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 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


  1. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your thoughts. Your review is a good reminder that sociocultural and physical settings both add a lot to a story. And they do help readers connect to that story at a deeper level. You make an interesting point, too, about the way some stories are more or less continuations of the previous story. It raises that question of how closely books in a series ought to be linked. In this series' case, I think it is best if readers go through it sequentially, and I don't mind that. But it does make me wonder about readers who haven't read the previous books in the series.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Gail's books can be read alone but they are far better collectively as they create a family saga.

  2. Hello, Bill! You make an interesting point about being drawn into a book if the main character is not around to welcome you from the start. I don't think I have really noticed that aspect of a novel, except perhaps in some westerns where the hero often rides in late.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. It was good to hear from you. I had not thought about often a western has a late arriving hero. It is a good point.

  3. I love the Gail Bowen books, but have fallen behind. I can see I must read A Darkness of the Heart next then move on to this one...

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. It is best to stay in order on the series which has now become a form of saga. I expect some day to see the books marketed as the "Kilbourn Family Mysteries".

  4. I know it's fiction and there's no limit on an author's imagination, but Bowen's characters live in a highly idealized Regina, in a world of great privilege and wealth, so much so that it has come to irritate me over the last few books. The preternaturally wise and mature characters of Taylor and Vale came across as pretty unbelievable too. However, Bowen's books are always well written and I did enjoy reading this on the whole, and will continue if there are more in the series.

    1. Penny: Thanks for the comment. As a lawyer and with Joanne married to a lawyer I expect I connect with them. There have been books in the series which involve North Central Regina. The most recent books have focused on the well off of the city. When you point out the "world of great privilege and wealth" I realize I prefer books set in that world. I do think that world in Saskatchewan is still closer to the world of less privilege and wealth than in many of the great cities of the earth.

      Having seen Taylor grow up as an accomplished artist I accept her as a prodigy. Joanne's family has had problems with relationships so I will not be surprised if Taylor and Vale encounter issues.