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, August 31, 2023

Being Seen in Court

Perveen Mistry, in The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey, must deal with the issue of being recognized by the Court to speak for a client. It is 1922 and she is the first woman practising law in Bombay.

A servant, Sunanda, from another household has been charged with taking an “oral abortifacient” to cause her to abort. She has been arrested and is brought before the Honorable James Peale O’Brien, Magistrate of the Bombay Police Bail Court.

As inevitable, there are numerous accused being brought to the Court to determine whether they will be released or held in jail pending trial. It is little different today, even in Provincial Court in a community of Melfort’s size. The judge must make decisions quickly to get through the docket. Whether in Melfort or another court point there will be just as many matters to be addressed the next day.

Within the Bombay courtroom are numerous solicitors appearing to advocate for release of their clients.

There are lots of family and friends present to provide support by providing references for the accused, being ready to provide a home if the accused is released and occasionally putting up money for bail.

The proceedings can be chaotic, especially with self-represented accused unfamiliar with court processes. It can be overwhelming for someone such as Sunanda who has never been a court.

To be able to speak for someone in English based court systems you must normally be a lawyer admitted to the bar. In Canada all lawyers are solicitors and barristers. In England there has been a distinction in which solicitors focus on preparing cases and have limited rights of advocacy. Barristers present cases in court.

In the Bombay Bail Court of 1922 a solicitor can speak for an accused but must be recognized as a lawyer.

Perveen has “completed the bachelor of civil law education at Oxford University” and “clerked at Freshfields” but does not have a law degree as female “students were not permitted to sit the examinations”. She is neither a member of the London Bar nor the Bombay Bar for she “cannot apply because both bar associations deny membership to female lawyers”.

Judge O’Brien officiously rules that Perveen “may serve clients as a solicitor but she has no authority to be an advocate.” He banishes her from the courtroom.

Instead of the dramatic words of banishment some judges might have used a phrase that is equally colourful. The judge might have said I cannot see you to Perveen. He would not see her because she is not an admitted solicitor. The phrase is rarely used today. In my 48 years of legal practice I have never seen someone not seen by a judge.

While lawyers understand what is meant by “I cannot see you” it is confusing for non-lawyers as they see the person standing before the bench.

Perveen is justly upset over the discrimination against women being admitted to the bar. In real life, Mithan Tata Lam was the first woman admitted to the Bombay bar in 1923. Mithan, like Perveen, was a Parsi who obtained her legal education in England. In Massey’s next book we shall see whether Perveen gains admission to the bar.

It takes a woman of great determination to keep challenging the establishment. Perveen will not turn away. She will continue to push her way to full recognition as a lawyer.


Monday, August 28, 2023

The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey

(28. - 1167.) - The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey - In 1922 Perveen Mistry’s sister-in-law, Gulnaz, has just given birth to a daughter, Klushy. Gulnaz is disappointed it was not a boy. Having abrupt mood swings, she is curt and nasty towards Perveen.

On behalf of Gulnaz, Perveen attends a fundraiser for a women’s hospital to be built in Bombay. Sir Ddwarkanath Bhatia is the lead sponsor. He is a wealthy man through his stone business for building construction. His wife, Premlata, died several years earlier. Uma Bhatia, the wife of his older son, Parvesh, hosts the gathering. Being Parvesh’s spouse, Uma is the senior daughter-in-law in the house.

Women from the elite of several backgrounds are present and making contributions. Adding to the mix of Indian ethnic groups that have appeared in the series is Dr. Miriam Penkar who is a member of the Bene Israel Jews.

A servant, Sunanda Chavda, rushes to save Ishar, the son of Uma and Parvesh. He  has caught on fire. She is significantly burned.

Sir Ddwarkanath removes his support for the hospital considering the project too much work for Uma and that her attention should be focused on her children.

Subsequently, Sunanda, is charged with taking an “oral abortifacient” to cause her to abort. She stoutly asserts she was not pregnant. The allegation comes from Mr. Arvind Vikas Tomar, a “Hindu gentleman”, who claims to have overheard conversations between Sunanda and another servant, Oshadi.

In a remarkable scene in Court, Perveen is denied the opportunity to speak to bail for Sunanda. My next post will discuss the event.

