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, October 26, 2018

Book Launch of Vol. 3 of A Literary History of Saskatchewan

It was a lovely evening at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon for the book launch of Volume 3 of A Literary History of Saskatchewan earlier this week. Accompanying this post is a photo of myself with Editor, Dave Carpenter, and Assistant Editor, Kelly Anne Riess.

Kelly Anne Riess was the MC for the evening. She spoke of some of the challenges of assembling the book. She mentions them in her foreword:

It was a rodeo of herding cats – very talented and hip cats. I speak as one of the cats in need of herding.

Editor, Dave Carpenter, spoke about his desire over a decade ago to document the history of Saskatchewan writing. Through the years he has put together the three volumes by searching out funding and contacting individuals to contribute essays. To hear David is to know he is a man who loves writing and authors from Saskatchewan. His knowledge of writing in Saskatchewan is remarkable in its breadth and depth.

There are essays in the book on poets, short stories, fiction and young adult writers. It is eclectic and wonderful.

Dave enlivened the evening through trivia questions on Saskatchewan writers. He brought along candy to hand out to those who knew the correct answers to such questions as Saskatchewan authors who are also ornithologists. I knew of one, Trevor Harriot, but was too late in speaking up to get candy.

A pair of contributors answered some questions from Kelly Ann about their essays.

Tracy Hamon, a poet and arts administrator, spoke about her essay Neither Here Nor There: The Saskatchewan Diaspora. She sent questionaires to four authors who have left the province
yet remain deeply connected to Saskatchewan. In her essay she states:

In my experience writers do not stand beside the wheat to see the field, they stand on the hill in the distance. Or maybe take a photo and stare at it for hours. This is possibly how the diaspora works: writers who have moved from Saskatchewan continue to yearn for their sense of community, so that at some point they feel compelled to go back by including the location of Saskatchewan in their writing. Nonetheless, the sentiments attached to writing about a location they are familiar with, have lived in and have lived through, create that evocative longing for place.

While I was not on the agenda Kelly Anne kindly added me to the program. She asked me about why I thought mystery fiction should be a part of literary history.

I said there has been a perception among some members of the literary world that crime fiction is at a lower level of literary fiction. I said I disagreed. I said there is fine fiction being written by mystery authors.

In the context of Saskatchewan I said Gail Bowen had established a national and now international reputation for her series of Joanne Kilbourn books.

I said Tony Bidulka had created a marvellous character in Russell Quant, his gay Saskatoon private detective.

I went on to mention some common features of Saskatchewan mystery writers I had highlighted in the essay. I said that of the five mystery authors featured in my essay all but one featured sleuths with families. I added that none of the sleuths created by those writers had ever killed anyone. Physical violence has never been the solution for Saskatchewan sleuths.

In his introduction Dave provided comments on my essay that moved me:

Melfort’s own Bill Selnes has given us an intimate report from the field of mystery writing in this province. I say “intimate” because he speaks of such writers as Gail Bowen, Suzanne North and their characters as though they were all his neighbours.

Thank you Dave for inviting me to participate in the book and the kind words in the introduction.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman

(36. – 966.) The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman – “Little Deutuschland” in New York City in the spring of 1942 is adjusting to America being at war with Nazi Germany. A few months earlier the Bund, supporters of Hitler, were proudly marching the streets in support of the Fuehrer. Now the swastikas have disappeared and fascist supporters are no longer public.

Aiding the illiterate of the area is Maximilian Danziger:

Customers come to my place of business, say what they wish to say, and then wait while I polish their words into more serviceable syntax, writing it down for them either in English or in their native tongue, depending on their needs. For those who have received mail, in whatever language, I read back to them, translating when necessary.

Fluent in five languages he charges 50 cents to read or write a concise letter. Longer letters cost more. Love letters are avoided. He averages “ten correspondences” a day. He has four different typewriters for the various alphabets needed.

He goes through life with a curious formality in speech, clothing and relationships. He is the opposite of the loud brash New Yorker.

Woodrow Cain, a former police officer in the American South, has come north to join the New York City Police Department as a Sergeant. His past is murky. There was infidelity by his wife, Clovis, that involved deaths and Cain being wounded. Clovis has gone away and Cain is parenting their daughter, Olivia. He has gained the position in New York through the assistance of his father-in-law, Harris Euston, a lawyer and financier. Euston had sought to turn Clovis away from the bright lights and the hard partying young men of New York City by sending her to college in the South. She surprised him by marrying a Southerner.

Cain’s life had been forever altered in an instant:

Three damn shots, maybe two seconds in all, and that’s how long it took to lose my best friend, my wife, my career, my reputation.

On Cain’s first day of work he is called to investigate the murder of an unidentified man found floating along the docks.

