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, February 27, 2019

A Viking Ship Evokes Memories of Ancestors 1,000 Years Ago

In Sagas and Sea Smoke by Susan Nicol the characters take short excursions on a replica Viking ship called the Snorri. The website for the Norstead Viking Village at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland provides particulars on the ship:

On July 16, 1997, twelve men set out in authentic replica of a Viking ship called a knarr. The purpose was to recreate Leif
Ericsson's 1500 mile journey from Greenland to
Newfoundland. The journey lasted from July to September
and the crew attempted to be as historically accurate as
possible. Leif's journey was a remarkable feat even for today
since he only had the basic medieval navigational tools: the
sun and the stars. L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, the
site of the only confirmed settlement in North America, their
ship was the first authentic Viking ship to have completed the
trip in 600 years.

The ship was christened "Snorri" after the name the Vikings
gave the first child born in the New World. It is equipped with
only a square canvas and oars.

While Sharon and I have not seen the Snorri we have seen other Viking ships.

Visiting cousins in Oslo, Norway we went to the Viking Ship Museum which contains three actual Viking ships that have been found in excavations in Norway and preserved.

The Oseberg ship, a photo of which is above, is a striking ship. The Museum website states:

The prow and stern is richly carved in beautiful animal
ornamentation far below the waterline and up along the prow,
which ends in a spiraling serpent's head. Such an ornately
decorated ship has undoubtedly been reserved for special
members of the aristocracy.

The Oseberg ship could be both sailed and rowed. There are
15 oar holes on each side so fully manned, the ship would
have had 30 oarsmen. In addition, there was a helmsman at the
steering oar and a lookout who stood in the bow. The oars are
made of pine, and some of them show traces of painted
decorations. The oars show no signs of wear, so perhaps they
made especially for the burial.

In the ship were the bodies of two women, in her 70’s and the other about 50. Various artifacts accompanied them.

While visiting the Museum was very interesting a much more powerful experience came a week later when we traveled to the Lofoten Island of Vestvågøy where my Grandfather, Carl Selnes, grew up in the late 1800’s.

Just down the hill from a Viking Chief Farm Museum is a dock at which was a replica Viking ship. A photo I took is to the left of this post.

The ship is docked at the exact spot from which Viking ships sailed 1,000 years ago.

At the Museum was the story of a family, which rather than submit to the new king when their small principality was about to be absorbed into a larger Norse kingdom, left in their ship with their most precious belongings for Iceland.

A video of the Museum and ship can be found at - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5udUbDvpkE

I expect some members of that family likely made their way to Greenland and possibly Vinland which was the Viking name for the area around L’Anse aux Meadows.

There is no development around the dock. I gazed upon the hills unchanged from Viking days. When I stepped aboard the ship I went back in time a thousand years to when my ancestors sailed such ships from this spot. It was so vivid.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sagas and Sea Smoke by Susan Nicol

(11. – 983.) Sagas and Sea Smoke by Susan Nicol - Canada is a land with many remote corners. The northern tip of the island of Newfoundland is, in our time, literally at the end of the road. A thousand years ago it was known as Vinland and the location of the first European settlement in North America as Vikings from Greenland established a village at the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site.

Audrey Vincent, a young archeologist, and Luc Laliberte, a young Metis man, both from Manitoba, travel together to St. Anthony, the largest town near the historic site.

They have summer jobs at L.A.M., the local acronym for the site. Audrey will be excavating as an archeologist and Luc has a position in the Young Canada Works program with Parks Canada.

Audrey is an amazing 19 year old woman. She already holds an undergraduate degree. She speaks several languages and has a photographic memory. In common with many brilliant sleuths she has little patience with the less brilliant. She is forthright and quick in retorts.

Her brilliance does go over the top. She is credited with black belts in four martial arts. As the holder of a black belt in judo it defies credibility for her to have four black belts at 19. Nicol could have still had Audrey an incredible young woman without the never ending embellishments.

At an upscale Scoff and Scuff in honour of visiting politicians and scientists and representatives of UNESCO they meet Alexis McQueen, an anthropologist.

Audrey had gained fame for finding a 3,000 year old cache of trade goods at the Forks in Winnipeg. Luc cleverly introduces Audrey to those present as “Manitoba Jones”.

Alexis, with long held feelings of inadequacy, is instantly jealous and vows to herself to destroy Audrey and steal Luc away from Audrey. The jealousy only builds when Alexis learns that Audrey has a Rhodes Scholarship.

