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, June 30, 2021

Hurry Home by Roz Nay

(21. - 1093.) Hurry Home by Roz Nay - The Floyd family lives in a dirty rundown home. It is a stinking mess. Frank and Evelyn are probably abusing drugs. There is little food in the house. They have a 1 year old child, Buster, who is distinctly not thriving. It is doubtful he is being fed properly or having his diaper changed regularly or getting attention. Yet there is little direct evidence of abuse or neglect.

I read many reports of such families as a young lawyer dealing with Family Service cases. What is the minimal standard of child care before apprehending a child? What are the minimun objective criteria for parenting? Not the best care but the least care before intervention. 

Alexandra (Alex) Van Ness is a young social worker doing her best to save children. She would have taken Buster during that visit. Alex has a zeal for saving children. While admirable there is a righteousness about her that is ill-suited to assisting struggling parents. Many cases are not as clear as she would make them.

Her senior co-worker, Minerva, does not want to take action. She sees the Floyd family as in need of supports concerning the basics of parenting. She also recognizes that they do not have enough evidence to remove Buster.

Alex lives with Chase, a male model / former ski racer / resort representative in his trendy condo in Moses Springs, Colorado. He is an uncomplicated guy focused on living and eating healthy and spending limited time thinking.

Her older sister, Ruth, arrives. Alex has not seen her in 10 years. Some vestige of family compels Alex to let Ruth stay with her and Chase.

It is less than subtle irony that Ruth, with a chaotic even criminal past, who is now pregnant seeks refuge with Alex, the child protection worker.

Their family life back on the farm in Horizon, North Dakota is revealed slowly, almost agonizingly slowly. When there is a sudden full revelation the reality of their past is as painful as any fiction I have read in some time. Having grown up on a farm it was all too vivid.

Everything is about their minds. Dark minds. Alex and Ruth brood about the terrible tragedy on the farm. And what I thought I knew about the sisters is turned upside down in one paragraph. It caught me so off guard I had to go back to make sure I had not forgotten what was said earlier.

Responsibility and manipulation and control are at the heart of the book. What will sisters do for and against each other?

The pace accelerates and I raced to the end. Hurry Home is the first book in the 2021 shortlist for the Best Crime Fiction Novel in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence. It is well worthy of the shortlist.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Concrete Vineyard by Cam Lang

(8. - 1080.) The Concrete Vineyard by Cam Lang - The dying day of 91 year old Edward Mitchell, the last in line of his distinguished family at Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL to the knowing) and a retired history professor, is a special date. It is July 1, 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a nation. He is killed while enjoying a fine local wine and watching the annual fireworks.

Sleuth Kris Gage, an urban planner who runs over 100 miles a week and avoids motorized transport preferring bikes and rollerblades when he cannot run, is an intriguing investigator He is returning from Vancouver to NOTL to assist his parents with their move from the family home.

Gage is a careful observer of urban environments concentrating on such matters as 

“How are people walking - slowly, quickly, taking time to smell the roses? What directional lines do they take - straight like an arrow, or meandering? Do they stop to gander or schmooze? If they stop, what are they looking at, and why? What grabs their attention and what doesn’t?

He teams up with former high school classmate, Bryan Dee, who is the reluctant homicide detective of the police department leading the investigation into Mitchell’s murder. His questioning is disjointed for an ordinary police officer let alone a detective.

As befitting an author who is a former urban planner the story line about the development allure of the Mitchell estate is well developed. The avid interest of realtors is credible.

I understand the frustration over development of the town and surrounding area. Gracious individual homes do not fill new subdivisions. Instead, dull featureless homes are lined up. 

He explains the problems with such developments and why they happen:

“Because everything is wrong, from the road layout, to lack of public space, poor connectivity, lack of integration and diversity, and a failure to mix uses. It’s not a neighbourhood - it’s just a sardine can packed with identical, tasteless boxes.”


“Okay, this subdivision plan was doomed from the start because it lacks even the most basic design principles. I can tell it didn’t evolve from an urban design plan. If it had, it would have layers of qualitative and quantitative data embedded into it to ensure that the design and buil are appropriate to the specific site. Think of an onion …. Better yet, a cherry. The foundation, or pit of any good urban design plan is a genuine recognition and understanding of context. Failure to define context pretty much guarantees a poor fit.”

NOTL is not yet generic in the book but developers, if they cannot remake the Old Town, will surround NOTL with subdivisions that have no connection to the core of the town. 

I found it hard to have the lead investigator both sharing confidential information with Gage and suspecting him of murder at the same time. 

I struggled to accept Gage pretending to be a wealthy character interested in real estate development with no verifiable background. Every realtor and developer I know would instantly check out someone eager to spend millions. Gage was already interesting and quirky. He could have found the information he needed through his intelligence and knowledge of planning.

I wish Lang had relied on the urban planning and realty storylines. They were interesting and realistic. The plot line involving wills distracted rather than enhanced the story. I stretched my suspension of disbelief concerning the wills but I was pushed too far. I may discuss the will issues further in another post. The scheming involving realtors and developers provided all the motives needed for murder. Had Lang just concentrated on the urban planning and realtor elements he would have had a solid book. 

