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.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Mussolini’s Daughter - The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe by Caroline Moorehead

(4. - 1143.) Mussolini’s Daughter - The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe by Caroline Moorehead - Edda Mussolini, the first child of Benito Mussolini, was born in 1910 into extreme poverty in northern Italy. Her father, the son of an anarchist, was a fierce socialist. Sleeping little he was honing his journalistic and oratorical skills while establishing revolutionary credentials. Food was scarce.

After WW I family finances improved though there were frequent “rows” between her parents over his constant affairs. Mussolini was prospering as he moved far from his socialist roots as he created fascism.

Moorehead states:

At nine, she was already very like her father, passionate, jealous and possessive, unpredictable and volatile, and she had his very black, very round eyes and his imperious stare, all the more striking in her small, angular face.

She was 12 when her father’s famous march on Rome took him to power.

As a lawyer and journalist and blogger I was struck by Moorehead’s assessment:

As a canny and seasoned journalist, Mussolini understood better than anyone ‘the tremendous magic of words’.

With her father caught up in governing Italy and his Roman mistresses, Edda, a rebellious teenager was “at war” with her mother. She did well in school. As with the other Mussolini’s she was very superstitious. 

Galeazzo Ciano was the son of Costanzo Ciano, a Minister and Mussolini’s designated political heir should he die. After being trained as a lawyer Galeazzo unsuccessfully tries a writing career before his father pushes him into the diplomatic corps. He does well in Argentina, Brazil and China. He is not anxious to be called back to Rome to be a part of the Italian Embassy to the Vatican.

After meeting at a charity ball Edda and Galeazzo go to the cinema. During the movie Galeazzo asks her to marry him and she says “Why not?” Love is not mentioned.

Their wedding was a grand, carefully orchestrated, spectacle of Fascist “might and rituals and a celebration of fecundity, as distinct from the decadence of other countries”.

Galeazzo is posted to Shanghai where Edda, the youngest of the diplomatic wives, does very well at enhancing the image of Italy. She has her first child, Fabrizo, at 21. Unhappy over her husband’s frequent affairs she resolves to ignore them while regarding him as “a friend”.

There is finally some focus on Edda when she was 23 and sent by her father on an informal diplomatic mission to England to test English reaction to Italy’s plans to invade Ethiopia. Edda’s “good English” was proving useful.

Realizing the Duce listened to his daughter brought those seeking favour from Mussolini to Edda.

In her mid-20’s she becomes her father’s counsellor and a Swiss newspaper calls her the ‘most influential woman in Europe’. Her status is enhanced when her husband is named Foreign Minister. Yet there are no direct stories about how she influenced her father let alone her husband.

Moorehead states:

About 1941 “an Egyptian magazine described her no longer as simply influential but as ‘the most dangerous woman in Europe’. Edda, it said, ‘rules her father with an iron fist”. This, certainly, had become the accepted view in many circles, but as with so much else in Edda’s life, it has to be seen in context. Her power was never of a concrete kind, not least because she was a woman, and because she was quickly bored with the minutiae of daily decisions. But her closeness to her father and Ciano’s reliance on her, together with her impatience at equivocations made her formidable even when she was least aware of it.

Moorehead’s opinion is firm but again, she provides no examples of actual reliance on her by her father or husband beyond a tenuous role in Italy joining Germany in WW II. Edda favours Italy going with Germany rather than neutrality.

There was no discussion of Spain, a Fascist state which stayed neutral. By staying out of WW II Francisco Franco remained in power in Spain until 1975. Had Mussolini opted for neutrality I expect he would have led Italy long after the war ended.

During WW II Edda served as a Red Cross nurse and narrowly survived a torpedoing off the coast of Albania. She traveled to the Eastern Front to see Italian troops and reported to Mussolini on their suffering.

