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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Germania by Harald Gilbers

(27. - 1099.) Germania by Harald Gilbers (translated by Alexandra Roesch) - The Jew and the Nazi. A sleuthing team I never expected to encounter.

Dread dominates life in Berlin in May of 1944. Dread of the almost nightly bombing. Dread of the SS or SD knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Dread of a message a loved one has died at the front. Dread the Allies will win. Dread the Nazis will achieve “ultimate victory”.

There is yet another level of dread In the Jewish House where Jews, tenuously protected by their marriages to non-Jews, are resident. 

On a spring Sunday the SS summons Richard Oppenheimer, a police inspector before his dismissal from the force because he is Jewish, from the House to investigate a gruesome slaying. A young woman has been slain and sexually mutilated. (There are more details than I needed but not too many.)

Why would the SS want a Jew wonders Oppenheimer? Hauptsturmführer Vogler knows that Oppenheimer worked on a highly public case of a sadistic sexual serial killer. While it would be perilous to decline Oppenheimer is also drawn to be able to investigate again. 

A meticulous methodical investigator he carefully and, where possible, personally investigates the case. His thoroughness and skifull questions move the case ahead.

As with numerous sleuths he has his own organization of the information gathered. He pins cards to a wall in the form of a circle. Particulars of the victim are at the centre. Notes on circumstances and potential suspects fill other cards. When information favours a suspect the card for that suspect moves closer to the centre. (I was reminded of Maisie Dobbs using the back of rolls of wallpaper for notes in different coloured pens with lines connecting notes.)

Vogler has a true Nazi’s disdain for Jews and, even though he increasingly needs to solve the crime, he holds back information from Oppenheimer.

Nazi leadership can control and manipulate the media but rumours are beyond their reach. The average German knowing the media is unreliable, even deceitful, is alert to every rumour. Were it to circulate there is a sadistic sexual predator in Berlin public stability would be at risk. 

More women die.

The book defies easy associations. Promising connections prove to be only partially connected. Leads are elusive. Oppenheimer is not dismayed. He moves on. He is a precise and relentless man.

He has a friend in Hilde, a doctor, divorced from a senior SS officer. Sundays they share conversation and confidences.

It is clear Oppenheim is seeking a clever killer who can move bodies around Berlin. The prospect the killer might be a senior Nazi is yet another reason for dread.

The unknown killer rages against “National Socialism being infected by prostitutes”. The killer’s identification of women deserving death because they are whores is expansive.

The SS and other Nazi organizations are startling in their complexity. There is constant conflict as they compete internally and externally for power. How is an outsider, especially a Jew, to understand all the machinations within the National Socialist groups? There are almost too many acronyms to remember. 

It is ironic, even diabolical, that Oppenheimer penetrates levels of secrecy within Nazi officialdom. Oppenheimer has a unique experience in being a Jew entering inside Nazi officialdom but how can he assist this evil empire  that has killed millions of Jews? No officals are concerned over the safety of Berlin women. Their goal is to protect the Party, discreetly find the killer and avoid public unrest. Yet Oppenheimer has made a commitment to find a killer and save more women from brutal death.

Though the investigation is intensive, progress is painfully slow.  A month into the investigation  the killer strikes higher within the Nazi hierarchy. Gilbers skilfully builds the tension.

Within every page is the underlying stresses for Oppenheimer of potential arrest and the risk of death from the sky. Oppenheimer is barely at ease. Even when he is with Lisa or Hilde it is so difficult to relax. 

Gilbers has written an impressive book that happens to be crime fiction. The characters are interesting and fully drawn. He clearly knows Berlin. Germania is a powerful portrayal of life in that beautiful city which is being destroyed night by night while the vicious governing Nazi regime disintegrates day by day. And the mystery is well crafted. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

New books from Louise Penny and Gail Bowen and Hillary Rodham Clinton

I do not look ahead often in the publishing of books for, as I peer around my home office, I see unread books in too many places. However, as fall is close upon us there are books being published by  a pair of authors I love.

Today was the publication date for Louise Penny’s new Armand Gamache mystery, The Madness of Crowds. I will not provide any summary of the plot as I look forward, especially with favoured authors, to the surprise of learning the theme by reading the book.

The Madness of Crowds will be the 17th book in the series. Last year’s book, All the Devils Are Here, was set in Paris. While I enjoyed the setting I hope this year Gamache is back in Three Pines. 

The village of Three Pines has become an iconic setting. I am confident in saying it is the best known fictional location in Canadian fiction not just Canadian crime fiction.

I have read all the previous books in the series.

Next will be Gail Bowen’s addition to the Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve series on September 7. Titled An Image in the Lake it will be a milestone in the series as the 20th book. 

