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.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Hold Your Breath, China by Qiu Xiaolong

(15. - 1154.) Hold Your Breath, China by Qiu Xiaolong - Chief Inspector Chen receives an unexpected call to a delicate case. Considered politically unreliable, Chen had not been initially assigned the investigation of a serial killer. His discreet, though unrelenting pursuit of the truth in recent high level cases of corruption have disturbed some high level Party officials. The truth is not always in the interest of the Party. Several senior Party members would be glad to remove him from his position. 

Despite the political sensitivity of a serial killer Chen is summoned because the original team has made no progress. With a major Party meeting about to begin it would be a disaster for the Shanghai Police Bureau if the case is not promptly solved.

There have been four murders each a week apart. The first victim was a “night caregiver” in a hospital. The second is a weather anchorman. The third is a young sales manager at a real estate agency. The fourth is a journalist whose husband is Deputy Mayor of Shanghai. 

Connections between the victims have been elusive. The dreaded Internal Security is convinced the fourth murder is unconnected and of a political nature.

During his first meeting on the case he is summoned from the meeting by Comrade Zhou, “the retired but still powerful secretary of the Central Discipline Committee in Beijing”. Officially Zhou is in Shanghai for a fresh air holiday. While heavy smog smothers Shanghai the air pollution is worse in Bejing where flights have been cancelled.

Zhou wants Chen to conduct surveillance on environmental activists meeting covertly. He is to find out “what they are trying to do in secret”.

Their leader, known online as Yuan Jing, is Chen’s former lover, Shanshan, from an earlier book Don’t Cry, Tai Lake. Are her goals modest or is she “recklessly pushing forward”? 

The assignment is puzzling for both reader and Chen. While Chen is an accomplished investigator Zhou has access to far greater resources in manpower, electronic skills and coercion. Why is a high official being so oblique?

An old, well connected, friend at the Writers Association gives him a clear, but indirect, warning about the assignment.

Pollution is becoming an explosive issue in China as every major city resident sees, smells, tastes and feels the pollution every day. The Party is struggling to control the narrative on pollution. 

Many people are buying air purification machines.

At the same time the serial killer case remains stalled. They need the insights the Chief Inspector can bring to difficult cases but his new assignment has made his participation marginal.

Intimate videos are circulating on the internet. Beyond embarrassment, how are they connected to the murders and the pollution campaign? Because of the “time-honored tradition of moral criticism” they could have devastating personal consequences.

Chen does discuss the serial killer case with his partner, Detective Yu. The methodical Yu, with the aid of his clever wife Peiqin, proves surprisingly imaginative in developing a theory provided by Chen.

Setting a story filled with actual and imagined conspiracies in China is credible where secrecy is practised by all. It is a challenge of Chinese life to recognize which conspiracies are real.

I was anxious to know if Chen and Shanshan would rekindle their relationship. While he is still single she has married. He still thinks of her:

Who is the one walking beside you? 

By the water an apple tree

blossoming again flashing 

smiles among the waking boughs

petals transparent in the dazzling light

she walks in a red trench coat

carries a report in her hand

like a bright sail cutting

through the contaminated currents 

to the silent splendid sun.

For a time the emphasis in the story on air pollution was heavy handed. Yet as the end approached the two plot lines are brought together. Chen has become ever more adept at divining what Party leadership wants from cases and offering means to accomplish their goals. While maintaining personal modesty he is demonstrating strong political instincts.

The language of the first half of the book did not flow as well as in earlier books. The second half was much better. The poetry, as always, was exquisite.

The conclusion is moving and powerful. The satisfying ending was jolted by a disclosure in the final few pages that will carry over to the next book. Qiu Xiaolong, a subtle plotter, showed himself capable of a touch of Hollywood drama, albeit without a host of bodies. I bought the next book immediately.


Thursday, April 20, 2023

2023 Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence Shortlists

Today the Crime Writers of Canada announced the shortlists for this year's Awards of Excellence. Congratulations to those listed. In previous years I read the short list for Best Crime Novel or Best Crime Novel Set in Canada. I am not sure if I am going to read a shortlist this year.

I am very excited that Going to Beautiful by Anthony Bidulka, No. 1 on my Bill’s Best Fiction of 2022 list, is on the shortlist for Best Crime Novel. Unabashedly I am hoping it will be the winner. It is a remarkable book.

