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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Parting With Books Finished

Maury Chaykin playing Nero Wolfe
In my last post I started discussing memories from books I had accumulated in the past that I will be giving up shortly. Most of the books I mentioned did not involve crime fiction. This post will primarily reflect  on older crime fiction.

The Lew Archer series by Ross McDonald was an early favourite. I enjoyed the books but could not see reading them again.

With great reluctance I parted with another pair of series.

Emma Lathen (Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart) wrote a wonderful series featuring New York City banker, John Putnam Thatcher. It was one of the first series to make me realize that crime fiction was not dependent on private detectives and police being the sleuths. I appreciated the thoughtful Thatcher using his intelligence and understanding of banking and business to solve crime. He was impeccably dressed with perfect manners.

Harry Kemelman with his Rabbi David Small series provided interesting mysteries. More intriguing was his portrayal of Jewish faith and how was it lived in the northeastern United States during the latter part of the 20th Century. I learned more about Judaism from this series than any other source. I went through the days of the week and wondered if it would end after the days were exhausted. I was glad when Kemelman used days other than days of the week to continue the series.

I decided to keep my Nero Wolfe books. The rotund, profoundly intelligent, orchid loving Wolfe had a long run with stories written from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. I will always be amazed that Rex Stout would work out the plot for each book in his head then sit down at his typewriter and write the books without revisions or edits. I think I might have figured out  the killer once before the reveal in a meeting at the brownstone. Former blogger and great commenter, Margot Kinberg, knows I read enough of Wolfe and Archie Goodwin to try writing in their voices in comments on her blog.

I had forgotten I had read several of the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. They were alright but not books I would go back to read.

I had not thought about a thriller writer I enjoyed decades ago. I enjoyed several books by Trevanian. Having a hero, Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, who was ambiguous in his morality was not common in the 1970’s. I greatly enjoyed The Eiger Sanction. I found the movie interesting but Clint Eastwood was not my image of Hemlock. On the other hand, Jack Cassidy was a perfect villain portraying the evi Miles Mellough.

I did keep my Dad’s favourite book from later in his life. It is Three Against the Wilderness by Eric Collier. The book is the story of Collier and his family who settled in the interior of B.C. in the 1920’s. They resurected a local ecosystem by building by hand dams where beavers had constructed dams. When government officials saw the results they imported a pair of beavers who led the way in preserving and expanding the ecosystem. My Dad loved the outdoors. He trapped for over 60 years. When his eyesight failed I recorded the book on tape cassettes for him. He listened to my recording of the book several times. He could see in his mind everything Collier had done. 

Sharon and I are also keeping a box of books for children and young adults. Dr. Doolittle was an early favourite of mine and I hope of my granddaughters. When the grandchildren are a little older I hope they will like my Tom Swift Jr. adventures. And we have saved some Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.

Of the two tubs and boxes of books I am not keeping Jonathan and Michael have advised they are not going to take any of the books. I will see which books Brandi from the office would like to read. The remainder will go to the library for its next book sale.

There are still hundreds of books around the house but I am keeping few of the books I read each year.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Parting With Books Begun

Our downstairs bedroom was renovated this fall. Over the years, especially after our sons left home, it had become a storage room more than a bedroom. Eventually it was full of stuff. Along two walls were bookshelves filled with books, most of them acquired by me 25 - 50 years ago. With the renovation it was a time of reckoning for those books. I had re-read but a fraction of them. We were not going to put up bookshelves again for all of them. It was time to give up a lot of books.

I started going through the tubs and boxes in which the books were stored deciding which would go and which would be kept. How many of them were I likely to re-read? Would either of the boys want any of them?

I knew the books would evoke memories but I had not thought about how going through those books would be a journey through my reading life.

A few books went back as far as high school at St. Peter's College in the late 1960’s. There was a quartet by Sigrid Undset set in 13th Century Norway. My copies show I bought them at the College bookstore. I can remember having to weigh whether I could afford the cost of a new book.

A few more were from undergraduate days at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Most of those were works of history from my major in history. 

I did find my copy of Guillver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift that I read as part of English 102 in first year university. Father James Grey provided an eclectic mix of fiction and plays for us to read. Reading and reflecting on the original Guillver’s Travels was a revelation. I had only known of it in movie and cartoons. The nuances of the satiric examination of English life and society in the 18th Century showed me the power of fiction.

