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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Defector by Chris Hadfield

(21. - 1204.) The Defector by Chris Hadfield - It is the day before Yom Kippur in 1973. Russian Air Force pilot, Alexander Vasilyevich Abramovich whose call signal is “Grief”, flies a Mig-25 “Foxbat” on a reconaissance mission along the coast of Israel. The Israelis fire a Stinger missile at him. They have never hit a Russian plane flying at 72,000 feet with a Stinger. Unexpectedly, the Foxbat starts rapidly losing altitude but there has been no explosion observed. Suddenly Grief starts flying the plane towards the Lod airport at Tel Aviv. Israeli fighter jets hold their fire carefully observing the plane. It is soon clear Grief intends to land the jet. A civilian jumbo plane veers away. Grief lands the Foxbat and quickly enters an open hangar. 

Grief has defected so cleverly the Russian military does not even know his plane was not destroyed. The Israelis instantly create a fake crash site at sea including some small burned pieces of the Foxbat.

Grief has brought to Israel a priceless fighter jet and his vast personal knowledge of Russian aircraft and air force plans.

Grief advises the Israelis he wants to go to the U.S. Beyond the immensely valuable assets of his jet and himself he knows Israel is about to need major American assistance.

Zac Zemeckis, NASA flight controller and former fighter pilot and test pilot, is in Israel on holidays with his girlfriend, Laura Woodsworth when Grief defects. He is swiftly drawn into the analysis of the plane and pilot at one of the CIA’s most secret bases in America.

Zac, lost an eye because of a bird hit some years earlier and has been grounded from flying military aircraft. With the aid of a sympathetic general and recognition that there is a history of one-eyed pilots of fighter jets he is cleared to fly again.

Laura, a lunar geologist, dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lacks the training to pilot but she could be a spacewalker conducting experiments.

The war, to begin at sunset on Yom Kippur according to a spy, starts earlier in the day.

The Americans put the MiG 25 in a giant C-5 supply plane and take it to Area 51 in the desert near Las Vegas where it is taken apart and then re-assembled.

In the U.S.S.R. Svetlana Gromova, the first female cosmonaut, is tapped to be a member of a three cosmonaut team to link up with an Apollo spacecraft. She is famous for walking on the moon! 

Irina Moldova, a Soviet nuclear physicist, is working on a nuclear engine to power spaceships. Success would be a leap forward in space travel. It would be “light and efficient”. Yet problems abound. 

American pilots are excited to fly the MiG-25. Flying at Mach 3 it can go higher than any other fighter jet reaching 120,000 feet. Grief provides invaluable information on how to fly the plane.

There are underlying currents. As always in espionage secrets and deceptions abound. Who can be trusted?

Intrigues proceed at several levels.

This is a book which deserves a Hollywood ending with fighter jets and stalwart men and a few capable women. I appreciated that the body count was not as high as I expected. I expect real Hollywood will make a movie of the book and add more bodies to make it more thrilling and I doubt I will attend.

Hadfield is an excellent writer. He drives the narrative. His characters are plausible. Hehas a deft mix of information and human interaction. I have no background to understand the technical details of war. Hadfield was convincing in his descriptions. I was reminded of the early Tom Clancy novels. Reading his bio on the inside back cover is humbling. He has already had a remarkable life.

Friday, April 26, 2024

2024 Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence Shortlists

Last night the Crime Writers of Canada announced the shortlists for the 2024 Awards of Excellence. The lists are below. In addition, it was announced that Maureen Jennings will receive the Grand Master Award.

I have reviewed three of the shortlisted books.

Sunset and Jericho by Sam Wiebe is the 4th Dave Wakeland mystery is on the shortlist for Best Crime Novel. It is an excellent book. An unusual aspect is an extremist group whose name Death of Kings was drawn from Shakespeare.

From the list for Best Crime Novel I also read Middlemen by Scott Thornley. It is another strong mystery. The detectives are clever and the villains are not stereotypes. The bad guys are well spoken, even thoughtful, wicked men.

