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, July 30, 2021

The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck

(25. - 1097.) The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck - April of 1943 is a precarious time in neutral Sweden. Nazi Germany will not tolerate disruption in the delivery of iron ore for war production. Yet the tide of war is shifting to the allies. Tensions, rumours, fear fill the country.

Laura Dahlgren is called from Stockholm to the university in Uppsala where her former college friend, Britta Hallberg, is missing. Laura and Britta had been members of a group of five studying history with the charismatic Professor Lindahl until the war started. Both are lovely and blonde and clever.

Ekbäck offers a powerful definition of the role of history through Lindahl:

“History is about the past, certainly, but it is far more than just that. History is knowledge. Knowledge in the most beautiful, deepest sense of the world. History brings comprehension of what came before us, as well as insight into the future, for in our past lie the seeds of what will come. As the future happens, you will be able to go back and see the roots of each conflict, the reasons, and it will be clear to you why change occurred, or, perhaps more importantly, why it didn’t. It can even give us the road to follow next. And this, my dear fellows, is wisdom. Of course, it is precisely in these times that we must study our history.”

Laura and Britta’s childhood friend, Andreas Lundius Leppo, find her in the Historical Society building. She has been tortured and executed. There is enough detail to convey the horror but not more.

Andreas is Sami. They are looked down upon in that era. Thhe Swedish Institute for Racial Biology conducts measurements of the Sami such as their head size.

In the north Blackåsen Mountain is filled with iron ore. The miners are southern Swedish and Sami.

For the Sami, Blackhåusen is home to a capricious, often violent spirit which does not like being disturbed. The Sami are waiting for that spirit to wreak havoc upon the violators of the mountain.

Recently a young Sami girl, tending her traps, disappeared.

Laura is working with the trade delegation negotiating iron ore access by Germany. She is a member of the Swedish elite. Her father is head of the Swedish Central Bank. She is working with Jacob Wallenberg on Sweden’s most important issue.

Jens Regnell, a top administrative assistant to the Foreign Minister, Gunter G-unther, is uneasy as information comes his way about records of phone calls disappearing.

Mysteries are swirling about among the Swedish elite in Stockholm. To the north more mysteries are creating concern.

History is composed of known facts. Historians seek out facts, even ferret out facts that have been concealed. What facts have been hidden that could be of such importance that a university student has been killed and then an archvist have a very suspicious suicide?

The survivors of the group of five re-connect to seek out the facts that Britta was unearthing and thereby find her killer.

There is a conspiracy. Unlike many in fiction it is a credible conspiracy. It fits with the history of that era. Hubris and grandiose schemes and evil are at its core. The conspirators are highly placed in Swedish society and government. They are facing an increasingly difficult situation. If their plans and actions are revealed they are bound to lose status and more as society has shifted against their goals. Yet they are zealots who will not, cannot, end their scheme. The desperate are the most dangerous.

Too many fictional conspiracies reach as far as the absurd. In The Historians the conspiracy is all too real. All countries have darkness in their past. Sweden is no exception. 

Tension accelerates as the tentacles of the conspiracy become clearer. The conspirators have proven they have no hesitation about using violence.

The Blackåsen and Stockholm / Uppsala plotlines co-exist in the book. While touching each other I never really found them connected.

In the ending I found a twist too many and more bodies than necessary.

The Historians is a very good book that comes close to great. It will intrigue, even trouble, you on what well educated people will do. It is a worthy member of the Crime Writers of Canada 2021 shortlist for Best Canadian Crime Novel. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

It has been a busy week with our son, Jonathan, daughter-in-law, Lauren, and granddaughters, Hannah and Hazel, visiting us. My reading slowed. Now they have returned to Calgary and the house is so quiet again. 

I have looked back on unposted reviews and found a review written 13 years ago of a Nelson DeMille book. I find myself with mixed emotions reading DeMille books. Some are excellent and others I find mediocre. Wild Fire manages to be both.


