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, March 29, 2022

Codicils in Fiction and Real Life

A significant part of my legal practice for the last 46 years has involved wills and estates. I have prepared about 2,500 wills and been involved in estate litigation throughout my career. I note how authors handle legal issues and occasionally explore their approaches.

In this post I discuss a codicil to a will in To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. (Jeremy) Siemens. While there is no spoiler as to the resolution of the plot in this post it may give more information than some readers would prefer to have before reading the book.

In the book the victim, Geri Harp, made a codicil to her will shortly before her death giving several million dollars to a lover. I did not think the codicil worked well in the plot. As a lawyer I found it a distraction. It felt like the codicil was added to the existing plot.

There was too much ambiguity for me. I could not tell whether the will was prepared by a lawyer or Geri. Considering her wealth and a reference to her lawyer I would expect the will was done by a lawyer. I doubt the codicil was prepared by a lawyer for codicils are rarely used by lawyers at this time. It is easier to re-write the will. Codicils were used prior to computers to avoid having to write out the will again. There are good reasons for a new will rather than a codicil. I tell testators (the makers of wills) that beneficiaries only need to know your last distribution. A new will avoids the necessity of proving the execution of the will and the codicil. 

In the book it was not stated who were the original beneficiaries of the will. A codicil amends a will. The bequest to the lover meant one or more other beneficiaries received less of Geri’s estate. The change could have provided a motive to disappointed beneficiaries if readers had known whose share was diminished. 

The codicil itself was troubling. There is first a reference to Geri’s daughter, Darci, finding it in her mother’s files and later in the book she said it was printed off a computer which was confusing for only the original signed codicil could be valid. I will assume there was an original signed by Geri. There are no references to witnesses to the codicil.

Unless the original codicil cannot be found you must file the original in court. To attempt to prove a copy of a codicil is difficult as strong evidence is needed that the original was lost rather than destroyed by the maker.

Two years ago our office successfully probated a copy of a will. The original had been taken by the maker from our office after signing with the intention of putting it in a safety deposit box. When the maker died a few months later it was not in the safety deposit box and could not be found. We were able through affidavits to show the court there was no reason in the maker’s life to have destroyed the will and it was lost by him.

If the codicil was a document typed on a computer and printed it could not have been a holograph codicil. In B.C. holograph wills and codicils are not a part of the B.C. Wills Act. To be a holograph codicil, which needs no witnesses, the document must be in the handwriting of the maker of the will. (Below is a link to a post I wrote concerning the holograph will in Michael Connelly’s book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and the most famous will in Saskatchewan history.)

The printed codicil in To Those Who Killed Me would normally need two witnesses who are neither beneficiaries nor the spouses of beneficiaries. There are no references to witnesses in the book.

Revisions to B.C.'s Wills Act allow courts to validated documents that reflect the testamentary intentions of the deceased. Substantial compliance effectively allows holograph codicils and the lack of witnesses does not mean the codicil was automatically invalid. A court would make a careful and thorough examination of the evidence around the making of the alleged codicil.

Last year I handled a case that illustrates judicial examination of what is needed for a holograph codicil. I successfully argued in the Nicklen Estate that the notes written on the back of an auto supply store receipt were not a holograph codicil. (A link to the decision is below.)

What was done with the codicil in the book was implausible for it would be obvious upon the original though the approach is clearly simpler than what would have happened had the codicil been judicially examined on the issues set out in this post.

Maybe only lawyers would be interested but I think an interesting sub-plot could have been created dealing with the actual legal issues of the codicil in To Those Who Killed Me. On further reflection the legal sub-plot I suggested might be better in a book that is not a high paced thriller.

I have omitted a discussion on the further legal issues where the beneficiary of a codicil is deceased.



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Exchange with Jeremy Siemens on To Those Who Killed Me

In my last post I reviewed To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. (Jeremy) Siemens. After writing the review I exchanged emails with Jeremy. They form this post. My thanks to Jeremy for his prompt and candid reply. 



 After reading a book I like writing to an author with further thoughts on a book and a few questions for the author.

 I completed the book this weekend and posted a review last night. A link to the post is below.

 Fair or not in the reading world titles and book covers matter. I thought the title and cover were perfect.

