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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Big Underlying Theme of Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times

In my last post I started a review of Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich. I conclude the review in this post.

In discussing the book with me, my son Jonathan pointed out that the author, as a writer on American politics for the New York Times, had a freedom to write about the NFL unlike regular sports reporters. When you cover a team and a sport on a continuing basis a writer must consider the necessity of continuing relationships. It is not so much critical comments that are avoided. Instead, it is observations and conversations that might be embarrassing or private in nature that remain unwritten. Leibovich was not making a career of sports analysis. It mattered not who might never talk to him again.

There was on occasion a touch of the condescension of a writer who customarily dealing with political issues who considers sports less important. His reaction to events such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Weekend was dismissive.

At the same time he acknowledges being a fan of the New England Patriots with the irrationality of a dedicated sports fan. That fandom leads Leibovich to easily admit his personal bias with regard to the Patriots. His multi-chapter recounting of the “Deflategate” saga reflects he is not objective with regard to the Patriots.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is very well paid, as much as $40 million a year, but comes across as an awkward titan of the game. His greatest skill appears to be developing good relationships with almost all the 32 owners. His second most important skill has been the ever increasing income earned by the league while he has been Commissioner. All league problems are of modest consequence when owners are happy and getting happier with increasing revenues.

Is there a big story in the NFL of today as implied by the title? Every author wants their book to be “relevant”, a word Leibovich said is beloved by NFL leaders.

The big underlying theme of “the dangerous times” involves the brain injuries suffered by so many NFL players. The issue is made vivid through the interviews he has with long term players who have suffered neurological damage and fear their futures.

Analogies are drawn between the efforts of the tobacco industry to downplay health risks from smoking and the NFL trying to minimize the consequences of head injuries. An analogy not mentioned is that tobacco is still available with users taking the risks of smoking. Many of the interviews on the issue of head injuries in football now emphasize how players recognize and accept the risks of professional football.

Yet Tom Brady surprised me with regard to head injuries:

Privately, Brady has expressed faith in Guerrero’s ability to heal his brain. He will rave about his ability to “work” the area that a concussion will disturb - as if some massage technique could treat a brain injury. TB12 also features a customized program of mind and cognition exercises, as if concussions are just another ailment, like a pulled muscle, that can be avoided with the proper “prehab”. When Brady speaks of Guerrero, TB12, and their specialized “ways,” he can project the faith of a zealot, a sense of invincibility that goes beyond naive and might veer into hubris.

Even the most analytical and rational of quarterbacks has his blind spots.

(Alex Guerrero is Brady’s “closest friend, personal guru, and ‘body coach’ “.)

Leibovich is a talented storyteller. He is descriptive and engaging. Thank you Michael and Jonathan for an excellent book.

Yet I am not sure the NFL is in dangerous times. Over the years it has faced rival leagues and player strikes and other strife. It has always been in troubled times.

What is clear to me from reading Leibovich’s book is that there is little reason to believe in the collective ability of the Membership to lead the league through dangerous times. They have not had to direct the league during an economic downturn for professional football. Only a modest number of owners inspire confidence that they are able to do more than ride the wave of yearly increasing revenue. The Membership would make a great reality T.V. show. Should there be a pause in revenue growth I am sure Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys would be ready to be a star of “Keeping Up with the Membership” or “Desperate Owners of the NFL”.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich

Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich - An excellent book that might better have been titled “The Quirky Billionaires Who Own the NFL”.

My sons, Jonathan and Michael, seek out books for Christmas gifts to me. It is not easy for them to know what I might have read. Since my reading of non-fiction has declined they often gift non-fiction books.

Leibovich, in writing about sports, is abit like myself in that his primary job is not sports reporting. He is a reporter on politics for the New York Times. He is based in Washington, D.C. He spent 4 years in research and interviews delving into the NFL.

He provides vivid vignettes uncommon in sports reporting. The opening pages recount Gisele Bundchen, supermodel wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, visiting the Philadelphia Eagles locker room minutes after the Eagles 2018 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. Leibovich refers to her as the Brazilian First Lady. It is a striking image of a goddess striding amidst the exhausted and triumphant warriors who defeated Tom and bestowing her congratulations upon them. Most can do no more than mumble in reply. What is unstated is how rare such a stroll is in professional football. In 41 years of covering Canadian professional football I have never seen an opposing player’s wife in a locker room after a game. In the winning locker rooms at 18 Grey Cups I have never seen a family member in the room until long after the game. Tom and Gisele are football royalty for Gisele to grace the winners in their locker room with her presence.

