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 29, 2018

Georgia Griffin and Ken Madigan in Escape Velocity

In my last post I reviewed Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe. It is an excellent book. In that book  I loved Georgia Griffin. She was the best character I have read in legal mystery fiction since Sebastian Rudd in Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.

Her determination is humbling. She is living in her car when she arrives in California. Until she receives her first pay cheque Georgia is stretching every dollar:

She’d found a second outfit at Goodwill, and another shirt for her pantsuit, so she would never have to wear anything more than twice a week. Hard to keep her clothes decent with her car for a closet, … Did they have an iron at the homeless center? Lousy having no refridgerator, but she was pretty sure they had one here (work) in the kitchen she could use, and four nights a week they served a hot dinner at church on First Street if she could get there on time.

Even when she starts being paid she plans to stay living in car until she has enough money to bring her teenage sister, Katie-Ann, from Arkansas to California and rent an apartment for the two of them.

The enthusiasm Georgia and Katie-Ann have for a simple apartment in a shabby building is powerful. They are grateful for the chance at a new life.

Almost as striking and certainly as impressive is the head of the legal department, Ken Madigan. He is the type of lawyer real life lawyers aspire to be in their lives. Ken does his work with integrity and determination. He treats his staff well and inspires confidence.

At the same time Ken and his wife are friendly to Georgia and want her to do well. Finding out she desperately needs a few hundred dollars for Katie-Ann’s bus fare they loan her the money. It is a pleasant fictional surprise that people can simply help someone in need with no ulterior motive.

Ken is strong willed but not aggressive and certainly not as ruthless as Georgia.

Georgia’s background has left her a driven personality. She is not driven to seek promotions. She is striving to be indispensable to ensure she can keep her position as a paralegal. The security of a job is more important than advancement in the company. She does not want to keep living in her car.

Equally wanting to keep the company successful so they need paralegals she decides to use family skills for the betterment of Lumina Software.

She is a master manipulator having been thoroughly trained in conning people. Her father is a skilled con artist though not skilled enough to avoid being in jail.

Georgia puts in a word with the possessive wife of the supervisor of the Always Pigheaded (Accounts Payable) obstructionist lady. She somewhat subtly suggests the AP lady is interested in her supervisor. Within days AP lady is gone from the company.

At the same time Georgia is risking dismissal if her manipulations should be detected.

She is not a saint. Some of her schemes have more serious consequences than losing a job. Georgia has a limited moral compass. There is more than a touch of the vigilante in her personality.

What a concept for a legal team – a clever woman and a principled man – working together to solve challenging legal issues while maintaining a genuine personal friendship. I would look forward to reading more books featuring Georgia and Ken.
Wolfe, Susan – (2014) - The Last Billable Hour; (2014) Who is Susan Wolfe?; (2017) - This is Susan Wolfe; (2018) - Escape Velocity 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe

(33. – 963.) Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe – I have been waiting for this book for years. Ever since I read The Last Billable Hour I have been hoping Ms. Wolfe would write another book about lawyers in Silicon Valley.

Georgia  Louise Griffin, a newly
accredited correspondence school paralegal from Arkansas, has driven to California to seek employment in the legal department of a tech firm. She does not want a life in the family con artist business. She understands the challenge facing her:

Her father probably knew as well as she did that it was nearly impossible to achieve escape velocity from the life you were born to, from a father you loved who was counting on you. Her father had just been biding his time, waiting patiently for her to grow up and quit stalling. He probably still was.

She does use some of the “special skills” to help her get a job at Lumina Software. It is a publicly traded Silicon Valley software company with a market cap of around $3 billion which has not been meeting expectations in the market.

I was immediately captured and hoping for the plucky Arkansan to succeed. Later in the book I realized she is far more than plucky.

Unfamiliar with business and legal acronyms Georgia uses clever word association to remember them. AP, instead of “Accounts Payable”, becomes “Always Pigheaded” because of the obstinancy of a woman in the department.

She is attracted to Ken Madigan, the 6’5” lean and handsome head of the legal department, but she is set on keeping their relationship professional.

Lumina’s CEO, the abrasive Roy Zisko, has cut costs and is pushing the employees to do more and more. The company had prided itself that it would only Ship When Ready its products . However, Zisko pushed the latest product to be shipped before ready and there were significant bugs which have cost sales and caused doubt in customers. An update is scheduled which also has bugs. Zisko will not hear of delay in release of the update until it is debugged. A confrontation is looming.