His second day of work the Police Commissioner, Lewis Valentine, secretly assigns him a 3 month assignment to ferret out corruption within Cain’s police station.

His third day of work he meets Danziger. From information in the papers Danziger thinks he knows the “floater”. He physically identifies the deceased as Werner Hansch, a German immigrant, for whom he had written and read letters from Germany. Hansch was a member of the Silver Shirts, a secretive group of Nazi supporters.

Being neither large nor loud nor aggressive nor crude Cain is an uneasy fit with his fellow officers.

Both Cain and Danziger are protective of their privacy, more accurately secretive. We gradually learn what drove Cain up to Yankee land and Danziger’s life before writing letters.

Olivia’s arrival in New York City adds a personal dimension to the book. At 13 she is adjusting to her mother gone from her life indefinitely and now living in a huge new city.

Cain’s love for Olivia and her vulnerability add tension to the book. Cain, a stubborn persistent investigator, finds himself forced to consider the personal consequences of his investigation threatening his safety as he would never want to leave Olivia alone.

The hustle and bustle of New York City are initially overwhelming for Cain and Olivia.

The war effort is a tremendous boost to New York. Money is flowing freely. Organized crime is equally benefiting. It is a great time to be a crook.

Cain is the classic incorruptible American lawman refusing to be deflected by threats and officialdom. He is interesting. Danziger is a great character. A man of great learning and mystery he acts as Cain’s guide through the turbulent underworld of New York City.

The links between government and the criminal underworld are stronger than Cain could have anticipated. As the investigation progresses the unsavory WW II relationship between organized crime and the federal government, under the guise of national security, becomes ever more important.

The Letter Writer is an excellent book. My son recommended it and left the book with me after a recent visit. Thank you Michael.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Movie Red Sparrow

The Red Sparrow movie is a rare prediction come true for me. After reading the book by Jason Matthews in 2013 I wrote in my review that I thought Hollywood would be interested in the movie and earlier this year the movie was released. Regrettably I find more flaws than merit in the movie.

I thought Hollywood actresses would be eager to play Dominka Egorova. Jennifer Lawrence was chosen for the role. She has the beauty described in the book. I was disappointed by her almost stoic portrayal. In the book Dominka is passionate, reckless at times. For much of the movie I found Lawrence passive.

I understand the challenge of portraying her experiences at Sparrow School. The training in sexual techniques and seductive intrigues is soul destroying. It was no surprise that the movie softened Sparrow School. It was uncomfortable to read the details of Sparrow education. The Dominka of the book and movie had to suppress emotion to survive the School.

After Sparrow School the Dominka of the book was far more vital than the Dominka of the movie. A powerfully dramatic woman was not upon the screen.

I believe Lawrence’s character development was limited by the constraints of a 2 hour 20 minute movie. The complex plot of the book, Red Sparrow, would have been better developed in a mini-series in the way John Le Carre’s book, The Night Manager, was turned into a vivid and compelling English mini-series.

The whole movie had a choppy quality. Plot lines could barely progress before it was on to the next scene.

A vital part of the book was the tension involving an existing mole America had recruited in Russian intelligence. There was no time to explore the role and importance of the mole in the movie.

As in the book Dominka and Nathaniel Nash become lovers in the movie. However, the movie format compressed the relationship. Moving from professional adversaries to lovers was so abrupt.

There is pulsing passion in the book between Dominka and Nathaniel in the book. I did not see chemistry between Lawrence and Joel Edgerton in the movie. Chemistry is unpredictable between actors and I did not feel the spark between the stars.

It would have been fascinating in the movie to see Dominka utilize her powers as a synaesthete. In the book she sees auras about the heads of everyone she meets that reflect their personalities and integrity. I am sure with modern special effects halos or auras could have been created.

I wondered if President Putin would have been a character in the movie. In the book and subsequent books of the trilogy he has been an important character. I have written of my surprise that he is named and described so negatively in the books. As Hollywood is more risk averse than book publishers Putin is not a character in Red Sparrow.

I thought the book was halfway between a thriller and a gritty espionage story. The movie is definitely a thriller.

I was surprised by the ending. It was Hollywood and better than the ending of the book.

Overall, I would not recommend spending money to watch the movie.

On whether there will be a trilogy of movies there was an interview of the director of Red Sparrow in Metro:

       Clearly Francis Lawrence is a fan of these follow-up books. 
       Because during my recent discussion with the director he
       admitted that he is interested in doing a sequel to "Red 
       Sparrow" based on either "Palace of Treason" or "The 
       Kremlin's Candidate".

