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, 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.

Monday, January 28, 2019

In Extremis by V.V. Drummond Finished

In Extremis by V.V. Drummond - In my last post I started a review of In Extremis. This post contains the remainder of the review. Here is a link to the first post - In Extremis Started.

Among the judge’s documents is a box titled Mandamus. Morgan tells the judge’s widow it relates to a legal charity - a clear legal fiction to any lawyer. The group’s letterhead depicts the classic Justitia (Lady of Justice) but without a blindfold and bears the phrase Mihi Vindictam (Vengeance is Mine).

Mandamus is one of the prerogative writs of English law that were used in Canadian law when I was a young lawyer. An application for mandamus is for an order to command government or an agency of government to carry out the provisions of a law not being enforced.

The surviving members of Mandamus subsequently meet to discuss their actions and the future of the group:

“We, more than others, are aware that horrible crimes and devious
criminals are going unpunished because of flaws in a system we have
devoted our lives to maintaining. To the extent we have been able to, we
have stepped forward to try to arrest that trend. We have, to paraphrase
Dumas, asked the God of vengeance to yield us His place to punish the
“In doing right, are we morally justified in doing wrong? And lastly, are
we doing enough, or are we trying to do too much?”

I have never encountered fictional vigilante lawyers. They made me very uncomfortable.

The book has two stories uneasily connected. There is the detailed steamy erotic story of an older woman and younger man exploring a relationship. At the same time there are the actions of the vigilante lawyers.

There is a common theme of betrayal. Her adultery breaks the oaths of her marriage vows. The vigilante actions of the lawyers breach the rules of conduct for lawyers. I did not find the respective plots worked well together. It would have been better had there been two books.

The vigilante lawyers are more troubling to me than other vigilantes because of their positions within the justice system. Still the concept of vengeful lawyers is a clever plot line that could have made a distinctive and memorable book. As set out above it does not fit with the story of the lusty lovers. Yet In Extremis is a challenging book for it is not simplistic sexploitation.

As the end of the book approaches the police are introduced. It is late in the plot. Their involvement early on would have been intriguing.

The sophisticated vigilante plot line descends to predictability at the end of the book. So much more was possible on this plot line. At the same time in the other plot line there is a genuine surprise at the end with regard to the affair.

Is there a subgenre of erotic suspense? In Extremis is hardly romantic suspense. On which plot line lay the emphasis of the book I note the publisher of In Extremis is eXtasy Books Inc.

Friday, January 25, 2019

In Extremis by V.V. Drummond Begun

In Extremis by V.V. Drummond - Jason Oosterhuis, self-described wife beater, has just arrived in Toronto after being released from prison for good behaviour having served 39 months of a 6 year sentence. While contemplating the women he might terrorize now that he is free a hired killer shoots him in the shower.

Sharyn Barrington, recently turned 42, is drawing away from the Catholic faith. She is questioning the Church as the means to salvation. Her husband, Carl, a lawyer and accountant, a staunch conservative Catholic, is upset. Their marriage is struggling. The relationship has not been aided by her recent opening of a lingerie shop called Booty’s.

Her provocative older sister, Jenna, is having an affair. Sharyn thinks of adultery as a sin. Jenna is unconcerned. There is no discussion of the commitment to faithfulness in the vows of marriage.

Sharon, deeply unhappy, has drifted into drinking daily screwdrivers referring to them as V and Oh! What started as the occasional screwdriver now includes taking a thermos full of screwdrivers to the store on week days and drinking at home through the weekends.

Sharyn reflects on the morality of having an affair with a teenage friend of her son. Her focus is upon her consequences. Desire triumphs and, as inevitable, Sharyn has pangs of conscience over the affair.

Morgan “Morg” M. Cathcart, QC, LLB and widowed a few years mourns Mr. Justice Samuel Keane Leishman’s death. The retired judge at 83 collapsed at Mass. He converted late in life from Judaism to Catholicism.

There is a deft observation on why a man, born and raised a Jew and with two Jewish marriages, converted to Catholicism:

…. He’d said there was less moral relativism in Catholicism than Judaism. “ I like lots of shalts and shalt nots.” Sam had no patience with shades of gray.

The seal of the confessional is considered by the judge’s troubled pastor:

Would he serve God best by being a loyal priest and maintaining the seal of the confessional? Or would the secret he took to his grave - unspecified crimes, some of them perhaps horrible - condone mortal sin and violate his sense of doing good for the greatest number? And what was God’s position on these questions? To serve a greater good, could He condone someone being a bad priest?

