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, June 29, 2022

The Corpse With the Iron Will by Cathy Ace

(17. - 1122.) The Corpse With the Iron Will by Cathy Ace - When Gordy, her next door neighbour on Red River Mountain, dies Cait Morgan is deeply saddened. Gordy had been a good friend to Cait and Morgan is deeply saddened. Gordy her husband, Bud Anderson. Increasingly frail at 93, his death was not a shock but it was unexpected.

Gordy had lived simply with aging appliances, a woodstove, a radio, no television and several thousand books.

With no known relatives and no closer friends, Cait and Bud decide to clean up his house a bit and check Gordy’s papers. They are soon summoned to the office of Gordy’s lawyers in nearby Mission, British Columbia. He has left hand printed letters to a number of area residents with comments and requests. Included are Cait and Bud. I was fascinated. I have never had a client leave behind a group of letters to be distributed after death.

Cait, a professor and victim profiler, and Bud, a retired homicide investigator, are ready to honour his directions to them.

Gordy turns out to be far more than a friendly quirky neighbour. Bud and Cait have their own quirk. They refer to each other as “Husband” and “Wife”.

They are surprised to learn he was one of many Saskatchewan residents who moved west from the 1950’s onward, usually for greater economic opportunities.

When diaries covering decades are found, Cait dives into Gordy’s life and I was anxious to find out what she discovered. She can process what she has read quickly for her eidetic memory lets her make mental rather conventional written notes.

Gordy was deeply involved in breeding plants in their area of Southwestern British Columbia. 

With her quick mind Cait can be brusque. She has few good friends.

Being designated to give Gordy’s eulogy gives Cait a clever means of asking questions about Gordy and his relationships.

I enjoyed the characterizations and descriptions. I was not fond of the ending.

Ace is a gifted writer and Cait an interesting sleuth. I plan to read more in the series.

The Corpse With the Iron Will was another good choice for the shortlist for Best Canadian Crime Novel Set in Canada. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James

Reading more slowly than usual so I am reaching back for a review written in 2008 that I have not previously posted. Not one of the best books of James but better than many authors.


11. - 421.) The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James (1982) – I had not realized it was her female private detective, Cordelia Gray, who is the heroine. Gray, whose detective agency in London specializes in finding lost pets, is hired to be the companion / protector of actress Clarissa Lisle who has been receiving notes containing quotes from the Bible and classic plays concerning death. The beautiful aging Clarissa, who has failed in several recent plays, is attempting to resurrect her career by appearing in an amateur production of The Duchess of Malfi in a private theatre on the island of Courcy off the Dorset coast. Ambrose Gorringe, a passionate Victorian, has restored the castle and a 100 seat theatre. After arrival they learn of the bloody history of the island including a sordid death in World War II. Clarissa is a manipulator of the highest order with her husband Sir George Ralston (her trophy old soldier), dying theatre critic and former lover Ivo Whittington, stepson Simon, host Ambrose, her sister Roma Lisle and long time servant Tolly. When she is bashed to death all are plausible suspects. The castle room featuring objects and memorabilia of Victorian days is a predecessor of museum featured in her recent The Murder Room. The isolated setting is her preferred choice when not set in London. I unreasonably missed Adam Dagleish in the novel. While I could not get as excited about the characters and plot the solution was deft and fair which I have not always found in her mysteries. (Mar. 9/08)


James, P.D. – (2000) - A Taste for Death; (2001) - Death in Holy Orders; (2003) - The Black Tower; (2004) - The Murder Room; (2005) - Death of an Expert Witness; (2006) - The Lighthouse; (2008) - The Skull Beneath the Skin; (2009) - The Private Patient; (2009) - Cover Her Face; Always hardcover (See non-fiction as well)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Death on Darby’s Island by Alice Walsh

(15. - 1130.) Death on Darby’s Island by Alice Walsh - “Secrets have a way of destroying us”.

In the summer of 1975 it is big news when a hypnotist, Prospero, comes to Darby’s Island off the coast of Newfoundland. Entertainment is limited on the island. The one television channel broadcasts dated shows. With just under 800 residents, little live entertainment comes to the island.

Blanche Ste. Croix is among the first women to join the RCMP. She is determined not to let the “mistreatment” drive her from the force. The patronizing and condescending attitudes of most fellow male officers is frustrating. Blanche grew up on the island and is back to investigate a complaint about the nursing home manager.

At the same time she is cautiously exploring a reconciliation with her separated husband, Coop Pickford. 

The constant nagging of her mother-in-law, Gert, has worn on her. Whether Blanche is with Coop or separated, Gert whines and complains about her.

Even Gert’s sharp tongue is briefly stilled when Archbishop Malloy, is found murdered on the shore and her husband, Jake, had been hypnotized and disappeared is now the prime suspect.

