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.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Appeal by John Grisham

Not having a current review I was ready to post I looked back at reviews from over a decade ago I had not posted. The Appeal remains very relevant. I have never felt comfortable with American's approach of elected judges. I worry even more about  because of the increasing politicization of its judiciary. Democracy is best served by having judges less rather than more political.
9. - 419.) The Appeal by John Grisham – The married legal team of Wes and Mary Grace have been fighting a wrongful death case against Krane Chemical for over 4 years in southern Mississippi. The case has exhausted them physically and put them on the edge of bankruptcy. The jury awards $3 million in compensatory damages and $38 million in punitive damages for their client. The Graces are on the verge of becoming rich. Carl Trudeau, chair of Krane, vows never to pay a cent. While his lawyers appeal the trial decision he retains a shadowy group to elect a more “business” favourable judge on the Supreme Court and swing the evenly divided court. A non-entity, Ron Fisk, is selected to be the candidate. (He is such a non-entity it is hard to believe he could be effectively packaged.) The book explores how business, insurance, the religious right and gun advocates are willing to spend millions to get the appellate judges elected they want in office. At the same time the trial lawyers spend heavily, never as much, to retain or elect the judges of their choice. It is a new theme in American justice that among the biggest electoral fights are over state appellate judges. It reinforces my conviction that we are far better served by appointed judges. The pace is skillfully done. Each novel in Mississippi is very well done. I raced through the book in 2 days. I was startled at the end when the twist did not produce a twist to justice. Maybe the topic was too important for Grisham to find a happier ending. (Feb. 17/08)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Lucky Elephant Restaurant by Gary Ryan

The Lucky Elephant Restaurant by Gary Ryan (2006) - Lane is a Calgary detective. His partner on the force is Harper. His partner at home is Arthur.

Arthur’s sister, Martha, has breast cancer which is probably terminal. She is recently separated from her domineering husband. Their son, Matthew, is 15 with some co-ordination issues, likely from cerebral palsy. With Martha hospitalized Lane and Arthur take Matt into their home. Having no children of their own they are excited and nervous about having a son.

At work Lane and Harper are assigned a missing persons investigation, Kaylie, 4 years old, has been taken from Bobbie, her mother. Her father, Charles, is also missing.

Bobbie is a well known radio host in Calgary whose tag line, “It’s Bobbie. Speak to me.” is known by everyone.

Her younger brother, Jay, is living out of his car while attending university.

The book enters into complex social issues and stereotypes.

The assignment becomes a murder investigation when Kaylie and Charles are found dead in his vehicle near Calgary. The public assessment is a murder / suicide.

Yet forensics raise troubling issues about how the two of them died.

Reports trickle in that the grieving Bobbie in private is far different from her public personna. 

Pressure builds from the community, especially her listeners and fellow church members, to leave Bobbie alone. 

Bobbie asserts the police are victimizing a grieving mother.

Lane, a figure skater as a youth, becomes a hockey referee to help out Matt’s hockey team. A referee in figure skates draws attention.

Jay is befriended by Tony, a member of the Calgary Vietnamese community, after standing up for Tony. Uncle Tran, the owner of the The Lucky Elephant Restaurant, takes an interest in Jay and helps him out financially.

With Martha’s precarious health should Matt stay with his gay uncles or return to live with a distant father.

Martha’s strong Christian faith is a challenge for Lane.

Easy assumptions are challenged.

Ryan uses real Calgary locations. I can see exactly where Lane and Harper are going as they drive about the city and have coffee at their regular coffee shop.

I wished there had been more back story on the characters.

It has been some time since I read crime fiction where the mystery is not who but can the police prove who did it.

I thought of Anthony Bidulka’s sleuth, Russell Quant, as I read about Detective Lane. They are alike in being gay detectives, police and private respectively, in Western Canada. Each is out. Both enjoy life. They differ in that Lane has the partner Russell wants in his life through the series.

