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, March 31, 2021

The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick

(11. - 1083.) The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick (2005) -
The brazen robbey of The Scream painting in Olso in 1994 gained worldwide publicity. Edvard Munch’s most famous work was snatched from the National Gallery in Oslo by a pair of thieves who took a ladder from a construction site, leaned it against the outer wall, climbed up, smashed a window, grabbed the painting off the wall, slid it down the ladder and drove away. A hapless oblvious security guard was not watching the monitors showing the theft and thought the alarm going off from the broken window was a false alarm.


In England Charley Hill and the other members of the Art Squad at Scotland Yard are intrigued and decide to pursue The Scream. The Norwegian police, getting nowhere, are appreciative.


It would take a very imaginative writer of crime fiction to create a sleuth as dramatic as Charley:


“.... half-English and half-American … an ex-soldier and ex-Fulbright scholar who flirted with academia, and then the church, and eventually landed a job as a cop walking a beat in some of London’s diciest neighorhoods ….swaggers when he walks …. can be charming and engaging …..he’s restless and impatient, with a bad temper that flashes unpredictably ...not a good man to cross.”


What he is not is classically handsome. Charley was “a tall, round-faced man with curly brown hair and thick glasses”. I wish more writers would let their sleuths be average in appearance.


Charley gained his reputation as the “rescue artist” for his undercover operations recovering great works of art.


Shortly before going after The Scream he had recovered a famed Vermeer that had been stolen from a mansion just outside Dublin.


Clearly a man who would have been a great actor upon the stage and screen (if it was improv rather than scripted) he played the role of a representative of the wealthy Getty Museum negotiating the return of the painting for the Norwegian government so that the Getty could gain goodwill and the chance to exhibit The Scream in a special exhibition. It seems thin as a cover but Charley was convincing. He has a talent for being what villains expect him to be in his role.


In a you-can’t-make-this-up moment the initial negotiating discussion scheduled without looking at the hotel’s conference schedule turns out to be on the opening morning of the Scandinavian Narcotics Officers Annual Convention!


Charly, while an honest man, had a strong anti-authoritan streak that rang true to the villains of the world when he went undercover. He explained his primary skill:


“Pissing people off is what I’ve done best in life.”


He almost flunked out of college though he enjoys books, had earned a promotion in the army before picking a fight with an officer that returned him to private and said “[A]t Scotland Yard, nearly every higher-up was a ‘complete dunce who talked through his ass.’ “


Because of his personality, style and appearance no villain thought he was a police officer.


During his career, in addition to his “art” speciality,  he went undercover on investigations involving many crimes including counterfeit money and guns.


Along with the fascinating portrayal of a sting to recover The Scream there is a primer on how to be a successful undercover operative including lessons on lying. Go with the truth on small things and reserve lies for big matters.


The book establishes that, while stealing art can be lucrative, the financial rewards can be limited. Dolnick speaks of it being an iron rule in the underworld that stolen art is worth 10% of its fair market value at auctions or galleries. As well, insurance coverage ranges from non-existent to modest. The Scream was not insured. And pre-eminent works such as The Scream must be discounted as they can never be displayed.


Art thieves are motivated by more than money:


Great paintings will disappear, as well, because when thieves steal great art some of the luster of the masterpiece spills upon the thieves themselves. This gilt by association is almost entirely undeserved, but the notion of the dashing thief is so appealing that it thrives even without any evidence to support it.


Hill loved art:


To create beauty was rare and lofty work, but to safeguard cultural treasures was no paltry thing. “You’re just trying to keep these things in the world,” Hill went on. “It’s simply a matter of keeping them safe and protected and in the right places, where people can enjoy them.”


The Rescue Artist is well written. Dolnick moves the story briskly. The characters are better than most fictional creations. It could easily have been an excellent work of fiction instead of real life adventure. I enjoyed it immensely.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar translated by Martin Schifino

(10. - 1082.) Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar translated by Martin Schifino (2006) - Inspector Caldas is weary. He has just endured participating in the Patrol on the Air radio show listening to the calls from fellow disgruntled Galician citizens in and around Vigo. On his return to the office Caldas is sent to investigate a murder.


