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.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Kleptopia by Tom Burgis

(13. - 1128.) Kleptopia by Tom Burgis - We all know money flows swiftly around the world. We all know a significant amount of that flowing money comes from corrupt practices. We all know that most of that money stops flowing when it is laundered into Western world currencies. 

What I did not know is how the money flows nor did I know the staggering quantity of corrupt money nor did I know how it is washed clean.

Burgis provides the details of what we all know and what I did not know in a brilliant narrative on world corruption.

Kazakhstan provides the foundation for the story. Its dictator, President Nursultan Kazarbayev, took charge of the nation after the breakup of the USSR. Blessed with oil and other natural resources he has bestowed great wealth upon selected colleagues and family members and himself.

At the heart of the book are “the Trio” - Alexander “Sasha” Machkevitch from Kyrgyzstan, Patokh Chokiev from Uzbekistan and Alijan Ibragimov of Uihghur descent.

Led by the Trio the money gravitates West. Most goes to London though the United States is also favoured. Connections are made in Africa and other nations.

A significant portion of the book covers the travails of Mukhtar Ablyazov. He was a Kazak businessman who owned one of Kazakhstan’s largest banks until he made the decision to oppose Kazarbayev. Within a short time Ablyazov flees to England seeking asylum while the Kazk government pursues him and his wealth.

Burgis shows how cleverly Kazarbayev uses the subservient Kazak legal system to declare a criminal an oligarch who betrays him by trying to threaten his leadership. With willing English lawyers he then leverages the English legal system to grant judgments against the erring oligarch.

In Africa, Rober Mugabe, having bankrupted Zimbabwe uses an investment of $100 million to buy a final election that keeps him in power until he is forced from office in 2017.

Even in countries, such as Canada, where we believe it is difficult to invest corrupt money, the tentacles of Eastern Europe oligarchs reach into the nation. Alex Shnaider has become a billionaire. Burgis outlines how Shnaider's connections to his father-in-law, Boris Birstein, who was deeply connected to the Kremlin and the Ukraine for decades, let him and a partner purchase a Ukrainian steel mill for $70 million, a fraction of its worth. When Shnaider and his partner decided, about 10 years later to sell, they were forced to sell to Russian interests chosen by the Kremlin for $850 million. (From the purchase price $50 million went as a break fee to another buyer, $10 million to the partners and $100 million as “commission” to an unnamed party or parties.) Shnaider shifted enough money to Canada to invest heavily in Canadian real estate including the Trump Tower that used to be in Toronto.

What I did not see was mention of Canadian banks.

Swiss banks, despite agreements with the U.S. and other countries to prevent tax fraud, remain very active in the movement of international money.

I was surprised by how eager Conservtive and Labour politicians in England were to embrace the Trio and their “comrades”.

I learned the perils of modern black money. Between Western governments constantly investigating and rapacious unreliable colleagues there is constant personal danger. Best to spend the loot.

While the aging oligarchs are transferring money to family members it is not clear whether the connections of the fathers will be beneficial to the next generation.

Sometimes, journalists try to tell a long story by strung together self-contained articles. Burgis avoids that approach. He is a skilled and convincing storyteller. I am confident numerous oligarchs slept less comfortably after Kletopia’s publication. My next position will be about an oligarchial reaction to the book.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 Winers of Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence

I consider the highlight of the year for the Crime Writers of Canada is the announcement of winners of the Annual Awards. While life is getting closer to normal the 2022 Awards were awarded virtually. A link to this year’s visual presentation is at the end of this post.

Congratulations to the winners. 

They are:

Best Crime Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo, with a $1000 prize

Dietrich Kalteis, Under an Outlaw Moon, ECW Press

Best Crime First Novel sponsored by Writers First, with a $500 prize
Ashley Audrain, The Push, Viking Canada

The Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery sponsored by Jane Doe, with a $500 prize
Candas Jane Dorsey, What’s the Matter with Mary Jane?, ECW Press

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada sponsored by The Engel Family, with a $500 prize
C. S. Porter, Beneath Her Skin, Vagrant Press / Nimbus Publishing Inc.

