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.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Butlers in Fiction and Real Life


Sharon I have spent several hundred days at sea on Oceania Cruises. On some recent cruises we have had a stateroom with butler service. We have come to enjoy having a butler. While reading Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby I was reminded of the butlers we have met while cruising.

As shown in the photo above they are formally attired at all times.

As I read the book I thought about how some of the butler skills set out in the book were carried out upon the ship.

1.) “One of a butler’s main jobs is to make everyone comfortable” - Our first cruise ship butler, Akshay, came to see us 2 days into the cruise. He made a friendly inquiry asking “don’t you like me, you never call me”. We said we had never had a butler in our lives. He smoothly advised us what he could do for us and made us very comfortable with calling upon him.

2.) Her butler friends, Gavin and Murray, pack Helen’s suitcase perfectly - Sharon and I have not had a butler pack but our butler skillfully and efficiently moved us to another stateroom and back when there was a waterline leak in our room during a cruise.

3.) Butlers can stand so still with a peaceful air - The ship butlers have a special stillness about them and radiate calm.

4.) They never appear to be standing in judgment - The butlers are completely professional in not projecting  judgment. 

5.) “Gavin and Murray chose a round table in the corner of the lodge. Murray draped it with a freshly ironed white tablecloth. Then she covered that with a smaller pale gray tablecloth. There was something reverent in the way she and Gavin worked.” - When eating in our stateroom the butler would float the table cloth over our round table, precisely place the cutlery and glasses, add a flower, arrange the napkins and then set the first course exactly before each of Sharon and myself. It was a ceremony.

6.) Gavini has a small notebook for jotting down tasks - The ship butlers equally have notepads.

Oceania butlers also provide pre-dinner delights. Each
















evening about 5:00 they will bring an hors d’oeuvre. Our favourite is chocolate dipped strawberries with tuxedo shirt fronts. They are as delicious as shown in the photo above. 

Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey would appreciate that the Oceania butlers are consistent in maintaining standards. 

Where they differ from Mr. Carson is that there is not a hint of haughtiness about them.

What real life Oceania butlers have is equanimity, which is described in the book from Buddhist principles as:

“Equanimity is based on the knowledge that everything changes and will always change and that is okay. We find equanimity only by paying close attention to what is happening in the moment.”

Should you be inspired to become a butler The International Butler Academy in the Netherlands has a 10 week course for €14,500.

****

Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby

(23. - 1128.) Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby - “Prepare to be astonished” was a blurb from the New York Times on Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. It was an amazing book introducing one of the great sleuths of crime fiction in Maisie. I consider the phrase apt for describing Mindful of Murder.

The book begins:

Edna Todd was in love with herself and had been for a long time.

At 72 Edna has completed “Plan A, which meant she’d finally, at long last, decided what to do with the Yatra Institute, her retreat centre, which she loved almost as much as she loved herself”. a long time.

Moments later, after taking her nightly dose of “liquid magnesium and calcium” she is dead. She has been poisoned.

Helen Thorpe, 5’10” tall, has just graduated from the North American Butler Academy which was in the business of “creating specialists in domestic excellence”.

On graduation night Helen, a non-drinker, has taken care of her fellow graduates. They love her as she has a calmness that relaxes those around her. At the same time she is always alert and prepared to react instantly.

Helen was a Bhuddist nun before going to care for an ailing mother and, after her mother’s death, going to work at Edna’s New Age retreat centre. She is called back to deal with the estate. She is led to believe Edna chose to end her life.

Helen is told she is responsible for carrying out Plan B as the estate lawyers have no information Edna had completed Plan A. Under Plan A Edna decided which of certain relatives would take over the centre. In Plan B it is for Helen to evaluate the selected great-nephews (brothers Tad and Wills) and great-nieces (Whitney and Rayvn) who are to take three courses offered at the centre. She is to decide if any of the quartet should be in charge of the centre. The four are not told they are being judged.

Helen and her butler friends, Murray (a young woman) and Gavin, agree the process is like a reality T.V. show. 

