About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bill's Best of Fiction for 2020

I think I may be the last blogger in the world to post a Best of 2020 list. I just cannot put together a best of the year list in November when there are still 6 weeks of reading or early December when there 3 weeks of reading left in the year. I do not know whether other earlier blogger list markers do not count the books read in the remainder of the year or count them in the following year. I plan to stay with my actual end of the year lists. This post will have Bill’s Best of 2020 Fiction. My next post will have Bill’s Best of 2020 Non-Fiction and a personal category of Bill’s Most Interesting of 2020. The lists do include books published earlier than 2020.

For the best of 2020 fiction -

1.) The Last Trial by Scott Turow - A brilliant book about the last trial of Sandy Stern who has been featured in several of Turow’s books. The 85 year old Stern is joined by his talented daughter, Marta, and his quirky granddaughter, Pinky. In an ironic twist it is Marta’s last trial as she is also retiring after the trial. The Stern team is defending Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Kiril Pafko, on charges of murder. He developed a powerful drug, g-Livia, to treat lung cancer. It saved the life of Stern. Unfortunately, there have been a number of deaths in patients because of allergic reactions to the drug. Did Pafko falsify data in a drug trial leading to more deaths?

I was so wrapped up in the book I wrote 3 posts on the book - opening, mid-trial and closing with commentary from my own real life experiences in court.

2.) A Time for Mercy by John Grisham - I have not actually posted a review of the latest Grisham book. I received it Christmas Day and finished it 3 days later. I almost stayed up late on the 27th as I was so caught up in the story but stopped just after midnight. Grisham returns to Ford County in northern Mississippi in 1990 where Jake Brigance is compelled by Circuit Judge Omar Noose to defend Drew Gamble, a 16 year old boy, charged with capital murder of County Deputy Sheriff, Stuart Kofer. There is no doubt Gamble killed Kofer. In a strong law and order state how can Jake defend the teenager. Will the jurors send a 16 year old to death row? As common in murder cases the character of the victim becomes an issue. Kofer was abusive to Drew, his mother and his sister. It is a long book at 480 pages as Grisham meticulously builds the case. Jake is facing multiple challenges. He is struggling financially and most of the county is hostile to his representation of Drew. It is such a vivid portrayal of life in rural Mississippi, trial preparations and a riveting trial that will evoke memories of Jake’s defence in Grisham’ first book, A Time to Kill

3.) Greenwood by Michael Christie - My most memorable book of the year occupied another 3 posts. (One of the posts discussed the physical makeup of the book and the beautiful edging.) It is a powerful story of trees and people. Beginning in 2038 during the “Great Withering” of the planet’s trees and going back to 1908 when two boys are found after a train crash and named the Greenwoods. The story then works its way back to the present and ultimately 2038. The Greenwood family is deeply involved with trees throughout the book. One of the brothers becomes a lumber baron in British Columbia. Southern Saskatchewan, one of the rare areas in southern Canada with few trees, has a significant role. I exchanged emails with the author on the trees of my life from the family farm and how I treasure Canada being known around the world by a red maple leaf.

3.) The Skull Mantra by Eliot Paterson (First, second and third posts) - Comrade Shan has been sentenced to a labour brigade in Tibet for being too good an investigator. Survival is a daily challenge. When a headless corpse wearing American jeans is found at the worksite the commanding colonel of the region knows more than a superficial investigation is needed. Shan is designated. The colonel does not recognize that Shan can only be an honest investigator though Shan is astute enough politically to provide the colonel with a good socialist reason for finding the real killer when a convenient killer is quickly identified. The story digs deeply in Tibetan culture. Spirits are alive. After the discovery of the body the members of the labour brigade refuse to return to the mountain because of jungpo which translates to “hungry ghost”. The spirit of the deceased will haunt the site and bring bad luck until proper death rites are performed. Wondering why the body was left upon the mountain rather than dumped over the edge into oblivion Shan consults a murderer who advises him:

“A killing with no one to appreciate it, what’s the point? A good murder, that requires an audience.” 

Happy New Year to all! I know I need a new year.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Real Life Case and Mortmain Hall

In Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards, which I reviewed in my last post, there are a series of murder cases where the accused was either found not guilty or the suspect not charged. Those cases and the persons “cleared” play an important role in the plot.