I still would have had some issues. There is some awkward writing. As an example Gage’s surname first appears through a reference to his father well into the book. There was too much dialogue that did not sound natural and too many stereotypical characters.

Sharon and I have visited Niagara-on-the-Lake numerous times. There is great charm to the Old Town. The Shaw Festival has a beautiful setting. We have found the vineyards and their restaurants inviting. At the same time we now avoid Niagara-on-the-Lake in summertime because of the overwhelming crowds and congestion. As we have approached the community in recent years I had been puzzled by some of the developments that seemed at odds with the core. Lang’s book helped me understand how the development process creates uninspired  subdivisions even in NOTL. The book worked better for me as an education on the perils of development in the 21st Century than as mystery fiction. I hope Lang tries another book with some better dialogue, more nuanced characters and a plot focused on urban planning.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Zenith Bookstore Mystery Box

Late last year I wrote a post about buying books in the pandemic. As always I strove to buy paper books from bookstores, usually independent stores. I made more purchases online as I limited shopping in bookstores. A regular commenter on the blog, Kathy D., spoke of how she missed going to bookstores. She had briefly shopped in an Amazon store on one occasion. She said if readers were looking for an independent bookstore she would recommend Zenith in Duluth, Minnesota. She said good friends had moved to Duluth, bought a building and opened the bookstore.

Intrigued, I looked up the store. I found it a fascinating store with a clever design for the exterior. I re-post the photo of the outside of the store.

Among its attractions I found you could buy a mystery box of books for $50 plus taxes in which you can provide some interests and store staff would select books to send you. Books would be a mix of new and used books.

I was interested in getting a mystery box and contacted the store. They advised they could ship to Canada and would be glad to send me books.

As I considered getting a mystery box they advised me that it would cost $53 to ship the books to Canada by mail. I hesitated for some time. I have never bought books where the shipping cost more than the books. It is striking and, inexplicable to me, how Zenith could ship the books in the U.S. for $2.99 but $53 was needed to send them to Canada.

As well I would have to take into consideration the exchange rate which fluctuates constantly but always has the American dollar worth more than the Canadian dollar.

Eventually I decided to get the box and sent a request for mysteries written by Minnesota authors and legal fiction.

Zenith promptly prepared a box and sent it into the mail on May 1.

I was beginning to despair that the American and Canadian postal services would ever get the box from Duluth to Melfort when it arrived on Friday, June 18. Even though it has nothing to do with Father’s Day it made today a good day going through the books.

They were, in the order packed into the box:

1.) The Oldest Sin by Ellen Hart which is a Sophie Greenway mystery published in 1996. I have not read any in the series;

2.) The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens published in 2017;

3.) Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon published in 2017. Ms. Rendon is a member of the White Earth Anishinabe Nation;

4.) Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger published in 1998. The title sounded familiar and I certainly know of the author but I cannot recall reading it. If I did read the book it was over 20 years ago;

5.) Motion to Suppress by Peri O’Shaughnessy published in 1995. Once again I am aware of Ms. O’Shaughnessy but, if I read any of her books, it would have been before I started recording and writing my personal reviews at the start of 2000. I know I have seen the title but have no memory of reading the book; and,

6.) The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter published in 2002. I saw the book in bookstores for several years and actually bought a paperback copy at one point but never read the book. I no longer have that copy. Thus it was meant for me to read this book.

There are five paperbacks and one hardcover, The Emperor of Ocean Park. Of the books the first four are mysteries by Minnesota authors and the last two are legal fiction. 

I am looking forward to reading the books and curious to find out how well the staff at Zenith were able to choose books for me, someone they have never met or talked to about books. I am used to discussing books with clerks and getting recommendations but I am not used to people picking books for me. Letting servers pick meals has worked well for Sharon and I in restaurants. I shall see how it fares with books. I shall send my reviews of the books from the Zenith collection to the store.

I regret that I expect it will be the last mystery box I order from Zenith. The time for delivery is not really an issue. I am confident I will find the books good reading. What is a challenge is that the combined cost of the books, postage and exchange pushed the total cost of the box to $140 in Canadian dollars. I do not regret the cost. I knew the total before I ordered them. As much as I love books it is more than I would pay again for a mystery box.


Will You Buy a Book From a Bookstore That is New to You?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Not having a current review ready I am looking back over a decade to a short review of a book I enjoyed so much it was 2nd on Bill's Best of Fiction for 2008. Walter is a good writer though it has been a decade since I read any of his books. In any event, Citizen Vance, is an exceptional book. 