As to the likelihood of more movies in the trilogy, on The Rotten Tomatoes website about half of the critics and half of the audience liked Red Sparrow. It is faint praise to be barely passing. Most important the movie cost $69 million to make and grossed about $164 million in worldwide sales.

I wish there would be a sequel just to see how Putin would be portrayed. It would be hard, though not impossible for Hollywood, to delete him from the plot of Palace of Treason.

I will be surprised if Palace of Treason becomes a movie.
Matthews, Jason - (2013) - Red Sparrow and Recipes and Menus in Spy Thrillers; (2015) - Palace of Treason and Vladimir Putin in Spy Fiction and Libel (Part I and Part II and Part III); (2018) - The Kremlin's Candidate

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Launch for Volume 3 of A Literary History of Saskatchewan

For any readers of the blog who are in Saskatoon on the evening of October 23 I am pleased to advise that Volume 3 of A Literary History of Saskatchewan is having its second book launch. at the McNally Robinson bookstore on 8th Street starting at 7:00. The first launch date is in Regina on October 17.)

My excitement over the event comes from my participation in Volume 3. It is the first book launch I will have attended where my writing is a part of the book.

Dave Carpenter, the editor of all three volumes of a Literary History of Saskatchewan, invited me to contribute an essay on the crime fiction of Saskatchewan.

I took up the challenge and wrote an essay which is titled Saskatchewan Mysteries - A Report from the Field.

Within my essay I focus on five current or former Saskatchewan based mystery writers – Gail Bowen, Anthony Bidulka, Nelson Brunanski, Suzanne North and Alan Bradley. As well I discuss themes I have found in Saskatchewan mysteries.

It was an interesting project and I appreciate being a part of Volume 3.

Sharon and I will be going to the release party and look forward to seeing any reader who can join us.

The publisher, Coteau Books, has provided the following concerning the book:

The three volumes of this literary history constitute a bringing together of the best, the most influential, the most significant writing in our province …\

Volume 3 shifts its focus to Regina’s literary culture and to the coming generation of younger writers but it continues to examine the best work from Saskatchewan. The impact, the relevance, the illuminations of our best writers’ work tend to move well beyond the borders of our province. This work transcends the regional sources of its inspiration. Just as Marilynne Robinson has much to say to Canadians about the disruptions and the graces of family life, Dianne Warren has much to say to Americans about the omnipresence of the past, the shadows it casts on people’s lives in the present. Many of our best books are nurtured by the history and the life of this province but they spring into literature roughly in proportion to their applications and their immemorial responses to the human condition.

I have enjoyed meeting Dave and appreciate his editing advice on my essay.

Dave is an interesting forthright guy. From his website bio:

Carpenter’s writing credo is as follows (and it many apply to poets): Most writers must learn to make a pact with dullness. Not boredom, or lack of imagination or passion, but dullness of routine. Keep your daily appointment with the computer screen and keep your ass on the chair until you’ve reached your daily quota. However rich your inner life may be, seek also the dullard within.

The assistant editor of Volume 3 is Kelly-Anne Riess. Her website includes some biographical information:

The author of the Saskatchewan Book of Everything, she received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from the University of Saskatchewan and was shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award and a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award. In 2011, she was a CTV National Fellow at the Banff World Media Festival. And in 2003, she was awarded the C. Irwin McIntosh Journalism Prize from the School of Journalism at the University of Regina.

I shall report fully after the launch.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Kremlin’s Candidate by Jason Matthews

(34. – 964.) The Kremlin’s Candidate by Jason Matthews – Can Russia get a mole appointed director of the CIA? An implausible premise has become frightenly realistic in the past two years.

At the same time could the CIA get a mole chosen to lead a Russian intelligence agency? I find it no more incredible than the Russian gambit.

Matthews, in the concluding volume of the Red Sparrow trilogy, has the U.S. and Russia each with a highly placed mole within the other nation.

The Russian’s code name for their American mole is MAGNIT.

The Americans identify Dominka Egorova as DIVA.

Egorova, as beautiful and tempestuous as she was in the first two volumes, has despite the chauvinism of Russian intelligence agencies continued to be promoted and is now a senior officer in the SVR. Her career has been boosted by the personal interest taken in her by President Putin. The CIA loves the information she provides but are uneasy she will be unmasked as a mole.

While Putin plays a lesser role than in Palace of Treason, the second in the series, Egorova anticipates Putin’s personal interest in her career is expanding to a personal interest in her.

Matthews continues to directly disparage Putin by name. After Palace of Treason drew no defamation action I expect Matthews and the publishers concluded the Russian President would not sue them.

Some years ago in Russia Egorova, using her Sparrow sexual skills, aided in the recruitment of Audrey Rowland, when she was a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the American navy. Rowland has benefited from the efforts of America’s military to become less chauvinist. She has been rapidly promoted in the Navy and is now a rear admiral. Egorova has no idea that Rowland has become the most valuable asset of Russian intelligence.