As I was reading the trial of Clive Danskin I realized the facts were very similar to the real life case of Alfred Arthur Rouse which I had read about earlier this year in the memoir, Cases in Court by Sir Patrick Hastings.

Rouse was “a commercial traveler of moderate means” who had “a large number of illicit attachments”. He owned a Morris Minor car and was “thorougly familiar with the mechanism of a motor vehicle”.

In the early morning hours of November 6, 1930 a car went up flames near Northampton. Rouse was seen coming out the ditch a short distance away and spoke to two young men about “somebody has had a bonfire”. Inside the car was the body of a man who was never identified.

There was expert evidence from the Crown at trial of the fire being deliberate through a loosening of a joint between the “petrol tank and the carburettor” but defence experts provided a plausible alternative of the burning of the car causing the loosening.

Rouse caught a ride in a lorry to London advising the driver he had missed a friend in a Bentley who was to pick him up. He went on to Wales to see a young lady whose father thought they were married. He said his car had been stolen.

He told the police that he had picked up a man looking for a lift. They had stopped for Rouse to relieve himself. Running low on fuel Rouse asked the passenger to put some petrol in the tank and had “just got my trousers down” when he noticed his car on fire. Frightened, he said he ran away. He added that he took his case from the car when he went to relieve himself,

Rouse went on to say in a further statement that he was “very friendly with several women” and had been going to sell his home and furniture and make an allowance for his wife.

Though his infidelities were not part of the trial he went into the witness box having told contradictory stories. He should not have testified. With whatever story he told he would be cross-examined on the contradictions. He could hardly admit he had been mistaken in telling different stories. He chose to admit he had lied about his car being stolen. He convicted himself.

Rouse was found guilty and hung. Hastings bluntly stated that:

If Alfred Arthur Rouse had only kept his mouth shut, he would nver have been hanged.

In Mortmain Hall, also taking place in 1930, Danskin is a traveling salesman of women’s silk stockings. During his journeys he establishes relationships with several women not his wife. With his life ever more complicated and debts piling up his car is found on fire in the “north of England” and “a man’s charred remains were discovered inside”. The deceased was never identified. A “distinctive silver tip from the cane Danskin carried was found at the scene”. Originally it was thought Danskin was the victim but he is recognized after his photo is published in newspapers and is arrested shortly before taking a flight to France. The Crown theory is that he decided to fake his death to escape his debts and domestic responsibilities.

Danskin provided an explanation:

He claimed that a tramp had stolen his car and possessions, but this seemed like a fabrication. The police had made strenuous efforts to trace the mysterious limousine, in which he claimed to have hitched a lift from northwest Enland to London, or its driver.

When the Crown closed its case Danskin’s fate was grim.

Everything changed when Major Grenville Fitzroy Whitlow, DSO confirmed Danskin’s statements. He said he had picked up Danskin and given him a ride to London. Danskin told him the same story of the tramp adding that the tramp had assaulted Danskin during the theft. He continued that a “bullnose Morris Oxford” car, Danskin’s model, driving erratically had passed him going the opposite direction a few minutes before he picked up Danskin. With his war hero credentials Whitlow was allowed, contrary to the rules of evidence, to say he believed Danskin. Whitlow’s evidence saves Danskin.

While much of Danskin’s case could be drawn from the Rouse case Edwards makes three critical changes. Danskin did not provide contradictory statements about what happened. Whitlow’s statement that the driver of Danskin’s car was alive when he picked up Danskin provided a perfect defence. With Whitlow’s evidence Danskin did not have to go into the witness box and explain his actions. Had Edwards not made the changes it would have been implausible to have Danskin acquitted.

Beyond one statement that was corroborated Danskin kept his mouth shut and was not hanged.

I have written to Martin, who wrote an essay on the Rouse case, asking if he did draw on the Rouse case and whether I am correct in my belief that he made the changes to achieve a credible acquittal.


Edwards, Martin - (2018) - All the Lonely People and A Dislike of Cynical Lawyers; (2020) - Mortmain Hall

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards

(46. - 1071.) Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards - Rachel Savernake, with a veil masking her face and “dressed in black from head to toe,” enters the first class compartment of a funeral train of the London Necropolis Company and addresses the only other occupant. He is a “ghost” with a “bushy moustache and beard” acquired during the years he was away from London. It is 1930 and Gilbert Payne has returned from northwest Africa for his mother’s funeral. Savernake tells him:

“I’m offering to save you from being murdered”

and I was smitten.

