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, October 31, 2023

Gilbertines in Fiction and Contemporary Life

Father Anselm, the sleuth in The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick, is a Gilbertine monk residing at the Larkwood Priory in England. He had been a barrister before becoming a monk. 

Anselm is the priory beekeeper. While I wondered if his monastic work was inspired by Sherlock Holmes being a beekeeper it is common for monasteries to have bee hives. At St. Peter’s Abbey in Saskatchewan where I went to high school and first year university Father Demetrius has long been the Abbey beekeeper.

Brodrick was an English barrister for 10 years before becoming a full time writer. Prior to being a barrister he was a member of the Augustinian order leaving shortly before he was to be ordained.

Anselm is not the only Gilbertine monk to be featured in contemporary crime fiction. Louise Penny, in The Beautiful Mystery, has Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir investigating a murder at the Gilbertine monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (Saint Gilbert Between the Wolves).

The fictional monastery was inspired by the real life Benedictine monastery of Abbey Saint-Benoit du Lac located on the shore of Lake Memprhenmagog. The Abbey is an inspiring building in a beautiful location.

I was harsh in my assessment of Penny’s fictional monastery being a secret monastery almost invisible to the world.

After reading The Discourtesy of Death I discovered online Penny’s motivation for making it a Gilbertine monastery in the website www.gamacheseries.com:

The religious affiliation and events of the book bear no resemblance to the Benedictine Monks of the real abbey, as explained by Louise: “it became clear in researching [The Beautiful Mystery] that I couldn’t set the book in a monastery, or even an order, that really existed, so I dug into history and found the Gilbertines, an order that actually once existed, but went extinct.”

It is ironic that both books were published in 2013.

I do not know why Brodrick chose to make Anselm a Gilbertine. I suspect it was for the purposes of artistic licence outlined by Penny.

Another reason may be that the Gilbertine Order of Canons Regular was the only completely English religious order founded in 1130 by Gilbert of Sempringham.

The Gilbertines were unusual in that the order had both women and men as members. According to Wikipedia they lived in the same building divided by a wall and only came together for Mass.

Another reason why Anselm might be a Gilbertine is outlined in Wikipedia in that the men “lived according to a variant of the Augustinian rule”.

There were 26 houses of Gilbertines in England in the early 16th Century when Henry VIII forced their dissolution ending the Order.

I had thought their history ended almost 400 years ago until I learned in Wikipedia that efforts have been made to revive the Order in the last 40 years. A group of lay people in England have established the Oblates of St. Gilbert. A Brazilian priest set up an experimental Gilbertine community in Brazil but it has been dissolved. Of most interest to me has been what happened in Calgary in the past decade.

Initially it was sought to establish the Canons Regular of St. Gilbert of Sempringham in Calgary in 2017. In 2019 those involved decided full restoration was not possible and the Companions of St. Gilbert of Sempringham proceeded. They state:

WE FEW COMPANIONS are based at St. John the Evangleist in Calgary, Canada. As Companions of St. Gilbert, we pray for the full restoration of the Gilbertine Order and live out our Christian discipleship in friendship with our fellow Gilbertines, according to a Personal Rule of Life as well as the Statutes of our Association.

The Gilbertine Institute has been established to provide classical Catholic education in Calgary and Edmonton. The elementary school is Holy House of Our Lady and St. John and the high school is the Gilbertine Academy.

Students wear uniforms. All students are taught Latin as part of the curriculum. Singing is important. The Prospectus states:

The Gilbertine Academy and Holy House hold as integral to their daily community one of the oldest academic traditions in Catholicism: the singing school - schola cantorum. The venerable tradition of the schola cantorum attributes its origins and patronage to St. Gregory the Great. The Gilbertine Academy and Holy House will strive to cultivate this ancient tradition along with the patrimony of the celebrated Anglican choral tradition.

In order for any schola cantorum to sing the Lord’s praises capably, the choristers must learn vocal technique and sight singing as well as music theory and history.

There are 3 choirs.

As set out above, the Gilbertines in Calgary are based at the parish of St. John the Evangelist. It was an Anglican parish until dissatisfaction with the Anglican church led them to join the Roman Catholic church when Pope Benedict made it possible for Anglican parishes to join the Church while preserving important aspects of their Anglican traditions. An example is that some of their priests are married.

