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.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Vernon Jordan Jr. Takes a Great Cover Photo

I was drawn to the book Vernon Can Read! by the superb photo of Vernon Jordan Jr. upon the cover. Fair or not, covers matter. I was aware of Jordan as a prominent Black American but no more. Had it not been for the cover I doubt I would have picked up the book.

For approximately 15 years the book sat upon a TBR shelf in our home office. I would look at it and think I should read it but another book would catch my attention. Finally, this fall as I was looking for a work of non-fiction to read I pulled it from the shelf and started to read. Once I started I was caught up in his life and swiftly read the book.


As for the cover photo it proved to be a perfect representation of Jordan.


Throughout his life he dressed elegantly. The photo shows a man with flair and style. As a teenager he spoke of dressing meticulously. I love the combination of blues and textures and designs in shirt, tie and suit jacket.


Robin Givhan in a tribute to Jordan in the Washington Post after his death 


Over the years, it was impossible to miss Jordan in a crowd. Often that was because he was the only Black person in it. But he was noticeably well-dressed. His suits were attentively tailored and he had a love for Turnbull & Asser shirts, Charvet ties and fedoras. His style was full of European √©lan, Adam Clayton Powell flair, Wall Street pinstripes and Sunday morning going-to-church polish. His aesthetic drew upon the collage of influences that make this country exceptional but that connect us on common ground. Years ago, after writing about his style — a story for which he did not return my messages — Jordan called to express his gratitude after it was published.


His pose is of a thoughtful man. Well educated and well spoken he reflected on the great issues of American life for over 60 years. He had a natural gravitas. 


He gave the commencement address at DePauw University on 3 occasions.


He loved speeches. He studied and refined the language of formal addresses.. As a young man in university he heard in Atlanta an early version of Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream”.


Jordan won an oratorical university competition as a freshman speaking on “The Negro in America”.


The photo shows a serious man. He dealt with the major issues, especially civil rights, of America. He met with every President from LBJ to Obama. I am not sure about “the Donald”. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were personal friends before they were President. He was awarded over 60 honorary doctoral degrees.


He exudes class, confidence and reserve. He was never an impulsive man. He consulted others, starting with his mother, before every major career decision.


What the photo does not depict is his innate restlessness to move forward and upward and face new challenges.


Jordan wears a wedding ring. He was married to Shirley for almost 30 years before her death from M.S. and was subsequently married to Ann for over 30 years.


His photo is the epitome of the successful business executive and lawyer he was in his life. I have always believed professionals should dress professionally. Casual clothing is best worn away from the office.


Sometimes you wonder if your children are listening to you when something special happens. When my younger son was graduating from law school I wrote to a friend and classmate, a Major in the Canadian Army, congratulating him on his graduation. He replied that Michael had spoken often of me and the importance of looking and acting professionally. He said Michael had convinced him that the uniform of a lawyer is a suit and tie.


It is one of the great cover photos of all time.


Friday, November 19, 2021

Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction on Hold

It is with regret that I advise the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been put on indefinite hold.  All year I have been waiting for a press release about the 2021 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. As there has been no release from the University of Alabama School of Law I called the University a few days ago to ask about the Prize this year. A representative of the University advised me of the decision to put the Award on hold. 

As set out in an earlier post on the blog the origins of the Prize were set out by the University in 2010:


To honor the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, The University of Alabama School of Law and the American Bar Association Journal partnered to create The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. The Prize, authorized by Harper Lee, author and former Alabama law student, was announced in conjunction with Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks on the book at Alabama in October 2010. The Prize honors Lee for the role model she created for the legal profession and for the extraordinary cultural phenomenon that her novel has become.


The University further stated with regard to the Award in 2012:


In the spirit of Atticus Finch, the prize is awarded annually to a published work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers or the legal system in society.


The work must be:

 

• a published book-length work of fiction

• published originally in 2012

• readily available to readers via commercial sources (retail or online bookstores

such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or iTunes)

• an electronically-published work with an ISBN may be submitted but unpublished manuscripts may not.


The ABA Journal for several years invited readers to vote on their choice for the best book on the shortlist. Their choice would then count in the vote by the panel of judges. 


From 2013 on I read the 3 books chosen each year for the short list and would provide me thoughts on whether I agreed with the book chosen to win the Prize.


I was excited to see an annual Prize for best legal fiction. It was a highlight of my reading year to read and write about the books on the short list. I added my posts on the Prize to my page on Legal Mysteries which now contains reviews of 104 books.


