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.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen - In another dramatic prologue Nete, having been told by her wealthy husband that he is leaving her because she never told him she was sterlized, yanks the steering wheel to force their car off the road towards the sea.

(To write this review I found some modest use of spoilers were needed.)

Thirty-five years later in 2010 Carl Mørck is one of the few Copenhagen police officers not suffering from the flu. His assistant, Assad, has a spectacular red nose.

Purity Party leader, Dr. Curt Wad, may be 87 but he is looking forward to the party gaining representation in the Danish Parliament. He remains absolutely committed to the Party.

The Party’s positions have remained unchanged during its history:

The association for the defence of the nation’s unblemished blood and moral values had gone by three different names since Curt’s father had founded the movement in his stubborn endeavors to ensure racial purity and the raising of public morals. In the 1940’s he had called it the Anti-Debauchery Chommittee. Later it became the Community of Danes, then eventually the Purity Party.

Applying those principles the Party believes “Tamils, Pakistanis, Turks, Afghans, Vietnamese, all had to be stopped in the manner of any other invasive impurity. Effectively and without hesitations”.

The Party is convinced of the benefits of eugenics. It does not just advocate eugenics. Wad has turned over abortions and sterlizations to a younger colleague.

Assad reveals one of his international connections when he uses information from Lithuanian intelligence services to terrify a tough Lithuanian criminal who had thrown acid into the face of a brothel owner whose brother is a retired police officer.

A personal death long ago is brought back to Mørck. In 1978 his uncle had drowned in a 75 cm deep brook while Mørck and his cousin were ogling some girls bicycling nearby.

An excavation turns up a body at the home where Mørck, Hardy and Anker had been shot in 2008.

Mørck’s ex, Viggo, has decided to re-marry and wants several hundred thousand kroner as her share of the family home.

The nasty past and unpleasant present would totally depress Mørck, were it not for the passionate Mona Ibsen.

Assad and Rose, while researching a missing person case, cleverly look for other missing persons cases from that time and find four. Statistically impossible Department Q starts looking for connections.

Back in 1987 Nete carefully plans revenge upon those who had ruined her youth. She has used her training as a lab assistant to learn how to make poison from henbane (a relative of nightshade).

The mental health issues of Rose / Yrsa become clearer after Carl speaks to her actual sister, Yrsa. Different personalities help Rose cope with life.

A reader dare not pause in their attention to the plot or you, as I was, will be forced to go back because of a missed development in one or more of the varied sub-plots.

As a woman with a conscience Nete finds revenge gives little joy and even less release from the memories of the cruelties inflicted upon her in her youth.

As with the villains of his earlier books the wicked of The Purity of Vengeance are not caricatures. Wad loves and supports his dying wife, Beate. He has a good relationship with his children. Intended or not I was left to puzzle how a man and a doctor who loved deeply and helped many in his medical practice could be so cold and vicious to those he considered inferior. 

When there can be no legal punishment for crimes decades in the past the enticement of self-justice can become overwhelming.

There was a startling twist that resolved the main plot. There is much in Mørck’s life to be resolved in the series. The ending was more Hollywood than I like in serious crime fiction. 

Adler-Olsen has written another uncomfortable compelling mystery.
Adler-Olsen, Jussi - (2011) - The Keeper of Lost Causes(2012) - The Absent One; (2020) - A Conspiracy of Faith

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Flowers of 2020

As summer winds down I took some photos a couple of weeks ago of the flowers in our backyard. The lilies bloomed later this year but have been worth the wait. The delphiniums have reached up 6' from the ground.

The flowers brighten our days through the summer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Exchanging Emails with Another Rural Canadian Lawyer

Shelagh Mathers
Last year I wrote a review of Blackwater Bluff by S.M. Hurley. The author is actually Shelagh Mathers who practised law in rural Ontario. We recently exchanged emails on the practice of law in rural Canada and Blackwater Bluff. I appreciate Shelagh's response and am looking forward to her next book.

Dear Shelagh

I appreciated your email concerning my review of Blackwater Bluff.

Rather than ask an author questions directly (examination in chief) or in a leading manner (cross-examination) I like to include some questions within a letter (written interrogatories I guess).

As with yourself I practise law in a rural setting. Melfort has about 6,000 people while I see Picton is in the range of 5,000 residents. I came to Melfort as an articling position was available in 1975 and I was familiar with the community having grown up about 35 km. away. What brought you to Picton?

I have enjoyed living and working in Melfort and have been here 45 years. Law students occasionally ask me what is attractive about being a lawyer in Melfort. I start by saying I like being able to walk to work. Is there an aspect of life as a rural Ontario lawyer that you like to highlight when talking to students?

Few authors of legal fiction feature “country” lawyers. Looking through the dozensof legal mysteries I have reviewed on my blog only a handful are rural lawyers. Even fewer are in communities the size of Melfort or Picton.