I am excited that A.J. Devlin’s book, Five Moves of Doom, is on the shortlist for Best Crime Novel set in Canada.

Winners will be announced in May.

It was also announced that Jack Batten, author and reviewer, was chosen to receive the Derrice Murdoch Award. I will have more on his selection in a subsequent post.

Best Crime Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo, with a $1000 prize

Linwood Barclay, Take Your Breath Away, HarperCollins Canada
Anthony Bidulka, Going to Beautiful, Stonehouse Publishing
Nicole Lundrigan, An Unthinkable Thing, Viking Canada
Catherine McKenzie, Please Join Us, Simon & Schuster Canada
Shelly Sanders, Daughters of the Occupation, HarperCollins Canada

Best Crime First Novel sponsored by Melodie Campbell, with a $1000 prize

T. Lawrence Davis, The Pale Horse, Friesen Press
Bill Edwards, Killer Time, Friesen Press
Adam Frost, The Damned Lovely, Down and Out Books
Sam Shelstad, Citizens of Light, TouchWood Editions
M.Z. Urlocker, The Man from Mittlewerk, Inkshares, Inc.

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada sponsored by Charlotte Engel and CWC, with a $500 prize

A. J. Devlin, Five Moves of Doom, NeWest Press
S. M. Freedman, Blood Atonement, Dundurn Press
Joanne Jackson, A Snake in the Raspberry Patch, Stonehouse Publishing
Maureen Jennings, Cold Snap, Cormorant Books
Amy Tector, The Foulest Things, Keylight Books

The Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery sponsored by Jane Doe, with a $500 prize

Alice Bienia, Knight in the Museum, Cairn Press
Anne Emery, Fenian Street, ECW Press
Thomas King, Deep House, HarperCollins Canada
Mary Jane Maffini, Death Plans a Perfect Trip, Beyond the Page
Iona Whishaw, Framed in Fire, Touchwood Editions

Best Crime Novella sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $200 prize

M.H. Callway, Amdur's Ghost, In the Spirit of 13, Carrick Publishing
Hilary Davidson, Dangerous to Know, A Grifter's Song Vol. 8, Down & Out Books
Julie Hiner, Dead End Track, Julie Hiner
Matt Hughes, The Emir's Falcon, Shadowpaw Press Premiere
Alexis Stefanovich-Thomson, The Man Who Went Down Under, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines

Best Crime Short Story sponsored by Mystery Magazine, with a $300 prize

Craig H. Bowlsby, The Girl Who Was Only Three Quarters Dead, Mystery Magazine
M.H. Callway, Must Love Dogs - or You're Gone, Red Dog Press
Blair Keetch, To Catch a Kumiho, In the Spirit of 13, Carrick Publishing
Sylvia Maultash Warsh, The Natural Order of Things, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
donalee Moulton, Swan Song, Cold Canadian Crime, Crime Writers of Canada

Best French Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Geneviève Blouin, Le Mouroir des anges, Éditions Alire
Isabelle Lafortune, Chaîne de glace, Éditions XYZ
Guillaume Morrissette, Le dernier manège, Saint-Jean éditeur
Suzan Payne, Modus operandi, Éditions Perce-Neige
Richard Ste-Marie, Monsieur Hämmerli, Éditions Alire

Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction) sponsored by Shaftesbury, with a $500 prize

Natasha Deen, Lark Steals the Show, Orca Book Publisher
Marthe Jocelyn, Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Seaside Corpse, Tundra Books
H.N. Khan, Wrong Side of the Court, Penguin Teen
Wesley King, Butt Sandwich & Tree, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Jo Treggiari, Heartbreak Homes, Nimbus Publishing Limited

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book sponsored by David Reid Simpson Law Firm, Hamilton, with a $300 prize

Michael Arntfield, How to Solve a Cold Case: And Everything Else You Wanted to Know About Catching Killers, HarperCollins Canada
Sharon Anne Cook and Margaret Carson, The Castleton Massacre, Dundurn Press Ltd.
Harley Rustad, Lost in the Valley of Death, Knopf Canada - Penguin Random House Canada
Rosemary Sullivan, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, HarperCollins Canada
Sarah Weinman, Scoundrel, Knopf Canada - Penguin Random House Canada

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript sponsored by ECW Press, with a $500 prize

Jan Garnett, No Safe House
Mary Keenan, Snowed
Joanne Kormylo, Two Knots
Joel Nedecky, The Broken Detective
Michael Pennock, The Peaks

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Dominion Voting v. Fox - $787,500,000

Over the years I have written a number of posts on defamation actions setting the facts of historic events. Just over 2 years ago I wrote about the defamation action Dominion Voting Systems had filed against Sidney Powell, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers. Among her statements she had falsely claimed that Dominion voting machines had manipulated and changed votes costing Trump the 2020 Presidential election.