In the Old Bailey Clive Danskin is on trial for murder. His car has been destroyed by fire with the body of an unidentified man found inside the car. Danskin, a traveling silk stocking salesman, had a spouse and liaisons. Disappearing would let him escape from his domestic challenges. He claimed a tramp to whom he had offered a ride had assaulted him. Journalist Jacob Flint sees a formidable case assembled by the Crown. (I shall have more to say about the case in my next post.)

Savernake, the daughter of a deceased “hanging” judge, resides in Gaunt House, a large home shrewdly acquired in a bankruptcy sale. Residing with her are Clifford Trueman, a “mountainous figure, his wife, Hetty, and his sister, Martha. They are her only servants. Unconventional in many ways Savernake treats them as equals.

With the wealth to indulge her obsession with murder the “formidable” Savernake pursues justice her way. Unsolved “sleeping murders” await her attention.

She has a 300 square foot library filled with thousands of books. Many involve murder.

Savernake had a personal relationship with Flint which ended when he told her that “she treated him like a fool”. The aloof Savernake replied he was “free to leave”. Yet Flint cannot resist the cool beauty.

Savernake is establishing a relationship with another redoubtable woman, Leonora Dobell, who is a prominent ciminologist writing under the pen name of Leo Slaterback. She resides at Mortmain Hall.

Reggie Vickers is passing time defending the Realm from his desk in Whitehall. His passions are drinking and cricket. He is indiscreet about secret information that passes his way but a good fellow.

Various private clubs feature in the book. I would have loved to be a member of the Bookman’s Club. The walls are covered with paintings of distinguished English authors. Conversation flows on books and publishing. The food is excellent.

As Flint probes the dark side of London, Savernake and Dobell plan a weekend at Mortmain Hall. The theme of the country party will be persons either found not guilty of murder or cleared in an investigation. It is a distinction, unwanted to be sure, of being in a select group suspected of, even tried for murder. They have faced death in a time of capital punishment and survived. And why is Savernake invited when she has neither been investigated nor charged?

After a dramatic night out Flint finds himself in a desperate situation. Arriving at Savernake’s home he utters the perfect phrase to gain entrance:

“I’ve got myself involved in a murder.”

Would someone kill to satisfy a perverse intellectual desire to feel what it was like to take a life and get away with murder?

As the country party assembles at Mortmain Hall further bodies fall. (If they were not so dangerous I would love to spend a weekend at a great home in the English countryside.)

Tension is high with the guests acutely aware of their common circumstances and the deep interest of their hostess in murder.

I had wondered how, even if, Edwards would resolve the many threads to the plot. In an almost dizzying narrative all is explained.

It is rare I refer to a blurb but the cover comment by author Lee Child is perfect:

“Superb … This is the book Edwards was born to write.”

Edwards has written an impressive addition to Golden Age Detective fiction. I am sure the giants of that era such as Christie, Marsh and Carr would appreciate the novel. Ms., or should it be Miss for the Golden Age, Savernake has a keen understanding of human nature and the essence of murder. Her creator’s vast knowledge of the history of crime fiction and his writing skills draw together in a strikingly imaginative series. Edwards is an amazing time traveler in his mind.


Edwards, Martin - (2018) - All the Lonely People and A Dislike of Cynical Lawyers

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Will You Buy a Book From a Bookstore that is New to You?

Just over a week I put up a post on how I bought books during the pandemic. (The post is just below if you scroll past the review of the The Power Couple.) There were a few comments including one from KathyD. She is a regular commentator on book review blogs and resides in New York. Her comment was:

I miss bookstores and browsing in the library. There are no bookstores near to my apartment building. But I had an appointment and had to take a cab and walked over to an Amazon store. I could only go in for a few minutes, but I was so happy to see a huge selection of books. And I looked at fiction on display. I enjoyed my few minutes. It’s like going into a bakery. 

The library closed in March and so I did buy books. I treated myself and then loaned them out to friends. Now the library is open for stop and grab, so books are set aside and one rushes in and out. Nothing to browse is set out.

