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, November 30, 2022

Body Counts in Fictional Gang Wars (Ian Hamilton, John Grisham and Don Winslow)

I have been thinking about how inter-gang violence is portrayed by different authors in several locales. There are a few spoilers in this post.

Ian Hamilton, in his 4 books on “Uncle” Chow Tung, explores the triads of Hong Kong from the 1960’s through to the 1990’s. Because of his courage, intelligence and modesty Uncle is chosen leader of the Fanling Triads. He leads them to great financial success while meeting challenges from larger groups of Triads.

 For Uncle violence is a tool to be used sparingly and carefully. He will not shy away from violence. When a group of Triads tries to take over the Fanling Triads he makes known they will fight, no matter the cost. They might lose but the other group would suffer heavily. The opposition backs away.


He is also prepared to fight personally and stands shoulder to shoulder with his fighters.


He equally knows the British authorities will come down hard upon gang wars if bodies are falling through Hong Kong.


In the conflicts over the decades I do not believe there were ever more than 2-3 killings in an Uncle conflict. There were no wars.


Uncle attacks the sources of income of opposing gangs rather than their members.


In The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham, he delves into vice in Biloxi, Mississippi from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. While the focus of the story is upon the efforts of crusading district attorney, Jesse Rudy, to clean up “The Strip” the story includes conflicts between the owners of the clubs providing girls and gambling.


In Biloxi there are no groups identified as gangs. As he has done in The Whistler Grisham refers to the Dixie Mafia. There were a loose collection of thugs who more or less control vice in the Deep South.


Lance Malco has the greatest share of the business of vice in Biloxi. He has a trusted sub-leader in Nevin Noll who is also an enforcer and an organization but they do not call themselves a gang.


Other individuals own multiple clubs. There is constant friction between the existing owners and newcomers anxious to get a piece of the lucrative Biloxi vice.


The conflicts occasionally lead to 1-2 deaths but there are no wars. The local Sheriff, Fats Bowman, is tolerant of the vice as long as he gets his share but makes it clear bodies are bad for business.


What is striking is an attack upon Rudy. The consequences are predictably dire for the bad guys. Law enforcement and courts deal harshly with attacks upon the judicial system.


In City on Fire the Irish, Italian and Black gangs of Providence, Rhode Island are less organized than the triads of Hong Kong but more organized than the Dixie Mafia of Biloxi.


The gangs are defined ethnically and racially. There are established territories within the city.

A generation of peace between the Irish and the Italians is fractured by a dispute over a beautiful woman. While she is the trigger the real issue is the Italians wanting to take over the share of the Irish.


There is an actual war with significant killings and injuries on both sides. The calculations in Hong Kong and Biloxi minimizing deaths fail in Providence. Neither side is able to compromise to avoid escalations.


The leaders jostling for territory and business in Hong Kong and Biloxi recognize war is unproductive and unpredictable. In Providence personal issues interfere with the business of crime. I could never see Uncle tolerating killing over a competition for a woman. Yet one of the most famous wars in history was fought over Helen of Troy.


In City on Fire there were some attacks on the businesses of the opposing gangs but they were effectively pinpricks which had little economic damage.


As a reader I prefer low body counts. While there are thrills in a bloody war, I find more interesting maneuvering with enough menace to be convincing.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

(29. - 1134.) The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham - Grisham returns to Mississippi but not to Ford County. Biloxi was a wide open raucous city on the Gulf coast of Mississippi through most of the 20th Century. Booze, gambling and girls were readily available. Prohibition was ignored. 

While vice was important, the primary industry was canning the abundant seafood of the Gulf. Immigrants especially from Croatia poured into Biloxi. 

Grisham examines Biloxi through two families.

From humble beginnings the Marco family (most surnames were Anglcized) prospered with bars and a grocery. In the second generation, Lance embraced gambling and prostitution and became the dominant player on “The Strip”.

The Rudy family took a different direction. Jesse Rudy, using his G.I. Bill benefits, gained a university education after WW II. After struggling to get by as a teacher he enrolls in night school and becomes a lawyer.