In Canada the only other mystery I have read with a rural lawyer is Wishful Seeing by Janet Kellough which takes place in rural 19th Century Ontario not far from you at Coburg.

John Grisham is unique in creating lawyers who work in both rural and urban areas of the United States. His mysteries set in fictional Ford County Mississippi are my favourites. Jake Brigance is an excellent lawyer. I think Sycamore Row is his best book.

Yet, while big city lawyers occupy most legal fiction, the most famous legal mystery of all, To Kill a Mockingbird, is  set in rural Alabama. Atticus Finch’s fame circles the globe.

Were you tempted or even “encouraged” to set your mystery down the 401 in Toronto? Saskatchewan author, Anthony Bidulka, told me he was pressed to place his Russel Quant mysteries in America rather than Saskatoon.

I am glad you chose to have Augie de Graaf practise law in rural Ontario. I was instantly attracted to the book.

I like reading about fictional lawyers whose personalities are reflected in their offices. It is my experience that you can learn a great deal about a real life lawyer from their office. I was taken with the lawyer in the book who had live butterflies in her office. I also have a butterfly collection though my butterflies are ceramic creations. Looking at my colourful butterflies brightens every day at the office. Might you have a collection or display of butterflies or other objects within your own office?

The opening scene in Blackwater Bluff where Augie is attacked and injured by a criminal defendant during a trial brought to my mind a real life story I recounted in my review of a young prosecutor who broke her leg while rushing about in the courtroom during a jury trial. Was the attack in your book inspired by a real life event?

Having been a lawyer in the same rural area for decades often means I have represented clients and family members in multiple ways. I may have acted with regard to criminal charges or family breakups or estate disputes or buying a house or drawing up a will or probating an estate. For a few families I have had all those experiences. By dealing with all their personal legal needs there is often a significant personal relationship. I believe those connections take place infrequently in large cities. Would your experience be comparable?

Extending those connections to fellow lawyers I see Augie knows well the lawyers of her community. Big city law also has personal connections. I spent time in Toronto, especially during the Krever Commission in the 1990’s, on blood litigation. My sons, who are lawyers in big firms in Calgary, know a lots of lawyers well. I would say I know the lawyers of Northeast Saskatchewan better. I think our modest numbers and constant interaction, professionally and personally, creates a closer bond. I would be interested in your thoughts on this aspect of rural practice.

I hope your next book is soon published.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes.

Bill Selnes
 Dear Bill

Thanks for your letter! Certainly the most pleasant written interrogatory I’ve come across.

If I had been single, without 2 kids under 3, and husband with a job in the small town, I might have made my way to Toronto or Ottawa to practice, but in hindsight  I would have been miserable I think. When we moved to Picton, and “The County” in 1987 it was a bucolic backwater that had not yet been found by Toronto types who later discovered there was a direction besides north.

Now that I am retired (which I highly recommend) and The County seems to be the only vacation destination for an endless stream of folks with Covid cabin fever, the ability to escape to the family cottage is a blessing. We’ve been here for a month and a half with only a few excursions to town. I grew up here, it’s in my bones, so I guess I’m just generally inclined to small places and not many people.

I know Janet - she lives in the County and she and Vicky Delaney invited me to participate in last year’s Women Killing It mystery writer’s festival they have been putting on for a few years. Janet and Vicky are both delightful.

The only settings I’ve ever contemplated for the books are the County, and the cottage area (my older son keeps poking at me to set something in this area). The County setting is constrained by its natural water border and readers seem to love the various known locations. The cottage area is just somewhere I know, from the location of the lichens to where I can usually find a butterfly chrysalis or two.

In my former life I was a biologist and quit my PhD program to go to law school. I have quite a soft spot for all manner of 6 legged creatures (except cockroaches and wasps and hornets). Visiting butterfly conservatories is a delightful past time, so I thought “why not put one in a lawyer’s office”.

The opening scene was indeed inspired by a courtroom brawl. My client wanted to talk to his girlfriend and the cops said no and my client tried to get up to do so anyway, and they tackled him. I’ll never forget his face squished into the carpet. It was so unnecessarily brutal.

Being a small town lawyer was a delight, but I think one has to be comfortable with mushy boundaries. I like my professionals to be humans, so I’m fine with being seen buying potatoes and booze. Not all the professionals I know want to be ordinary mortals. I enjoyed being a part time Crown attorney, and for the most part, when I saw the folks I was prosecuting, later on the street, they were pleasant, and sometimes they would hire me for matters after the fact! Continuity through generations was also something I experienced, having practiced from 1988 to 2020. What I learned about other lawyers told me how a file would progress - if it was Suzie Q it was going to be trouble, and if it was Jim Bob we would be settling sooner rather than later.