I do miss bookstores. I was on a roll reading, then stopped. Now I’d like to restart again, but I have work to do. I must get back into the books. A close friend passed away at the end of September, and I think that’s when I lost the reading zest. But there’s nothing like escaping into fiction, especially mysteries. I’ve got the Grisham and Connelly books on library reserve. 

If anyone wants to order books from a wonderful bookstore, I can recommend another one. Some good friends moved to Duluth, Minn. a few years ago, bought a building and turned it into a bookstore called Zenith books. It has a lovely website, and they are only too glad to ship out books.

Curious to visit Zenith I looked up their website which is https://www.zenithbookstore.com/

At the top of this post is a photo of the exterior of their store. What a clever design. It looks so inviting. I wish I was closer to Duluth.

As I looked around the website and thought about Kathy’s comment I decided I would try ordering from them. While I live in another country books do freely cross the border.

Their mystery box concept intrigued me and I have written to them to see if they ship to Canada. If they do I plan to buy a mystery box with a request for crime fiction, especially legal mysteries or Minnesota mysteries. I have requested they check my list of fiction authors to avoid sending books I have already read.

As I reflected further I thought I would list a couple of my favourite independent bookstores and encourage readers of the blog to consider reaching out to purchase in person or online from a bookstore they are unlikely to have purchased from in the past. Maybe we can give a boost to some independent stores.

I would refer readers to:

1.) McNally Robinson in Saskatoon. They also have a store in Winnipeg. I enjoy their selections and their lovely cafe, Prairie Ink - https://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/home

2.) Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto. It is my favourite bookstore anywhere. You can read more about it in posts I have listed in my page on Mystery Bookstores - https://sleuthofbakerstreet.ca/

Each store will take good care of you.

I invite readers of the blog to provide in comments their own recommendations and links to independent bookstores near or far. Even better would be to hear you have made an order for a book or books from a store that is new to you.

Thank you again to Kathy for her inspiration.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Power Couple by Alex Berenson

(44. - 1069.) The Power Couple by Alex Berenson - The sense of foreboding began with the first page after the prologue. Kira Unsworth, 19 and pretty, is looking for some family vacation excitement, away from the family, in Europe. Her mother, Rebecca “Becks”, is a long time FBI agent now in counterintelligence and her father, Brian “Bri”, is a coder for the National Security Agency. Brother Tony, a couple of years younger, is an angular awkward teenager. Meeting a charming 26 year old French student in Paris who travels to Barcelona for a date the next night is exciting for Kira. Trouble looms.

When Kira is kidnapped she rationally analyzes her situation. The kidnapping was carefully executed. What value can she be?

Her parents spend the night searching Barcelona.

The story turned back to how Becks’ life  and how she and Bri reached 20 years of marriage. The trip was an anniversary celebration.

Becks had a traditional family upbringing. Bri was raised by a single mother. 

Reading about Becks becoming an FBI agent and her progression through the Bureau while a young mother and wife was fascinating. She is clever and determined. Bri is the primary parent while her career advances. There is a gender reversal in that Becks is the driven one putting work and advancement far ahead of family.

Unlike many fictional marriages Becks and Bri do not toss aside their marriage when they have problems. It was a pleasant surprise to see them work at staying together.

A hundred pages later the plot returns to Barcelona. I remain ambivalent on the length of the back story interlude. The momentum of the start of the hunt for the kidnappers was lost during the  extended time in the past.


When the chase resumes, Rebecca (she is only Becks at home) and Bri draw on American  resources, especially the NSA. America’s ability to surveil the telecommunications of the world is striking and frightening.

Spanish authorities are co-operative. Who wants the fallout from an American teenage girl kidnapped in their country? It took years for Aruba to recover from the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

And then Berenson tells the backstory of Bri - the perspective of the stay-at-home Dad. He loves being with the kids but is frustrated with his work driven wife. To Bri they have a “fifties-style marriage” with a millennial gender shift. 

It was interesting to see Brian's perspective on the marital problems and most unusual in a thriller plot but my interest was drifting until there was a twist that grabbed me and kept me racing through the pages. It was a plausible twist but not one I saw coming.

Berenson is a good storyteller who ratchets the intensity as the plot progresses. There is some Hollywood to the resolution but the thriller aspect never took over the book. The title is apt as “power” applies in many different ways to Becks and Bri. I look forward to reading more of Berenson’s books. (The book will be published by Simon & Schuster in February of 2021.)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Buying Books During the Covid Pandemic

McNally Robinson Saskatoon

As I sit at my desk at home trying, but sometimes failing, not to feel sorry for myself over life  in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic I thought about what the virus has meant with regard to my purchasing of books.

