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.

Friday, April 19, 2024

The Goddess of Yantai by Ian Hamilton

(18. - 1201.) The Goddess of Yantai by Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee’s lover, Chinese actress Pang Fai, is no longer willing to be subservient to the masters of the China Movie Syndicate. She will no longer provide sexual favours to further her career. Mo, Chairman of the Syndicate, consigns her to oblivion and will not release her latest movie, Mao’s Daughter.

Ava, with the aid of Lop who is a colleague of Shanghai triad leader Xu, plan to return Fai to stardom and get the movie released.

At the same time Ava’s company, Three Sisters, is completing a deal in Beijiang to purchase a major logistics company for 550 million renminbi ($103 million Canadian). I would have been glad had more of the book been about Ava’s business dealings.

Ava and Fai must keep their relationship secret in China. Were they publicly known to be lovers Fai’s career in China would be lost no matter what schemes are undertaken by Ava and Lop.

When Ava and Lop are dismissed by Mo after a meeting of 15 minutes they know extreme tactics are needed.

Yet they must proceed carefully. Mo has high level contacts and an uncle on the Standing Politburo. To threaten him directly would be dangerous.

Ava stays with Fai who lives in a hutong, a modest traditional housing complex. Developers have been taking them over, destroying the complexes and building high rises.

Ava enjoys her time in the hutong getting to know some of the residents and local merchants.

Ava learns of the challenges of celebrity. Fai, China’s best known actress wears modest clothing and sunglasses and a cap when she ventures out of the hutong to avoid notice for, if she is recognized, there is instant fawning attention upon her.

Ava gathers evidence for another meeting with Mo. She learned from Uncle that there are times when she must be ruthless. Her second meeting is successful but shortly thereafter Fai is threatened with a compromising video.

Ava turns to tracking down the blackmailers. It is a twisting journey of drama and danger. For the first time in several books Ava personally uses her accounting skills to analyze financial records. Following the money is always a good strategy.

Ava’s bek mei (martial arts) skills are needed. I was struck that, for all she learned from Uncle, she does not have a bodyguard. Sonny was a powerful deterrent to those who would have attacked Uncle. Ava has a stubborn determination to defend herself. Considering the number of powerful and dangerous men she has angered she should have one or more protectors. As well I hope, going forward, she recognizes the need to be as prudent as Uncle about personal safety for many depend on her. Leaders take precautions with regard to security.

Until reading this Ava Lee book I never noticed that the narrative is all Ava. There are no other characters speaking on their own.

I prefer the books in the series that deal with business dealings and the triads. The Goddess of Yantai was much better than the The Iman of Tawi-Tawi.

Ava has effectively moved to Hong Kong and China. She does not make even a brief trip to Toronto in the book.

The book ends with a compelling cliffhanger related to the triads that drives a reader to get the next in the series, The Mountain Master of Sha Tin.


Monday, April 15, 2024

Exchanging Thoughts on Call of the Void with Jeremy Siemens

After posting my review of Call of the Void by Jeremy Siemens I wrote to Jeremy. He promptly responded. I appreciate his willingness to reply to my observations and questions. He is a thoughtful guy.



Thanks for sending me a copy of the ARC for Call of the Void.

Even before opening the book I was drawn into the story by the amazing cover of a reflective, even haunted, Sloane. The forest background was perfect. In the covers for Call of the Void and To Those Who Killed Me you have a pair of books that grab any book
buyer who sees them.

With this email I include a link to my review of the book. In the review I predicted Call of the Void will be on Award shortlists this year. I know it will be a strong contender for my personal Bill’s Best of 2024. 

Sloane continues to be an amazing sleuth. 

I was struck that in the book that Hollywood star, Haley Cooper, wants to portray Sloane, her bodyguard / babysitter, in a T.V. series. It is an intriguing premise that the fictional Sloane of your book would be turned into a fictional - fictional screen sleuth. Were it to be that your books featuring Sloane were made into a television series we could have a fictional - fictional - fictional Sloane.

While I consider the violence quotient in Call of the Void ample I fear it would not be enough for the Hollywood of 2024. There are not enough bodies for current Hollywood thrillers. In Call of the Void, Sloane does not kill anyone. Is there interest in a T.V. series being made about Sloane?

In an exchange of emails with you on To Those Who Killed Me I expressed my hope that the next book would have less violence.

In your reply you stated:

That said, book 2 (CALL OF THE VOID) is a little less violent, a little less brutal, but perhaps even more unsettling.

I agree there was less physical violence in Call of the Void and that it is “more unsettling”. The levels of emotional violence and torture of the mind were definitely disturbing.

