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.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

August Into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe

(17. - 1200.) August Into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe - Connaught, Saskatchewan, is a peaceful small town near the Qu’Appelle Valley. The late summer heat of August of 1939 is heavy upon the town. Ernie Sickert is a 21 year old communi
ty eccentric. Usually wearing a bowtie, he runs everywhere and is famed for being the talented saxophonist for the Rhythm Alligators dance band. Few know that he is vindictive and has tortured family pets.

RCMP Constable Alfred Hotchkiss is frustrated by a series of minor break-ins and thefts over the summer. Ernie is his only suspect. He decides to interrogate Ernie and examine the shed in the backyard of the Sickert home. Hotchkiss prides himself on his aggressive policing techniques. He calls the meaty palm of his hand his search warrant saying it is signed by Judge Donotfuckwithme before slapping Ernest.

Locking the shed to give privacy for his search and questioning proves fatal for Hotchkiss. Ernie attacks and kills Hotchkiss, splitting his skull with a hammer and chisel. 

Ernie leaves town that afternoon in his father’s 1929 Oldsmobile Landau with his young girlfriend, Loretta, who is to be presented as his sister until they can procure some fake ID. The 12 year old Loretta is his soulmate. He proposes to her, promising to marry her when she turns 14. 

They set out to explore the world starting with Winnipeg or Minneapolis.

Oliver “Jumper” Dill had a hard war. In the 1920’s he prospered on the farm with Judy. She softened him. The Depression and drought and Judy’s slow death sent him spiralling down.

His older brother Jack has always been a bit different. He is a fervent Anglican. Having denounced WW I, he abruptly joins the Army to help end the war. He is a demon on night raids. After the war he lives in a room at the Connaught hotel where he studies and reflects on Christianity and works upon an opus setting out his vision of the Celestial City.

Vidalia Taggart, a 32 year old teacher, banished from the Winnipeg public school system for her affair with a married man, Dov Schechter, has come to the one room country school, Clay Top, near Connaught. She is desperate for a job and the school trustees are desperate for a teacher.

After bitter quarrels, Dov had left Canada in 1937 to join the Mackenzie-Papineau brigade to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. 

He died and Vidalia has received the accounting ledger in which he journaled his experiences in Spain. In its opening he is overjoyed with his welcome in Spain after trekking over the Pyrenees.

Ernie’s relentless running had been part of his commando training regime so he could be ready for the coming war.

His getaway is foiled by a huge thunderstorm. They slide off the road descending into the Qu’Appelle Valley.

During the pursuit of Ernie and Loretta, Jack and Oliver return to their WW I experiences as front line soldiers. With officer Cooper they send a barrage of “plunging fire”, co-ordinated shots designed to arc into the area Ernie is shooting from at them about 1,400 yards away. They miss.

Oliver, after the RCMP spends days floundering around searching for Ernie, leads them to Ernie’s hideout, a tornado shelter. Through plain language and credible threats Oliver captures Ernie.

In the meantime, after Loretta burns down the schoolhouse and teacherage, Miss Vidalia moves into Oliver’s farm home. She hates being beholden to him. Wrestling with tortured emotions from the War and Judy’s death Oliver finds himself glad to have a woman in his house.

Vidalia reads Dov’s journal in small chunks for when she is done she will have nothing further from him.

The relationship between Miss Vidalia and Oliver is compelling. Two lonely people whose lives have been hard. Each is a good person. Each has suffered great loss. Each is seeking the meaning of life. Miss Vidalia is a fierce humanist. Dill does his best to be a realist. Each struggles to make friends. Love is even more difficult.

August Into Winter is rich in characters, language, emotions and setting. Vanderhaeghe has been a gifted writer for decades. I wish I had read him sooner. We were at the University of Saskatchewan at the same time in the 1970’s but I never met him. The book, with unflinching clarity, outlines the challenges of life in rural Saskatchewan as the Depression winds down and WW II is about to erupt. Vanderhaeghe drew me deeply into life at Connaught. August Into Winter is a great book.


  1. This does sound like an excellent book, Bill. The characters sound very well developed, and I like the way the setting seems to be explored, too. I know what you mean about 'authors I wish I'd read sooner.' I have a list of them myself. This is a book I think I want to put on my wish list.

    1. Characters great and small are all developed. I think you would enjoy the book.