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.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Thoughts on the End of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

It is a sad week for the virtual world of crime fiction bloggers. Margot Kinberg of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist has decided to cease writing her blog. For almost 10 years Margot provided a daily post. By my calculations she wrote over 3,000 posts. She highlighted at least 500 different authors!

Beyond the high quality of her posts she was a constant source of encouragement to crime fiction bloggers around the world. I appreciated her generous spirit. She is such a positive person.

I looked forward to her posts. On my computer an icon provided instant access to her blog.

I wish Margot well as she turns her amazing energy to other interests. I am glad she will continue to visit crime fiction blogs. Her comments are another source of encouragement.

One of my favourite parts of her blog were her posts she called “flights of fancy” where she used her clever imagination to write witty posts about the fallibilities of writing. In many she used crime fiction sleuths as characters. I have consulted a number of those sleuths and they have asked me to pass on their remarks.

So many wanted to contribute I have had to winnow down the comments.

Hercule Poirot: Je suis désolé Madam Kinberg. The little grey cells can barely comprehend your absence from blogging. I had so appreciated in your blog the almost daily references to myself and, where necessary, the other characters of Mrs. Christie. At times I almost thought you knew more about my life than myself. I keep track of crime fiction blogs and I state confidently no one knew the works of Ms. Christie better than yourself. 

Nero Wolfe: Dr. Kinberg, I am bereft. I so enjoyed our interactions. I remember those satisfactory, no splendid, Christmas gatherings we shared especially with Monsieur Poirot. Your keen intelligence and tact helped me in dealing with Ms. Milhone’s love of MacDonald’s burgers when she was chosen to plan a meal. I still shudder at the thought Big Macs could have been our fate. I had always thought if I needed an independent consultant on a case, though it has never happened, that I would call on you. The spare bedroom in the brownstone and a place at my table will always be ready for you.

Kinsey Milhone: Margot, enough of those gloomy old men, I am glad you are freed from the blog. If I remember correctly you are a runner. We are not so far apart in California. I would love to have you come for a visit. We could take Henry’s dogs and have a good run on the beach. When we get back we could go over to Rosie’s for dinner. It is time I pulled out my little black dress and I am sure you have a go-to dress for a festive evening. It’ll be great. You’re not allergic to paprika are you?

Henry Standing Bear: Margot, Walt and I have had a conversation. It is time you got out of the city. I would like to take you out to the Reservation. Cheyenne people love to celebrate with our friends and we respect your thoughtful approach to books. A sweat lodge ceremony has been arranged. And Walt wanted me to tell you he has already bought a cowboy hat for you and will be buying you a Rainier at the Red Pony!

Armand Gamache: Ms. Kinberg, during our long Quebec winters Reine Marie and I looked forward to your daily posts. She said you had the mind of a librarian – her highest praise. You have always referred to Three Pines with such affection. One of your last blog posts described the houses of our village as characters. Reine Marie and I have been thinking and had a discussion with our fellow residents. We want you to come see us even though we are not on the map. Gabri and Olivier at the bistro will have café au lait and croissants ready. They guarantee you will get the table next to the fireplace. Myrna has some books she wants to show you. Ruth and Rosa are determined to greet you as you arrive. Ruth may even pen a few lines in your honour though we fear what she may say. We want you to stay with us. Marie Reine has your room ready. And Clara will do a watercolour portrait of you.

David Hasselhof: Margot, Margot, Margot. I may have made but a brief appearance in the comments on your blog as I provided “hair” advice but the Hof has not forgotten you. I have kept an eye on your blog, especially the Crime Fiction News Breaks. They were always informative and I admired how you kept track of crime fiction around the world. Congratulations on keeping up the lovely curls and just the right bounce. You may be gone from blogging but never forget you were a star, you are a star, you will always be a star!

Flavia de Luce: Mrs. Kinberg, I have appreciated that you value the presence of children in crime fiction. Too many authors exclude us from meaningful roles. And while you are not a chemist, no one is perfect, you are a scientist of words. 

Arthur Beauchamp: Ah, Margot, your very name reminds me of my beautiful Margaret who brightens and enlivens my senior years. I shall miss your erudite yet never pompous posts. Some might suggest I am an expert on pomposity. I prefer to think of my expectations of precision in the use of the Queen’s English as maintaining standards. My mornings will be lonelier without your posts. As with you I rise early in the morn to check out blogs. In the words of the immortal Juliet “parting is such sweet sorrow”. Thank you lovely lady. I am blessed to have known you through your blog.