 I would be interested in knowing how the title, To Those who Killed Me, was chosen. It has inherent drama and leads the reader to wonder who the “those” are from the first page.

 As to the cover I assume it is Sloane. If it is not I will have once again learned the risks of assumption. If it is Sloane the silhouette captures her better than any portrait or photo. The cover reflects her complex personality. It would draw me on any bookshelf.

 As set out in my review I loved the pace of the book but the violence level became so extreme as the end neared. I would like to read more of Sloane but hope the violence quotient was diminished. She has the intelligence and personality to solve cases by lower body counts. Brains rather than bodies appeal to me as a reader.

Sloane is a worthy addition to the hard boiled detectives who work the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. 

Even before reading the blurbs upon the cover I was thinking of fellow Vancouver writers, Sam Wiebe and A.J. Devlin.

I wish Jed “Hammerhead” Ounstead, Dave Wakeland and Sloane would form a detective agency. They would be a dynamite trio.

Sloane is an unusual name. Before I read the book I wondered if she was based on the Sloane Rangers of England. Could a work of noir feature a sleuth with the posh sensibilities and distinct attire of a Sloane Ranger? After reading the first chapter I knew there was zero connection unless Sloane Donovan was intended to be the very antithesis of a Sloane Ranger. I would be interested in the source of her name.

 I have reservations about the codicil to a will in To Those Who Killed Me and will be putting up a post on codicils in crime fiction.

You have a talent for driving the narrative.

If you are able to reply I would like to post your response.

Best of luck with Sloane’s next ride.

Bill Selnes 


Hi Bill,

 First of all, thank you so much for your great and insightful review. I will be posting links to it on social media today or tomorrow. 

 Now to answer your questions.

The title. For much of the manuscript's life, it went by Better the Devil You Know. Titles are hard, and it wasn't until umpeen rejections that my good pal A.J. Devlin suggested changing the title to To Those Who Killed Me, which is obviously the first line in Geri's suicide note. At first I wasn't crazy about the idea. Truthfully, I never am when someone else suggests a significant change to my work. But an hour later, as I was driving, I had a sudden flash, like, "Yes, that is the title now." And I went home and changed it and didn't look back.

The woman on the cover is most certainly Sloane. Michel Vrana is the amazing designer who should get full credit for the cover, but I'm happy to say that I had some input as well. Because Sloane's physicality is so intrinsic to the book, I wanted an image of her running through an alley to convey that.

Pacing for me is key. I come from a screenwriting background, and I believe that every scene has to propel the story forward. I also believe that for a crime novel to be effective, it ought to be exciting, and for that to happen, it has to move. In writing a character like Sloane, who struggles with her mental health, I wanted the story to build faster and faster, to a near frenetic pace, where it almost becomes a race to solve the crime before she unravels completely.

The violence. Believe it or not, the violence got toned down a fair bit compared to earlier drafts. I never wanted it to be gratuitous, but I feel that when a character is going up against brutal and ruthless adversaries--true stone killers--that there is a high probability they will be involved in very extreme, life or death situations. Sloane's condition also makes her reckless at times, and she puts herself in harm's way more than any normal person would. It's also possible that I was channeling some of the Nordic authors who I love so much, who tend to write darker and more brutal scenes than their North American counterparts. That said, book 2 (CALL OF THE VOID) is a little less violent, a little less brutal, but perhaps even more unsettling.

I think the trio of Hammerhead Jed, Dave Wakeland, and Sloane Donovan would either make for an indominable force or would turn out to be the stuff of comic books (which is not necessarily a bad thing). I am friends with both those authors and am a huge fan of what they have done with their respective series'. Tonally I think my work is a bit more similar to Sam's, and A.J.'s is a bit more slapstick, but God only knows what would happen if you threw the three characters into a story. It's fun to think about anyhow, and A.J. and I have tossed the idea around a few times.

The name Sloane. Originally it was Sloan. I just thought it was a great, strong sounding name. No idea where it came from, I just liked it. A few early readers said it sounded masculine, so I tried it with an e on the end, and I liked that even better. I'm forever jotting down names I think sound unique, and my memory is terrible. I may well have seen or read something about the Sloane Rangers, but if I did I can't remember. Blame it on taking too many punches during my aborted boxing career. 