The Lucky Elephant Restaurant is a good book. I plan to read more in the series.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Western Star by Craig Johnson

The Western Star by Craig Johnson - Sheriff Walt Longmire reflects on 1972 when he was a Deputy Sheriff joining Sheriff Lucian Connelly and the other 23 sheriffs of the state on their annual Wyoming Sheriffs Association trip across the state on a train pulled by the legendary steam locomotive, The Western Star.

Walt is in turmoil. He is newly married, newly a Deputy and Martha is newly pregnant. She is angry with him and has returned her wedding ring. He is not sure he wants to be a lawman.

On the train Walt impresses the Sheriffs with his skill at the piano playing classical, jazz and pop music and occasionally improvising. It has been a long time in the series since Walt has played the piano. Too many recent books in the series have been mired in violence.

And Walt is doing some reading upon the train, an Agatha Christie novel!

Marv Leeland, the one armed President of the Association. talks to Walt about observing the Sheriffs during the trip for Leeland thinks a cabal of Sheriffs might be vigilantes.

When a Sheriff is murdered there are 23 suspect Sheriffs and 1 suspect Deputy.

Martha becomes an actual character who called her husband, Walter, and wanted him to get a master’s degree and teach university. Walter declines. Lucian, setting aside his cantankerous facade, tells her Walt has the potential to be a fine lawman. Martha is not interested.

In current time Walt, Lucian and Vic have gone to Cheyenne to see Cady and Lola, Walt’s daughter and granddaughter.

He is also there to oppose the parole application of an unnamed criminal convicted of murder decades earlier. After arriving he learns the prisoner is applying for compassionate release because of terminal or debilitating chronic illness. Visiting him in the hospital in the middle of the night Walt sees he is unconscious.

The Governor, Wally, and his wife, Carol, want him released.

Hale and hearty or about to die from pancreatic cancer makes no difference to Walt. A life sentence with no parole means dying in prison. He will not agree to even a day of freedom.

The stories gradually come together.

Initially, I found the earlier story more compelling but they were equally interesting by the end.

It has been a long time since I have read a book by a contemporary author set in a train where the suspects are all aboard. Anne Holt’s book, 1222, involves train passengers but they have been taken off the train to a hotel after the train is damaged in an accident.

The Western Star has the clever comments that marked early Longmire books. When Walt says “Nowhere and nothing” to where he is going and what he is doing Lucian replies:

“Well, there ain’t no hurry about nowhere and nothing - they’re always out there waitin’.”

The endings were disappointment. One being bizarre and the other implausible.

Overall it is a very good book and finally a return to the Walt Longmire who is as intelligent as he is big and strong. The plot flows swiftly.
Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish(Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; (2016) - Musings on the 5th Season of Longmire; (2017) - Dry Bones and Is the Largest T-Rex in Saskatchewan?; (2018) - An Obvious Fact; Hardcover

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

47 Days: A Journey Back Home by Amanda Perrot

47 Days: A Journey Back Home by Amanda Perrot - It was a journey of “self-discovery” for Amanda around Saskatchewan in the summer of 2018. 

She grew up in St. Brieux, a community of 600, about 40 kilometers from Melfort. I know some of her family. I bought the book from her after she spoke to the Melfort Rotary Club of which Sharon and I are members.

She had done well in high school, earned a degree at university, found a good job as a geologist in Calgary, paid off debts, fell hard for Matt and married him. They returned to St. Brieux and bought into her mother’s business and then the marriage, the relationship which had flowed so easily, failed.

Amanda speaks of Matt not listening and of Matt talking of wanting to stay together but not acting on the words.

She was a bruised soul after the breakup. She went through a winter of endless reflection. In her mid-30’s she was seeking a way to move forward. A text about a rental truck inspired her to make a trip around Saskatchewan in her truck and promoting her business, Grounded Goodness. Two of her leading products are decals and tee shirts.

One of her tee shirts reflects a part of her personality. It reads:

Don’t be a dick.

On its meaning:

Our mission is to spread goodness and we recognized that sometimes to be the most kind, you need to be blunt!

On her journey she wanted to meet women who:

“.... will have gone through some shit in their lives lately. They will be figuring out how to regain confidence. They will be craving connection with other like-minded women, to know that they’re not alone.”

She names the trip Saskatchewan Sisterhood: The Power of Women’s Voices.

