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.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Anthony Bidulka at the Melfort Library


Last Wednesday was a wonderful evening at the Melfort Public Library as Anthony Bidulka came for an event to celebrate the publication of his new book, From Sweetgrass Bridge. It is the second in his Merry Bell trilogy.

Joining Anthony was his husband, Herb McFaull.

I have been on the Library Board since 1979 and was the host for introducing Anthony, conducting an interview after he made an address and asking some questions of those in attendance.

The library staff and other members of the Board made the setting memorable with Rider memorabilia including cereal boxes from the year two of the Riders headlined Co-op brand cereals. I had forgotten about Fantuz Flakes and Darian's Darios.

Anthony spoke eloquently of his reasons for writing which focused on writing on under-represented groups and settings.

He guaranteed that Merry, a transgender woman, and her sidekick Roger, a cross-dressing man, are the only Western Canadian sleuthing duo with those backgrounds.

He reminded us of the never ending challenge for prairie writers to gain national recognition, especially in Toronto, the media centre of Canada. 

He told us that he limits himself to writing 4-5 book blurbs for other authors in a year.

On book buying he tends to buy e-books from different sources, including Amazon. Because of the amount of travelling that he and Herb do each year it is easier to have e-books.

I asked him about how he edits his writing. I said I like to use a red pen. He says he does editing on his computer. 

Anthony further spoke about the importance of an editor in the book writing process and the interaction between writer and editor.

We learned that Anthony and Herb have travelled to over 100 countries.

My surprise for the evening was learning from Anthony's niece that, when she was a girl, long before he started his professional writing career, he would create and illustrate stories for her with the pages folded so that they had to be unfolded in a specific order.

The most unique aspect to the evening was the library staff arranging for the Golden Grain Bakery to create cookies with a copy of the book cover, From Sweetgrass Bridge, upon the cookies.

Anthony showed he had done some research on me with a neat zinger. He looked up my review of his first book, Amuse Bouche, and noted that I had said:

   Bidulka is Saskatchewan's second best mystery writer.      Gail Bowen remains the best.

Twenty years after that review I will amend my assessment to say Anthony Bidulka and Gail Bowen are Saskatchewan's best mystery writers.

Anthony is an engaging guy. I encourage all readers to go see him if you are near one of his book launches or author events.

(The photos are from the Melfort Public Library Facebook page. Please go take a look for further photos from the evening.

All present last Wednesday will not forget their evening with Anthony.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Fall From Grace by L.R. Wright

(32. - 1215.) - Fall From Grace by L.R. Wright (1991) - In the summer of 1990 Steven Grayson returns to Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia after 10 years of self-imposed exile in Vancouver. Wright sent a chill through me when she writes of his mother, Velma:

She looked again with eagerness toward the future, and did not know that the murder of her son awaited her there.

Shortly thereafter she tells the reader who will kill Steven.

Wright, as she did in The Suspect, despite eliminating the issues of who will be the victim and who will be the killer early in the book though not on the first page this time, creates suspense over the “why” of the murder and whether the murderer be caught.

Ten years earlier Steven had been a member of the graduating high school class. He is often irritating, taking photos constantly. Schoolmates include Warren, Annabelle Kettleman, Wanda and Bobby. Bobby is the bad boy. He returned to school after a four year absence to graduate at 22.

By 1990 life has settled down for those living in Sechelt. Warren and Wanda are now married. Annabelle is married to the disagreeable Herman Ferguson. 

Steven and Bobby are single and in Vancouver. 

Bobby comes home, with intentions of finding a job, before Steven. 

Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg of the RCMP detachment is barely enduring the summer heat in his non-air conditioned office. He escapes the office and its paperwork when he can to deal with complaints.

His lover, Cassandra Mitchell, is the town librarian. Their relationship, I described as “halting” in my review of The Suspect, has strengthened though they still have issues.. 

Wright can create a memorable image in a sentence. When Steven does not respond to a question from Velma:

She saw in his eyes that he had no intention of telling her.

