About Me

My photo
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.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Beneath Her Skin by C.S. Porter

(22. - 1127.) Beneath Her Skin by C.S. Porter - Officer Cooper Harrison and his 14 year old son, Mac, are at a shooting competition. Mac is resentful about the divorce of his parents and the outing is a chance for some father - son bonding. Mac is shooting at a target on the end of a large round bale. As Mac hits a trio of bullseyes Harrison sees something red seeping from the target. He rushes to the bale and finds a naked older man wedged inside the bale with his head in the centre of the target. He is dead.

And I was hooked,

Kes Morris, a homicide detective with the Special Investigations Unit, is assigned to the case. She is 38. She has a photographic memory and a vintage Jaguar XJ6 and a big attitude.

Kes visits the local hospital in the small ocean town near the shooting comeptition site to see the medical examiner.

A woman who was in another bale was also shot. She has already been airlifted to the city. She is in critical condition. 

Kes is a hard boiled tough girl detective. Prickly with a sharp tongue she drives the investigation. Her team of 3 men tread carefully. 

Unknown to her colleagues, every day she takes one or more little pain pills initially prescribed for a shoulder injury. No longer needed for her physical injury she “just liked how they made her feel”.

More die. The elaborate murders reflect a killer or killers who are meticulous at planning and diabolical in their cruelty. There is a powerful hatred underlying the murders. Who would have the knowledge needed for the crimes but be unnoticed by local residents?

The investigators struggle to find motives for the killings. What is common to the lives of the victims is that they lived in isolation with few social contacts.

The prospect of more murders drives the investigators. Still they are not the superhuman investigators working day and night of much American police crime fiction. Kes and her team wind up their days with a 6:00 meeting. They have a meal and then go home or to a motel for Kes.

The writing of dialogue fades a bit from credibility at times. Towards the end it became cliched.

I wish the identities of the province and the city where Kes resides were provided. It helps me to see the story better in my mind when the location is more specific than Atlantic Canada. Imaginary towns in defined areas are fine with me. It is the context of location that I prefer in books.

I have mixed emotions about the book. I thought the premise was very clever and Kes is a great character. Yet the plot became more and more Hollywood as the end neared. It grates upon me when a very bright police officer becomes the Lone Ranger. But the actual ending was as well done as the beginning. I want to read the next Kes Morris file. I expect Porter can and will improve as a writer.

(C.S. Porter is a pseudonym. The author blurb reveals neither gender nor residence beyond a reference to Porter living near the Atlantic Ocean. I think Porter is a man. We shall see if my feeling is correct as most pseudonyms end up revealed.)

Monday, August 22, 2022

Cold Cold Bones by Kathy Reichs

(21. - 1126.) Cold Cold Bones by Kathy Reichs - If a carefully displayed eyeball was left on my doorstep in a box I would be shaken to my core. Forensic anthropologist Temperance “Tempe” Brennan calmly analyzes the eyeball, determines it is human, and calls the police and medical examiner. I would have assumed it was human and called the RCMP.

Her police call is to Detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. He is splitting his time between the Department and being a private investigator. The caustic Slidell is nonplussed by the eyeball.

As they wait for the authorities Brennan’s daughter, Katy,  with her 20/15 vision notices etching on the eyeball. There are numbers and letters inscribed. They form GPS co-ordinates that take Brennan and Slidell to an outhouse at the nearby Belmont Abbey College campus. A badly decomposed woman’s head in a shopping bag awaits them.

Katy has just been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, after 8 years of service as an infantryman in a field artillery unit. She has had tours of duty in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Her psyche is fragile. Her mother is worried.

The gruff, often crude Slidell, is working with her as her Montreal love, Andrew Ryan, is pursuing a Caribbean case as a private investigator.

A mummified man is found hanging from a tree at a nearby state park. Years have passed before he is found.

Reichs provides details of Brennan’s examination of bodies. The particulars are not for the squeamish.

Everyone is absorbed by the head. There is a knife sticking out of one eye and the other eye is missing.

Life is forced to pause in Charlotte by a February blizzard that dumps 14 inches (35 cm) of snow on the city. In Charlotte the primary response to snow is to stay inside and wait for it to melt.

Brennan and Slidell search out the identities of the head and the mummy there is unease. Why was the eyeball delivered to Brennan?

The investigation leads them into the world of “preppers”, survivalists readying themselves to deal with great catastrophes they are sure are coming.

As more bodies are found a brilliant, totally unexpected twist, leads the plot deep into Brennan’s life.

I was frustrated by illogical gaps in the investigation. When a skilled homicide detective and a very experienced forensic anthropologist lead the investigation I expect more precision and less individuals searching for connections.

There is always a touch of unexpected science. Brennan is educated on the precise language of knots and which knots are more likely in a suicide versus a homicide.

I found the characterizations lacking in subtlety. They reminded me of television characters who are rarely nuanced. 

Reichs is talented at driving the narrative and the tension as the investigation closes in. It seemed inevitable there would be a Hollywood ending. It pepped up the drama quotient but diminished the role of Brennan’s great intelligence.

I wish the book would have been set in Canada.