Now I hope that, going forward, Sloane can have a sustained loving relationship. There were hints that it was possible in Call of the Void. Few fictional sleuths, especially hard boiled investigators, have successful romantic relationships. I would love to see Sloane succeed in love.

I wrote a chapter on crime fiction in Saskatchewan for Volume 3 of A Literary History of Saskatchewan. I focused on the books of Gail Bowen, Anthony Bidulka, Suzanne North, Nelson Brunanski and Alan Bradley. I observed that all of their sleuths had positive family relationships. I appreciate none of them were writing noir crime fiction. Still I can wish for some happiness in her life to allow Sloane to realize she is worthy of a good relationship.

In my review of To Those Who Killed Me I said I was glad to have experienced Sloane’s wild ride. My appreciation of riding with Sloane grew in Call of the Void. I look forward to more rides with her. You have a memorable character in Sloane.

If you are able to respond to this email and my review I would be glad to post your reply.

All the best.



Hi Bill,

Thanks once again for your fantastic review of CALL OF THE VOID. I am especially proud of this novel and am pleased that you liked it. 

I'm glad you mentioned the cover. I am happy to say that some of my ideas were implemented by the superb designer, Michel Vrana. I sought to evoke the same creepy vibe I got during my initial research in the backroads of the Mission, B.C. area. There is a true darkness to that area of the province, and when I began the first draft, the unsettling feeling I felt bled into the pages. The cover captures that sense perfectly. 

The Haley Cooper subplot. I'm a big Michael Connellly fan, and I love how he manages to seamlessly weave several seemingly disparate plots into many of his novels. I wanted to do something similar with CALL OF THE VOID, and since many investigation firms provide security/bodyguard work--and given the ubiquity of film sets in Vancouver--Sloane guarding an off-the-rails starlet seemed the perfect fit. I had a great deal of fun with that particular subplot, and although there are some serious elements to it, the slightly-absurd goings-on provide a nice juxtaposition to the heaviness of the main story.

As far as there being a Sloane television series, there is nothing in the works as yet, but I will say that I wrote her with the screen in mind. Before I wrote novels, I wrote screenplays. Many, many screenplays. None of them went anywhere, but they taught me structure, pacing, and got me very comfortable with writing dialogue. The screenplays did get me on some film sets (which assisted me with some scenes in VOID), and because they were my foundation, I tend to think and write cinematically. I even have an actress in mind to play Sloane, although for now I'll keep who it is to myself.

Violence. The first novel was what some have called ultra-violent. I don't know about that, but I do know that Sloane endured tremendous physical and psychological trauma during those events, and everyone has a limit. I struggle with violent scenes and combat scenes, because it's very important to me to portray them as realistically as possible. I come from a martial arts background, and know what it's like to be in a street-confrontation where someone wants to hurt you. In the real world violence is often shockingly brutal and life-altering, and I never want to create anything gratuitous. However, there are other types of violence that are undoubtedly worse. CALL OF THE VOID explores some of them.

Sloane's relationship. At this point, Sloane is a fully-fleshed out character that lives inside my head. She's a bit of me, but also a composite of many tough and resilient women I've known. She's a heavily-flawed hero with more to offer than she believes, and she deserves love. I care for her too much to allow her to grow into a depressed noir cliche who spends every night alone with a bottle.

Thanks again, Bill, for giving me the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the why of what I do.

All best,

Jeremy Siemens


 Siemens, J.T. - (2022) - To Those Who Killed Me and Exchange with Jeremy and Codicils in Fiction and Real Life; (2024) - Call of the Void

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Call of the Void by J.T. Siemens

(19. - 1202.) Call of the Void by J.T. Siemens - What an opening:

For a long time, I believed that if I ran fast enough, the dead couldn’t catch up with me.

I was wrong.

But it didn’t stop me from trying.

Sloane Donovan, whose restless mind is constantly troubled, sees dead family and friends as she nears the end of a race. She wonders if ghosts follow you through all eternity.

Forest fire smoke fills the British Columbia skies and sets the mood of the book.

A “heavy set” woman, Maddy Pike, intercepts Sloane as she enters the building which houses the office of Hardknocks Investigations and Security Services, Inc. in Vancouver. She wants Sloane to search for her missing daughter, Emily. Her partner Wayne has already told Maddy they will not take the case. Sloane cannot refuse the desperately sad woman and says she will spend a week looking for Emily who disappeared 7 years ago when she was 15.

The Agency, mainly Sloane, is babysitting Hollywood star, Haley Cooper. While ostensibly they are protecting her from creepy fans Haley’s greatest danger is herself. Her latest movie, Zyborg Apocalypse, being made in Vancouver, had to be delayed 6 weeks while Haley was in rehab. Sloane is to keep her away from drugs and alcohol and bad boys. It is an impossible task. Sloane describes Haley as a “wily little bitch”.

