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.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Fiction and Real Life Murders in a Canadian POW Camp

In my last post I reviewed The Traitors of Camp 133 by Wayne Arthurson. The most intriguing aspect of the book was its setting - a World War II POW camp located near Lethbridge, Alberta. Over 12,000 members of the German military were in the camp. In the book a former village policeman, Sergeant August Neumann, and his trusted assistant, Corporal Klaus Aachen, investigate the murder of a Captain Mueller.

The book is based on a real life POW camp that was located close to Lethbridge whose actual name was Internment Camp No. 133. It was one of five POW camps in Alberta.

It was the second largest internment camp in North America with 13,341 prisoners after it opened in 1942.

Arthurson accurately describes the layout of the camp which covered one square mile. There were six sections with six dormitories. In addition there were recreation halls, mess halls, kitchens and administrative buildings.

While there were armed guards around the camp there were selected guards called Scouts who roamed the camp keeping track of what the prisoners were doing and being alert for any signs of tunelling. The Scouts were unarmed. Being unarmed brought about some mutual respect between the prisoners and guards.

In the Medicine Hat camp committed Nazis were elected Camp Leadership. Once in place they created a Camp Gestapo which spied on prisoners. They sought out prisoners considered anti-Nazi, brought them before courts of inquiry and punished them with beatings.

In his Master’s thesis, a link is below, at the University of Saskatchewan titled Camp 132: A German Prisoner of War Camp In a Canadian Prairie Community During World War Two, Robin Warren Stotz,  provides a history of the Medicine Hat camp which details incidents that appear, somewhat adjusted, in Arthurson’s book. 

Arthurson sets out the fear within the camps of the dedicated Nazis who were convinced Germany would win the war and tolerated no dissent.

The book also sets out the actual suspicions of the Nazis of prisoners who had been members of the French Foreign Legion and subsequently joined the German Army after the fall of France. Many Nazi prisoners did not consider Legionnaires “real Germans”.

Arthurson uses a real life event involving two Legionnaires, August Plaszek and Christian Schulz, who were suspected of plotting to overthrow the leadership. As they were being escorted to a hut Schulz dramatically broke free and managed to attract the attention of tower guards and escape the Nazis. Plaszek was killed by angry prisoners with Werner Schwalb actually putting the noose around Plaszek’s neck. Stotz sets out the conclusion of the camp authorities that the killing was not the intended punishment but resulted from an “outburst of anger”.

What was not impulsive was the killing of Karl Lehmann. 

Stotz describes him:

Lehmann was the antithesis of Nazism. He was highly educated with a Doctoral degree in Philosophy. He was fluent in three languages including English. At one time he was a reporter for a German newspaper which had been banned by the Nazi Government because of its Communist leanings. Aa a teacher he would not include Nazi doctrines in this lectures which did not please the Leadership. The Leadership also viewed his translation of English newspapers and the reports of Allied victories as a deliberate attempt to undermine their control and decrease prisoner morale.

In the book the victim, Mueller, is an equally cultivated man who taught in the camp.

After the failed assassination attempt of Hitler the prisoners on a home-made short-wave radio heard that “Anyone suspected of being a traitor should be killed”. The leadership acted. 

A CBC news story, link below, describes what happened. Four Nazis (Bruno Pereszenowski, Walter Wolf, Willi Mueller and Heinrich Busch) lured Lehmann to a hut where:

"Do you know anything about the communistic activities in the camp?" they asked.

When Lehmann said no, they beat him and slipped the noose around his neck. The men left Lehmann dead at the end of the thin rope, his face swollen and battered, his knees bent, feet dragging on the floor.

The fictional Mueller was killed in much the same way.

In the book the Mueller’s murder is solved by Sergeant Neumann.

In real life the RCMP could not gain evidence from prisoners during the war. After the war ended and prisoners no longer feared Nazi reprisals the truth emerged about both murders.

The prisoners who committed the murders were tried.