When talking to prospective small town lawyers ( a dying breed ) I do highlight the benefits of a 10 minute walk and going home for lunch every day, and similar things. I also mention that if you’re in it for the money look elsewhere.

Thanks for your email! Good questions!

Best regards

Blackwater Bluff  and Sitting in the Dock by S.M. Hurley

Friday, August 14, 2020

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

(26. - 1051.) A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen - In a chilling prologue two brothers are bound in a building facing a grim fate. One uses his own blood to write a message he slips into a bottle that he drops into the water beneath the building.

Carl Mørck, still feeling guily over the quadriplegia of his partner Hardy, has had Hardy moved into his home.

At work asbestos dust has forced Department Q upstairs. Mørck confronts an officious bureaurcrat from Health and Safety explaining Q’s presence in the basement is not a work area but “archive briefing space” and directs a partition be placed between the “space” and the contaminated area. To achieve their return downstairs Mørck’s supervisor acquiesces to a scheme where 3 desks are set up in an upper corridor to be occupied by Department Q whenever Health and Safety come for an inspection.

In Scotland the bottle, having washed ashore years earlier, is finally noticed sitting on a police office window and analyzed. It is difficult to decipher the message. Once determined to be Danish the paper and bottle are sent to the Danish police and then to Department Q.

Rose and Assad mount blowups of the writing on the wall as they work upon completing the message. There are extensive gaps.

The focus of the rest of the force is upon a series of arsons with a deceased man found at each location. The common clue is a groove around the little finger of each victim. Assad notices a comparable groove on the body of one of their cold cases. The discovery intensifies the investigation.

At the same time a predator is stalking a family who are members of the Mother Church, a religious sect more like a cult, which worships the Mother of God. He selects his victims from intensely religious denominations such as the Mother Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Uncommon in my recent reading experience the predator has a wife and child. He leaves them behind when he leaves on a “business trip” allegedly involving the worlds of intelligence services or undercover police work.

He is a calculating man, the embodiment of evil. He will charm and manipulate his prey. In this case he is focused on a 12 year old girl, Magdalena, and her slightly older brother, Samuel. Adler-Olsen has a talent for describing wickedness. As the predator has no real name through the book I shall call him X. 

He looks for families with lots of children as he kidnaps two at a time for ransom.

X. grew up in a severe home:

In the place where they were no one ever laughed. Laughter lines in faces were something he saw in the town, and he found them displeasing. His life was without laughter. Without joy. Not since he was five years old …

With Rose, her sister Yrsa, a former forensic investigator turned cafeteria worker and Assad contemplating the message, words gradually emerge. It is a complex crossword puzzle. There are so many missing letters, even words. I looked forward to seeing the next words being determined. I found myself contemplating the message.

Department Q is not aware of the continuing kidnappings. As a cold case there is not the sense of urgency of an ongoing kidnapping. Only the reader knows how urgent the situation is for Samuel and Magdadelena.

When some forensic evidence provides a break in the case and the police come to understand there is a monster who could be still preying on religious children the pace accelerates.

There is a heart pounding car chase.

At the same time Department Q is pursuing the arson investigations. Forensic accounting leads the way. I struggled to see why the arsons were a part of the plot.

And then the pace becomes unrelenting as Department Q uses bits of information to lead them forward.

X is resourceful. He plans for the unexpected. He has escape routes from everywhere he travels. He has identities beyond count. He is ruthless in pursuing his goals lacking empathy or conscience. Yet he loves his 18 month old son. I will remember X.

Adler-Olsen has written a complex story that at times I wished I had to suspend disbelief but which I found all too plausible. For every plot turn at which I wondered how could that happen there is a credible explanation. He is an impressive writer of crime fiction. I plan to proceed to reading the next in the series, The Purity of Vengeance
Adler-Olsen, Jussi - (2011) - The Keeper of Lost Causes(2012) - The Absent One

Monday, August 10, 2020

A False Mirror by Charles Todd

Reading is going slowly right now so I am reaching back to 2008 for a short review I had not published. It has been years since I read Charles Todd. I am thinking it is time I read another.
17. - 427.) A False Mirror by Charles Todd - Superintendent Bowles would like to be rid of Ian Rutledge but Rutledge continues to be a good police officer. Stephen Mallory was a young officer under Rutledge who cracked and was sent home. When Corporal Hamish McLeod cracked he was executed. Mallory is suspected of attacking Matthew Hamilton, the husband of the woman he left behind. When confronted Mallory panics and seeks sanctuary with Felicity Hamilton. It becomes a form of hostage situation at her suggestion. Mallory convinces local inspector, Bennett, that he will not surrender Mrs. Hamilton and her maid unless Rutledge comes and finds the evidence to demonstrate his innocence. Rutledge comes and investigates. Unlike current hostage situations essentially one officer guards the house. There is no tactical team planning an assault. People come and go from the house based on their promises. It is a disjointed story with less convincing actions by the characters. It is not credible that Mallory would not have been the leading suspect and arrested when one of the hostages dies in the house. It did not flow as well as the earlier mysteries. Hamish remains an intriguing spirit commenting on events. There are more murders and a murky investigation. For the first time I sensed the two authors were not fully connected. (Apr. 19/08)
Todd, Charles – (2000) - Legacy of the Dead; (2002) - Watchers of Time and Fearsome Doubt; (2005) - A Cold Treachery; (2006) - A Long Shadow; (2008) - A False Mirror; (2010) - A Duty to the Dead

