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, September 26, 2023

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

(32. - 1171.) - A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear - In the fall of 1942, young women, members of the Air Transport Authority (ATA), are ferrying fighters and bombers around England. When bored they may do some stunts. They are admired and disdained by men.

Most of the women, such as Jo Hardy, are upper class. Only women from well-to-do families could afford to take flying lessons before WW II.

Hardy becomes involved in a bizarre incident involving someone shooting at her ferrying a Spitfire and then rescuing a bound up black American soldier, Matthias Crittenden. Winspear rarely veers into the incredible but Hardy’s story and the Americans involved did more than require a suspension of disbelief.

Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate as Hardy is worried how Crittenden will be treated in the segregated American army. Though she has amazing contacts in Inspector McFarlane from Scotland Yard and her husband, Mark Scott, I doubt in real life she could have achieved investigative opportunities from the U.S. Army.

Condemnation of American segregation in the American Army, while laudable, becomes heavy handed.

Maisie is spending more time at Chelstone Manor with her adopted daughter, Anna, who is displaying some signs of psychological distress. Maisie soon realizes the problems stem from Anna’s treatment at school where there is a new headmistress.

How Maisie and her new husband, Mark Scott, both prominent individuals wrestle with the schooling of their child was more interesting than the implausible pursuit of a trio of villains in rural England.

Bringing Eleanor Roosevelt into the story was inspired. The First Lady is visiting England and her security detail is uneasy with her penchant for heading into crowds or impromptu speaking to members of the public.

I would have found the plot more interesting had the role of the ATA ferry pilots been emphasized and the participation of the mysterious evildoers decreased, even eliminated. 

I felt the story of the women pilots was fascinating but to include them took contortions.

Winspear piqued my interest when she delved into the files of her old mentor, Maurice Blanche, for assistance in a situation of “the personal mirroring the professional” - a circumstance where “something emerging at home that is currently evident in the case at hand”. Maurice urges compassion. Maisie, the mother, finds compassion difficult in dealing with a woman who has brought pain to Anna.

Reconnaissance aerial photos taken from a Spitfire play a cameo role. I was reminded of Bird’s Eye View by Elinor Florence where a young Saskatchewan woman becomes a highly valued reconnaissance photo evaluator.

With Maisie now married to Mark Scott she has yet another surname to add to her birth surname of Dobbs and her first marriage where she was Lady Compton.

Maisie’s personal life has always been important to the series. In this book I thought it carried the plot. I found myself more eager to find out what was happening to Anna and Mark than the mystery investigation. Adjusting the mystery to a more credible storyline would have made A Sunlit Weapon a great book

Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs(Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death; (2016) - A Lesson in Secrets; (2016) - Elegy for Eddie; (2018) Leaving Everything Most Loved; (2020) - A Dangerous Place - Part I on Maisie's life since the last book and Part II a review; (2020) - A Journey to Munich; (2021) - In This Grave Hour; (2021) - To Die But Once; (2022) - The American Agent; (2023) - The Consequences of Fear

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hercule Poirot comments on Tom Mead's sleuths Joseph Spector and George Flint

I, Hercule Poirot, have been invited by Monsieur Guillame - I prefer the elegant Guillame to the prosaic William - Selnes to comment on Monsieur Joseph Spector and Inspector George Flint, the sleuths in Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead much as my esteemed colleague, Nero Wolfe, and I did for Monsieur Selnes in a post upon the Old Man in the Corner, the thoughtful sleuth of Baroness Orczy.

Monsieur Selnes has provided me with a copy of his review of Death and the Conjuror. In the words of Monsieur Wolfe I found the review satisfactory. While the review was moderately helpful for assessing the sleuths I, the diligent man that I am, carefully read the book myself.

Let me start by putting to bed or is it rest - the English language can be so clumsy - the calumny upon Mrs. Christie, repeated in the book, that she may have faked her 11 day disappearance back in 1926. Mon Dieu! Nothing could be further from the truth! Ms. Christie was enduring an emotional upset. I shall not descend into the gutter to explain the source of her mental anguish but let me be exceedingly clear. She was ill, not a faker.

Getting back to Monsieur Spector and Inspector Flint. 