While Gail has been retired as a university professor of English for a few years she continues to write quality mysteries.

She has been one of the few authors I read that has sustained excellence throughout her long series. Several authors have disappointed me as they neared and/or passed 20 books in a series. While I loved the early letters of the alphabet in the Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton I was down to enjoying the later letters.

For interested readers Gail has a stylish new website - https://www.gailbowen.com/ - with particulars of her books and semi-weekly newsletters at the bottom of the home page. She as skilled at writing small essays as full length novels.

Once again I have read all of Gail’s books.

Louise Penny has another book, State of Terror, coming out on October 12, 2021. No thriller will get more hype this fall as her co-author is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Having one of the most famous living Americans is bound to stoke interest in the book. I am certain it will be a bestseller the week it is published.

As I am not sure whether I want to read a hybrid author book I broke my own rule of not wanting to know about the contents by looking at a blurb from Simon & Schuster.

Ellen Adams, the newly appointed Secretary of State, and her team cope with terrorist attacks that lead them into an “international chess
game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena”.

With America’s former Secretary of State as one author and one of Canada’s foremost crime fiction writers it has excellent potential.

I was intrigued by Hillary Rodham Clinton using all three names to identify herself. I had thought she had not always used the three names. In a brief search I learned from the Washington Post and The Atlantic in articles from 2015 that she was Hillary Rodham for some years after she married Bill, moved to Hillary Rodham Clinton as Bill ascended in American politics all the way to the White House, became Hillary Clinton when she made her runs to become President and now, at least for writing, is back to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I remain undecided if I will buy the book.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Concern Over the Best Canadian Crime Novel Criteria

As I read through the quintet of books making up the shortlist for the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Crime Fiction novel I noted that all five books were set outside Canada.

The Finder was set in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and the United States.

Obsidian was set in California and Montana.

Hurry Home was set in Colorado and North Dakota.

The Historians was set in Sweden.

How a Woman Becames a Lake was set in Washington state.

I admit that I was discouraged that the five books most readers would expect were the best entrants for “Best Crime Novel” did not include a book set in Canada.

Reading the criteria for submissions I realized that books are limited to being entered in one category. I am confident the rationale is to prevent an accomplished book sweeping the Awards in multiple categories.

The restriction to one category becomes important with regard to “Best Crime Novel” for publishers and authors of books set in Canada had the choice of entry in the “Best Crime Novel” or the “Best Crime Novel Set in Canada”.

I was glad to see the importance of crime novels set in Canada being recognized through the new category.

I am sad that it means fewer books set in Canada will be entered in the “Best Crime Novel” category. This year the 29 books entered in “Best Crime Novel Set In Canada” could not be in “Best Crime Novel” which had 51 books entered.

By the limitation to one category I consider the “Best Crime Novel” category to be diminished and somewhat misleading and possibly in error for the actual “best” novel could be part of the “set in Canada” category.

I know there were novels set in Canada entered in the “Best Crime Novel” in 2021 but the shortlist illustrates it will be more difficult, potentially unlikely, that the “best” Canadian crime novel will be set inside Canada.

I view the criteria as significant because I believe the “Best Crime Novel” is considered the premiere award in a literary competition that gains the greatest recognition. In the video announcing this year’s winners it was the final award announced. I doubt many realize that the current criteria means the exclusion of many Canadian novels. 

I understand the dilemma for the CWC but it would be my preference that novels set in Canada could be entered in both categories. I consider that a category titled “Best Crime Novel” should have all Canadian novels eligible.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Finder by Will Ferguson

(26. - 1098.) The Finder by Will Ferguson - What an amazing opening! Atsushi Shimada is the sole policeman on the small island of Hateruma which is one of the Okinawa Islands hundreds of kilometres south of Japan’s main island. The residents are far more Okinawan than Japanese. They maintain their own religious traditions with spirits abounding and local secret noro priestesses.

An agitated foreigner comes upon the island. With no crimes to solve and no order needing maintainance, Officer Shimada decides to occupy part of his day by finding the foreigner to talk to him. The search takes him to Cape Takana, officially the most southerly point in Japan. 

With rising tension he enters the observatory and finds the foreigner dead, killed by a shotgun blast, and a journal of his life which ends:

When I look ahead, I see only darkness. I can find no way forward, no way back, and with the dying of the light I find myself -

It is the eloquent testament of Bill Moore who grew up on Shankhill Road in Belfast. Adept at finding things he becomes a clever thief stealing works of art and artifacts. Agent Gaddy Rhodes from Interpol has tracked him to Okinawa.