The parish is not a part of the diocese of Calgary but rather is a parish within the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter which has 38 parishes in the United States and Canada with the Bishop in Houston, Texas.

The parish is in the heart of the Inglewood community in Calgary. It is located within minutes of the homes of my sons. A few years ago I attended a Christmas Mass at the Church.

It was a welcoming though unusual experience for me. The priest faced the altar and the servers were all male. The Mass was a blend of  Anglican and Catholic prayers. Much of the language was from centuries past. 

While the Gilbertine religious order has not been restored, Gilbertines remain active within the Catholic Church.


Brodrick, William - (2023) - The Discourtesy of Death and Can Death be Courteous?

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Can Death be Courteous?

The Discourtesy of Death is an apt title for Father Anselm’s investigation into the death of dancer Jenny Henderson, paralyzed in a fall and suffering from terminal bowel cancer. The death certificate lists bowel cancer as the cause.

The Google definition of discourtesy is “rude and inconsiderate behavior”. Death is normally discourteous. Can death be courteous?

Within the book there are hard discussions between Anselm and Jenny’s family about her life and impending death.

Much of the conversation is about the value of her life as a paralyzed person and the suffering before death it was anticipated she would endure.

For several, including Jenny, it appeared life has meaning so long as a person is physically and mentally whole. A young woman in a wheelchair with terminal cancer does not fit that image.

Her mother, Emma, the veterinarian says:

‘Her life is over. What has she got to live for now? If she was an animal, I’d gently put her down. It would be the right thing to do.”

Her dancer friend, Vincent Cooper, makes an exit mask that can fit on her head to end her life at a time of her choice.

I thought of Louise Penny’s book, The Madness of Crowds, in which Abigail Robinson, a statistician, advocates for the state to kill those who are a burden upon society. She considers “mercy killing” of, in the words of one of my posts upon the book, “ailing aged or deformed unborn”, to be appropriate, even necessary.

Armand Gamache abhors her philosophy. In his personal life he loves and adores his granddaughter, Idola, who has Down Syndrome.

Later Jenny changes her mind. She tells Father Anselm in a powerful passage:

‘Now? she replied. ‘I want my life. I was ready to die before but now I want my life. I know that in one way it’s broken, disappointing, limited, worthless, empty and insignificant … but it’s mine. It’s all I’ve got. I’m still me. And I know it will soon become messy and painful and frightening, but I still want it. I want to live what I’ve got … do you understand? It’s as valuable to me now as it ever was. I’m still … full of something … and it can exhilarating, despairing, violent and peaceful - every state you can think of - and I just want to keep hold of it … for as long as possible.’

Jenny’s life is an illustration of  the principles of Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who was a Nazi concentration camp surivivor. I first learned of his philosophy 50 years ago in second year university in a class called The Philosophy of Religion.

Some years ago I read his great book, Man’s Search for Meaning which discusses what sustained those who survived the camps.

In my review of the book I said:

Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.

I continued in my review:

A dying inmate cheerfully faced her death saying she was grateful that the brutal camp life had forced her spoiled pre-camp self to “take spiritual accomplishments seriously”.

Anselm, following the principles of Catholic faith, recognizes all lives as meaningful. 

Jenny’s husband Peter says:

… I wondered if you’d ever considered that certain … intricate situations … require neither mercy nor justice. Just a blind eye. Not because it’s expedient. But because neither mercy nor justice can reach the true depths of what actually happened. When all we can do is turn away and look in the other direction.’

Anselm replies:

‘And I’m inclined to think that turning away is the first step towards barbarism. Because it would be the ultimate concession that we cannot regulate human affairs.


‘Because the most intricate situation of them all is protecting the weak against the strong. We can’t give up on that one. It’s what makes us civilised.’

Anselm will not accept there can be mercy killing. 

Were all the family and friends around Jenny to have considered her life meaningful there would have been less drama to the plot but an affirmation of life for all.

I say death cannot be courteous.