In March, when non-essential businesses were closed in Saskatchewan, bookstores were on the list. While the doors were closed books could be purchased by phone or electronically and curbside pickup was allowed.

I cherish the experience of going to bookstores. I love browsing the shelves, taking a peek inside potential purchases and considering unexpected books. Unable to visit bookstores I did not avail myself of the phone or internet to buy books for a couple of months.

There was no shortage of books around me. My TBR piles could have lasted me the rest of 2020 and long into 2021.

On April 22 I made my first book purchases of the pandemic when I ordered by email the shortlist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Fiction novel from the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. The quintet of books were duly delivered to our office mailbox in Melfort. (There is neither house nor business mail delivery in Melfort.)

By early May I really wanted to go book shopping. I could have gone to one of the big box stores such as Costco or local grocery stores and pharmacies which had been allowed to stay open. I refused to get any books at those stores as it struck me as unfair that they could display and sell books but bookstores were closed.

With our province having few cases compared to almost anywhere, the provincial government started re-opening the province. Bookstores were allowed to re-open as of May 19. I did not rush to Saskatoon.

A couple of weeks later in early June Sharon had a medical appointment in Saskatoon. Later in the day we visited the McNally Robinson bookstore and I bought a couple of books. It did not really feel comfortable shopping so I did not spend much time at the store.

Just over a month later in mid-July we met our sons and families at the Saskatoon Indigo store. (Indigo is a part of Chapters - the large Canadian bookstore chain). While waiting I did browse the store and held myself to a few books.

When Jonathan arrived with our granddaughters, Hannah and Hazel, we went back into the store. Hannah, 2 ¾ years old, charged around the kids section pulling out and looking at books. Eventually she, with a little encouragement from Grandpa, chose a little cardboard suitcase containing 7 Paddington Bear books. She was also ready to take home a new backpack until her Dad said her current backpack was just fine. Her little sister Hazel, just over 1, was content to have her Dad find her a book.

At the end of July I wanted to get the books from the shortlist for the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction so I ordered them and a couple more from Sleuth. 

In late August we were in Calgary for a visit and went to the neighbourhood bookstore, Pages, in the Kensington District. Hannah had a hard time deciding between two books. I appreciated her dilemma. I equally found it challenging to get just one book.

In September I was in Regina for a hearing when the evidence was concluded early one day. I drove to the large Chapters store at the south end of the city and had a fine time looking through the mysteries. I went for a book and left with 3 books which is how bookstore shopping usually proceeds for me.

Sharon and I were back in Saskatoon in mid-October and I went to two bookstores. My first stop was at Westgate Books, my favourite used bookstore in the city, where I bought the opening book, Murder in the Marais, in the Aimée Leduc series. I went on to McNally Robinson where I bought the newest books by Gail Bowen and Louise Penny.

That trip was the last time I have been in a bookstore. While bookstores remain open, with our province experiencing a surge in Covid cases, we have not ventured outside Melfort for almost two months. We do not expect to be in Saskatoon until the end of the year.

During November I did make a further order from Sleuth of Baker Street which has arrived. The trio of books includes Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards.

I have asked Santa for some books including the latest books by Michael Connelly and John Grisham. It would be a sad Christmas if I did not get any books. I am optimistic Santa will come through.

In a province long dominated by a farm economy the cry of “next year” is a constant theme. I am optimistic I will be able to freely visit bookstores sometime in 2021. I hope it is sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 30, 2020

A Curious Incident by Vicki Delany

(41. - 1066.) A Curious Incident by Vicki Delany - Gemma Doyle is doing her best, though not well, to not be annoyed with Lauren, a young girl, who wants Gemma to help find her lost kitten, Snowball. Proclaiming she is not a consulting detective, Gemma grudgingly agrees to keep her eye out for the cat.

Gemma, part owner of The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, in West London on Cape Cod, has an insatiable curiosity but not for lost cats. When she accidentally finds Snowball her reputation as a detective is secured for an adoring girl.