I heartedly concur with the good inspector that the number of deaths in locked rooms has reached the level of an epidemic in London. It is time the many sleuths of this great city combined with the police officers at the Metropolitan Police - I abhor the contraction of the Met - and Scotland Yard to promptly solve these crimes and deter the commission of further locked room murders.

I admit it took me a while to realize Inspector’s Flint’s relationship with Monsieur Spector may have been modelled on my connection to the good Inspector Japp. Indeed, Inspectors Flint and  Japp are equally dogged - my colloquial English is improving - in the pursuit of the wicked. With the aid of a sleuth possessing a superior intellect they can solve the most difficult of murders.

I have some admiration for the apparel of Monsieur Spector. While nothing can compare with a finely tailored three piece suit and hat, he does dress with a degree of flair. Though his black velvet suit is vulgar he carries a silver headed cane. I do appreciate the drama of him wearing “a black cloak lined in crimson silk”. I have secretly aspired to such a cloak. If only Mrs. Christie would listen to my entreaties. It would go so well with the moustache I have so carefully cultivated. She is so stubborn.

Monsieur Selnes has advised me that he wishes the sleuths of the 21st Century dressed with the style of Monsieur Spector and myself. He confided that he would love to own a black cloak with crimson silk lining.

Were Monsieur Spector and I to meet we would enjoy smoking together. The intense smoke of my tiny Russian cigarettes would be matched by the pungent smell of his “narrow, dark cigarillos”.

I was dismayed that so little of Monsieur Spector’s background was revealed to explain his experience with the deductive process. I am positive there are tales of intrigue in his past. 

Monsieur Spector’s process of deduction is sound. It is clear he has spent a lifetime using his little gray cells.

I was surprised when Monsieur Spector referenced the categories of locked room murders set out by John Dickenson Carr. I have never needed to draw upon the approaches of other sleuths and their authors but if a sleuth needs help Monsieur Carr is a master of the locked room murder.

I, myself, would also have started by analyzing how the killer left the locked room.

It is interesting, as with many sleuths and authors, how little attention is paid to the actions of the housekeeper in the book. While not a servant she has the anonymity of domestic staff.

I do not care for the conjuror’s tricks of Monsieur Spector. Illusion is not a part of my life. Deduction is the essence of a sleuth. I would prefer magic be kept upon the stage. Monsieur Selnes advises me he enjoyed the clever deceptions of Monsieur Spector.  I sigh in exasperation. 


Mead, Tom - (2023) - Death and the Conjuror

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead

(31. - 1170.) - Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead - Joseph Spector was a music hall conjuror. In 1936, now in his mature years, Spector has adapted his “tricks” for a play, Miss Death

Dr. Anselm Rees has left, more accurately, fled Vienna for London. While an old man he continues to treat three patients for psychiatric problems. I thought of Sigmund Freud.

An accomplished musician, Floyd Stenhouse, suffers from nightmares. Dr. Rees has been working with Stenhouse on understanding his dreams.

A well known theatre actress, Della Cookson, seeks help from Dr. Rees concerning her kleptomania.

A novelist, Claude Weaver, has been seeing Rees about worries he was losing his mind as he occasionally suffered from a “fugue state” in which, while still functional, he loses memory of what he was doing for several hours.

Dr. Rees is killed at home in his office near midnight. An unknown man has come to see him. Shortly after he leaves, Rees has a phone call. His housekeeper, ear pressed to the office door, can hear him speaking. Minutes later, he is found dead with his throat slashed. The housekeeper has neither seen anyone exit the office nor the house. Both the office door and windows were locked on the inside with the keys in the locks. 

It is a locked room puzzle for Inspector George Flint who is not impressed. In a deft little moment of satire Flint laments “a burgeoning subgenre of crime, which had rolled over the city like fog. These were the ‘impossible’ crimes - typically high-society affairs, where men in locked rooms were killed under impractical circumstances”.

The same evening as the murder, a painting has been stolen from an English theatrical producer, Benjamin Teasdale, during a party at his home. The painting was in a locked chest in a locked room.

Dr. Lidia Rees, the daughter of Dr. Rees, is unusually composed after her father’s death.

Flint looks to Spector to help him unravel the mysteries of locked room cases. The inspector is a very practical man. Imagination does not come easy to him.