Brodrick, William - (2023) - The Discourtesy of Death

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick

(35. - 1174.) - The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick - I just knew it. By 15 pages into The Discourtesy of Death I was sure the author was a lawyer and had a deep connection to monastic life. I looked at the back page flyleaf and saw William Brodrick had been an Augustinian friar before leaving the order to become a lawyer. In the book he has reversed the experience with Father Anselm being a barrister before he was a Gilbertine monk. It is hard to be exact on why I was so certain beyond the easy familiarity in the book with the practice of law and the religious life.

An investigative reporter writes of Anselm’s successes in assisting several people beyond the help of conventional legal approaches. The priory receives multiple letters pleading for his help.

He is authorized by the Prior to assist “people on the margins of hope”. Rather than being called a detective Father Anselm prefers to be described as a “fretful explorer into the dark places of the human conscience”. A grand phrase but apt for a thoughtful sleuth of crime fiction.

The Prior has received a letter imploring Anselm to examine the death of Jenny Henderson. She had been a gifted dancer who left the stage when she had a son at 19. Her husband, Peter Henderson, a gifted academic spends little time with his family. He is too busy being a public thinker and opinion giver. Jenny, after establishing a dance school, is left a paraplegic from a fall at a recital of her students. She had returned to dance for her son. A few years later she is diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. She dies sooner than anticipated.

Recruiting Mitch Robson, a man he had twice successfully defended from fraud charges, Anselm begins his investigation.

He is a subtle questioner. Few people are ready when asked directly what happened concerning an event. It is hard to deflect or avoid when you are asked for a narrative. Anselm has learned the power of silence. Let the tension build if a question is not promptly answered. Let the one being questioned struggle to respond.

I have asked a witness a question during a trial and waited and waited and waited for an answer. The seconds feel like an eternity. The silence of not wanting to answer becomes the answer.

Was Jenny murdered or given assistance in dying because she did not want a lingering death or did she die of natural causes?

Jenny was surrounded by intelligent people. Each has a narrative that he or she presses upon Anselm.

He listens intently and always skeptically.

Jenny’s father, Michael, served in the intelligence services of the British Army in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” and returned a changed man. His nickname for Jenny before the fall was Nimblefoot.

Her mother, Emma, is a veterinarian well skilled in putting down animals.

Her Uncle Nigel is an Anglican minister who does his best to ease her anguish. Much of his communication with Jenny was by letter as he was out of England for much of the time following her fall.

Nigel’s wife, Helen, is perceptive and observant while basically overlooked by the other members of the family.

Her husband, Peter, abandons the life of a public intellectual and becomes her caregiver.

Her son, Timothy, is 12 at her death and 14 in the book. He is a bright young man who finds the dysfunctions of his family “weird”.

A fellow dancer, Vincent Cooper, has come to the area to repair classic cars. He sees Jenny often. He desperately wants to help her.

Dr. Ingleby, is her physician, a general practitioner who also provides care at a hospice. He sees Jenny at her home. He meets Anselm on the grounds of a long destroyed abbey. They talk in the ruins of the Chapter House, a place Anselm says “where everyone has the right to speak honestly without fear of condemnation, without fear of being quoted afterwards, without pressure to conform to the will of the majority”.

Did any hasten the end for Jenny?

Each conversation Anselm has with those who surrounded Jennie is mentally draining for him and the reader. The cover picture is apt showing Anselm engaged in deep thought.

Anselm states “ I look to the law” while others “in certain circumstances, will look the other way”. Anselm’s way leads to the Rule of Law. “The other way” leads to personal vigilante action which is often followed by further vigilantism.

Even in our current era of medically assisted dying in Canada it is inevitable there are difficult situations, especially when the terminally ill are beset by conflicting emotions. Yet it is worse when others decide on life and death.

Anselm knows that, for those with a conscience, being a vigilante will have  fearsome psychological consequences.

Anselm normally pursues “truth in its entirety” but this time the goal is unachievable for some secrets need to stay in the “cupboard”.

Brodrick is very skilful at providing twist after twist, always logical, always carefully presented, mostly unforeseen by me.

Anselm is a man of great integrity, conviction and faith. The moral issues challenge him and the reader. It has been some time since I had to think my way through a work of crime fiction.