A vicious winter storm with “the wind gusting about a hundred knots” (185 km per hour) prevents other RCMP officers from coming to the island. Blanche’s reluctant superiors have to let her investigate. They are comforted that another officer, Martin Birsay, on leave to help with his wife who has Alzheimer’s, is on the island.

I am very familiar with small communities from growing up in rural Saskatchewan where everyone knows each other and family histories and most secrets. In fiction Darby’s Island is very different from the prosperous Three Pines of the Armand Gamache books of Louise Penny. Most barely get by on Darby’s Island.

Where and when I grew up in Saskatchewan life was between the comfortable Three Pines and the hard existence on Darby’s Island. While the bare times of pioneer life were easing in Saskatchewan, lives remained modest. 

The book moves back and forth between the early 1960’s and 1975. Blanche grew up hungry and cold in a dysfunctional family.

The caring of and for neighbours is and was common in rural Canada. When someone is killed in the country the community is shocked. On Darby’s Island, as inevitable, rumours abound.

I admired Blanche. I started my legal career in 1975. There were few women RCMP officers. They had no easier time in Western Canada than Atlantic Canada.

Blanche is no superwoman but she has a fierce resovle at her core to succeed as a police officer. At the same time she is not driven to work 24 hours a day. She understands the frightening power of secrets and their power over us.

It was an unusual book in that Blanche is both the investigator and either the relative or friend of the people she is investigating. Both Blanche and those she questions appear alright with her dual role.

It was a surprise to me to see Blanche stationed in her home province. In the mid-1970’s, at least in Western Canada, RCMP officers would be stationed outside the province in which they grew up. Well into their careers they might get a chance to get back to their home province.

The dialogue captures the lilt of the speech of Newfoundlanders. Walsh uses local expressions aptly. I thought she must have lived in Newfoundland even before I read the author’s biography.

I was not fond of the ending. It was the only part of the book that felt wrong. Overall, Death on Darby’s Island is a good book. I would like to read another book featuring Blanche. I hope it will be located off the Island. I would like to see Blanche in a different Newfoundland setting. 

(Death on Darby’s Island is the second book on the shortlist for the Crime Writers of Canada shortlist for Best Canadian Crime Novel Set in Canada. It is a sound choice.)

Friday, June 10, 2022

Libel Trials and History

I sometimes write to authors about their books. After reading Kleptopia and then about the libel case over the book I thought of past posts I had put up on libel cases involving historic events. I wrote to the author, Tom Burgis. That letter forms this post. To date I have not received a reply. Should he respond and be willing I will put up has response.


Dear Tom -

I am a lawyer and blogger living in Western Canada.

Most of my blog posts concern crime fiction. Some are about non-fiction. Each year my sons search for a couple of books, usually non-fiction, for Christmas presents to me.

Last Christmas my books included Kleptopia though it took the boys a few months to get me the books. I am very glad they included Kleptopia in their choices. It is excellent. A link to my review is below.

As I read the book I thought you were going to be irritating, more likely angering, some very wealthy and powerful men. It was little surprise when I reached the afterword to read court proceedings had been launched against you.

I was glad to see that you and HarperCollins prevailed in the English libel suit filed by ENRC. A link to my post discussing the judgment is below.

Over the last 30 years I have thought often about how libel cases have dealt with what happened in historic events.

In 2002, after reading The Holocaust on Trial by D.D. Gutenplan, I wrote to the author about his well written book on the libel trial in which David Irving had sued Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, over the book, Denying the Holocaust. The defendants convincingly proved in Court the Holocaust took place.

I included the letter in a post, a link is below, I put up in early 2021. In the letter to Gutenplan I discussed ostensibly personal libel cases from England, Canada, Germany and Israel that were actually about history.

I was prompted to post my letter by the court actions undertaken in America by Dominion Voting defending its reputation against Sidney Powell, Rudolph Giuiliani and others who asserted its voting machines of Dominion Voting had caused election fraud. Should the defendants be unwise enough to proceed to trial I believe a U.S. Federal Court will find the allegations against Dominion Voting were false. I include a link below to that post.

As a lawyer I have been directly involved in Federal Commissions of Inquiry seeking the truth about historic events. The first was a national inquiry into the Canadian Blood System over the thousands of Canadians who contracted AIDS and/or Hepatitis C in the 1980’s from transfused blood or blood products. The second was with regard to fraud over 100 years against local Saskatchewan Indian bands. Thousands of acres of land were taken. I also attach a link to that post.

While your case did not reach trial for the good reasons set out by Mr. Justice Nicklen, I thought the case still contributed to the historic record of the actions of “the Trio” and ENRC. The deliberate decision of ENRC to not pursue a libel action, over allegations of corruption for which damages could be sought, effectively vindicates the statements in your book.