Father James was the first professor to expect of myself and my classmates that we would read and analyze almost a book or play a week. He loved reflecting and talking about literature. He was a gifted teacher convincing 18 year old students to think about literature. After his death a collection of essays on Father James were published in the book Bush Dweller. I wrote a pair of reviews on the book - https://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2012/02/bush-dweller-essays-in-memory-of-father.html and 

Seeing Bismarck by A.J.P. Taylor brought back vivid memories of a class in 19th Century European history taught by Professor Ivor Lambi. He was a dynamic lecturer. Everyone enjoyed his dramatic re-telling and explaining of history. His speciality was Bismarck. Every year on Bismarck’s birthday, April 1, he invited all his students to his home to drink beer and celebrate the Iron Chancellor’s birthday. Drinking beer and talking history can be a lot of fun.

I did not find any books from law school. It was a time of limited recreational reading.

Since completing university in 1975 most of my leisure reading has been fiction. At one time I thought I would read about one-third non-fiction to two-thirds fiction. It has actually been 80-85% fiction.

There were two non-crime fiction authors whose books I decided to keep.

There was a period when I enjoyed sweeping sagas. My favourite saga author was R.F. Delderfield. I do not know how accurately he portrayed English life from the middle of the 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century but I loved his books. I consider A Horseman Riding By the best. I have read and re-read the story of Paul Craddock, a wounded Boer War veteran who buys an estate and lives a full life in the country. Seeing the books prompted me to look for the television series. In the past I had hesitated wondering if the series would do justice to the books. While reading the books I longed to visit the English countryside of A Horseman Riding By. As such a trip seems unlikely I started watching the series tonight. 

I also enjoyed God is an Englishman, the multi-generational story of the Swann family transport business, and To Serve Them All My Days, the story of a teacher in an English boarding school between WW I and WW II.  

The other author is C.S. Forrester. I eagerly read his Horatio Hornblower series. From midshipman to admiral Hornblower served honourably in the Royal Navy when it dominated the oceans of the world early in the 19th Century. Hornblower’s adventures spanned decades of conflict, with France and, sometimes, Spain. No one has written better of life aboard the great men of war ships of that era.

In the mid-1970’s I learned a great deal about United States history by reading the American Bicentennial Series by John Jakes. Also known as the Kent Family Chronicles the sprawling books cover the 200 years the United States had existed as a nation. 

My next post will discuss other books in the tubs and boxes especially crime fiction.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan - I dived into China Rich Girlfriend, the second book of the Crazy Rich Asians series, the day after finishing the opening book. I cannot see a way not to have spoilers in this post as the plot rolls on two years after the end of the first book. They start coming in the next paragraph.

There is another great opening in London with Eleanor coming to the aid of a fabulously weathy Mainlander, Shaoyen Bao. Her son, Carlton, has been injured in a luxury sports car crash in London. Her nephew, the always pretentious Eddie Cheng, is well suited to being the fixer designated by his bank to hush up the accident and its consequences. Eddie spends millions of dollars in the cover up. 

The wealthy Chinese families who left mainland China for Singapore from a few to several generations ago have snobbish negative nicknames for the Chinese who emigrated to other countries. Those who settled in Indonesia are “Chindos”.

And what could be tackier but visually amazing is Kitty Pong, the television soap opera actress and singer, who snared Bernard Tai of the fabulously wealthy Tai family, entering the  auction of magnificient ancient paintings on Chinese scrolls:

…. a strikingly attractive Chines woman with jet-black hair, powdered white skin, and crimson lips, dramatically dressed in a black velvet off-the-shoulder gown, emerged from the crowd. Flanked by two snow-white Russian wolfhounds on long diamond leashes, the lady bega to walk slowly up the central aisle ….

Tens of millions even hundreds of millions are spent at the auction.

In another sign of conspicuous consumption even Eleanor is non-plused when, visiting the Bao’s in their new Singapore apartment, her car and herself are taken up to the apartment in a car elevator. The family has a sky garage. It is hard to conceive of a more powerful symbol of excess.

As I hoped the romance of Rachel Chu and Nicky Young was not thwarted by his mother, Eleanor, and grandmother, Shang Su Yi. They re-united back in New York City after forsaking Singapore at the end of Crazy Rich Asians. Their California wedding is such a contrast to the Singapore extragenza that was Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee’s wedding day.

