About Me

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

Friday, 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


  1. As soon as I saw the author's name, Bill, I hoped you liked the book. I've enjoyed McCall Smith's work for years, and it makes me very happy to know that this one is a good read, too. I give him credit for working at different series through the years, and I'm definitely going to put this one on my list.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Smith has a truly inventive and creative mind.

  2. Bill, I have yet to read Alexander McCall Smith, though I have had many occasions to do so. His books are easily available at the book exhibitions I used to frequent until March this year. I liked the sensitivity element in this novel. It is something I often hear or read about among crime investigators in real life.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I believe you will like reading Smith. On sensitivity it appears the world is both too sensitive and too insensitive.

    2. Seeing as what's happening all around us, probably more of the latter, Bill. Thank god we have books!

    3. Prashant: I refuse to believe that most people are insensitive. I think it is innate in human nature to be sensitive and look forward to the day when sensitivity is valued again.

  3. Agree with you Bill on sensitivity. Human beings wouldn't have survived if they hadn't gathered together, cooperated, worked together to get food and shelter and defend against predators. People are social beings, and in order to collaborate and live together, empathy and compassion are required.
    Natalie Angier wrote a column in the NY Times years ago about how humans are hard-wired for empathy.
    What's going on in the U.S. right now is another story, divisiveness and hostility being whipped up. The majority is not like that.
    When the horrors of WW II happened, the majority of people in the world were against them. Millions of people fought back and won.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I consider social media bad for sensitivity as too many use harsh and negative comments as they hide their identities or do not worry as the remarks are not made in the presence of the person being criticized.