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, October 25, 2022

The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Sáenz and translated by Nick Caistor

(26. - 1131.) The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Sáenz and translated by Nick Caistor - What an opening!

Inspector Unai López de Ayala advises the reader that he is the final victim of the serial killer he has been pursuing. He has been shot in the head.

The story then begins with Unai being urgently called by Estíbaliz “Estí” Ruiz de Gauna, his “colleague and fellow inspector”, to come to the Old Cathedral in Vitorio, Spain where archaeologists have:

“.... found two naked corpses. A boy and a girl, with their hands resting on each other’s cheek.” 

She tells him it is exactly the same as twenty years earlier.

Twenty years and four months earlier a serial killer had engaged in “macabre staging” of murders at archaeological sites that terrified the residents of Vitorio and gained worldwide notoriety

The first victims had been a pair of newborns, then a boy and girl each 5, then a boy and girl aged 10 and then a boy and girl of 15. The 20 year old residents of the city “stayed at home all the time”.

All the victims had double-barrelled names and were from the Álava region, part of the Basque area of Spain.

The killer, Tasio, who was a charismatic archaeologist was arrested by Ignacio, his identical twin. Tasio has spent 20 years in prison and is due to be released.

How can the murders be starting again?

Unai, a profiler, and Estí, a specialist in victimolgy, have been assigned to the case.

Unai, who had been obsessed with the earlier murders as a young man of 20, whispers to the corpses:

This is where your hunt ends and mine begins.

A chill went through me when Estí estimated the boy and girl to be about 20 years of age.

The murders were diabolical using bees.

Poisons killed the earlier group of 8 victims.

History is ever present in the Basque region of Spain. Thousands of years are reflected in the monuments and buildings.

Tasio, who has maintained his innocence, reaches out to Unai wanting to help solve the murders for what life could he have upon release if the killer is not found.

Unai’s supervisors are wary of him establishing a relationship with Tasio.

Even though he is in prison Tasio sends out Twitter messages to Kraken, Unai’s nickname, with directions on how to investigate. 

Sáenz is so clever. Having a convicted killer sending Twitter messages to Kraken, whose identity is initially known only by Unai’s friends, also means the world can read the messages. And then she uses messages as the headings to many chapters. Between fear and fascination the residents of Vitorio obsess over the tweets. They are riveting.

Who can get so close to victims when paranoia has swept the city?

The plot, while concentrated on the present, moves back to events 50 years earlier. While complicated the storylines weave together. 

Unai has endured a great personal tragedy that drives him as an investigator.

The break in the case comes from a 900 year old chapel. Unai gradually gains understanding of the symbolic murders. 

Still the investigators must evaluate information carefully on whether it implicates the killer or was planted to create implication against the innocent. The killer is brilliant at deception. And the tweets keep coming.

The current murders occur in early August the time of las Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca, the most important celebrations of the year in Vitoria, when thousands and thousands throng the streets.

Most of the time I am more interested in the why of crime fiction but in The Silence of the White City I wanted to know the who and the how as much as the why. Who could be so cruel? How could the victims be taken and moved without detection?

The tension within the city rises daily. The intensity affects every resident and is also building for the reader, knowing Unai will be shot.

The last time I was caught up in a comparable trilogy was The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. As with that great series I was caught off-guard by The Silence of the White City. I found it by chance in a Saskatchewan bookstore. I had never heard of the book. Finding it was serendipity.  

I was reminded of the twins in Identical by Scott Turow. In Identical, as here, one of the twins has been convicted of murder and is about to be released over two decades later.

The translation does not always flow smoothly but The Silence of the White City is compelling fiction. The characters, setting and plot are perfectly connected to Vitorio. I want to visit the city, especially during a festival. The spirit of the people is striking. I am going to move swiftly on to the further two books in the trilogy.


Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Last Flower

Fall is over in Saskatchewan. Snow started falling this afternoon. There was one lingering memory of summer. This lovely geranium was on our deck though summer and fall without ever being covered. Some nights this month were -6C to -9C. It is definitely the hardiest geranium we have had.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Uncle Edgar's and Uncle Hugo's Bookstore Re-opened!


In the spring of 2020 Uncle Edgar’s and Uncle Hugo’s bookstore was destroyed in Minneapolis during rioting after the death of George Floyd. I wrote a post on the devastating fire. A link follows this post.

Almost immediately, Sam Blyly, started a GoFundMe page to help his father, Don Blyly, re-build and re-open the store.

