About Me

My photo
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, October 26, 2021

An Image in the Lake by Gail Bowen

(33. - 1105.) An Image in the Lake by Gail Bowen - MediaNation, a leading Canadian broadcaster, is in turmoil and Joanne Kilbourn knows everybody.

Her son-in-law, Charlie Dowhaniuk, is the star of Charlie D. in the Morning, a national radio show with interviews, music and Charlie’s commentary now being broadcast from Saskatchewan.

Executive producer, Rosemary Morrissey, had deteriorated physically and emotionally and was abruptly forced out.

Executive producer, Ellen Exton, was threatened with the exposure of sexually explicit videos she had sent to a lover. The network, barely over the dismissal of a prominent broadcaster for his sleazy ways (clearly based on a real life Canadian broadcaster) gives her the option of a profitable resignation or a public dismissal. She takes the money and disappears.

With internal conflict leaving MediaNation in Regina bereft of leadership the network assigns Jill Oziowy to take over. Joanne is rarely distraught but the mere mention of Oziowy angers her. Oziowy had been a best friend and godmother to her children when Joanne learned 3 years earlier that Oziowy had been her deceased first husband’s lover for 15 years. 

A manipulative 19 year old Clay Fairbairn, is an intern at MediaNation. He is studying journalism and too eager, ethics are of no importance, to gain employment in the broadcast industry.  His doting grandmother, a friend of Joanne, unconcerned about his moral issues, aids his quest.

Another intern, Thalia Monk, who is close to Fairbairn, is the stepdaughter of another friend of Joanne. She is both brilliant and bedeviled.

The four interns are a cohort. They are clever, potentially wicked and enjoy reading Nietsche. Not every young person is  sensitive and caring. Gail has created a striking quartet of young characters.

At the same time Saskatchewan is gearing up for a provincial election. Joanne is impressed by the new leader of her progressive party, Alison Janvier. I was glad to see Joanne return to the campaign trail. The political themes have always worked better for me than the broadcast industry intrigues as they are distinctly Saskatchewan plot lines. I wish the election had played a greater role in the book

Joanne and her husband, Zack, attend a political picnic with her grandchildren instead of her children. Their enthusiasm in taking selfies with Janvier reminded me of photographic change. Where people once thronged to have their photo taken next to a politician and then printed and framed the selfie digital image has taken over.

Life is good for Joanne’s children but just when I thought the family was too perfect, her adopted daughter Taylor, returns or more accurately retreats to Regina with a broken heart.

The lake cottages at Lawyer’s Bay are a place of respite for the characters as they deal with the issues of relationships, the problems at MediaNation and the consequences of a sudden death.

As a Christian Joanne strives to find forgiveness. In a moving scene she makes “a pot of tea - my grandmother’s panacea for all life’s problems” and sets about a reconciliation with Jill. 

As Joanne wrestles with the issues of today the T.V. series based on her difficult youthful past, Sisters & Strangers, is broadcast. It has its greatest impact on those around Joanne rather than upon herself.

Not every ending of the books in the series has been a strength but the conclusion of An Image in the Lake was right. The resolution of the murder was plausible and sad. Joanne’s efforts to make amends for the characters reminded me of Maisie Dobbs in the Jacqueline Winspear series. There was a powerful psychological uplift, even healing, through a transcendent work of art for Zack still devastated by the deaths of his partners a few books ago.

Joanne and Zack share Thanksgiving with 9 members of their family and 8 good friends. I wish more sleuths had such celebrations.


** Bowen, Gail – (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2011) - Deadly Appearances; (2012) - Kaleidoscope; (2013) - Murder at the Mendel; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle(2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - (Part I) and (Part II); (2018) - A Darkness of the Heart and Email Exchange with Gail on ADOH; (2020) - The Unlocking Season Hardcover

Friday, October 22, 2021

Changing The Old Enemy

As I read The Old Enemy by Henry Porter I thought the old spy, Robert Harland, killed in the opening pages had a fleeting familiarity. After completing the book and looking at my reading of Porter books I found out he was the protagonist in three books I had read and enjoyed. They were A Spy’s Life, Empire State and Brandenburg.

Since I read the last of that trio in 2009 I understood why my memory was but vague of the distinguished spy.

My favourite was A Spy’s Life which had a spectacular opening. Harland falls from the sky into the East River as his U.N. plane crashes while plane landing in New York City. Harland is the only survivor.

The Old Enemy is the third in a trilogy featuring Paul Samson as the lead character. It wraps up the lives of a pair of characters and two series.

Porter is a skilled writer of what I would term thrillers. Wilbur Smith uses a different phrase, “adventure writer”. It is an apt description of Smith’s books. I still think of Porter as more a writer of thrillers than adventures.

Porter was a winner of a Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize in 2019 for Firefly, one of the Samson books.

In an interview a few years ago with the Wilbur Smith and Niso Smith Foundation, Porter, when asked if there were of writers who “made a lasting impact” on him said:

Yes, but they are generally not thriller or adventure writers. I have always greatly admired John Buchan, Mark Twain, Forsyth, Le Carre’s early books, Primo Levi, Austen, Orwell, Wodehouse, Tolstoy (the short stories, especially) and the great nature writer Barry Lopez, who is a remarkable!

