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, May 29, 2024

The 2024 Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence Winners

At midnight Ontario time today the Crime Writers of Canada announced the Awards of Excellence.

Of the winners I have only read the non-fiction winner, The Human Scale by Michael Lista. 

Congratulations to all the winners.



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

Loreth Anne White, The Maid's Diary, Montlake

Loreth Anne White is an accomplished writer and The Maid’s Diary deserves this year’s Award of Excellence for a deceptively simple story that is, in the end, anything but simple. It is a dark, fast-moving, unsettling thriller that builds suspense as it hurtles towards its unexpected ending.

The twists are all anchored in the story and even the outlandishly nasty characters are believable. There are multiple perspectives, with each character adding to the others’ narratives, often contradicting what has already been told.

Nothing is as it appears except for Vancouver – the finely honed setting of The Maid’s Diary. White shows her deep knowledge of police procedures with intriguing crime scene details.

A unanimous choice of the judges, The Maid’s Diary is beautifully written, gritty and guaranteed to keep the reader turning the pages late into the night.

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

Amanda Peters, The Berry Pickers, Harper Perennial / HarperCollins

The Berry Pickers is a beautifully written, immersive book with a unique, propulsive structure. Its enduring resonance inspired us to think deeply about the issue of kidnapping and family separation. The three-dimensional characters are well-drawn, revealing flaws that inspire empathy, strong family bonds, and the search for the truth that ties this story together in a deeply satisfying way. And, the novel's sense of place and time added nuanced depth to the page. The Berry Pickers is a deeply poignant read that we'd recommend to anyone. It's a wonderful achievement in crime fiction, marking the marvellous debut of an exciting Canadian writer. Bravo!

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

Joan Thomas, Wild Hope, Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Wild Hope is a captivating contemporary crime novel set against the backdrop of a bucolic small town increasingly dependent on urban visitors. Joan Thomas skillfully weaves a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption, exploring the complexities of personal commitment amidst environmental concerns.

At the heart of the story are Jake Challis, a troubled artist grappling with the ghosts of his past, and Isla Coltrane, a talented chef navigating the challenges of running a farm-to-table restaurant. Their relationship is tested when Jake's childhood friend, Reg Bevaqua, a wealthy businessman with a dubious environmental record, reemerges in their lives.

As the narrative unfolds, Thomas delves into the intricacies of friendship, love, and moral responsibility. Through richly drawn characters and evocative prose, she explores the tensions between economic progress and environmental conservation, leaving readers questioning the true cost of success.

The brilliance of the narrative means that even though the reader understands what the outcome must be, both Isla and the reader maintain a 'Wild Hope' that all will end well.

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

Nita Prose, The Mystery Guest, Viking

The judges for the Whodunit Award for Best Traditional Mystery had fun reading the many worthwhile entries submitted, but all three judges were unanimous in selecting The Mystery Guest among their top picks. The protagonist is a clever departure from the usual sleuth. The description of Molly’s neurodivergence is excellent and insightful, and we are carried along with her as she faces her dilemmas and demons. Molly is someone you want to root for. Almost everything about this book is perfect - language, characters, and descriptions of the setting. As Molly tries to solve the mystery of a famous novelist’s murder, the author builds the puzzle with inventive skill. Just when we are sure we have the answer, the plot turns another corner and we’re off again. Along with Molly, we learn that nothing is as it seems at first glance. The judges described The Mystery Guest as “delightful” and “hands down my favourite.”

Best Crime Short Story

Marcelle Dubé, Reversion, Mystery Magazine

Crisp dialogue and a rough prairie setting nicely complement the well-executed plot in this little gem. The crime is high stakes, and the narrative evokes tension to the very (neat) end. Dubé is especially deft with character development (no mean feat within the confines of a short story): the complex psychological backstory of protagonist Luke adds depth to themes about unreconciled pasts, the regenerative power of love, and our complicated relationships with those we think we know best.