In the past 2 years approximately 3,200 donors have contributed $200,512 to aid the return of the “Uncles”. I was one of the donors.

After many frustrations Don was able to find a spot for his new store at 2716 E. 31st Street.

I am glad to report the store opened to the public on August 14.

Through updates from Sam on GoFundMe I have followed the resurrection of the “Uncles”.

Don has been working to re-stock the store and every update has provided more information on the books and now crossword puzzles to be available for sale.

Congratulations Don. It is a great achievement to have a new “Uncles” store and excellent news for readers and authors. I look forward to visiting the store on my next trip to Minneapolis.

A copy of today’s update is below.

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https://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2020/06/uncle-hugos-and-uncle-edgars-bookstore.html

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October 19, 2022

How’s Business? Signings, signage, t-shirts, and jigsaw puzzles.

By Don Blyly

Our first two signings, with Mike Kupari on September 10 and P. C. Hodgell on October 15, went well. Our next signing is with Lois McMaster Bujold on November 5 from 1 to 2 pm for Penric’s Labors, an omnibus of “Masquerade in Lodi”, “The Orphans of Raspay”, and “The Physicians of Vilnoc”. If you can’t make it in person you can order a signed copy through our website at http://www.unclehugo.com/prod/index.shtml

The sign finally was installed on the west side of the building last week. We are hoping that the new awnings will be installed on the front of the building within the next few weeks.

A couple of the local TV stations did reports on the Uncles re-opening. You can search the internet for “CBS News Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore” and “KARE 11 News Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore” if you want to watch the reports. You can see the new building, Ecko acting as store dog, and me explaining things to the camera.

We are getting close to having all the used mystery trade paperback listed on Abebooks.com and put out on our shelves. There are currently about 1500 used mystery trade paperbacks on the shelves, and we hope in the next couple of weeks to finish listing the rest of our current stock, and then be able to start buying mystery trade paperbacks. It will be a lot longer before we will be able to start buying used mystery hardcovers (but we can still accept donations and put them in the basement for a while if you have to clear some out of your home or storage locker).

We are going to have to place a new order for t-shirts and sweatshirts in a couple of weeks. We normally carry t-shirts in adult sizes S to 2XL and sweatshirts in sizes M to 2XL. If you want some size or color that we don’t normally carry, you should contact me at [email redacted] before the end of October so that we can discuss whether I get what you want to order.

A week ago I placed an order that included 37 different designs of jigsaw puzzles, a majority being 1000 piece puzzles at $21.95, but also some 300 piece, 500 piece, and 2000 piece puzzles at assorted prices. They haven’t arrived yet, but hopefully they will be here sometime next week, and I can try to figure out where I’m going to display them all. Some I ordered one copy, some I ordered two copies. Selection will be best for those who shop early. With supply chain problems being like they are, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a restock order in time for the holidays.

Construction continues on the re-build of the Minnehaha Post Office station behind and on the west side of the Uncles. The walls are up, the roof is partially up, and they are trying to get the place sealed before winter hits, so that they can do the interior work in a somewhat heated building. The Uncles building is shaking a lot less than it did during this past summer, and by sometime next summer I’ll be able to walk next door to drop off mail order packages instead of wondering if the mail man will stop by today to pick up packages.


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Discussing Five Moves of Doom with A.J. Devlin

As part of the book tour arranged by A.J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom he offered an opportunity for a Q & A with regard to the book. I accepted. I sent him a letter and he responded. My letter with his response in blue italics is below. Thank you A.J. for your candid and thoughtful responses.

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Dear A.J.

As I neared the end of Five Moves of Doom I went down to the local Dairy Queen and bought a large banana milkshake. I finished the book while drinking the milkshake.

That’s a fitting way to do it! A few people have sent out some social media posts with my books before at Dairy Queens — now I just need to figure out how to get those guys to donate some coupons for some cross-promotional bookmarks or something.

The milkshake was great and certainly brightened my day. I think I could get addicted to DQ banana milkshakes.

After finishing my DQ banana milkshake I wondered if you like them?

I do. Growing up, every lacrosse season my Dad would often stop at DQ on the way home from a practice or a game for ice cream. I liked banana milkshakes but enjoyed working my way around the menu like “Hammerhead” Jed’s father Frank. But I can tell you if we ever visited a Dairy Queen and returned home without a small banana milkshake for my mom there would be trouble. So, that’s where Jed’s passion for the fruity frozen treat came from.