Shortly thereafter the West London Garden Club descends into violence. The garden of a leading contender for best garden, Sheila Tierney, is cruelly “pillaged”.  Sheila, blaming the actual winner, Anna Wentworth, confronts Anna. Blows are exchanged. That evening Anna is murdered. Worried for her mother, Lauren who is Sheila’s daughter, pays Gemma $10.00, as an advance on fees, to find the killer.

The real Sherlock Holmes never had to deal with the tempestuous conflicts swirling beneath the genteel surface of passionate gardeners.

Merely curious, not investigating, Gemma speaks to prominent members of the club and visits the scene of the crime.

As well, she learns by listening:

“Can’t help it. A branch of the West London grapevine runs directly through the tearoom and from there into the Emporium.

Detective Louise Estrada of the West London police maintains her disdain for Gemma. The handsome detective Ryan Ashburton remains uncertain about Gemma. He is  conflicted, attracted, distracted, fascinated, unsettled, comfortable, frustrated, at ease and wary of Gemma. In an earlier book her deductive skills led her to announce to Ryan that he was about to propose. The ill fated remarks left her a non-fiancee. Yet Ryan still loves her.

Gemma is caught off guard by Lauren’s hero worship. The 11 year old girl, the child of somewhat indifferent parents, even begins to emulate Gemma.

She completely wins Gemma’s heart when, while helping out at the bookshop, she keeps it tidy. For Gemma:

…. my life and possessions are a mess, but at the shop I need everything to be neat and tidy and well organized. Otherwise, how would I keep track of it all? My worst nightmare is people who take things out of their proper place and put them away incorrectly.

The investigation proceeds amidst the hustle and bustle of West London’s busy summer season. The relationships between the ladies of the club are more complex than Gemma had expected.

I would have preferred more of Gemma’s observational and analytical skills. Her investigation is more snooping around than thinking but the ending sees Gemma at her deductive best. The solution is very clever and appropriately Sherlockian. But for Gemma a killer would not have been found.

I continue to appreciate the characters of the series. All have families. None are desperately dysfunctional. They work hard. They play less hard. They do their best to enjoy life. And Gemma continues to be more intriguing than infuriating.

(The book will be available in early 2021. Thanks to Vicki for sending me a copy.)


Delany, Vicki - 

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series  
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by 
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - 
     Women v. Men in Clothing Descriptions

     4.) The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries
    with Gemma Doyle - (2017) - Elementary, She Read and Fictional and Real
     Life Bookshops and Sherlock and Where is "Gemma" From?
     (2018) - Body on Baker Street and The Inspiration for Body on  
     Baker Street; (2020) - There's A Murder Afoot and
ressng to Impress

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Reading of the Marais Simultaneously

Square George-Cain
One of the joys of reading is an unexpected connection. Recently I read Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. Deciding to read more than one book at the same time a few days later I started reading All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. It was a pleasant surprise to find both books are set in the Marais of central Paris. Though they take place about 25 years apart with Black’s book in 1993 and Penny’s book at the present time it was fascinating to read of their descriptions and connections with the Marais.

In Murder in the Marais, Aimée Leduc has a modest apartment which she inherited from her grandfather on Ile St. Louis:

“Drafty, damp, and unheated, her seventeenth century hôtel particulier had been the mansion of the Duc De Guise …. The ancient pearwood trees in the courtyard and the view from her window overlooking the Seine kept her there. Every winter, the bone-chilling cold and archaic plumbing almost drove her out.”

The Gamaches, in All the Devils Are Here, have a comfortable apartment that Armand inherited from Zora, the Jewish woman from Poland he knew as his grandmother, who had purchased the apartment with “restitution” money she received after the war.

By contrast:

The Gamaches’ small apartment, with its wooden beams, fresh white walls, and large windows, was already welcoming, but the scent of garlic and basil made it even more so.

Black sets a meeting place, just off the rue Payenne for Sarah, her young Jewish heroine, and her German soldier during the war. It is a bench in the Square George-Cain with its Roman pillars and some ancient marble busts. Sarah is hiding out in the Roman catacombs below the Square after her family was rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. They meet again at the bench 50 years later.

Gates of Hell
Armand’s favourite place in Paris is the Musée Rodin which he

started visiting as a boy with his godfather, Stephen Horowitz. In fact, he planned to propose to Reine Marie in front of one of the sculptures, the Gates of Hell. It is a memorable, though far from romantic, place for a proposal. Thankfully Horowitz convinces him to propose at a nearby garden.

