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.

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.                                   


  1. I know what you mean by 'heavy on history,' Bill. I have to say, though, that I don't know that era of provincial history as well as I'd like, so I'd probably find the information interesting. Actually, the premise sounds interesting, too. I'm glad you found things to like about the story.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is an interesting book. It could have been a great book.

  2. I’d never heard the terms Wets and Drys before. Sounds like some interesting stuff here.

    1. Thanks for the comment. There was great division over alcohol. It was one of the primary issues of the day.