Finding out Gaoliang Bao is Rachel’s real life father produced a touching scene beween Rachel’s mother and Gaoliang.

Back in China Shaoyen has no interest in meeting, letting alone welcoming, Rachel to their family. Shaoyen is Eleanor’s equal in promoting her view of personal family interests.

When Rachel and Nick meet her half-brother, Carlton, they are introduced to a collection of the wealthiest Mainland Chinese. His celebrity girlfriend, Collette Bing, is the daughter of Jack Bing who is the 3rd or 4th richest man in China. Collette, a fashion fiend, has additional boyfriends beyond Carlton.

The Mainlanders proved to be even more profligate spenders than the Singaporean super-rich.

It is hard to top Jack’s private 747 jet with a dining room, IMAX theatre, 3 story living room, 10 bedroom suites and a fully equipped medical clinic with operating table.

Rachel and Nick join Carlton and Collette and friends and family on the 747 as they fly to Paris for an impromptu spending spree that was an exhausting 72 hours of buying. Why shop when you can buy?

I missed the interaction in Singapore between the families. The Mainlanders are so caught up in consuming though the older ladies also collect hotel soaps and cook on a hot plate in their suites at one of the most exclusive hotels in Paris.

Rachel has come to find spending time with the super-rich Asians an amazing sight seeing experience.

I found it interesting that all of them expect serious relationships to end in marriage and to make their best efforts at having successful marriages. Dating is all about the good times but, for most, when a partner is found there is a genuine commitment. (Eddie with a series of mistresses is an exception.)

As the book went on I felt I was coming to know the characters so well I could anticipate their actions.

I am caught up in the whirl of the crazy rich Asians. I going to immediately read the third book. It is time for some plot lines to be resolved.

Kwan has a breezy easy going style to his writing about the super-rich Chinese of Asia. He effortlesly drew me through the first two books in the series. The successes and problems of the characters feel real. Kwan has created a fascinating saga.
Kwan, Kevin - (2019) - Crazy Rich Asians

Friday, November 1, 2019

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

(51 - 1022.) Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan - I am late to CRK. (The characters are fond of initials.) I wish I had started reading the series sooner. I was captured by the end of the first chapter with the purchase of the posh London hotel by the husband of the Singapore Chinese wife who had been rudely excluded from the hotel by a supercilious manager.

The incredibly wealthy Chinese families are fascinating. Their fixation on the material with pretences, sometimes real, to being philosophical or spiritual was so vivid.

I was reminded of the Ava Lee series by Ian Hamilton where Ava is constantly dealing with very rich Chinese families around the world. 

In Crazy Rich Asians for about half of the families excess is a foreign concept. They are buyers not shoppers and the presentation of new acquisitions is a ritual. The remaining half of the families eschew, even disdain, flamboyant displays of wealth and take pride, sometimes excessively, in modesty.

The lovely All American Chinese academic, Rachel Chu, could hardly be more different from the Singapore family of her love, Nicky Young. Focused on her career Chu has no fixation on the material.

Nicky has never let her know his Singapore family is fabulously wealthy before taking her home for the wedding of his best friend, Colin Khoo.

I raced through the pages eager to read of her introduction to his immediate family, the extended relatives and his childhood friends. All the Singaporeans are anxious to see who has won the heart of a very eligible man. 

Nicky’s mother, aunts, great aunts, grandmother and the mothers of his friends are a colourful group of women. As they engage in intrigues Rachel is a puzzle to them for she lacks guile and is indifferent to their great wealth.

Many of the women are cruel in their comments and their actions as they scheme to advance their families and themselves. I hope real life Singapore families are less vicious. I appear to be naive in thinking there are no longer marriages for dynastic purposes.

The men of the families are far less intersting as their lives swirl around making money. 

The wedding of Colin and Araminta Lee is an amazing production. It is hard to fathom the millions spent to create an unforgettable wedding event.

Can all the scheming women break up true love?

The twists and turns in relationships never ended with money and more money and yet more money deeply affecting them.