The winners of the Prize are:


2011 John Grisham, The Confession

2012 Michael Connelly, The Fifth Witness

2013 Paul Goldstein, Havana Requiem

2014 John Grisham, Sycamore Row

2015 Deborah Johnson, The Secret of Magic

2016 Attica Locke, Pleasantville

2017 James Grippando, Gone Again

2018 C.E. Tobisman, Proof

2019 Sharon Bala, The Boat People

2020 Victor Methos, The Hallows


Of the books my personal favourite is The Boat People by Sharon Bala. Beyond being an excellent book on the legal travails facing Sri Lankan refugees it was written by a Canadian and is set in Canada.


I had some unease about the Prize in 2020 when the ABA Journal did not participate in the Prize. My concern proved founded this year.


I am concerned the Prize will not be back for it never gained as much attention as I felt the Prize deserved. I am not sure why. Legal fiction remains popular. There were strong entries every year. 


I do wish there had been greater promotion by the School of Law. There might have been 1-2 press releases a year. Awards need to be sold like every other venture seeking public recognition.


I hope the Award will return. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains an American classic. The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction honoured her, the legal profession and fine writers.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Vernon Can Read! By Vernon Jordan Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed

(35. - 1107.) Vernon Can Read! By Vernon Jordan Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed (2001) - In the summer of 1955 the 20 year old Jordan, a second year student at DePauw University, was employed as a chauffeur / butler by Robert F. Maddox, an 80 year old plus banking executive in Atlanta. He has a wonderful library. While Maddox is napping Jordan spends his afternoons reading there. One day Maddox rises earlier and finds Jordan reading. Startled, he advises his family that night that “Vernon can read”. Secure in the superiority of his race he “never thought about those who worked for him in any way that did not directly affect their duties to him”. It was a powerful illustration of what life was like for black Americans in the South of the 1955’s.

Jordan was never going to live the quiet life of his father, Vernon Jordan Sr. who was a good dependable man providing his sons with a stable home.


Jordan was infused with the spirit and drive of his mother, Mary. She moved from rural Georgia to Atlanta to work as a servant. She was not content with a simple life. She wanted a better life and established a successful catering business. She was equally ambitious for her sons.


In ways large and small she motivated Jordan. Her favored name for Jordan was “Man”:


This was her positive way to counteract what she knew would be the outside world’s - the white world’s - view of me even after I had officially passed into manhood.


Writing in 2001 Jordan is intent on providing his “very personal take on the black experience since the end of the Second World War” to the 1980’s. He modestly states:


I hope what follows will be instructive to readers today, and for anyone in the future who wants to know something of what these times were like, as well as the events that took us away from them”.


At 12 in 1947 he is sternly reminded of his place when he is advised a white boy, also 12, he had played with on trips to his rural relatives is now to be addressed as “Mr. Bobby”.


To Jordan perspectives on race are distorted “when class is taken out of the equation”. In addition to his mother’s influence, he believes growing up in a “lower-middle class family” made him a “striver”.


From the age of 5 he was always finding ways to make money including finding and selling golf balls, polishing brass door furnishings and having a newspaper route. Jordan embodied his mother’s hustle.


Writing of the social disadvantage of being a boy who was a good student sounded familiar. Other boys admire athletes, not scholars. Personally, there was some respect in high school but it was not until I reached university that being good at academics was valued.


His mother wrote to him every day at university. One of his “deepest regrets” is that he did not think at 18 to keep these notes and letters of her love and commitment to him.


At graduation from DePauw in 1957 official segregation dominates the South. Jordan, determined to change the system, goes to law school at one of America’s leading black education institutions, Howard University. He is intent upon becoming a civil rights lawyer.


Possibly the most important aspect of life at Howard was that there were girls around him he could date. At DePauw there was an unwritten, but rigid, code of no interracial dating.


After graduating from law school he went to work for an Atlanta lawyer, Donald Hollowell. In his first month he aided Hollowell in trying to save Nathaniel Johnson, a young black man, who had pled guilty to raping a white woman to avoid the death penalty. (He had a good defence though being found not guilty in Georgia of the late 1950’s was doubtful.) The plea did not save him from the death penalty. Taking over the case after state appeeals had failed the duo desperately file applications, appeal to government officials and petition the governor. All their efforts are brushed aside and Johnson is executed. Jordan is exhausted and devastated but he is in the office the next morning. Other clients need him. I am so familiar with being at the office the day after a grueling trial. Maybe a day off is possible but waiting cases demand attention.