The victim is Luis Reigosa, a 34 year old musician. Reigosa played the saxophone, listened to jazz music, read crime fiction and trusted a lover who tied him to his bed and cruelly tortured him to death. There is significant detail of the damage to the body concentrating on the genitals. His water-blue eyes are wide open.


Caldas equally loves jazz. His prefers classic jazz performers.


Aiding the inspector is the massive Rafael Estévez, involuntarily transferred from Zaragosa. He has a quick temper and the Galician talent for ambiguity constantly frustrates him. Interviewing the cleaner who discovered the body, a “youthful sixty-four” year old woman, sets him boiling with answers of “more or less” and “[I]t was pretty much as it says there, yes” and “[I]t might have been roughly the way you describe it”.


Both experienced police officers and myself were stunned by the bizarre, extremely painful, means of murder.


I appreciated that they are officers who take time for a meal of fresh sardines and potatoes and local cheeses washed down with a jug of local white wine. Too many fictional sleuths are too driven to stop for a nice meal.


Caldas is dismayed that the popularity of Patrol on the Air means he is known as the radio policeman. Estévez is amused by the discontent of his superior.


As Reigosa was gay the investigation takes the inspector into the gay community. Caldas has but a little knowledge of gay life in Vigo.


The investigation is guided by evidence and the clever mind of Caldas willing to trust instincts honed by years of experience.


The plot moves smoothly. The characters are interesting. The detail on the murder was very graphic and clearly intended to shock. While I did not find the detail exploitive I hope the next book is frank about murder but less gruesome in the particulars.


In a refreshing change from the current fashion for 300 page to 400 page to even longer novels, Villar wrote a fine mystery in 167 pages. I shall read the second. 

****

Jose Ignacio at his fine blog, The Game's Afoot, has a review of the book and biographical information on Villar


Monday, March 22, 2021

Handwritten Notes Are the Best

In The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver the sleuth, Colter Shaw, eschews computer technology for making notes. I was won over when Colter pulled out a “Delta Titanio Galassia fountain pen, black with three orange rings toward the nib”. At $250 it is a serious pen. 

I enjoy fountain pens. I currently have one crafted in Melfort. While Colter justifies his pen as easier on the hand for making extended notes I really think he just loves the feel of writing with a fine fountain pen. I know I appreciate a flow with a fountain pen lacking in writing with a ballpoint pen.

He has precise small writing which further appealed to me as it is the same form of writing that myself, my father and grandfather all have in our writing. My sons, while gratefully legible, do not have the same style of writing.


At times I have found it difficult to find a fountain pen with a fine enough nib. Most fountain pens have a broader nib that is ill suited to my handwriting.


Colter has a theory on writing by hand:


“When you write something by hand, slowly, you own the words. You type them, less so. You read them, even less. And you listen, hardly at all.”


I have learned to make notes effectively on the computer but I find I type more in notes because I can type significantly faster than I can write. I am as efficient with handwriting as I make more focused notes and use contractions more easily.


In Court I cannot make notes with a computer. I need to make them by hand. Using a computer I am too caught up in the note making process.


Few lawyers I know make computer notes during a trial when they are conducting examinations and cross-examinations. 


Within our office the three of us who go to court all prefer making handwritten notes. Jeff says there are studies that say handwritten notes are better.


Brandi spoke of remembering better when making notes by hand.


My son, Jonathan, says he makes notes either by handwriting or on his laptop. If he is assisting another lawyer he will make them on the computer as it is easier for senior counsel to read notes off the screen. 


Most Saskatchewan judges still make notes by hand. 


As a sports reporter I equally make handwritten notes. In the pressbox I find it easier to highlight and find important notes if they are handwritten.


I have tried making notes on the computer at trials and found I had to go back to handwritten notes. There is something in my brain that prefers handwriting notes of a live event.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver

(9. - 1081.) The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver - I love tracking down people books or the reverse of escaping trackers books. Over two decades ago I loved the early Jane Whitefield books of Thomas Perry in which Jane helped people disappear. In The Never Game, Colter Shaw finds people. There is no shortage of missing people to be found. As a “reward seeker” he makes his living from the rewards he is paid for finding the missing.