Monday, August 3, 2020

Clothes in The Curious Eat Themselves

I have learned to pay attention to the clothes of characters through Clothes in Books, the fine blog of Moira Redmond. In reading The Curious Eat Themselves by John Straley I decided to keep track of how characters are dressed when they are introduced to the reader.

I will provide information on the character after each description. See if what they are is what you expected from what they wore.

George Doggy - “He was wearing a warm-up jacket from the Seattle Mariners open to the waist, except oddly, the top button. He had his trooper’s shield stuck in his shirt pocket and this kept his coat cocked out at an odd rake”

(Former Alaska State Trooper and now adviser to a series of state governors because of his unflinching honesty.)

Hannah - Two descriptions:

1.) “She was wearing a black tank top and had on skin-tight jeans with a bandanna around her knee. She had the skiff man’s baseball cap on backwards. The tank top draped down, almost exposing her nipples.”

2.) “Hannah was wearing her rubber boots folded down, and her canvas pants tucked loosely inside. She had on a plum silk shirt and wore a black beret with a silver Tlingit killer whale pin on its crown. Her pile coat lay folded on her lap”

(For Cecil she is “the woman who used to love me”. The first description involves her coked up days when drugs drove her life. The second is years later when she has gained sobriety and become a social worker.)

Lolly - “She was almost six feet tall, and we stood eye to eye. Her left eyetooth sported a gold cap. She wore a loose-fitting silk blouse and a purple jacket with padded shoulders over tight stretch pants. And as we stood in the doorway … the hem of her blouse fluttered onto the inside edge of my coat.”

(Proprietress of the Gotham - a cheap Ketchikan hotel.)

Louise - “.... was soft-spoken and had that young aristocratic look of a modern wilderness adventurer with expensive water-repellent clothes. They were black and gray with accents of vibrant lavender. She had on soft shoes and a Norwegian sweater. But her hands were large, deeply creased with callouses, and she had pale crescents of scars of the front edge of her left hand.”

(Louise Root is a college educated environmentalist who worked as a cook at an isolated mine and is the murder victim.)

Todd’s Dad - “He always wore a faded canvas jacket and a greasy ball cap covered with various enamel bird and fish pins. He’d hold his beer glass and cigarette in the same hand and cover his pile of change with his other hand, …”

(A logging mechanic who took “to drinking hard” after his wife died and was then permanently injured by a chain hoist.)

Dickie Stein - “... was wearing baggy shorts and green high-top sneakers. He had a haircut that made his head look vaguely like a toaster, and his T-shirt read U.S. OUT OF NORTH AMERICA.”

(A Harvard law graduate at 19 who is now practising law in Sitka.)

Lee Altman - “He was tired. I could tell from halfway down the street. He was wearing a camel’s hair coat, and a flannel shirt and he sagged into them as if he had been sleeping in his clothes for a week. On his feet were low-cut rubberized shoes that bulged out with some sort of synthetic insulation.”

(A middle aged fixer for the mining company, Global)

Charlie Potts - “He was looking up and down the street like a lost tourist while fussing with his silver lighter, banging it against his thigh and then sheltering it from the wind and against his cigarette …. appeared to be wearing a yellow cardigan sweater under his raincoat; his leather shoes had tassels on them.”

(The tough aide to the fixer.)

Steven Mathews - “Sitting there was a man smoking a pipe and wearing a flannel shirt, straddling the bench with a double-bited-axe sunk in the wood between his legs. He has on leather gloves and was holding a twelve-inch flat file.”

(Environmental guru.)

Sy Brown - “.... he was wearing a canvas duster-type raincoat, a broad-brimmed hat, and some odd-looking silver jewelry. He was nervously flattening his moustache against his upper lip …”

(One of the best defense attorneys in Alaska.)

Conspicuous by its absence is what the main character, private investigator Cecil Younger, was wearing when he opened the narration. As far as I could see there is no description in the opening chapters beyond Cecil putting on a “rubber rain suit” to go out searching in the Sitka rain. In the words of Moira, the lack of description of Cecil’s apparel, was a “tragically missed opportunity”. Maybe in the next book.
Straley, John - (2019) - The Woman Who Married a Bear and Maureen's Reply; (2020) - The Curious Eat Themselves