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, 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.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

2019 Arthur Ellis Award Winners for Canadian Crime Fiction

Image result for 2019 arthur ellis awardsIt is the best night of the year with the announcement by the Crime Writers of Canada of the winners of the 2019 Arthur Ellis Awards.

to the Winners of the


Anne Emery
Though the Heavens Fall  

                                                                                  ECW Press

Sponsored by Rakuten Kobo

A.J. Devlin
Cobra Clutch

NeWest Press

The Lou Allin Memorial Award

John Lawrence Reynolds
Murder Among the Pines

Orca Book Publishers

Sponsored by Mystery Weekly Magazine

Linda L. Richards
Terminal City

Vancouver Noir
Akashic Books


Hervé Gagnon
Adolphus - Une enquête de Joseph Laflamme

Libre Expression


Linwood Barclay

Puffin Canada


Sarah Weinman
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World

Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Sponsored by Dundurn Press

Liv McFarlane
The Scarlet Cross

Of the winners I have read and enjoyed and reviewed Cobra Clutch. Devlin is a talented new crime fiction writer and Jed "Hammerhead" Ounslow a memorable sleuth.

I have not read Anne Emery and intend to read Though the Heavens Fall.

There is a lot of good Canadian crime fiction being written. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

On the Up by Shilo Jones

On the Up by Shilo Jones - A stream of character consciousness. Totally absorbed in themselves.

Jasminder Bansal role playing. Journalist. Now sales associate Marigold Group in Vancouver - It is one of “the largest development firms in the country” -  motive is not money. Wanting evidence. Seeking to exposing of Vincent Peele, a director of Marigold, and Clint Ward, the killer of her brother. Clint now part of Marigold. Aging gangster making the move from drugs to real estate. She will write corruption inside Marigold. Will get her a career in journalism.

Peele bicycle riding young executive. Relentlessly studding speech “progressive” cliches. Still has traditional approach to business.

Mark Ward, Clint’s brother, back in town. Ex-army. Wounded by a bomb in Afghanistan. Clint loves him - wants to dominate him - have him join Clint in crime. Has ex-wife and a child. Was in Thailand. Wants out of Vancouver.

Carl “Blitzo” Reed. Head of successful investment firm. Ethical investing. Loves recreational drugs. High during a business meeting. Mind racing. Thoughts veer in and out of reality. In Tesla. Imaginary pet pig, Holdout, in car. Good conversation with Holdout. Pig has solid investment advice. Call with estranged wife. Is she a robot? Challenging call. Wife no drugs. Concern over daughter. Holdout advising on personal relationships. Flying higher and higher. Blitzo surreal.

From Mark:

Saturday, six-o-fucking-clock in the a.m., twelve hours after landing in
Vancity. Driving one of Clint’s work trucks toward the Cash Corner, early
2000s Ford, not as sick as the Cummins but still dandy, feels good being
behind the wheel, eating an overripe apple I bought at 7-Eleven, dark
outside, winshield wipers on, work boots on, missing Thailand’s sunshine
but not the humidity, should I call Daree? Otherwise feeling flat, wonder
what next-level dope comes after the Oxys, which at this point are mainly
maintenance. Lots of crap careening through my head, jumbled, mostly
excited to get to work, smell fresh-dug dirt, cut lumber, diesel exhaust
form the Bobcat.

Or Carl:

Brand strategy meeting at an as-yet-unnamed organic hop farm/craft
brewery in a valley sideways from Pemberton. Huddled inside
voluminous orange robes, carrying a carved cedar staff adorned with
tinsel, sitting at the head of a table made of rough-hewn planks, under a
threatening sky, whispering incantations, brooding on the politics of the
street. Thinking about liberation in the form of a brick. Smashed
windows, simpler times. Black bloc. Infiltration. Worried my robes make
me look like a sunburned scrotum. Worried about toxins, off-gassing,
fluoride. Worrying that I should be worrying about formaldehyde. Brain
in a jar? Worried that fluoride and formaldehyde rhyme, is someone
trying to tell me something? Worrying about what to worry about next ….

Every character consumes multiple recreational drugs in mind altering quantities. Hard to be convincing. If satire too subtle for me. Who would trust any of them with an investment dollar?

Murder incidental to the plot.

Found hard to read. Normally no review of book not completed. On the Up exception. Post in style of the book.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The King of Shanghai by Ian Hamilton

(27. – 998.)The King of Shanghai by Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee is adjusting to life without “Uncle”. Having grieved his death she is ready to move forward in life and business. She decides to exit the debt recovery business she had carried on with Uncle and enter the aggressive and fast moving world of Chinese business.

With millions of dollars inherited from Uncle and a business partnership, the Three Sisters, established with friend May Ling and her sister-in-law Amanda, she is looking for investment opportunities.

Amanda introduces May and Ava to a dynamic sister and brother, Gillian and Clark Po. He is a creative fashion designer anxious to establish his own fashion line under a variation of their surname by converting the “O” into an "O" with an umlaut to suggest sophistication.