6. - 416.) Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille – While Detective John Corey and FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield, are enjoying a lovely weekend in Long Island during the ColumbusDay Weekend their colleague, Harry Muller is captured while attempting surveillance on the Custer Hill Club in the Adirondacks. The tension level rachets up when the Club leader, Bain Maddox, discloses his plan to set off four suitcase nuclear bombs in American cities to prompt Wild Fire, the secret American plan to retaliate against an Islamic nuclear attack by destroying the Muslim world with 122 nuclear bombs. Monday morning John and Kate learn of the death of Harry and head north. They quickly determine it was not a hunting accident. Through clever and determined investigation they find out over the next 36 hours that planes have left with no passengers and some unusual freight, that an ELF (extremely low frequency) transmitter has been constructed at the Club and a Russian nuclear physicist has come to the club. (I did find it dragging in the middle. There is an unnecessary distracting section about staying at The Point, a very expensive resort in which John demonstrates a sterotypical American disdain for France and French cooking.) In the American tradition of the team of two they do not share their information. Only when there is the prospect of a nuclear attack in America does Kate start sharing. They head to the final confrontation without backup or outside assistance. If correct, the dysfunctional nature of American law enforcement in the continuing unwillingness to share information makes future terrorist attacks inevitably successful. De Mille provides an imaginative driving conclusion. (Jan. 31/08)


DeMille, Nelson – (2000) - The Lion’s Game; (2003) - By the Rivers of Babylon; (2004) - Word of Honor; (2008) - Wild Fire; (2012) - Up Country and DeMille on War and Returning to Vietnam

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Obsidian by Thomas King

(23. - 1095.) Obsidian by Thomas King - There are many reasons to be depressed in Indian country. Thumps DreadfulWaters has one of the strongest. Six years ago his lover, Anna, and her daughter, Callie, had been murdered by a serial killer on the California coast.

Drawn to return, Thumps has made a pilgrimage from Chinook, Montana to Eureka, California but can bring himself no closer to the death site than a parking lot on the beach.

Thumps had been a deputy sheriff in Eureka at the time of the killings. While back in Eureka he is given boxes of evidence assembled by a former fellow officer who died falling off a ladder. Ron Peat had always believed Thumps would come back to the Obsidian murders. Each victim had a small piece of Obsidian in their mouth. While in California he learns Anna’s ex-husband, Raymond Oakes, who had been imprisoned for murder was released shortly before the deaths.

Reflecting on what to do, Thumps drives back to Chinook. His return home to Montana prompts a vigorous local reaction. Roxanne Heavy Runner leads a group of Indian women who want a page of questions answered by him. His doctor is concerned about his blood tests and wants to send him to a specialist in Helena. His on-again-off-again girlfriend, Chief Claire Merchant wants to know if he wants a committed relationship. Sheriff Duke Hockney, diagnosed with prostate cancer, wants him to become Sheriff. Thumps wants to find Raymond Oakes.

A group of moviemakers meet with Thumps. They want to make a movie on the Obisidian Murders. They are willing to share information with Thumps in the hope he will pursue the investigation. Thumps hesitates to ally himself with movie people though he had previously participated in a reality T.V. series exploring unsolved murders.

As Thumps considers whether it is time to move on from Chinook, relationships get more complex and, in a fascinating twist, clues in the investigation come to Chinook. A piece of obsidian is left on the Chinook morgue table. Then a replica vintage Mustang painted Osidian black is stolen. And his former colleague from the Eureka Police Department, Leon Ranger, retires and drives his RV east to help Thumps.

King manages the difficult task of making credible information making its way from California to Montana for the California murders. I was at a point where the Chinook storyline was obscuring the murder investigation when I was grateful King returned focus to the mystery. Certainly the issues in Chinook have divided Thumps attention but it was time he concentrated on the investigation.

In decidedly politically incorrect language Leon Ranger, a black man, calls Thumps Tonto. He says Tonto was his boyhood hero.

As they reflect on the evidence with the aid of everyone in town some very interesting premises are advanced as to the killer.

The pace quickens as evidence falls into place.

As usual I had not figured out the killer. I have some mixed emotions over the ending. 

Obsidian is a much better mystery than DreadfulWater, the first in the series. I have not read the intervening books. King, a gifted writer, is now also a gifted mystery author. I expect to now go back to read earlier books in the series.

Obsidian was another good choice for the Crime Writers of Canada 2021 shortlist for Best Canadian Crime Novel.


Monday, July 12, 2021

A Fictional Defence of "Necessity"

In my last post I reviewed
Stung by William Deverell. As he defends the Sarnia Seven against criminal charges for their break and enter of a chemical plant proceeding neonic insecticide and theft of documents it is clear no conventional criminal defence can succeed. Counsel, Arthur Beauchamp, and the accused decide to plead the defence of necessity. They will argue their criminal actions are justified.

All through the book I wondered how a credible defence of necessity would be mounted.

The defence, aided by the stolen documents, succeeds easily in challenging assertions that Vigor-Gro is a safe product. Were the conspirators suing the company for damages caused by injury attributable to V-G they would have a case but as a criminal defence of necessity they are far far short of a viable defence.

Every expert in the world could be called but they can neither establish imminent peril nor a lack of alternatives.

