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.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Comparing a Poor Woman with a Wealthy Young Woman Facing Murder Charges Early in the 20th Century

Carrie Davies
In my last post I wrote a review of The Massey Murder A
Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country
by Charlotte Gray. I partly read the book to see how a young servant woman, Carrie Davies, was dealt with by the judicial system of early 20th Century Ontario in contrast to the treatment of Florence Kinrade, a wealthy young woman, investigated for the killing of her sister in Hamilton six years earlier. I wrote about the Kinrade case in reviews of Florence Kinrade - Lizzie Borden of the North by Frank Jones. As this post will reveal the verdict in Carrie’s case readers wishing to find out from the book what happened had best read no further.

Florence Kinrade
Carrie is questioned at length by the police immediately after the killing. She is given a standard warning about any statement being used against her but, in shock and with no experience with the law, seeks no legal assistance. She answers all the questions but the Police Sergeant in his haste to deal with the paper work of her arrest forgets to get her statement signed. She explains killing her employer, Bert Massey, because he tried to ruin her.

In the Kinrade case when Ethel is killed at home Florence and Ethel are the only family members present. Florence maintains a tramp entered their home and shot Ethel.

In contrast to Carrie’s treatment, Florence’s initial interview with the police is cut short by her father, Tom Kinrade, a distinguished educator  in Hamilton who simply insisted to the police she has had enough for the day.

In Carrie’s case the coroner’s inquest could have gone badly for Carrie but for the interventions of two lawyers at that critical moment. Facing a coroner anxious to proceed with the inquest the day after the murder a non-criminal lawyer, Henry Wilberforce Maw, retained by her brother-in-law, Ed Fairchild, sought to obtain disclosure of the Crown case before Carrie would have to respond. With the coroner clearly unwilling to wait the scales tip in favour of adjournment Ontario’s Attorney General, in a remarkable intervention asks the coroner to grant the adjournment because:

“It seems to me a breach of the fundamental ideas of British Fair Play when a girl is not given an opportunity to instruct counsel …. The woman is young. She has not many friends in this country. Counsel has not been properly instructed by her.”

The adjournment was granted. When the inquest resumed Carrie had capable defence counsel in Hartley Dewart, K.C.

Carrie’s unsigned statement was  read at the inquest. It indicated her employer had kissed her twice the day before against her will and at the time of shooting “I seemed to lose control of myself”. (She was to add more to her story at trial.)

In Florence’s case the coroner’s inquest was the pivotal court proceeding.

With the initial investigation badly handled a prominent Toronto lawyer, George Tate Blackstock, K.C., was retained by the Crown to handle the inquest.

He aggressively questioned Florence over three long sessions. With the aid of her own skilled lawyer Florence was well prepared for the questioning. Blackstock draws forth details of her secret life as a vaudeville performer in Virginia under the name of Mildred Dale. He elicits her relationship with a fellow performer though she is engaged to a Methodist student minister in Hamilton. He gains acknowledgement of contradictions in her statements and shows the implausibility of her story. What he cannot get is any admission of wrongdoing.

With Carrie acknowledging the shooting of Bert Massey the case is bound for trial though the Massey family provided particulars of her alleged instability a year earlier. Her counsel rejected the clumsy attempt to have Carrie considered insane and the scandal covered up.

The case against Florence collapsed with her denials. The Crown had suspicions, strong suspicions, but a lack of evidence.

Defence counsel providing details to a trusted discreet reporter is not a recent contemporary approach. Cassie’s counsel made sure the Toronto Evening Telegram had all the information needed for sympathetic coverage.

There was considerable public sympathy for Florence, this well bred young woman recounting an attack by a tramp. The Hamilton Spectator spoke of the “tramp menace” to the community.

In my previous post I recounted the powerful closing address of Dewart. The Crown should have objected and the trial judge should have interrupted Dewart’s theatrical address to the jury. His blatant appeal to the emotions of the jury went well beyond the bounds of comment upon the evidence. Yet neither prosecutor nor judge raised their voices. For the prosecutor to have objected was a grave risk he would be considered to be challenging Carrie’s honour.