Georgia is almost immediately in senior meetings as a note taker. She is good at being unnoticed during the meetings.

At the same time she is very observant.

Not many books delve into the interplay between management and boards of directors of large public corporations. When business is not going well there is significant tension.

Zisko will not allocate resources for additional staff to meet deadlines but will spend several million dollars on changing the office design to open structure to show he has put his stamp upon the company.

She comes up with an idea for a lawsuit before the International Trade Commission (ITC). In her mind it becomes the Ingenious Tricky Countersuit.

Can Georgia help with the problem of inept to even incompetent supervisors and heads of department? Can the “special skills” of con artistry be adapted for use in Silicon Valley?

Wolfe is one of the few writers of legal mysteries to set out the multiple files worked on daily by corporate and private lawyers. In most legal mysteries the busy lawyers somehow focus all of their attention on a single file. In Escape Velocity the legal department is facing new issues throughout the book. They have to prioritize the different files coming at them. There is little time to savour success or despair over failure as another file or files await. I find the juggling that must be done more realistic and more interesting than the traditional single file mysteries.

I enjoyed The Last Billiable Hour. I loved Escape Velocity and will have another post on Georgia and Ken. They could easily be the lead characters for a series. I regret there were 27 years between Wolfe’s books.
Wolfe, Susan – (2014) - The Last Billable Hour; (2014) Who is Susan Wolfe?; (2017) - This is Susan Wolfe

Saturday, September 22, 2018

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

(32. – 962.) An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson – Sheriff Walt Longmire travels with Henry Standing Bear to Hulett in northeast Wyoming. But for one week a year Hulett is best known as the nearest town to the Devils Tower, America’s first national monument.

A short distance across the border is Rapid City, South Dakota. Even closer is Sturgis. Walt and Henry arrive at the beginning of the week long motorcycle rally held annually at Sturgis. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycles and their drivers make the trek each year to Sturgis. Many drift over to Hulett.

They roll into town in Henry’s 1959 blue Thunderbird, named Lola in honour of a past love of Henry, and towing, on a trailer, Henry’s motorcycle (Lucie) and his dirt bike (Rosalie).

Walt has been asked, informally, to help investigate a motorcycle accident in which a young man, Bodaway “B-way” Torres, was badly injured. It appears he was knocked off the highway.

Henry has come to enter the Jackpine Gypsies Hill Climb. He won the race in 1974. With grudging acceptance of age he tells Walt it will be his last climb.

The situation becomes far more complicated when they encounter:

Lots of women perfect the sway at some point in their lives, but few get the rumble that this one had in spades. She was probably in her fifties, her dark hair with a sharp strand of silver in the middle swept back from her forehead. Very tall, and dressed in a simple black tank top and jeans, she split the crowd like an icebreaker, …. He (Henry) smiled broadly, and the woman did a hair flip I would’ve given a 9.5, stepped in front of Henry, and then slapped the Bear’s face with a tooth-shattering report.

Her image is completed by her car. She drives a “dilapidated, slightly dented, faded gold’66 Cadillac DeVille”.

She is “the” Lola and she is the mother of Bodaway. Lola Wojciechowski creates drama wherever she goes.

Lola wants Henry to investigate her son’s accident. Henry, generally eager to help, is uninterested. He does not trust Lola. She turns to Walt and asks him not to let her down. The knight errant will do her biding though Henry advises:

            “Not all fair maidens are worthy of rescue, Walt.”

Bodaway is a patched member of the Tre Tre Nomads, a band of outlaw bikers, in never ending conflict with the Hell’s Angels and other outlaw biker clubs.

The investigation is hampered by the distractions of biker week and the thousands of bikers in the area.

Brady Post, enforcer of the Tre Tre Nomads, establishes an uneasy relationship with Walt.

Henry’s race is epic. I find myself enjoying the personal adventures of the lead characters as much or more than the investigations.

It gradually becomes apparent in the investigation that Bodaway was carrying something on the motorcycle that was of great value to someone.

Bodaway’s cell phone lists multiple calls with Billy ThE Kiddo, star of a moderately successful T.V. reality show. Walt and his undersheriff, Victoria Moretti, visit ThE’s custom motorcycle business, The Chop Shot. ThE after a run-in at the shop with Walt shows creativity when he gets against the Sheriff “a restraining order, harassment, and a charge of cease and desist”.