As with Le Carre he travels to the places about which he writes in his fiction. In the same interview he stated:

Vital to get this right. I spend a lot of time in the field.

I continue to think Porter missed a wonderful opportunity to write an unconventional conclusion to the respective sagas of Harland and Samson. Normally, in fiction and real life, we expect, as supported by actuarial tables, that the aged will die before a younger generation. 

Yet the most dynamic characters of The Old Enemy were the older characters. Robert Harland, Denis Hisami and Ulrike Klaar (Harland’s wife) all had a sparkle to their personalities.

It was Samson and Anastasia Hisami, the younger though not young characters, who were the earnest ones. They were the characters wearied and worn by the dramas and tragedies of life.

The older trio were leading the way in exposing a grand conspiracy when Harland and Hisami were eliminated from the plot and Ulrike consigned to a supporting role.

The trio had lost none of the vigour which carried them through the Cold War and into the present millenium. 

It is Samson who is ready to withdraw from intelligence work and Anastasia who is content to assist Hisami.

There are a pair of young characters in Rudi Rosenharte, Ulrike’s son, and Zoe Fremantle, Harland’s daughter born long into his life, who have the enthusiasm to take up the fight against the old and the new enemy.

I would have loved to have seen them interacting with the older spies for the whole book.

Writers have so many choices with their characters.


Porter, Henry - (2003) - A Spy's Life; (2004) - Empire State (Tied for third Best fiction in 2004); (2004) – Remembrance Day; (2005) – Brandenburg; (2009) - The Dying Light; (2021) - The Old Enemy; Hardcover

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Old Enemy by Henry Porter

(32. - 1104.) The Old Enemy by Henry Porter - A retired English spy, Robert Harland, goes down fighting upon a deserted beach in Estonia while painting the sea and sky. Ripples from his death soon reach London.

Another former British government spy, Paul Samson, now free lancing for private industry and individuals when not running his Lebanese restaurant, is warned that he might be the next target. 

In the United States Kurdish born businessman, Denis Hisami, has been hounded by the federal government. On his way into Congress to testify before a hostile committee he is handed newspapers which he hands to his lawyer. As he starts to testify Hisami and his lawyer collapse in paroxyms. The papers have been saturated with a nerve agent. The lawyer dies and Hisami is left critically ill.

In London assassination attempts are made upon Samson.

The common element between the attacked was an intelligence operation whose climax in Estonia saw two Russians killed.

Yet it does not appear a Russian operation.

The violence is the opposite of the average thriller. There are no clever efficient killers in The Old Enemy going after the good guys. Vicious disposable thugs from various European countries are hired. What conspiracy would use such amateurs? They gather attention and, even if disposed of, leave trails.

The beautiful Anastasia, Hisami’s wife and Samon’s former lover, and Naji, a brilliant Syrian refugee, are involved in a private intelligence operation being carried out by Harland and Hisami.

Individuals high within the governments of Britain and the United States have been recruited or blackmailed to betray their countries. The origin of the mastermind of this penetration, code named Berlin Blue, is in the Stasi of East Germany in the 1980’s.

The reasonably complex plot takes espionage into the high tech of the 21st Century gathering both vast and very particular information. At the same time individuals are targeted with the traditional means of exploitation.

I enjoyed the interaction of the characters and how an important section of the plot took place in Estonia, not often a destination for thrillers, but clearly a land of many spies as it adjoins Russia.

The climax is a remarkable resumption of the Congressional hearing at which Hisami had been stricken. All the main characters are present for a striking denouement..

As I reflected on the book I realized I would have preferred a reversal of roles. My favourite characters, though their presence was brief, were Harland and Hisami. It is probably because of my senior years that I would have preferred them to have been the protagonists with Samson killed and Anastasia poisoned. They would have been the aging warriors intent on avenging their proteges and uncovering the conspiracy. Their acknowledged brilliance and tenacity would have carried the book.

The Old Enemy is an excellent book.


Porter, Henry - (2003) - A Spy's Life; (2004) - Empire State (Tied for third Best fiction in 2004); (2004) – Remembrance Day; (2005) – Brandenburg; (2009) - The Dying Light; Hardcover

Friday, October 8, 2021

Considering "People" in The Madness of Crowds

In my first two posts on The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny I reviewed the book and discussed its exploration of reacting to evil. I consider the views of the character, Professor Abigail Robinson, supporting “mercy killing” of those who burden society such as the ailing aged or deformed unborn as wicked. How we consider “people” is another important theme of the book.

Some of the best books in the Armand Gamache series probed the depths of the minds of artists. The Madness of Crowds opens by examining the mind of a scientist of numbers, a statistician.

Robinson does not value individuals. It is society - “people” as a group - which is valued by her. The greater good requires sacrificcs.

By contrast, Gamache sees “people” as individuals. He sees persons not categories of worthy and unworthy members of society. 