Leibovich is skilled at apt phrases. On the billionaire owners, who refer to themselves as “the Membership”:

…. the Membership gets to keep most of the NFL money and none of
the brain damage.

Another phrase by Leibovitch describes “Nuggets” avidly sought by a segment of NFL  reporters:

They are the bite-size, lightweight, drive-by, Twitter-ready items about
who is being traded, released, signed, suspended, arrested, diagnosed with
dementia, etc.

In our current media world “Nuggets” are featured in the 24 hour cycles of sports broadcasts. Thoughtful analysis is rare for it requires conversations. I admired Leibovich for having discussionss rather then mining for Nuggets. It is hard for current reporters to have conversations. Sports shows are filled with Nuggets. Players, coaches, executives and owners have been conditioned to speak in Nuggets. When I seek to have a conversation with a player as a sports reporter they are surprised.

While he draws conclusions from his interactions with the NFL it his observations of the NFL elite, especially the owners, that most interested me. Players come and go. Owners endure. Owners rarely make more than an innocuous public remark in scrums. They are more forthcoming in conversations.

Letting the owners speak for themselves was fascinating. With great wealth and position assured they have no need to be politically correct. How the media relations director for the Houston Texans must have agonized when team owner, Bob McNair, discussing the Washington team name told Leibovich how he:

….was not offended by the name “Redskins” and explained that he had
grown up in North Carolina around many Cherokee Indians. “Everybody
respected their courage,” McNair said of the Cherokees. “They might not
have been respected for the way they held their whiskey, but ….” McNair laughed.

Jerry Jones, the publicly flamboyant owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is equally exuberant in private life. He craves attention. At the same time he lives life with a joy few can match. Even fewer can match the capacity of Jones for alcohol. Leibovich recounts a boozy afternoon interview with Jerry in the team bus, outside the Cowboys annual golf tournament,where Jerry appeared no worse for wear after drinking cups of Johnnie Walker Blue scotch whiskey. Leibovich spent several hours sleeping on the bus after trying to keep up with Jerry. The chapter was titled “This Man’s Liver Belongs in Canton”. (The Ohio city of Canton is home to the NFL Hall of Fame.

(My next post will complete the review.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

1,000 Books Read!

I reached a 20 year personal goal last week. On January 1, 2000 I decided I would try to read 1,000 books over the next 20 years and write reviews on them. I wanted a book quest that was challenging and realistic for me. Thus I set out to read a book a week. With the completion of Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly I achieved that goal.

My totals for each year were 2000 (50), 2001 (40), 2002 (42), 2003 (49), 2004 (74), 2005 (60), 2006 (51), 2007 (44), 2008 (53), 2009 (50), 2010 (48), 2011 (71), 2012 (57), 2013 (58), 2014 (50), 2015 (45), 2016 (45), 2017 (43), 2018 (41) and 2019 (29).

Initially I thought I would read about one-third non-fiction and two-thirds fiction. Over the years the fiction level has increased to about 80% most years. It seems the older I get the more I choose to retreat from real life into fiction.

The first book I read was a work of non-fiction. Tournament of Shadows by Shareen Blair and Karl E. Meyer . It is about espionage and the efforts of Western Europe, especially England, to control the lands of central Asia. If more world leaders had read it I doubt the West would have become mired in Afghanistan since 9/11.

I was already started reading lots of crime fiction before 2000. I had not realized how much I focused on mysteries until I started keeping track of my reading. When I decided to start this blog it was easy to look to crime fiction.

As I examined my reading in the early 2000’s I realized I wanted to read more Canadian authors. Since then I have read dozens of new-to-me Canadian authors.