And then Ferguson twisted the plot. The foul mouthed obsessive Rhodes with the flyaway hair insists to a meeting of officials from Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. that the dead man is not Moore. No one wants to believe her so no one does.

“The Finder”, a small man, has escaped again to find, usually by theft, more objects and secretly and skillfully and profitably return them to the public world. Rhodes has retrieved several of the objects found by “The Finder”.

Returned to desk duty in America, how can Rhodes pursue “The Finder”?

The story turns to New Zealand where travel writer, Thomas Rafferty, is in Christchurch when the earthquake of 2011 devastates the city. He has a restless soul. After a lifetime of journeying Rafferty is a shambling man drifting across countries as he writes stories to the exact word count commissioned. Ferguson plays upon his experience as a travel writer writing satiric, sometimes biting, examples of clichéd travel writing. All countries in Rafferty’s almost endless writings were “lands of contrast”. It is much easier to re-write the same story time after time than try to distinguish the destinations.

And then amidst the destruction:

The dust that plumed upward had not entirely settled, and a figure moved through this purgatorial dimness. A small man, impeccably dressed. The sort of man who seemed to be wearing a bowler even when he wasn’t. He was carrying a large fold of paper under one arm, blueprints of some sort, with two heavyset construction workers accompanying him in hard hats and reflective vests.

A colourful pursuit in New Zealand becomes rather murky. While beautifully written this section was a challenge at times. Over 60 pages later the digression ends and Rhodes, derisively referred to as Our Lady of the Cubicles, re-appears The book returns to the chase.

The chase becomes more complicated as a love affair becomes involved:

One always falls in love over trivial matters. It’s

why love so rarely lasts.

Added in the chase is a quest for a trivial item

I never anticipated the resolution.

The Finder is a great chase with sleuth and villain and supporting characters all brilliant. Ferguson has created characters who are srikingly individual. Their personal backgrounds are generously developed and give context to the story. I only wish they had a little less noir in their lives. There could have been joy as well as darkness.

Ferguson vividly captures the physical settings, the residents and the nature of life in each of the countries visited by the characters. There is an apt description of the world:

“Bigger than you imagine. Smaller than you’d think.”

It was by far the best book in the shortlist for the 2021 Best Crime Fiction Novel in the Awards of Excellence of the Crime Writers of Canada. 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Commenting on Sleuth Olympics

Earlier this week Margot Kinberg at her excellent blog on her website, https://margot-kin-berg.com/, posted an imaginative post called Sleuth Olympics. In the post she created an Olympics for crime fiction sleuths. Here is a link - 


Margot occasionally puts together posts featuring crime fiction sleuths of past and present. They are invariably witty and often thought provoking.

As I read the post I was caught up in the concept of the Sleuth Olympics and wrote a comment featuring Canadian sleuths participating in these Olympics.

The portion of the comment setting out competing Canadian sleuths I mentioned is:

Pub Crawl - Fred: Well, well, well, what a sight! Jed “Hammerhead” Ounstead (A.J. Devlin) is carrying a 2” x 4” board in his massive left hand while drinking a perfectly poured Guiness with his right. He’s putting down the Guiness. What’s going on?

Peggy: Oh my goodness gracious! He just broke the board over his own head! And now he has challenged the other contestants to break boards over their heads! Pub crawls in the colonies must be amazing!

Fred: I think I just heard Morse say somewhere will have to freeze over before he does something as daft as hitting his head with a board.

Outdoor skills - Joe: We have a late entrant. Mattessie Kitogitak (Scott Young) has just arrived with his team of huskies pulling him on his sled. 

Brad: It is amazing since we have no snow!

Joe: Now Brad, Mattessie has one of those ultra new sleds with the frictionless runners designed to glide over all surfaces.

Gourmand Finals - Lisa: I am sorry to advise that Russell Quant (Anthony Bidulka) has just withdrawn. He thought the final event was drinking flights of acquavit instead of a fourth meal today (preliminaries, quarter finals, semi finals and now finals).

Paul: He should have known better. The Gourmand events are all about food. 

Lisa: It always would have been hard for a youngster such as Quant. Gourmand is weighted to the seniors who have worked decades to expand their stomachs to accommodate the demands of four multi-course meals in one day.

Academics: Marlena: And don’t forget Canada’s second entrant, Randy Craig (Janice MacDonald) from Edmonton. I hear as an English professor she is a strong contender in the fastest reader event.

Seth: No surprise there. It is amazing how swiftly those professors flip through the pages of the designated essay.

Marlena: A cynical person might wonder if they are actually reading the essay.

Seth: I am shocked Marlena, just shocked, that you would think an academic might not fully read an essay.

