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.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Bill's Best of 2023 Fiction

I continue a minor tradition of publishing Bill’s Best of Fiction on December 31. I like to make it a genuine assessment of my reading for the full calendar year. My next post will have Bill’s Best of 2023 Non-Fiction and a personal category of Bill’s Most Interesting of 2023. The lists do include books published earlier than 2023.

For the best of 2023 fiction:

1.) The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick - My favourite work of fiction this year was written 10 years ago. I found it while browsing in The Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto.

A book featuring a Gilbertine monk, Father Anselm, who was an English barrister before becoming a monk was an immediate attraction. And then I learned Brodrick had been an Augustinian monk prior to becoming an English solicitor.

What made the book the best was its exploration of death.

Jenny Henderson has been left a paraplegic after a fall and has terminal cancer when she abruptly dies.

I summed up the questions in my review:

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

The book was brilliant.

2.) A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr - Second best is another book written years ago. A Quiet Flame is the 5th book in the Bernie Gunther series and was published in 2008.

Gunther has reached Argentina in 1950. He escaped from Germany with a pair of ex-SS officers. One of his traveling companions is Adolph Eichmann.

Kerr grabbed my attention when Gunther is welcomed by President Juan Peron. The President asks him to investigate the death of a teenage girl and the disappearance of another. Argentinian authorities think the cases might be connected to a German case Gunther worked on in 1932.

As Gunther investigates in Argentina there are flashbacks to the German investigation which is occurring months before the Nazis gained power in Germany.

The story flows seamlessly between the investigations in Argentina and Germany.

It is a fascinating twist that in 1950 Gunther has authority to investigate his “old comrades” where in 1932 he was subject to their power.

3.) A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny - Armand Gamache investigates a complex mystery that has connections to the mass murder of female engineering students 30 years ago at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, a mother who was murdered after allowing her children to be abused 10 years earlier and the discovery of a hidden room at the bistro in Three Pines.

The hidden room contained a marvel:

There is a secret to the bookstore that has been hidden for 160 years. There is a hidden room. The room was bricked and plastered over in the 19th Century. It is a locked room mystery as to its creation and that inside are several items and a copy of The Paston Treasure painting to which have been added images that range from the 1600’s to our time. A grimoire, a book of spells, from the 17th Century is also found in the room. 

The symbolism within the painting is from the minute to the massive. The symbolic power of the spells is intense. The consequences for those who create symbols and invoke spells has its own symbolism.

Had the ending been less Hollywood it would have been my favourite fiction of 2023.

3.) Sunset and Jericho by Sam Wiebe - I too often find noir just dark. Wiebe has the ability to have balance amidst the bleakness. 

Vancouver private investigator, Dave Wakeland, sets out to find the missing brother of the mayor and the missing handgun of a transit cop.

I noted that:

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 investigation takes him to an extremist group called Death of Kings. The zealots in the group are frightening.

Dave is a classic lone P.I. who, in the best traditions of hard boiled detectives, will not be intimidated:

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.

I found the resolution both credible and surprising. 

Wiebe has developed an enduring Canadian sleuth.

Happy New Year to readers near and far!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Do Tell by Lindsay Lynch

(44. - 1183.) Do Tell by Lindsay Lynch - I was enthralled by “moderately successful” actress, Edith “Edie” O’Dare by the end of the first page:

… I built my career in silences and averted glances, paying attention to who missed work, who skipped parties. I asked why, and when no one answered, I filled in the blanks myself.

I love characters who are fascinated by “why”.

In August of 1939, Edie has invited her brother Sebastian O’Shaughnessy, a “successful” novelist, to come from New York City to Los Angeles. She advised him that he will “have a job”. It is his first education in Hollywood “speak”. She has not arranged a job. She is sure he will get a job as he is “very employable!”

On Seb’s arrival they attend a cocktail party at the mansion of Thomas Brodbeck, Studio Chief and FWM Sudios. She is wearing a gown borrowed from FWM casting which was rejected by a star. His pants and shirt are wrinkled. Edith assures him that people will “think it’s very New York of you. That kind of credibility gets people jobs”.

