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, December 8, 2018

Discussing "why" with Chris Hammer

With the aid of Abigail Novak from Simon & Schuster I sent  a message to Chris Hammer about his book Scrublands. He was able to reply. Our exchange is below. I appreciate the thoughtful response of Chris. I hope he writes more books with "why" at the heart of the book.
To: Chris Hammer

I am requesting your publisher forward this note to you. I have written a pair of posts about Scrublands. Here is a link to the first post – http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2018/11/scrublands-by-chris-hammer.html

The second post, which will be put up in a couple of days, is below this message.

Living in rural Saskatchewan, another vast thinly populated land, your depiction of life in the small community of Riversend felt right to me but it was not the country setting that I wanted to ask you about with regard to Scrublands.

I would be very interested in knowing “why” you put “why” as the quest in Scrublands.

As set out in my second post “why” is a question of never ending interest to me.

I thought the book brilliantly written and was very glad I received the opportunity from your publisher to read the book.

Thank you for considering my question. If you are able to reply and willing to let me publish your response in my blog I would post this letter and your answer.


Bill Selnes 

One reason I like reading crime books - and writing them, as it turns out - is they can encompass so much more than just a plot.

Don't get me wrong; the plot is essential. It's hard to imagine a successful crime book without a good plot. But there is room for so much more. And in particular for nuanced, complex characters, including characters that change over the course of a book.

I hope that is the case with my protagonist, Martin Scarsden. He's a different man at the end of Scrublands than he was at the beginning.

So why 'why'? Most contemporary crime books involve murder, often committed by regular members of the community (as opposed to mafia hitmen etc.). So it's not enough to simply reveal who did it; to make it credible and satisfying read, you need to at least suggest why they did it. Was it greed, jealousy, hatred? Or was the motivation more complex?

For me, the questions of 'why' can be more intriguing for the reader than 'who' and 'how'. Because at the end of any crime book, the reader should know for certain who the killer was and how they committed the crime, but the question of 'why' can be more subtle, even ambiguous. More can be left tot he reader's imagination. They can ponder whether the murder was in any way justified and wonder if there were any alternatives if events had played out slightly differently.

So for me the 'why' is always more important, not just to explain the actions of the killer, but to explain the actions and interactions of the other characters as well.

Chris Hammer
Hammer, Chris - (2018) - Scrublands and "Why" in Scrublands


  1. Thank you for sharing this exchange, Bill. It's so interesting to reflect on not just the 'how' or the 'who,' but also the 'why.' That's part of what makes a story credible, and it's fascinating to learn about how authors see that point.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I wish more authors spent as much time on "why" as they do on "how" in mysteries.

  2. The "why" is so important. Think of the character in L.R. Wright's "The Suspect." It's all about the reason for the murder, one which I almost found justified it.

    I can't wait to get a hold of this book.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I agree "The Suspect" was all about "why". I expect you will enjoy Scrublands.