Alberg and Mitchell sail to an island beach at Buccaneer Bay that Alberg loves. As they arrive a body is being carried to the beach. It is Steven who has fallen from a cliff overlooking the beach. Alberg determines where he fell from and starts to investigate.

Wright’s Alberg is compassionate as well as “detached, dispassionate, concentrated” in the carrying out his duties.

Alberg interviews the young man, Joe, who found Steven at the base of the cliff, broken but not dead. Steven asks Joe to help him die:

“So I put my hand on the back of his neck and in a minute he was dead.”

Alberg gave his shoulder a hard squeeze, and let go …..

“You did good,” said Alberg to Joe.

The scene at the hospital where Velma is called to identify Steven has a heartbreaking intensity. She denies it is Steven. Alberg puts his arm around her shoulder, sits her down and rocks her saying Steven “was very handsome” and she “must have been very proud of him” until she accepts the body is Steven.

Wright sees deeply into the hearts of her characters. 

Alberg works his way backwards into Steven’s life searching for anyone on the Sunshine Coast who had a grievance with Steven. It is hard going for he was gone for 10 years.

Knowing who Alberg should find keeps the pages turning as I wanted to know if Alberg can find and arrest the killer. Based on The Suspect it is not certain.

Neither knowing a motive nor the name of a suspect Alberg gathers information with significat details that the reader knows are important for the investigation but not to Alberg. 

About to turn 50 Alberg meditates on his stage of life. He thinks about retirement.

Bobby decides it is time to leave again, real soon. He asks his Aunt Hetty for $5,000 to get a car. They love each other. 

Ferguson casually beats Anabelle. She does not protest. He writes “Whore of Babylon” on their house. With the children she washes off the words.

While Anabelle’s three children - Rose-Iris, Camilla and Arnold - are pre-teens they help with cleaning and cooking and worry about their mother. They see the bruises. 

And then the story comes together. 

Wright had a remarkable talent to make you care about the victim, the murderer, the police and all the other characters in her books. None are all perfect. None are all evil. They are the people around you. One of them is a killer.


Wright, L.R. - (2012) - The Suspect; (2012) - "W" is for L.R. Wright

Saturday, June 15, 2024

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

(27. - 1210) - All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby - Titus Crown was surprised when he, a Black man, was elected Sheriff of Charon County in Virginia. The racism of the South is always present. The Sons of the Confederacy are planning a parade in support of a Confederate statue to Ol’ Rebel Joe.

Crown is obsessed with order. His clothes are arranged by colour alphabetically and he is distressed if any of the items on his precisely arranged office desk are moved:

After his mother died when he was thirteen, he became possessed by a desire to give his life structure …. Structure became his religion. Discipline was his crucifix against chaos.

However, the world is filled with chaos in ways both small and great. His girlfriend disorders his clothing to loosen him up. A young Black man, Latrell Macdonald, goes to the local high school where he shoots the white Jeff Spearman, the popular Geography teacher. Latrell is killed as he rushes at the police outside the school.

Titus is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University and a former FBI agent. As a child he enjoyed reading Greek mythology.

Pastor Jamal Addison is concerned over Latrell being shot by white deputies. The Black community is split over Titus becoming Sheriff: 

To a lot of Black folks, including Jamal, he was now Blue instead of Black.

I was as shaken, as disgusted, as devastated as the police were by the child pornography found on the phone and computer of Spearman. There are videos of Spearman and an unknown man, the Last Wolf, brutalizing and killing children. Spearman and the Last Wolf wear grotesque wolf masks. Latrell is with them. The community has a hard time believing Spearman was a monster and serial killer.

Cosby sums up the wicked:

“Terrible people can do good things sometimes. But they like doing the terrible things more.”

While Cosby does not focus on the torture of the victims there are graphic descriptions. 

Of the 14,000 residents of Charon County who could be the Last Wolf? Who could be so depraved yet give no outward sign? Titus says:

“It’s someone we thought we knew.”

Titus has his own secret from a confrontation in Indiana when he was in the FBI. The psychic scars reach far into his soul. He has told no one in Charon County.