Best Crime Novella sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $200 prize
Wayne Ng, Letters From Johnny, Guernica Editions

Best Crime Short Story sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $300 prize
Elizabeth Elwood, Number 10 Marlborough Place, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Best French Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)
Patrick SenĂ©cal, Flots, Editions Alire

Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction) sponsored by Shaftesbury, with a $500 prize
Kevin Sands, The Traitor's Blade, Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book sponsored by Simpson & Wellenreiter LLP, Hamilton, with a $300 prize
Nate Hendley, The Beatle Bandit, Dundurn Press

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript sponsored by ECW Press, with a $500 prize
Renee Lehnen, Elmington

Video link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjSQew_DnnA

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bookstores, Restaurants, Libraries and Peanuts In California

Sharon and I spent last week in San Rafael, California. She was in residence at the campus of Guide Dogs For the Blind (GDB) working on orientation and mobility skills. While Sharon was at GDB I had some time to explore Marin County and go across the bridge to San Francisco for the first game of the Golden State Warriors series with the Dallas Mavericks. When I travel I like to visit bookstores, libraries and sites with a literary connection.

On Sunday I had a late lunch at Sol Food, a Puerto Rican restaurant. It has a boisterous atmosphere and the food was pretty good. I was assigned a stool at the bar. After lunch I visited the Copperfield’s Bookstore in San Rafael.

I was looking for and found a copy of Stacey Abrams book, While Justice Sleeps. I am currently reading the book. It is a well written book involving the death of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. One of his young clerks, Avery Keene, finds herself unexpectedly in the midst of a legal and political turmoil.

Browsing further I came across The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King. While I minimize reading blurbs I was drawn to the book which is subtitled “The Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance”.

After looking online I decided to go shopping for some colourful shirts at Louis Thomas Fine Mens Apparel in Corte Madera. It was a fine store and I came away with a pair of shirts, one featuring red flowers and the other a purple on purple design.

My salesman, Mark, recommended lunch at Pacific Catch a block away. I had a fine trio of seafood (shrimp, salmon and sea bass) with Mexican spiced corn on the cob and crab mashed potatoes.

I had not planned a bookstore stop but nearing the freeway I saw a sign for Book Passages. I succumbed to temptation. It was a wonderful store. There were thousands of books and a nice area for author events. I could have bought lots of books but my TBR piles are building again and I had just ordered four books from Sleuht of Baker Street from the shortlist for the Best Crime Fiction Novel set in Canada Crime Writers of Canada. In the end, I rationalized I had to buy a book and choose The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear. It will be the 16th book in the Maisie Dobbs series I have read.

On Wednesday I went out to West Marin County. I was surprised by how rural the County is once you get a few kilometres west of the 101 Freeway. I wound my way around and up and down the hills, usually going no more than 35 mph. With no ditches I drove through a small forest with the trees but a few feet from the roadway. It is a farming and ranching country. I felt like I was back in rural Saskatchewan except for the hills. And it is just over an hour from the heart of San Francisco.

I made my way to Nick’s Cove Restaurant on Tomales Bay where I had 6 excellent raw oysters. I wish I had ordered a dozen.

I drove down the coast to Point Reyes Station where I found Point Reyes Books. It is not often there is a bookstore in a town of 850 people. It has been there since 1969 with a series of dedicated owners. It is a very nice bookstore with a good selection of books. They mystery section is modest but I had to buy a book to support this independent bookseller. I found Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weider which is about Virgil Wounded Horse, an enforcer on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Thursday I went down to Sausalito for lunch at Scoma’s. It is a beautiful restaurant set on a small pier into the bay with downtown San Francisco in the background. The baked oysters I had were alright but I should have had the raw oysters.

Noticing the library was nearby I went for a visit. What I found most interesting were a pair of programs. For children they offer Reading to a Dog. It is focused on children who do not feel comfortable reading aloud. They are given a chance to read a book to a dog the staff described as loveable and patient. For teens and tweens they have set up a weekly Dungeons and Dragons board game with a staff member creating adventures.

Back in San Rafael I stopped at the library. What caught my attention was the mystery section. It wrapped around half of one outside wall and more than half of another wall. It just went on and on with multiple books by many authors. One way I distinguish significant collections is whether they have some lesser known but

quality authors. I was happy to see they had several Inspector Chen books by Qiu Xiaolong.

On Friday I went north to Santa Rosa where I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum. It was great to step back into the world of the Peanuts comic strip. Over 20 years have gone by since the last original strip was published. 2022 is the centenary of Schulz’s birth.

I went through the gallery setting out his development as a cartoonist and the history of Peanuts.

On the second floor they have re-created his office where he drew the strip on a simple easel while sitting in a comfortable chair. A photo is above. I was reminded of my visit to Hemmingway House in Key West where his writing room was restored.

