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.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott

Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott - Patrick Keating, Catholic Archbishop for Newfoundland, is taken to hospital in St. John’s gravely ill. He has had flu symptoms off and on for about a year. His most unusual symptoms are a combination of severe pain, unquenchable thirst where water tastes like vinegar and serious nosebleeds occuring at least daily.

Dr. Luke Gillespie struggles to find a diagnosis. Tests are inconclusive.Acerbic Sister Pius tells him she is praying for the Archbishop’s soul rather than his recovery.

Sgt. Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary comes to the hospital as a part of his investigatigation into complaints of sexual abuse of boys by the Archbishop and other men..

And then another man is admitted with the same symptoms. A day later a third man arrives at Emergency with the symptoms.

The only connection is each has been accused of molesting boys. Can it be that there is a disease only infecting pedophiles?

Gillespie learns from Myra that the affliction is referred to as Wormwood by pedophiles. It is a reference to the Book of Revelations:

“Religious people consider Wormwood to be a symbolic representation of the bitterness that will fill the earth during troubled times. Only God knows the troubled times children have seen at the hands of these sick people ….”

Gillespie and Myra start investigating.
Cases involving pedophiles in other provinces are found.

Father Peter Cooke believe the condition is God’s wrath upon pedophiles. He holds a press conference on the steps of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist announcing God has unleashed a plague upon pedophiles.

He evokes the God of the Old Testament unleashing vengeance upon despised sinners. And even if they publicly confess, not a requirement for forgiveness after confession, the physical affliction continues though the pain is taken away. His God has no place for redemption or rehabilitation of any child molester or those who view and share child pornography.

For the second book in a month I struggled with a priest ready to breach the seal of the confession, a fundamental rule of the priesthood. In In Extremis it was a priest willing to directly break the seal of the confessional. Here it is a priest using information without attribution received during confession for a noble purpose. It remains a betrayal of the penitent.

Confession is to unburden the soul. To breach the confidentiality of the confessional is to destroy confession. Once breached it is impossible to determine which sins should be revealed by the priest and which kept secret.

Father Cooke goes beyond breaking the seal of the confessional. He is  ready to deny forgiveness partly because of the negative effect of pedophile priests upon the Church. No credible priest can deny forgiveness after confession. Jesus does not say forgiveness is only for selected sins. What is appropriate penance is another question.

People flock back to the Church having seen a sign that God is real.

Leaving aside the impossibility a simple priest would purport to speak to the world on behalf of the Church why would God limit such punishment to a particular class of sinners? There are other classes of equally abusive sinners who are not subject to a cruel and painful terminal disease for which there is no treatment.

Can God be a vigilante choosing certain sinners for punishment? Vigilantes are subjective and arbitrary. God is neither.   

Can it be that God has created a new illness that only affects pedophiles? There will never be scientific proof that God created a disease. The challenge for the medical community in the book is that there is no evidence of a disease or method of transmission.

Father Cooke’s evocation reminded me of some pastors a generation ago who,when AIDS was associated with gay men, fervently stating that AIDS was God’s punishment for their sexual orientation.

Operation Wormwood is a work of righteous indignation over the wickedness of pedophiles. The emotional toll upon those dealing with the issue is immense and Escott does not spare the consequences.

It is compelling reading especially after Father Cooke’s dramatic press conference on the steps of the Basilica.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

When You Find Me by P.J. Vernon

When You Find Me by P.J. Vernon - Gray Godfrey is home for Christmas. Gray and her husband, Paul, have traveled from Washington, D.C. to Elizabeth, South Carolina. Her ancestral home is Piper Point:

Named for the sandpipers and killdeer that flitted about the property, Piper Point was a white antebellum with a double wraparound porch. Six Corinthian columns supported a steep roof dotted with has as many dormers.

Up close the home has a fading elegance. Maintenance has been inadequate.

Mamma, Joanna King, is irritated her Hummingbird has been drinking on the way home

Paul is a “lobbyist for a clean energy think tank, Cooper and Walters”. He is contemplating a run for Congress. As a liberal Democrat he is in foreign country on the rural coast of South Carolina.

He has become increasingly emotional abusive to Gray. Alcohol is her defence.

Nearby Nina Palmer is staying with Aunt Tilda whose in her final days from pancreatic cancer. Nina is a detective at the Elizabeth County Sheriff’s Department. Being black and a woman has meant constant challenges moving ahead in the Sheriff’s office.

Aunt Tilda had killed a presidential run by Gray’s father, Congressman Seamus King, when she, while working for Gray’s family 20 years ago, secretly recorded a racist rant he made to her.

Since Tilda has not worked for the family in 20 years Tina cannot understand why the King family has sent her a cheque for $1,000 marked severance. Reviewing account records the cheques come every four months.

After Christmas Eve services at the Blessed Lamb Baptist Church Gray, Paul and her sister, Charlotte, join the hometown and returnee crowd at Ruby’s. Gray succeeds in getting drunk. She close dances with and then enjoys a kiss with an old friend, the handsome Jacob Wilcox. Paul sees them and is upset.