Murray and Gavin come to help Helen for “any sane person would recognize three butlers are better than one”.

Joining the butlers is Nigel, a young enthusiastic man with no discernable skills. They set out to educate him in butlering.

In the Arranging Your Inner Flower course the instructor, Jenson Kiley, advises:

“As we teach you to arrange your inner bloom, what we are really doing is asking you to become floral communicators.”

It was interesting reading about “the fundamentals of shape and height and colour” in creating floral arrangements that are “an expression of what is in your heart”.

The second course is Devi Dance in which the quartet, in the words of their Scottish instructor Wayfarer, are to “be swept into your bodies’ most powerful energies”.

The third course on meditation, Meet Yourself, Lose Yourself, is taught by Helen.

The evaluation process is so interesting I almost forgot there was a mystery involved in the plot.

One of the flower course exercises was to write your own eulogy “written from the perspective of someone who loves you”. After determining their dharma - “their deepest purpose and your desire to fulfill that purpose” - from the eulogy they are to design an arrangement reflecting their discerned life purpose from what was available in a spot each chose on the retreat grounds.

Mid-way through the book the trio of Tad, Wills and Whitney provide a clever twist to the plot.

The characters are remarkable in their diversity. What they share are vibrant personalities. Some are over the top memorable.

During her investigation Helen attends a meeting of the local Death Positive Club of which Edna had been a member. At the meeting the members, all living, are sitting in coffins they have designed.

The butlers are so gifted at unobtrusive anticipation. They are mindful at all times.

Helen is an unlikely sleuth. She is not naturally an intrusive person and has a “pronounced aversion to unpleasantness”. While her reserved manner is perfect for being a butler it is a rare quality in a crime investigator. Her investigative talent is curiosity. She likes knowing why. She has done hundreds of interviews with people engaged in meditation. I was reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, another quiet mindful sleuth.

No reader will forget Helen and her butler compatriots, Murray and Gavin. I longed for a butler to “organize my domestic affairs”. Then I remembered Sharon and I have had a butler on some cruises and will have a butler again on our upcoming cruise. My next post will discuss what a butler can do for you.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Selnes Rintoul


Change comes throughout our lives. Sometimes expected. More often unexpected. 

As of September 1 there was a major change in my work life. After 38 years I am no longer partners with Gordon Klimm.

He is now carrying on practice in Tisdale under the firm name of Klimm & McKee.

I am now practising in Melfort with the firm name of Selnes Rintoul.

I am proud to report that Brandi Rintoul is now my partner.

Jeff Slowski is an associate of the firm.

Our photo is above.

Our office address and phone number remain the same.

We have a Facebook page up under Selnes Rintoul and plan to have a website shortly.

I came to Melfort in 1975 after graduating from the College of Law in Saskatoon.

I was an associate at Eisner & Kapoor.

In 1981 Ajit Kapoor and I formed a partnership.

In 1984 Gordon joined us as a partner.

Ajit left in the late 2000's.

Brandi came in 2016. Now we are partners. I am looking forward to our partnership.

Jeff came in 2020 and I am equally glad he is a part of our practice.

Brandi is also an avid reader and we enjoy talking about books.


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

More on Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace

Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace - Patterson, the famed writer of crime fiction, and Wallace, a features writer, contributing editor and non-fiction author,  write a biography of famous New York City defense lawyer, Barry Slotnick. 

Slotnick, a brilliant student who graduated from law school at 20 years of age, grew up in the Bronx. As a Jewish boy he learned to use his fists when Italian boys called him Anti-Semitic names.

As a young lawyer he started representing members of the Mob families in New York. An early trial saw him defend Bullets, who was Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s dog. Bullets had been alleged to have “a known vicious propensity”. Using an identity strategy Slotnick saved Bullets from death.

Patterson and Wallace brilliantly recount the colourful stories of Slotnick’s representations of the wiseguys of New York. Slotnick’s life would make a great T.V. series. 

The authors distill trials to their essence. They provide insightful anecdotes.

In my previous post I discussed the publicity Slotnick courted and manipulated. He was a favourite subject of New York tabloids.