The priest’s turmoil over what the judge has told him felt out of place for every man who becomes a Catholic priest has had ample time to consider the issue in the seminary and, if unable to accept the seal is absolute, not to become a priest.

Morgan is a bitter and vengeful man over a teenager escaping responsibility for killing his wife in a hit and run. He sees no irony between his anger over defence lawyers zealously representing criminal defendants and his satisfaction with his own legal work. Morgan, a tax lawyer, seeks to use every legal argument and strategy to minimize the taxes of his clients.

The old judge had been known for his stern punishments of the convicted. Morgan is ready to carry on Sam’s legacy.

(My next post will contain the rest of my review.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Cobra Clutch by A .J. Devlin

Cobra Clutch by A .J. Devlin- “Hammerhead” Jed is enjoying a banana milkshake (a milkshake is the favoured drink in his family) at the DQ with aging professional wrestler, Johnny Mamba. Jed is a bouncer and former pro wrestler. Mamba, the victim of a reptile-napping. is calling on a favour owed. His pet python, Ginger, has been stolen from his locker and a $10,000 ransom demanded.

Mamba is a hard man but everyone loves someone (something) and he will pay anything for Ginger’s safe return. It was touching, not a joke, that a snake could be so important in his life.

Jed had justly earned his nickname in the wrestling world by breaking a 2” x 4” board over his head after winning a match.

Aiding Jed is his cousin, Declan St. James, only a few years removed from Ireland. He is famous in downtown Vancouver for his ability to pour the perfect Guinness (including a shamrock in the foam) and picking fights when he has had too many Guinness.

Jed’s father, Frank Ounstead, a massive retired police detective owns the Emerald Shillelagh Pub and operates a private investigation firm.

Mamba is wrestling with the XCCW (X-Treme Canadian Championship Wrestling). While impressively titled the XCCW is far from the glamour and money of the WWE. Its wrestlers often perform in venues with dozens of seats. The owner, Bert Grasby, XCCW is shrewd and sleazy.

The members of the XCCW are a colourful group of characters. I have not watched professional wrestling for a long time. In Cobra Clutch Devlin portrays the matches as physical theatre. The performers work hard and frequently suffer injuries in their shows. With my background in judo I appreciated the skillful use of leverage.

Jed has a hard time getting anyone to take his investigation seriously.

Matters become very serious when a ransom drop goes badly. Both Ginger and Mamba are dead. Mamba’s throat has been slashed.

There is a brilliant scene of a necropsy (reptile autopsy) of Ginger. She died from ingesting a rare methamphetamine.

The lovely Detective Constable Rya Shepherd will lead the murder investigation for the Vancouver Police Department.

The busty Stormy Daze, Mamba’s ex-girlfriend and a XCCW star, is ready to be comforted over her loss.

When photos demonstrate Mamba was having an affair and Stormy publicly threatened the other woman Stormy rises to the top of the suspect list.

Jed finds the P.I. work more interesting than expected. He has been stoutly resisting his father’s invitations to join him in the business.

The violence is at an American noir level. There is a double digit body count.

The story flows easily in the tradition of the best tough guy P.I.’s.

There is deft jabbing wit. The bulky, oft banged up Jed is referred to as “McDreamy”.

Jed is self-deprecating.  Explaining his appearance to a police inspector:

“Don’t let the shaggy mop and designer stubble fool you, bub,” I said.
“This is a carefully crafted look.”

I was reminded a lot of Sam Wiebe’s tough guy sleuth, Dave Wakefield, who also works the mean streets of Downtown Eastside. Dave and Jed would have a good time together.

In a cover blurb Sam described the book as “intense and cinematic”. I would agree. Cobra Clutch would be well suited to being made into a movie.

Devlin’s master’s degree in screenwriting and subsequent experience as a screenwriter are evident in the dialogue.

Devlin is an excellent new young Canadian crime fiction author. I definitely want to read the next in the series. (I would recommend a more attractive cover for his next book.)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Exchange with Janice Macdonald on Eye of the Beholder

After reading The Eye of the Beholder by Janice MacDonald I exchanged emails with the author. I greatly appreciate the depth of her responses.
Dear Janice

I appreciate Turnstone Press providing me with a copy of The Eye of the Beholder.

I enjoyed the book and thought it the best of the Randy Craig mysteries I have read.

If you are able to reply to this letter and willing to have your reply posted I will put it up when I post this letter. I have already done a pair of posts on the book. 

Hi Bill,

Nice to hear from you, and thank you for your thoughtful reading and reviews of my Randy Craig books.