Thanks once again, Bill! 


J.T. Siemens

p.s. Feel free to publish my answers and edit as necessary.



Saturday, March 19, 2022

To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. Siemens

(8. - 1123.) To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. Siemens - 


You murdered me before I even wrote

this. I should hate you both. I 

wish I could hate you, but I’m not

Evil like you both are.

My only question is ˆWHY?

Why did you push me to this?

Once you figure it out - 


Because I won’t have to

Sloane Donovan finds an envelope with this note next to her friend, Geri Harp, who had been drinking wine and taking drugs. A desperate attempt at resuscitation is unsuccessful. Sloane takes the note rather than giving it to the police. A chill went through me reading the note. 

Sloane and Geri had met 7 years earlier when Sloane was a member of the Vancouver Police Department and Geri was running the New Ways Women’s Shelter.

While a teenager Sloane was an obsessive runner then “a good little Zoloft-zombie”. Now 30 she remains a compulsive runner who downs bottles of wine to ease her ever jangled mind. 

She is a personal trainer at the Hillside Country Club in West Vancouver where Geri was involved with her tennis coach, Andy “Dogger” Peretti. Tennis is the activity of choice for many members.

Sloane has to know why Geri died. The note is lodged in her mind.

She hires a downscale private investigator at a further discounted rate to do research for her.

Sloane has style when she wants to create an impression. When the “slender redhead” wants to pose as a reporter:

I wore a black, knee-length skirt and matching blouse with a charcoal and blue pin-striped jacket and heels.

She left the police several years earlier after a searing event that will haunt her to the end of her days and readers long into the future.

Siemens is a talented writer who can say a lot with a few words. Geri’s daughter, Darci, wants Sloane to train her:

“...So I was thinking I’d like you to teach me to run fast enough to escape my problems. That works, right?”

“With mixed results,” I said.

Few among us in real life face rather than deflect problems.

I wish he had more such insights later in the book.

The pace builds as Sloane contacts those closely and distantly connected with Geri’s life. Not all are glad.

The investigation keeps taking her into the dark corners of the Downtown Eastside and West Van. It is a dark world Geri took herself into with her work at the shelter downtown. Wealthy West Van is little safer.

Drugs - prescription, street, hard, soft, combinations - are used and abused and refused throughout the book.

It is a harsh book. Readers need be ready for the darkness. As common with modern noir the level of violence built through the book with considerable detail. More on that issue in my next column.

The book is at its best exploring the tumultuous Sloane. Constantly on the edge of dysfunction, nightmares of her family past lurking in her “pinballing” mind, she is never at rest but she is resolute and resourceful. 

In a note on the copy of the book he sent me, Siemens said:

Hope you enjoy Sloane’s wild ride!

Wild it was and glad I was to have experienced it. The pages raced by in the exhilarating feeling of a great read. No drug or alcohol needed.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Storytelling for Selnes Children

I have been thinking about storytelling and children. Through three generations of the Selnes family stories have been all around me.

When I was a boy my Dad would tell my sister, Ann Marie, and I of his life. Most stories involved trapping and hardball (baseball was always hardball to him). He had a soft voice and a keen memory.

Every winter for almost 60 years he trapped wild animals. He was a careful observer of the habits of the foxes, coyotes, muskrats, beaver, mink, weasels, raccons and lynx in our area. He respected the animals he trapped.

He would talk of getting on his skis, with his packboard upon his back, his rifle over his shoulder and heading across the fields to check his traps.

He would also tell us how he would conceal himself and use calls to lure coyotes close enough that he could shoot them.

In the 1940’s he would be accompanied by his dog, Ted, who was a brave airedale terrier. Ted was never intimidated by the coyotes they pursued. Dad loved Ted and was always emotional when he thought of his dog.

For summertime stories Dad would talk about playing baseball with his cousins on the Meskanaw team. There could be as many as 5-6 Selnes’s playing at the same time in the 1930’s.

He would tell of the fun on trips to Sports Days in the back of a grain truck. Of dancing through the night and getting home just in time to start the day’s work on the farm.

They had a good team. He said one day at Silver Beach the first five batters for Meskanaw hit home runs. He was one of them. In his modest way he said the opposing pitcher was a bit discouraged.

