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.

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.


  1. I am so glad you liked this one, Bill! Sarah is an extremely skilled writer, and at least for me, has the ability to draw me into the story. I liked the characters, the mystery, and the setting in this one, and it was her debut. I'm glad that she's had some success and is continuing her writing career. She is talented.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I had thought for years I should read Sarah's books. They are not easy to find in Canadian bookstores but I recognize that is a poor excuse. I do intend to read more of her books.