He parks his Winnebago at a trailer park in Silicon Valley and visits the modest shabby home  of Frank Mulliner. His daughter, Sophie known as Fee, is missing. Mulliner is deeply worried as Sophie has not been in contact with him concerning her dog, Luka.


As with Ava Lee from the series by Ian Hamilton, Colter starts each case with a blank notebook for writing down information and ideas.


Colter is a calculating tracker. While observation helps he spends more time assessing what he thinks the missing person would have done. Taught by his father he determines the percentages of any prospective action. He puts possibilities at percentages and rigorously goes with the highest percentage. It is very logical but highly dependent on Colter’s ability to be accurate in his percentages.


The search for Sophie swiftly produces results. It felt too easy. The kidnapper’s actions after grabbing Sophie do not quite make sense. The police are rather crudely drawn. Colter manages to get surprised a touch too often. Is Deaver, a master of deception, playing with the reader?


Colter meets Maddie Poole, a young woman who is a gamer girl working in the video game industry playing and reviewing games. Colter is virtually an alien to her. When he was young his university professor father and psychiatrist / professor mother moved off grid to live on 1,000 acres in the wilderness near the Sierra National Forest. They call their place the Compound. While Colter grew up with rooms full of books the family had no connection to the internet and he never played video games. Trying out a new 3D game with googles and a controller is a new experience. Maddie leaves him unsettled.


Another kidnapping takes place. With the second kidnapping the book gets away from stereotypes and into a complex fast moving investigation with a wickedly clever villain.


Colter becomes a consultant for the police aiding Detective LaDonna Standish in pursuit of “The Whispering Man”. He is a killer to rival the most diabolical killers in Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes series.


I was strongly reminded of the Lincoln Rhymes series with a survivalist loner instead of a quadreplegic loner pursuing a highly intelligent killer who enjoys being creative with victims and pursuers. When Colter is joined by Standish, a highly competent female police officer skilled with a gun, there was the same team as Lincoln and Amelia Sachs.


Deaver is very talented but I did not think The Never Game rose to the level of the Lincoln Rhyme’s books. It does have an interesting ending as an unresolved subplot was to be directly addressed in the next book in the series. I am not sure if I will read the next Colter Shaw mystery.

****

Deaver, Jeffery – (2000) - The Empty Chair; (2002) - The Stone Monkey; (2002) - Mistress of Justice; (2003) - The Vanished Man; (2005) - Garden of Beasts; (2005) - The Twelfth Card; (2006) - Cold Moon(Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2008) - The Broken Window; (2010) - The Burning Wire; (2013) - The Kill Room; (2014) - The Skin Collector; (2017) - The Steel Kiss; (2019) - The Burial Hour;  Hardcover if Lincoln Rhymes story


Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Canadian Fascinator Amidst Royal Hats

Not surprisingly in The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan there are lots of scenes involving clothes especially as Bex's relationship progresses with Prince Nick and she becomes a public figure besieged by paparazzi every day.

Royal expectations take the young American into the world of hats. When I visualize the real life Queen Elizabeth II I think of her hats. All the Royal women wear hats. Hats are a new experience for Bex. In America she had worn ball caps.

She begins by "shopping after work with Bea and Joss at a private room in Stephen Jones Millinery in Covent Garden". Trying on a "spiked fascinator" she thinks she looks "like a cactus".

My wife, Sharon, loves hats. She has several dozen. I have joined her for hat shopping in Europe, the middle of the Atlantic (Bermuda), the United States and across Canada.

One of our most surprising hat experiences was at Smithbilt hats in the Inglewood area of Calgary where our sons reside. Smithbilt makes thousands of cowboy hats every year for the famed Calgary Stampede. Looking through the store we were surprised to come across a board to which were affixed fascinators. The designer of hat bands and embellishments for the cowboy hats also creates women's hats. The fascinator at the top of this post is the fascinator Sharon bought that day. I think it would be suitable for a Royal event.