8. - 418.) Citizen Vince by Jess Walter – Vince Camden is a donut maker / small time credit card fraudster / smaller time pot dealer in Spokane. He rises each day at 2:00 am to make his rounds of the modest underworld of Spokane before working from 4:00 to noon making donuts. In November of 1980 he is proud to register to vote for the first time in his 36 years. Vince has never voted because he has been felon all his life back in New York. Vince is in the witness protection program because he informed on his gang. Whenit is clear a Mob killer from New York is coming for him Vince decides to return home to make right his misdeeds. While there he finds twists in the story he never anticipated. At the same time he is focused on the presidential and local elections. Politics had never mattered. Interwoven are stories of the final days of the presidential campaign. Vince contemplates on the meaning of life, whether a man can change and for whom should he vote. It is a vivid portrayal of one of life’s losers who is no longer satisfied to be a loser. Alan Dupree is a rookie detective whose subtle mind and stubborn integrity are little respected within the profession. A wonderful book. Hardcover. (Feb. 16/08)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw

(17. - 1089.) A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw - Lanette “Lane” Winslow has left England for the apple orchards of central British Columbia. While her family is English she started life in Latvia. She served England in World War II and now seeks to become a writer in the quiet countryside of yet another country.

Arriving at King’s Cove near Nelson in June of 1946 the lovely Lane finds herself amidst a small group of families with apple trees in abundance. The community is focused around the post office whose post mistress, Eleanor,  provides flowers and vegetables to those picking up the mail. Most of the residents are at least a generation older than Lane.

There is a leisurely opening to the book until a body is found near Lane’s home. Inspector Darling and Constable Ames come from Nelson to investigate the murder. The pace was so languid I almost lost interest.

Just over 100 pages in the reader gets meaningful information on Lane’s life during the war. I would have preferred more of the back story earlier. I became engaged in the book when Lane’s role as a British agent making multiple trips to Occupied France was revealed. Those experiences explain her sangfroid when dealing with a body.

Lane, used to concealing emotions, displays no anxiety when Darling insinuates she knows more than she has told the police.

There is a touch of English formality to relationships.

Lane’s situation is made more precarious by her oath under The Official Secrets Act not to reveal her wartime activities.

As the investigation proceeds, unexpected connections between rural British Columbia and distant England, over 7,000 km away, are revealed.

A back cover blurb from Reviewing the Evidence spoke of the book being “In the vein of Louise Penny ….” While I do not usually read or reflect on blurbs I thought about this comment through the book. I did not find it “in the vein”. 

What I did find “in the vein” of was the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Both Lane and Maisie are bright capable women who had an active role in war. Lane was a secret agent. Maisie was a front line nurse in WW I. Neither is intimidated by officious men. 

Each women is precise and logical and thoughtful. They have a comparable approach to organizing information in an investigation. Maisie uses the reverse side of cut down rolls of wallpaper. She writes upon the wallpaper the facts and people. She draws lines showing connections. Lane drew a map of the area around her home and wrote up note cards about what happened and about her neighbours. She lays the map and cards out on the floor of her vacant attic. Her knees tire from the extended kneeling as she considers her work. Knee pads or tables need to be in Lane’s future.

Having grown up in a small rural community I thought Whishaw portrayed well the close relationships that develop between families in the country. I knew my neighbours, young and old, well. We cared and helped each other.

I swept through the last two-thirds of the book. The early effort to get involved with the story was worth it. I do plan to read more in the series. I hope subsequent books have a less leisurely opening.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Anthony Bidulka and Hesitation Over the Cover Photo

To: Anthony Bidulka

Who likes having their picture taken? Not I. Not most people I know. There are not many narcissists with regard to photos of yourself. I consider Donald Trump an exception. Cats seem to do the best as they are totally indifferent to the camera.

I appreciate professional photographers who can make their subjects look good in photos.

Canadian photographer, Yousef Karsh, was one of the best portrait photographers of all time with his black and white photos of celebrities and politicians. His photo of Winston Churchill with a wisp of cigar smoke in the air is one of the best known images of Churchill.

Yet even the most confident of personalities quail at the thought of going in front of the lens.

You are one of the most photogenic people I know. The photo McNally Robinson booksellers in Saskatoon chose for the portrait gallery in the Prairie Ink Restaurant is above. You spoke of liking it but not your mother-in-law. You never indicated what your mother or Herb thought of the photo. If you are willing to share the reasons for the opinions of your mother-in-law and your mother and your husband I would add them to this post. I like the photo.

In your most recent post on your website blog, a link is below,  you revealed the book jacket description and cover photo for your new book, Going to Beautiful, which will be published next spring.

In the post you express your own hesitations on photos of yourself.

I expect you are not alone among authors. 

Of all the authors I read frequently I think Louise Penny has some of the best cover photos. 

I appreciate the pressure of the cover photo as I read an online post saying some readers judge the author and the book based on the author photo. I have some difficulty believing readers could be so shallow but I expect there must be some minuscule minority.

Of the photos in your post other than the new cover photo you spoke of some being favourites and cringing a bit over others.

I cringe over none but have mixed emotions about the photo in the canola field. I love the concept of a photo in an iconic Saskatchewan setting but would not have chosen it to represent you.

I would be happy if I looked as good as you in any of the photos. I do like the photo chosen for the new book cover. It reminds me of the wry, always witty, guy I have come to know.

I am looking forward to the book. I did not read the book cover description as I prefer to read the book before looking at notes and blurbs.

All the best.