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, November 30, 2023

I Only Read Murder by Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson

(40. - 1179.) - I Only Read Murder by Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson - Miranda Abbott, faded “actress extraordinaire” is furious when her agent, Marty Sharpe, advises her that she was passed over for a role in the reality television series, The Real Has-Beens of Beverly Hills. He tells her:

“Producers of reality TV are looking for flamboyant unstable delusional narcissists.”

Despite strong evidence to the contrary she is not narcissistic enough.

Furious to be offered a Metamucil commercial in which she would play the grandmother, insults are hurled and she no longer has an agent.

Broke and without work her bad awful day continues with furniture being re-possessed and an eviction notice served to leave her apartment. Her personal assistant, Andrew Nguyen, unpaid for months, is ready to give notice. A cryptic postcard arrives and Miranda is off to Happy Rock, Oregon via Greyhound bus.

Miranda had starred in Pastor Fran Investigates, a crime drama T.V. series in which she solved mysteries with each episode featuring her Sinner-B-Gone ™ karate chop.

The unusual book title is revealed when she arrives at the I Only Read Murder bookstore in Happy Rock. Miranda had convinced herself that the postcard saying “It’s been fifteen years. I think it’s time” from Edgar (a fine name for the owner of a mystery bookstore) was a call to resume their marriage. Alas, Edgar says it meant it’s time to divorce.

Desperate to try to win Edgar back and learning he is deeply involved in the Happy Rock Amalgamated & Consolidated Little Theatre Society, Miranda auditions for the lead female role in its tenth annual production of Death is the Dickens.

A significant proportion of the community comes to watch the auditions. None recognize the star among them.

At this stage of her life Miranda is star oblivious to those around her rather than the condescending imperious diva of younger years.

It was clever to have Miranda reach a modicum of understanding that she is now a member of the real world. 

It turns out there is a greater diva in Happy Rock. Annette Baillie, a buxom realtor whose smiling face and personal motto “You bet, Annette” adorn benches throughout the community, drives her pink Cadillac to the auditions. She proclaims:

“... I said to myself, I am from Happy Rock, and I have always considered this theater my home. I must come, I thought. I really truly must.”

Happy Rock is too small for these two divas. Los Angeles might be too small.

There is murder and Miranda turns her inquiring mind to solving the murder and reconciling with Edgar.

As Miranda applies the deducting skills she learned over several seasons as Pastor Fran there are several nifty twists before the killer is revealed.

It is hard to maintain an over-the-top atmosphere for a whole book. The Fergusons’ succeed, though the plot was strained during the abundant rehearsals of Death is the Dickens. All rehearsals are attended by a good number of local residents.

The story flows easily. I Only Read Murder is excellent diversionary fiction. I was glad there was more satire than sarcasm. There are witty comments and observations throughout. Miranda is a fine character. It would be a good read over the Christmas holidays.
Ferguson, Will - (2021) - The Finder

Friday, November 24, 2023

Broca's Aphasia in The Water Rituals

The Water Rituals by Eva García Sáenz translated by Nick Caistor, is about ritual murder. In White City, the first in trilogy, Unai López de Ayala was shot in the head. He is still recovering. One of the consequences was Broca’s aphasia. His mind is working well but he cannot speak words. 

The National Aphasia website describes Broca’s aphasia:

Broca’s aphasia results from injury to speech and language brain areas such as the left hemphispere inferior frontal gyrus, among others. Such damage is often a result of stroke but may also occur due to brain trauma. Like in other types of aphasia, intellectual and cognitive capabilities not related to speech and language may be fully preserved.

Broca’s aphasia is named after the French scientist, Paul Broca, who first related a set of deficits associated with this type of aphasia to localized brain damage. He did this in 1861, after caring for a patient who could only say the word “tan”.

It was striking to read how Unai has grown accustomed to writing upon his phone and showing the screen to provide his side of conversations. The messages are inevitably stilted and generic. While personality occasionally breaks through what he enters needs to be quick, clear and concise.

I thought of Kevin Brace in Old City Hall, the first novel by Canadian lawyer Robert Rotenburg. Brace was Canada’s leading national morning radio show host. Charged with murdering his wife he will only communicate with his lawyer in writing.

Brace’s communication is far more awkward than Unai entering words on a cellphone and using WhatsApp. Rotenburg skilfully concealed the reason for the written communications until the end of the book. It was an “oh my'' moment as I felt I should have figured out there was a reason for not talking to your lawyer beyond quirky stubbornness. 

I have had clients and other lawyers who want to only communicate by text and/or email. I resist limiting communication to writing in some format. Even if it is by telephone there is more nuance in oral communications than written words. For important meetings I want them in person to get the full benefit of seeing expressions and body language in addition to the words delivered.