Early in the morning the County police find Paul’s rental car abandoned on a highway with the door open and no Paul. They decide to wait for a King to call them.

Gray wakes up Christmas morning with a brutal hangover and no memory of anything past the confrontation after the kiss.

Alcohol has taken over her life. When she is denied all access to alcoholic beverages by her mother she drinks a bottle of vanilla extract.

Paul is not at Piper’s Point and has not returned by noon or afternoon or evening.

Gray is left a mysterious phone message about Paul by an Annie on a blocked phone. Annie ends the message:

“There’s something going on here you don’t know.

Nina leads the police investigation. Her position is awkward because of her aunt’s actions.

There is an unspoken sense of satisfaction that she, a black woman from a modest family, is investigating the local aristocracy.

The investigation inexorably turns to the issues of family history. There are secrets long buried.

The ending was well done and unexpected for me.

The back cover says Vernon is “an insatiable reader of suspense and domestic noir”. When You Find Me fits into what he loves to read.

It is a good first book. The story flows swiftly and easily.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley

Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley - Residing near Seattle Martin “Mart” Reese has just returned from a “dig” in the woods. On the dig he has found human bones. His wife, Ellen, and teenage daughter, 14 year old Kylie, know nothing of his “digs”. As far as his family knew he had just spent a couple of days camping.

It is a tension filled house. Ellen is overprotective of Kylie. Twenty years ago her sister, Tinsley, was taken from a dingy nightclub and murdered but her body has never been found. Ellen and Martin have been married for 18 years. Martin is working hard not to return to the mindset he had at university 20 years ago.

Martin is rich and retired. A tech guy who sold his firm to give himself the time to know his daughter as she grows up.

While Kylie and Ellen discuss family rules Martin looks at photos in his scrapbook, his very personal laptop, from his most recent dig:

I made it through the digging, the carefully arranged dirt, until I finally hit
the first bone: an ulna, the thin forearm bone of a woman in her early
twenties. The next few pictures uncovered the rest of her, showing how
carefully I’d taken the dirt off her yesterday morning.

Is there a shiver working its way up your spine?

I was captured.

Martin has been digging up the bodies of murder victims using information he purchased from a lazy corpulent Seattle detective with a big thirst.

Martin’s passion for “digging” has ebbed and he has decided to make his next “dig” his last. He gets a USB with interviews on it with the suspected killer of Tinsley.

He secretly smiles for he had already made preparations to dig up his sister-in-law’s bones before receiving the USB.

There is an eerie fascination in Martin’s obsession  to find the bones of the murdered. To succeed he needs to delve deep into the minds of serial killers:

A serial killer’s mind isn’t impenetrable, even if those FBI connect-the-dots profiles never seem to nail down the guy’s tics until after he’s caught or killed. That insane foreignness is just a comforting idea the nonmurdering public would like to nurture. A serial killer’s thinking is just this side of ours, in the way that a two-year-old’s logic is alien to a teenager.

The digs are a ritual event with specific rites and Martin talking aloud to himself.

And then Kylie catches him listening to an audio of a psychologist’s interview with Tinsley’s killer.

Martin discusses the life decisions of Tinsley’s killer with Kylie:

“…. Even if he had to kill himself, he could have stopped. But he didn’t,
and that’s what makes him evil. Evil, dead, human garbage.”

What do you do when you cannot discuss your favourite “hobby”? An activity carefully documented and meticulously planned. Even the introverted want more than the enjoyment of the planning and the “digging” and the remembering.

Martin makes mocking robotic calls to the police about uncovering the bodies the police have failed to find. Detective Sandra Whittal is irritated with the calls and the attitude in them. She is inherently suspicious of someone searching out bodies but avoiding credit or publicity. He is dubbed “The Finder”.

And then a newly killed woman is found by Martin in a “dig” with the body he expected to find and it is clear a killer knows, not just of his digging, but the details as well.

Police interest in the “Finder” is intense. Whittal is an intelligent and very determined officer.

Tension builds by the page to the conclusion.

It has been some time since I read a unique mystery. The concept of a “Finder” of serial murder victims is brilliant.  It is an excellent novel not just a very good first book. At the same time the plot chills the reader. Noir is barely black enough to describe Find You in the Dark. Can, should, a reader enjoy the exploration of the minds and manipulations of serial killers and those fascinated by them?

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang - Eric Peterkin is the sleuth many of us think we could be if opportunity arose. How many crime fiction bloggers have not dreamed of the chance to become sleuths solving puzzling murders? I am one of those bloggers. And should we be transported by time travel back to the Golden Age of crime fiction to take up the investigation even better. Eric lives out such a dream.

It is 1924 and Eric is spending his days reading at his club, the Britannia Club:

Eric had a job evaluating manuscripts for publication, and lately, most seemed
to be about mysterious deaths behind locked doors.

He sits in “his Usual Armchair” next to a fireplace reading with the occasional drink and discussion with fellow club members. He is filling his time with no real purpose to his life.