Direct action in support of what is considered a progressive cause, yet which is criminal action, is justified every day in the second decade of the 20th Century. Little thought is given to the inevitable consequence that comparable action will be taken and justified by those who support positions deemed non-progressive.

I have raised necessity but once in my career. It was in the defence of an impaired young man who, thrown out of his parent’s cabin in northern Saskatchewan, drives to the unoccupied cabin of other members of the family to gain shelter on a -25C night. There are no occupied cabins he can walk to from his parents cabin. Almost all other cabins are only used during the summer. He is 100 km or more from the nearest taxi. There is no one he can call for a ride who is any closer. Charged with impaired driving I was able to convince the prosecutor that necessity applied when I asked him what he would have done.

Here the Seven are caught up in the challenge of proving there was no lawful alternative to their actions. As Crown counsel pointed out tobacco and opioids have been challenged through various court actions bringing about major changes with regard to their usage and risks.

Even more difficult it is hard to justify attacking a company engaged in the lawful production of a chemical. Neonicotinoids are powerful and can be dangerous. Their usage can be challenged with Health Canada.

Were it a real life trial the evidence would not have been so one-sided on the dangers of neonicotinoids.

As an illustration of the real life arguments over neonicotinoids in 2021, Health Canada, after extensive study, and the receipt of 47,000 comments restricted the use of some neonicotinoids but did not ban them.

In September of last year:

In order to protect pollinators, Health Canada cancelled many uses of neonicotinoids on crops that bees find attractive, such as orchard trees, and prohibited spraying of some crops, such as berries and fruiting vegetables, before or during bloom. Seed treatment uses were found to be acceptable; however, Health Canada required the addition of label statements for all cereal and legume crops to minimize exposure of pollinators to dust during planting of treated seeds. 

Also late last year at the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah Catherine Wood, a doctoral student in the Department of Veterinary Pathology presented a thesis titled Effects of Chronic Neonicotinoid Exposure on Saskatchewan Honey Bees.

She stated:

The objective of this thesis was to provide empirical data with which to balance farmers’ reliance on neonicotinoids for crop protection, and beekeepers’ dependence on healthy honey bee colonies for pollination and honey production.

In her thesis she recognized that neonicotinoids are an effective insecticide important for helping farmers protect canola crops against the ravages of flea beetles. It was estimated that flea beetles cause approximately $300 million a year in damages.

She further set out that bees provide pollination benefits for canola of “up to $4.6 billion”.

Saskatchewan produces about 50% of Canada’s canola and 25% of Canada’s honey.

As a result of research and analysis she recommended not the banning of neonicotinoids but that steps be taken to keep their concentration at below 20 ng/g in Saskatchewan honey.

Having grown up on a farm and through working in our family’s commercial beekeeping operation I am well aware of the importance of honey and canola.

Returning to the book and the Sarnia Seven I condemn a new form of vigilante justice where protests move to criminal actions.

As Arthur gave his closing address to the jury I thought he had perilously neared an invocation to the jury for jury nullification in which the defence invites a jury to ignore the law and find an accused not guilty because they consider a guilty verdict required by law to be unjust. Such a plea cannot be made to a Canadian jury.

While I am a defence counsel I hoped that Deverell would be uncompromising in the verdict by the jury. Martyrs who are found not guilty are no longer sacrifices for the cause. However, few writers of legal fiction can bring themselves to have a verdict that goes against their lawyers.

I believe a real life jury would have considered the evidence and applied the instructions of the judge that there was no defence of necessity.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Stung by William Deverell

(22. - 1094.) Stung by William Deverell - Bees are in trouble and the Earth Survival Rebellion is initiating Operation Beekeeper to save the bees. The Toronto anarchist group, an oxymoron to be sure, is targeting the multi-national Chemican producer of a neonic pesticide.

Arthur Beauchamp is steadily aging on the Gulf Island of Garibaldi, near Vancouver. He is

“.... deep into his seventies and though physically

spry, unstooped, a tall craggy man, he's become

forgetful, error-prone, finds himself constantly

making notes: little slips of paper haphazardly

strewn on counters.

He joins the Save Our Quarry (SOQ) committee fighting to prevent an abandoned limestone quarry, currently a park, from being re-opened.

Back in Toronto Rivie Levitsky, a staunch and cute member of the Rebellion, is using her feminine charms to establish a relationship with Howie Griffin, a Chemican executive. While not eager she is not averse to seduction.

The Rebellion makes a raid upon the Chemican plant in Sarnia in which a guard, on drugs, fleeing a beserk member of the Rebellion collapses and is in a coma.