Of the Canadian authors I have read a pair of Saskatchewan crime fiction writers are my favourites. Gail Bowen with her sleuth Joanne Kilbourn and Anthony Bidulka with his sleuth Russell Quant are a pair of writers I have enjoyed and admired for the quality of their writing. I acknowledge my appreciation is skewed by my personal friendship with both of them. They are both thoughtful and fun to be around. I wish every crime fiction reader could meet them.

Another reading niche has featured lawyers. I like reading about lawyers. Over the past 44 years since I graduated from law school at the University of Saskatchewan and started practising law I have read dozens of biographies and autobiographies of lawyers. Since 2000 my recreational “legal reading” has shifted to mainly reading legal mystery fiction.

I can usually tell within a few pages if a writer of legal fiction is a lawyer. Michael Connelly is an exception. I would have thought his Mickey Haller books were written by a lawyer. I expect it is the same for readers of sleuths of their professions. It is hard for me to describe precisely how I can know the author is a lawyer but I can tell.

Of the writers of legal fiction in Canada I love the legal mysteries of William Deverell and Robert Rotenberg. Their books have Canadian lawyers I can see in the law offices and courtrooms of Canada. Arthur Beauchamp has a courtroom wit I would love to have in trials.

John Grisham is my American favourite. There is no writer who has created more interesting and diverse lawyers. I wrote a post about all the distinctive Grisham lawyers.

Undoubtedly, as I practice law in a rural community in a sparsely populated province, I love his books set in rural Mississippi featuring Jake Brigance. Our rural cultures have many similarities.

Reading a book by Michael Connelly for the 1,000th book was not an accident. I have read more books by Connelly during my quest, 25 in total, than any other author. He is a great mystery writer. While I expressed some reservations about Dark Sacred Night in my last review I did enjoy that book as I have enjoyed every Connelly book I have read. Few authors sustain the excellence of Connelly during their writing career.

On this blog I estimate I have written approximately 25,000 thousand words in posts on Connelly and his books.

My favourite book of the 20 years is a Connelly book, Bloodwork. In the book former FBI agent, Terry McAleb, is recovering from a heart transplant when he learns he has the heart of a murder victim. Connelly leads the reader on a fascinating chase of discovery for the killer while McAleb deals  with the problems of his transplant and the challenges of being in a pursuit in which he could not be more personally involved. It is the only book of the 1,000 I have read twice in the last two decades. And I did not count it twice.

A non-fiction book that moved and inspired me was Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. A survivor of the Holocaust Frankl wrote powerfully of the need to have hope in the future and that all lives have meaning. They are principles by which I have striven to live my life.

I have been thinking this year as I closed in on 1,000 books whether I want to set a new goal. Feeling it would be presumptuous at 67 to anticipate health I have decided to make my goal to simply to read a book a week for as long as I can hoping that will take me many years into the future.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Protest On Connelly's Use of Vigilante Justice

I ended my review of Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly, my last post, by referring to my disappointment in the ending involving vigilante justice.

Reading about the LAPD being vigilantes and Ballard and Bosch deliberately breaking the law, let alone the rules of police conduct, left me discouraged.  Connelly, a great writer, is resorting to investigations being solved by misconduct not skilled investigations. Such an approach supports a view that justice in America is meted out by the police investigating, judging and punishing those persons they determine are guilty.

Integrity is rare enough in the world.

The means justifies the ends inevitably leads to vigilante justice and disrespect for the Rule of Law.

Apparently I am a minority of one in the reviewing world at having regret over Connelly having Bosch and Ballard disregarding procedure and the laws of the land. Threatening torture to gain confessions is popular in crime fiction but erases the lines between bad guys and good guys.

We do not need trials if the police can mete out punishment for those they find guilty.

Centuries of hard won rules of proper conduct are at risk.

Maybe there are police officers we can rely on to only break the rules with regard to evil men and women.

Bosch would say to trust him. What about the thousands of L.A. police officers who do not get every case right? Who sometimes focus on the wrong person? Should police get to unilaterally decide punishment? What happens when the police engage in misconduct?

Harry’s signature phrase of “everybody counts or nobody counts” means respect for all victims of murder whether good or bad people. It is not always a popular creed. I wish he had the same regard for the laws of America.