In his own closing the prosecutor, Edward Du Vernet, expressing personal sympathy for Carrie, tries to rehabilitate the victim asserting Massey was not a “worthless brute” but a defenceless man walking up the steps of his home. He states Massey was not engaged in an attack upon Carrie. He asserts she has no remorse for her actions.

The trial judge, Chief Justice Sir William Mulock, described Carrie as a “refined girl” who 

“Left alone with her thoughts, Mulock continued, “she brooded over the events of the day before, which she regarded as a terrible distress to her, added to, perhaps, by her idea of the fidelity she owed to her lover.”

He was clearly indicating to the jury, despite his pronouncements on what constitutes murder and manslaughter and excusable homicide where his sympathies lay in the case.

It is no surprise that the jury took but a half an hour in deliberation to find Carrie not guilty.

In both cases the defendants benefited from being young women of virtue. While Florence’s virtue was a touch tarnished by performing in vaudeville she was still a well respected member of a prominent family. It was clear the jury saw themselves as Carrie’s protectors. Her counsel had gone so far as to prove, through medical evidence. she was a virgin.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray

(40. - 1065.) The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray - In 1915 Bert Massey, a Studebaker car salesman but still a member of the distinguished Massey family who were among the leaders of the Canadian Establishment, arrives at his home in downtown Toronto after a busy day at the dealership. As he goes to enter the house 18 year old Carrie Davies, a recent immigrant from England and the only servant Bert and his wife Rhoda can afford, shoots him twice. Massey is dead within minutes. When the police arrive she tells Sgt. Lawrence Brown that “[H]e ruined my character”. Later she states “he tried to ruin me”.

The next morning she is in Toronto Women’s Court where all women being prosecuted in the city appear. It is “a court to which no men were admitted, unless they were witnesses or officers of the court. All spectators, including reporters, had to be female”. I was not aware of Toronto Women’s Court early last century and will have more discussion in a subsequent post. Gray sets out the premise for the Court:

In the early twentieth century, most women and men believed that, while men committed crimes, women committed sins. The LCW (Local Council of Women) argued that, since women could be “saved,” they should be treated differently from hardened male criminals.

The presiding magistrate, the “Beak”, Colonel George Taylor Denison III, had been on the bench for almost 40 years. Imperious and decisive he remanded her in custody.

The public had no knowledge that Bert had no role and no share in the Massey farm equipment empire. His father had died when he was very young and his mother, after taking back her children from grandfather Hart Massey, with whom they had lived for some time, had displeased the patriarch.

The book delves into the lives of middle and upper class women who, while maintaining busy social schedules, were also organizing into groups to advocate for the needs of women. Servants, such as Carrie, had no role even if they would have had any time away from their long hours of work. Another section explores the lives of servants. It was interesting to learn about the efforts of  well-to-do women and the misery of servants but the sections could have been shorter.

I expect the detail was partly because there was so little information about Carrie. As an example she refused to name her soldier beau.

There was just a whiff of condescension with regard to Carrie as the author wondered if she had the ability to understand the legal proceedings.

As the trial swiftly approached the Massey family, determined to avoid scandal, assert Cassie had a history of mental instability and must have been temporarily insane, perhaps over not hearing from her young man serving in the Canadian Army in Europe. They stoutly deny any indiscretion by Bert.

Carrie had an excellent lawyer in Hartley Dewart, K.C. He was eager to play “the coveted role of defender of wounded womanhood”.

Carrie benefited from a newspaper war between the Evening Telegram and the Daily Star. In most matters the former was the more conservative and the latter the more liberal. In the Massey case it was the Evening Telegram who supported the “virtuous heroine” while the Daily Star “showed more sympathy to the murdered Massey”. 

How Cassie would pay for an expensive lawyer was partially resolved when the Evening Telegram supported a fund raising subscription for Carrie.

Incredible by current legal processes the trial for murder was held within 3 weeks of the killing.

At the trial Dewart placed the victim on trial. Bert’s prominence was turned against him. Lecherous conduct towards her was recounted by Carrie to explain her actions. Nothing was more important to her than her virtue.

