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, 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.


  1. I can see how the urban planning aspects of this one would interest you, Bill. And I really like the way communities are described here (both well-planned, and not so well-planned). Gage does sound like an interesting character, too. That said, though, like you, I prefer credibility in my stories. I know that fiction is fiction, so suspending disbelief is a part of it. But I don't like to suspend too much of it. And I think I would notice the dialogue, too. I'm glad you did find some things to like about this one, though.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Not often is urban planning involved with crime fiction. Lang shows how there are certainly lots of motives with urban developments.

  2. Niagara-on-the-Lake sounds like a great setting for a crime novel, too bad the rest of the story did not live up to its promise.

    1. TracyK: Setting and premise were intriguing. Some of the follow through worked out.