After her father is deposed in 1943 the Ciano's flee to Germany. Galeazzo has voted in council against Mussolini. They return to Italy amidst the chaos of the new miniature state, the Republic of Salò, the Germans have created for Mussolini in north Italy. It is a bizarre concept.

Edda fights for Galeazzo’s life arguing with her father, writing to Hitler, negotiating with the Kaltenbruner and Himmler to provide them Galeazzo’s diaries, which include incriminating information on Ribbentrop and Goebbels, in exchange for rescuing her husband. 

Edda makes a deal with the American government to provide them with copies of the 1,200 pages of diaries she has with her in Switzerland. She sells newspaper serialization rights to the Chicago Daily News for $25,000. 

Through the trials and tribulations a family “mantra” develops for the Ciano's which is often exchanged when parting:

‘God send you a good journey and no wind.’

She lives in obscurity for 50 years after the war.

It took 160 pages before Edda had a meaningful presence. The book is far more about her father, her husband, her mother and the Fascist movement. I doubt there was enough material to write a biography of Edda in terms of her involvement with Fascism and power in Italy. She had a big personality but no authority. I wish I had learned more about her time with the Red Cross. Mussolini’s Daughter was an interesting book and well written which never got lost in detail but it was not a biography of Edda.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Deep House by Thomas King

(24. - 1163.) Deep House by Thomas King - Thumps DreadfulWater is drifting. He is getting adjusted to his lover, Claire, having a baby by another man. She prefers to have him visit her and the child, Ivory. Sheriff Duke Hockney has returned to duty after prostate surgery. Thumps is wondering what to do as a photographer as digital cameras have overwhelmed conventional cameras. The pandemic has eased away and life is gradually returning to normal.

He joins the Sheriff to investigate the arson of a van at a site on the edge of the reservation that had been a test facility for paint on plywood. Colourful panels stand up to be weathered by Montana.

The location is near Deep House, a slash of a canyon in the prairie with boulders the size of houses. Walking through the Deep House is risky with access difficult if someone is injured.

Searching for the berries of an uncommon plant so Moses can make tea, Thumps takes some photos with a digital camera to see how the contraption works. When the images are examined an arm appears in the background. The missing driver of the van has been found.

Internet records disclose the van came from the paint company in California that had provided the test panels.

As the Sheriff and Special Deputy Thumps investigate, a complex story involving paint emerges.

In the interconnected world of the 21st Century corporate intrigue involving Montana is plausible.

Beyond his love life, Thumps personal life is enlivened by his cat, Freeway, who provides him with some delightful distractions.

The dialogue is easy between Thumps, his fellow citizens in Chinook and the residents of the nearby reservation where he grew up. There is the relaxed humour of country folk comfortable with their lives. There is no pretence, no effort to be cool, no desire to impress.

Breakfast at Al’s diner is a daily ritual for Thumps who is discontented should his favourite stool be occupied. Despite his diabetes, Thumps loves the hearty fare. Cooley Small Elk often meets him there.

The pages move swiftly along.

This Thumps story does not really involve the reservation and its residents. The action is in Chinook and the test site on the edge of the reservation. I hope the next book goes back to the reservation.

Deep House was the 2023 winner of the Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of  Excellence.


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

(23. - 1162.) Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy - Sister Holiday of the Sisters of the Sublime Blood in New Orleans is unique. She swears. She smokes. She has tattoos that Sister Augustine requires her to cover up with black scarf and black gloves. She has massive attitude. She “has a gold tooth from a bar fight”. She is queer. 

She is also devoted to her Order and its motto:

To share the light in a dark world.

For breaking convent rules one of her punishments is to clean the stained glass windows. She has discovered:

…. that if you pressed your face to Mary’s face in the Nativity glass, you could peer right through her translucent eye and see New Orleans shimmering below like a moth wing …. The city was electric at every hour, but at dawn, I was astonished by the wattage of color that vibrated in the silken light. Pink-,yellow-, and persimmon-painted shotgun homes …. Purple and green Mardi Gras parade beads and gray Spanish moss dripped from the branches of gnarled oak trees.

