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, February 29, 2024

Rain by H.N. Hirsch

(15. - 1198.) Rain by H.N. Hirsch - Professor Marcus George is startled when one of his graduate students, Kenny Glick, is worried about being charged for murder. His girlfriend, Cathy Yaeger, had died. It was reported as an “accidental death”. Marcus takes Kenny home to meet his partner Bob Abramson who has a solo criminal law practice. Reluctantly, Bob says he will talk to the police and prosecutor’s office.

Before he can investigate Kenny is called in for an interview. It is a setup for his arrest. A second autopsy has determined Cathy was strangled.

Kenny’s father writes a cheque for the $2,000,000 bail.

While there are no errors in describing Bob’s early interactions as a lawyer they did not feel quite right. I doubt a reader who is not a lawyer would have that feeling. As the book went on Hirsch’s portrayal of Bob’s work building the defence got better.

Life is good for Marcus and Bob in San Diego in 1995. Their relationship is excellent. They have a loving dog, Oscar. Marcus is an accomplished professor, an expert in political rhetoric. Bob has a thriving practice. They live in a neighbourhood called Normal Heights - a name they “thought hilarious when they first heard it”. They are thinking about adopting a child. I was glad to read about a loving couple in a long term relationship. It is uncommon enough in crime fiction to be memorable.

Not everything is positive in their personal lives. Every family has its challenges.

Bob looks into Cathy’s life. She was a method actor who was “serious about it, and wanted every kind of experience in life” to aid her. Experiences included exploring “some unusual sexual scenes”. Kenny encouraged her to be with other guys. There was “some kink”.

Bob thinks the case for the prosecution is weak. The primary issue is how Cathy received the Demerol that was in her system plus alcohol.

It was interesting to read the interviews of witnesses. It does not happen often in Canada. I have never interviewed the parents of a crime victim. It is a rare case where the victim’s family is not angry towards the accused.

To Bob’s frustration, Kenny doles out the truth of his sexual relationship with Cathy. Kenny ignores Bob’s exhortations to be honest with him. Trying to conceal information from your lawyer is so foolish.

Bob understands he needs an alternative to Kenny being the killer. If there is a trial Bob will have a difficult decision on whether Kenny should testify. A client who is careful with the truth is susceptible on cross-examination.

There are competing investigations by the police and Bob’s investigator but readers are not given much information on the police efforts beyond the initial disclosure.

The trial tries for drama but with modest success. The evidence of witnesses was abrupt. I had to grit my teeth over the dramatic licence that was taken.

Bob and Marcus are good men with genuine emotions. They are likeable characters. They remind me of a real life gay couple I know well who are a teacher and a lawyer and very likeable. Both the fictional and the real life couple survived the AIDS decimation of gay men in the 1980’s. 

I was reminded of Gail Bowen (a university professor) whose books feature Joanne Kilbourn (a university professor) who has had two husbands who are lawyers. She has a loving family with the difficulties of real life families. In most of her books she includes the lawyers of her life but limits their involvement.

It is a nice book that moves briskly. I would have preferred that it focused on university life.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Suspect by Scott Turow

(12. - 1195.) Suspect by Scott Turow - Pinky, Sandy Stern’s granddaughter, is back. She appeared in The Last Trial helping her grandfather, who was featured in over a generation of Turow’s books. Stern was a suave distinguished lawyer. Pinky is a raucous reckless young woman who was cast out from the police academy. She has tattoos spread around her body. While an unlikely figure to aid lawyers she has a vital aptitude for an investigator. In her words “I love to snoop and pry”.

Beyond the ink Pinky, now 33, has a striking presence with a “magenta Mohawk (and a blue undercut on one side)”. Much of the time she has a nail in her nose (it is Goth jewelry in that it breaks apart rather than going through her nose).

She spends hours on YouTube looking to “master” PIBOT:

It means the Private Investigator’s Bag of Tricks. That started with a concealed carry permit, training included in my private investigator’s course. Now I’m always reading about and practicing skills - surveillance techniques, disguises, clever ruses to get people to talk.

She is working for Rik (he has removed the “c” in an unsuccessful attempt to be cool) Dudek who is at the opposite end of the criminal defence spectrum from Sandy. He handles “bar fights and first-time DUIs and drunken stunts by teenagers”.