Plausibly, but dangerously for objectivity, Perveen invites the desperate Sunanda to stay with her family.

The story delves into difficult issues related to women, especially very young women, whose health suffers by having too many children. There are teas that could help with menstrual problems and teas that could produce miscarriages.

Perveen searches for evidence to support Sunanda. She is turned away by Uma.

Who will represent Sunanda at trial? Perveen cannot appear. A prominent barrister, Vivek Sharma, normally eager for referrals from Mistry law asserts he is too busy. Her father, Jamshedji, wants to concentrate on his own cases.

Since lawyers started representing clients in court the justice you get is often dependent on the justice you can afford. Sunanda would be virtually defenceless if Perveen was not her advocate. While Perveen would prefer someone pay for Sunanda’s defence she is prepared to provide the services of Mistry Law pro bono.

Perveen diligently searches law journals for cases on charges of abortion. She seeks cases where the alleged abortifacient was tea.

Miss Cora Arbison, actually the youngest wife at 19 of Mansour, the Nawab of Varanpur, wants to retain Perveen to represent her. When not seeking anonymity she is addressed as Begum (a word denoting a Muslim woman of high social status).

Sleep is a struggle at the Mistry home. Klushy is unsettled. She cries much of the night. Whether to intervene (Indian custom) or let her cry (English custom) causes friction.

For the first time I read the word “lawyeress” to describe Perveen.

Tomar is a mysterious complainant as no one knows him at the Bhatia residence.

Perveen’s relationship with Colin Sandringham has become physical though it remains secret. How long can they conceal their passion?

Every day Perveen must carefully balance her duties to clients, her obligations within the family, her social roles and her commitment to improve the lives of Indian women. Her status as a solicitor remains constrained by restrictions on women practising law and society’s reluctance to accept women lawyers.

Within her office Perveen experiences frequent frustration with male clients who either insist on seeing her father instead of her or want her father to provide a second opinion on her advice.

It is a good book. Massey is an excellent storyteller. The plot is set firmly within India of 1922. I wish more of the plot had revolved around legal matters. 

Perveen has come to remind me of Maisie Dobbs. Each woman is successful in the male dominated world of the 1920’s. Each is a spirited woman of integrity. 


Massey, Sujata - (2019) - The Widows of Malabar Hill and A First Woman Lawyer to be Admired; (2019) - The Satapur Moonstone and Parsi Gara Saris in the Mistry Mysteries; (2022) - The Bombay Prince

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Vile Spirits by John MacLachlan Gray

(11. - 1150.) Vile Spirits by John MacLachlan Gray - In 1925, British Columbia Attorney General, Gordon Cunning, is comfortably ensconced in a wingback chair in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver. Attentive servers deliver Martinis. While not feeling well, he is not going to miss the reception for “The” Prince George. He fades away. Awkwardly for the evening staff, they assume he is sleeping, morning cleaning staff find he is dead.

Detective Sergeant Calvin Hook attends with Constable Quam. Hook continues to conduct himself as if he were still a training officer in World War I. Somewhat imperious, edging on pompous, he cannot decide if Quam suffers from “mental impairment” or “mental inertia” or both conditions.

DS Hook investigates while constantly smoking Ogden cirgarettes. 

Reporter Ed McCurdy is swiftly on the scene adroitly gathering information about the deceased politician. Cunning was considered a strong prospect for becoming leader of the provincial Liberal Party and becoming Premier.

Hearty breakfasts of “coffee, bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and buttered toast” sustain McCurdy.

The dominant political issue in B.C. is alcohol. Prohibition has been ended by a plebiscite and the provincial government controls the lawful sale of alcohol. Hotels have been allowed to have beer parlours with separate sections for Women with Escorts and Men Only. Opportunities for graft are abundant. When I was growing up in our small prairie community the local hotel had a beer parlour until the end of the 1960’s.

Cunning was a moderationist. He was reviled by Wets and Drys. 

English customs, pretensions and class structure dominate Vancouver and Victoria. Woe to the man or woman who follows not the English way.

The Ku Klux Klan is expanding in the province. It preaches racial purity and temperance.    

Many Drys, virulently opposed to drinking alcohol, imbibe regularly, often daily, medicines with a significant alcohol content. Great health claims are made on behalf of these potent elixirs.