Dewart reached oratorical heights with a closing address could not have been more dramatic. 

He said Bert’s advances upon her gave Carrie but “one alternative choice. If she did not defend herself against this man she would have been a fallen woman, an outcast, one more sacrifice to brutish lust”.

And then he paused for a minute - 60 seconds of silence - an eternity in a crowded courtroom with the jury intent upon Dewart and Carrie as they contemplated his words. 

Dewart continued stating:

“Let that sink into your mind. It was not manslaughter, it was brute slaughter!”

Dewart draws the jury into the mind of Carrie on that fateful day. Her fear growing throughout the day that she would face a renewed assault upon her virtue when Massey returned.

Amazingly he calls upon patriotism, Canada’s soldiers fighting in the Great War in support of Carrie:

“It was the honour of Britain for which they fought. If honour was the principle for which British troops and the prisoner’s soldier lover were fighing was not the prisoner herself fighting similarly?”

He calls upon the jurors’ sense of duty to acquit Carrie:

“Look the facts in the face. You have a wife, a daughter or perhaps a sister at home. You are married men and have children. Can you look them squarely in the face and with a clear conscience say that you had done your duty in the case if you leave a stain upon this girl by your verdict?

My next post will further discuss the case and consider Carrie’s case in the context of another contemporary case of a young woman facing potential murder charges. And the post will reveal the verdict.


Gray, Charlotte - (2020) - Murdered Midas (A Millionaire, His Gold Mine and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise) and The Trial of Freddie de Marigny for the Murder of Harry Oates

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

(38. - 1063.) The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith - Ulf Varg is a thinking detective in the Department of Sensitive Crimes in Malmo, Sweden. He is at ease in discussing Kierkgaard and Kant.

Ulf loves his “ancient light gray Saab” car gifted to him by an uncle and sums up the car as “... perfect. Real leather. Everything works. Everything.” Driving this wonderful car may be more therapeutic than his sessions with a psychoanalyst for a drive relaxes and refreshes Ulf. 

The team from the Department investigates a stabbing of a market trader in an “unusual locus” - the back of the knee. The victim Malte is an honest man with eczema who is a Harley-Davidson aficionado. Malte’s wife, Mona, is “the one who decides what they do, generally”. The team swiftly determines Malte was stabbed through a slit in the back of the tent housing his market stall.

Puzzled about the crime Ulf uses “thinking time” to ponder the case. With little physical evidence and no obvious suspect he turns to my favourite crime fiction question - “why”. Some more thought and he decides to focus on what is unusual - why was Malte stabbed at “knee level”.

A deepening friendship with Anna, a member of the Department, troubles Ulf for he is a virtuous - a work not often used in the 21st Century - man whose sense of honour prevents him from an intimate relationship with Anna who is long married to Jo and has two children. Confirming her comment that they need to have only a friendly professional relationship Ulf says:

“I’m very sorry,” he said. “I spoke out of turn. Forgive me, it was my fault entirely. I was forgetting that some things simply cannot be, no matter how much one might wish otherwise.”

In his innate sensitivity Ulf is a gentleman.

I was struck by how sensitive the officers were in their investigation. They are as concerned about the victims and the criminals.

It took me over 100 pages ro realize these sensitive investigators deal with sensitive people undergoing sensitive experiences. There is nary a hint of the hard boiled nor the bleakness of noir in their cases. Humans struggling in loneliness occupy their investigations. The investigations, ostensibly about solving crime, are really efforts at restorative justice to correct a wrong with sensitivity for all involved.

The Department is aided by a regular police officer, Blomquist. He lacks sensitivity. He is less insensitive than oblivious. He is a keen observer who cannot resist expressing his observations which are supported by his immense knowledge of trivial facts. Listeners glaze over as he opines on high intensity exercise and the benefits of unpeeled potatoes. I read of the earnest Blomquist with a touch of uneasy. My personal success in trivia contest reminds me I have a lot of trivia in my mind.

And then an investigation veers into a person of interest borrowing books on lycanthropy (a man turning into a wolf). Can she believe her hirsute husband is a werewolf? For Ulf Varg whose first name and surname both mean wolf the subject is a touch jolting.