There are four sisters at the convent - Sister Augustine, Sister Honor, Sister Therese known as Sister T. and Sister Holiday. Sister Augustine is the Mother Superior. Sister Holiday is a generation younger than the other Sisters.

The sisters have a spartan lifestyle:

We had no computers in the convent. No cameras. No phones, except one corded green wall-mounted rotary relic in the kitchen. No money of our own. Our radio was a vintage model with a working dial, gifted by Father Reese. We bartered for goods like books, chicory coffee, red licorice, and Doritos (blame Sister Therese). We grew seventeen varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs in the garden, between the church and convent.

Sister Holiday was an accomplished professional guitarist. Now she is a demanding music teacher expecting commitment from the high school students at St. Sebastian.

Her “God is a They too powerful for one person or gender or any category mere mortals could ever understand”.

While having a quiet smoke next to a dumpster fire erupts from a wing of the school. Sister Holiday sees the school custodian, Jack Corolla, on fire, fall to the ground from the second floor.

Magnolia “Maggie” Riveaux, New Orleans first black female fire investigator, informs Sister Holiday it was arson.

A second fire at the school and another death heighten the tension. The investigators struggle to find a motive.

Sister Holiday is determined to solve the case. She loves classic mysteries and has been solving minor mysteries within the convent.

What a remarkable sleuth. The pages raced by.

Sister Holiday has intense disdain for their bishop and his two vicars. I regretted that they were caricatures while the sisters and female investigators were full characters.

Sister Holiday’s chaotic earlier life, including a long term same sex lover, is explored in detail. Few sins have escaped Sister.

I was sad that there is an absence of joy in Sister Holiday. Her turbulent self-destructive past has scarred her but she has joined a Holy Order with belief in God and eternal salvation. She has stayed for a year and is nearing the time for final vows. She connects to God in prayer and appreciates the rituals that define a nun’s daily routine. Faith should let her feel joy, not just pain. 

At her core is a fierce determination to solve mysteries.

Humility is a challenging virture for Sister Holiday.

Through it all the New Orleans “heat was solid, wet, and thick”. It drains the energy from everyone. Sweat and body odor are pervasive.

The ending was theatrical for me but it was in keeping with the plot

There is a lyrical quality to Douaihy’s prose as she drives the story forward.

The striking cover caught my attention in the bookstore. Fair or not, I doubt I would have picked up the book except for the cover.

The only hard boiled nun I have encountered.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo

(22. - 1161.) Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo translated by Louise Heal Kawai - Private detective, Kosuko Kindaichi, arrives on Gokumon Island, also known as Hell’s Gate Island, in the fall of 1946. Kosuke had gained fame before the war for solving the Honjin murders (a link to the book is below).

Kosuke spent the war in the Japanese Army barely surviving in New Guinea. He is now in his mid-30’s.

Kosuke has come to the isolated island of about 1,000 people to honour the dying request of his comrade, Chimata Kito. As Chimata was dying on the repatriaion ship back to Japan he asked Kosuke to go to his island home in his place because his “three sisters will be murdered”.

Chimata was the heir of the main Kito family. The hierarchy of the island is well established. The leaders of the main and branch Kito families are at the top. The priest, the mayor and the doctor form the second layer of leadership.

The main Kito family is the leading family on this island of fishermen descended from pirates and exiled criminals. They are wealthy. Their leader is the primary fishing chief.

When Kosuke advises of Chimata’s death there is almost panic upon the island.

Chimata’s grandfather, Kaemon, has just died and his father, Yousamatsu, went “mad” a decade earlier and is kept in a cage in the family home.

The beautiful Sanae, a cousin of Chimata, at 22 is acting as the fishing chief. She is a member of the branch Kito family.

Chimata’s sisters are Tsukiyo (18), Yukie (17) and Hanako (16).