In the third generation Hugh Marco and Keith Rudy become good friends through playing baseball. By the early 1960’s the boys are in high school.  

While interesting the story was plodding abit until Hurricane Camille devastates Biloxi in 1969. In the aftermath, Jesse takes on insurance companies denying coverage as they claim all damage was caused by water damage through storm surge which is excluded by policies rather than wind damage which is included risk. The trials display Jesse’s tenacity and skill in the courtroom.

In the early 1970’s Jesse is elected DA and sets out to clean up the Strip. Sheriff Fats Bowman and Lance lead the opposition. Fats is willfully blind to the illegal activities along the Strip. Lance is determined to protect lucrative businesses.

As they become adults Hugh and Keith join their fathers in the family businesses.

A major fight is inevitable and the book comes alive. Two generations of Biloxi boys face off.

I was startled by the confrontation. Many thriller authors would have shied from the twist. 

There is lots of courtroom action in the rest of the plot.

I found it hard to address in a review what happens in the balance of the book because there would be major spoilers. A further post, which includes spoilers, will address Grisham handling difficult issues.

I appreciate Grisham providing portraits of the heroes and the villains. Not enough writers address the personal lives of the wicked.

The Biloxi Boys is not one of Grisham’s best books. It took over 100 pages to really engage me but the story became more and more compelling. Unlike The Judge’s List  I thought the ending of The Biloxi Boys was powerful.


Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar and Law Students and Integrity; (2019) - The Reckoning; (2019) - Cullen Post in The Guardians and The Guardians; (2020) - A Time for Mercy and Practising Law in Rural Mississippi and Rural Saskatchewan and Writing a Credible Trial; (2021) - Camino Winds; (2022) - The Judge's List

Saturday, November 19, 2022

City on Fire by Don Winslow

(31. - 1136.) City on Fire by Don Winslow – It is 1986. The Italians and the Irish have divided Providence, Rhode Island. The respective gangs have prospered for a generation.

Danny Ryan’s father was the leader of the Irish in Dogtown until he became consumed by drink. John Murphy took over. Danny’s wife Terri, is a Murphy. Only the Murphy’s are in the backroom of the Glocca Morra Bar making decisions.


Pasco Ferri is in charge of the Italians on Federal Hill with Jacky Moretti serving a life sentence for murder. Jacky's sons, Peter and Pauli, are anxious for Pasco to retire.


Danny is restless. He was happiest as a fisherman. Loving Terri he joined the family business. He is ill-suited to being a “collector” of unpaid debts to the gang. He would be glad to move but Terri is determined to stay with her large family and friends.


The Irish cling to past glories and connections with the Old Country. Funds are collected for the IRA. They are content with their share of the organized crime of Providence.


The Italians are ambitious. The Moretti’s have maximized their returns and want more.


Power sharing agreements between criminal gangs are fragile. It is striking that the Providence arrangements have lasted a generation.


The peace between the gangs is fractured when a beautiful woman is coveted by a Moretti and a Murphy. While the heads of the families seek a negotiated resolution the younger generation is more reckless, even eager to resolve matters by violence.


I was struck by each side being poorly trained for war. They are violent men but their violence has been against those unable to defend themselves or in individual fights. Each side brings in a “shooter” from the outside.


The war is vicious. Unlike many thrillers the impact of death on both sides is explored. Not for Winslow the casual killing of the bad guys with no thoughts upon their family and friends. The Irish and the Italians grieve hard.


An end to the war gets harder and harder. Winslow effectively explores the machinations and negotiations of the gangs.


Danny’s long estranged mother appears. The bright and beautiful Madeline McKay is a striking character. I wish she had arrived earlier in the book. Her effort to regain a relationship with Danny is fraught with emotion.


Other personal matters, uncommon for a thriller, are important to the story. As well, Winslow addresses the history of Providence and its anticipated future. Demographics deeply affect the gangs.


The end is classic American thriller. The body count extends into the double digits as usual for Winslow. It need not have been as high.


Winslow’s pages flow by as he drives the narrative. The first in a trilogy, City on Fire, is a good book.  