Arthur makes an ill-fated venture into civil law as he clumsily argues against TexAmerica, the company about to re-open the quarry. Subsequently suave Toronto environmental lawyer, Selwyn Loo, flies west. Arthur is relieved to have Loo, who is blind, arrive to save the quarry.

In return, Arthur is expected to take up the defence of the Rebellion in what appear to be inevitable criminal proceedings. Arthur recognizes his diminished courtroom skills. 

When arrests occur his wife, Margaret Blake who is leader of the Green Party of Canada, encourages him to defend the Sarnia Seven and Arthur sallies forth to Toronto.

At the fictionally abbreviated bail hearings Arthur wins their release. Cash bail is set for most of the Seven. It was unusual to see significant sums. Most often in Canada you are either released on conditions or held in custody. The judge spends little time evaluating their risk to society if released and little more time on the prospects of their return for court proceedings.

With the bravado of the zealous the Seven embark on a unique defence. They will argue before a jury that their actions are justified as “necessity”. To save the planet they must save the bees which means they must attack Chemican. It is a flashy attention gathering defence but legally dubious.

The book alternates between the high stakes criminal case and the adventures of life on the farm on the fringe of Canada. Somehow Deverell makes both stories compelling.

One of the Seven is facing a manslaughter charge. The Sarnia Seven are true believers to the cause blithely rejecting a plea offer from the Crown that any rational activist would accept.

Back on Garibaldi Island a mountain lion has swum from another island and its depredations of domestic animals raises a furor among the residents.

As trial approaches Arthur remains worried he no longer has the ability to perform in a major criminal trial. 

Arthur is aided by a profane, very competent, co-counsel in Nancy Faulk. The parallel, leaving aside the profanity, to my personal legal life is striking.

The trial judge, Madam Justice Colleen Donahue, is noted, even notorious for accepting Crown positions.

The lead prosecutor is Azra Khan, the debonair handsome Deputy Attorney General for Ontario, is on a 38 case winning streak. Arthur has his own winning streak at 37. While neither would say the streaks are important, each of the well egoed Khan and Beauchamp is acutely aware of their amazing record of success in the courts of Canada.

Rivie is a capable representative of the Sarnia Seven as she provides the perspective of the accused in this grand legal war. 

The trial is quite predictable for Deverell is advancing a cause with Stung. There are striking moments of legal eloquence and deft cross-examinations.

In a scene that I doubt would appear in American legal fiction Arthur learns from Rivie that a juror has spoken to Rivie about the case and her pre-determined position. Following his ethical responsibilities as an officer of the court he reports the contact to judge and prosecutor and the juror is removed from the jury.

It is a very good book with a pair of flaws. First, Deverell lets the book turn into advocacy against neonics. Second, at 540 pages Deverell succumbs to the present writer’s disease to take over 500 pages to tell the story. It would have been a better book at 350 - 400 pages. 

I do hope that Arthur has not conducted his last trial, Stung demonstrates he still has the wit, presence and controlled aggression to conduct a trial. If his next trial were not in aid of a cause I would be even happier.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Settings of Hurry Home by Roz Nay

As I was reading Hurry Home by Roz Nay I was thinking about the settings of the book. When I was finished I wrote a message to her. She kindly replied. Our exchange of messages follows.



I recently read Hurry Home and reviewed it on my blog. A link to the review is at the end of this letter.

I enjoyed the book.

At the end you indicated you wrote most of the book at Empire Coffee in Nelson, British Columbia.

The book is set in the fictional city of Moses Springs, Colorado. While I have been there but once the city reminded me of Colorado Springs. 

The Van Ness sisters grew up in Horizon, North Dakota.

Ruth most recently had run-ins with the law in Pittsburgh.

As far as I could tell none of the settings were particularly unique to the United States. The primary setting could have been Nelson, The sisters could have grown up in Saskatchewan. Ruth might have fled from Toronto.

Though it has been some years since I represented the Department of Social Services or parents in Saskatchewan, Alex’s experiences as a child protection social worker were the same as I have seen in child protection proceedings in Saskatchewan.

I wondered whether you were “encouraged” to place the book in the United States instead of Canada.

A few years ago Saskatchewan author, Anthony Bidulka, advised me that he had been “encouraged” to set books in the United States rather than Canada.

If you are able to respond and are willing I would publish this letter and your response upon my blog.

All the best.

Bill Selnes


Hi! It's so interesting because I always meant Nelson and Saskatchewan.

I don't think I knew where Ruth ran off to.

I chose to transcribe them to the states myself. I wasn't coerced.

Thanks for reading and being so astute tho.