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.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

2023 Winers of Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence

What a day for crime fiction in Saskatchewan! Two of the Awards of Excellence by the Crime Writers of Canada went to Saskatchewan books.

I am so glad Anthony Bidulka won the Best Crime Novel with Going to Beautiful. In my review I said it was his masterpiece. At the end of 2022 it was my choice for Best Fiction of the year. I am sure Anthony and Herb are sharing champagne tonight.

I regret I have not read A Snake in the Raspberry Patch by Joanne Jackson which won the Best Crime Novel Set in Canada. It will be my next purchase.

It is striking that both Anthony and Joanne are Saskatoon residents.

Just as striking, both books were published by Stonehouse Publishing of Edmonton.

Congratulations to all the winners:

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

Anthony Bidulka, Going to Beautiful, Stonehouse Publishing

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

Sam Shelstad, Citizens of Light, TouchWood Editions

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

Joanne Jackson, A Snake in the Raspberry Patch, Stonehouse Publishing

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

Thomas King, Deep House, HarperCollins Canada

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

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

Best French Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Richard Ste-Marie, Monsieur Hämmerli, Éditions Alire

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

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

Rosemary Sullivan, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, HarperCollins Canada

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript sponsored by ECW Press, with a $500 prize

Mary Keenan, Snowed

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

(18. - 1157.) The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman - Clubs are fun. I am a member of the Melfort Rotary Club. I was a member of the Melfort Judo Club. I played baseball with the Melfort Old Brewers ball club. I have never contemplated a murder club.

Studying unsolved murders with friends on Thursdays with biscuits and wine sounds very appealing.

Convivial friends are important for a club. The members of The Thursday Murder Club are interesting. Elizabeth’s background is not clear but she is familiar with “murders and investigations and what have you”. Ibrahim was a psychiatrist. Ron was a trade union leader and is an unwavering skeptic in that “he never believes a single word anyone ever tells him”. Joyce, a committed diarist, was “a nurse for many years” and is talented at being overlooked.

I am interested in joining the club. At 71 I would be a little young. Still I hope they would make an accommodation for me.

A roadlbock is that they are all residents of Coopers Chase, a “Luxury Retirement Village” meeting in the Jigsaw Room. I have yet to retire and enjoy living in my home with Sharon. Perhaps my experience as a lawyer whose practice includes criminal defence would sway the members to let me join them.

Even a decade ago an insurmountable obstacle would be my residence in rural Saskatchewan when the club meets in rural England. Zoom meetings solve that issue. While I prefer in person meetings I have become comfortable on Zoom. I could have Pepsi, which I prefer to wine, and biscuits while sitting in my comfortable armchair in Saskatchewan. They need not know I dislike tea.

Gory autopsy photos are not my favourite viewing but I would not press the Leave button.

I am well used to the language of police notes and records that occupy much of the Club’s time. I understand the necessity of analyzing them for what was left out or unnoticed.

When a minority shareholder in Coopers Chase who also built the Village and is a former thug is murdered I could have assisted with insights into the legal documents that established relationships, financial benefits and motive for murder. The Club would not have needed the help of Joyce’s daughter, Joanna, and Cornelius, an analyst working for Joanna.

Being old sharpens the cunning instinct. I admired how the Club members invite PC Donna De Freitas to be a source and cleverly entice the Murder Team to include her in their unit because the old folks trust her and will talk to her.

Elizabeth is skilled at talking to police officers. I think my decades of experience in talking with officers would be useful.

When the police challenge the Club members with regard to finding bones and having them privately analyzed before revealing them to the police I could have added weight to Elizabeth’s firm, even caustic comments, that no one will be jailed or even fined.

Every club needs a leader. Elizabeth is a great leader. Fearless, clever and manipulative she commands the group. She has a strong, yet not overbearing personality. I have been both leader and follower in clubs and can see myself readily following the indomitable Elizabeth in pursuit of murder. 

Only true afficiandoes of murder, such as the club members, could say witnessing a murder was wonderful. I could not say such an experience would be wonderful but I would find it fascinating. 

I appreciate logic and was pleased by their precision in deleting from a crowd of seniors who are murder suspects, those who are using walkers or mobility scooters or have cataracts because quick movement was made by the killer.

The club members are relentless. Each is resolute in solving murders. I enjoy the challenge of trying to solve murders in crime fiction. My determination is reflected by having over 1,000 murder experiences through reading mysteries.