The Best French Language Crime Book (Fiction and Nonfiction)

André Marois, La sainte paix, Héliotrope

Set in rural Québec, La sainte paix asks the question – How far will an elderly woman go to maintain her peaceful existence on the Mastigouche river? We, the readers, are drawn into Jacqueline’s machinations as she goes to great lengths to protect her “holy peace” from the possibility of bothersome intruders. The main character is drawn with humour and a certain vulnerable tenderness, despite her moral failings. We understand what drives her and, while we sympathise with the well-meaning officers trying to get to the bottom of her crimes, by the end, we too are in cahoots with Jacqueline! La sainte paix is a real page-turner. The novel is well-structured; the dialogue is effective throughout, and the story has flow and a purposeful drive. This is focused storytelling at its best.

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

Cherie Dimaline, Funeral Songs for Dying Girls, Tundra Books

In Funeral Songs For Dying Girls, Cherie Dimaline has crafted a complex novel peopled with characters who live and breathe on the page. Indigenous/white teen Winifred is a loner, dubbed Wednesday Addams and ostracized by her classmates because she lives above the small-town cemetery where her mother is buried, and the crematorium where her father works. After she unwittingly gives rise to rumours that the graveyard is haunted because of her habit of wandering the grounds at all hours, and after she befriends Phil, an actual ghost girl, Win realizes that she can play this to her father’s benefit. He is in danger of losing his job to outsourcing but the ghost tours might be enough to save them. Dimaline’s prose and language are exquisite, beautiful and yet somehow gritty, and the judges found Win’s voice to be authentic and true. This raw look at grief, self-evolution, and big life change fully embraces all the contradictions, the formative moments—those both poignant and humiliating--that make up the young adult experience, and these were all present in Dimaline’s skillful portrayal of her main character. A meticulously-crafted page-turner that includes themes of indigeneity, sexuality, first love, and identity, this novel is a bittersweet coming of age story with a paranormal twist.

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

Michael Lista, The Human Scale, Véhicule Press

Hard to put down, Michael Lista’s The Human Scale is an intriguing compilation of ten crime reports of “murder, mischief and other selected mayhems”, each with the author’s own postscript which describes the development of the narrative as well as the ramifications of publication. The collection emphasises the author’s prowess in journalistic research resulting in engaging and believable stories.

Lista’s satisfaction in unveiling the truth is clear in his concise attention to detail which not only puts the reader at the scene of the crime, but elicits emotions of surprise, empathy, and horror. Further, his examination of how he became a true crime writer and his thoughts on writing about real life crimes were fascinating. A unanimous decision to win Crime Writers Canada Award of Excellence in the non-fiction category, this compelling collection of short stories is a must read for all true crime fans.

Best Unpublished Crime Novel manuscript written by an unpublished author

Craig H. Bowlsby, Requiem for a Lotus

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

(25. - 1208.) The Golden Gate by Amy Chua - In 1930, 8 year old Iris Stafford, a granddaughter in the prominent Bainbridge family, dies  at the elegant Claremont “White Palace” Hotel in Berkeley, California. She is found at the bottom of a laundry chute. 

In 1944 Detective Al Sullivan of the Berkeley Police Department is called to the hotel where presidential candidate, Walter Wilkinson, is murdered twice. The first time he is shot at, the bullet misses. Moved from his room for protection he recklessly returns to his original room and is shot in the head from two feet away and his mouth is stuffed with various objects including a jade cube.

Because of Wilkinson’s status it is the biggest murder case in the Bay area.

Back in 1930 Isabelle “Issy” Stafford, the 6 year old sister of Iris, is deeply traumatized by her sister’s death. She has conversations with Iris. She slips away from reality. Her mother, Sadie, drinks constantly and has mental health problems. Her architect father, Roger, withdraws into himself. No one is left to parent Issy.

In 1940 Wilkinson had turned from being a progressive Democrat to being a flamboyant Republican. Unwisely toning down his campaign he loses the presidential election to Franklin Roosevelt.