McCall-Smith is clever, with a style that is neither parody nor condescending, but conveys an ironic amusement concerning the decidedly non-busy Sensitive Crimes Unit. The back cover blurb from the Philadelphia Inquirer - “Droll, droll, droll” - is apt. I have the next in the series on my desk and will read it soon. It is hard to explain why I have not read an author I greatly enjoyed in 2004 for 16 years.


Smith, Alexander McCall – (2004) - The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Best fiction in 2004); (2020) - The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Unlocking Season by Gail Bowen

(37. - 1062.) The Unlocking Season by Gail Bowen - It is Easter and Joanne Shreeve (Kilbourn is in her past) is 60 and Zack is doing well and Taylor is in love and her other children are happy and her grandchildren are thriving. Life is good.

Joanne is feeling her way through the development of a 6 part television series, Sisters and Strangers, based on her youth and the startling revelations she has just learned about the identity of her father.

Roy Brodnitz, formerly a dancer, and now a writer for 20 years had been working on the script of the series with Joanne’s aid but he has not progressed beyond the opening two episodes. While in northern Saskatchewan seeking locations for shooting the series Brodnitz disappears. When found he is disheveled and frantic. He has a massive heart attack. He survives the flight to hospital but has another heart attack in the night and dies.

Though a dramatic opening I was not immediately drawn into the book. I think it was because Joanne was not involved. Others are telling her about events. When she gets a greater direct role about 80 pages in I was taken in by the story.

Joanne is caught up in a different form of the arts. Previous books such as Murder at the Mendel, The Gifted and A Darkness of the Heart have explored the artistic mind and the consequences of extraordinary creativity. In The Unlocking Season it is the world of script writing and film production.

Georgie Shepherd, the executive producer and new writer for the series at Living Skies Productions, seeks Joanne’s assistance in developing the script. (With our provincial motto being “Land of Living Skies” it is the perfect name for a Saskatchewan film company.) When Joanne demurs referring to her professional writing experience being a biography Georgie is unmoved:

“They both use sentences,” Georgie said curtly. “Can you be at my office tomorrow morning at nine?”

I can see the author, Gail, being equally no nonsense with a writing colleague.

As always Joanne is on time. As they work the book has excerpts from the script with discussion on structure and purpose and language.

As Joanne is caught up in the excitement of a T.V. production there is a pang for Taylor is leaving home. Through the series readers have experienced Joanne’s joys and fears in raising a talented artist. Now Taylor is an adult. Joanne’s last child will soon be a visitor to her home.

Film is a labour intensive creativity. Where writers and painters work alone a table meeting  on the T.V. production involves 25 people.

Ainsley Blair, who had been Brodnitz’s dance partner, is now the director of the series. Withdrawing into herself after his death creates anxiety within the production.

With so many people involved and a major amount of money invested and creative egos all about there is constant tension around the series.

When Buzz Wells, a slick unscrupulous successful New York film producer / writer, arrives with his own vision on how to make the series a commercial success the tension becomes intense.

Taylor’s partner, Vale, is the star of the series. She is young enough to play the teenage Sally (Taylor’s mother and Joanne’s best friend as a girl). Having been an actor through her teenage years Vale can appreciate Sally leaving Canada at 14 with an older man for New York where she became a successful artist at a grave emotional cost.

Joanne seeks to keep in perspective the prejudice of a few who see the same sex relationship of Vale and Taylor as sinful.

The resolution is cleaner than A Darkness of the Heart. It was predictable but the joy of the series is more in the characters rather than plots that challenge the reader’s ability to identify the killer.

Ultimately, I did not connect as deeply with this book as with most in the series. The Joanne Shreeve books have been rooted in Saskatchewan experiences. I thought this book, the second in a row that involved film making, was not really a Saskatchewan based story. I realized my conception of Saskatchewan stories is based on the province I grew up in. The province has evolved in my lifetime. Films, while not as many as a few years ago, are made here. Gail has a better understanding of contemporary Saskatchewan.