Audrey has visions that take her back in history. On that first night she sees young Viking men going through an initiation ceremony involving putrefied Greenland shark. (Were it fresh they would have died.) Not only does she have visions she interacts with the ancient ones in her visions.

The dig this summer was inspired by a rune stick found by tourists. Audrey, of Icelandic descent, can partially read the stick. She suspects the stick, while authentic, was planted where it was found.

Part of the summer research is to see if they can solve a murder mystery a thousand years old. Recounted in the ancient Saga of the Greenlanders Thorvald Eiriksson was killed in Vinland.

A huge plain spoken RCMP officer, Lenny Andersen, even though the cold case is a thousand years old, recommends she follow the money of today. $2,000,000 was made available for the current excavations primarily because of the rune stick.

The plot is a strong combination of a love story, a mystery and historical exploration. Newfoundland’s land, people and culture make it a special story.

The mystery does get lost for awhile in the personal relationships. I wish Nicol had further developed the archeological exploration into the Viking murder. While I normally appreciate books of 196 pages Sagas and Sea Smoke could have been expanded to fill out the resolution of the mystery.

Nicol has a deft feel for the Newfoundland dialect and lifestyle. I expect every reader to want to head to L.A.M. this summer and experience Vikings and Newfoundlanders.

As the end nears there is a little bit too much perfection for Audrey and Luc and the other “good” characters.

Audrey and Luc are an endearing couple who could sustain other mysteries. At the same time Audrey easily could carry a series on her own. She is the best young fictional sleuth I have encountered since Ava Lee of the Ian Hamilton series. (Lee did settle for mastering one martial art.)  I hope Nicol writes more mysteries featuring Audrey, with or without Luc.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Yard Dog by A.G. Pasquella

Yard Dog by A.G. Pasquella - A book is not going to be a subtle exploration of deduction when it opens:

What does a man do when he gets out of jail? Gets drunk and gets laid, not necessarily in that order.

Jack Palace has just finished a 2 year sentence at the Don Valley Jail in Toronto. His friend Tommy picks him up in a limo and provides a welcome home night to remember.

Some tough guys feel naked without a gun. Jack feels unbalanced without a knife. His friend, Eddie Yao, provides him with a selection:

Long ones. Short ones. Skinny ones. Even a fat jewelled dagger that looked like Eddie might have swiped it from the British Museum. I pulled out a knife with a twelve-inch serrated blade and wrapped my hand around the handle. Perfectly weighted.

No one is tougher than Jack yet, by not carrying a gun Jack follows a Canadian crime fiction tough guy trait.

Jack has too many bad experiences locked in his head. He cannot sleep at night. As the sun comes up he goes to sleep.

Tommy is the son of a mob boss who is in a coma. With his Dad unlikely to survive Tommy is looking to replace him. As the screw-up son all his life, Tommy’s odds of becoming the boss are low. The hair trigger temper, heavy drinking and bad attitude create doubt he has the intelligence and organizational skills to be Boss.

Tommy has a plan to show he has Boss abilities. He will collect on debts owed to his father from some very bad men and Jack will be his collector. Jack owes Tommy who saved Jack’s life in jail.

In collections Jack uses the threat of violence carefully and only mentions consequences if discussion fails. Actual violence is a last resort. Jack is a very effective enforcer.

Opposing Tommy is Little Vito who is about as unpredictable as Tommy and no better at human relations.

Neither is a plausible Boss.

Following contemporary American tough guy crime fiction the body count is high. Every day there is killing. Toronto has its share of mean streets but too many bodies are falling in the Yard Dog. High body count fiction is now a subgenre. While I appreciate the action I find such fiction challenges my ability to suspend enough disbelief.

Howard Shrier’s sleuth, Jonah Geller, is a Canadian fictional tough guy based in Toronto but fewer bodies occupy his pages.

So many of the bad guys are steroid enhanced muscle men with rarely a thoughtful action. I wish there had been more character development.

Mario Puzo in The Godfather demonstrated the fictional benefits of families for the tough guys in the Mafia. No one has a functioning family in Yard Dog.

The crisp dialogue reminds me of the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. With Yard Dog written over a generation later it is inevitable the dialogue will be cruder.

Pasquella is skilled at driving the narrative. The pages kept turning.