Moving to 1944 Miriam is the daughter of Sullivan’s half-sister. The precocious 11 year old niece works part-time to support herself and her wayward mother. She calls him Al. She has aspirations to “be way better than my current self”.

Iris is known as the Claremont’s “ghost child”.

Isabelle has two cousins, Nicole and Cassie Bainbridge. The trio form the surviving granddaughters of the redoubtable Genevieve Bainbridge. As the family matriarch she dominates the Bainbridge family. Reputation is all important.

She is unhappy with Detective Sullivan investigating her granddaughters and prying into family history.

Sullivan refuses to back down and methodically follows up information.

The plot involves Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (Mei-Ling Soon) who spent the second half of WW II in the Berkeley Hills.

Isabella is working part-time as a reporter.

American politics and international intrigues add further complexity.

Following up on a report of a monk going to the hotel on the night of the murder Sullivan goes to the Benedictine Abbey near the hotel. Sullivan is left ill at ease as Brother Gratian, the abbey beekeeper who delivers honey to the Claremont, has taken a vow of silence. He refuses to answer or physically respond to Sullivan’s questions. Sullivan is unaccustomed to losing the initiative. 

Interspersed in the book are excerpts from a deposition and a statement given by Mrs. Bainbridge as she seeks to protect her granddaughters. I did not like the excerpts. They were a distraction from the brilliant investigation of Sullivan. 

Isabella, as a child, had states when “she’d suddenly take on her sister’s voice and mannerisms”. As a teenager she has vivid dreams of Iris calling out to her to find Iris’s necklace.

Mrs. Bainbridge sets out the curse of beauty in her sisters and her daughter Sadie and her granddaughters. It is a curse many would envy.

Isabella is a heartbreaker enticing men to love her and then discarding them.

The investigation takes Sullivan into Chinatown. The Chinatown Squad of the SFPD “arranges” an interview for Sullivan with Eddie Gong, “the head boss of the Hip Sing Tong”.

District Attorney Diarmuid Doogan, an aggressive resentful middle class Catholic, aggressively pursues an indictment seeking the fame that will accrue to the man who solves the Wilkinson murder. Doogan is the worst sort of prosecutor. He forms an opinion on guilt and seeks facts to prove his opinion. Tunnel vision is evil.

Sullivan refuses to accept a convenient murderer.

In a raucous hearing on a Saturday Doogan is left frustrated.

Sullivan patiently eliminates suspects closing in on the killer.

Chua has created plausible complex characters from the wealthy and powerful of California. The Depression had no effect on how they lived their lives and World War II made them richer. At the same time she demonstrates the vast chasm between their lives and the way of life for the working folk of Berkeley which was even greater for Black and Asian people. 

There was a touch of too much history though I recognize all the real life historic characters needed some explanation.

Chua is skilled in creating multiple credible suspects. Few writers of crime fiction can develop multiple believable scenarios for a murder.

Chua brilliantly weaves all the strands and twists of the plot together.

The Golden Gate is an impressive crime fiction debut. It is a book ready to be filmed. Hollywood loves the rich and the famous and the beautiful caught up in murder.


Here is a link to my post on Detective Al Sullivan

Monday, May 20, 2024

What Would You Do If a Suffering Loved One Asked You to Kill Him/Her?

In Denial by Beverley McLachlin the subject of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) is an important issue. The murder victim, Olivia Stanton, was suffering from cancer. She repeatedly expressed the desire to have her life ended.

Under Canadian law at the time the book is set she cannot have MAID because, though her cancer is incurable, death is not imminent.

Vera’s best friend, Elsie Baxter, is an active member of Dying with Dignity, a group that promoted a change in the law to allow Canadians such as Vera to access MAID. 

McLachlin, in her former position as a Canadian Supreme Court judge, has long favoured medical assistance in dying.

In Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) in 1993 the Supreme Court split 5 to 4 against allowing medical assistance in dying. McLachlan wrote an opinion in dissent in favour of medical assistance in dying.