Now 52, Rik is hoping a new case “might help him finally step up”. Highland Isle Police Chief Gomez is “accused by three officers of demanding sex in exchange for promotions on the force - “sextortion”. A friend of Rik’s since childhood, Chief Lucia Gomez-Barrera has a big personality. She denies the accusations of her male accusers.

Pinky obsesses a bit on her adjoining apartment dweller. (Their combined apartments were once a single apartment.) She thinks of him as “the weird guy next door”. He is a “creature of unvarying habit”. Every night he gets takeout from a small Mexican restaurant. Lacking a name she dubs him “TWO”. Pinky does live in her own world.

The City of Highland Isle (HI) is on an island in Kindle County and was long controlled by the mob. Their presence lingers.

My reader’s heart stopped for a moment when I read that Sandy is now in assisted living. Her Pops gives her his Cadillac CTS when he goes to the facility.

Pinky is tasked with finding the evidence that can discredit the accusers. She looks up a past lover, Toyo (Toy) Eo, who has been an HIPD officer for 12 years seeking to make her a personal confidential informant. 

Pinky has no filter. Wanting to know what is in a trunk in his locker she breaks and enters but her pick breaks in the lock. She escapes the situation but has risked her future to satisfy her curiosity.

Two weeks before the Chief’s hearing they still have no evidence to shake the accusers. Somehow a local real estate tycoon, Ritz Vojczek, whom she fired from the police department early on as Chief, has something on the complainants.

At the first stage of the hearing Rik has the rare experience of evidence that allows him to destroy the credibility of an accuser on cross-examination. I did wonder if Turow was, not so subtly, showing how crucifying an alleged male victim of sexual harassment produces nary a complaint.

I realize it is a challenge to identify a character whose identity is unknown to Pinky but “TWO” felt so artificial.

TWO is identified as Koob and becomes an important character. 

I was never comfortable with the TWO / Koob subplot. While connected I found it more of a distraction.

It took 150 pages but the book took off when the hearing is turned upside down. Sudden death, possibly a murder complicates the sextortion proceedings.

While the key evidence is not found by accident the circumstances defy credibility.

The conclusion is classic thriller though the landscape is not littered with bodies. The ending has nothing to do with lawyers and legal proceedings.

The book is really about Pinky as an investigator for the lawyers. The lawyers play a secondary role. The court proceedings are well done as always with Turow. While Pinky is fascinating I prefer Turow's books that concentrate on law and lawyers.

I have found Turow’s books vary in quality. Suspect is not one of the best. It is a well told mystery but I know he can do better.


Turow, Scott – (2000) - Personal Injuries (Third best fiction of 2000); (2003) - Reversible Errors (Tied for the best fiction in 2003); (2007) - Ordinary Heroes; (2011) - Innocent; (2012) - One L (My Review) and One L (Michael Selnes review) and Thoughts on Reviews of One L by Myself and Michael; (2014) - Identical; (2018) - Testimony and Lawyers and Opportunities in International Criminal Courts; (2020) - The Last Trial - Opening and Mid-Trial and Closing

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

(8. - 1191.) In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward (2015) - Detective Inspector Francis Sadler (“rangy restlessness”) and Detective Sergeant Damian Palmer (“cropped hair and stocky build”) and Detective Constable Connie Childs (“diminutive” with “attitude”) are called to the death of an elderly woman, Yvonne Jenkins, at the Wilton Hotel in Bampton, Derbyshire. She is an apparent suicide from pills and vodka. Near the bed is a photograph album with newspaper clippings about her young daughter, Sophie, kidnapped 36 years earlier. The anniversary date of the kidnapping was the previous day.

The case had never been solved. Sophie was never found. Yvonne never moved from the tidy modest bungalow which she shared with Sophie until the kidnapping in 1978. It is a home frozen in time.

The case has haunted the local police. Superintendent Llewellyn travels to the hotel before Yvonne is moved. He looks at the album. Though decades have passed since he was a young officer involved in the investigation, he is moved by emotion. He instructs Sadler to re-open the case.

Sophie’s friend, Rachel Jones, still lives at Bampton. In 1978 they had gotten into the back of a car to get a lift to school from a lady. How or why Rachel was freed or escaped those decades earlier has been a mystery.