I thought Dominion had a very strong case and wondered how she could mount a credible defence. A trial would establish whether or not there had been massive election fraud involving Dominion.

At the time I thought it likely Dominion would pursue the probably deep-pocketed Trump. They have not yet sued him. On reflection I can see their hesitation. Trump is crafty in getting others to utter his claims. 

What I had not foreseen in 2021 was Dominion suing Fox News. They were the primary means by which the outlandish voter fraud claims were made. Observing how willing Fox programs and personalities were to present and repeat the allegations was breathtaking. Powell appeared multiple times.

Today the consequences came home to Fox. It settled Dominion’s claim for $787,500,000. It did not make a formal apology. In a curious press release it stated:

We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.

What the press release omitted was any reference to the amount of the settlement.

Showing they have, at least temporarily, learned a painful lesson about claims concerning the 2020 election the Fox article, in which the press release was contained, went on to say:

Then President Trump and his allies fiercely challenged Joe Biden’s victory in the weeks following the election. Some of them, including members of his legal team, made false and unsubstantiated claims against Dominion Voting Systems and are the subject of separate defamation lawsuits.

I had been following the action against Fox since it was filed.

Fox tried mightily but failed to dismiss the claim. It unsuccessfully sought to limit which Fox business entities could be sued. It could not stop owner, Rupert Murdoch, from having to be deposed. 

Fox was further restricted before the trial.

Trial judge, Eric M. Davis, limited Fox in a pre-trial application deciding:

“... the evidence does not support that FNN conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting.

Most important was the decision by Davis a couple of weeks ago that gutted Fox’s best defence by ruling:

“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that it is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.”

I cannot remember the last time I read a judgment where the judge used the combination of italics, bolding and capitalization to emphasize the conclusion.

That decision does mean a defamation action has once again settled a historical issue. The quote will resonate for decades to come.

After the “CRYSTAL clear” decision I told my sons I thought Fox would settle.

What defendant would dare to go to a jury knowing the jury would start deliberations from the position that Fox had broadcast fake news.

Its remaining argument was they were neither deliberately nor recklessly malicious. Trying to win a jury trial on a pure legal argument is daunting.

While the settlement is a staggering amount Fox can write a cheque to pay it. The Los Angeles Times reported Fox has $4,000,000,000 in cash.

Major news organizations have consistently had defamation lawyers checking their content against defamation. I do not know if Fox had such a filter. If there were defamation lawyers monitoring Fox content I expect we will never know their advice.

Going forward I expect some caution on Fox reporting and opinions.

Their 2020 election exposure is not yet over. Smartmatic, another voting technology company, has a $2.7 billion case pending against Fox.

Its lawsuit opened with bravado:

“The Earth is round. Two plus two equals four. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris wond the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States.”

It is a good thing Fox still has billions of dollars in cash.

As for Dominion it will move on with its lawsuits against Powell, Rudy Giuilani and Mike Lindell, the Minnesota pillow manufacturer.

Powell started her defence by evading service for some time. You can run for a time from court but reckoning is coming for her.

Giuilani has short pockets compared to Fox but his defence took a hit when, as stated in the Guardian, it came out in the Dominion v. Fox evidentiary disclosure that he was recorded before an on-air Fox broadcast stating:

“.... he did not have any evidence to back up the false allegations of election rigging by Dominion in the 2020 race that are at the heart of the lawsuit.”

It is Mr. Lindell, whose pockets are deeper, that is at the greatest risk. His net worth, depending on the internet source you choose, is between $50 million and $300 hundred million.

Lindell, the owner of MyPillow, may actually be the defendant to reach trial. He continues to preach there was election fraud. 

Between the Johnny Depp v. Amanda Heard trial, the English Wagatha Chrisie trial beween soccer wives, ENRC v. Burgis (Central Asian oligarchs suing an English writer) and the Dominion Voting cases, actions for defamation have dominated court media coverage the past couple of years. They are entertaining for the public but hugely expensive for the participants.