Dad had been a catcher and would tell us of putting a beefsteak in the palm of the old round catcher’s mitt to deaden the impact of pitches. By the end of the day the steak would be pounded thin.

When my sons, Jonathan and Michael, were young I would tell them stories of life on the farm. Jonathan would not go to sleep unless I told him a story.

I told him about going to the one room country school called Galabank where there were 8 grades in the classroom. I said it was fun to have all the grades together. I told him I did get in trouble sometimes when I was in Grade 2 because I was more interested in what the kids in Grade 4 or 5 or 6 were learning and forget to do my schoolwork. 

I would tell him of riding in the school bus up and down the country roads. I said kids would sit in the back so they could bounce up when the bus hit ruts or bumps. One day a kid actually flew over a seat and cut his head. Another day a tire came off the bus and went rolling into the field beside the bus.

His favourite story was about Grandpa, my Dad, catching the bear. He never tired of the bear story. One spring bee hives were being damaged. Dad wondered about cattle but that seemed unlikely. When he saw some tracks he figured out it was a bear and borrowed a ferocious bear trap. He baited the trap with some bee larvae (bears like the larvae more than honey) and some fish. By the next morning he had caught the bear.

Now I am telling stories to my granddaughters, Hannah who is 4 and Hazy (Hazel) who is 2, when we FaceTime. Hannah is usually more interested in the stories than Hazy.

Instead of stories from real life Hannah wants me to tell her of adventures. Recently, she has wanted to hear the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It is easy to tell when she enjoys a story. She will say “Again!” as soon as it ends.

Looking to personalize the story I said that Goldilocks Hannah and her sister, Goldilocks Hazel, went into the forest and found the house of the three bears. The girls will try the porridge, sit in the chairs and end up asleep in the little bear’s bed.

I make the house have four floors with a bedroom on each floor and the little bear’s bed on the top floor.

When the bears find them sleeping in the little bear’s bed I sometimes have the girls escape by dodging around or through the legs of the bear.

Hannah sometimes adds to the story by saying the girls knocked the bears over.

Other times I have the girls escape through the window as Hannah has the magic power to fly. Hazel climbs on her back and Hannah puts her arms out and flies through the window.

In my last story Hannah, because she believes in magic, walked through the big mirror that leans against the wall of their living room in Calgary. As she was going through the forest looking for Rapunzel’s castle she accidentally wakes up a bear. He was a friendly bear and he showed her the way to the castle where she helped Rapunzel escape from an evil prince.

More stories are to be told.

(The photo is of Hannah in our backyard last summer.)

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Firewall by Henning Mankell

Occasionally when I am not ready with a new post I looked to reviews I have written but not posted to date. This post was written almost 14 years ago. I miss Henning Mankell. He died just over 6 years ago. Kurt Wallender has an enduring quality and I expect will be read long into the future.


14. - 424.) Firewall by Henning Mankell – Kurt Wallander faces a baffling set of circumstances in an apparently random attack on a taxi driver by two uncaring teenage girls, the subsequent escape and bizarre death of one of the girls and the apparent sudden death by natural causes of a computer genius. As the investigation unfolds Wallander faces personal internal investigation for slapping the girl who was attacking her mother when they lie about the fight between mother and daughter. The examination of the death of the computer consultant leads to a computer with extremely high firewalls. Robert Ludlum’s early books were great at setting up credible conspiracies. Mankell skilfully creates a shadowy conspiracy that is set on some devastating attack on world finances. The story reaches down into Angola where the conspiracy has its headquarters. Wallander is almost killed. A young Swedish hacker vigourously attacks the firewalls. Can Wallander stay alive and solve the mystery? Will he quit the police in frustration? It was very well done but not his best. It required the suspension of belief of a great conspiracy. (I could never understand why the conspirators had not simply taken away the computer at the heart of the investigation when they learned of the police interest.) Hardcover. (Mar. 31/08)\


Mankell, Henning – (2003) - Faceless Killers; (2004) - The Dogs of Riga; (2005) - The White Lioness; (2006) – Sidetracked (Best fiction of 2006); (2006) - The Fifth Woman; (2007) - One Step Behind (3rd best Fiction of 2007); (2008) – Firewall; (2009) - Before the Frost; (2010) - The Pyramid; (2012) - The Troubled Man

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

(36. - 1108.) The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (2002) - Talcott Garland is a member of an American aristocracy - wealthy and prominent Black Americans.