I was a little disappointed by what happened at the ending of the Thursday Murder Club. The consequences were tidy but did not feel right.

I really enjoyed the club members. They are witty, kind and bright. Each is an engaged senior using the talents acquired during their lives. They are a dynamic quartet. I hope they call. I would relish being a member of the Thursday Murder Club.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Becoming Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong (Part Two)

(16. - 1155.) Becoming Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong (Part Two) - My first post on the book covered Chief Inspector’s life up to becoming a police officer and how extensively Qiu Xiaolong drew upon his own life experiences. With Chen becoming a police officer there is less of Qiu’s life in Chen’s life.

Upon joining the Shanghai police services Chen, lacking police training, is delegated to translate an American police procdure booklet. Day after day he quietly works upon the translation. The work is incredibly boring.

During his breaks from translating he is reading mystery novels. He finds several thought provoking especially when they probe the mind. I was reminded of the private detective, Kosuke Kindaichi, in The Honjin Murders in which Kindaichi was a crime fiction afficiando. In the murder investigation taking place in the 1940’s he draws upon the Golden Age authors of crime fiction he has been reading. 

Chen, now with an actual income, becomes known for his love of fine food, especially if it is of an exotic nature.

From innate curiosity and wanting to be more useful than a just translator of a booklet that is of little relevance to Chinese procedure, Chen offers to help with a murder investigation that has proved frustrating. His knowledge of food proves useful. The murder victim had caviar, shark fin and drunken shrimp in his stomach at death.

When Chen and his friend Overseas Lu identify the victim by figuring out the restaurant at which the deceased ate such an unusual meal the murder detectives are surprised and uncomfortable with his success. From his first case Chen makes superiors uneasy.

With the victim having connections with a rich American the case has political overtones and pressure increases upon the detectives.

Chen provides insights from his conversations with people. Neither intimidating nor brutal nor demanding Chen draws out information. He cares about helping people. His efforts are important in solving the case.

Chen is given more opportunities and proves to be a talented officer. 

He periodically returns to the residents of Red Dust Lane. Qiu has created a real neighbourhood. There are rivalries but most residents are supportive of each other.

When Chen is promoted to being in “charge of ‘rectification of wronged cases during the Cultural Revolution’ “ he uses his authority in moving ways on behalf of Red Dust Lane.

The book affirms fragmentary comments in earlier books that Chen has succeeded in his police career and personal life by “following his father’s Confucianist maxim”:

‘Even if you know it’s something impossible for you to do, you have to try your best as long as it’s the right thing to do.’

He lives by classic Confucian values rather than the socialist principles of Chairman Mao. No matter the rhetoric about the proletarian struggles for the masses, Confucian principles mean a better life for the masses.

Becoming Inspector Chen is a curious book in its structure and relationship to the series. There are a few pages per chapter on his precarious official position and the investigation into the “like emoji” on a controversial poem but most of the book is about his prior life. I had the feeling Qiu felt compelled to throw in a current mystery when he really just wanted to write about Chen’s life. Further, none of the book deals with the murder Chen planned to investigate that took place in the final pages of Hold Your Breath, China.

It would have made more sense to have simply written a biography of Chen. Many of the stories set out in Becoming Inspector Chen had appeared in earlier books in less detail.

Since Becoming Inspector Chen did not deal with the late killing in Hold Your Breach, China I bought the next book in the series, Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder, to see if it is the actual sequel. It is not like Qiu to set up and then abandon a plot line. My favourite question - why - nags me.


Xiaolong, Qiu – (2009) - Death of a Red Heroine (Second best of 2009 fiction); (2011) - "X" is for Qui Xiaolong; (2011) - A Case for Two Cities; (2012) - "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again; (2012) - A Loyal Character Dancer; (2013) - Red Mandarin Dress and Reflections on red Mandarin dresses; (2015) - The Mao Case;  (2016) - Don't Cry, Tai Lake and The Poetry of Pollution in Qiu Xiaolong's Fiction; (2016) - Comparing Serial Killers in Three Totalitarian States; (2017) - Enigma of China; (2017) - Shanghai Redemption; (2023) - Hold Your Breath, China; (2023) - Becoming Inspector Chen - (Part One) Hardcover or paperback. 