I could see Sleuth Olympics being a regularly scheduled post for Margot. Being fiction she can hold the Olympics whenever a flight of fancy takes her. And there is almost endless variety of events that could be contested. Knitting, Pub Crawling, Outdoor skills, Eating and Academics are just a few of the areas in which crime fiction sleuths are talented. Other events could involve the Longest Book Marathon, Shortest Crime Fiction Story and Fewest Bodies Per Page (I refuse to recognize an event for Most Bodies Per Page though there would be far more entrants than for Fewest Bodies). 

I consider it in bad taste to have Most Depressed or Dysfunctional Sleuth. Were it allowed I expect Scandinavians to sweep the medals.

While Margot did not describe the medals I expect they would be the traditional circle in shape with an embossed page bearing the words of the event. Not for crime fiction sleuths to have oddly shaped awards draped around their necks.

I am sure the living Canadian authors of my comment (A.J. Devlin, Anthony Bidulka and Janice MacDonald) are proud of  their sleuths whom I am sure were all medal winners, except for Russell Quant. I am sure Russell, with some training in eating multiple big meals a day (his creator loves food), would be ready for the next Sleuth Olympics.

Please drop over to read Margot's post on the Sleuth Olympics and her other intriguing post.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Eugenics and Genetics and The Historians

In my last post I wrote a review of The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck. The book provoked thoughts on eugenics and genetics for me. I wrote a letter to the author which forms this post. If she replies and agrees I will post her response. For some readers there might be spoilers in this post because of the nature of the information in the post.


To: Cecilia

I just finished The Historians. I am reading my way through the shortlist for the Crime Writers of Canada 2021 Best Canadian Crime Novel. I enjoyed the book and posted a review on my blog, Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. A link is at the end of this email.

I had not thought about eugenics in a long time until I read last year The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Reading about the forced sterilizations in Denmark set out in that work of crime fiction prompted me to look at Canada. I wrote a post, a link is below, discussing eugenics in Canada and Denmark.

I had been aware of the thousands sterilized in Alberta but had forgotten how many progressive people of the early to mid-20th Century had promoted and believed in eugenics. Members of the Famous Five and Tommy Douglas were supporters. I appreciate Douglas changed his position later in his life.

In The Historians the plot takes readers into the horrors of applied eugenics in World War II Sweden. I was grateful in your acknowledgements that the extreme actions described in the book did not occur in real life Sweden.

Your book did prompt me to think of a presentation on integrity made by Dr. Robert Boyd of North Dakota State University at a Rotary conference in Winnipeg in 2010. (My wife and I are Rotarians.) 

In that presentation he provided a powerful story on the educated. In my recollections of his address I wrote up the next day I noted:

One day he was flying to Washington D.C. At Minneapolis a significant number of elderly people, in their 80's, got on the plane. A lady sat beside him. He has some hearing loss and says it is not easy for him to carry on a conversation with someone beside him and was not inclined to talk to her. He said she was having none of it and began talking to him. Before they got off the ground she had determined he was an educator. She was excited as she had been an elementary school teacher and loved teaching. She was still enthusiastic about learning and teaching and the importance of education. He said she was the type of teacher every parent hopes his children have as their teacher. When she reached forward to the pocket to take out the flight magazine her sleeve slid up and he saw a number tattooed on her wrist. Not sure what to say he said nothing. He said she asked him if he knew what the number meant and he replied that he thought she had been in a concentration camp. She had been an inmate. The group who had gotten on the plane were on their way to Washington for the opening of the Holocaust Memorial. A little later he heard her cry and moments later she was sobbing. She looked up at him and asked "How could they do It? How could they do it? They were educated people". He said it made him think about the lawyers, accountants, engineers and all the other professions who had made the Holocaust happen.

As I thought about The Purity of Vengeance and The Historians I have reflected on the hubris of the well educated to think they know best and have the knowledge to create a better world and the lengths to which they have gone in the past 100 years.

I believe looking at history honestly is important. I think we have neglected the “scientific” efforts of advocates of 20th Century eugenics to use such measures as forced sterilization to remove and eliminate from society “the mentally defective and incurably diseased” in the words of Tommy Douglas from his 1933 Master’s Thesis.

In our current world I fear genetic knowledge will be used to try to achieve the same goals. I appreciate there are many positive uses of genetic information for individuals but am concerned there will be those who will seek to use that knowledge for negative purposes with regard  to “creating a better society”.

Will “progressive” genetic policies being advanced today be seen as repressive decades from now?

I will be posting this letter on my blog shortly with a note that it may contain information concerning The Historians that some readers would find spoilers.

If you would like to reply to this Facebook message and are willing to have your response posted I would put it up on the blog.

Thanks for a thought provoking story.

Bill Selnes