When Hanako is found hanging upside down from a plum tree at the island temple Kosuke realizes Chimata’s request that Kosuke protect his sisters reflected real danger.

Who would want to kill the teenage girls? They have no power. The issue of succession in the Kito family looms over everyone.

Can Kosuke protect the surviving sisters?

Kosuke, in the manner of the times when transportation was both slower and more limited, spends several weeks upon the island.

He is viewed with suspicion. Is he a hired assassin? Fortunately, Inspector Isokawa, who participated in the Honjin murder investigation, arrives to assist the local police and confirm Kosuke can be trusted.

Where the Honjin murders were a classic locked room mystery, murder on Gokumon Island, while elaborately done, is mystifying in its ritual staging. I was reminded of Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong where unraveling the macabre posing of the bodies in red Mandarin dresses solved the murders.

There is another reminder of the Inspector Chen series in that poetry, here versions of haikus, play a role.

The island’s history stretches far into the past. The island’s Bhuddist priest is the 81st generation of priests for the temple.

Yokomizo is skilled at creating complex murder scenes. While the method of killing is simple there is a theatrical flair to the arrangment of body, clothing and setting. I thought of The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Sáenz where a killer was equally dramatic with the victims. I will never forget bees put into the mouths of those killed with their stings causing death.

In Yokomizo’s books there is a subtlety and vivid imagery to murder that, were the consequences not deadly, would be beautiful.


Yokomizo, Seishi - (2022) - The Honjin Murders

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

(19. - 1158.) The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen - Greedy evil men are manipulating and stealing funds intended by the Danish government to go to the Baka (pygmy) people of Cameroon, Africa. They will murder to protect their despicable venture.

Back in Denmark another greedy evil man, Zola, has taken total control of a group of Roma. They are more cult than clan under his total domination. Street thievery and begging are their primary sources of income. Children are on the streets rather than in school. Adult members of the group are available for hire as thugs or worse. 

Marco, a bright 15 year old, is dissatisfied with life under Zola. When he hears that he is to be maimed to enhance his ability to beg he flees. The clan pursues.

Carl Mørck is unhappy as usual. When he hears his boss is retiring he fears for the future of Department Q.

Assad is still recovering from the brutal beating he took in The Purity of Vengeance.

Marco decides he will turn away from crime to make his way in the world. I was fascinated by how he survived on the streets of Copenhagen without resorting to crime. Willing to all kinds of menial labour and constantly suffling between shops he earns a basic living. Even though it is winter he sleeps upon the streets.

I was reminded of Kim by Rudyard Kipling though the streets of modern Denmark are more dangerous than Kim’s India over 100 years ago. 

Constantly wary of being found by the clan Marco, when he is not working, spends many hours in a place the clan would never go - the library.

Provided a home by a gay couple, Marco schemes to get the identity papers that will enable him to live as an ordinary Dane and pursue an education. It is a disaster when the clan finds out where he is staying.

William Stark has been missing for four years. The conscientious civil servant had disappeared after returning from Cameroon. Department Q’s curiosity is piqued when they learn he had returned to Denmark after only a few hours in Cameroon.

Because it is less than 5 years since his disappearance he has not been declared legally dead. His home, beyond basic housekeeping, is as he left it. His partner and step-daughter moved out as they did not feel safe there.

Adler-Olsen skilfully brings together the two plot lines.

Marco is a skilled burglar. His experience has made him a patient and systematic searcher. When he goes through the house, the third time it is searched, he sees information other searchers have not taken the time to consider. 

The remainder of the book is essentially a chase. Marco is being hunted by good guys and bad guys.

Some suspension of disbelief is necessary but Adler-Olsen shows talen at writing a gripping chase. While Hollywood drama is far from my favourite story approach Adler-Olsen had me racing through the book.

With each book in the series another layer of Assad’s life is revealed. His Middle Eastern connections with the new police boss before Assad came to Denmark are startling.