The Britannia Club “had but one requirement for membership, aside from being a gentleman: experience on the battlefield in the service of the Empire.” Eric had spent a year in the trenches of Flanders.

There has always been a Peterkin as a member of the club.

Yet Eric is as much tolerated as accepted at the Club. He is half Chinese. (His mother was Chinese.) There is a haughty race and class consciousness that looks down upon the “half-caste” Eric. He is “not properly English”. He bears the slights but is an angry young man.

Through all the English classes there is prejudice against the Chinese. The “yellow peril” is feared. They are a favoured villain in crime fiction of the era.

When the newest member, Albert Benson, is murdered at the club and there is doubt the police will aggressively seek out the killer Eric is ready to take up the investigation.

Aiding Eric is Avery Ferrett who spends his days at the Arabica coffee house occupied with horoscopes and tarot cards.

Eric is precisely logical. While Avery is his friend and assistant, a form of Watson, Eric has no belief in the stars or cards.

The investigation, as common with many post-WW I mysteries, involves events from the war. Eric’s investigation takes him to a vast country home, Sotheby Manor, which was a wartime hospital. (Think of Downton Abbey). All the pivotal members of the Club had connections with Sotheby. Adding to the intrigue a young Chinese woman, Emily Ang, who was working at the hospital disappeared during the summer of 1918.

Ang’s disappearance gained but a flicker of newspaper coverage. Many would equally like public attention to the Benson murder to slip away as quickly and quietly. Eric’s strong sense of duty will not abide a coverup. Despite the disdain and threats he endures.

With the murder having taken place in a locked vault Eric starts with determining how access was obtained. He is thorough and careful.

It is striking how Eric, when physically threatened, can almost instantly revert to a soldier fighting for his life. Eric had thought the War had had little effect upon him. Gradually he realizes his psyche was damaged by the year he spent at the front.

Eric says:

“We’ve all been through hell. And it’s turned some of us into monsters.”

I wish Eric had described and used some of the methods of investigation from the crime fiction he had been reading during his days at the Club. Eric draws upon no fictional sleuths of that era..

I wish Avery had been more developed as a character. He aids Eric but is not a true assistant. Most of the time Eric acts on his own. One of the strengths of the Sherlock Holmes series is the active participation of Dr. Watson.

I cannot recall reading about the status of English / Chinese and Chinese people in England during and after WW I. If anything Canada treated its Chinese residents of that era worse than England. There was discriminatory legislation and Chinese Canadians were not granted the vote until 1947.

A Gentleman’s Murder is a promising start to Huang’s crime fiction career.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Give Out Creek by J.G. Toews

Give Out Creek by J.G. Toews - Stella Mosconi with husband Joe and sons, Matt (9) and Nicky (7), has moved from Vancouver back to her hometown of Nelson, British Columbia. They live in a nice cabin on Kootenay Lake and she bicycles into town each day for her work as a journalist with the Nelson Times.

Stella has had a lifelong fear of water. Swimming lessons were restricted to a pool. Now living on a lake she is trying to work through her fear. Solo canoeing does not go well and leaves her shaken.

On the way to work she sees an empty rowboat upon the lake. Stella is deeply upset a short time later when, on her way to interview the police, she sees her friend, Lillian Fenniwick, dead in the boat. She instinctively wants to rearrange Lillian’s dress which has twisted above her knees.

Lillian was a retired lawyer. At 64 she had severe macular degeneration which left her barely able to read. She had just enough sight to be able to row. The previous night she asserted her independence to her housekeeper, Nina Huber, by insisting she would row over to the home of her friend, Vanessa Levitt.

Stella’s former high school classmate, Ben McKearn, now a sergeant in the Nelson Police Department leads the investigation. Each remembers the other from 20 years earlier and teenage dreams.

Stella, Lillian and Vanessa were members of a monthly book club. Retired life coach turned financial adviser, Henry Sutton, was the sole male member of the club.

The book club also becomes a very modest investment club with members investing $20 to $100 with Sutton. They are intent on “socially responsible investing”. However, some members privately invest much more.

Among her friends no one suspects Lillian was murdered.

And then a needle is found in the water near Lillian’s cabin and the pathologist performing the autopsy re-examines the body and finds an injection mark and everything changes.

Creating suspicion are an unknown aspect of the relationship between Lillian and Nina and the provisions of Lillian’s will.

There is little marital bliss for several of the ladies of the club.

Nina was a challenging character for me. Drab in appearance and a pessimist there is not a bit of spark to her. I appreciate she provides a contrast to the bright and lovely ladies of the club but I found it hard to be engaged by Nina.

Stella is a good woman with a strong sense of duty. Coupled with an equally strong curiosity she is driven to find out what happened.

The development of relationships between the characters came later than I would have liked and I would have appreciated more.

The issue of who benefits from the valuable home and property left by the widowed Lillian was only explored late in the book. I do not want to provide a spoiler nor be too technical as a lawyer but the scenario set out was not plausible to me.

The pace dragged for awhile but picked up well in the final third of the book. Toews is good at plotting.

Give Out Creek is a nice mystery.