Filming of Zyborg Apocalypse is interrupted by a bomb threat. Sloane, her associate Frank and Haley enter their Range Rover to find a life size sex doll with a de-activated grenade in the vagina and a photo of Haley over the face.

I wish Haley played a larger role. She has charisma and an even more reckless attitude to life than Sloane. She talks of getting a movie written about Sloane.

Sloane’s edgy mind wonders if her prescribed lithium dose is too high. She rejects the thought that drinking a bottle of chardonay could have reacted negatively with the drug.

Wanting to be a vet, Emily worked at Westborough Farm where she was a valued employee. Her employer, Doc Barney, called her their “golden child”.

Interviews at the farm and a trip to the ATM location where she was last seen produce no new information.

Sloane interviews Emily’s father, Lucas “Luke” Pike, a dedicated alcoholic simmering with rage, who does night security at building sites. 

Sloane gets a composite sketch made of a potential suspect. No one recognizes him. She is furious with Maddy for sharing the sketch publicly. Maddy says she used the photo to raise money for expenses such as Sloane’s fees and Maddy’s administration costs. 

Sloane does not want to take her bi-polar medication as it makes her “feel slow”. She simply says she “is fucked up”. 

The investigation grows ever more complex.

For all her brash confrontative nature Sloane is obsessive about noticing details. I appreciate sleuths who are observant.

I felt a shiver as the title is explained to Sloane:

“Call of the void,” she said. “Have you ever stood somewhere really high and felt a weird impulse to jump, like something was pulling you over the edge?”

I feel the void is never far from Sloane's mind whether she is awake or in fitful sleep.

She struggles with the possibility of a normal relationship. It has been a long time since she played with a child. Could Sloane have a life with sobriety and a stable family relationship?

Tension relentlessly builds as Sloane closes in on Emily’s killer.

The narrative of life in Vancouver, especially on the seedy side of town, is compelling and completely credible. The pages flow easily with that wonderful feeling of being caught up in a riveting story. Siemens is a more assured storyteller in his second book. I could see and feel the harsh reality of the city in his words. 

While I do not wish to discuss in detail the ending of the book in a review that will form a post on my blog I had conflicting emotions as I read the conclusion. Initially I thought it was too Hollywood. I acknowledge I am not fond of Hollywood endings. The bulk of the book had told a challenging story without being excessively dramatic. On reflection I concluded the resolution fit the story. Great drama was needed to finish the mystery and address Sloane’s life. 

I expect Call of the Void will be on Award shortlists for 2024 and it has the potential to be an Award winner. Siemens has become one of the best young crime fiction writers in Canada.


Saturday, April 6, 2024

Poetry in Football - Fictionally and Real Life

After reading From Sweetgrass Bridge I wrote to Anthony Bidulka about the book and he replied with his customary candour. In what might be a surprise to readers our discussion took us to poetry by football players in fiction and real life.



Thank you for the ARC. I was hoping a copy would make it my way.

I liked From Sweetgrass Bridge better than Livingsky. The murder is directly integrated into the plot. Roger/Stella forming a team with Merry is brilliant. They are perfect.

As I indicated in my review posted tonight, your examination of the emotional psyches of the characters was powerfully done. 

My excitement at being a character inspired another post which will be up in a couple of days.

This letter and your reply, if you are able to respond, will form my third post.

In my four and a half decades as a sports reporter I cannot recall hearing of a CFL player disappearing during the football season.

If anything is understated in the book, it is the search that would have been underway if the starting Rider quarterback had actually gone missing. In real life, there would have been a million Saskatchewanians out doing a grid search of the province.

Any major event in the life of a Roughrider involves the province. The whole province mourned last year when George Reed, one of the two most revered and famed Riders, died last year at 83.

My only regret was that I wish more of the story would have involved the Roughriders. Dustin’s life in the book had limited connection with the team. 

As I read the book I thought of your goal to write of the under-represented in society. I recognize the importance of Dustin’s heritage being indigenous but for this letter I want to focus on him as a football player.

Professional football players are not under-represented as a group in our society. They are probably over-represented. Yet the public gets little chance to read and learn of their lives as men away from the field. 

I was impressed that Dustin wrote a moving poem. Dustin, as with many real life professional football players, does not fit the stereotype of rough tough insensitive men.