The Charon County of Titus is full of troubled, difficult, nasty people. There are but a few good people in the book.

Gillian “Gilby” Hayes is at least 80 years young and the owner of a restaurant serving “down-home, unadulterated, nurtionally dubious Southern cuisine”. Titus likes her. She makes everyone feel at home.

Titus is a hard man who has rejected faith because his mother died despite his teenage prayers. He cannot believe in a God who does not prevent evil. He has lost hope. As Titus cannot forgive, especially himself, the burdens he bears are heavy.

He is a sensitive man with a conscience. Hard and sensitive are an awkward combination for a Sheriff.

I do admire Cosby for including Christians in the book. Most contemporary crime fiction ignores religious life. I regret he does not find any good in the churches of Charon County.

He visits the Holy Rock of the Redeemer Church whose pastor, Elias Hillington, keeps “a collection of snakes”. A neighbour said they have “hooting-and-hollering services” and then bring out the snakes. Hillington preaches fire and brimstone and “railed” against “the liberal agenda”. He vigorously states none of his congregation could have abused the dead children.

Titus’s old girlfriend, Kellie Stoner, comes from Indiana. She is making true crime podcasts. She is beautiful and profane and magnetic. His current girlfriend is loving, beautiful and running a flower shop.

The Last Wolf, certain of his superiority, toys with Titus.. Titus is convinced he is daring the police to catch him.

The Last Wolf calls Titus. He uses a digital voice modulator.

Danger escalates and the tension is fierce. The Last Wolf nails a lamb with its throat cut to the door of the home of Titus and his father.

Titus sends out a message of his own to the Last Wolf.

The Last Wolf and Titus close in upon the other.

Not only the Last Wolf is spiralling. 

Titus knows the cost to a lawman who turns avenger.  

His girlfriend, Darlene, ends their relationship. She says he has tried to love her but…. She concludes:

“Find someone that makes you smile.” 

The writing is wonderful. The descriptions are skilfully done. The characters are well developed. The emotions are real. Yet I am not sure I will read another Cosby book. The darkness is so deep and the lightness so sparse. There are shades of black in noir. All the Sinners Bleed is the blackest of black.


Cosby, S.A. - (2022) - Razorblade Tears and Who is S.A. Cosby?

Sunday, June 9, 2024

What We Buried by Robert Rotenberg

(26. - 1209.) What We Buried by Robert Rotenberg - Daniel Kennicott is walking warily home with fresh Italian groceries when a black SUV charges towards him. He runs for the safety of his home but steps from his door he is shot in the top of his right arm.

He had just been to Gubbio, a medieval hilltown in Umbria. He had gone at the request of the Toronto Police Department after meeting with the head of the homicide squad Ari Greene and Toronto Police Chief Nora Bering. Kennicott meets with Greene each year about the time of the anniversary of his brother Michael’s unsolved murder. It is now the 10th anniversary.

Michael had been about to go to Gubbio when he was killed and Kennicott had often thought about going and trying to find out why Michael would want to travel to Gubbio. Their mother had also gone to Gubbio.

Daniel and Michael Kennicott had never believed that the death of their parents in cottage country, caused by their vehicle being struck by a drunk driver, was random. The driver, Arthur Rake, had served jail time and then disappeared. The Toronto police now have a lead to finding him.

Kennicott gets a reserved seat at the 500 year old crossbow contest in Gubbio. He is entranced by the spectacle of thrown colourful flags and pageantry. The contestants from the four quadrants of the town compete with 30 kg crossbows. The target is a small circle 36 metres away.

Greene designates the two newest recruits to the homicide squad, Abdul Davesh and Sadie Sheppard, to review the deaths of the Kennicott parents.

Kennicott explores the I Quaranta in which 40 residents of Gubbio were executed by the German army in 1944 after a German officer was killed at an outdoor cafe. 

Greene’s father, Grandpa Y (Yitzhak), and Greene's daughter Lady A (Alison), talk about his life before the Holocaust. He had lived in Poland with his wife and daughter, Hanna. Sent to Treblinka he was the only survivor in the family.