Bart Bartkowski: As you know Margot I live about 80 km down the highway from Bill Selnes. I have been an avid reader of your blog. I admit there was not a lot to do at night when I was at our fly-in fishing camp. You may live in the city but you understand the country. What most impressed me was that you highlighted and valued authors known and unknown. My adventures as small town Saskatchewan mysteries are far from bestsellers but you included lots of examples from the series on your blog.

Joanne Kilbourn: Life will be duller without your posts Margot. I know writers are glad to have refuges where they can write in peace. I have never found a more tranquil setting than St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster here in Saskatchewan. Every year Canadian writers come for a week or more to stay at the monastery and write. The monastery is a destination of peace and serenity. Contemplation comes naturally at a monastery. Should you arrive in winter the chickadees will land upon your hand to eat a peanut. I will make sure Father Demetrius has some cookies ready for you.

All the best Margot from myself and the sleuths of our reading.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sister of Mine by Laurie Petrou

Sister of Mine by Laurie Petrou - Penny and her younger sister Hattie are living in the house they grew up in located in a small town, St. Margaret’s. Abandoned by their father they are raised by their mother who finds work as a clerk in a local store.

The Grayson sisters are very attractive and close to each other. As children they had a special sign between them at night:

…. Hattie climbed into my bed and we carefully pressed our hands against each other, fingers to the sky, ...

At the same time Penny has a lingering anger over Hattie and the circumstances of the sudden death of their mother when Penny was 19 and Hattie was 16.

Penny works as the director of a daycare attached to the local school. Hattie is employed by a beauty salon.

There is an aura of mystery about them. Two years after their marriage Penny’s husband, the abusive Buddy, is killed in a fire. Penny is haunted by his voice every night.

Penny and Hattie share a dark secret. They told the police Penny was staying with Hattie the night of the fire. On the opening page Penny is running from the fire to the family home to be with Hattie. Officer Iain Moore of the local police said that Buddy had consumed several beers and was smoking and the batteries to the fire alarm were worn out. Yet there is reference to Buddy having something more in his system and the unlikelihood a cigarette would set polyester floral curtains on fire.

More time passes for the sisters. Generally they keep to themselves. Penny is attracted to a young teacher, Jameson, whose left arm ends at the elbow. At a meal in their home it is clear he is actually attracted to Hattie. Penny puts her jealousy away.

They enjoy the hot lazy days of summer together. Hattie and Jameson fall in love. Penny spends a lot of time alone in the barn on the acreage she lived with Buddy.

Hattie and Jameson become a couple. Penny lives with them for a time. The emotions make it impossible. Penny moves out.

The secret strains at the relationship between the sisters. Penny owes Hattie.

Hattie’s call on the obligation is startling and challenging. Penny struggles with Hattie’s demand. How much is her obligation? What will it do to their bonds as sisters if she refuses? Would Hattie break down and reveal their secret? Deaths can be re-investigated.

Ultimately there is no hiding from the decisions made the night Buddy died.

Sister of Mine is a challenging exploration of sisters.

The death (crime) is part of the story of the sisters not the focus of the book. It was alright.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Black Donnelly, Rats and Pigs by Fergus P. Egan

Black Donnelly, Rats and Pigs by Fergus P. Egan - A title should not affect me but Black Donnelly, Rats and Pigs has to be the least appealing title I can remember encountering. I regret to say the cover also did not attract me. Thankfully the book is much better than the title and the cover.

In the summer of 1947 Murtagh (Murty) Muldoon is visiting his Uncle Ben Muldoon. Murty is looking forward to working on the farm and learning about “the Troubles” (The conflict between England and Ireland in the early 1920’s leading to the partition of the island and the establishment of the current Ireland.)

The dialogue is local with the occasional Irish word or Irish English (both always translated) but not overdone.

On a trip to town, in their horse drawn cart, to sell 10 piglets Murty and Ben pass by the spooky residence of Black Donnelly. While famed for his sausage he is a recluse living in a house full of clocks.

On their way home at twilight Murty is shaken by a huge black dog that he subsequently identifies as a pig trying to climb into the back of the cart. Failing to get into the cart the beast runs through the doorway of Black Donnelly’s home.

The next day Black Donnelly is found dead in his slaughterhouse. He has been killed and his heart slashed from his body.

There is a powerful tradition of the danger of a Black Pig, “in local folklore, a phantom harbinger of death”.  The book is not supernatural.