In 2015 in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) the Supreme Court revisited the issue and decided in favour of medical assistance in dying. With McLachlin, as Chief Justice, the Court issued a unanimous decision.

Subsequently, Parliament created the MAID statue which was in place when McLachlin wrote Denial.

The law was changed in 2022 after Denial was written to provide that it is no longer a requirement that death be “reasonably forseeable”. At the same time the law denied MAID if the sole medical condition was mental illness. The law is to change in 2027 to allow application for MAID if the sole medical condition is mental illness.

Incrementally, the eligibility for MAID has steadily increased. 

The next issue will be whether a person can have an advanced health care directive directing death in such situations as dementia.

I acknowledge a reluctance with MAID. As a Catholic and a lawyer who has dealt with many people in difficult situations I consider all lives meaningful, as I stated in a recent post on my niece, Alanna, who was profoundly disabled from birth to her death at 34. 

There are procedures in place in MAID to safeguard applicants from hasty decisions but I will never be comfortable with assisted death.

People can change their minds. In Discourtesy of Death by William Broderick, Jenny Henderson, paralyzed in a fall and suffering from terminal bowel cancer, changes her mind about wanting death. She tells Father Anselm in a powerful passage:

‘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.’

MAID is irreversible.

I have never been in the situation of representing someone seeking death.

McLachlin has personally been in that situation. In the late 1980’s her first husband, Rory, was dying. 

The Globe & Mail, in reporting on McLachlin’s memoir, Truth Be Told, said:

Years before Beverley McLachlin urged the Supreme Court of Canada to legalize medically assisted dying, her husband, dying of cancer, asked her to end his life with a massive dose of morphine.

In a CBC interview on the memoir she said:

And at one point he told me that he wanted to take
his life, but he wanted me to help him. And I had
been unable to do that.

(Interviewer) He asked you to inject him with morphine.

Well, not an injection, but yeah. And I just - whether lack of courage or whatever - I could not bring myself to do it.

In Denial Olivia is killed by an injection of morphine.

Vera, as with McLachlin, said she could not kill her mother. In her evidence at trial Vera said:

“Did your mother ever ask you to help her die?

“Yes, several times.”

“What was your response?”

“I told her I couldn’t do it.”

“Why did you feel you couldn’t do it Mrs. Quentin? Was it the fact it would be illegal?”

“No, I didn’t think about whether it was illegal or even immoral, as it is in the view of some. All I knew was that I could not do it. I knew in my heart that if I gave her the morphine, I would be calling 911 within minutes to have it pumped out. Every person has their limits. There are some things they just can’t do. I knew myself, knew what I could not do. It wasn’t rational; it was visceral.” Her eyes slid to the jury box, willing them to believe her. “Killing my mother, killing anyone, is something I know I could never do.”

I believe McLachlin was talking about herself and Rory in that excerpt providing the explanation she was not able to articulate in the CBC interview. 

Who knows what we will do in a terrible situation? In Saskatchewan, Robert Latimer killed his 12 year old daughter, Tracey, on October 24, 1993. She was grievously suffering from cerebral palsy. He asserted it was a mercy killing. A jury convicted him of second degree murder. It was a hard case. I think he should have been found guilty of manslaughter which would have enabled a shorter sentence than the 10 year minimum for second degree murder. Advocates for the disabled argued he should be convicted for murder as all life is meaningful.

In Denial Vera was charged with second degree murder and declined a plea bargain to manslaughter with a sentence of 2 years which would have meant her release in about a year.

In Denial McLachlin has a powerful thought on the moment of death that is reflected in the real life judgments she wrote:

Olivia never knew  that death awaited her, never, as she drifted off to sleep, that she would not wake again. But that unawareness brings its own cruelty. To die is part of life, the last great act, and Olivia was denied the right to live that act with dignity, as she would have wished.

Deciding life and death is a perilous process. Unfortunately, I believe we have become a society that does not value all life as meaningful.