Brodrick is an excellent writer. I want to know Father Anselm better.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

(34. - 1173.) - The African Samurai by Craig Shreve - In 1579 Isaac is 24. For his first 12 years he had lived free in Africa. For the last 12 years he has been a slave in India, Portugal and China. He is a deeply black man, a head taller than most Europeans - two heads taller than most Asians, with broad shoulders and an imposing presence. Now given to the Catholic Church he is serving as a bodyguard to Father Alessandro Valignano, a Jesuit priest, who is on his way to Japan intent on trading guns for the right to preach the Word of God to the Japanese - “Guns in exchange for souls”. Valignano’s authority, as the Visitor to the Indies, is absolute in Asia with the Pope a two year round trip away.

Valignano has brought gifts for Oda Nobunaga, a Daimyo (a great lord), seeking to unite Japan by whatever means necessary. Valignano shocks and dismays Issac, Yasuke to the Japanese and for the rest of his review, by gifting him to Nobunaga. Yasuke feels shame and embarrassment over being gifted. He vows never again to think he is anything other than property.

He travels to Nobunaga’s majestic castle, Azuchi, which has seven levels around a golden keep and sits atop a mountain.

What is Nobunaga to do with this giant? He speaks passable Japanese. He is a formidable warrior. He is obviously neither European nor Japanese.

Yasuke wants to be useful. Proving his value to his owners in the past was crucial to his survival. While Nobunaga makes no demands upon him, Yasuke trains diligently improving his martial skills as he adapts to Japanese approaches to fighting. His primary talent is combat.

Nobunaga, a brave and brilliant leader, is poised to complete a unification of Japan under his leadership. Campaigns to the west and east of Azuchi await. Each of the opposing daimyos is significantly weaker than Nobunaga.

There is action aplenty and abundant drama as the campaigns unfold.

Upon seeing the title I thought of Shogun by James Clavell - that wonderful saga of the Englishman, John Blackthorne, wrecked in Japan who, through his fierce spirit and keen intelligence, becomes deeply valued by Lord Toranaga. While Blackthorne is a free man he is far more manipulated and used than the slave Yasuke.

With 269 pages The African Samurai lacks the sweep of a Shogun. It is more like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell which deals with the individual adventures of De Zoet in Japan 200 years later than The African Samurai.

I would like to read more of Yasuke’s adventures in Japan. Shreve keeps the narrative moving briskly. It is an accomplished first novel.

Of greatest surprise to me was that the story is based on the true life story of Yasuke, an African brought to Japan and given to Nobunaga and was a participant in the wars to unite Japan in the late 16th Century.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Bill's Mystery Fiction Stats (No. 2)

Back in January I did some analysis of the last 25 mysteries I had read. Now it is time to look at the 25 mysteries I have read since that time.

As with the previous listing the 25 being analyzed did not include a pair of thrillers. They were Ava Lee books by Ian Hamilton.

Of the 25 in this analysis there were 10 written by Canadian authors which is the same number as the first 25. Of the 10 there was a Crime Writers of Canada Excellence Award winner. A Snake in the Raspberry Patch by Joanne Jackson won the Award for Best Crime Novel set in Canada.

The 15 non-Canadian authors were divided between 7 Americans, 3 English, 3 Chinese, 1 Danish and 1 Japanese. In the previous analysis there were 13 American authors. I have no explanation beyond a general desire to read a variety of mysteries.

The additional stats were: 

1.) Authors - 9 female and 16 male;

2.) Sleuths - 11 female and 17 male (the total is more than 25 because of the number of sleuthing teams. There was a male duo, a female / male pair, and a unique team of 2 females and 2 males. I did not include a sidekick as a sleuth.);

3.) Settings - 8 in Canada, 6 in America (2 of the books set in the U.S. were by Canadians), 4 in England, 3 in China, 1 in Denmark, 1 in Japan, 1 in Argentina and 1 in India; and,

4.) Victims - 18 females and 34 males (The men were dropping much faster than the women.)

In my next post I will continue an analysis of a personal crime fiction stat - how many sleuths watch television.

It is a little early in this process to look for patterns but I am curious to see what emerges as the number of books analyzed increases.