The murder investigation is led by Detective Inspector John Patrick “Murf”. Murphy as eccentric and brilliant a detective as can be found in Ireland.

Murf is a great believer in seeing the big picture to solve investigations. He thinks about white dots and black dots combining to provide that big picture.

Motives for murder go back 30 years to the final battles in WW I involving Irish
soldiers fighting for England. Captain Daniel Edward Kennedy is brave but reckless leading to a confrontation with Terence “Tracy” Prior, a sapper. Prior is deeply respected by his fellow soldiers as he goes into No Man’s Land at night to plant bombs. Joining him is a German mastiff, Rex, that he saved during one foray.

After the war the civil conflict in Ireland involves every citizen. In this region during “the Troubles” many have connections with or membership in the IRA, including ranking police officers, . Yet there are internal conflicts in every group. There are pro and anti-Treaty IRA.

There are vivid stories of the battles between the IRA and the Black and Tans and the police. Flying columns of elite fighters move all around Ireland.

In the end Murf puts the big picture together connecting the white and black dots. He is brilliant at assembling and assessing evidence.

It is an average book. Murf is a great character. I would read more of him. I am sure a future book would have a more inviting title and cover.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Another Spy in Paris by Robert J. Young

(16. – 988.) Another Spy in Paris by Robert J. Young - Lieutenant Maurice Auriol fights hard against the German invaders of France in 1940. Twice his unit is destroyed. After the second battle he is captured.

In 1974 Andrew Stanhope has been diligently going through French Army archives at the decaying fortress of Vincennes for three years. He is exploring the records from the 1930’s. It is a period French officialdom would prefer remain in obscurity as it is convenient to blame the military and civilian leaders of that decade for the disaster of 1940. No one wants to acknowledge the skill of the German invaders or possible treachery within the French military.

A Canadian professor, Stanhope, is one of few foreign academics allowed to research the Army archives. He has gone through boxes and boxes of often meaningless documents establishing himself as a thorough researcher. Now he seeks the more delicate records of French Military Intelligence in 1940.

Colonel Stehlin has appreciated the Canadian academic’s writing about France and is “uncomfortable with the too-simple, uncluttered, official indictments of France’s pre-war regimes”. He grants Stanhope’s application.

His opening box contains routine and incomplete documents. Across from him is a conscript reviewing military medical records from the same era. Invited to take a look at the medical records while the conscript goes for lunch Stanhope unexpectedly finds a pair of ripped postcards speaking of betrayal in 1940.

The plot moves back and forth between 1940 and 1974.

We learn of the particulars of the German espionage and some of the participants. Stanhope searches for the information that will reveal the spies 34 years later. (I thought of the French spying within the German embassy in the Dreyfus scandal a generation earlier in France.)

What is unique is that the espionage involves a French high fashion house. Haute fashion and its creators move freely across borders. High ranking government officials are clients.

The search is not filled with bodies. Tension builds from the gradual accumulation of information. Some is fortuitous, much is from careful examination and thoughtful consideration.

Another Spy For Paris is a slender book. It is a good book with no pretensions. Young is Saskatchewan born and currently an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg, Among his books are biographies of French figures. Young clearly has an intimate knowledge of Paris. He easily discusses its history, landmarks, establishments and people. It is well written and I was glad I read it.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C.L. Polk - Dr. Miles Singer is upset. He is to discharge wounded soldiers before full recovery because more wounded must be admitted. While the war is over, Laneer has surrendered to Aeland, not all the casualties have reached home.

Suddenly a desperately ill man is brought to his hospital in Kingston by Mr. Hunter. The sick man, Nick Elliot, says his tea was poisoned. He implores Singer, referring to him as the “Starred One” and Sir Christopher, to find his murderer.

As Elliot grabs Singer’s arm:

A crackling line of static rushed over me. Tendrils of green light shot
from his fingers and twined up my arm. I fought his grip, but the vines
held fast, stretching from his grasping fingers.

They are linked together. Elliot was a witch. Singer is worried it will become known a witch, with his power, touched the doctor who is also a witch.

Mr. Hunter wants to know why the magic is dying and Singer is the only witch Hunter knows in Aeland.

Nearby a beautiful woman stops before a burning home and performs magic summoning rain from the clouds. She does it unobtrusively. Everyone thinks it is luck that has saved the home.

An elite group of witches evocatively called Storm Singers can control the weather. They expend enormous effort to create good weather for Aeland.