She begins her journey in Melfort at the park named for her niece, Dayna, who died at 3 from cancer. The loss is still deep in Amanda. I remember the pain at that funeral.

Having spent my life in Saskatchewan I can see all the places she visited.

Not many write of the people of rural Saskatchewan. Amanda writes of the openness and directness of the women of our province. There is not as much as I expected about their rural lifestyles. There is a lot about Amanda’s life in the country.

Her book reflects the vast spaces of Saskatchewan, the hours it takes between destinations, the need to be comfortable with being by yourself. During the 47 days she travels 5,820 kilometers around Saskatchewan.

She experiences emotional highs and lows every day of her journey. Her mood swings from ecstatic to depressed and back again.

The journey is focused around presentations to which women are invited to come and listen and talk.

What is most interesting is reading of the interactions with the women who come to her presentations. They share honestly and openly their struggles in life.

Basic truths such as people are reluctant to change are affirmed during the journey. In reflecting on that reluctance she realizes she was wrong in her marriage to try to force her husband to change. I admire her effort at introspection. With regard to divorce I have found most women and men find it hard to be honest about their own flaws and how they impacted the marriage.

Her emotional journey during the 47 days is encapsulated in the sub-title:

Learning to trust yourself, even after you’ve failed.

While a vibrant confident woman she calls herself a failure after the marital breakup. During her journey she becomes less harsh in her self-assessment.

Amanda is crude at times and constantly profane. She makes no effort to filter the language of her life. Her energy, enthusiasm and openness are daunting and inspiring.

As with most people she despises being judged while judging everyone she meets.

Amanda pulls the reader irresistibly along her journey. She writes vividly and passionately. You want to know what adventure, what sorrow, what joy is on the next page.

While I enjoyed 47 Days it is a book written for women. Amanda writes that men were able, even invited by her, to attend every event. At the same time there is not a reference to a man attending a session. Her father was the one male to have a significant role in the book.

At the end I did wonder what would happen if she made another journey and invited the men of Saskatchewan to come to presentations. Could she facilitate a brotherhood trip? Would men come and be open with each other and with Amanda? She certainly swears enough to put men at ease. I think Amanda has the skills to draw men out. 

Amanda has been thinking about the possibilities for men. She said on the Facebook page for Grounded Goodness she can see doing something "about creating spaces for MEN" somewhere down the road.

On the same post she sets out a weekend retreat for men which is being held in early October this fall at Christopher Lake. It will be led by a man.

Do Sisterhoods have to be led by Sisters and Brotherhoods led by brothers? I am sending this review by email to Amanda and asked for her thoughts. If she chooses to reply I will include her response in another post.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Irreconcilable Dispositions

In Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny there is significant discussion about wills, a topic with which I deal almost every day at the office.

I had a couple of concerns with process in the book.

It distresses me when authors get basic legal matters wrong. There is reference to holograph wills being valid in Quebec. That is correct. What is incorrect is that witnesses are required. What makes holograph wills unique is that they do not need two independent witnesses.

More important there is discussion over changing a will when the testatrix, the maker of the will, is suffering confusion. The plot has the notary decline to allow the testatrix to change the bequests in a will because of concern over the mental capacity of the testatrix. At the same time he allows the testatrix to change the liquidators. If she lacked capacity to change beneficiaries the testarix equally lacked capacity to change liquidators.

What was most interesting was the exploration of a perverse will made long ago.

There were references in the book to people who have made bizaree wills such as giving a penny to everyone who attends their funeral.

In the book the “Baroness” Bertha Baumgartner has made a fairly simple division of her assets but no one believes she died with enough assets to be giving $5 million to each of her children.

In the book we learn of a bitter rivaly between the Baumgartners and another family, the Kindroths, to whom they are related that extends back to central Europe. At the heart of the family conflict is an inheritance dispute that has lasted 132 years.

There was a will made in Europe late in the 19th Century in which a Baron’s whole estate was given to each of the Baron’s two sons. The will’s terms are impossible as no priority is given to either son. (The Baumgartners and Kindroths are the families descended from the respective sons.) 