The investigation takes a startling turn with another death of a prominent man. 

There is an interesting use of newspaper stories by McCurdy and other journalists to end chapters. Transcripts of phone calls including the use of operators to make the connections are another uncommon feature in the book.

As inevitable, the vast amounts of money involved with a government wanting a monopoly on the sale of alcohol lead to large scale corruption.

Sergeant Hook is an honest man which makes investigations related to alcohol difficult.

It is a good book but a little heavy on history.                                   

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunset and Jericho by Sam Wiebe

(26. - 1165.) Sunset and Jericho by Sam Wiebe - In his 4th book, Dave Wakeland eases into a pair of cases. He brushes aside an invitation from Vancouver Mayor, Valerie Fell, to search for her missing brother, Jeremy Fell, for lack of useful information and the Mayor being too busy to meet with him. He takes up a request from Rhonda Bryce, a city transit cop and former office with Vancouver Police Services, to search for her stolen service handgun. It was taken when she was ambushed by a man and a woman at a public transit station and prison napalm (sugar water heated to a high temperature) thrown in her face.

Only in Canada would it be credible that a carefully orchestrated attack be made on a security officer to get a handgun. In America the attack would be disregarded as fantasy. An American needs only to stroll down to the neighbourhood gun shop to get a handgun.

The opening sharply contrasts with the previous book, Hell and Gone, where Wakeland observes an early morning bloodbath outside his office window. Masked gunmen kill commuters on the street and four men in a money counting room across the street. The dramatic opening worked well but it is more realistic that Wakeland gets cases in a less thriller atmosphere in Sunset and Jericho.

It is not long into the book when he comes across the body of Fell and another body being a man connected to the gun, Kyle Halliday. He also receives a warning in silver paint on his private office door to stay out of the way of the couple from the transit station.

Wakeland might, though it seems unlikely to me, have walked away from investigating the deaths but he does not react well to being threatened:

You can’t prevent being threatened, and you can’t win them all. But you can hold them to account.

There’s no forgetting with matters of violence.

The intruders were professional, leaving no evidence and destroying surveillance.

As Wakeland investigates he sets out his essential principle of detecting:

Hunches and conversation. It’s what detective work comes down to, time and again. Someone knows something. So you ask.

It is the same philosophy I use when building a court case.

The Mayor reaches out to him again to investigate her brother’s death and suddenly he has a client whose very name opens access and information.

It appears Halliday was a member of an extremist group, Death of Kings. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Richard II. A radical organization drawing its name from Shakespeare puzzled Wakeland and myself though both of us profess a literary turn of mind. There was a logical significance in the name I did not detect.

Zealots are frightening in their self-righteous uncaring.

Just as Jed “Hammerhead” Ounstead (A.J. Devlin’s sleuth) had a brutal reckoning in Five Moves of Doom, Wakeland must deal with the consequences of failing to heed the warning on his door.

Wakeland is driven by his personal code that he is not “the stopping type”. His obsessive persistence in investigations dooms relationships.

Wiebe has a great description for why a lone sleuth like Wakeland, even though he is part of a business, cannot function in a group:

“A guy like you goes full steam after something till he gets it. That’s not how a group works. A group’s got competing interests, political shit, compromises, favours. A group needs to learn how to be itself.”

Still someone is always willing to talk. Wakeland is proficient at finding the he/she/they ready to talk.

I regretted that Wakeland’s humour is pretty much beaten out of him.

Wakeland is a philosopher sleuth. Many exist in crime fiction. I think of Travis McGee as one of the most prominent, taking his retirement in chunks as he earns money as a salvage consultant. It is Wakeland’s ability to think that gives him the insight to break the case.

The resolution is clever - both credible and surprising. It is an uncommon combination.

I was disappointed that Sonia Drego broke up with Wakeland and moved to Quebec. I had hoped they might have a child. I now understand why Wiebe carefully answered my question about such a possibility in an email exchange on Hell and Gone

Wakeland gave up smoking for Sonia. He is now struggling with the unending desire for a cigarette.

Though Wakeland finds some comfort in a Syrian immigrant nurse, Naima Halliday, darkness has crept deeply into his life. The toll from violence and injury and regret and tattered relationships weighs heavy on Wakeland. I hope there is some lightness in his future.