Alibis abound making it difficult to focus on a suspect.

Mead’s prose flows smoothly and I glided through the book. It is a good book. Mead is a clever man. The solution is suitably complex. As usual, my efforts to understand how murder was committed and how the killer escaped the locked room were futile. I could have used more background on the characters though I appreciate the mystery was solved in 255 pages.

Mead refers to several Golden Age sleuths in the book. In my next post Hercule Poirot analyzes Spector and Flint for me though they have yet to meet. There is more than a passing resemblance in the relationship of Spector and Flint to the hugely successful Poirot and Japp.


See also - Hercule Poirot Comments on Tom Mead's Sleuths Joseph Spector and George Flint

Friday, September 8, 2023

Black Fridays by Michael Sears

(30. - 1169.) - Black Fridays by Michael Sears - Jason Stafford had a beautiful wife, a young son and a lucrative Wall Street position when he did not correct a trading error. He succumbed to temptation deferring settlements on losing trades long into the future hoping future successes would cover the losses. Two years later there were $500,000,000 in phony profits. A two year stay in a Federal prison followed.

Before heading to prison he had manipulated a breakup of his marriage to transfer assets to his wife, the luscious Angie. Upon release he finds Angie comfortable in Louisanna without him.

While he is prohibited from trading Weld Securities, a medium size firm, hires him to determine if there are shenanigans within the firm. A young government bond trader, Brian Sanders, under suspicion by the SEC, has died. An internal investigation revealed no improprieties. While the death was ruled accidental the firm’s management has heard whispers the SEC investigation could be expanded. Stafford is sought out because of his two years of successful skulduggery. A thief to catch a thief.

On his first day Sanders’ sales manager takes him for a lovely lunch at Le Bernardin for “pan-roasted monkfish in red-wine brandy sauce” with a nice Sancerre.

He is provided an office that he notes is smaller than his prison cell and sets to work reviewing trading records. He feels the office walls “squeezing” him.

Surprisingly for a thriller his 5 year old son, the “Kid”, is a significant character. He is autistic with huge issues that have exhausted his mother and grandmother. He is intelligent but has explosive reactions including biting and screaming fits, He jumps off stairs trying to fly. Every day of the week requires different coloured clothes. Wednesdays he wears only beige. Eggs must always be scrambled. He is passionate about cars. Stafford seeks out doctors and therapists and a caregiver for $48 an hour. While he had set up a trust fund for the Kid before jail it will run out of funds before the Kid runs out of the need for professional help. Stafford needs a large income.

Stafford knows the weaknesses of trading systems but was not a bond trader. He intends to apply that knowledge once he gains some understanding of the nuances of bond trading. 

Traders are not investors. They are money movers constantly shifting large sums of money looking to achieve a small percentage profit per transaction. There is significant risk but abundant potential reward. I was hooked. 

Stafford encounters the classic frustration of the investigator with witnesses, especially those trying to be helpful. They pass on what they consider important. With every litigation client I say tell me the details. Let me decide what is important. Still I get surprises.

Documents are at the heart of the case. Careful analysis is needed of huge numbers of transactions.

Stafford meets Wanda the Wandaful, a beautiful doctoral student, who earns money as  the assistant of a clown / magician. She is insightful and an excellent listener. Stafford is entranced.

However, Stafford lacks integrity. After two years in jail he still only does what is right when he thinks doing wrong will be caught. Temptation will always abound on Wall Street.

Sears credibly works the Kid into the investigation in a way I had not seen coming.

Without Sears providing explanations for trading processes I could not have understood how money can  constantly flow around Wall Street. The amounts are staggering.

Black Fridays is what a thriller should be. Stafford, Wanda and the Kid are real people. Stafford and Wanda have intelligent conversations. The Kid has some progression in school and relationships. The securities people are equally real. They have families. They struggle with the insane pressure of constantly trading. There is violence but realistic violence far below the level of the average American thriller. Sears ratchets up the tension through the book. I was deeply impressed.

Black Fridays, published in 2012, had been lurking for years in a TBR box when I pulled it out a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had found it sooner. Black Fridays was the first in a series featuring Jason Stafford. I am going to have to find more of the series.