I know I will always associate banana milkshakes with Hammerhead Jed.

Crime fiction sleuths do not often contemplate their mortality. In Five Moves of Doom Hammerhead must face his physical strength and toughness cannot always save him.

Those are definitely the challenges I wanted Jed to be forced to confront in this threequel.

I thought of my own personal reckoning with life in the late 1980’s. In the fall of 1987 I was in Vancouver General Hospital undergoing neurosurgery. The night after my surgery the patient to my right in the neurosurgical intensive care unit died. The next year my father passed away. The following year my wife was in a severe car accident.

I thought a lot about life in those years. Since those difficult times I have tried to appreciate each day and do what I wanted when possible rather than wait for a future day that might not happen. I believe the challenges I faced reinforced my core beliefs including religious faith.

I’m sorry to hear of such a difficult time in your life. I think it’s very natural for such events to trigger deep thought, reflection, and contemplation.

In Five Moves of Doom I felt Hammerhead was profoundly changed by the terrible beating he endured. 

I don’t want to sound callous toward my grappling gumshoe, but the intent was to always shake him to his very core. I wanted him to have no choice but to explore and discover what was left within after being stripped of his most defining characteristics.

I acknowledge I was frustrated with his subsequent decisions. The character I thought I knew well did not handle adversity as I expected. He became a darker personality.

He has, albeit from my point of view, by necessity. And I see him as less “dark” and more “seasoned” and “world-weary.” 

This is a guy who has an aptitude for righting wrongs and helping more and more people with each case he takes on as a PI, but it felt unrealistic and unearned to me if everything kept getting wrapped up for him all neat and tidy. Which is why his perspective has become less black and white and more shades of grey over the course of three novels. 

And if you go back and revisit Cobra Clutch and Rolling Thunder, you’ll see clear hints of this coming down the pipeline. Rya even calls him out on it in book 2 when she witnesses him getting caught up in vengeance and viciously inflicting pain on an incapacitated and defeated antagonist. This is why she warns Jed that he could be started down a slippery slope.

I knew he could not be the same man but I did not anticipate a major shift in the principles that guide him through life. I believe Hammerhead rationalized his actions at the end of the book. 

Well, I partially agree with you here. He does rationalize his actions at the end of Five Moves of Doom, but in my opinion only to a certain extent. He knows what he’s done. And he’s willfully choosing to accept the consequences and pay the price for the greater good.

Jed is aware his cousin Declan has done some serious stuff for just reasons in his IRA past. And without giving away too much, he watches his retired police officer father Frank do something rather shocking near the end of Cobra Clutch that truly surprises him. 

As a result, I feel like Jed’s character arc in this threequel has been slowly and strategically set up over throughout the entire series. Jed keeps saving the day, but each time it’s leaving his hands a little more dirty and costing him a little piece of his soul. 

You succeeded in leaving me in turmoil. I would love to discuss the ending directly but that would be a complete spoiler. When some years have passed and you have written more books I would like to have a full dialogue on the conclusion. In the meantime, I would be interested in whether you think Hammerhead changed as much as I felt he changed.

I would love to have such a conversation too! I think Jed has definitely changed, but maybe not as much for me as he has for you. I believe a series character’s growth — for better or worse — is essential. Stakes are raised. Difficult decisions must be made. And the fallout from all of these things is going to fundamentally shape the protagonist moving forward. The moment “Hammerhead” Jed stops evolving is going to be the moment I start to find him less exciting and interesting to write.

Have there been events in your recent life that led you to write about Hammerhead examining his destiny?

Nothing in my recent life aside from the Covid uncertainty and isolation we all endured. But everyone has had their ups and downs. I certainly drew upon a lot of my own personal adversity in years past to craft this latest adventure. My mentor used to say eliciting feelings from your audience is the best thing a writer can do. You can love the story or hate it, but if it’s resulting in an emotional response, something is working. Nobody wants to read or watch stories about happy people doing happy things. Or, I suppose, I don’t.

When I read Sam Wiebe’s Hell and Gone I learned of the major trials he has faced in the last few years.

Sam’s awesome. And the depth and subtle social commentary in his page turning crime fiction is second-to-none.

In your Acknowledgements I saw that Five Moves of Doom was the last book in a trilogy. 

Cobra Clutch, Rolling Thunder, and Five Moves of Doom do form a trilogy that tells a three part story of “Hammerhead” Jed’s first full year as a pro-wrestling private investigator. 