Wiebe, Sam - (2015) - Last of the Independents and The Unhanged Arthur Award; (2016) - Invisible Dead and Sam Wiebe on His Sleuths; (2018) - Cut You Down and Sam Wiebe on Dave Wakeland; (2021) - Hell and Gone and A Vulnerable Tough Guy

Monday, August 7, 2023

A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr

(25. - 1164.) A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr - In 1950, Bernie Gunther, escapes from Germany through the SS “ratline”. He arrives in Buenos Aires with Adolf Eichmann and Herbert Kuhlmann. 

Invited to visit with President Juan Perón, who likes meeting the Nazis who have fled Argentina, Gunther cannot restrain his stubborn integrity and tells Perón his real identity and why he had to leave Germany. The President appreciates his candour. Evita is less impressed by Gunther.

Colonel Montalbán of the Buenos Aires secret police knows Gunther’s work as a detective in Berlin before and after the war. He wants Gunther to solve a gruesome case. A teenage girl has been mutilated. Another, Fabienne von Bader, is missing. With the missing girl from a prominent banking family the pressure is on the police.

Gunther is provided with money, a car (a lime green Chevrolet convertible), a gun and authority to question. Montalbán believes the killer to be a German who escaped Germany or an Argentinian German.

The book follows the Colonel’s research back to the 1932 Berlin investigation by Gunther of the murder and mutilation of a partially crippled teenage German girl. The book moves easily between the 1932 and 1950 investigations.

While Gunther diligently pursues the case in the 1930’s, he is constantly thinking about her parents being ardent Nazis. 

His tart tongue at a press conference that the killer should not face the death penalty provokes Nazi anger.

Germany is severely polarized. The police are almost helpless as Nazis and Communists kill each other. Many in the police department want the Nazis to take power. 

The Colonel has even obtained the files in the unsolved German case. It is a startling experience for Gunther to see those documents in a land thousands of miles away from Germany after the destruction of the Third Reich which had been prepared just before the Nazi takeover 18 years earlier.

In 1932 Gunther was a police commissioner in a Berlin police force. He fears the Nazis will win the next election and radically change the police. In 1950, he is working for the secret service and he has become the feared man.

In 1932, while he asserts he is unconcerned, Gunther must tread carefully about the aggressive Nazi party members, including Nazi leaders, involved in the investigation. 

In 1950, he has the power of his position within the Argentine secret service while the “old comrades” from the SS must be careful, even appease him, with their actions and attitude. Their resentment must be shielded as Gunther probes for a killer among them. They know they have no power.

Though I should not have been, I was surprised by the number of “old comrades” in Argentina. Many are as vicious personally as they were ruthless professionally during the war.

Gunther relishes how the power dynamics between himself and the Nazis have been reversed.

Among the layers of complications is alleged Nazi wealth controlled  by Argentinians.

The resolution is horrifying and all too credible delving deeply into the horrors of Nazi depravity both on an individual and mass scale. Just as during the war Gunther’s new experiences with Nazis taint his soul. 

Yet there was much more to the story in which Gunther’s talents for finding the missing are sought out. In Argentina the word “missing” has a special meaning that is not limited to the 1970’s and 1980’s but goes back to the years following World War II. The Argentinians are rivals for the Germans in manipulation.

Peron’s reign is far darker than I had realized.

Kerr has a skill for twists to equal Jeffery Deaver.

I do not think I have read another mystery author who so cleverly moves his sleuth back and forth in time. Flashbacks can work in a book but are hard to do book after book. Kerr succeeds by tying the flashbacks to the current investigation.

Kerr is so smooth and convincing in his books. Unlike many fictional sleuths transported by their authors to a distant location from their home, Gunther fits easily into Argentina. Investigating the local German speaking population makes the adaptation easier though Gunther also speaks Spanish.

Out of the first 5 Bernie Gunther books, A Quiet Flame is the best.


Kerr, Philip – (2004) - Dark Matter; (2016) - March Violets; (2016) - The Pale Criminal; (2016) - A German Requiem; (2016) - Berlin Police and the Holocaust - Part I and Part II;  (2016) - Comparing Serial Killers in Three Totalitarian States; (2023) - The One From the Other