After a year in the Hollowell office he moved into administrative positions starting as a field officer for the NAACP. Between an acknowledged innate restlessness, a powerful ambition to move up in the world and an intense desire to take advantage of opportunity for personal benefit and the Black community he took new positions frequently.


Befitting his designation as the “most connected man” in America he constantly met and established relationships with the elite of American life (white and black).


Often the first or second Black to hold a position he opened further opportunities for Black people. In particular, he led the way in working to integrate the Boards of Directors of America’s largest corporations. He saw that, for Black Americans, to fully advance in American society they needed to be directors of great companies.


He first became a corporate director when he was President of the National Urban League. Going to his first director’s meeting at the Celanese Corporation was an emotional experience. As a young man he had served, as part of his mother’s catering business, the wealthy businessman of Atlanta. Now he was a member of a much more powerful elite, the directors of Fortune 500 companies, based in New York City.


The writing is fluid and draws the reader into Jordan’s life. The stories are vivid and real. He follows my favourite approach to discussing issues. He provides examples rather than abstract principles. He was a great American who died earlier this year.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Ghost Light by Stan Jones and Patricia Watts

(34. - 1106.) Ghost Light by Stan Jones and Patricia Watts - An elderly woman with dementia, muttering about a whale headed dog monster, brings a piece of human jawbone to Nathan Active, Chief of Police in Chukchi on the North Slope of Alaska. After briefly recoiling, Active regains his composure and starts searching for the rest of the body.

Since her mind failed Tommie Leokuk has taken to roaming about the village at night. In a small community where everyone knows everyone her family thought it less harmful to let her wander rather than have her enduring the agitation that possessed her when she was locked in a bedroom.


Active is recovering from being shot in the leg in Tundra Kill. It is uncertain if his leg will ever be free of pain. His mind is more troubled from the shooting than his leg. His wife, Grace, is worried.


At home life is going well with Grace, his stepdaughter Nita and new son, Charlie. Having a family forces him to think about more than his work and personal demons.


Other bits of the body are brought in by Tommie.


Eventually, through some imaginative police work the body, a young woman, is found.


The investigation takes Active to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope. At the oil fields workers spend 4 weeks in camp and 2 weeks at home. It is a well paid but isolated life which makes it difficult to involve yourself in a home community. For many years work in the North was dominated by men. Now increasing numbers of women are working in the camps. There are more complications from relationships in and out of camp.


In Ghost Light Active must explore a series of tangled personal relationships involving the murdered young woman. Police work is a challenge when two suspects tell contradictory stories with phone text evidence pointing to each of them equally. Who is the liar? Add a third plausible suspect and there is an excellent mystery.


For readers who live in urban environments the distances of life in Alaska strain comprehension. To question witnesses and suspects Active flies for hours to and from Prudhoe Bay, Nome and Anchorage. 


The villagers of Chukchi continue the process of an uneasy adjustment to the economic benefits of large industrial ventures in the North. Going to camp is now far more complicated. Camp can be the traditional place to hunt, fish and gather berries or camp can be the modern place to fix, maintain and operate the equipment extracting oil from the land. Jones and Watts skilfully explore the complexities of evolving life in the North. Modern electronics abound while almost every household has guns and fishing gear.


Beyond the mystery investigation, Active continues to experience his Inupiat heritage. The grandmothers of the North are seers of the soul. Can Nathan, who is reluctant to bare emotions, draw upon their age old wisdom?

****

Jones, Stan – (2009) - White Sky, Black Ice; (2010) - Shaman Pass; (2012) - "J" is for Stan Jones; (2013) - Frozen Sun; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II; (2015) - Village of the Ghost Bears; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2016) - Tundra Kill and An Exchange with Stan Jones on Sarah Palin and Helen Mercer and Governor Sarah Palin and Red Parkas; (2020) - The Big Empty (co-written with Patricia Watts) Hardcover

Sunday, November 7, 2021

n Command of History – Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War by David Reynolds

Not having a review quite ready tonight I was looking back on unpublished reviews.  Winston Churchill is currently best known as a great orator and leader of England in World War II. He is less remembered for being a great writer. For much of his life it was his primary source of income. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. Some years ago I read a fascinating book about his series of books on World War II.