I did wish there was more of physical Regina and Saskatchewan in the book. There are touches of the city and country extending to the film studios but much of the setting is in studios that are bound to be generic.

The family relationships keep expanding. There are a full set of children and their partners and grandchildren. Many of the best scenes in the book are family vignettes.

It would be hard to enjoy the book if you have not read the previous book in the series, A Darkness of the Heart. It is really a continuation of that book. While Gail provides background the emotions are better understood from an understanding of what occurred in that book.

I enjoyed the book but I hope the next book in the series leaves the world of T.V. series.


** Bowen, Gail – (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2011) - Deadly Appearances; (2012) - Kaleidoscope; (2013) - Murder at the Mendel; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle(2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - (Part I) and (Part II); (2018) - A Darkness of the Heart and Email Exchange with Gail on ADOHHardcover

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Thoughts at the End of Summer in 2020

It is a quiet Sunday afternoon in early October. There will be no more sitting outside reading and writing this year. A few golden leaves are still upon our huge elm outside the den window. The winds of Saskatchewan have shaken most from the tree. Yet a stubborn touch of summer has lingered through the early frosts of autumn. A couple of flowers below the window still bloom. The photo is of these last flowers of 2020.

I have been letting my mind drift about books.

Most of my reading is random except for the shortlists for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and what was called the Arthur for Best Crime Fiction Novel in Canada. (I say “was” as the directors of the Crime Writers of Canada have chosen to change the logo and name of the annual Awards for reasons that did not convince me.)

Only when I was involved in the memes for the Crime Fiction Alphabet which was hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, did I consciously read books because of the alphabet. Thus it is a coincidence that I happen to be reading the books that will be first and list in my page of authors read which is arranged  alphabetically.

Leading the list will soon be Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. The book got off to an unpromising start describing the murders of small children at a beachfront community in Trinidad. It improved dramatically with a young Mycroft providing unsolicited advice to the oarsmen of Cambridge about to take on Oxford in their annual race. I was captured when Mycroft spoke of his passion for Georgiana and plans for marriage. I have to find out what happens.

Ending the page which now extends to 1,061 books will be An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker. I recently posted a review of the legal mystery set in Austin and provided my evaluation of the book as a part of my examination of the books on the shortlist of the 2020 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

There will not be many books that will have author names before “Ab” or after “Zu”.

Occasionally I check on Google for what might appear on a search of my name. To my surprise I found that Sharon Bala had written on her website about the imagined judgment I prepared as an ending for her amazing book The Boat People. She had left the fate of her characters unresolved in the book. Her book has gained her fame around the world. Her comment with links is:

I’ve received approximately 700,000 questions about The Boat People’s ending. So many that I addressed the ambiguity in my FAQs. Dear Reader, You be the adjudicator, I essentially said. Do Grace’s job. Decide Mahindan’s fate.

Bill Selnes, a lawyer and reader in Saskatchewan, took me up on the challenge. Friends, this is really, really good. Fan fiction of the highest order. Bill has written an imagined judgement and you can read it on his blog Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. And there’s a bonus post script where he tells us how Mahindan and Sellian are doing now.

In a book club recently, I tried to explain (probably incoherently) that The Boat People doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s out in the world, being read by total strangers. Each reader brings their unique perspective to the book and the story changes subtly each time it is read, by each new person. One of the pleasures of being an author is knowing that your characters are out there living their own lives, separate from you, totally out of your control. Whenever readers tell me about their experience of the book, how they feel about this character or that, it’s a bit like receiving a dispatch from the other side, Mahinder et al sending messages via emissaries. In Bill Selnes’ imagined universe, Mahindan and Sellian are thriving. And I’m really glad to hear it!

Thank you for the kind words Sharon.

Almost inevitably thoughts on the challenges and worries of the pandemic that has dominated the spring and summer crept into my mind as I read of the passing of Northern Ireland poet, Derek Mahon. Included in the obituary was his poem Everything is Going to be All Right. I want to share it with you as it reflects how I do my best to approach trying times:

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying,

but there is no need to go into that.

The poems flow from the hand unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.