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.


  1. This is a really interesting discussion, Bill. Like you, I prefer low body counts. To me, that doesn't build suspense nearly the way that the menace you describe does. And, to be honest, I think we all have good enough imaginations that we don't need the gory details of violence, either. I think it takes talent for an author to convey danger (and authority, too, for that matter) without bodies falling everywhere.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The Hollywoodization of thrillers has swept the film industry and penetrated deep into written crime fiction. I believe too many talented writers have chosen / been "encouraged" to keep the bodies falling to promote drama.