As I read the wonderfully descriptive opening section of the book on Puerto Vallarta I could visualize the city I have visited. The preciseness of the murder location led me to look it up on Google maps and I included a screen shot of the site in my second post. Did you use Google maps to help you in writing the scenes in The Eye of the Beholder? More specifically did you ever Google the murder spot?

I didn’t google any of the sites in Vallarta, but my husband was dragged along on two or three “murder days” during our last couple of visits (we go once a year for a fortnight) wherein I took photos of places I knew would be part of things, and checked how long it would take to get from one place to another. 

I have a couple of photos of the spit, where I mostly saw little kids with old men fishing, but once, a few visits ago, I caught sight of a lone woman, which had a lot to do with the start of this particular plot. (see below) My husband thinks that posting some photos I’ve taken during our murder walks would be a good idea, so thank you for that!

I am glad Randy and Steve have wed.

Me too. 

The image of Randy bringing 17 liquor board boxes of boxes to the condo she will share with Steve was neither startling nor unusual to me. There are a lot of books in our house. In the home office where I am writing this letter there are approximately 800 books. I enjoy the custom made light golden wood book cases in which they rest every day I am in this room. In the rest of the house I estimate there are another 700 books. The phrasing in The Eye of the Beholder led me to believe you have a lot of books in your home. I would be interested in knowing how many books would be in your home.

Well, we have downsized from a five-bedroom, two storey house with finished basement to a two bedroom condo and two-thirds of everything we owned had to go. We went from 25 bookcases to nine… we had even had a bookcase in the downstairs powder room of our old house. So, I figure we only have about 1800 books now. I spent many years after graduating as a book reviewer for the Edmonton Journal, which helped to build up the collection, but any English major is just programmed to buy books, I think. You can’t walk through a bookstore without buying at least one book, and one-click shopping on Amazon is criminally easy. I used to joke that we had insulated our house to R40 with books. Please don’t ask me how many books are living on my kindle!

A significant majority of my books are crime fiction. I have some shelves of history, especially World War II history. My largest collection of biographies involve the lives of lawyers and judges. Over the years I have purchased at least 75 books about real life lawyers and judges. I would be equally interested in a breakdown of your book collection.

I did my MA thesis on detective fiction, and then had a review column called “If Words Could Kill” for several years. Nowadays, there are fewer mysteries on the shelves than there were. I read a lot of Canadian writers, support Alberta writers, look out for newly released books that sound good from Guardian and NYT reviews, and pick and choose amid thrillers and psychological mysteries. I tend now to pass books along to a friend, who shares them with her mother. That way I don’t feel quite so guilty about overspending my budget. I am planning to spend more time at the library this year, because there really isn’t any more room in here.

I thought Randy and Steve’s enjoyment in a winter snowshoe walk through the bush near Edmonton a great illustration of how Canadians enjoy being outdoors in our cold winters.

The snowshoes were a nice touch. Few people in the world outside Canadians use snowshoes. When I was a boy on the farm I often used the bulky wooden laced snowshoes of my father. He was a trapper in the winter and found snowshoes better in the bush than skis. I never found them easy to use and you certainly learn a new way of walking with them. My younger son now has them mounted on the wall of his law office in Calgary.

Are you a snowshoer? If so, do you like the new metal snowshoes? They certainly look more practical though I admit a nostalgia for the traditional snowshoes of Canada.

I have an old pair of gut snowshoes, but no longer use them. We had plastic ones for the girls when they were little shaped in that old tear drop style, too. Nowadays, my husband and I use the aluminium and plastic ones, though we’ve not had enough snow the last couple of years to warrant them. I no longer ski, but I do like to get out in the winter air and do something, so snowshoeing has made for some fun outings. The newer shaped snowshoes make me feel as if I’m cutting a slightly more elegant figure, though I might be fooling myself.

You integrated visual artwork so well in so many ways into the plot.

I was caught by the interest of Randy and Steve, especially Randy, in the paintings of Maria Pace-Wynters:

I loved her series of paintings dealing with dress forms and corsets, but couldn’t imagine Steve being keen to look at dressmakers’ dummies on his wall every evening.

I agree with her conclusion that such paintings as the one beside this paragraph  would not be a painting a guy would be “keen” to look at every day. (I don’t think this one is available any longer)

In the book they chose a painting of blue poppies, perhaps like the one at the top of this post. I enjoyed the paintings of the blue poppies but liked the vivid red poppies of Pace-Wynters more.

Might you have one or more of the paintings of Pace-Wyneters? If you have any of her work were you, as Randy, smitten by the blue poppies?