On the same trip she goes to Shanghai to meet Xu. He had saved her life in The Three Sisters of Borneo. While he asserts there is no obligation she has a sense of duty towards him. At the same time she is wary of his position as the head of a triad.

Ava is startled when Xu wants to go in business with her. He assures her that he has a large sum of money for investment that does not come from the traditional illegal activities of triads. This money has been earned through copying products developed in the U.S. and Europe.

And then he would like her assistance in setting up a meeting with Sammy Wing, the head of another triad. He believes Ava can be of assistance as Uncle had great confidence in her.

Xu is also looking to become the head of the triads in an upcoming vote.

There are negotiations and treachery and some violence as the series shifts from her the quasi-legal debt recovery business to actual business transactions and connections to the triads.

The current books in the series are becoming a sequence that will need to be read in order unlike the earlier books which could easily be standalones.

While there is no cliffhanger Hamilton has whetted my interest to read the next in the series. I am hoping the violence quotient continues to remain modest. There is enough skulduggery to be found in the corporate world. It further appears that the series is shifting further and further from Ava’s roots in Toronto. Her businesses are in China and Southeast Asia. I do not know how credible it is to have a female adviser to a triad leader, all of the other advisers in the book are male, but it was interesting to see Ava using subtlety and an agile mind in meetings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been announced by the University of Alabama and the American Bar Journal. The following books from the 25 entries were chosen:

1.) The Boat People by Sharon
2.) Class Action by Steven B.
Frank; and,
3.) The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

This is the first year in which I do not know any of the authors.

In the release on the shortlist there is the following comment:

"This year's Harper Lee Prize was particularly difficult to
judge," said Molly McDonoug, editor and publisher of the
ABA Journal. "We were evaluating so many gripping and
compelling reads."

I would have been interested to know which books were on the long list but that information has not been released each year.

The judging panel for 2019 will be:

Robert Barnes, a journalist with the Washington Post; Steven Hobbs, Tom Bevill chairholder of Law at UA; Claire Matturro, a UA law school alumna; Utz McKnight, chair of the UA department of gender and race studies and professor of political science; and author Gin Phillips.

Of that group I know Claire Matturro having read her books featuring the obsessive and funny Southern attorney, Rose Lily Belle Cleary.

As with the Award in recent years readers of the ABA Journal will form a 5th voter for the Award.

The Award will be presented again at the Library of Congress during the National Book Festival.

Following my reading practice I plan to read the shortlist and provide posts on each book and my thoughts on the winner.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Humour of Thomas King

Author, Thomas King, has a talent for writing humour. His skill is evident in DreadfulWater which I reviewed in my last post.

His humour has an edge that I associate with Indian people. It is most evident in conversations, especially if they are with other Indians.

In my review of Shaman Pass by Stan Jones I described it as:

"Jones evokes the playful exchanges between indigenous people - not quite teasing, not really needling, on the edge of sarcastic, occasionally biting, always entertaining."

In representing Indian people for over 40 years I have seen and experienced their jabs. I rarely have had a deft reply.

King’s wit was often present on Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour, a CBC radio show that was actually 15 minutes in length. Gracie Heavy Hands and Jasper Friendly Bear joined King who played himself. They were clever in their satiric views of Indian country and its intersections with the white world.

Wikipedia reminded me of a favoured segment:

Gracie’s Authentic Traditional Aboriginal Recipes, including
puppy stew, fried bologna and Kraft Dinners.

Here is a link to a podcast of the show which included the Kraft Dinners recipe - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHCoiFcW44Y

There was some consternation within the CBC over puppy stew but the show aired.

In DreadfulWater Thumps arrives at the home of Moses, an Indian elder, well into the night looking for advice:

Moses looked out into the night. “Is it a big problem
or a little one?” In the distance Thumps could hear a
coyote working its way across the coulees.

“It’s not exactly a problem.”

Moses nodded. “Then you better bring it inside,” he
said. “You never know when an owl might be

Later Moses discusses Hollywood:

“That’s what white people do best.” Moses pressed
the on button and the television sprang to life. “They
make good movies.” On the television, a bunch of
good-looking men and women in spacesuits were
fighting with a bunch of giant bugs. “Ho,” he said,
“I’ve seen this one before. The bugs almost win.”
Moses turned down the sound. “Just like Indians.”

Moses has a unique view of computers:

“My mother could talk to animals.” Moses pushed a
button, and one of the monitors flashed to live.
“Stanley can talk to these machines.”

“You know how to work this stuff?”

“Sure, Stanley showed me how.” Moses pressed
another button and a plastic tray slid out of one of
the machines.”It’s not hard once you understand
how the Nephews think.”

“The Nephews?”

Moses waved his hand over the computers. “They’re
like little kids. They like to repeat everything you
tell them.”

I have always loved the signoff for The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour;

“Stay calm! Be brave! Wait for the signs!”