I watched every episode of Downton Abbey. I have found an Asian saga worthy of being compared to that grand English series. There are mysteries to be read but I have gone to the library and gotten the second in the trilogy. I really want to watch the movie. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Parsi Gara Saris in the Mistry Mysteries

In the two legal mysteries bu Sujata Massey set in the early 1920’s featuring Perveen Mistry, the first fictional woman solicitor in Bombay, wears beautiful saris that have a special draping as she is a Parsi, a member of the Zoroastrian faith.

In The Satapur Moonstone she travels to the princely state of Satapur. Her sister-in-law Gulnaz provides her with some beautiful gara saris suitable for a visit to the palaces of the maharani’s in Satapur. Mistry has lost her best sarees when she left her abusive husband in The Widows of Malabar Hill.

My blogging friend, Moira Redmond, of the fine blog, Clothes in Books, has made me far more aware of the clothes worn by fictional characters.

In The Satapur Moonstone Mistry wears to the evening meal with the maharani’s “a blue silk sari with Chinese embroidery. It was a classic gara that had been part of Gulnaz’s wedding trouseau, the very best sari Perveen had brought”.

At the top of this post is a photo of contemporary blue silk gara sari with embroidery.

In the Aashni & Co. Journal there is the following explanation of the Parsi gara:

The Parsi gara, in a nutshell, is three things. Indian embroidery with a Persian heritage and a Chinese origin. The Parsi embroidery can be traced back to 650AD where Persian women undertook the Indian style of clothing. Parsi men travelled to China and bought yards of silk fabric for their women. The gara was a result of inter-cultural amalgamation where the fabric was China’s and the embroidery was heavily influenced by India’s Hindu and Iran’s Zoroastrian cultures.

The Journal further discusses the techniques involved:

The main stitches that are all intricately entwined are satin stitch, crewel stitch, stem stitch and French knot. Geometric designs are rarely used and most patterns are influenced by scenes and stories of Chinese origin, such as the bridges, pagodas, boatmen and shrines. The colours comprise of two shades. The base fabric is generally darker with ivory thread work or a pastel coloured textile is embroidered with multicoloured threads.

An example of that fine thread work is above.

Later in the book Mistry chooses another lovely sari to wear:

…. A lime-coloured sari embroidered with curling vines and blush colored camellias, one of the most elegant Gulnaz had packed for her.

A photo of lime green gara sari is to the right.

I have never seen in real life such saris. They are spectacular. Such saris indicate the prominence and prosperity of the woman who wears them. I expect they  would be prized for a lifetime.
Massey, Sujata - (2019) - The Widows of Malabar Hill and A First Woman Lawyer to be Admired; (2019) - The Satapur Moonstone

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey - For her second legal mystery Indian solicitor, Perveen Mistry, travels from her Bombay home into the Sahyadri Mountains to the princely state of Satapur.

It is 1922. Mistry, the first woman lawyer in Bombay, has been asked by a senior councilor to the English Governor, Sir David Hobson-Jones - father of her best friend Alice - to meet with the widow, the maharani Mirabai, and the mother, the dowager maharani Putlabai, of the late maharaja of Satapur. The women are locked in a dispute over the education of his son, the maharaja Jiva Rao, who is 10 years old. Mother wants him to go to boarding school in England while Grandmother wants him tutored at home.

Mistry has been retained because, as a woman, she can meet directly with the women who are in seclusion observing purdah after the maharaja’s death.

In the first book of the series, The Widows of Malabar Hill, Mistry was able to resolve an estate and solve a murder because her status as a woman allowed her to meet with women who are in seclusion.

After hours on the train and more hours riding a mail cart she arrives at the remote principality. While the dispute began 6 months earlier the rainy season had effectively cut off communications.

The Prime Minister, Prince Swaroop, is the brother of the late maharajah and the son of the dowager maharani.

Mistry gains some information from the English representative, Colin Sandringham. He is considered a cripple in the Indian Civil Service as he has lost part of a leg.

To reach the palaces of the maharanis Mistry must travel by palanquin and foot. The uncomfortable nature of a swaying palanquin over rough trails seems hardly better than walking.

The maharanis are free with barbed remarks about each other with little regard to the effect upon the children.

Mirabai is convinced her older son was murdered and her younger son is in mortal danger. Mistry, having heard of the recent deaths of husband and older son, has suspicions concerning their deaths.

The maharanis practise a form of purdah that has more accessibility than the rigid Muslim practice of seclusion.

