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, June 28, 2019

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver - As Lincoln Rhymes contemplates a honeymoon in Greenland a man is kidnapped on the streets of Manhattan. Left behind is a small hangman’s noose made of catgut. Hours later the victim is on a live video being broadcast through YouVid (a thinly disguised YouTube). His kidnapper has him bound and standing on a crate with the noose around his neck. In the background The Blue Danube is being played with gasps being inserted in rhythm - gasp, two, three, gasp, two three. He is using sound from the victim  in the creation of the sound track. The video is signed off as copyrighted by “The Composer.

The Composer is Stefan, a heavy set white man, buffeted by schizophrenia. Treatment is “pretty much limited to drugs, psychotherapy was useless for someone who was far more interested in the sound of words than the content” with words “nothing more than a series of spoken tones that, depending on the doctor’s voice, could be ecstatically beautiful, could downright thrill him or could induce a bout of anxiety thanks to the shrink’s vocal fry.”

He worships Euterpe, a daughter of Zeus, and one of the muses. He believes in the music of spheres:

It was a belief that everything in the universe - planets, the sun, comets,
other stars - gave off energy in the form of audible tones ….

When these tones - whether planets, the human heart, a cello performance - were in harmony, all was good. Life, love, relationships, devotion to the god of your choosing.

When the proportions were off, the cacophony was ruinous.

He has a huge digital collection of sounds.

Stefan is another eerie chilling villain challenging Rhyme in America and Europe.

In Italy a Forestry Department police officer, Ercole (an Italian version of Hercules) Benelli, diligently reads the many warnings from police services as he pursues criminals such as a marketer of counterfeit truffles (they are from China).

He is called by a cyclist to the scene of an abduction. After subsequent officers, higher ranked and more experienced, contemplate the crime scene Benelli stuns the assembled by saying it is a crime committed by the Composer who fled the U.S. a few days earlier. He has recalled the international alert from his daily reading. Lead investigator, Massimo Rossi, invites him to join the investigation. Benelli adds to the positive first impression by emailing the NYPD for help from the crime scene before Rossi has even asked him. Benelli is earnest and awkward and fascinating.

Rhyme and Sachs and his caregiver,Thom Reston, catch a ride to Italy on a private jet. The Italian police and investigating prosecutor want no more than the American files but because of his brilliance Rhyme and Sachs are tolerated by the Italians and venerated by Benelli.

The Composer, skilled in minimizing trace, is elusive.

At the same time, at the request of the American government, Sachs and Rhyme re-examine an ongoing investigation into an allegation of rape against an American university student.

And then the twists start coming.

The title is from an Italian political speech on how many Europeans fear they are being buried by asylum seekers.

Not all sleuths travel well in their investigations. Rhyme is credible and comfortable in Italy. His participation is plausible.

The twists in the plot are ingenious. I never saw them coming. However, the book is 601 pages. I had found the previous book, The Steel Kiss, trying me at 572 pages. In The Burial Hour were the alleged rape removed and the main story tightened a bit it would have an excellent book of about 375 pages. While I continue to like Rhyme as a character and the clever plots I am getting hesitant to venture into more 600 plus page books featuring him. Deaver can pack enough twists into books which are less than 400 pages.
Deaver, Jeffery – (2000) - The Empty Chair; (2002) - The Stone Monkey; (2002) - Mistress of Justice; (2003) - The Vanished Man; (2005) - Garden of Beasts; (2005) - The Twelfth Card; (2006) - Cold Moon(Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2008) - The Broken Window; (2010) - The Burning Wire; (2013) - The Kill Room; (2014) - The Skin Collector; (2017) - The Steel Kiss; 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Linda Fairstein and the Central Park 5 Finished

In my last post I started my thoughts on Ms Fairstein and the Central Park 5 going through the unsuccessful appeals of the 5 in the early 1990's. This post concludes my thoughts and provides links to reading material. Here is a link to my first post -
Over 12 years after the appeals the case unraveled when the convicted rapist and murderer, Reyes, confessed to the assault and rape and his DNA was found in semen samples on the victim. There was no such DNA from the 5.

I agree that the police and prosecutors, including Fairstein, had tunnel vision concerning the 5 that had them totally focused on the 5 such that they contorted the forensic evidence at the time of the assault and rape to conclude there was a further unidentified assailant such that it was really a Central Park 6. Rather than consider an individual attacker not a  member of the 5 they came up with the implausible 6th attacker.

The case reminded me of a wrongful conviction in Saskatchewan where a false confession was obtained from a teenager, David Milgaard, in the rape and murder of a nurse, Gail Miller. He spent over two decades in jail before the actual killer was identified and ultimately convicted through his DNA.

In 2002 the DA consented to a defence application to vacate the convictions because of the convincing new evidence from Reyes and a full review of the case.

Ms. Fairstein has never admitted the convictions of the 5 were wrong.

She is not alone. The police, especially through the Armstrong report, have not accepted Reyes acted alone in assaulting and raping the jogger. However, their conclusions are based on such conjecture as considering him unreliable as a convicted felon. They speculate on his motives and believe he was the 6th man. Their conclusions lack evidence to support them. They dive into the incredible by suggesting there could have been an attack by the 5 and then a subsequent attack by Reyes. Had Reyes been identified at the same time as the 5 I do not believe the 5 would ever have been charged. The evidence against Reyes is solid.

Overall Ms. Locke overstates Ms. Fairstein’s role and Ms. Fairstein under emphasizes her role.

Ms. Fairstein’s greatest sin is her inability to admit she did anything wrong. She would have been well advised to have accepted there was wrongful conduct in the prosecution of the 5. Her superior the District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, accepted there were wrongful convictions and unreliable confessions as his office consented to the convictions being vacated. She has a righteousness in real life as pronounced as in her fictional Alexandra Cooper. For Fairstein neither police nor prosecutors can do wrong.