The challenges of Mørck’s personal life are interwoven into the story but not emphasized in this book. 

Marco is a striking character. How he changes his life is remarkable. I would love for him to re-appear in the series.

The Marco Effect is a strong thriller and an above average mystery.


Monday, July 3, 2023

A Snake in the Raspberry Patch by Joanne Jackson

(21. - 1160.) A Snake in the Raspberry Patch by Joanne Jackson - In the summer of 1971, Liz Murphy is 13 and the oldest in a family of 5 girls and a boy. The youngest girl, Alexandra, is blond and blue eyed. All the others have green eyes and red hair. Their mother, Patricia, calls them her raspberry patch.

Liz evocatively describes their Saskatchewan home:

“Here in Willowsbend, in the middle of farmland from horizon to horizon - except for an invasion of gophers, a deluge of hail, or a plague of grasshoppers - nothing ever happens.”

A quiet summer awaits the Murphy children as they will be adjusting to the arrival of their baby brother.

There is another exception. The Tremblay family has been slaughtered at their farm home. Both parents and 5 kids have been efficiently shot. The mother's tongue has been cut out.

A neighbour, Stanley Drummond, recently released from jail is the community suspect though most residents lean to a mysterious stranger being the killer.

With the mass murder Willowsbend is dominated by fear amongst the adults. Every day with no arrest adds to the tension. The children are less scared. They play, they go to the outdoor pool, they focus on friends. They worry little about an unknown murderer.

Liz is a bright girl. As the oldest she has significant responsibilities to help with the younger children. She is maturing from a girl to a young woman.

Her sister, Rose, at 11 is going on 30. She is an avid photographer and reader with an adult vocabulary, in all ways, and lots of attitude. She does not react well to requests / suggestions / orders from Liz.

Rose is almost as precocious as another 11 year old crime mystery sleuth, Flavia de Luce. Alan Bradley, the creator of Flavia, lived and worked in Saskatchewan for decades. 

While Flavia is devoted to chemistry Rose is passionate about words and photographs. Rose aspires to be a forensic crime scene photographer.

The Murphy’s are a traditional family. Father, Jim, is dedicated to Murphy’s Hardware store. A serious, even remote, man he spends little time with the children.

While mother, Patricia, is a “no nonsense” direct parent she provides all the children with abundant affection. 

Suddenly, in the middle of the book I was so shaken by an event I took a break from reading. As what I want to write most about the plot would be a huge spoiler I will not comment.

As it should, the weather of our province is a constant presence. From the frigid winter to the baking summer weather controls our lives. When the baby, Cole, is chosen for the role of the Baby Jesus in the creche before Midnight Mass he is bundled in a bulky snowsuit. It was fitting that as I finished the book on Canada Day, July 1, evening a wild wind drove me off the deck and into the house.

As the story progresses the murders fade into the background. Beyond extra caution for the children, life returns to normal. Liz is worried about having a friend in high school.

To Liz’s dismay, Rose is a determined sleuth. She has to know who killed the Tremblay family. She keeps an eye out for “clues” and, contrary to her father’s directions, regularly spends time around the Tremblay home. She develops her own theory on the murders.

Jackson writes with assurance and confidence. The dialogue of the children is very well done. The language of all 5 girls reflects their respective ages or, for Rose exceeds her age.

Jackson also has a keen ear for the manner of speech in Saskatchewan in ‘71. The phrases, rhythms and tones are all familiar.

A Snake in the Raspberry Patch is a book about family life in rural Saskatchewan with murder simmering through the story. Few mysteries deal with the challenges of a family of 6 children 13 and younger. While crime fiction the book, like Anthony Bidulka’s book Going to Beautiful, defies easy characterization.

Jackson kept me wondering until the very end. A Snake in the Raspberry Patch is a challenging book that left me reflective. It is well written and a worthy winner of the 2023 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for best crime novel set in Canada.