Also on the second floor was a bright room with papers and pencils and crayons so you could draw for yourself. I decided to draw a picture of Snoopy on his doghouse flying off to face the Red Baron. A photo of my effort and the original is below.

Most vividly I watched one of the T.V. shows featuring Charlie Brown and the cast of Peanuts. It was about Charlie Brown competing in a school decathlon. As usual, he tries hard and comes close but fails to win. He is comforted for trying hard and being a good guy.

I wonder if that show could be made today. We have become a contradictory culture. Winning is emphasized in sports. At the same time children are shielded from losing through participation awards. I am glad to see recognition for taking part but losing is a part of life. Charlie Brown lost all the time in ball. He was frustrated but he kept playing and trying. There is much to be learned from losing in sports events.

On the way out I took the photo at the top of this post of our hero. I love you Charlie Brown.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizu - Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

12. - 1127.) The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo - Translated by Louise Heal Kawai - (1973) - The unnamed narrator, a writer of detective stories, with a fine appreciation of classic locked room mysteries is evacuated to rural Japan in WW II. Curious by nature and occupation he investigates the killings that occurred in 1937.

The victims are Kenzo and Katusko who were savagely slain on their wedding night in the annexe, a house next to the main house. The doors and windows were locked or secured from the inside. About a couple of hours before they were killed, heavy snow began to fall. There were no tracks in the snow around the annexe. There were some muddy footprints going towards the house.

Outside the house are found a bloody katana and bridge. The latter is from a koto (a japanese stringed instrument) which was in the annexe.

Fingerprint analysis shows a mysterious three fingered stranger with a scar slashed across his face, who had been in the area a short time before the wedding, had been in the annexe. His fingerprints are in the blood.

In real life the mysterious stranger committing murder is rare. Yokomizo provides a plausible scenario that he is not so mysterious for a connection is found between Kenzo and a stranger. Can the investigators identify that, distant in time, stranger?

Kosuke Kindaichi, a famed young private detective, is summoned. He is an “unremarkable” looking young man in his mid-20’s - “he seemed stunningly indifferent to his appearance”. Formerly a drug addict he applies “reasoning and logic” to the evidence collected by the police. The narrator associates him with a fictional English detective.

In an intriguing development for mystery book lovers, there is an extensive collection of crime fiction, including locked room mysteries, in the main house. Saburo, who is Kenzo’s younger brother, has assembled the books. Most remarkably, Kindaichi, uses the collection to help him solve the case.

As usual, even though I reviewed past information as new particulars were provided I could not solve the locked room. I returned time after time to the diagram helpfully provided. I had an inkling about what happened but no solution.

I thought The Honjin Murders was not a great book but it is an excellent, very clever mystery.

The translation felt a touch awkward. It seemed as if the characters were speaking in a more modern idiom than 1937.

I was glad I took a chance on The Honjin Murders. I now understand the fame of the author. It is the first Kindaichi mystery. The author blurb says it has never been translated into English until now. There are an additional 76 books featuring Kindaichi! I am going to have to read more of them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Stellar Book Launch for Going to Beautiful

At the historic Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon last Friday night the McNally Robinson Bookstore sponsored the local launch of Anthony Bidulka’s new book, Going to Beautiful. It was an excellent evening - the first gathering of book lovers I have attended in 2 years.

Tony was resplendent in a shimmering gold brocade jacket featuring bright floral designs. He sat down in front of me as the program began. 

The evening opened with a fond tribute from Tony’s husband, Herb McFaul. They have been together for over 30 years.

Tony is intensely proud of his Ukrainian heritage. When planning the event he learned of a talented 13 year old singer, Kateryna Grace, who is also Ukrainian. Initially the concept was to celebrate the Ukraine.

With the Russian invasion the theme changed to honouring and supporting the Ukraine. It was a powerful moment when Kateryna, standing before a Ukrainian flag upon the theatre screen, sang the Ukrainian national anthem a cappella. She then moved everyone with a song she had written expressing her emotions of braveUkrainians fighting for their homeland.

Tony came to the stage. He spoke of the challenge in finding a publisher for a book about a gay man, his trans friend, rural residents (Ukrainian and Chinese) and a nun with the story set in rural Saskatchewan. He said he knew he had the right publisher in Stonehouse Publishing when they spent the first 20 minutes of their initial meeting talking about how they loved the book before turning to contractual matters. 