Connelly resorted to an easy conventional solution of police misconduct for the greater good. Such an ending is a waste of his talent. I despair when intelligent sleuths cease using skill and resort to violence and illegal actions.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; (2017) - Bosch - T.V. - Season One and Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch; (2018) - Two Kinds of Truth; (2019) - Dark Sacred Night; Hardcover

Monday, June 3, 2019

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch and Connelly’s newest detective, Rene√®
Ballard, become partners in Dark Sacred Night.

Harry has started investigating the cold case of Daisy Clayton. Nine years ago the 15 year old girl had been taken from the streets of Hollywood and killed. She had been a runaway from Modesto caught up in drugs and prostitution.

He had met her mother, Elizabeth, while working undercover as a pill shill in Two Kinds of Truth. She had drifted into being a pill shill after she become a drug addict and indifferent to life. She was consumed by guilt. Bosch provided her with money for treatment. Having completed rehab she is staying in his home while he investigates Daisy’s murder. The unorthodox relationship has had an unexpected consequence in that Maddie, Bosch’s daughter at university, has sharply limited contact with Bosch in disapproval.

Ballard, in her well established on the night show (the overnight shift), catches Harry looking in an LAPD file cabinet. She cleverly deduces his interest in the old files and joins him in the tedious cold case investigation.

Poetic summaries of interviews of street people from years past by an officer, Tim Farmer, catch her attention and mine:

This is not first nor the last time we will cross paths with
A deep, cancerous river of hate and violence courses
through his veins
I can feel it.
He waits, He hates. He blames the world for its betrayal of
all hope.
I fear for us.

At the same time Harry, still working as a volunteer with the San Fernando Police Department, is attempting to solve a cold case there.

The intriguing aspect of the investigation was a forensic attempt to solve the crime by digging out of a wall in a garage a pair of bullets test fired by the killer who was using a homemade silencer.

Bosch is more vulnerable than I can recall. He wants a deeper longer personal relationship instead of the short term affairs of recent years. He acknowledges making a serious error in the San Fernando case.

Ballard and Bosch work together better than Haller and Bosch. With Ballard a fellow police officer there is none of the tension inherent in the relationship between Haller, a lawyer, and Bosch, a detective.

Not many of Bosch’s past partners can match his obsession and stamina. Ballard is just as driven. As well, she is bored from being sidelined to the night shift after filing a complaint of sexual misconduct against another officer.

As Bosch considers his future there is a dramatic situation. To say more would be a spoiler. It has been awhile since Connelly has written a chase against time. He is brilliant at building tension. I was racing through the pages.

After a brilliant opening and powerful investigation the resolution was disappointing. Connelly can do better than vigilante justice.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; (2017) - Bosch - T.V. - Season One and Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch; (2018) - Two Kinds of Truth; Hardcover

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I Have Been Wondering Moira?

Dear Moira:

After reading Friends and Traitors I was looking around and found your review of the book and the amazing photo of a bright red dress to accompany the quote from the book about the spectacular dress. (Here is a link to your post - http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2017/10/friends-and-traitors-by-john-lawton.html

While I liked the dress it did not fit my image of a gown that was clasped by a single button that created an erotic scene when released.

After searching for photos of red dresses I found the image that is at the top of this post. It appears it could be held together by a single button.

Continuing my quest I found another striking red gown to the right which has the possibility of a solo button.

The dress image you chose is of a 1955 dress. I did wonder whether the dresses I chose are unlikely to have been like dresses created in the late 1950’s. If they are not 1950's style dresses I expect Lawton’s description of the red dress of his book was equally improbable.

Whether historically accurate I believe the red dresses of this post are fictionally accurate.

Reflecting on red dresses further set me to thinking of red Mandarin dresses. Xiu Xiaolong wrote an Inspector Chen book, Red Mandarin Dress. The iconic Chinese dress played an important role in the book.

I thought how striking it would have been for Venetia to have worn a red Mandarin dress in her London mansion though in looking at the form fitting dress for which I have an image it would have been difficult to walk down, let alone make a sensual descent of her staircase in this red Mandarin dress. (There I go again letting practical thoughts interfere with fashion and romance.)

Still with wealth at her command I expect she could have purchased such a dress. It would have been a dramatic addition to the book.

In a reply to a comment on your post you spoke of wanting to wear the red Balenciaga gown featured in you post.