Edith has not bothered to tell Seb she has but 3 months left on her 7 year contract and studios do not offer new contracts to “moderately successful” actresses. She is out hustling herself to find a way to make a living in Hollywood.

She already has a niche as the “favorite”  source for prominent gossip columnist, Poppy St. John.

The party celebrates the studio arranged engagement of stars Charles Landrieu (a handsome former stuntman) and Nell Parker. The studio even purchases the Cartier engagement ring.

Edies was creative with her past in winning a contest to get to Hollywood and remains inventive. 

As a gossip source she unreservedly questions everyone in the movie business. Her cheekiness, I would actually say brassiness, often gets a quotable response. Many of her tips for Poppy’s Tinseltown Tattler column come from attending nightclubs where the stars and not-so-stars go to be seen. She is a keen observer.

In discussion with the head costume designer at FMW, George:

I always mocked George for his insistence that he was the only person in the industry who truly understood how to tell a story - according to him, actors were phonies, directors were pigs and screenwriters were drunken hacks. It was his belief that he could convey more about a character’s inner life through a fabric choice and tailoring than any of the stars could hope to with their diction or facial expressions.

She knows the value of every actor to the studio and their roles. The primary value for a couple of male actors is their ability to die on screen.

Not all gossip is benign or trivial.

She seizes the opportunity to start moving to newspapers when she skillfully and quietly orchestrates the release of a story of a young starlet who states a star sexually abused her at a party. 

The Los Angeles Times subsequently gives her a chance and Edie is ready.

While she has no shame in listening in at parties, clubs and movie sets or asking questions she has a conscience with regard to the information gathered but how far will Edie go to be a gossip “star”? She knows can destroy a reputation with a deft phrase. 

Beyond the ethics of gossip, she must tread carefully not to overly antagonize the powerful publicists who can make access to their actors and actresses difficult.

It says a lot about the status of women in the movie industry of the early 1940’s for Edie to be “the most feared woman” in Hollywood. There is neither an actress nor a woman director nor a woman producer with real power. I exclude studio mogul as nary a senior executive in the book is female.

There was a relationship for which Edie, a keen observer of Hollywood combinations, was so slow to discern its true nature as to defy probability.

I had hoped Do Tell would be the start of a series featuring Edie but, alas it appears from the plot that it will be a standalone. Entertaining and thought provoking and the movie industry are an uncommon combination.

 I do want to read more from Ms. Lynch. She is a gifted writer.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Heat Wave by Maureen Jennings

(43. - 1182.) Heat Wave by Maureen Jennings - Miss Charlotte Frayne is employed at T. Gilmore and Associates, Private Investigators, as the sole associate, “secretary and general dogsbody”. She wears her ‘uniform’, a white cotton blouse with long sleeves and a prim collar, and a navy blue linen skirt” even inn the 90F degree heat of a Toronto summer. She is on “the disconcerting side of thirty”. It is 1936.

Her employer, Mr. T. Gilmore, receives a letter privately dropped into their letter box. It says:


Below there are “drawings of rats with vicious teeth. Each had a knife protruding from its side.”

Miss Frayne is a clever young woman with wit about her. She is enjoying private investigation. She is not fond of the “domestic situations” cases, their gathering of evidence for divorces but recognizes they are “lucrative”. More appealing are the cases reuniting people with “beloved pets, cherished jewellery, even lost relatives”.

She has made a personal study of door knocks. She confidently predicts male v. female knockers.

Mr. Gilmore’s wife, Ida, is attacked in their home and severely injured. He is the primary suspect.

Mr. Hilliard Taylor, one of the owners of the Paradise Cafe on Queen Street consults her while Mr. Gilmore is out of the office. Hill suspects someone is stealing from the cafe.

In an age where “air coolers” are rare, the fierce heat and high humidity dominate every waking and sleeping moment:

The temperature had climbed even higher, and I felt as if I was trying to suck oxygen from air reluctant to yield it up.