Should the consequences have been as great as they have been for Ms. Fairstein? 

I question judging writers for Awards by their personal lives. I favour making awards by assessing the writing not analyzing personal lives.

Ms. Fairstein has been harshly condemned. I agree she was wrong in this case. On how many cases was she right? She is now being condemned for how she approached prosecutions more generally. 

I have seen no comparisons to Anne Perry who has had an extremely successful career writing crime fiction set in England. I greatly enjoyed the early William Monk novels.

A few years ago it was disclosed she had been convicted of participating in the murder of a friend’s mother in New Zealand in 1954 when she was 15 and served 5 years in jail. She continues to be published and I have never seen a public campaign against her. I do see a significant difference from Ms. Fairstein in that Ms. Perry was punished and has taken responsibility for her actions. On Ms. Perry accepting responsibility it was less certain for a time as evident in an interview with the New York Times. However, in a 2017 article from the New Zealand Herald she is direct in taking responsibility. She is quoted as saying:

[She] “made a profoundly wrong decision” and that “I was guilty and it [jail] was the right place for me to be.”

Lawyers will err in prosecuting and defending cases. I have greater concern with Ms. Fairstein’s lack of regret over the wrongful convictions and her efforts to minimize her actions in the obtaining of confessions. When she was a prosecutor she would have emphasized no regret and minimization as aggravating factors. Had she accepted her share of responsibility as Mr. Morgenthau accepted responsibility as set out above I would say she should have been a Grand Master, still have a publisher and remain on the boards from which she resigned. Confession and remorse would have been good for both her soul and her reputation.

2002 District Attorney’s report consenting to vacating convictions -
Decision on application to vacate in 2002 -
Armstrong Report -
New York Times article of November 29, 2018 containing Attica Locke’s tweet:

Rap Sheet post from November 29, 2018 -
2019 reprint of Ms Fairstein’s 2018 letter -

2019 article in New York Law Journal -

Rap Sheet post of June 15, 2019 (there are numerous links in the post to other articles that I have read) -
New York Times Interview with Anne Perry in 1995 -
New Zealand Herald article on Anne Perry from 2017-

Friday, June 21, 2019

Linda Fairstein and the Central Park 5 Started

In a recent post J. Kingston Pierce of the fine blog, The Rap Sheet, put up links to recent posts on the travails of legal mystery author, Linda Fairstein. Last year the CWA withdrew the award of Grand Master it was about to present her. More recently she has experienced the public humiliation of being pilloried in the Netflix series, When They See Us, being dropped by her publisher and resigning from  the boards of the victim support group, Safe Horizon, and her alma mater, Vassar.

I have not seen When They See Us. As a docudrama it is not a documentary. As such the director and producers have dramatic licence. I am not relying on what is portrayed in that series in my posts on Ms. Fairstein.

Last year’s furore in the CWA was mainly initiated by author, Attica Locke, protesting Fairstein’s selection as Grandmaster. Locke tweeted about Fairstein:

She is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five.

In a letter to the New York Law Journal in 2018 Ms. Fairstein fiercely maintained that:

…. I was not the prosecutor in the case nor was I one of the detectives or prosecutors who took the confessions from the 5. Instead, I was an eyewitness to many of the events at the police stationhouses throughout 36 hours when the statements were obtained.

I was doubtful about the reasons for the CWA withdrawing the Award but chose not to delve into the circumstances of Fairstein’s involvement in the prosecution of the Central Park 5 (hereafter “the 5”) in the late 1980’s.

The consequences of the Netflix docudrama and The Rap Sheet post prompted me to look at the evidence on Ms. Fairstein and the 5 .

I read through a variety of posts and articles on Fairstein. I read the Court of Appeal decision upholding one of the original convictions. I read the report of the District Attorney’s office filed in support of the application to vacate the convictions.  I read the court decision accepting the application to vacate the convictions. I looked up the Armstrong Report. (It was a report commissioned by the New York City Police Department on the District Attorney’s decision.)

As I would expect the posts and articles have more opinions than facts supporting their positions. As I am not seeking to write a lengthy analysis I will equally have more conclusions than facts. I will provide links to various materials I read following this post.

There is abundant evidence there were numerous crimes committed that night in Central Park by young men, mainly teenagers, beyond the assault and rape of the jogger. There is evidence the 5 committed other crimes that night. Their convictions were reversed for these crimes because of the new evidence of Matias Reyes who confessed to assaulting and raping the jogger. It was accepted by the DA and the judge on the vacating application that the new evidence could have produced different results on the charges unrelated to the jogger.

I am disturbed that Ms. Fairstein has attempted to use the evidence of other crimes to smear the 5 with regard to the jogger case. She knows better.

On the interrogation of the 5 Ms. Fairstein asserts she was not conducting the questioning. She leaves out that she was deeply involved in the process.

I much prefer the Canadian system where police conduct investigations and gather evidence and then present it to the Crown prosecutor. The involvement of prosecutors in investigations is bound to cloud the judgment of those prosecutors in prosecuting those they have investigated.

When I read Fairstein’s books Killer Heat and Terminal City. I shook my head over the participation, actually directing, of Assistant District Attorney, Alexandra Cooper, with regard to the fictional investigations. How could Cooper remain objective?

The appeal court in 1993 ruled the interrogations of the 5 were not coercive. Some writers have seized on a dissenting opinion that Ms. Fairstein was a part of coercive questioning. Relying on a dissenting opinion, without even considering the contrary majority decision, is questionable.

(My next post will conclude my thoughts on Ms. Fairstein and the Central Park 5)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Tom Brady surprised me with regard to head injuries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(My next post will complete the review.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

1,000 Books Read!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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