Unai’s speech therapy was fascinating. Learning to speak again involved exercises and repetitions that needed to be done before his face lost the ability to form and say words. He had delayed going for therapy.

He spends up to 5 hours a day “doing the exercises in front of the mirror practicing with the apps Doctor Korres had recommended”.

His grandfather, impatient with his lack of progress towards speaking again, seeks to force him to move ahead by tossing his cellphone into a small pond.

Unai starts by speaking single syllable words. More can be expressed with a single word that I would have expected.

Later he progresses to planned short sentences.

He carefully learns common sentences he can use in conversations.

Later his instructor has him singing.

At times of great emotions he finds he can speak more readily than when he is calm.

It was fascinating to read how Unai communicated when he could not speak and how his speech improved through the book.


Sáenz, Eva Garcia and translated by Nick Caistor - (2022) - The Silence of the White City; (2023) - The Water Rituals

Monday, November 20, 2023

Water Rituals by Eva García Sáenz

(37. - 1176.) - Water Rituals by Eva García Sáenz translated by Nick Caistor - Another compelling opening for the second book in the White City trilogy. As with the first book, The Silence of the White City, Sáenz had me hooked early.

On the opening page Unai López de Ayala nicknamed Kraken, formerly a police inspector and now profiler, learns his lover is pregnant but she is unsure whether he or her deceased husband, a serial killer, is the father.

On the second page we learn he has partially recovered from being shot in the head. He has Broca’s aphasia which prevents him from speaking. He communicates through an “editing app on his cell phone”. He uses WhatsApp continually.

On the third page he is called to a crime scene where a young pregnant woman, her ankles tied together, has been found hanging from a tree branch with her head down in a “bronze cauldron” filled with water. The cauldron was made in Celtic times. She is dead from drowning.

On the fourth page he finds out the victim was a teenage love.

Such a complex murder raises questions of rituals, past and present.

The book shifts back and forth between Unai’s teenage years and the present.

For Unai and the 3 other boys in his cuadrilla the victim, Ana Belén Liaño, known as Annabel Lee, was their first love during a teenage summer they spent working on an archeological site.

She has made a successful career as a graphic novel artist and author.

His close colleague and friend, Estí, has been appointed inspector. She has controlled her drug addiction.

Unai conceals the personal relationships of himself and his cuadrilla from his supervisor and lover, Deputy SuperintendentAlba Diaz de Salvatierra.

And then there is another victim.

As he approaches the hanging body he genuflects “as a mark of respect” and recites his motto:

Here your hunt ends, and mine begins.

As inevitable, the murders become known and the public is terrified by another killer bound up in a personal ritual of death.

Unai has used a hacker known as Golden Girl to assist him with cases. She is extremely talented. She is also 69 years old and recovering from a hip operation. 

The story is bleak in many ways involving sexually abusive situations.

At the same time it is not only the men who are sexually manipulative.

The relationships within the cuadrilla and the police department are intense.

Amidst the tension there are moments of friendship. On Christmas Eve the members of Unai’s cuadrilla carry on the city and personal tradition of meeting to drink mulled wine, “the hot wine is infused with cinnamon, lemon, dried apricots, figs and other delights”.

Someone with a great knowledge of Celtic water rituals is exacting revenge and Unai is a target. The Celtic fertility ritual of Threefold Death where the victim is burned, hung and drowned is terrifying. If the victim is a pregnant woman she “has been judged a potentially unfit mother” and the unborn child is given to “las tres Matres, or the three mother goddess”.

The hunt for the killer is devilishly difficult as suspicion and paranoia creep into the minds of the investigators.

One of the investigator’s quirks is an obsessive use of Post-it notes. (I try not to use them at my office but I still find them very convenient.) She uses different coloured notes for different people. And she is pursuing a personal parallel related investigation.

The Water Rituals is a complicated book. Several plot lines are disturbing. There is significant but not excessive detail on death. What is most chilling is the macabre precision of the ritual taking of life. As with the first in the trilogy I was absorbed by the combination of history and personal relationships. I thought the translation flowed better in this book. Ultimately, at the heart of the book are thousands of years of history and the contemporary setting of the Basque region of Spain.


Sáenz, Eva Garcia and translated by Nick Caistor - (2022) - The Silence of the White City and Broca's Aphasia in The Water Rituals

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Holdovers (Movie)

In December of 1970 I had just finished Grade 12 at boarding school. I had attended St. Peter’s College in Muenster, Saskatchewan. As I watched the The Holdovers movie my mind went back 50 years to life in boarding school.

St. Peter’s was not a well-to-do preppy New England academy like Barton in the movie. Many of my fellow students came from farms like myself. Certainly no one had a father with a helicopter.