In a striking scene she saves an overheated dray horse from dying with cloth sacks soaked in a horse trough and buckets of water slowly poured upon the horse. In the process, she is overcome by the heat:

…. A wave of dizziness swept over me and I staggered against the dray. Hilliard was beside me at once.

“Hey, you need to sit down,” He half carried me to the tree, and I sank to the ground. “Hold on,” He grabbed one of the buckets. There was some water left in the bottom, and unceremoniously he poured it over my head.

Fans in the cafe provide customers and staff with a breath of relief from the heat.

I have spent time in Toronto during the summer, especially August, when the heat and humidity would leave me sweating and almost short of breath after walking a block. From higher buildings, when looking down, you could see the pollution in the air.

Charlotte diligently pursues both investigations. She is a thorough person alert to nuance and discrepancy.

I was surprised when one of the lead detectives is Detective Jack Murdoch. (The author gained fame with an earlier series set at the end of the Victorian era with Detective William Murdoch.)

The Paradise Cafe is owned by a quartet of WW I veterans who met while prisoners of war. Each still bears the trauma of their wartime experiences.

The owners seek to provide good food at the best price possible for the many Torontonians with only a bit of money. For 35 cents on Camp day (in memory of the fare they ate in the war) a diner gets an hour to eat a four course meal - potato soup, shepherd’s pie with 2 green vegetables, apple and beet or dandelion salad and either trench pudding or Eccles cake or chocolate biscuit for dessert. Coffee or tea are included. An extra slice of bread with dripping or parsnip marmalade costs 5 cents.

Charlotte goes undercover as a waitress at the Cafe.

The risk for Mr. Gilmore rises when his wife dies of her injuries.

The book takes readers into the political extremes of the 1930’s.

Toronto, oft perceived as Toronto “the Good” at that time, has strong undercurrents swirling through the city.

It is a good book with good characters and a solid story. Jennings is adept at moving the plot at a steady pace. I do think Charlotte and Detective Murdoch may have an unrevealed flaw or two. I plan to read more of Charlotte’s adventures.


Jennings, Maureen - (2015) - No Known Grave

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Exchange by John Grisham

(42. - 1181.) - The Exchange by John Grisham - In reading Grisham’s books over the past 30 years I have admired the many different lawyers he has created. Some, such as Jake Brigance from Ford County in Mississippi, have appeared in more than one book so that we learn what has happened to them in life and the law. Most have been featured in a single book. I occasionally would think about a lawyer’s future after reading the book. Mitch McDeere was the young protagonist of The Firm

Mitch had been recruited at Harvard by a very successful Memphis law firm. Shortly after joining the firm the FBI cajoled, then threatened him, to report on the nefarious actions of the firm on behalf of the Chicago mob. It was more thriller than legal mystery but it was compelling. I thought the movie with Tom Cruise as Mitch and Gene Hackman as his mentor, Avery Tolar, was excellent. 

Now and then I would wonder what had happened to McDeere. He clearly could not have returned to Memphis where the firm collapsed and criminal indictments and then convictions abounded. I expected he would have stayed in the law unlike Rudy Baylor who was headed west to become a teacher at the end of The Rainmaker

I did not expect he would stay in the Caribbean sitting on the beach. I did not think he would have practised in the Caribbean. I had a partner who went to Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands to be a lawyer. He was back within a year. Island life is attractive in the winter but very confining. 

I thought Mitch would have found a position in a mid-American firm and lived a quietly prosperous life. I was completely wrong. He was hired by Scully & Pershing, the largest law firm in the world. It is headquartered in New York and has 2,000 lawyers in offices around the world. Mitch had started work in the firm in London and moved to the New York office. 15 years have passed since he left Memphis. He is a partner. 

Mitch’s wife, Abby, is working for a publisher of high end cookbooks and they have 8 year old twin sons. Their personal lives could not be better.

Scully & Pershing has a strong commitment to pro bono work. Lawyers are expected to commit 10% of their time to pro bono clients. Mitch is currently aiding a homeless shelter and fighting evictions. 

Grisham’s next surprise was that Mitch has also represented two death row inmates fighting for their lives. Each time he was unsuccessful and his clients were executed. The cases have taken an emotional toll upon him. At the same time he has been caught up in the emotion, the tension, “the ticking clock” of death cases.