Legal arguments in the trials of the Lehmann killers that they should be tried in Germany in courts martial were rejected. All the accused were convicted.

Peter B. Smith in Prairie Murders: Mysteries, Crimes and Scandals recounts a dramatic moment in the sentencing of Lehmann’s killers:

In his book Behind Canadian Barbed wire, David J. Carter talks about George Krause, one of the RCMP officers who was at the sentencing. Years later Krause recalled just as the judge pronounced the dreaded words, “You shall be taken to the place of execution and there be hanged by the neck until dead. May the Lord have mercy on your soul,” the nearby school bell started to toll. Krause told Carter that every face in the courtroom turned white. He described it as one of the most gripping moments of his life.

Schwalb and the four convicted of murdering Lehmann were hung.

A true Nazi to the end Schwalb’s last words were:

“My FΓΌhrer, I follow thee.”




Friday, February 18, 2022

The Traitors of Camp 133 by Wayne Arthurson

(4. - 1119.) The Traitors of Camp 133 by Wayne Arthurson - 

"Mueller looked to be kneeling in the corner, praying. But the truth was his knees were inches off the floor. A rope hung from a coat hook and was wrapped around his neck."

In June of 1944 Captain Mueller with 12,000 other German soldiers, sailors, airmen, submariners, SS and legionnaires are in a prison camp near Lethbridge, Alberta. In the manner of bureaucracies everywhere the guards let the prisoners mainly administer themselves making it “essentially a German military camp”.

Sergeant August Neumann, Head of Civil Security, and his assistant, Corporal Klaus Aachen, find Mueller while doing rounds. Neumann is sure it is murder not suicide.

Mueller was unpopular with some prisoners and called “the Bolshevik” not from his political views but because:

He was more interested in helping the younger and less-educated soldiers improve themselve so they could find better positions when the conflict ends.

With multiple rows of barbed wire surrounding the camp the killer was either a prisoner or a guard. None of the prisoners think it was a guard.

Neumann, 6 ½ feet tall and strongly built, is a commanding presence. He is respected, even feared, because he is “no ordinary sergeant”.

There are power struggles within the camp. Was Mueller caught up in camp politics or too outspoken about the war or was he killed because of a personal conflict?

Traitors are not just despised. They are eliminated.

Though many of the prisoners are physically softened by prison camp life virtually all the prisoners are very capable killers.

Neumann is a shrewd investigator skillled at reading psyches, well aware of the camp’s internal tensions, ready to push the righteous Nazis and willing to back off when appropriate.

Neumann and Aachen have the special bond that comes from combat in the same unit. They were captured in North Africa.

They are dogged in their search for a killer many in camp would be content never be found.

With little back story for Neumann and Aachen there is an air of mystery about them. For Neumann we learn little of his life before the war beyond that he was a soldier in WW I and was a “village policeman”. I would have preferred more on the lives of Neumann and Aachen. It would have helped me to understand their motivations and decisions.

The plot is a classic mystery in the sense of a closed setting with all the suspects unable to leave.

It is a challenge to have the characters doing enough to be interesting. Arthurson does well in maintaining interest in a setting where boredom is rampant for there is a lot of time with little to do. Camp 133 is an interesting book. I am glad to have read it.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Local Food Experiences in Crime Fiction and Real Life

Love of food is universal. Many crime fiction sleuths are as passionate about food as they are about solving murders. Nero Wolfe was far more concerned about eating well than murders. Recently a pair of mysteries I read show how different cultures love food amidst murder investigations. Sharon and I seek out local food experiences when we travel.

In The Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette the focus of the story is key lime pie in Key West, Florida. The traditional filling features simple ingredients - key lime juice, condensed milk and eggs. Almost infinite variations exist upon the theme. It is anathema to use green food colouring.

Hayley Snow, food critic for the Key Zest magazine, enjoys a wide variety of food from fast food to ethnic to fine dining. Every day in mid-winter is a rush as Hayley bustles around the city sampling foods. As well she is asking questions related to murder.

In Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri rural Tuscany in the fall is also bustling with tourists. What is different from Key West is that in both restaurants and homes the cooking is Italian. Most are Tuscan recipes. A few southern Italian dishes may be tried.

Former homicide New York homicide detective, Nico Doyle, has a measured pace to his days. Even as he assists the Italian police he is not in a hurry.

For Hayley and many Key Westers a quick bite to eat, especially in the morning, is common. The Tuscans sit down in cafes for their bite to start the day. Doyle enjoys a coffee and cornetti with friends.

In Key West diners enjoy food from near and far. The bounty of America and the Caribbean is featured. In Tuscany they eat the food of their region. Not a dish was mentioned that used food from outside Italy.

Both sleuths are serious about food. Each loves to cook. They are patient with careful preparation. Meals are made to be shared with family and friends.

To welcome her mother-in-law to Key West, Hayley prepares a “hominy and shrimp stew … with hominy from a mail-order bean company …. and fresh Key West pink shrimp”.

For a supper with the two carabinieri he is aiding, Nico prepared a sauce:

Thinly sliced leeks, broccoletti and mushrooms browned in butter, then wetted with a little white wine. Once the wine had almost evaporated he’d added vegetable broth, salt and pepper and let it summer until slightly thickened. The last touch was whisking in a few tablespoons of mascarpone.

He served the sauce with penne.

We have been to Tuscany. Sharon and I visited a village like Gravigna of Murder in Chianti. We climbed to the top of a ruined tower to look across the countryside. On the way down we met a 90 year old woman on her way to get some food from the market to make her lunch. We had a lovely meal at a vineyard with some fine wine though the “Super Tuscans” were far too expensive for us to sample.

Our recent cruise took us to Key West but we did not have time to have a meal there.

Later on the cruise we did have a wonderful local food
experience in the Lake District of Chile. We went ashore at Puerto Montt with Chef Noelle from the Oceania Cruise Line’s ship, Marina. We took a bus to the market where we met Chef Richard. 

He took us through the market. We saw freshly caught fish, the largest mussels I have ever seen, beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits. While talking to us about the food of the region, he was purchasing what looked best for a meal he would cook for us.

We went to the nearby German influenced town of Puerto Varas where beautiful roses grow everywhere. The photos in this post were taken in the market and Puerto Varas.

While we were in and around the town square Chef Richard was cooking. When we returned to the restaurant an amazing meal was ready.

We started with raw mussels sprinkled with lime juice.

Fresh sea urchin was next.

Ceviche with dried kelp followed.

A creamy herb soup with smoked mussels was then served.

A pomfret filet, steamed asparagus and roasted potatoes were the main course.

Dessert was a silky sabayon with fresh cherries with a touch of a local liquor infused.

Chilean wines and beers accompanied the meal.

When we were done Chef Richard sat down and chatted about food and life in Chile.

We were happy travellers on our way back to the ship.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri

(3. - 1118.) Murder in Chianti by Camilla Trinchieri - It is early fall in the Tuscan countryside. The tomatoes have ripened. Nico Doyle, formerly of New York, is renting a small house. Life should be good but he is alone. His wife Rita has died and he is adrift. With nothing to keep him in New York the ex-homicide detective has come to live near Rita’s hometown of Gravigna. Finding a man just shot to death close to his house is a complication to his new life.

Salavatore Perillo, Mareschiallo dei Carabinieri, leads the investigation. He puts up a confident front he will soon solve the crime. Inside, he is uneasy. His only previous murder case was simple. This investigation will be complex. His young assistant, Daniele, is inexperienced. Might the newcomer from America be helpful?

The Italians are confounded that the murder victim, a man of mature years, is wearing gold coloured sneakers. No Italian man would wear them.

Nico is living a simple life. He works on his house. He helps out at the restaurant owned by Rita’s family. He contributes a new dish featuring fresh tomatoes.