I am confident every Royal lady has worn a fascinator. Here is Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. Further examples can be seen at an amazing blog on royal hats:
https://royalhats.net/2014/02/26/hat-types-the-fascinator/

For Bex her most vivid hat day is at the Royal Ascot races. Invited to watch from the Royal Family box she must have an appropriate hat which "must have a base of four inches or larger".  

While many hats at Ascot are elegant there is a tradition of "wonderful, ridiculous" hats such as "a bust of David Beckham; a Mad Hatter's tea party recreated in elaborate clay sculptures, the Cheshire Cat's tail flicking the wearer's ear".

Sadly Bex's hat is not described. Thus I turn to the hats of the real life Royals at Ascot.

I like to think Bex would have chosen a hat such as the hat worn by Princess Kate in 2017 rather than ....

..... the hat chosen by Meghan (not sure how to address her in 2021) for Ascot in 2018.







Of all the Royal Ascot hats in recent years I think the Queen made a brilliant  choice in 2018.


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

(7. - 1079.) The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan -  Rebecca “Bex” Porter is about to marry Prince Nicholas of the House of Lyons in London. With 2 billion people expected to watch the ceremony preparations are intense. Among the thoughts swirling through her mind are how to walk down the 300 foot aisle of Westminister Abbey in the “biggest skirt of her life”. Her wedding “gown has its own room” at the hotel.

How she reached the pinnacle of princess dreams fills an additional 552 pages.


Bex grew up in Muscatine, Iowa. She came to England to attend Oxford. There was no plan to find a prince. She is on an exchange from Cornell University and happened to exchange with a girl who lives on the same floor as Prince Nick. Her brilliant twin sister, Lacey, in pre-med is completely envious that Bex has the Prince down the hall.


Bex narrates the story. She is a bright young woman with honest emotions. She finds Oxford enchanting as she loves to draw. 


There are no instant sparks. She finds it interesting to be living down the corridor but is not in awe. They become friends as she is unpretentious while recognizing his status means he is different. Prince Nick realizes he can trust her not to pass on stories to the tabloids.


Having no experience with royalty of any nation, though I have a gay friend who prides himself on being a Queen, I found it fascinating to see how the commoner from the New World interacts with the most eligible man in the world.


Nick does have some wonderful lines such as claiming knowledge of the painters Holbein because:


“These people painted my entire bloodline.”


Night Nick and Night Bex, mutual insominacs, bond over marathon watching of  episodes of Devour, an American T.V. series involving vampires. It is a series beloved by Bex and Lacey.


Suddenly Bex realizes she is in love with Nick. She understands the fierce competition. Upper class women from across the realm desperately want to be his consort. Bex just wants to be the woman he loves.


Nick’s father, Prince Richard, is manipulative and demanding. If The Crown T.V. series is to be believed he is a cross between Prince Philip and Prince Charles. His mother, Emma, has succumbed to mental illness unable to cope with the royal husband, the royal life and the royal attention of the paparazzi.


Bex’s parents are fine Midwestern folk. They love and care for their daughters. They take the relationship in better stride than anyone else.


After a wonderful start the relationship proceeds at a glacial pace that seems more designed to lengthen the book than add to the story. In real life the Royal relationships proceed far more quickly. And Bex never seemed that patient of a girl. 


It was interesting to read of the corrosive impact of paparazzi stalking the Royals. I have been a part of a few media scrums and found them somewhat disorienting. T.V. cameras with bright lights can keep you from seeing the reporters asking questions. I had not truly appreciated the psychological toll of having cameras clicking and rolling every day and every night until reading the book.


Yet Bex is a strong young woman. Her mother says:


“... We used to joke you could stand in the middle of a tornado and find a way to enjoy the breeze.”


Trials and tribulations are to be expected in real life and royal loves. They come full force upon Nick and Bex. Knowing the end result from the opening did diminish the suspense of the “issues”.


I thought I was modestly enjoying the book and not really caught up in the story until Nick proposed. It was as unexpected for me as for Bex. I almost gasped and had a catch in my throat. It was a wonderful proposal that was so right in its timing and what was said. 


It was striking how the Royal Family fears and rejects the spontaneity of a free spirit like Bex. It channeled the enormous pressure put upon Princess Dianna as a young woman.