McLachlin, Beverley - (2018) - Full Disclosure and Full Disclosure Within Full Disclosure; (2024) - Denial and The Law in Denial


Friday, May 17, 2024

The Law in Denial by Beverley McLachlin

Be warned. In this post I discuss aspects of Beverley McLachlan’s legal mysteries, Full Disclosure and Denial that are spoilers in the sense that more information is provided than some potential readers of the books may want to have before reading them.

After reading McLachlan’s first legal mystery, Full Disclosure, I wrote a review and then a post about the meaning of full disclosure in the contexts of information from clients and the duty of the Crown in Canadian criminal prosecutions to fully disclose the Crown case to the defence. In particular, I focused on a peculiar trial ruling in the book. The judge found that the Crown had disclosed a statement of the accused to the defence through a comment of the Crown prosecutor’s wife to defence counsel at a party.

I said the trial judge was wrong and was surprised that the former Chief Justice of Canada, with extensive experience dealing with the principle of disclosure in criminal law, had her judge make such a bad decision.

When I read Denial I was surprised again because the conviction of Vincent Trusssardi in Full Disclosure had been successfully appealed by defence counsel, Jilly Truitt, on the ground that the statement had been wrongfully admitted because there had not been proper disclosure.

McLachlin had lured me in Full Disclosure into thinking she had made an inexplicable error in law when she was actually setting up an appeal to be revealed in the next book.

I am not sure how many readers beyond myself were aggrieved by the wrongful admission of evidence at trial but I am grateful McLachlin knew the decision was a major error at law.

In Denial there was also a significant error. A lawyer, when questioning a witness the lawyer has called cannot put leading questions on anything significant to the witness. Leading questions are for cross-examination.

In Denial a lawyer “suggested” to a witness he had called that a certain sum of money was being bequeathed to Dying with Dignity. It was an important issue. The answer was given before opposing counsel could complete an objection. In real life the trial judge would have been very upset with the questioning counsel. There was potential for a mistrial and certainly a ground of appeal.

I accept the leading question was undoubtedly more dramatic than properly asking the witness what was said about bequests.

There was a dramatic issue of admissibility of evidence concerning a witness that is important to the resolution for which I provide further warning.

I will skirt around the details but it was a Perry Mason moment in which a witness stands up in court to state the witness is retracting their evidence and confessing. In 49 years of practice I have never seen such a moment.

I was prompted to see what I could find in Canadian law. I found a case in which McLachlin discussed when the Crown could call evidence during or after the defence has presented evidence.

In R. v. G. (S.G.) in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada was dealing with a case in which the accused, the mother of other defendants, was alleged to have incited three adolescents to kill another adolescent boy because he “ratted” to the police about either the illegal activities of herself or the other boys. There was no corroboration for the evidence of one of the killers who said she did incite them. The accused went on the witness stand to deny any incitement. After her evidence was given, a young woman who had given a statement that she was in the basement came forward and implicated the accused. She was allowed to testify and the accused was convicted.

For good reason the Crown is not to be allowed to call evidence during or after the defence case. It is fundamental to justice that the Crown cannot split its case. As inevitable in law there is an exception. At common law there was a colourful evocative latin phrase on when the Crown could produce such evidence. The situation would have to be ex improviso - “if some matter arose which no human ingenuity could have foreseen”.

The majority at the Supreme Court ruled the evidence should not have been admitted. I agree. McLachlin disagreed. She said the trial judge was correct to have admitted the evidence.

I believe there will be at least another Truitt book. While I know the trial judge was wrong in how she admitted the late evidence in Denial I do not expect an appeal. Unlike Full Disclosure, what happened after the trial ended in Denial would preclude an appeal. Still, with all the twists McLachlin tossed into Denial, I would not be surprised if there is an unexpected consequence in the next Truitt book related to Denial.


McLachlin, Beverley - (2018) - Full Disclosure and Full Disclosure Within Full Disclosure; (2024) - Denial