I want to repeat his poem “From Sweetgrass Bridge”:

      I see beginning

      I see end

      From Sweetgrass Bridge I see forever

     Swift flow, eddies


Damp air moss lichen river stone

Deepening, darkening


From Sweetgrass Bridge

I see never

I see end

Should readers think it improbable that football players write poetry I have a book of poems, Pro Football From the Inside, written by Dick Bass an American football college player whose career was ended by polio and who later became a professional coach and football executive. In the 1990’s he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Sacramento Gold Miners who played in the CFL for a couple of seasons. His book, one of two books of poetry he wrote, is evocative of life on the line in games and the emotions of life away from the field.

One of my favourite poems in Pro Football From the Inside is “Come Meet Mike”:

He has a style

all his own

one foot way up

body rocking back and forth

in a never ending rhythm

to an orchestration that only he can hear.

His moves are mongoose like

a strobe light blur

streaking in and out

before your eyes

a most difficult style of play 

that very few 

can even begin

to try to imitate.

His well taped hands

that slap

and push and grab

punishing opponents across the line

possess a truly sensitive touch

when unencumbered

and searching 

for certain special

notes and sounds

that are a part

of the music

he so passionately adores.

On the field

you see a person

who is devastatingly violent

each and every play

a totally destructive force

for the minutes of the game.

But off the field

the creative man emerges

so soft inside himself

this is his other side

a most beautiful

and remarkable side indeed

a side

I hope someday

that you may also see.

Thank you for writing about a real professional football player.



Hi Bill,

As always, let me begin by saying thank you for what you do (off the field, so to speak, from being a lawyer), not only in spending time and utilizing expertise in reviewing my books but mysteries in general, specifically those written by Canadian writers. As you and your readers no doubt know, reviews--professional and otherwise--are the lifeblood of a book's first months.

But off the field

the creative man emerges

so soft inside himself

How beautiful, these words. I do not profess to be a connoisseur of poetry, nor football (don't strike me down!), but I recognize beauty and passion and people's love for something that others may not understand. These complexities and nuances are what make people so fascinating and, for me, a joy to write about.

I agree, the Roughriders and Dustin's life as a footballer were not a focus in the book. As you wisely state "Professional football players are not under-represented as a group in our society. They are probably over-represented. Yet the public gets little chance to read and learn of their lives as men away from the field." 

The choices I made about how to write about the Roughriders and Dustin are--as are most of my writing choices--rooted in the fundamentals of why I write: I write to tell stories of under-represented people and places in a way that is accessible and hopefully entertaining. I know you know this about me, but it bears repeating in this context. With the Merry Bell books in general, that translates into writing about Saskatchewan, writing about a transgender character, writing about an Indigenous character, writing about a crossdresser, writing about strong female lead characters and writing about underdogs. I'm short of breath just typing this! :) Then, with each individual book in the trilogy, I layer on a mystery and new characters which, I hope, can round out or add to my cast of under-represented characters in meaningful and fulfilling ways. And as a side dish, I search for ways to stretch and educate myself as a writer (in this case, poetry and football).

I'd come to feel that some day in the long distant future, perhaps on another planet, when some poor unsuspecting alien is sitting in a class covering the Bidulka ouevre, the professor (I picture one with tentacles) might question his students why this writer, who spent so much time writing about Saskatchewan, never once mentioned the Saskatchewan Roughriders. You yourself say "... the life of a Roughrider involves the province."  As soon as I hit upon the idea of From Sweetgrass Bridge I was in love with it and knew it was my time to write about the Roughies (and not disappoint future alien fans). However, in doing so, I needed to come up with a balance that achieved a balance between (a) my WHY as a writer (b) servicing the Merry Bell series, and (c) writing a book planted in the mystery genre.

I may have said this to you before: I sometimes struggle in finding the sweet spot when balancing writing mystery, writing about character development, and writing to serve my WHY. To do so, choices must be made. In From Sweetgrass Bridge I wrote about the Saskatchewan Roughriders as another vehicle to write about Saskatchewan. I wrote about Dustin Thomson in a way that, at least I, have not seen a local footballer written about before. Dustin is a homegrown Indigenous man who becomes the Riders primary quarterback (first of his kind), but beyond that, I focus on the parts of him that don't show up on the football field, a poster, or in a commentator's interview. We all have many sides, yet football players are often portrayed in a way that relies solely on their behaviour on the field or misbehaviour after hours. That is what peaked my interest and fed into the story I wanted to tell.

There was, I admit, much more to say, rich story lines to develop in the Roughrider realm. Those, I'm afraid, ended up in a bottom drawer or were left unwritten in favour of choices made for serving the rest of the story and the lives of Merry, Gerald, Brenda, Roger/Stella, Veronica Greyeyes, Alvin Smallinsky and the newest cast member, Marco the Lagotto Romangnolo.