferred to Edmonton. He was a dedicated police officer. He enjoyed the work and the camaraderie with his fellow officers. As with all most everyone in the world he was a man of habit. He often joined fellow officers after work for a meal. He had his spots and rarely ventured into new restaurants.

It took repeated efforts for a colleague to get him into a Boston Pizza restaurant in Edmonton. It was the mid-1960’s and it was his first experience with pizza. His description of not knowing which pizza to order (his friend suggested the Hawaiian – ham and pineapple) and uncertainty on how to eat it reminded me that I had never had pizza until about the same time frame. If we had heard of pizza 50 years ago on the Canadian prairies it was some foreign dish in New York or Italy. After trying it Treliving, as with myself and every young person of that era I knew, liked pizza. It was so different from our meat-and-potatoes meal tradition.

Treliving describes the attraction of pizza to him:

The meal was easy, fast and kind of fun. Pizza was the kind of thing you could put down in the middle of the table and share with friends, everyone grabbing a slice, which to me seemed exotic ….. I was an instant fan.

He was soon an unofficial bouncer at Boston Pizza absorbing the business. When he grew frustrated with the RCMP and looked for an alternative he was ready to try the pizza business.

When he and another unhappy officer, Don Spence, raised with Gus Agioritis, the lead brother in Boston Pizza, opening the first Boston Pizza franchise Gus was excited. Treliving outlines the importance of the reaction of Gus:

He knew we had no experience in the restaurant business, let alone pizza-and pasta-making skills. But here’s the thing: Gus liked us. Most important, Gus trusted us, which was a big deal since this was going to be Boston Pizza’s first formal franchise. Thankfully, Gus had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.

Treliving goes on with the heading:

            Trust People with More Confidence in You Than You Have in Yourself

Unconsciously I have had the benefit of that aphorism. Others can often see your potential better than yourself.

Every business needs money and Treliving was no exception. He rightly emphasizes that “asking for money is a skill – get good at it”. He refers to what convinces him on The Dragon’s Den to invest with a businessperson seeking money:

A pitcher’s sound valuation is the sign I can invest with confidence. They understand what they have, what they need and how I can help.

It takes hard long hours to succeed in business. Treliving sets out a quality needed in that quest:

Enthusiasm creates wealth …. Enthusiasm also creates stamina. When you can work like a dog with joy in your heart, you’re going to make more money ….. Enthusiastic people attract the same.. As a group enthusiasts create momentum, and money loves momentum. Passionate people doing something they love will always attract the right people to them.

Through the book he sets out how they made the decisions that turned Boston Pizza into a great business. There were setbacks.

Treliving candidly acknowledges that he has not always made the best business decisions. Expansions to Asia and Ontario faltered and, with the concurrence of his partner George Melville, they withdrew back to Western Canada. He analyzes where they erred in their expansion process. After retrenching they moved back into Eastern Canada with great success. It is less clear whether expansion to the United States and Mexico will be as successful.

Internet assessments put his net worth at $600 to $700 million dollars.

Treliving is a gifted storyteller and I would have enjoyed the book even without the business lessons.

Treliving is the second Dragon to have written a book about his life that business career that I have found riveting. In 2013 I was absorbed by Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes by W. Brett Wilson.

It is a rare book that has made me reflect on what I should be doing differently in life and work. We never run out of decisions in life. Treliving’s drive has inspired me into thinking about how I make decisions. I will be keeping Decisions as a reference on the process of decision making.