Gamache looks into the souls of those he questions during investigations. He reflects on their life experience, their aspirations, their motivations and their passions.

In The Madness of Crowds, beyond the strongly individualistic, even idiosyncratic, continuing characters of Three Pines, we read of a pair of striking personalities who defy easy classification.

As set out in my last post Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is a great humanitarian dedicated to the cause of suffering women and children around the world. At the same time she has committed violent acts to survive and has a mean personality with a biting tongue. The Nobel Peace Prize candidate is barely civil in conversation.

The village has a distinguished retired thoracic surgeon, Dr. Vincent Gilbert, living a hermit’s life in the woods near Three Pines. He has saved many lives but is a nasty man whom the villagers refer to as the Asshole Saint.

Great humanists may not be great humans. There are humanists who do not love humans.

Gamache bites back retorts to Daoud’s cruel remarks. He views her as a haunted soul.

With Gilbert, Gamache appreciates his intellect and work as a doctor but sees a self-pitying doctor living in exile who focuses on how everyone’s words and actions affect him.

Gamache cares about each person with whom he meets and talks.

I have spent 46 years in the practice of law. During that time part of my work has been defending men and women charged with criminal offences. I know most are guilty but not all. I do value that our system of criminal justice puts the onus upon the Crown to prove guilt by the high standard of beyond reasonable doubt. I would dread a system where guilt is a statistical analysis.

I strive to see each client as a person. There is a continuous risk in the law as with othe professions to get cynical. I believe our system can only work when accused are judged as inviduals.

I have admired Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who is a Nazi concentration camp surivivor, since I read of him 50 years ago in second year university in a class called The Philosophy of Religion. 

In my review of his great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, I stated:

Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.

For Gamache his grandaughter, Idola, who has Down Syndrome has value as does Abigail Robinson. 

If we all recognize each life is worthy we can defeat the views of those who would believe in an Abigail Robinson.


Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; (2021) - The Madness of Crowds and Responding to Evil; Hardcover

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Responding to Evil in The Madness of Crowds

In The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny, beyond the solving of a murder and delving into the reactions to a study advocating institutionalized killing of the unproductive members of society there is an uncomfortable exploration of how we act when faced with great evil.

Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is visiting Three Pines. Daoud was “sold into slavery when she was eleven” and cruelly treated. Armand thinks the scars upon her face symbolize a person imprisoned by their past. She has lost her own children but worked relentlessly to save and improve the lives of women and children around the world. At 23 she is worshipped. At the same time she has a disdain, for at least everyone in Three Pines, that she readily expresses.

In a beautifully written passage Reine-Marie drawing on a poem of Ruth captures the essence of Haniya:

Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?

Though they knew who’d hurt her. Not just her torturers. They all had, by their silence and inaction.

She calls Armand weak, even feeble, for failing to stop Robinson from speaking. Haniya accurately senses that Armand loathes Robinson. She skewers him saying he would speak and give money for causes but “won’t actually lift a finger to stop a tyrant”.

Within the book is a description of a real life Canadian psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, who played God and, in the interests of psychiatric research and CIA money, tortured people. No one stopped him.

Each character looks within their soul to see what they have done to save the victims of torture. 

And if you have joined in torture can you atone for your actions? If you are Catholic you need to confess and do penance. In the criminal justice system, if you are convicted you need to express remorse and do time. If you are neither religious nor found guilty in a court you face a lifetime psychological burden.

Is there a time limit on responding to torture?

The last prosecutions of Nazi concentration camp guards are taking place. The accused are men and women in their 90’s. The Holocaust took place over 75 years ago. None of the latest accused I have read about directly participated in the planning of the Holocaust or the killing. What should the consequences be for these elderly men and women? 

Not all responses to those who have committed wicked acts are predictable.

Rudolph Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, was tried in Poland after the war. Sister Gaudia, a Polish nun, in the online Catholic website, Aleteia, said he returned to the Catholic faith to which he had been born because he was not mistreated or tortured by his Polish guards:

“They treated him mercifully,” she said. “Mercy is the love we know that we do not deserve. He doesn’t deserve their forgiveness, their goodness, their gentleness. And he received all that.”

He confessed to a Jesuit priest and received the Eucharist before he was executed.

Few among us whether fictional characters or real life readers can say we have acted against evil beyond expressions of sympathy or condemnation and possibly a donation of money to a worthy cause.

Within the book are police officers who have put their lives at stake to stop violence and remove those at risk from further harm. Yet they are not to harm or kill those who have committed vile crimes. Over the past several hundred years Anglo - American justice has rejected the vigilante response to crime in favour of a justice system with trials to determine guilt and judges to hand out measured punishment.

But Abigail Robinson will never face a criminal trial. She has not committed a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. She advocates for laws that would kill those who burden society. She would pevert our system of justice to legalize killing.

Thousands, perhaps millions, support her. Many more reject her. Might she gain the support of governments facing fiscal crises? Should she be silenced by direct action to preserve humanity?

What would you do to oppose an Abigail Robinson?


Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; (2021) - The Madness of Crowds; Hardcover