But a completed trilogy does not mean a series is over.

I’m working on a fourth Jed book, and while there will be connective tissue to the previous novels, it won’t be as tightly interweaved as the first trio of mysteries are. So I like to think of book 4 as hopefully Trilogy 2 Book 1.

I read in your interview on the Cozy Up with Kathy blog that you are moving on to other writing projects.

Not moving on, but flirting and exploring ideas for other projects. I was pretty laser focused on getting a trilogy out as quickly as possible and as a result didn’t think about anything else creatively. But now the timing feels right to be more open to perhaps something different. But I’d be lying if I said writing more Jed adventures wasn’t a top priority for me. 

One of my favourite things about Five Moves of Doom is that it provides a certain degree of closure, but also very clearly leaves the door open for future “Hammerhead” Jed mysteries. I’m not only excited to write these stories, but I believe they can be a worthy addition to the overall narrative that has occurred so far.

I thought of Anthony Bidulka who, after writing 8 books featuring Russell Quant, put the series on indefinite hiatus.

He told me in an email:

I still stand by my never-say-never response which you quoted. For the moment, Russell continues to be on hiatus. I certainly appreciate your interest and the interest of other Quant readers in another book, but for the moment it is simply a matter of not having enough time to pursue all my opportunities and interests. When I began my career as a writer, having left a successful but time-consuming and sometimes grueling career as a CA, although part of the transition was the dream of attempting to write a book, it was also a personal promise to find better balance in life. If I spent more of my time writing, could I crank out another Russell Quant book? Absolutely. Do I have plenty of ideas for Quant stories? Certainly. But I never want to 'crank' out any book. Not good for readers, not good for me.

Wise words from a talented writer. Quality over quantity is paramount.

Are you able to say if Hammerhead Jed is on a definite or indefinite hiatus?

No hiatus. I’m going to be doing all I can to ensure he returns sooner rather than later. What that may look like, however, I don’t want to reveal just yet.

It is my hope he will return. Where Russell Quant was in a good place when his series stopped, I would like to know if Hammerhead can find a way out of the dark realm he was in at the end of Five Moves of Doom.

I’m happy to hear that! I’m starting to liken the series to a swinging pendulum. Cobra Clutch was Jed’s action-packed gritty and quirky debut, Rolling Thunder is the most colourful and zany of the books so far, and I think Five Moves of Doom is the most mature and interesting in the sense there is a deeper dive into what makes “Hammerhead” Jed tick. So, I think shifting back to some more lighter-hearted fare — while still addressing the fallout from the latest novel — is where things will be headed.

Not many books have left me thinking as much as Five Moves of Doom. I am glad I read the book.

Thank you for taking the time to review and discuss it! Hearing someone is glad to have read their writing is all an author can hope for.

Thanks.

All the best.

Bill

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Devlin, A.J. - (2019) - Cobra Clutch; (2020) - Rolling Thunder and Stampede Wrestling and and Exchange with Author A.J. Devlin; (2022) - Five Moves of Doom

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Exchange with Susan Juby on Mindful of Murder

After reading Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby I wrote to her and she has replied. Thank you for your response Susan. Our exchange is below.

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Dear Susan

I enjoyed reading Mindful of Murder. A copy of my review from my blog Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan is below.

In reading I am most drawn to mysteries in two ways - an interesting sleuth and an interesting setting. When they appear in the same book I am captured.

I consider Helen Thorpe a great character who could be a sleuth in a long series of mysteries. I saw a reference online that you wanted Helen to be a character you would be glad to spend a lot of time with for a series. Yet I have not seen whether there will actually be a series. Will there be a series featuring Helen? If so, have you started a second book? I read it took 5 years to write Mindful of Murder. I would be glad to see another Helen Thorpe mystery sooner.

Mysteries set on southern B.C. islands are always inviting to me. They have been locales for excellent crime fiction I have read in recent years. In Michael Christie’s book, Greenwood, and the later books in the Arthur Beauchamp series by William Deverell island life plays important roles in the plots. 

I have noted in your book and the books of Christies and Deverell that quirky characters populate the fictional islands. Were you inspired by strong minded real life islanders in creating your characters?

I thought you were inspired to make Helen Thorpe a butler. My wife and I have good cruising memories of butlers helping us. Below is a link to a post I wrote about your fictional butlers and Oceania Cruises butlers. I would be interested in what experiences you have had with real life butlers. In rural Saskatchewan I have never encountered a butler.