Court battles in Austria over the will began in the 19th Century, carried on through the 20th Century and reached resolution in the book almost 20 years into the 21st Century.

Giving the same bequest to two beneficiaries reminds me of Solomon in the Bible trying to decide between two women on who is the mother of a baby.

Curious about what a Canadian court, outside Quebec, would do with such a will myself and my associate, Brandi, did some research. It took us longer than expected as we searched for the same bequests to different people or conditions on bequests or double bequests. 

Eventually I found the answer when a case on double legacies led me to irreconciliable dispositions. At least back to the 19th Century the law of England and Canada has been that if there are irreconciliable dispositions the last of the irreconciliable dispositions takes effect. Thus in Penny’s fictional will the twin who is named second to receive the estate would get the estate. Canadian courts will strive to avoid making such a ruling including looking at other clauses in the will or extrinsic evidence but if the dispositions are irreconciliable the beneficiary who is designated last gets the property covered by the disposition. The principle is that the last of the dispositions made by the testator (male) or testatrix (female), the maker of the will, reflects the final intention of the testator and therefore should be upheld. Though not stated in cases and texts the principle would accord with how Anglo - Canadian wills are traditionally started as “the last will and testament of ….”.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny - In bitter winter Armand Gamache and Myrna Landers are called to a decrepit farmhouse by a notary. They are joined by a young builder, Benedict Pouliot. To their combined surprise they have been named liquidators (executors) of the estate of Bertha Baumgartner. None of them knew Baumgartner.

In discussion with Ruth they learn that she was the cleaning lady they knew as the Baroness. She insisted on the title when being addressed.

At the same time Gamache remains suspended from his position as Chief Superintendent of the Surete du Quebec as investigators probe the chaotic firefight and arrest of a major Quebec drug dealer. Gamache is at risk because he let a shipment of opioids enter Quebec rather than compromise the investigation of a major drug cartel. Politicians and ambitious members of the Surete are ready to crucify him if the drugs reach the streets.

At the Academy he dismisses Amelia Choquette, the young woman of the streets he had allowed entry when he was Commandant, over drugs found in her room. At the same time he has her followed.

Both Choquette and Gamache read Marcus Aurelius and contemplate his thought:

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Choquette’s return to the streets felt contrived.

The task of Gamache as liquidator becomes entangled with his professional duties when the eldest son of the Baroness, Anthony, is murdered within the abandoned farmily farm home.

With Anthony a financial adviser the issue of money draws to the forefront. Old money and new money are equally dangerous.

Secrets abound in Kingdom of the Blind. Anthony has presented a facade to the world. Gamache is pursuing personal agendas within the Surete. Choquette tells the street she wants into trafficking.

Anthony’s siblings and ex-wife, Hugo and Caroline and Adrienne, are stunned by his death and thought they knew all of Anthony’s secrets.

Once again the intrigue of the murder works better for me than the intrigue within the Surete and the hunt for the opiods from the shipment that Gamache allowed to enter Quebec. Penny writes beautifully about the emotions of people but not about thriller themes. I did not enjoy the plot line in The Nature of the Beast of an apocalyptic huge gun or Gamache as an action hero in the previous book, Glass Houses

In Kingdom of the Blind there is a desperate pursuit of drugs as set on the blurb inside the front cover:

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner-city Montreal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

I do not see Gamache as a racer.

The issues over the “Guilt of an old inheritance” concerning Baumgartner’s will work well. My next post will discuss the unusal will.

Unfortunately, the plot line involving financial advisors was not convincing. There were too many flaws for me.

The power of Penny’s books comes from the interactions of the characters. I think of Penny as the Canadian equivalent of P.D. James. As far as I know James never drifted into thriller themes. My reading of this book in the series is almost a year late for various personal reasons. I hope the newest Gamache mystery, A Better Man, just published leaves the thriller to other authors.

The very best part of the book came after the ending and the acknowledgements. Two of the businesses, the bakery and the bookshop, in Three Pines were inspired by actual businesses in the small community of Knowlton where Penny resides and the neighbouring town of Sutton. Owners of those businesses write about them and provide photos. Each is as charming and inviting as the fictional stores in Three Pines.