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Becoming Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong (Part One)

(16. - 1155.) Becoming Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong - (Because of the connections to real life this review will form two posts.) Though Chief Inspector Chen has been solving murders and even averting a public scandal in Hold Your Breath, China, he has made senior Party authorities in Beijing uncomfortable. Despite his connections he expects to be dismissed. While he awaits a decision his mind goes back to his life journey becoming a Chief Inspector.

His father, once a respected Neo-Confucian scholar, is brutally treated by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. His father was seen as an “unreformed bourgeois intellect” and endures multiple “revolutionary mass criticisms” before being assigned work as a janitor. His father is described as a “black monster” and Chen as a “black puppy”.

In the frenzy of the modern witch hunt, his father is denounced by other patients while he is in hospital. Chen helps save him by writing a “confession” for his father. As a result:

It was the first time he gained confidence in himself, in writing of all things, which might enable him to sway those people otherwise above and beyond him.

In real life Wikipedia reports:

Qiu's father came home at times with bruises from being attacked at work. Then his father suffered an acute retinal detachment and was hospitalized. In order to be eligible for eye surgery, his father had to write a confession of guilt for his capitalist bourgeois sins; but it was not deemed sufficiently repentant. So the teenage Qiu re-wrote it, using melodramatic language and framing his father's capitalist sins as no accident. It seemed to work, as soon after his father received his surgery. Ironically, Qiu says, "The Red Guard’s approval of my father’s confession gave me some confidence in my writing".

In the present Webcops, having found a “like emoji” next to a poem online that is considered critical of the Party, are investigating the netizen who inserted the emoji. While poetry interpretation is an important part of Chen’s life he is not considered reliable enough to investigate. (His superiors are accurate in that assessment.) I had not realized “thoughtcrime” was a real criminal offence in China.

The offending netizen is a resident of Red Dust Lane. It is a street near where Chen grew up and the area where he solved some early cases as a cop. Those successes aided his rise within the police.

As a young teenager, Chen was known for reading translations of Sherlock Holmes at a Red Dust bookstore “without buying a single copy”.

Once done Middle School he is saved from being assigned to work in the countryside by bronchitis. As a “waiting-for-recovery” youth he has little to do in Shanghai. In the Bund Park, a chance meeting, inspires him to study English with a lovely young woman and a forcibly retired English teacher. He proves gifted in learning languages.

As a teenager Qiu was also saved from the countryside by bronchitis and started studying English after seeing people studying English in the park. He gained a B.A. in English from the East China Normal University and an M.A. in English Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In the book, daily summer study by Chen of T.S. Eliot at the Beijing Library leads to a relationship with Ling, a lovely young librarian, who is also a university graduate. 

Qiu, gets a grant to study T.S. Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri. Later he translates some of Eliot’s poems, such as The Wasteland, into Chinese.

Back in the book, Chan is startled to find out Ling’s father is a “rising” member of the Politburo. 

As always with his relationships Chen dithers. He could gain great advantages in life from a relationship with Ling. Yet he reflects those opportunities would come because of her efforts, not his own. He does not spend enough time realizing that connections are important the world over. Within China they are vital.

After graduating Chen is given a “state assigned” job. The English graduate is designated a cop. The assignment is slightly less arbitrary than it appears. With the end of the Cultural Revolution, China is to be reformed and intellectuals are considered important. To the authorities appointing him:

As a college graduate, Chen was supposed to infuse new blood into the police system, …”

The second post will have more on Chen’s life, less about Qiu’s life and more about Chen as a young investigator. 


Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill

Because of various commitments I do not have a current review ready. Below is a review from 2008 of the second book in a fine series featuring a remarkable sleuth, Dr. Siri, who investigates deaths in Laos. I enjoyed both books I read in the series but have not returned. Maybe this year. 


3. - 413.) Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill – Dr. Siri is called on to autopsy a pair of men found dead in front of a government building. He cleverly deduces a government official ran off a building and landed on the other man. As he investigates it is clear the spirit world has affected the official. Siri is sent to the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang to autopsy a pair of helicopter pilots. While there he is further drawn into the spirit world and its shamans. He learns more about his origins. Back in Vietiane his assistant, Dtui, is attempting to figure out a series of deaths that appear to have been caused by the claws and teeth of a large wild animal. Siri has determined he is the embodiment of a famous shaman, Yeh Ming, from over 1,000 years ago. Spirits affect every part of life in Laos. The story flows beautifully. Laotian spirits continue to be an exception to my normal lack of interest in spirits directly affecting this world. Paperback by choice. (Jan. 13/08)