Can Mistry find a solution balancing the contrary opinions of two strong willed women?

She is precisely logical in her analysis of the educational options and in her recommendation.

The drama does not end with her visit to the palaces of the maharanis. Will her status as a representative of the Crown protect her against danger? I am not fond of legal mysteries where the lawyer is put at risk physically. I was pleasantly surprised when Mistry uses her legal skills in a risky situation.

Once again Mistry is involved in a major estate dispute where the surviving women are in conflict. They may have little contact with the world outside the palaces but they are fierce in advancing their positions. Mistry may have found a niche in handling disputed estates.

I did miss that there was little more in The Satapur Moonstone about Mistry’s life. Taking her out of Bombay severly limits the contacts that would expand our knowledge of her past and present personal life. I liked the opening book, The Widows of Malabar Hill, better for its portrayal of Mistry’s life.

I wondered if the title was inspired by one of the earliest mysteries ever written, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It was first published in 1868. I read it some time ago and thought it has held up well as a mystery 149 years later.

I intend to read the next in the series.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Women of Meskanaw Who Went to War

In reading Bird’s Eye View Rose Joliffe, left the farm at Touchwood in Saskatchewan to volunteer and serve in the air force, first of England and later of Canada, I thought about the women from my home community of Meskanaw who enlisted in World War II. From the approximately 150 people who lived at Meskanaw 9 women joined the military. The faces and names are in the photo above. It is a part of the first Meskanaw history book, Its Story and Its People, published in 1980. A second part to Its Story and Its People was published in 2002. Between the two volumes there is information on almost all of the women.

I knew several of the women well as a boy but not their roles during the war.

Susie Hekelaar (Dalshaug) lived just over 1 ½ miles away from our farm. Her daughter, Audrey, and I were in the same grade. She joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corp and was stationed in Regina, Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Her brother, Harry, was a paratrooper and died in Holland a month before the war ended.

I never knew of the adventurous spirit of Elsie Carpenter (Chapman). She was an outgoing friendly woman who was the mother of another classmate, Vernon. I had not realized until after the first history was published that during the difficult times of the 1930’s her family had trekked hundreds of miles north to a new farm at Meskanaw with Elsie, at 13 years of age, herding the cattle on the journey while riding her horse. During the war she was a member of the RCAF.

The smile on the face of Joy Sinclair (Poncelet) is how I remember her best. She was always active in the community. She left the open lands of Meskanaw to join the WRENs. She was a postal clerk in Ontario. The daughter of a veteran of Vimy she married a Meskanaw soldier, Dan Poncelet.

Margaret Drever (Stewart) grew up on the farm next to our farm. While she had moved away before I grew up I met her a few times. She was a member of the RCAF. She also lost a brother, Roland, who was killed in action in Normandy in 1944. He was the same age as my father.

I did not know the other five women.

Mamie Bedard (Dove) began military training in 1943 and spent most of her service in Dafoe where there was an Allied air training base.

In the second history she spoke of a vivid memory:

I remember clearly VJ Day. My assignment for the day was babysitting a senior officer’s dog (a Great Dane with a snoring problem). That morning, a group of us were waiting at Princess Alice Barracks for the pick-up van and I remember watching two rather rowdy W.O.’s (Warrant Officers) finishing their all night celebrating just outside the police service depot. Any other day, such a display would never have been tolerated and severely punished. The WO officers were never arrested and our service van never did come. I gladly missed my dog watching duties. A group of us caught a bus to Parliament Hill and watched the VJ Day Parade. That sure was a happy day.

Audrey Espeseth (Poncelet) was the only woman whose branch of the military was not listed. She returned after the war to Meskanaw to marry Bill Poncelet.

Dorothy Hazen (Draward) joined the Air Force.

Jean Parsons (Wilton), as a member of the CWAC, was a driving instructor in Woodstock, Ontario.

Dorothy Paquette (Fox) was another who joined the Air Force. She was also stationed in Dafoe.

They were young women like Rose. They wanted to serve their country and contribute to the war effort. Recognition of their service has been modest but I am sure that was not of concern to them. They did their best.

I am proud of Susie, Elsie, Joy, Margaret, Mamie, Audrey, Dorothy, Jean and Dorothy.
Florence, Elinor - (2019) - Bird's Eye View