We did not wear suit jackets and ties. The College had given up on having us wear ties after I was in Grade 10. Too many guys simply wore the same tie day after day with no regard to the rest of their clothing. The Barton boys were far more co-ordinated.

The longer hair of many of the boys in Barton was familiar. At St. Peter’s hair was also lengthening as the 60’s turned to the 70’s.

We did not have any Korean students. We did have students from Hong Kong. I could not imagine going thousands of miles from home for high school.

The casual, often biting banter, between the Barton boys was exactly what I recall from St. Peter’s. I did not fit in the banter as I hardly ever swear.

I would say there was less meanness at St. Peter’s. Certainly guys could be nasty but it was not as pervasive as at Barton.

The metal beds of the infirmary reminded me of the beds at St. Peter’s. The Barton beds appeared to have better springs than our beds.

The movie did not show the challenge of sleeping in a dormitory setting. It is hard getting to sleep in a room of guys. At St. Peter’s there would be 25 - 30 guys per dormitory.

Meals were less chaotic at Barton with the faculty sitting at a table in the dining room. At St. Peter’s the main goal at meals was to eat as fast as you could. Were you there more than 15 minutes after getting your tray you would be by yourself.

Meals at St. Peter’s were made mainly by sisters from the Order of St. Elizabeth with the aid of a few lay ladies. There was no equivalent to the formidable Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) of The Holdovers. I expect the food was comparable between the schools. Since we ate so quickly it would have been hard to appreciate the meals.

Randolph was understated but powerful as a grieving mother still carrying out her duties in the kitchen while aided by whiskey. 

Seeing the Barton College principal chain smoking in his office brought to mind Father Vincent Morrison who was principal at St. Peter’s when I started school there in 1967. He was always smoking in his office.

None of the teachers at St. Peter’s closely resembled Paul Hunham (Paul Giametti). 

I do recall guys being shaken by the academic standards at St. Peter’s. We were expected to meet expectations well beyond public high school. What was different from Barton is that the St. Peter’s administration would never have put pressure on a teacher to grade a student higher because their parents donated to the College.

At St. Peter’s most of the teachers were Benedictine priests or brothers. Two to three lay men filled in the remaining positions. Some of the Benedictine teachers had been there for decades. As with Mr. Hunham they gave us a good education.

None of my teachers were as caustic or profane as Mr. Hunham. They could be sarcastic. Brother Bede was slight in stature but no one wanted to cross him as he could verbally slash any pretense and put us in our place. Profanity between teachers and staff was not tolerated.

Integrity was valued at St. Peter’s and Barton. When students and teachers live together integrity is important.

I was never a holdover, unable to go home or to other family or friends for Christmas. I can see how achingly lonely it would have been for the holdover boys of the movie.

There were a couple of guys at St. Peter’s who wrote inappropriately to a girl. Instead of suspension they were, with the consent of their parents, heldover for weekends when the rest of us went home. One of the guys later said that discipline decision let him reflect on his actions,  made him a better man and helped him be successful in his life.

Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) could have been one of my classmates. Bright but fragile defined many of us at St. Peter’s. While Giamatti was the star I thought Sessa was brilliant. After the movie I learned he attended Deerfield Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school. He had acted in school plays, just finishing the fall play, when he auditioned for the role. The Holdovers is his first movie.

Giamatti is a great actor. Once again he was Mr. Hunham, a brilliant aloof man with a deeply damaged soul. His ability to convey emotion without talking is exceptional. 

Mr. Hunham’s personality is far from the well regarded Mr. Chips  of the 1939 movie, Goodbye Mr. Chips, about an English boarding school. Mr. Hunham and Mr. Chips did share a love of the classics and learning and teaching.

I was not surprised when I read, after watching the movie, that the screenwriter who was also one of the producers, David Hemingson, had attended prep school. I read an article in Time in which he said Mr. Hunham was modelled on his demanding caring Uncle Earl Cahail. He added that “I channeled my mother’s immense strength and heartache and love into Mary”. He did not say if he was the inspiration for Tully. I expect an Oscar nomination for his script.

The Holdovers deeply moved me. It is far more drama than comedy. I do not know why it is advertised as a Comedy/Drama. It was the best movie I have seen in years. I hope it does well.

As I left the theatre another filmgoer asked my thoughts. I said I had appreciated a movie where no one was killed or blown up, where real people dealt with real problems, where the plot was not a cartoon, where I could get emotional over the characters. He said there are not many out there.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Citizens of Light by Sam Shelstad

(33. - 1172.) - Citizens of Light by Sam Shelstad - Colleen Weagle is getting by.  She works at a Toronto call centre calling out to people across North America. She conducts phone surveys. The electric company survey can take 45 minutes. The job just covers the expenses of herself and her husband, Leonard. Much of his income from working in a plastics factory went on student loan payments. They live with her mother.