At a benefit for the hospital Miles meets his sister, Grace. She has not seen him since he left home 13 years ago to join the army to become a doctor. She thought he was dead. She is one of the Storm Singers.

Grace tells him he has a new witchmark:

A witchmark. You’ve always had the pink one, but the new one’s green. Just there, and there.” Her fingers hovered over my head: one near my temple, the other at the back of my head. “You can’t see auras without touching someone, still.”

His absence had adversely affected the magical powers of their prominent family. Miles remains unwilling to return to aristocratic life and lose his independence.

Miles and Mr. Hunter pursue the investigation. When Elliot’s body is removed from the morgue before an autopsy can be done they know that there is evil afoot in Aeland.

Mr. Hunter reveals himself as one of the Amaranthines, legendary witches of great power thought to have “left the world to guard the dead”. His powers include the ability to render himself and someone standing next to him invisible.

Miles has the magic to achieve healing. He can see inside the bodies of peoples. Once diagnosed his magic can heal. With the aid of Mr. Hunter he knits together his own broken wrist.

A pair of gifted witches solving a mystery is a unique reading experience for me. Witchmark is set in a fantasy world on our earth at an unnamed time but corresponding to the period of the 1910’s. Much of their world is our world though there are additions such as aether which flows through copper wires to provide power.

As inevitable in a fantasy world the author’s details of the residents of this alternative world become as interesting, if not more, than the actual plot. The ending drifts far into fantasy and the resolution of the mystery features magic. It was interesting and I was glad I read the book but I doubt I will read another book of the witches of Aeland and beyond.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Crisis Point by Dwayne Clayden

Crisis Point by Dwayne Clayden - In the spring of 1976 Brad Coulter is a somewhat maverick Calgary police officer. After working in a training exercise he is on a regular shift with Curtis Young who is about to leave regular duty to become a Canine officer.

(Kevin) Giles is an active member of the Canadian Airborne. Torres and Nadeau are former members of the same unit. They had all served together. With the aid of a guard at Brinks they plan a robbery at a bank branch in a mall. They will strike  just before midnight when the Brinks guards enter the bank with their money cart. It is a good plan but the second Brinks guard starts shooting. Giles wounds him and they escape with $80,000.

As they try to leave Calgary Coulter and Young intercept them. A shootout leaves Young dead.

After the funeral Coulter is offered Young’s dog, Lobo. He accepts.

After a short leave Coulter returns to active duty where he encounters a pretty young paramedic, Maggie Gray. She is spirited and quick witted. They are soon a couple.

One of the consequences of the shootout is the establishment of a SWAT unit in Calgary based on the Los Angeles model of SWAT teams. To distinguish them from American teams they are called the Tactical Support Unit (TSU).

Coulter continues to have physical confrontations at work. While his returns to duty are quick they are not the impossibly swift recoveries of Hollywood heroes.

The robberies by the ex-soldiers continue with few clues for the police.

Coulter is chosen for the first group of TSU officers. The description of the demanding training was interesting. They are extremely fit.

I was disappointed by Coulter secretly taking evidence from a crime scene. His actions interfered with the investigation and were a surprise from an author who has worked as a police officer.

The TSU is not embraced by regular police officers who cannot see the need or purpose to a special unit.

The book complains about the criminal justice system being weighted in favour of accused. I am old enough to have been a defence lawyer in 1976. I would disagree with Clayden’s characterization of the criminal justice system.

While there is more action than I need I appreciated the development of a credible relationship between Coulter and Gray. As well, Coulter’s partner, Briscoe, is married and has a family. I do wish the good guys were not perfect. None of us are.

The bad guys have some character though, as usual, no families.

The dialogue flows nicely. The banter between officers felt realistic. There is genuine wit.

It is a good thriller.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Murder Audit by Michelle Cornish

Image result for Murder Audit by Michelle Cornish Audit by Michelle Cornish - Protesters are zealous and business managers are equally committed on New Year’s at the headquarters of Prairie Pipeline Co. (PPC) which is building of the Rocky Mountain Pipeline about 25 km south of Calgary. Controller, Jim Dunn, is getting ready for the annual financial statement audit. When he steps outside to complain to the protesters he is struck during a confrontation and dies as protesters panic.

Cynthia Webber is articling at Darlington and Associates, an international accounting firm in Calgary. She is recently widowed with a 4 year old son, Luke. She is the manager of the firm audit team for PPC.