Rachel works as a family historian, a personal genealogist, creating family trees. She has searched out her family’s past listing only female ancestors. 

A journalist shows up at Rachel’s home and shouts through the slammed front door an offer of more money than Rachel made the previous year if Rachel will talk to her.

With little, if any, new evidence to be found the investigators decide to focus on a pair of “whys”. Why did Rachel survive and why did Yvonne kill herself now? My favourite questions in a crime fiction. 

Rachel is asked by Sadler if anything has come back to her over 36 years:

‘I told you no. Nothing. Can you imagine how that feels? I’ve lain awake night after night trying to remember, but nothing comes back.’ 

The police muse on whether the woman abductor was the perpetrator or an accomplice?

Gradually secrets, not thought important or considered private or concealed or felt irrelevant, emerge to reveal the past. 

A current death, a murder, complicates the investigation. How are the disappearance and recent two deaths connected? They cannot be coincidences.

Rachel must find out the truth of her past to understand the kidnapping. She is sent tumbling back in her memory to the kidnapping by touching and feeling an innocent item. 

Generations of women in Rachel’s family are crucial but how and why are devilishly difficult questions. With Mary, her mother, gone she must look to the uncertain recall of Nancy, her grandmother .

The police search, at the same time. from another perspective the life of the woman who was murdered.

It is striking how solitary or unsettled are the lives of the main characters. Sadler, Connie, Rachel, Yvonne and the last victim all live alone. Damian lives with his fiancee but is terrified about their impending marriage. There is not a significant character in a happy stable spousal relationship.

Ward is skilful at creating characters, whether they have small or great roles in the book. She creates people not just one or two dimensional characters.

The book started slowly with the pace increasing and tension building until it was a race within the plot between Rachel and the police to the solution.

In Bitter Chill is an excellent mystery with satisfying complexity. The reader is as challenged as the police.

Friday, February 9, 2024


I have been thinking about the meaning of life this week. Sharon’s niece, Alanna, died last week. On Saturday we attended a celebration of her life.

After a difficult pregnancy Alanna had profound challenges from birth. She could not see. She could barely walk. Her brain was a fraction of the size of an average brain. A doctor thought she would not survive longer than a month. She lived 33 years.

For her last 18 years she lived full time in the Sunshine home in Osler where she truly lived in a home not a house. The Sunshine home is a bright spacious inviting place. 

Her memorial card powerfully sets out her life:

For those who knew Alanna, she will be forever remembered for her captivating smile that invited others to be near her.  Music has always been an important part throughout her life. She listened to oceans waves, drumbeats, Lady Gaga and acoustic guitar that caregivers played for her.  Her favorite was caregivers singing softly in her ear, “You Are My Sunshine”, and “Jesus Loves Me”. She often joined by clapping or play her bells.

Alanna loved sunshine and coffee. Being able to sit on the deck on the warm, sunny days with her coffee brought her great joy. She enjoyed the solitude and peacefulness. She also enjoyed her warm, cozy room and long sleeps. 

Alanna loved her family and friends. Her best friends being Elena, Jesse and Josh. All the people at her home, past and present, made sure she had the best of everything and had special bonds with each of them. She has hosted many celebrations, events and visits for all her Sunshine friends. Alanna’s favorite was talking to her family and friends on the phone and listening to the voices on the other end.  Alanna loved having her hair combed and braided by dad and staff. She enjoyed meeting up with her mom and having a coffee together. 

Alanna was born November 9, 1990 at Yorkton Union Hospital to Bob and Vi Hartl. Alanna had 2 sisters Rebecca and Raylene. In her younger years she lived in Esterhazy where she attended school at P.J. Gillen Elementary School. In 1998 she moved to Warman with her family and attended Venture Heights School in Martensville. That year she also started transitioning to Sunshine Housing Inc. In 2006 Alanna moved permanently into her forever home where she resided until she passed away. 

Her Dad texted me about the importance of donating to care homes such as Sunshine Housing Inc.

Sharon and I did not have a role in her life. We admired and are humbled by the dedication and love given to her by her parents, her sisters and all the other caregivers for those 33 years.

In our present world I fear that Alana would not have been thought to have a meaningful life. I fear that a meaningful life currently requires good health, a full time job and not being dependent. I fear we do not respect and do not see dignity in the life of all.