Too few works of legal fiction discuss money. John Grisham is an exception. His lawyers are always conscious of money. Jake Brigance is the leading trial lawyer in Ford County but he struggles to make more than a modest living.

Slotnick liked to say he “practised door law” in that he was available for hire by anyone who walked through the door. 

On a mid-winter day in January of 1986 there was an eclectic mix of people in his reception area - a couple of Chinese gangsters, a Russian mobster, two Hasidic men, Bernhard Goetz (the subway vigilante) and John Gotti’s driver (his employer was in a conference at the office.

Yet Slotnick had two conditions before taking on a client.

First, his retainer had to be paid. Life is different in NYC for defense (we spell defence in Canada) lawyers at the top. Slotnick required a $50,000 retainer to take a case. I admire his forthrightness though it means he mainly represented in his prime a select group of criminal defendants, those wealthy enough to afford huge fees. They did range across the spectrum of those with money in NYC.

The first condition was actually more nuanced. Slotnick would take on pro bono cases if he “thought he could win”.

A San Francisco defence lawyer, Jake Ehrlich had a simple fee for representing an accused charged with capital murder - whatever you owned. His rationale was that if he won he gave you a new life. None of his clients were ever executed.

Second, Slotnick refused to represent child molesters. Many crimes are abhorent. Slotnick was willing to represent mobsters charged with murder. I understand his refusal to represent child predators but it contradicts his conviction about “everyone deserving a good lawyer”.

Everyone has their quirks. For Slotnick:

.... paper clips were his preferred instruments for working out anxiety. Slotnick would unfold them. He would bite them. He would drop them on the floor. Breakstone could track his boss through a courthouse by followin the trial of paper clips.

It takes confidence to become the focus of a room. Slotnick commanded courtrooms:

At six foot one, dresssed in one of his custom three-piece suits, he didn’t walk into a courtroom so much as enter it, his overcoat draped over his shoulders like a cape, as if he were a matador or a count or Superman. “Slotnick, arrivĂ©e,” Jay Breakstone liked to say.

Flamboyance may conceal preparation. Slotnick worked hard to prepare for trials.

He was skilled in facts and law but he was so busy that he had to choose between concentrating on the facts or the law in preparing cases. I was not surprised he focused on the facts. While assistants, investigators and associate lawyers could help him with the facts he spent most of his time working out how to present and challenge the evidence - the contradictory facts - presented by witnesses. He could delegate research and the writing of legal arguments. He always had a “law man” to do that work. I have found as a lawyer for almost five decades that I spend more time on the facts of cases and rely on the talent of young associates for the law. They are better trained and quicker than myself in the computer explorations that dominate 21st Century legal research. Slotnick might come up with the concepts to be argued but not the research.

The pages flowed with the ease of reading fiction. Patterson and Wallace have written an excellent book going to the heart of what made Slotnick a great lawyer.

****

Patterson, James and Wallace, Benjamin - (2022) - Defense Lawyer

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace

(24. - 1129.) Defense Lawyer by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace - Famed New York City defense lawyer (in Canada we prefer “defence”) Barry Slotnick is assaulted outside his office in the 1980’s. The helmeted, club wielding, attacker breaks his arm. The next day Slotnick reviews the newspaper reports. He is gratified that coverage extends through North America. He revels in the publicity.

Two cases are the focus of the book. They dominated Slotnick’s life and the tabloids of NYC in the mid-1980’s.

Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz, the “subway vigilante”, shot 4 young black men in a NYC subway car in 1985.

John “the Teflon Don” Gotti was tried in a racketeering case under the Federal RICO statute alleging a collection of crimes. While there were seven defendants it was inevitable it would be called the Gotti case. Slotnick was not Gotti’s lawyer but effectively led the defence team. (Slotnick’s partner Bruce Cutler represented Gotti while Slotnick represented another mobster, John Carneglia.)

Each case was fiction come to real life. Patterson and Wallace tell them well. The cases are interwoven into the story of Slotnick’s life which will be a further post.

Goetz and Gotti presented a common problem for Slotnick. Each loved, even craved attention. 