The Emperor of Ocean Park, while a work of fiction, unfolds like a real life autobiography of Talcott - Tal or Misha when greeted informally. He is a university law professor in the fictional city of Elm Harbor. His wife Kimmer (Kimberly) is a partner in an Elm Harbor law firm. 

While Talcott’s father was a distinguished lawyer and judge his reputation was shattered by a “mortifying confirmation fight” after he was nominated for the Supreme Court. Details roll out through the pages. Garland is a sardonic narrator.

His father has bequeathed to him a house on the Vineyard on Cape Cod near the Kennedy’s. Carter had me when Garland states:

My father died at his desk. And, at first, only my sister and a few stoned callers to late-night radio shows believed he had been murdered.

His sister, Mariah, has startled him with her pronouncement that “Uncle” Jack Ziegler killed their father. She insists he did not die of a heart attack.

Ziegler had been the Judge’s roommate at university. He is a “disgraced former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency” who lunched with the judge and, at the time of the confirmation hearing, was facing trial on multiple charges. Guilt by association is an American tradition. By the time Ziegler is acquitted of almost all charges the Judge’s nomination is long gone.

The upper class Garland family have their own class distinctions within the Black community. His mother referred to those Black people lacking their economic or social or academic status as not “our kind of Negro”.

He has his own pretensions. Black people are members of the “darker nation”. White people are the “paler nation”.

The Garland’s have good connections to other American elites.

Talcott and his father both have a:

“….  disapproving look. Like everybody’s morally smaller than you are.”

The Honorable Oliver C. Garland was a favourite of right wing groups and a constant media presence; he was an erudite conservative.

Kimmer is seeking a federal judicial appointment. In contemporary America she is right to worry whether a tainted father-in-law can doom her chances.

Some of the most interesting characters are the law school colleagues of Talcott. They are a varied group who are first identified by their liberal / conservative status and thereafter by their skills, in decreasing importance, as writers of scholarly articles, at collegial infighting in, fund raising, finding outside work and teaching. They maintain an outward civility to each other. I could have read a book devoted to their interactions. I doubt many non-lawyers would be as interested in the nuances of their positions on major legal issues and the conflicts, often modest in significance to those outside the law school, between them. 

Talcott is an outlier in the faculty as a Christian. Religious beliefs are rare among the professors. Atheism is preferred.

An unknown group believes he is the repository of “arrangements” conveyed by his father. He was not given any “arrangements”. Somehow his father’s hobby of creating chess problems is connected. Talcott is in a Kafequese situation. Carter handles the shadowy adversaries well. Credible conspiracies are a challenge.

When the break in the mystery comes it is neither luck nor intuition. It comes from Talcott analyzing a tidbit of information given to him.

The winding end to the conclusion is somewhat convoluted and loses some of the pace of the narrative. The drama is diminished by the cryptic answers provided to Talcott. Yet just when the pages are going slowly Carter adds a twist I never saw coming or starts driving the plot forward

The family dramas remain vivid. It is striking how it is the women of Talcott’s life who lead the way. He is more often the follower.

While the main characters are lawyers the law plays a modest role in the story. The politics of American judicial appointments are important but much of what happens could have had the characters in other prominent occupations or university faculties.

There are abundant memorable word vignettes. Watching the departure from the gravesite he thinks “my father, for most of the mourners, is already in the past”.

“The way it was before” echoes through the book. The phrase resonates with the fictional characters and readers. Only the events defining life vary from person to person. With the Garland’s change is not welcomed. “Before” was a better time in their family memories. Talcott knows “before” is gone but he cannot move forward unti her resolves “before”. The phrase haunts the book.

The book is a grand saga with even minor characters well drawn. I was reminded of my lament in my review of Noble House about looking for a grand modern saga. The Emperor of Ocean Park qualifies. I had wondered how Carter would end the long complex plot. He finds a credible resolution. As usual, I had not foreseen the ending. Carter is an excellent writer.