With each nation constantly searching for moles which nation’s mole will be the first to uncover the other’s mole.

Each nation’s intelligence leadership eagerly awaits the promotion of their respective mole to a position where they can reveal moles in the other nation.

At the same time, contrary to all logic but that of thrillers Egorova and Nate Nash of the CIA remain lovers. The beautiful Russian and the handsome American have a Hollywood appeal though the movie, Red Sparrow, was as set out in Wikipedia, a “modest box-office success”.

Nash remains a field officer in the CIA. He dreads becoming an administrator.

For some reason the focus of the plot shifts from the competing mole hunts to exploits of Egorova and Nash. They are well done espionage schemes but most are little connected to the primary plot.

Could it because of a reluctance to show the successes of a Russian mole in Washington?

It is a rare American in the book who is not good, let alone evil, and even rarer for a Russian character not to be bad.

Egorova and Nash are more complex characters in this volume of the trilogy. I wish the secondary characters were more dimensional.

There is one fascinating subplot. Nash is sent on a false flag initiative to attempt to recruit a Chinese general for the CIA. Using his Russian language skills he pretends to be a Russian agent recruiting the general to provide secrets to Russia. The Chinese intelligence services, hearing hints of the recruitment, invite Egorova to advise them in their efforts to gain from Nash the identity of their traitor. Adding a further layer of intrigue is that the Chinese are using their equivalent of the Russian Sparrow. Such Chinese agents are known by the highly descriptive title of a “poison-feather bird”.

Tension builds but not with equal intensity in the respective nations as the Russians and their mole do not know there is a mole within Russia hunting the American mole.

The plotting on both sides becomes more ruthless as the hunts close in.

Hollywood will never replicate the ending in any movie. I found the conclusion moving, not a common experience in a spy novel. Subtlety is appreciated in an American thriller.
Matthews, Jason - (2013) - Red Sparrow and Recipes and Menus in Spy Thrillers; (2015) - Palace of Treason and Vladimir Putin in Spy Fiction and Libel (Part I and Part II and Part III)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Dear Pope Francis

(35. – 965.) Dear Pope Francis by Pope Francis and the Children of the World – Last weekend, Thanksgiving in Canada, our parish priest was away and I gave the reflection at the lay led service we had at the Church on Sunday. The last part of the Gospel reading from Mark involved Jesus admonishing the disciples for keeping the children away from him. It concludes with:

            And Jesus took them up in his arms,
            Laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

As I reflected on the reading I thought about Pope Francis and children. I looked around the internet and found this book published by Loyola Press in 2016.

The book was premised on:

            If you could ask Pope Francis one question, what would it

Children were invited to write to the Pope:

Children have questions and struggles just like adults, but rarely are they given the chance to voice their concerns and ask the big questions resting deep in their hearts. In Dear Pope Francis, Pope Francis gives them that chance and celebrates their spiritual depth by directly answering questions from around the world.

Jesuits around the world collected letters and drawings from children. From the 259 letters 30 were chosen for the book. They ask a variety of questions.

Natasha (8) from Kenya asked:

            I would like to know more about Jesus Christ. How did he 
            walk on water?

Ryan (8) from Canada asked:

It’s an honour to ask you my question. My question is, what did God do before the world was made?

Prajla (6) from Albania asked:

         When you were a
         child, did you like 

Ryan (7) from the United States asked:

            How can God hear us? God bless you!

Pope Francis answered Ryan:

            Do you know, Ryan, that God listens to us?

Yes, he listens to us, but not with ears. God can hear us even if words don’t come out of our mouths. God listens to the heart. Jesus also said this: When we pray, we don’t have to say many things; we don’t have to have long discussions with God. They aren’t needed. What we need to do, however, is really open our hearts to him. We must open our hearts just as they are. Then God can listen to what we have in our hearts. And Jesus, because he is God, is near to every person and listens to everyone. He is God, and he can do this.

Perhaps the most powerful, certainly the most poignant, was the letter and answer involving Luca (7) from Australia:

            My mum is in heaven. Will she grow angel wings?

You can see Luca and hear the Pope’s response in this video which I played during my reflection – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhIyA-7J8qw

I said I admired Pope Francis for his thoughtful responses to the children.

I went on to show another short video of Pope Francis showing compassion and love to a young boy and reminding adults not to act like God on earth in making judgments of others –

The book will cause young and old to reflect on faith and life. I appreciate the Pope writing a book to children. He was the first Pope to write a book to children. His answers are never condescending and always sincere. I can recommend Dear Pope Francis to readers of all ages.