With the Calgary economy at full throttle she is working on New Year’s Day to keep up with the work. She finds Dunn’s body during a physical inventory of pipe.

Though she is sent into shock by the discovery of the body and needs a brief hospital stay Cynthia’s hard driving audit supervisor, David Jerew, expects her back at work the next day and to finish the audit on schedule.

When he threatens not to disclose to the police an earring was found on the body she is scared and intimidated. She had already been puzzled at PPC when Gord James, the CFO at PPC, claimed to the police he had found the body. Startled she had not disagreed.

I found it a distraction when Cynthia’s deceased husband, Jason, starts a conversation with her on the fiduciary duty of accountants to the general public to be truthful.

Cynthia meets with Detective Randy Bain of Calgary Police Services. She is honest contradicting Gord and disregarding David’s threat. He fires her that afternoon.

The absence of reasoning and any process within the firm did not feel right.

Blackmail letters written by Dunn come to light.

And if there is a feminine  murder weapon it is the heel protector for spike heels suspected here. (For male readers the protectors allow women to walk on “grass, grates and gravel”.)

Parts of the plot were dramatic. However, the action veered too often from the credible to the incredible to, unfortunately well past the incredible. The climax left me shaking my head. There were other issues beyond the plotting.

As an example, much of the involvement with law and lawyers is not accurate starting with Miranda rights being American. Rights to counsel in Canada are under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The process of bail was wrong..

The dialogue did not quite work at times. Cornish was at her best in family and personal scenes. How Cynthia is appreciative that her firm has daycare inside its office building and she can take the elevator down to the daycare for quick visits during the day. Later she has a shopping date with her best friend, Linda. As she writes more I expect her dialogue will improve.

I believe there was potential to have Cynthia become a character like Joanne Kilbourn in the books by Gail Bowen. There is a framework of friends and family around Cynthia that could be enhanced.

The best legal fiction has legal issues and/or cases at the heart of the story. I wish Cornish had put accounting at the core of Murder Audit instead of the greater emphasis on the environmental issues. As a former CPA she has the background to focus a plot around accounting. However, there are so many weaknesses in writing and plotting to be improved by Cornish. Accountants as action heroes work no better in crime fiction than lawyers as action heroes.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

10-33 by Desmond P. Ryan

10-33 by Desmond P. Ryan - Detective Constable Mike O’Shea and his partner, Detective Constable Brian “Sal” Salvatore are members of the Juvenile Prostitution Task Force of the Toronto Police Department in 2005.

It is grinding bitter work chasing down rings of underage prostitutes who are moved from city to city. They are seeking to charge the pimps and rescue the young women.

In a scene that defines institutional lack of communication they are ready to raid a “hold house” where they are sure a group of teenage prostitutes are staying. As they roll up to the residence they find a woman strolling for customers outside the house. It turns she is a member of the Morality Squad arresting Johns. As they start to pull away a regular marked police car from the Traffic unit stops them to check out Mike and Sal. None of the three groups of officers knows about the operations of the other units.

They rescue a young girl, Britney, who spent two months in the ring. She tells them of a pimp, Malcolm, who slashes girls from mouth to ear, a Glasgow cut, and occasionally kills them

The description of her call to her parents was wrenching as the parents deal with the emotions of finding out she is alive, that they can come to pick her up and that she has been in a prostitution ring.

The stories of how young teenage girls are lured into a relationship and then turned into prostitutes by their new “boyfriends” is sickening and sad and all too credible.

O’Shea has a classic Irish mother in Mary Margaret, a wife from whom he is separated and a young son, Max. Traditional Sunday supper at Mary Margaret’s home always includes Sal. Boiled cabbage, potatoes and corned beef will be the menu.

While the snafu over the raid on the “hold” house has damaged the investigation Mike and Sal start picking up information on where the girls may have been moved.

Ryan has a good ear for dialogue. The conversations feel right. There is a sardonic, somewhat biting, wit in the conversation of the officers. I was tiring of the banter between the officers until a searing scene of a shooting and the aftermath that had me racing through the pages caught up in the story. I had to know what happened next.

Ryan keeps the action driving to an ending that was both anticipated and unexpected.

10-33 is the first of a planned six part series involving Mike O’Shea.

It grated on me as I started the book to read a preface in which the author repeated several times that the book was “real”. Why not write non-fiction if the story is real? Fiction requires imagination not just a narrative with dialogue. By the end I appreciated he had used his imagination to tell a story that is raw and vivid and real.