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18. - 428.) In Command of History – Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War by David Reynolds – Winston Churchill inspired and led England during WW II. After the war he wrote a 6 volume set of memoirs that I always considered a history of the war. I was surprised by the number of people who Churchill invited to comment on drafts. Almost anyone of significance discussed was given a chance to present their views on what he had written. The top bureaucrats in the Cabinet Secretary’s office, especially the Secretary, discreetly assisted and edited and advised. Churchill was far more sensitive than I expected to the need to avoid excessive controversy with individuals (politicians / bureaucrats / military), Allies (the U.S., Commonwealth and France) and former Allies (the U.S.S.R.). Reynolds sets out how often “diplomacy took precedence over history”. I had not thought about how difficult it is to quote letters and other communications without the consent of the other party. While I had always expected Churchill had skilled researchers I never realized how much they contributed to the actual writing. While Churchill vetted each of the 2,000,000 or so words a significant portion were written by researchers. It was a fascinating insight into how history is created by the choices of the writers. Modern historians would be appalled by the deletions Churchill makes in documents for reasons of style or to avoid controversy or because they do not reflect well on him. He did his best to conceal his preference in 1943-1994 for such Mediterranean ventures as occupying Aegean Islands over the invasion of France. Not surprisingly Churchill believed strongly in history being decided by great men and personal summitry to deal with problems (himself, Roosevelt and Stalin). I had not seen his handwritten note of percentages of influence in the Balkans checkmarked by Stalin. A great example of new information and analysis of a man for whom you would guess all was known and said. Excellent. (May 3/08) 


Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The fourth "F" is Forgiveness

In my last post I reviewed Gail Bowen's new book, An Image in the Lake. After posting the review I exchanged emails with Gail. I appreciate her responding to my thoughts on her book.

****

Gail 

Below is a link to my review of An Image in the Lake. I enjoyed the book.


I appreciated Joanne’s return to provincial politics. 


In Deadly Appearances, the opening book of your series, Andy Boychuk, Saskatchewan’s premier, was poisoned at a political picnic. I was glad there was not a carafe of water sitting on a trailer at the political picnic in An Image in the Lake.


Joanne, a dedicated supporter of Boychuk’s progressive party, participated in decades of political campaigns until she took a break while Zack entered municipal politics running to be Mayor of Regina.


As I read the book I noted the provincial political party was not named. As I think about it I do not recall the party being named in any of the books. It is clearly the NDP (the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party for readers outside Canada).


You are proud of the party and its accomplishments. I have wondered why you have chosen not to name the party. I can see no harm for the provincial NDP and even some benefit for the party in being mentioned in your books.  In An Image in the Lake you have a character refer to a candidate for the real life Saskatchewan Party.


Throughout the series you have referred to existing Regina businesses. In An Image in the Lake Joanne orders pizza from the Copper Kettle and gets sandwiches from the Star Deli (I love their fresh made Italian sandwiches).


I found Joanne’s statement that the party needs to return to the core principles of its founding in the 1930’s in the CCF (Canadian Commonwealth Federation) interesting. Might that be your personal conviction?


I am not a supporter of the NDP. At the same time I have been an avid observer and occasional participant in Saskatchwan politics. As with Joanne I have been in the background.


You rightly point to the need for the leader of any political party to have charisma. In your book Alison Janvier admirably fills that role. I remain a little surprised the real life party has never had a female leader beyond Nicole Sarauer’s brief tenure as interim leader.


I wondered if the following statement, while swiftly withdrawn by Janvier, might also have reflected your personal thoughts:


…. and when a reporter asked her if it was time for someone like her to lead the party, she said, “Why not? We haven’t had much luck with our string of old white guys.”


I look forward to the next book in the series.


If you are able to reply I will include it when I post this email on my blog.


All the best.


Bill

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Happy Friday, Bill,


This did indeed arrive, and as always, your comments are thoughtful and thought provoking. As in the other books in the JKS series, faith, family and food are integral parts of An Image in the Lake, but this novel focuses on a fourth 'f' -- forgiveness. 

Jill Oziowy's betrayal of Joanne and her family is at the centre of 12 Rose Street. After much soul-searching, Joanne is finally able to reach out to Jill.  When the book was published I had a surprising, and to me, heartbreaking number of letters from people asking me if I could teach them how to forgive. 

Joanne's conversation with her daughter, Mieka, about the Japanese art form of Kintsugi is an attempt to answer those readers' questions about forgiveness.  I'm glad you noted that the need to forgive is at the heart of An Image in the Lake.

Have a fine weekend. 

Gail  
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** 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; (2021) - An Image in the Lake Hardcover