It is an interesting book. Maybe, with all the bodies in this book, the next in the series could focus more on the story and the characters. I believe Spenser had enduring appeal because the best books in the series had intelligence valued as much as brawn. I feel Pasquella has the ability to write more than action.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Comparing the Discovery of the Fictional Disease Wormwood with the Discovery of AIDS

In Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott there is the terrifying specter of a devastating new disease that affects only pedophiles. It cruelly torments them with frequent nosebleeds, uncontrollable thirst and severe pain. There is no cure and they suffer agonizing deaths.

Doctors cannot identify a cause or method of transmission. They can do no more than alleviate the symptoms. With all the means of modern medicine it is a mystery causing many in the public to think it is a divine punishment, a sign from God, and the condition is called Wormwood referring to the Biblical prophecies from Revelation of being washed in the blood of the lamb.

I was reminded of how AIDS was “discovered” in the early 1980’s. While I was representing a group of hemophiliacs before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood System during the mid-1990’s the Commission heard evidence on the origins of this modern plague.

Dr. Charlie Francis from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, one of the lead researchers on AIDS, provided riveting testimony of the investigation.

As with Wormwood the symptoms of AIDS were initially connected to a specific group. For AIDS it was  homosexual men. Growing numbers of gay men, especially in San Francisco and New York, were noted in the early 1980’s to be suffering rare medical problems such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma, best known for its purplish blotches.

While Escott’s book did not seek to identify a first patient there was an attempt with AIDS. A male Canadian flight attendant became known as Patient Zero. Though the designation was not correct  he was among the earliest identified.

There was some brief public speculation whether it could be a condition that only affected gay men.

There was some sense at the time that medicine had identified the diseases of the world and that there could not be a devastating disease that had not been discovered. That belief was clearly wrong. A book written in the mid-1990’s called The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett frightened me. It convincingly set out there are diseases to be “discovered” in regions such as West Africa.

Public fear was intense and there were religious figures who saw AIDS as a punishment from God. They could not reconcile how it affected gay men but only rarely lesbian women. Such a distinction was an early indicator that AIDS was not a punishment from God but likely blood borne and sexually transmissible.

Soon reports came to Dr. Francis and his colleague of the symptoms being found in hemophiliacs and then Haitian people including women. When the symptoms were found in a newborn they were confident, though no virus had been found, that it was a disease like Hepatitis B transmitted through blood.

Escott’s book touches upon the fear of hemophiliacs that they would be considered pedophiles because of their bleeding issues.

In the early 1980’s hemophiliacs justly feared ostracization because of AIDS. I had a client receiving treatment in hospital where staff were reluctant to take food trays into his room.

The association of AIDS with gay men prompted some hemophiliacs to be resentful and be prejudiced. For years those hemophiliacs believed that infected gay men giving blood were the leading cause of blood and blood products being contaminated with AIDS.

One of the most powerful personal moments at the hearings of the Royal Commission came when a hemophiliac leader of the group I represented, having observed witnesses and read documents, realized that gay men, with little help from public health authorities, had sought to minimize the donations of blood from gay men who might be infected and worked hard to spread the word of the risks of transmission of AIDS. He went up to a lawyer, a lesbian, representing the Canadian Aids Society and apologized to her for his prejudiced views and said that he had changed. She was overwhelmed with emotion.

Escott’s book is tantalizing in that, unlike AIDS, the condition Wormwood is never identified in any group of people beyond pedophiles and no method of transmission is ever found. Those continuing facts reinforce the belief it is a punishment from God. In my last post I set out my conviction that God is not so arbitrary as to single out a single class of sinners for such retribution.

In the book people flock back to the Catholic Church because of this sign that God exists and does intervene in this world. There was no increase in faith when AIDS was discovered. While the return to faith is a vivid story line I doubt faith would increase in real life if a new disease was asserted to come from God.

It would have added an intriguing complexity to the book if Escott had explored whether the death penalty, for all those afflicted with Wormwood die, is an appropriate punishment for pedophiles.

In Operation Wormwood it is indicated the condition would also affect those who view and share child pornography.

Western society has evolved concerning the death penalty. As late as the mid-1900’s the death penalty was applied to such crimes as rape. Now, where the death penalty remains in effect it will not be imposed except for murder.

Catholic Church doctrine rejects the death penalty. Escott did not discuss whether the powerful exhortation of Father Cooke that Wormwood is a punishment from God aligns with Church’s doctrine.

I believe it remains probable that a new communicable disease will come out of Africa. If I am correct I am certain some religious figures will again call it a sign from God and demonize the afflicted.
Escott, Helen C. - (2019) - Operation Wormwood

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.