Over 50 years ago in 2nd year university one of my classes was the Philosophy of Religion taught by Father Martin Biztyo. In that class I learned of Viktor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist and philosopher who thought deeply about life.

I subsequently read and reviewed in my blog his book, Man’s Search for Meaning

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”.

A couple of years ago I read Louise Penny’s work of fiction The Madness of Crowds, a book in her long running series featuring Inspector Armand Gamache. I wrote several posts about the book.

In one of those posts I set out the philosophy of a statistician, Abigail Robinson, who was one of the primary characters: 

She has analyzed massive amounts of information on societies, trends and the Covid pandemic. She has taken a phrase of hope for recovery from the pandemic, All will be well, and twisted it into a phrase supporting her thesis that for the world to recover from the pandemic and thrive there needs to be “mercy” killings, especially of the aged, and abortions of the deformed unborn. Those who burden society are to be removed.

In another post I said:

Robinson does not value individuals. It is society - “people” as a group - which is valued by her. The greater good requires sacrifices.

By contrast, Gamache sees “people” as individuals. He sees persons not categories of worthy and unworthy members of society. 

Gamache has a beloved granddaughter, Idola, who has Down Syndrome.

I appreciate there are prospective parents who face difficult decisions on whether to continue pregnancies. I respect their individual choices. I abhor those who would create government programs that would condemn the aged and the unborn they consider unworthy.

Recently I read another work of crime fiction, The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick, in which a paraplegic young woman, Jenny, with terminal cancer dies. The book explores whether she died a natural death or someone assisted her to die or someone caused her to die.

In the book Jenny, a dancer until a devastating fall, initially thinks after becoming a paraplegic that her life has no value. She re-considers and passionately explains why she wants to live:

‘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.’

The song, This is Me, from the movie, The Greatest Showman, emphasizes the meaningfulness of every life. A link to a magnificent performance is below.

Alanna’s Dad sent me some thoughts after reading this post:

One thing that I have pondered.  Alanna lived 33 years, 2 months and 18 days.  Not once did she commit an act of greed or malice or hatred to another being or animal.  She liked some more than others but she could not be mean or jealous.  Not many humans I have met in my life can measure up to her character.  A human being incapable of being "bad". If there ever was an angelic human, it would be her.

As a practising Catholic and as a lawyer who has dealt with the challenges of people for almost 49 years I see all life as meaningful. Your life was meaningful Alanna. Rest in peace. 


The initial singing of This is Me by Keala Settle for the cast of the movie is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLFEvHWD_NE

Friday, February 2, 2024

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson

Working on, I should say reading several books, but have not finished any recently. Thus I am putting up a post of an early Walt Longmire book that I wrote in 2008. It was a good story with depth to the mystery. There was a precursor in Death Without Company of the more recent Longmire books when body counts have become extreme.


2. - 412.) Death Without Company by Craig Johnson – The title comes from a Basque proverb – “A life without friends means ....”. Former sheriff, Lucian Connally, shakes Walt Longmire to his core when he claims fellow resident of the assisted living home, Mari Barojas, was murdered and follows up that she was his wife. It turns out they had briefly married before her father and brothers forcefully broke up the union. Her granddaughter, Lana Barojas, has opened a bakery in Durant. While skeptical Walt finds a way to order an autopsy. To his surprise she was poisoned. About the same time an effort is made to kill Dr. Issac Bloomfield by damaging his brake lines. Suddenly others are attacked. Motivation becomes clear when Walt learns of the millions in revenue coming from methane gas extraction on the Barojas property. A new deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, helps with translating the Basque language of the Barojas clan. It turns out the solution goes back 5 decades to the man Mari was married to after Lucian. Henry Standing Bear is a stalwart friend. The action flows swiftly. It is a vivid story that utilizes Wyoming geography and weather. Fierce winter Christmas storms are woven into the story. Walt is very believable. The solution could be determined by the bodies left standing. Excellent. Hardcover. (Jan. 7/08)


Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish(Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; (2016) - Musings on the 5th Season of Longmire; (2017) - Dry Bones and Is the Largest T-Rex in Saskatchewan?; (2018) - An Obvious Fact; (2019) - The Western Star; (2021) - Depth of Winter