Goetz was eager to provide interviews to any member of the media who wanted to talk to him. Criminal defence lawyers are averse to having clients talk to the media. The risks of being misquoted or goaded into dangerous comments or inflaming the public are too great. Goetz did not care. He was going to be the centre of attention. His moment of fame had come.

Gotti had come from relative obscurity in the Gambino crime family to lead the organization. He was flamboyant in dress and manner. He was carefully barbered. His suits were beautifully made. He was constantly on display in the city. 

At the same time there was a constant touch of menace about him befitting his status as a crime lord. No one was going to tell him to assume a low profile.

As evident from his reaction to being attacked, Slotnick equally relished media and public attention. He wore $2,500 custom made suits (he bought half a dozen each year) and cultivated journalists.

You need a special personality to be a Slotnick. It is a high wire act for a lawyer courting media. You have to provide enough information to enable compelling stories but not too much that would compromise your client’s case. Most defence lawyers opt for the easier route of little to no comment especially in Canada. On the occasions I have had a case drawing media attention my remarks are limited. I am willing to take a more public approach in some civil cases. 

New York City is different. Outsize personalities for criminal lawyers are prized.

For Goetz, though Slotnick normally welcomed media attention, he recognized it was in Goetz’s best interests to minimize attention. Goetz had been fortunate he was only charged by the first grand jury with possessing an illegal weapon. Soltnick turned down interview after interview seeking to lower public attention to the case in the city. His efforts were unavailing as Goetz kept talking.

A second grand jury was impanelled. Goetz wanted to testify. Slotnick disagreed. Goetz was only convinced when Slotnick arranged for another criminal defense lawyer, Ben Brafman, to do a mock cross-examination. After 4 hours of grilling Goetz’s ardor to appear before the grand jury had cooled.

Slotnick sought to manipulate public opinion by offering to have Goetz testify if the questions were limited to two days - the day of the shooting and the day he had returned to NYC to give two guns to a neighbour. When the District Attorney turned down the offer Slotnick advised the media that Goetz had offered to testify and the district attorney “refused our testimony”.

Ordinarily I would have thought the gambit would have had little risk for the defence but I expect the District Attorney must have considered accepting the offer. Based on his public and police statements Goetz might have given evidence that could convict himself. 

In the end he did not go before the second grand jury which charged him with 4 counts of attempted murder and multiple other offences. 

It is ironic that Slotnick, in the Gotti case, devoted a great deal of time to protesting that pre-trial publicity was prejudicing the rights of the defendants to a fair trial. What Slotnick wanted was publicity orchestrated by him. Goetz and Gotti were beyond his control.

With Gotti’s immense ego the defense team had to deal with Gotti’s determination to manage the defence.

Slotnick’s greatest challenge in the Gotti case was the sprawling nature of the charges. The trial took seven months. It was filled with colorful even histrionic moments.

Slotnick was smooth in and out of the courtroom. He got attention. He commanded courtrooms but was not over the top as shown in the most dramatic moment of the trial.

The bombastic Cutler closed his opening:

He held the indictment over his head and called it “a rancid stew with rotten meat that makes you retch and vomit.”

He was shouting now.

Then, pausing over a trash can, Cutler slam-dunked the indictment into it.

“It’s garbage,” Cutler bellowed as spectators gasped. “That’s where it belongs.”

Slotnick’s opening followed Cutler:

For the moment, he would play good copy to Cutler’s bad cop. As Stuart Slotnick watched from the gallery, his father, one hand in his pocket, strolled casually across the room to the trash can where the government’s indictment languished. Barry Slotnick peered in. Then he reached down and fished out the document. He calmly dusted it of and put it back on the defense table.

He then echoed Cutler’s comments that the prosecution’s case was “garbage”.

Cutler wrote a vivid memoir I read 15 years ago. My review will be another post in the series of posts on Slotnick.

Just discussing the issues related to publicity and an example of trial drama filled this post. Each trial was a circus. I did wonder what the clients thought of Slotnick claiming the public spotlight.