Though  Kingdom of the Blind is not one of my favourites in the series the pages flowed easily. Penny is a gifted writer. I look forward to the next Gamache book.
Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; Hardcover

Friday, September 6, 2019

Detecting Deception

Nora, the sleuth from the streets, in The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal has a unique talent honed by a lifetime of surviving. She is a human lie detector.
To detect lies she likes to ask a provocative leading question.

 Trying to determine where a witness was the night before she might ask:

“Were you fucking the cashier from the gas station yesterday between 9:37 P.M. and 10:18 PM?

If the questioned responds with “questions of his own to discern how much you actually know” she is dealing with a liar.

She also carefully catalogues the body language of the liar:

A flicker of the eye. A twitch at his lips. Tapping fingers or an involuntary clench of the jaw. An almost imperceptible shift in tone.

Where Nora studies the words and body of a person she is questioning fictional sleuth, Decker Roberts, in The Junction Chronicles trilogy of David Rotenberg is a different form of human lie detector.

A synasethete Roberts, while listening to someone, can close his eyes and from the patterns he sees know if the truth is being told. It is a gift for which he is well paid and a curse for the danger posed by those who fear him listening to them.

While her techniques work for Nora I have found them of limited assistance in questioning witnesses in court.
Asking an aggressive question is likely to produce a defensive reaction where it can be hard to determine whether the response reflects dishonesty or simply anger at the question.

Subtle body language is too often misleading. Unless you know someone well you cannot tell whether a “twitch” is a sign of the untruthful or a personal tic or nervousness in an unfamiliar setting.

As for the approach of Roberts I often wish I could close my eyes and tell if the person I am talking to is truthful. Alas, I must rely on my observations and experiences.

While it is useful to be alert to non-verbal cues you cannot predict a witness will show any.  

With regard to non-verbal cues in 2012 in R. v. S. (N) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a woman in a sexual assault case had to remove her niqab while testifying to provide a fair trial. 

In Assessing Truthfulness on the Witness Stand: Eradicating Deeply Rooted Pseudoscientific Beliefs about Credibility Assessment by Triers of Fact published in the Canadian Criminal Law Review a trio of psychologists challenge the benefit of the demeanour of a witness in assessing credibility.

They set out the majority position of the Supreme Court:
For instance, the Chief Justice wrote that ‘‘non- verbal communication can provide the cross-examiner with valuable insights that may uncover uncertainty or deception, and assist in getting at the truth”, and that ‘‘covering a witness’s face may also impede credibility assessment by the trier of fact, be it judge or jury.” Furthermore, she stated that ‘‘on the record before us, I conclude that there is a strong connection between the ability to see the face of a witness and a fair trial.”
The Chief Justice said the court would re-consider its position if there were compelling evidence to the contrary.

In good academic language they are exploring “deception detection”.
They conclude:
As reviewed above, several meta-analyses of the detection deception research showed that most cues to deception are too faint for reliable detection, most facial expressions and other non-verbal cues are unrelated to deception, legal professionals (and others) are unable to accurately detect deception beyond chance levels, and that training people to use non-verbal cues to improve their deception detection is unviable.
I agree, as set out above in my personal observations, that such non-verbal cues as facial expressions can be unreliable in isolation. Where I disagree with the psychologists is that I believe such cues can be useful in a trial when added to the other factors involved in assessing a witness. In many trials witnesses are trying to be deceptive. No judge relies solely on demeanour. At the same time how a witness reacts when contradictions within their evidence or documents or past statements or other witnesses are put to them is important. How they speak when giving evidence that accords with agreed facts against how they speak on facts in dispute is relevant. 
Most often I seek to determine credibility from the extent of contradictions and statements proven wrong and descriptions of events that are unlikely to incredible.
The topic of “detecting deception” is vast and this post but touches upon some of the issues. It is of daily interest to me in crime fiction reading and real life.
Here is a link to the article referred to in the post - http://www.mun.ca/psychology/brl/publications/CCLR.pdf

Kamal, Sheena - (2019) - The Lost Ones