I actually DON’T own any of her blue poppies, though I do have prints of her red poppies in my office at work, and my husband has a lovely print of “Hopes and Dreams” in his office. We have a print of her magpie, two of her koi pond prints, a small Christmas cactus print, and a few others. We have one original poppy, and I get her calendar every year. I am quite smitten with her peonies, but don’t have any of that series. I do actually have a print of the dressmakers’ dummies, which I love.

I also do own John Wright’s “Sunflowers” and one of Larry Reese’s magical paintings of a grain elevator, and a water colour by Veronica Rangel from Puerto Vallarta, all of which are mentioned in the novel. We have a small Jane Ash Poitras oil painting that I am very fond of, too, though I didn’t mention that, because my kids would have teased me mercilessly. (They say they were instructed as children to grab the Jane Ash Poitras and my purse if the house ever caught on fire. I probably said that once.)

You spoke in your acknowledgements that The Eye of the Beholder might be the swan song of Randy Craig. I hope not for I can see many opportunities for Randy and Steve to solve crimes together in creative ways. Should it be the final Randy Craig mystery thank you for writing them. You have provided fine reading with the series.

All the best.
Bill Selnes

You are very kind. In much the same way that Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane had to move along when romance got in the way of mystery, I think this may indeed be the end of the line for Randy Craig. However, I don’t think it is the end for my writing, and I hope you will review whatever else gets published in the coming years.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Wild Justice by Arthur Haberman

Wild Justice by Arthur Haberman - A clever title taken from a quote of Francis Bacon:

“Revenge is a kind of wild

Detective Sergeant, Daniel Miller, of the Toronto Police Service Homicide honours his father on the anniversary of his death but it is only a gesture of respect for his father’s faith:

“.... God and I don’t get along very well. As you, I have a very Jewish position on Him. I don’t believe he exists and I argue with him regularly.”

The divorced Miller has an easy relationship with his 14 year old son, Avi.

Miller’s family is modern Orthodox Jewish rather than ultra-Orthodox. Despite his comments about God he keeps a kosher kitchen though he is less concerned about Jewish dietary rules when he eats out.

A 42 year old veteran officer Miller has a new partner in Detective Constable Nadiri Rahimi. She is in her early 30’s and a new detective.

A genuine surprise was the revelation that Miller plays the violin in an amateur chamber orchestra once a week. One week they are practising Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in C Major. His son refers to him as a Mozarthead.

In what might be a surprise were the book set in America the new detective team work two weeks before they investigate a murder.

A doctor recommends to a deeply troubled unnamed 37 year old man that he needs to develop a new program to change his life. He decides to seek out the men who committed “unspeakable acts” upon him 25 years earlier.

James Frawley, a 40ish Catholic school teacher, has been beaten to death in his apartment by a chair. He also has broken fingers. He appears to be a “secular monk” who wears rough uncomfortable hair underwear and self-mortification. He is a member of the Opus Dei.

There are short excerpts involving the unnamed man set on vengeance.

Another murder comes their way. Halima Nizamani is 20 when she was strangled and thrown off the bluffs in Scarborough. Her Pakistani father was unmoved by her death. He had cast her from the strongly Islamic family saying she is no longer his child for adopting Western ways.

It was unusual and intriguing how there is a start to a thoughtful examination of the lives of the average and the devout in three faiths - Judaism, Catholicism and Islam. Few works of crime fiction delve into the actual practice of faith in the 21st Century.

There is a good book in the concept. I think it would have been better had the story of the unidentified vigilante killer been dropped and the plot focused on the differences between the faith of the faithful, including doubters, and the rigidly devout.

I admired there were family suppers where those present enjoyed themselves and had discussions that ranged from the routine to the serious.

I appreciated that Miller, unlike obsessive fictional detectives, such as Harry Bosch does take time off and is encouraged to have days away from work.

At least at the start it is almost a textbook on investigation - precise procedures are followed.

It was interesting to have cases that did not involve the central mysteries. Those cases made the book more like the life a real life detective.

The narrative does drive toward a conclusion.

There are no apparent flaws in anyone but the murderers. There is an earnestness to all but the bad guys that is uncommon in crime fiction. While I dislike books devoted to dysfunctional characters there are few paragons in the world.

Unfortunately, the dialogue does not always feel natural. Still Haberman does have a vivid statement on the why of a murderer:

“I had nothing for all this time. I wanted something. I thought if I could
act, then I could ….. I don’t have the words …. lose the past.”

The resolution was abrupt and not convincing to me.

I think there could be a series for Miller like the Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series but Wild Justice is not there. It is a good first novel. I think I would read another in the series to see how Haberman progresses as a writer.