I have a few inquiries for you.

Have you read libel cases such as those mentioned in this letter to get a sense of what and how you should write about such topics as the flow of “dirty money” in Kleptopia

It is clear to me from the book that you have a keen understanding of libel law.

Am I correct that you write with the expectation that you will have to be able to prove in a court the facts stated in your work?

I have not seen any articles or books on libel cases and commissions of inquiry establishing what happened in historic events. What are your thoughts on the role of libel cases and commissions of inquiry in determining history?

I have been involved in some libel cases in Canada and have been struck by the challenge most plaintiffs face in proving damage to their reputations and actual financial consequences from the libel. In reading your case I wondered how ENRC would ever demonstrate they suffered financial loss because of your book. I thought of the work of fiction QB VII by Leon Uris in which an English jury awarded a single half-penny, the smallest amount they could award, to a doctor defamed over his work in a Nazi concentration camp. If the number is available what amount did ENRC claim in their defamation action?

I can understand the Trio not taking personal action in which they could expect to be directly questioned. Those unaccustomed to having their actions probed can find the witness stand very uncomfortable. Adolph Hitler fared badly when cross-examined by German lawyer Hans Litten in 1932. (A final link below is my post on Crossing Hitler by Benjamin Carter Hett).

I will be posting this letter in a few days. If you are willing to reply and to have your response posted I will include it in that post or a separate post.

I look forward to reading more of your work.

All the best.

Bill Selnes


Burgis, Tom - (2022) - Kleptopia and ENRC v. Burgis Over Kleptopia 

Court Cases to Determine the Truth About Historical Events

Dominion Voting v. Powell - Defamation Action to Set History

Commissions of Inquiry Determining History

Actual Cross Examination of Hitler

Sunday, June 5, 2022

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

(14. - 1129.) While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams - United States Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn’s mind is deterioriating. Memory is no longer dependable. He gives a commencement address that is a rant which concludes:

“Laugh if you will, you carrion of society. But mark my words - hell has come to earth, and your parents have elected its offspring.”

That night he rages to his nurse on the perfidy of the leaders of America and speaks of a conspiracy he has uncovered. After combining powerful medication with alcohol he is on the edge of unconsciousness when, with barely enough strength to speak, he beseeches his nurse to pass on a message to one of his clerks, Avery Keene, giving her clues to finding his research.

The next day Keene is summoned to the Chief Justice’s office where she is advised by the Chief and Major Vance from Homeland Security that Wynn, now in a coma, had executed documents months earlier appointing her as his power of attorney and legal guardian.

I was electrified. She now has access to all of his documents not covered by court privilege and his financial affairs with the authority to deal with them as she considers in his best interests. As his legal guardian she will make medical decision with him incapacitated.

Homeland Security and the White House (President Brandon Stokes) want to know why a clerk was given these grave responsibilities. She has no knowledge why but she will honour his trust in her.

Keene’s personal life is chaotic. Her mother, Rita, is a severe drug addict lurching from crisis to crisis.

Avery has a photographic memory. It has served well during university and as a clerk.

Abrams provides some early information on the conspiracy, a wise decision by the author. I find conspiracies more interesting and more credible when we know their outlines. 

Avery acts swiftly when she realizes the judge’s life is in danger. 

What Justice Wyrnn wanted done by her is obscure. Clearly there are issues over a pending decision by the Court with regard to a proposed merger of high tech companies as the judge has obsessed over the case but she has but a few cryptic clues to guide her.

She is aided by Wynn’s personal lawyer, Noah Fox, and the Justice’s estranged son, Jared Wynn and her roommate, Dr. Ling Yin. The quartet, brilliant and resourceful, face a powerful conspiracy.

The book delves into the complex situation of a disabled Supreme Court Justice. Being America there are issues for the Senate and the House of Representatives. President Stokes, as will all Presidents, is anxious to have the chance to appoint a new Justice of his choice. 

The “Originalists” of the American legal establishment cannot look to the intentions of the Founding Fathers. As the Democratic Leader of the Senate says:

“Hell, in the Framers’ day, we didn’t have ventilators and artificial nutrition and living wills.”

Celeste, Justice Wynn’s estranged wife is bitter at her exclusion and anxious to challenge the guardianship documents.

Justice Wynn uses chess terminology in some clues including reference to a famous double bishop sacrifice strategy.

The conspiracy involves dangerous scientific research. It is truly frightening what some scientists are exploring. I wish the conspiracy was not so believable.

Abrams balances the high functioning Avery of the Supreme Court clerkship with the struggling Avery coping with an addicted mother. She has spent most of her life juggling her life with the needs of Rita.