Winslow, Don – (2005) - The Power of the Dog (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2016) - Cartel

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon

(27. - 1132.) Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon - Cash drives for the farmers of the Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota in 1970. She operates the big machinery and big trucks of grain farming. She spends evenings at the Casbah drinking Bud two at a time while winning at the pool table. She smokes Marlboros. Some evenings she takes Jim home. She is 19.

Cash’s heritage is with the White Earth Chippewa Tribe in Minnesota. She spent much of her youth in county foster homes. The emotional scars from the foster homes are deep.

The body of an Indian man is found in a field. Cash looks over the site with Sheriff Wheaton. 

The Sheriff has looked out for her for over 10 years. She appreciates what he has done for her. There is mutual respect.

There are an unlikely team. The middle aged white man and the teenage Indian. She is a keen observer. Informally, she is an investigator. She can and does ask questions from the men against whom she plays pool. 

The language of Murder on the Red River is spare. It is as crisp as a North Dakota or Saskatchewan morning. Nary a word is wasted. Cash and Sheriff Wheaton are laconic in the tradition of rural residents of the West. I grew up on a Saskatchewan farm. My father and our neighbours, especially the men, were shy with words. Working the fields, you do not need to speak.

While very conscious of her heritage Cash, probably unknowingly, has adopted the manners of speech of the white farmers.

Cash’s involvement with the family of the deceased man, Tony Day Dodge, from the Red Lake Reservation is heartbreaking.

Life is bleak for the indigenous people of 52 years ago. All the problems outlined in my last review of Winter Counts existed five decades ago. Life was actually harsher in 1970. Casual and overt racism was far more prevalent.

I need a little relief from the darkness of indigenous life. Not every aspect of indigenous life is grim. Cash gets the opportunity to attend university.

Murder on the Red River was well written but I felt Rendon grafted a mystery onto the story of how difficult life was for indigenous people 52 years ago especially with regard to taking children from their parents. I think she would have had a better book without inserting a mystery.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

(28. - 1133.) Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden - Virgil Wounded Horse exacts justice. His justice. With fists and feet, for a fee of $100 per tooth knocked out or bone broken, he punishes the wicked on the huge Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Sometimes he works for free. 

Virgil does not believe in traditional rituals and ceremonies. He no longer drinks.

Every society has its distinctions. Virgil is iyake (half-blood). All his life there have been full bloods looking down upon him.

Life is hard on the rez. Virgil lives with his nephew, Nathan. Money is short. When he is offered a job by Councilor Ben Short Bear, worth $5,000 rather than the usual few hundred, Virgil is tempted but needs to be sure that Rick Crow is truly evil and a threat to the rez. Virgil and Rick have had a long and difficult personal relationship.

The book is unflinching in its portrayal of the poverty and social problems upon the reservation. Most reservation residents are unemployed or semi-employed. Many families are broken. Despair and boredom are everywhere. Young suicides occur regularly.

Some residents do very well. Usually they are in governance. Ben Short Bear has a good income and expense allowances. His wife, Ann, comes from a well-to-do Osage family in Oklahoma. She can shop and travel around America. They are pushing  their daughter, Marie, to go to medical school.

Marie and Virgil had lived together but their personal relationship faltered. 

Reserve residents enjoy time together. Whether for a burger or a smoke or a drink or a visit to the casino they are constantly meeting.

While not spiritual, Virgil has a strong spirit though he struggles to find a focus to his life.

Drugs have become as prevalent on the reservation as alcohol. When Nathan is affected, Virgil is drawn into challenging the traffickers of heroin.

Marie and Virgil re-establish their relationship. Their future is uncertain.

There are layers of moral issues. The pursuit of evil is difficult. Like real life the investigation is frustrating with menace constantly lurking.

It is more of a thriller rather than a mystery. With the vivid depictions of the rez, well drawn descriptions of its people and a credible plot I was drawn swiftly through the book.

The author states:

Winter Counts is one of the first modern thrillers written by a Native American author.

Virgil is a great character. I am glad he will be featured in at least one more book.

Winter Counts is a distinctive memorable book.