The investigation proceeds, as common with recent Longmire books, to a Hollywood ending featuring the MRAP of the Hulett police department. Thankfully there are few bodies.

Through the book Henry quotes periodically from the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. The title comes from:

            “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” 

It is a good Longmire book and I will read the next in the series. I am glad there is humour back in Walt Longmire’s life. With the T.V. series now over maybe the book series can cease the Hollywood styling.
Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish(Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; (2016) - Musings on the 5th Season of Longmire; (2017) - Dry Bones and Is the Largest T-Rex in Saskatchewan?; Hardcover 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Darkness of the Heart by Gail Bowen

(31. – 961.) A Darkness of the Heart by Gail Bowen – The turmoil in Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve’s life from the deaths of three close friends in the The Winners’ Circle is easing when she is thrown into mental chaos by the revelation her revered father, Douglas Ellard, is not her birth father. Her birth father was family friend, Desmond Love. The revelation means her adopted daughter, Taylor, is actually her niece. 

The unknown father, mother, sibling or other relative suddenly revealed to the sleuth in crime fiction is not my favourite plot line. Too often I find it contrived. It does work well in A Darkness of the Heart. I like that Gail makes it a positive rather than shattering event. While startled, even shocked, Joanne is not traumatized.

Joanne, anxious about Taylor’s reaction, breaks the news:

Taylor put her arm around me and snuggled in. The warmth of her young body was comforting. For a few minutes, the only sounds in the room came from the traffic on the street. The air was heavy with the words my daughter and I longed to say to each other, but before we could begin, the doorbell rang. The words would have to remain unsaid. The pizza man was waiting.

As Joanne reflects on Des being her birth father – a man filled with joy – she wonders if the optimism for the future that has guided her life could have been inherited.

While relationships, as always in a Joanne Kilbourn book, are important the world of artistic creativity is at the heart of the book.

New York filmmakers have come to the soundstages of Regina to film a musical The Happiest Girl which was inspired by a painting by Des Love.

For the director, Ainsley Blair, and the screenwriter Ray Brodnitz it is a return to their hometown. They grew up in Regina and trained as dancers with Zephyr Winslow before moving to New York after high school. Just before filming is to start they perform the opening dance in a 75th birthday tribute to Zephyr. They choose “Begin the Beguine” in the style of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell from Broadway Melody of 1940.

Gabe Vickers, the husband of Ainsley, is the aggressive producer of the film. He is justly famed for his ability to put together movies but has a darkness within that leaves Joanne uneasy.

Taylor is reflecting on her personal and artistic future. She has just finished high school and decided to take a gap year. Her immense talent and professional success are unlikely to endear her to the less skilled classmates she would encounter at art school.

For Joanne it is a worrisome time. Taylor’s mother, Sally, at 14 left for New York City with Izaak Levin, an older man, after the death of her father. They soon became lovers. While Sally produced remarkable art her personal life was chaotic and had no time for Taylor as a child. The relationship of Sally and Izaak is more complex than the evident sexual misconduct from the disparity in their ages.

Will the self-destructive natures of her mother, Sally, and her grandmother, Nina, show themselves in Taylor? While Taylor has lived in Joanne’s loving family since she was 4 and shown a maturity beyond her years Taylor is now exploring the world.

Taylor establishes a friendship with Vale Frazier, a talented 17 year old actor, has come from New York to play one of the lead roles. She has been on her own for years.

Joanne has successfully gone through three children leaving home. Yet her parental anxiety over a child become an adult is undiminished with Taylor.

In Gail’s exploration of the minds of artists I was reminded of Louise Penny looking into the psyche of artists in several of the best books of the Armand Gamache series.

Zack and Joanne are also helping their friend, Nick Kovacs, deal with a sexual assault upon his mentally challenged 14 year old daughter, Chloe. While Chloe, who has the mind of a 7 year old, appears alright her father can barely contain his rage over the unknown predator.

There are powerful moments when Joanne sees for the first time on film at 60 years old what she was like as a baby and then a toddler. The psychological impact of watching herself amidst her fathers twists at Joanne. The adult Joanne refers to Douglas as her father and Des as Des.

It is also the most complex time of the year. It is Christmas season. Parties and presents and tension mingle.

The interplay of the relatioships between friends, family and colleagues drew me swiftly through the book.