She tells him she will not judge him. He asks in succession even if he was a thief, even if he was a kidnapper, even if he was a killer, even if they were unarmed. She wraps her arms around him and squeezes him tight and asks him to tell her.

At liberation Grandpa Y was 95 pounds. A German woman, by feeding him Cream of Wheat and mashed potatoes, saved him from death or severe injury through over-eating. He managed to return to his home in Poland but met a harsh response. 

The police investigation takes Greene, the young investigators and Pam Opal, a local officer, deep into the history of the cottage owners. It is Sheppard and Darvesh who lead the way with good solid police work. Initially not a witness is threatened with grievious bodily harm. And then a few pages later a witness is threatened though in a way that made me doubt the threat. 

In Italy Kennicott is taken deeply into his family history. What he learns is shocking and deeply disturbing. 

Grandpa Y’s journey after the war is as startling and dark.

Grandpa Y deeply moved his granddaughter and myself with:

“I cry when I’m alone,” he said, “so I can smile when I’m with you.”

I regret Rosenberg shifting completely away from the lawyers featured in his earlier books to making this book a police investigation. I continue to consider his writing about lawyers and court cases what he does best as an author. 

The conclusion was choppy as if it was suddenly cut down. The abrupt shift was unsettling.

What We Buried is a good book. I had to suspend my disbelief enough to keep it from being a great book. Rotenberg is skilled at tying the three plotlines effectively together. The chosen ending bothered me though I expect most readers will be satisfied. Vigilante justice perverts the Rule of Law.


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Detective Al Sullivan in The Golden Gate

Amy Chua, in The Golden Gate, creates a striking homicide detective in Al Sullivan. He creates the impression he is a “conventional” detective of 1944 in California but his background is “unconventional”.

While Sullivan is blue eyed and only tans in the summer he is half-Mexican and speaks Mexican Spanish. His Mexican Spanish is of great assistance in interrogations.

Born Alejo Gutierrez he changed his name to Al Sullivan after university when joined the Berkeley P.D. He chose his mother’s surname so that he could pass as white. While successful, there is an element of regret, some embarrassment, even shame over giving up his Mexican surname.

He recognizes the complexity of his origins:

…. My mom was white and most people thought I was white. But I never felt totally white. Of course I wasn’t really Mexican either. I didn’t fit in anywhere.

He escaped a poor working man’s life through determination and intelligence. He worked through university to support his mother and himself. It would have been an exhausting four years.

While at Cal Berkeley he was the best pitcher on the baseball team.

He achieved a degree in history.

On the Berkeley police force he was trained by August Vollmer who also trained Chiang Kai-Shek’s secret police.

His photographic memory is very useful as a detective.

Sullivan is precise and demanding when he needs to be when interrogating a witness or an accused. 

He is always conscious of his past and the need to make a good impression.

He wants to succeed and has carefully considered how best to gain success.

He has 2 white work shirts. He washes one per day. He has two good suits. He presses one per day. He has 10 year old shoes he polishes every day. 

He knows his wide vocabulary and well addressed appearance affect how people view him.

Sullivan is a hard man and a sensitive man.

Not many fictional or real life homicide detectives would care for an 11 year old niece. Sullivan is devoted to Miriam, the 11 year old daughter of his irresponsible half-sister. I am sure he sees himself in her. She is working part-time to help out her mother. Miriam wears overalls every day but always with a pocket square in the bib pocket.

He is not perfect. In a moment of irritation he thoughtlessly says Miriam cannot hang around and he is not her Dad. While she puts up a brave front he can see she is devastated. His regret is too late.

He recognizes the class divisions of America. Sullivan explains to Miriam:

“There’s a suspicion line in every society, Miriam, and you’re either above or below it. The people above that line, they never even think about it. They walk the streets like they own them. They take for granted that the law is there to protect them, because it is”.

Becoming a cop put him above the line.

Sullivan reminded me of Adam Dagleish (P.D. James) and Ari Greene (Robert Rotenberg). All three men are thoughtful police officers. Their brains are more important than their brawn.


Chua, Amy - (2024) - Golden Gate