My contacts with real life butlers are that they are definitely mindful. I try to be mindful but, even though I am 70, find myself as easily distracted as when I was 20. Might you be a mindful person?

If you are able to reply and willing to have your response published I would be glad to post your response with this letter.

All the best.

Bill

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Hello Bill,

Thank you for your message. I'm glad you enjoyed the book and I'm a little jealous that you've enjoyed the services of real life butlers! I have to figure out my Google password to access your blog post, but I look forward to reading more about your experiences with butlers on ocean liners.

HarperCollins has asked me to write two more books about Helen Thorpe, so it will be a series. I believe the second one will be out early in 2024 and the third a year after that.

My characters are inspired by real people and are a product of my fevered imagination. I often write the people I'd like to meet one day.

As for your final question: I try to be a mindful person, but am often wildly distracted. Regular meditation practice helps, but we live in highly distracted times.

Thank you again for your note and I hope this finds you well.

Susan

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Mindful of Murder and Butlers in Fiction and Real Life


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Five Moves of Doom by A.J. Devlin

(25. - 1130.) Five Moves of Doom by A.J. Devlin - Being arrested for murder while “wearing nothing but a skin tight pair of André the Giant boxer briefs” by Rya Shepard, a woman to whom he is attracted, is a bad way to start the day for Jed “Hammerhead” Ounstead.

Hammerhead had been hired by Elijah Lennox to recover his stolen MMA Light Heavyweight Championship Belt. The “diamond-encrusted” belt was worth over $200,000. It had been taken from a display case at Lennox Kickboxing and Pankration.

While reviewing a list of possible suspects Hammerhead touches Nirvanna with a Rocky Point Ice Cream’s banana milkshake. He orders 5 for the road. I was mildly dismayed. I had loved that Hammerhead had been addicted to Dairy Queen banana milkshakes.

Famed jewel thief, Wally Fitzgibbons, who had been employed by Lennox is the primary suspect. 

Hammerhead diligently pursues the investigation. 

During his investigation he makes a heralded return to the professional wrestling ring. His physical talents and natural flair are perfect for the entertainment that is pro wrestling.

The investigation’s resolution takes him into a vicious rooftop fight club. Even with the fights having neither rules nor referees he makes a terrible mistake in not learning what is needed to end a fight. The consequences challenge his mind and body. 

His girlfriend, Stormy Davis, the Amazonian roller derby star that he met in Rolling Thunder has fallen in love with Hammerhead. He cares about Stormy while thinking about Rya. Hammerhead’s conscience is ill at ease. Stormy deserves better.

Hammerhead has spent his life confident he can handle any physical confrontation. Now he faces mortality. How will he handle that inexorable fate?

I have watched proud, hard, powerful men in professional football and judo face their physical peak has passed. Some accept reality. Others deny their decline.

The best part of the book came with Hammerhead wrestling (pun intended) with his life. Earlier parts of the book had some clichéd language.

I was disappointed with Hammerhead’s decision at the end of the book. I will say no more in this post as it would be a spoiler. We all have choices in tough circumstances. Some define a life.

It is a good book. I am still reflecting on the ending. 

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This review will be part of a book tour that A.J. has put together. I appreciate him inviting me to participate. I encourage readers to head over to his Facebook page to read the thoughts of other bloggers. As well, I have written to A.J. and will be putting up a post on October 12 of our exchange.

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Monday, October 3, 2022

The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

A review from 2008. While I enjoyed the book I have not read another by Beckett. I have not forgotten the opening in 14 years.

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5. - 415.) The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett – Among the most graphic openings ever as boys discover a line of maggots migrating from a decomposing corpose. Dr. David Hunter, forensic anthropologist, has run from London to Manham, a small village in the marshes of Norfolk, after the death of his wife and daughter. With the assistance of Dr. Henry Maitland, partially crippled from an accident himself, Hunter reverts to being a GP and building a new life. When the police find out his past, Hunter, against his wishes, is called in to determine what he can about the deceased woman. A chill descended on me as he concluded she had been tortured for days before being murdered. When a second local woman is kidnapped the village starts disintegrating in fear and suspicion. Hunter unexpectedly finds romance with a young teacher. The action sweeps forward to a thriller of an ending. Manham comes alive in the book. The characters feel real. The meanness of a small community is slightly exagerrated. The science of decomposition reminds me of the Kathy Reich and Patricia Cornwell novels. Once into the book I raced to finish it. An excellent thriller mystery. (Jan. 27/08)