Penny vividly describes the area:

It was one the many peculiarities of Paris. Hidden behind many of the simple wooden doors were these courtyards and secret gardens.

It was a city of façades. Of beauty, both obvious and obscure. Of heroism, both obvious and obscure. Of dreadful deeds, both obvious and obscure.

The real life Hotel Lutetia has respectively a dark and light role in the books.

In Murder in the Marais, after the war ends Lili Stein, who was the only member of her family to escape deportation, stands outside the hotel where she “waited every day after school to find my family”.  The Lutetia “rundown, boarded-up” at that time was “the terminus for trucks bringing camp survivors. Maman said she held up signs and photos, running from stretcher to stretcher, asking if someone had seen her family. Person to person, by word of mouth, maybe a chance encounter or remembrance ….” None of her family returned.

Restored the Lutetia became and remains a fine hotel.

Following a tradition established when he was a boy, Armand and his family go to the Lutetia for its wonderful ice cream. Peppermint with hot fudge for Armand’s godfather, Stephen Horowitz.

There is a further reference in All the Devils Are Here to the hotel being the headquarters of the Abwehr (German Intelligence) in Paris during the war where members of the Resistance were tortured.

Lastly the question of collaborators decades after the end of the war occupy each book with complex questions on the issue of collaboration.

As the intrigue in each book stretched back to WW II I had to concentrate on not confusing the two plots.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

(43. - 1068.) All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny - Paris in the fall. Sitting in the sculpture garden of the Musée Rodin, his favourite place in Paris, Armand Gamache reflects back 50 years. His godfather, the industrialist Stephen Horowitz, raised him after the deaths of his parents when he was 9. Horowitz gradually earned the boy’s trust:

And slowly young Armand realized he was safe, would always be safe, with this man. And that he would get to the other side.

As a young man Armand brought Reine-Marie to Paris where he proposed to her. Now they are back in France for the birth of a grandchild. Their daughter, Annie, and her husband, Jean Guy (Armand’s long time second in command) have moved to Paris where Jean Guy has an executive position with a major company.

For the first time readers learn about the Gamache’s son, Daniel. Through the series he has been a far away figure in France. Daniel has been distant from Armand since he was 8 years old. Distance became an emotional “chasm” that became a physical ocean when Daniel moved to Paris. Despite Armand reaching out Daniel has refused to say why. 

Armand knows that Daniel resents the depth of his relationship with Jean Guy. Daniel can see a father-son connection between them.

Horowitz, a billionaire, has spent his career between Paris and Montreal. He has a large apartment in the Marais. In addition to being a very successful investor he is well known for calling out corporate frauds such as Enron and Bernie Madoff. (It was interesting the examples used were from America rather than Canada.)

Was it an accident or deliberate when Horowitz is struck by a van in a hit-and-run incident? Armand is certain it was deliberate. His belief is supported by finding there has been a hurried search of Horowitz’s apartment and the discovery of a body professionally slain.

Yet Armand does his best not to tunnel in on his opinion repeating to himself what he warns every young police cadet:

Don’t believe everything you think.

More tendrils with the past are added as Horowitz was born in Germany and spent at least part of the war in Paris. Armand describes him as a “humanist”.

Armand consults the head of the Préfecture of Police, Claude Dussault, a long time friend. Dussault’s second-in- command, Irena Fontaine, greets Armand with the touch of condescension common among Parisians hearing the Québécois accent. Taking over the investigation she grudgingly accepts the presence of the colonials.

I was completely caught up in the story when the lingering scent of a distinctive cologne provides a startling twist in the plot. Even more remarkably the question of the scent undergoes a further, even more clever, twist.

There is a remarkable scene where the Gamache family is interviewed, more accurately interogated,  by Comamander Fontaine. It becomes a personal word duel between Fontaine and Armand.

The plot delves into family history to a depth unlike any other in the series. For those readers who have found Armand too perfect there is a scene about the long lasting pain of secrets overheard.

A conspiracy needs to be unraveled in the plot. Penny handles that delicate task well. There is an inexorable building of tension for all of the Gamaches.

We are back to the best of the Gamache series featuring history, relationships and intelligence rather though there are more violent confrontations than needed.


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; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life; Hardcover