He returns to Memphis to meet Amos Patrick whose Capital Defense Initiative which only represents inmates on death row for over 50 years. Mitch is to defend a man whose execution date is 90 days away.

Just when I thought the book was another look at the death penalty comparable to the searing intensity of The Chamber, the case disappears with the death of the inmate and Mitch is sent to Italy and Libya to deal with a multi-national business law case. I am not sure why the portion of the book on the death penalty was included. I did not find a connection with the main story line. It is such an abrupt shift in the book I wondered if Grisham changed his mind on the theme halfway through writing the book.

Lannark, a Turkish construction company, is suing the Government of Libya for hundreds of millions of dollars for a bridge to nowhere it had built for Gaddafi.

I thought we were headed for a book dealing with high stakes litigation in the United Arbitration Board in Switzerland.

Once again I was wrong as there is a kidnapping of a Scully associate, Giovanna Sandroni, in Libya and Mitch must lead the firm’s response. Specialists in international hostage takings are called in. Major firms pay significant amounts for hostage insurance.

The actual theme is the effort to try to save and gain the return of Giovanna.

The process is interesting and includes Mitch’s wife, Abby. 

The book becomes a thriller much like The Firm became a thriller when Mitch and Abby go on the run being pursued by the Mob and the FBI.

Grisham is good at writing thrillers. The action is credible. There is not an excess of bodies. However, he is better at writing legal fiction. The hostage taking process has a limited connection with lawyers. The hostage taking could have involved other professions or businesses. I would have preferred Grisham making the litigation over the Libyan bridge to nowhere the theme of the book. There was lots of drama potential in the high stakes and international intrigue of the bridge.

I hope Grisham’s next book is back in a Mississippi courtroom where most of his best novels are set.

Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar and Law Students and Integrity; (2019) - The Reckoning; (2019) - Cullen Post in The Guardians and The Guardians; (2020) - A Time for Mercy and Practising Law in Rural Mississippi and Rural Saskatchewan and Writing a Credible Trial; (2021) - Camino Winds; (2022) - The Judge's List; (2022) - The Biloxi Boys and Body Counts in Fictional Gang Wars (Ian Hamilton, John Grisham and Don Winslow)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri

A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri (translated by Stephen Sartarelli) (2012) -  Inspector Montalbano is having a befuddled morning. He is disoriented when he awakes, cuts his foot walking on the beach, thinks someone is watching him through a window, is startled by an octopus he just bought staring at him, knocks over his coffee pot burning himself, runs screaming through his front door and cannot remember it is his 58th birthday until his love of 25 years, Livia, reminds him. Upon regaining his wits he feels “elderly”.

Montalbano is called to a supermarket from which 16,728 euros has been stolen, the previous day’s sales. The police are skeptical since there was no forced entry and the money had been kept in a desk which was easily forced. The inspector leaves the manager, Guido Borsellino, to explain to the owners what has happened.

That evening the inspector is called back to the supermarket for Borsellino has been found hanging in his office. The apparent suicide was clumsily done but the pathologist is reticent about calling the death murder.

Subsequently, a young man, Giovanni Strangio, who is the son of the provincial president, advises Montalbano that his girlfriend is dead in their apartment. Having already had a run in with the young man, Montalbano, is unusually careful about the investigation.

Both murders have more than a whiff of Mafia connections.

Every day Montalbano feels his age. His digestion is unsettled over the large meals, focused on seafood and pasta, that he loves to consume. He blows up when a lawyer suggests they are men of a “certain age”.

Now that I am 71 his preoccupation with being 58 makes me smile. There are many good years after 58.

The resolution involved clever deductions and actions. While Montalbano has a modest regard for rules he does live in Sicily where many disregard the law.

Montalbano’s challenges with electronic devices are staggering. The 21st Century is not a comfortable place for him.

The book moves smoothly. While a good book I thought The Shape of Water a better book. 


Camilleri, Andea - (2012) - The Shape of Water (1994)