Now Leonard is gone. He was found over an hour from home in Morrison Bog, shot in the head. The police decided it was suicide.

Colleen is floundering. She is certain Leonard never shot himself. She cannot understand why he was in a distant Bog dressed in black clothes.

Her Mother is struggling with mental health issues. Her anxiety paralyzes her.

They reside in Mimico, a neighbourhood in Toronto, near Lake Ontario on the West side of the city.

When Colleen sees a photo in the Metro, a free newspaper, of a man who she remembers being at Leonard’s funeral she is certain he knows why Leonard is dead.

He is wearing a Fallsview Casino (a real life Casino in Niagara Falls) jacket. 

Colleen is a naive, maybe simple is more accurate, woman. Why this man should talk to her, should she find him, never enters her mind. She is positive that if she can reach this man she can find out what really happened and her anxiety over Leonard’s death will end.

It is a struggle for Colleen to take initiative. Being passive is her way of life.

I longed for her to turn from wimp to warrior. Undertaking an investigation into Leonard’s death takes her coping lifestyle into the unknown where she haltingly treads. Her friend, Patti, pushes and leads her to being more assertive.

It is hard to have a sleuth who is meek at heart. I am accustomed to sleuths who are brilliant or physical or both. Colleen was the stereotype of the “ordinary working woman”. 

Friends, family and co-workers are startled when she pursues an investigation into Leonard’s death.

While far from, Colleen and Patti remind me of a modern day Laverne and Shirley of sitcom fame. (At least fame for those of us who are seniors or near to being seniors.)

Her earnest efforts at investigation have the real life feel of the perils of an amateur sleuth. 

Colleen is a budget conscious sleuth. She travels by bus between Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Colleen's aggressiveness has bizarre consequences. The ending strained credibility. I sensed the closing was added to create drama rather than flowing from the plot.

As noted above Colleen did not have a dynamic personality. The sudden shift from passive past assertive to aggressor came too late and too suddenly for me.

Citizens of Light is a good book. It won the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best First Novel in 2023. I hope Shelstad can publish more crime fiction. I am confident his next book will be better.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

(36. - 1175.) - The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker (2010) - Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police in St. Denis puts aside his fear of fire to rescue the local fire chief after an explosion at a fire which destroyed a field of grain and a large unauthorized shed in the hills near the town. And there is an unknown standpipe at the scene. Bruno is startled. How could this development have occurred without his knowledge?

It turns out that it was a secret Ministry of Agriculture project testing new GMO grains.

There is immediate pressure from Paris to solve the crime. No one in the capital wants attention drawn to the project.

Suspicion falls on ecolos, enviornmental activists opposed to GMO’s. Yet there are no loud local strident activists threatening direct action.

At the same time the heir, Fernando Bondino, to one of the world`s wine industry giants arrives in St. Denis to propose a major project that would transform the region. Bondino equally wants the crime solved.

The Mayor emphasizes the importance of the project saying competition from supermarkets is gradually destroying villages. Surrounding communities dependent on tourism are `` `dead from September to June every year … No families, no schools, no jobs, no shops, and most of the houses empty until the tourists come back to rent them. ` ``

Another newcomer is the lovely young Jacqueline Duplessis from a Canadian wine making family. She draws ardent admirers as she assesses every man she meets.

Bruno acutely feels the modern world pressing upon his comfortable life in St. Denis. As with many he would prefer life be updated rather than changed. 

Bruno enjoys bringing his own container to fill with wine, for a Euro or less a litre, at a local cave. On visits in the countryside he gladly stops for family produced glasses of wine. There is commercial but not industrial production of wine around St. Denis. I longed to join him.

He prefers the modest Saturday new market, started in 1807, to the larger Tuesday market, held continuously since 1347. The new market has a dozen stalls of locals selling their cheeses, yoghurts, meats, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and wine.

As it is early fall grapes are being picked. Some are processed in the traditional way by having villagers tread upon the grapes.

Nearing 40 Bruno is melancholic as his love, Isabelle, has moved to Paris. Even a passionate lover could not bring him to leave his beloved St. Denis. An unexpected return visit by Isabelle leaves him in turmoil.

Further vandalism and the combined deaths of an elderly resident and his newly adopted son create mean intense investigations for Bruno.

Amidst the police work Bruno invites friends for a supper featuring a truffle omelet and then becasses (woodcocks). They are consumed with fine wines from France and New Zealand. The meal made me long to visit Le Bugue, the inspiration for the fictional Saint-Denis.

The resolution of the mystery is convincing. At the same time Bruno’s personal life is perking up. I am eager to go looking for the next in the series.


Walker, Martin - (2019) - Bruno, Chief of Police and The Magic of St. Denis and Three Pines