Nico’s departure from the NYPD was forced. He has no inclination to explain why.

Mornings start for Nico with a visit to a cafe where he buys coffee and fresh cornetti for himself and Gogol, a simple man in his 70’s, who has memorized Dante’s The Divine Comedy and often replies to questions with a quote in the Old Italian of the original. I was reminded of Laurie R. King’s book, To Play the Fool, in which a character, Brother Erasmus, speaks only in quotes from the Bible or Shakespeare.

There is an air of melancholy about Nico. Being invited to be an unofficial aide in the murder investigation gives him some unexpected purpose.

Everyone has past regrets, events and relationships that have been buried. It is clear the motive for murder is not current.

Everyone has struggles with moving ahead in life. For the younger, such as Stella the young cousin of Rita, there are the uncertainties of a first love and whether to stay or leave a home with centuries of family history. For the older, such as Nico, there are the bonds to a lost, deeply loved spouse.

Salvatore is a proud man of modest origins in southern Italy. He strives to live up to his name - “the one who saves”.

The trio of Nico, Salvatore and Daniele bond over a fine meal cooked by Nico. They pursue information diligently. Tourists are uneasy about unsolved murder. With 20,000 tourists arriving in the area for the Chianti Expo, pressure from above is building on Salvatore.

Salvatore uses his status and easy charm to question witnesses. Daniele uses his computer skills to search out information. Nico, while a new arrival, is a good listener and residents, reticent at best with the police, are alittle freer in their conversations around him.

Not all secrets should be shared. Gogol tells Nico:

“Let us both have the courage of silence.”

The book has an interesting pace. It is not leisurely. It is not a rush to the end. It is a relaxed journey. The pace fits the Tuscan setting. Its residents work hard but take the time to shop, visit, share a coffee, cook and savour meals.

It is a good book. I expect I will read the second in the series. In the outsider, Nico, coming to rural Italy I was reminded of Going to Beautiful with the visitors, Jake and Baz, from Toronto going to the countryside in Saskatchewan.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Hemingway House in Key West

Late last year Sharon and I went on a long cruise on the Marina, an Oceania Cruises ship. The first stop was Key West Florida. I went ashore with some literary looking in mind.

While I did some book shopping (both Books and Books and Key West Books are excellent stores) I was most interested in visiting Hemingway House. Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, went to Key West in 1928 and lived in Hemingway House from 1931 - 1939. The house was purchased for them by Pauline’s Uncle Gus.

The home and adjacent carriage house, where he had a writing studio on the second floor, are open to the public. With only a short time available ashore I did not go upon a guided tour. From listening a bit as I moved around the house I wish I could have taken a tour.

There were enough cards and other information that I greatly enjoyed going through the house.

Set in a large yard it is an inviting house. The photo to the right shows the exterior from the yard.

I found the large airy bedroom the most interesting room in the house. Of particular interest were a pair of the resident cats who clearly consider themselves in charge. The photo at the left shows a pair of the cats upon the bed. At the bottom of this post is the view from the bedroom to the top balcony shown on the photo of the outside of the house.

Hemingway was given a 6 toed cat, Snow White, by a ship captain on the Hemingway House website. Some in his family dispute the story. Some of the dozens of cats in residence today trace their lineage back to Snow White.

The highlight of my visit was seeing Hemingway’s writing studio. While visitors are limited to looking through the doorway you can easily view the large room with a modest desk and a typewriter.

It is a wonderful room. I would have found it hard to concentrate as it would be so inviting to sit and read.

During the 11 years Hemingway resided in Key West he wrote extensively including the novel, To Have and Have Not, set in Key West and Cuba.

When he had enough of writing Hemingway could go for a swim in the pool (the first private pool in Key West) just outside the door of the carriage house.

Anyone who enjoys books will find Hemingway House an intriguing place to visit.


 The Hemingway House website has numerous photos and interesting information https://www.hemingwayhome.com/.