It takes a skilled writer to come up with an interesting bizarre scenario. Cold Cold Bones is the 21st book in the Temperance Brennan series. It has been 16 years since I read a Brennan mystery. It is hard to explain why. I enjoyed the 6 books I read between 2000 and 2006. Overall I liked Cold Cold Bones. I know Reichs can write a good mystery with less violence.
Reichs, Kathy – (2000) - Deadly Decisions; (2002) - Fatal Voyage; (2004) - Grave Secrets; (2004) - Bare Bones; (2006) - Monday Mourning; (2006) - Cross Bones; Hardcover or paperback

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin has just retired from CNN. He was an excellent analyst of legal affairs. Unfortunately, it is hard not to remember his Zoom meeting in the pandemic where he accidentally exposed himself. I will choose to remember him for the rest of his accomplishments. In 2008 I enjoyed his book, The Nine. He is a good example of why people should get second chances. In my review I did not anticipate Republican senators manipulating the nomination process for the Supreme Court to avoid voting on a Democratic President’s nominee in a presidential election year and voting on a Republican President’s nominee in a presidential year. America is ill-served by such manipulations.


15. - 425.) The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin - A worthy successor to Bob Woodward's The Brethren. Toobin goes through the U.S. Supreme Court Justices from the time of Ronald Reagan through to George Bush. We learn of their personal peculiarities (for lunch every day Souter has a bowl of yogurt and a whole apple including core and seeds) and vanities (Scalia has mounted heads of animals he has shot). While 7 of the last 9 appointments were by Republicans there was great disappointment among conservatives. Several appointments such as Stevens and O'Connor were far more centrist or liberal than they wanted. I did not know that O'Connor was actually the key vote during her 20 some years. Toobin obviously admires her believing she best reflected America because of her understanding of the position of a majority of Americans on issues. Rehnquist was Chief but gave up trying to persuade his more liberal colleagues and focused on efficiently running the Court. I continue to be amazed by the vagaries in the nomination process. Clinton haphazardly run through multiple candidates. George W. Bush abruptly looked to his personal lawyer Harriet Meiers when she was not even a candidate. The decisions on the 2000 Presidential election were as partisan as I feared. At the same time Toobin does point out that even on a recount Gore might not have won. It is clear that the last two appointees (Roberts and Alioto) are true conservatives. Unless Kennedy drifts left there is a reliable conservative core that will dominate the Court even if Stevens retires (he remains an active 87 year old jurist). I think Republicans are about to regret their insistence on avoiding filibusters on judicial appointments needing Senate approval. They appear to have forgotten what will happen to forced up and down votes when they are in the minority in the Senate. Excellent. (Apr. 7/08.)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Three for Trinity by Kevin Major

(20. - 1125.) Three for Trinity by Kevin Major - Tour guide, Sebastian Synard, is trying to economically survive the Covid pandemic in Newfoundland. Tour groups are rare. He is glad to lead a group of 6 fellow Atlantic Bubble members (Canada’s Maritime provinces established a Bubble that allowed travel within the provinces.) Sebastian, who has also been a teacher and a private detective, conducts a wonderful week-long tour of rural Newfoundland titled On the Rock(s) for the group.

On the tour is Aisla Bowman, an RCMP inspector. Both Aisla and Sebastian are divorced. By the end of the week they are involved.

The conclusion of the tour is an annual show, Shenanigans, put on by Rising Tide Theatre. Early in the show Luke Mercer, portraying a “hangashore” - “A good-for-nothing, a slacker, someone too lazy to fish, who’d rather stay ashore” - convincingly appears drunk. The audience thinks he has passed out in a courtroom scene until all the other actors stop. He is rushed to hospital but dies that night. He has been poisoned by inhaling “hydrogen cyanide with the marijuana he smoked before he went on stage”.

Poison is not a common means of murder in the 21st Century. Maybe it will make a comeback in crime fiction.

Sebastian works his way into the murder investigation. With his 14 year old son, Nick, and his dog, Gaffer, he joins the cast of Rising Tide. 

One of the benefits of the case is that it allows Nick to get some experience of Newfoundland outside the city of St. John’s:

St. John’s has its own flavour but its outport Newfoundland that’s the mainstay of the island’s character. Could I live here year-round? Probably not. But there’s no denying the lure of the place on a warm summer’s night. Only a deadbeat townie wouldn’t admit to it.

Sebastian wants Nick to be more than a “townie”

The murder investigation explores rural Newfoundland, its residents and its history. I enjoyed the journey.

Sebastian carries the book.

He reveres single malt Scotch. Laphroaig is prized. He is at his most eloquent waxing about the virtues of single malt.

Sebastian is a charmer. He is witty. He uses his good education lightly in his speech. He is a bit of a rogue. I was reminded of famed Newfoundland actor, Gordon Pinsent, who found fame in his portrayal of a rollicking carefree Newfoundlander in the movie, The Rowdyman. His 14 year old son keeps him grounded.

Sebastian could be a cousin of Tony Bidulka’s sleuth, Russell Quant. They are each self-deprecating entertaining characters.

Three for Trinity is the third book in the series. I am going to have to find the earlier books. It was an excellent choice for the shortlist for the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel set in Canada.