And then there is sudden unexpected death. In a book that is unflinching in addressing complicated relationships and sexual predelictions I found the solution to the death the weakest part of the book. It was a resolution that avoided consequences.

A Darkness of the Heart is an excellent book. Gail is neither predictable nor formulaic 18 books into a wonderful series. I am glad there are more Joanne Kilbourn mysteries being written.

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; (2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - Part I and Part II; Hardcover

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Q & A with Jayne Barnard

In my last post I reviewed When the Flood Falls by J.E. Barnard. As I wrote the review I sent an email to Jayne with some questions and she promptly replied. My email and her answers are below. I appreciate Jayne answering my questions.

I purchased When the Flood Falls at Chapters in Regina just over a week ago and have enjoyed the book. I will be posting a review tomorrow.

If you have the time I have a few questions.

I have been wondering how close a character Jan is to you. On your website you refer to your ME/CFS and how it has deeply impacted your life. Jan also has ME/CFS. Are her health problems also your experiences?

I’ve had ME/CFS for more than 25 years. It’s a relapsing/remitting neuro-immune illness that, for about 25% of us, never gets around to remitting. I’ve had some of the same struggles as the character Jan, notably resisting getting a wheelchair for several years after I knew I needed one. Others of her experiences are based on those of people I have read through online support groups.

You chose striking women as your major characters are women. The men are the secondary characters. I would be interested in knowing why women lead and men support the plot in your book.

I would also be interested in knowing whether you had reached the decision to make the lead characters women before starting the book or during the writing of the book.

I did appreciate that your strong women were neither all good nor all bad characters.

There was never a question for me about writing the lead characters as women. Conventional wisdom is ‘write what you know’. Well, I know women. My early thirties, like those of my female characters, were filled with struggle: career, relationships, and health issues. Single women are vulnerable to disruptions in all these arenas; we support each other as best we can in a world that is still predominantly governed by men’s rituals and hierarchies.

I wanted to write fiction that – apart from the act of murder which fortunately touches most of us less often than crime fiction would imply – reflected real women’s lives. One part of that reality is that women are at far greater risk of violence and murder from the men in their lives than they are from strangers. The statistics on domestic violence and murder have not significantly changed in the thirty years I have been watching them. That experience of domestic violence is an aspect of Lacey’s PTSD that she will continue to cope with in future books.

I realized as I was reading When the Flood Falls how rarely Canadian crime fiction authors use NHL players in their books. Hockey is our national passion. Money and sex are in abundance around the NHL. What took you to including a group of NHLers in the book? Do you have some personal connections to professional hockey?

I have a spiderweb of interactions with the world of hockey, beginning many years ago when my co-worker married a minor-league scout and started billeting young players. Some of those young players struggled with homesickness and some were caught up directly or peripherally in abusive situations that only came to light years later. Some of them abused the teenage girls who treated them like royalty. As I was studying adolescent psychology at that time, my co-worker and I had many discussions about the factors shaping those young players, how she could mitigate possible damage to them, and the ways in which those influences might play out in their adulthood.

Throughout the decades, I’ve followed the careers of some of those players – yes, into the NHL as well as to international teams – watching some of them grow into great players, strong and compassionate humans, while others flamed out early in self-destructive spirals. The novel is not primarily about hockey players or the people around them, but I hope I have stated some of the sacrifices that the players and their families must make, and the price they pay, in their quest for a professional hockey career.

Thank you for considering my questions. If you are willing I will post your answers with the questions in a followup post to the review.

I am looking forward to your next mystery.

With both of our sons residing in Calgary Sharon and I are in Calgary fairly often. Perhaps we can get together on one of our visits.


Bill Selnes
Jayne’s website is www.jaynebarnard.ca. She also provided biographical information:

JE (Jayne) Barnard is a Calgary-based crime writer with 25 years of award-winning short fiction and children’s literature behind her. Author of the popular Maddie Hatter Adventures (Tyche Books), and now The Falls Mysteries (Dundurn Press), she’s won the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur, the Bony Pete, and the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award. Her works were shortlisted for the Prix Aurora (twice), the UK Debut Dagger, the Book Publishing in Alberta Award (twice), and three Great Canadian Story prizes. Jayne is a past VP of Crime Writers of Canada, a founder of Calgary Crime Writers, and a member of Sisters In Crime. She is represented by Olga Filina of The Rights Agency.

Her most recent book is When the Flood Falls, a small-town psychological thriller set in the Alberta foothills west of Calgary.