Thus I have been wondering would you want to wear the dresses shown in this post?

You continue to be an inspiration on the importance of clothes in books.

All the best.

Friends and Traitors by John Lawton

Monday, May 27, 2019

Friends and Traitors by John Lawton

Friends and Traitors by John Lawton - What a start. One of the Cambridge Five spies, Guy Burgess, is a friend of Inspector Frederick Troy and his family in the mid-1930’s. It was a surprising and intriguing opening. Burgess creates an immediate impression as a heavy drinker with a “high-pitched snort” of a giggle. He is also known as “one of the most notorious buggers in London”.

They muddle through the war with Burgess living a flamboyant lifestyle.

In 1951 Burgess leaves for Russia. Troy describes him as “a queer buffon”. It is ill-suited to the grim life of Soviet Russia.

The plot was drifting until Burgess approaches Troy in Vienna about wanting to return to England. In a brilliant passage Lawton evokes the longing of an exile:

“I miss it all. I miss London. I miss the pubs. I miss the Dog & Duck. I miss the Salisbury. I miss the Reform. I miss the RAC. I miss the Gargoyle. I miss that bloke in the pub in Holborn who could farth the national anthem. I miss Tommy Trinder. I miss Max Miller. I miss Billy Cotton. I miss Mantovani. I miss my mother. Oh God. I miss my mother. I miss my flannelette stripy pyjama. I miss the weather. I miss fog. I miss drizzle. Who would ever think anyone in their right mind could miss drizzle? I miss Penguin books. I miss the pelicans in St. James’s Park. I miss the blow jobs in St. James’s Park. I miss the News of the World. I miss The Daily Mirror. I miss sniffing the fresh inkiness of the late edition London evening papers. I miss The Beano. I miss Desperate Dan. I miss Wilfred Pickles and Mabel. I miss Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. I miss Kenneth Horne. I miss Stinker Murdoch. I miss Arthur Askey. I miss Mrs. Dale’s Diary. I still worry about Jim. I miss Pathe News. I miss Bob Danvers-Walker. I miss the Proms. I miss Malcolm Sargent. I miss Pomp and Circumstance. I miss the Gang Show. I haven’t had a “ging gang goolie goolie wotcha” in years. I miss nipping down east for jellied eels and a bit of rough …..”

Burgess professes to want a quiet life of anonymity. Troy is unconvinced Burgess has the personality to ever fade away from public attention.

Jordan Younghusband from MI5 muses can a spy de-defect?

Does England want him back?

British spies would love to know if he will provide the identities of other Russian spies. Troy gains some information. Burgess names of all of the Cambridge Five. When Troy moves to the question of a Sixth spy Burgess drunkenly avoids an answer. (I discussed the question of the potential Sixth spy in a post I wrote after reading Trinity Six by Charles Cumming. Here is a link (https://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2015/11/trinity-six-by-charles-cumming.html). What might he say if he were properly de-briefed?

Later there is a name for a Sixth spy. It appears to be a fictional name unlike the names of the other actual spies.

Back in London Prime Minister Harold MacMillan succientely advises that he does “not want Burgess back - at any price”.

I had not thought about the challenges of a defector intent on return. He is a traitor. Should he be prosecuted? What will be the public reaction to the return of Burgess? More important what will the Establishment, of which Burgess was a member, think of their betrayer returning to England?

And then there is a killing of a British agent in Vienna.

In official England officialdom focuses on Troy. Could he be a spy? Paranoia has risen after the embarrassment of the Cambridge Five.

It is a spy story with no spying. Friends and Traitors sets out the everyday lives of spies and those who chase them. For these spies and spycatchers it is the routine of ordinary folk who are members of the British Establishment. There is no discussion of secrets obtained and passed on. There is no analysis of mole hunting.

Based on this book few in MI5 would catch a spy. Many are aptly called “plods”. There is precious little of the ruthless subtlety set out by John Le Carre. There is one nondescript spycatcher who is actually a master interrogator. As with the best questioners he gathers all the information possible about the subject before starting an interrogation.

Late in the book there happens to be a murder.

Lawton is a gifted writer. I enjoyed the book but did not find it compelling. Burgess disappears much too early from the plot.