On the shortlist for Best Traditional Mystery is Legacy by Gail Bowen. It is a good book dealing with questions of literary plagiarism. I will remember Legacy best for the moving scenes of Joanne and Zack Shreeve losing one of their dogs and getting a new dog. As Gail is one of my favourite authors I hope Legacy is the winner.

Congratulations to all the writers on the shortlists. I think we are in a new Golden Age of Canadian crime fiction.



The Peter Robinson Award for Best Crime Novel sponsored by Rakuten Kobo, with a $1000 prize

Robyn Harding, The Drowning Woman, Grand Central Publishing
Shari Lapena, Everyone Here is Lying, Doubleday Canada
Scott Thornley, Middlemen, House of Anansi Press
Sam Wiebe, Sunset and Jericho, Harbour Publishing
Loreth Anne White, The Maid's Diary, Montlake

Best Crime First Novel, sponsored by Melodie Campbell, with a $1000 prize

Jann Arden, The Bittlemores, Random House Canada
Lisa Brideau, Adrift, Sourcebooks
Charlotte Morganti, The End Game, Halfdan Press
Amanda Peters, The Berry Pickers, Harper Perennial
Steve Urszenyi, Perfect Shot, Minotaur

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada, sponsored by Charlotte Engel and Crime Writers of Canada, with a $500 prize

Gail Anderson-Dargatz, The Almost Widow, Harper Avenue/HarperCollins
Renee Lehnen, Elmington, Storeyline Press
Cyndi MacMillan, Cruel Light, Crooked Lane
Joan Thomas, Wild Hope, Harper Perennial/HarperCollins
Melissa Yi, Shapes of Wrath, Windtree Press

The Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery sponsored by Jane Doe, with a $500 prize

Gail Bowen, The Legacy, ECW Press
Vicki Delany, Steeped in Malice, Kensington Books
Vicki Delany, The Game is a Footnote, Crooked Lane Books
Nita Prose, The Mystery Guest, Viking
Iona Whishaw, To Track a Traitor, TouchWood Editions

Best Crime Short Story

M.H. Callway, Wisteria Cottage, Wildside Press (for Malice Domestic)
Marcelle Dubé, Reversion, Mystery Magazine
Mary Keenan The Canadians (Killin' Time in San Diego), Down & Out Books
donalee Moulton, Troubled Water, Black Cat Weekly (Wildside Press)
Zandra Renwick, American Night, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

The Best French Language Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Jean-Philippe Bernié, La punition, Glénat Québec
Chrystine Brouillet, Le mois des morts, Éditions Druide
Catherine Lafrance, Le dernier souffle est le plus lourd, Éditions Druide
André Marois, La sainte paix, Héliotrope
Jean-Jacques Pelletier, Rien, Alire

Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book, sponsored by Shaftesbury Films with a $500 prize (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Kelley Armstrong, Someone is Always Watching, Tundra Books
Cherie Dimaline, Funeral Songs for Dying Girls, Tundra Books
Rachelle Delaney, The Big Sting, Tundra Books
Clara Kumagai, Catfish Rolling, Penguin Teen Canada
Kevin Sands, Champions of the Fox, Puffin Canada

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book sponsored by David Reid Simpson Law Firm (Hamilton), with a $300 prize

Josef Lewkowicz and Michael Calvin, The Survivor: How I Survived Six Concentration Camps and Became a Nazi Hunter, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Michael Lista, The Human Scale, Véhicule Press
David Rabinovitch, Jukebox Empire, Rowman & Littlefield
Bill Waiser and Jennie Hansen, Cheated, ECW Press
Carolyn Whitzman, Clara at the Door with a Revolver, UBC Press, On Point Press

Best Unpublished Crime Novel manuscript written by an unpublished author

Tom Blackwell, The Patient
Craig H. Bowlsby, Requiem for a Lotus
Sheilla Jones and James Burns, Murder on Richmond Road: An Enquiry Bureau Mystery
Nora Sellers, The Forest Beyond
William Wodhams, Thirty Feet Under

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