The book concludes with one of the most interesting legal hearings I have ever read. The issue is important. The participants include the highest in the land. The interplay between the Court and the lawyers is eloquent and insightful. Aspects of the hearing challenge the credibility of a lawyer reader but do not detract from the power of the hearing. I wish I could describe it in more detail but I cannot figure out a way without spoilers.

Abrams is a clever plotter, writes convincing dialogue and provides a credible, less conventional, ending. I appreciated that she kept the body count down. If the state of Georgia does not elect her Governor in the fall I look forward to more legally based thrillers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

ENRC v. Burgis Over Kleptopia

As I read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis I was thinking the author is a brave man and his publishers braver men and women yet. Describing corrupt actions of East European oligarchs, dictators, their financial and legal advisors takes courage. I was not thinking of physical courage though too many journalists in the world have perished while reporting. I was thinking of legal fortitude. In Kleptopia the reputations of powerful men (very few were women), their companies and their governments were severely tarnished. Libel actions were probable.

Burgis was clearly aware of the risks of a defamation action. He documented every statement. He invited comments from everyone potentially defamed. He noted their responses. Many did not reply or provided minimal commentary.

Still I wondered if he and HarperCollins could prove in a court of law what he had written.

My sons gave me a paperback copy of the book for Christmas. As the book arrived sometime after Christmas my review is long after the holiday season.

In his Afterword of the paperpack edition Burgis says four months after publication of the book he was accused of corruption as American lawyers sought proof whether he “ ‘....was paid by third parties to publish the Book as part of a negative campaign against ENRC’ “. In England he was sued for libel by ENRC.

ENRC (Eurasian Natural Resources Limited) was for a time a public English corporation with 82% owned by the Trio (three Central Asian oligarchs), the Kazakhstan government (effectively its leader Nursultan Kazarbayev) and another oligarch. The remaining 18% was owned by the public. Ultimately the corporation faltered and was taken private by the Trio and moved to the friendly corporate confines of Luxembourg.

ENRC made a bold claim in its court action. It asserted that Burgis had stated that ENRC had murdered a trio of men and poisoned a fourth to protect its business interests. ENRC was certainly not going to raise the word “corruption”.

I searched out the case and found a decision, a link is below, of The Honourable Mr. Justice Nicklen. The lawyers for Burgis and HarperCollins made an application to dismiss the action for several reasons. The pivotal issues were whether the statements complained of could be defamatory of ENRC and whether they referred to ENRC.

Accusing a person of murder would be defamatory and subject to heavy damages if not true. Accusing a corporation of murder is less clear in defamation law.

The lawyers for Burgis looked back to the principle established in 19th Century English cases that ‘a coporation cannot sue in respect of allegations of murder, incest or adultery’ because a company, not being a real person, cannot commit those acts.”

ENRC’s counsel looked to an Australian case from early in the 20th Century that set forth a contrary principle:

The injury done to the reputation of a trading company by imputing to them criminal practices is in no way affected by the question whether they could be successfully prosecuted for them in a criminal court.

Justice Nicklin, in the 21st Century, concluded:

There is an unreality at the heart of the Claimant’s pleaded meanings. They attribute, to a corporate entity, actions, and a motive, that it simply cannot have. Only individuals can carry out acts of murdering or poisoning. Only individuals can be motivated to do so to protect some business interests. A company cannot. I reach that conclusion not by application of 19th century legal precedent but by a straightforward application of the principles that guide the determination of natural and ordinary meaning to the text of this book.

Media articles focused on this statement but the key paragraph of the decision is more nuanced:

I accept that it is possible to make an allegation that implicates a company in murder, for example, as I gave earlier, by stating that it procured it or to suggest that a company is legally or morally responsible for a murder. But this Book does not make any such allegation against ENRC. In short, the Book does not bear the defamatory meaning contended for by the Claimant because, read in their proper context, the allegations complained of by the Claimant do not refer to any ENRC corporation.

Meeting the “reference” standard is going to be a challenge for many corporations as they shift in structure. More importantly, as here, books and articles will inevitably concentrate on individuals making decisions rather than Boards of Directors.

The judge concluded his judgment with an intriguing proposal he had put to ENRC’s lawyers. In his reading of the book he noted references in the book to the assertion of corrupt acts by ENRC for which damages could be claimed. He said:

At the hearing I asked Ms Page (counself for the Claimant ENRC) whether the Claimant’s decision not to complain of this or any similar meaning was deliberate. She confirmed that it was.

I find it fascinating that ENRC chose not to have allegations of corporate corruption examined by an English court. 

I read in subsequent media articles ENRC has decided to drop the lawsuit. I think they were well advised to avoid further court scrutiny of the corporation.

The ENRC v. Burgis case involved important issues unlike the celebrity defamation actions of Deep v. Heard in the U.S. and Wagatha in the U.K. In the latter cases the greatest damages to reputations were self-inflicted.

Kleptopia by Tom Burgis