He read from the opening section of the book about Jake Hardy, greatly suffering from a “man cold” (the women in the audience snickered) being comforted by his husband, Eddie Krevits, with a gentle touch. Later that night, Jake, staggering out to the kitchen and then onto their apartment patio greets Eddie before returning to bed. It was the last time he saw Eddie alive,

Anthony said that he seeks to write about underrepresented characters and settings in his books.

He stated that when he started writing he had not set out to write books set in Saskatchewan. He said his writing now when it involves Saskatchewan is intentional.

On the use of humour in his books he said that he only tried to be humorous in one unnamed book. He thought it did not go well. I would not use the word humorous for his writing. I prefer witty and carefree like the author. Anthony has a natural flair that comes through in his writing.

He was proud to announce he has signed to release a new book next year. It will be titled Living Sky. On its setting he suggested we look to our licence plates. Saskatchewan licence plates bear the motto “Land of Living Skies”.

To end Anthony said he hoped readers, when they finish Going to Beautiful, will have a smile on their faces and their hearts feeling larger. He put aptly how I felt.

Many in the large crowd came forward to have copies of the book signed by Anthony who was seated beside his mother, Johanna, who is soon to be 90. Not to be outdone by her son she wore a striking pink suit jacket and pants.

Readers of the Russell Quant series will recognize Johanna in Russell’s indomitable mother, Kay.

The theatre was a striking setting with its whimsical
walls with a castle balcony here and a smiling bear there.

Tony’s love of food, especially Ukrainian food, meant the evening snacks were the dishes of Going to Beautiful. Dreen’s Catering supplied perogies (boiled and fried), slices of kielbasa, a second sausage, dill pickles, sour cream and small cinnamon twists. Those who arrived early enough, such as myself, were treated to a free beer to wash down the hearty Ukrainian fare.

Many events have a glitch. Tony’s was memorable. As he went upon the stage you could see he was not wearing shoes. It was not a unique fashion statement honouring his character, Eddie. He said as he was backstage the whole heel came off a shoe. Undaunted he strode proudly forward in magnificent pink socks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

(11. - 1126.) The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey - Perveen Mistry, the first woman solicitor in Bombay, is drawn into the conflict over the visit to the city of the Prince of Wales, Edward. It is late in 1921 and supporters of Gandhi’s Congress Pary urge a boycott of the visit.

An 18 year old first year university student, Freny Cuttingmaster, who is also a Parsi dies in a fall at Woodburn College during the Prince’s procession. Mistry is outside the College watching the Prince when the fall takes place. She sees Cuttingmaster upon the ground.

Freny, opposed to British rule, had consulted with Perveen a couple of days earlier. Mistry, both curious and feeling guilty over Freny’s death, seeks to find out what happened to Freny.

One of the Prince’s aides is a college friend, Colin Sandringham, who has come down from the hills. Sandringham would like a personal relationswith Perveen. (They had spent time together in The Satapur Moonstone.) She is reluctant. Her reputation risks being shredded if it were thought she had a relationship with the English ICS officer.

Tensions are high with Hindus and Muslims seeking out Europeans and Parsis. Tthey believe the Parsis support the English. There is violence in the streets.

A coroner’s inquest is held into Freny’s sudden death. I will discuss it more in another post. The inquest is a genuine exploration of the circumstances and cause of Freny’s death.

With grave worries for the Prince’s safety, his security detail carefully examines Perveen’s connections with Freny.

The book explores the relationships between the English and Indians. At times the English recognize the differences between the Hindus, Moslems and Parsi. Equally often they equate them as Indians.

As a woman, Perveen treads a delicate path through religious customs, precise etiquette, rigid social norms, class distinctions, overt prejudice and family expectations. Image is as important in 1921 as it is in 2022. That she is a lawyer adds to the complexity of her life.

Once again Massey finds a credible niche for Perveen as a female solicitor. It is a challenge being the first woman solicitor in Bombay. Perveen does her best to show reluctant clients she is capable of handling their legal matters. At the same time she contends with dismissive male authorities, both English and Indian. She longs to be an advocate in court but no woman has acted as a barrister. Will she ever be allowed to represent clients in trials or be kept on the periphery of judicial proceedings such as coroner’s inquests?

Mistry is a determined but not reckless woman. Adding personal danger to her in the plot adds a bit of action but not credibility.

The book got off to a slow start but the pace picked up briskly. In the end, I enjoyed the book but it did not sparkle like the first two books in the series.