It surely was no coincidence that Bex met the Prince when she was 19.


Had the book been 200 pages shorter I would have enjoyed it much more. I know I am not the target audience but I expect even the most ardent dreamers of royal romance would have been fine with less detail. I did like The Royal We and am interested in the sequel, The Heir Affair, but cannot see myself undertaking another massive 500 plus page read of the semi-fictionalized English Royal family.

 


Thursday, March 4, 2021

We The North by Doug Smith

(5. - 1077.) We The North by Doug Smith - I enjoy stories. I love sports books when they are filled with stories. Smith is the ideal writer to tell stories of the first 25 years of the Toronto Raptors basketball team. He started writing about the team before they ever played a game. Smith never gets caught up in statistical analysis. He provides personal illustrations of his perspectives on the team history. The book flows easily. 

Smith spoke of the first game being played but days after the referendum in Quebec which by the narrowest of margins, 51%-49%, kept Quebec in Canada. I was in Toronto that week for hearings of the Royal Commission into the Canadian Blood System. I watched the results in a restaurant dreading there would be separation and then relieved when the vote went against leaving Canada.


Later that season I attended a Raptors game at the SkyDome, as it was then known. It was a bizarre experience attending a basketball game in the huge space of a football / baseball stadium. Smith is right in saying basketball is a game meant for more intimate settings though being at the top of a large arena is far from being close to the action. 


I enjoyed the game. What I remember most is the athletic skills of these very tall men. I was used to big men from covering the CFL for almost 20 years at that time but the average football player was 6” shorter than the average NBA player and 12” shorter than the centers. 


Smith writes of the challenges in luring Americans north of the border. A quick way for Americans to irritate Canadians is by being negative about Canada without knowing anything about our country. In early Raptor years it was often hard to get American players to come to Canada. Leaving the comforts of the U.S. they feared going through customs, wondered about how to stay entertained, assumed there would be tax disadvantages, disliked the metric system and complained about the weather. Smith says:


Alot of these guys were just petulant little kids.


Thankfully the negative perceptions have decreased but it continues to amaze Canadians how little most Americans know about Canada.


Fair or not, Smith writes with considerably more enthusiasm about the attitudes of non-American Raptor players, mainly Europeans. He says “the non-North Americans just seemed to be more comical, more conversant, more open to bigger things than their traditionally raised teammates”.


It strikes me that the “superfan” of an American NBA team is unlikely to be a Sikh car dealer. Nav Bhatia is the Raptor “superfan” supporting the team all 25 years. (Drake came much later.) Wearing his turban and waving his towel he spends large sums of his own money to sit courtside and go to away games. I consider it a recognition of Canadian diversity when he was given a championship ring in 2019 “on behalf of the organization”.


The Raptors had more than their share of poor years in the first 15 years of the franchise. Smith acknowledges he “tended to give coaches a break”. Close in age, he had an affinity for the coaches who cycled through Toronto for short terms.


Smith clearly established good relationships with players. After a tweet about depression DeMar Rozan chose to talk to Smith about his mental health struggles with fame and feelings of vulnerability. I have had few close relationships as a reporter because I would only see Roughrider players after home games. I did establish a special relationship with kicker, Dave Ridgway, after talking with him after every home game for 14 years. He would occasionally tell me things in confidence. 


Some sections of the book would have benefited by greater analysis. Smith sets out how Masai Ujiri built the Raptors who won the 2019 NBA Championship. I would have appreciated more on the decisions that built the Championship team. It is clear that the charismatic caring Ujiri is also ruthlessly competitive, willing to make bold decisions that hurt personal relationships.


I could appreciate the joy Smith personally experienced when the Raptors won the NBA in their 23rd season. I had covered the Roughriders for 10 seasons before they made the CFL playoffs. When the 9-9 team of 1989 made its magical run to win the Grey Cup it was an amazing experience for me as well. Being at the game and able to talk to players and coaches when they had won, coincidentally 23 years after the team’s last Grey Cup win, was a perfect night.


My favourite parts of the book were his personal interactions with players, coaches and executives. I would have loved the book to have been only about those connections.