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 16, 2018

2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist


The shortlist for the 2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been announced by the University of Alabama and the American Bar Journal. From the 27 submitted entries the following books were chosen:

         1.) Exposed by Lisa Scottoline;
         2.) Proof by C.E. Tobisman;
         and,
         3.) Testimony by Scott Turow

What strikes me about the list that all of the titles consist of a single word. As lawyers often struggle with brevity I doubt they were chosen by lawyers.

I have not read any of the books on the shortlist. I have read several of Turow’s books. Some I thought brilliant. Others I considered average.

I had expected Turow’s book to be on the shortlist. It has done well in sales since publication. As well, from the trio of best know popular American legal fiction authors – Turow, John Grisham and Michael Connelly – he was the only one not to have won the Prize. As winners are no longer eligible it was a probability Turow would be on the shortlist with his latest book.

It has been 14 years since I read Scottoline’s book, Dead Ringer. I thought it a good book but have not read more of her legal fiction.

I am not familiar with C.E. Tobisman. A quick search disclosed that Cynthia E. Tobisman is an appellate lawyer with the California law firm of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland. She has been listed in the Southern California Super Lawyers as an appellate lawyer for the past two years. For her writing career she states on her website that she is the “author of books, comics, screenplays and anything else fun”.

The judging panel for 2018 as set out in the University of Alabama press release is composed of:

        They are: Dr. Hilary Green, Assistant Professor History in the     
        Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of
        Alabama; Jini Koh, Attorney and University of Alabama 
        School of Law Graduate; Tony Mauro, U.S. Supreme Court 
        correspondent for Law.com and The National Law Journal;
        and Sent Jeter Naslund, Author, Co-founder and former 
        Program Director of the Spalding University MFA in Writing.

As with the Award in recent years readers of the ABA Journal will form a 5th voter for the Award.

The Award will be presented again at the Library of Congress during the National Book Festival.

Following my reading practice I plan to read the shortlist and provide posts on each book and my thoughts on the winner.


Monday, May 14, 2018

The Wanted by Robert Crais

The Wanted by Robert Crais – It has been a few years since I read an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike mystery. I had loved the early books in the series but found later books unabsorbing. The humour had diminished to insignificance while the violence quotient had grown in equal proportion to the decrease in humour. The series had lost its sparkle for me.

Still Elvis held a place in my reading heart. When I saw The Wanted in the shipboard library I decided to try the series again.

Elvis is retained by Devon Connor, a single mother and the office manager of a modest law firm, to find out why her teenage son, Tyson, suddenly has thousands of dollars and a genuine Rolex watch. She can think of no good reason for his sudden affluence. Elvis concurs and swiftly determines Tyson has even more money than his mother suspected.

A search of Tyson’s car turns up a pair of women’s Gucci sun glasses.

Later that morning, using sources in the insurance business Elvis learns that the watch was stolen from a wealthy family. It was taken in a burglary committed by two men and a woman.

LAPD has put together a task force to find them as they have successful committed 18 burglaries of the well to do and well connected of Los Angeles.

In a recent robbery a security camera captured an image of part of the face of one of the burglars. It is Tyson.

What has kept them free despite leaving fingerprints and other evidence is that the burglars have never been charged with any criminal offences.

Elvis, known in past books as The World’s Greatest Detective, is able to report to Devon within the day that he has solved the case and has a plan to minimize the consequences for Tyson.

What he does not know is that a pair of unscrupulous, actually evil, investigators Stemms and Harvey are pursuing the young thieves for an item stolen during one of the burglaries. To conceal their investigation they are willing to kill witnesses once they have provided information. What was taken by a trio of amateur thieves that could be so important?

When Tyson learns of the plan assembled by Elvis he bolts from his home.

Who will find Tyson and his fellow burglars first – Elvis or the wicked Stems and Harvey.

There is some effort to develop Stemms and Harvey as characters. They share banter and there is a striking scene involving music in a Mexican bar but in the end they are barely two dimensional characters. They could have been more formidable characters with a touch less violence and considerably more character development. Bad guys can be multi-dimensional.

 The plot proceeds swiftly and logically to its inevitable brutal ending. While there was a twist in the conclusion I regret to say the sparkle was not back. There is the occasional quip or witty comment but they are modest in number. Crais has the inherent ability to draw a reader effortlessly through the plot and I read the book swiftly. In the end I found it an average book and I doubt I shall return to the series.
****
Crais, Robert – (2001) - Demolition Angel (Best fiction of 2001); (2001) – Hostage; (2003) - The Last Detective; (2004) - Indigo Slam; (2005) - The Monkey’s Raincoat; (2005) - Stalking the Angel; (2005) - L.A. Requiem; (2005) - Voodoo River; (2006) The Forgotten Man; (2006) - The Two Minute Rule; (2007) - The Watchman; (2008) - Chasing Darkness; (2010) - The First Rule; (2012) - "C" is for Robert Crais; (2012) - Taken; Hardcover

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Take Down by James Swain

Take Down by James Swain – Billy Cunningham is the most memorable character I have read in 2018. As a professional cheater he has been successfully scamming Las Vegas casinos for years. Careful planning and an inventive mind are behind his scams. His glib tongue has saved him in many bad situations. A generation earlier he would have borne the nickname of Slick.

As the book begins Billy has just been arrested at the Galaxy Hotel and Casino where several people have been killed during a raid by the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Commission is ready to send Billy to jail for decades.

After a night in jail Billy, with some subtle assistance from the best defence lawyer in Las Vegas, offers to explain why he was in the Casino at the time of the raid. The offer is accepted. Billy’s explanation takes up the next 380 pages with the occasional diversion into his life history.

Billy, brilliant in math, is equally proficient in scams by a single person, a couple or a team.

In recent months Billy has assembled a team of cheaters to carry out complex schemes. There are a pair of beautiful ex-porn actresses to provide diversions. A pair of young grifters who are learning their craft. A veteran cheater is skilled in the manipulation of cards and dice. A former jeweler handles adaptation and/or creation of such gambling equipment as dice.

A few days before the raid at the Galaxy Billy carried out a scheme with Ly, the girlfriend of a jailed fellow cheater. She is a dealer at a blackjack table in a small casino. Using a gaffed chip, red on one side and green on the other side, they take the casino for $1,200 that evening.

Later that night an old grifter, Crunchie, who has been his friend for years tracks him down to propose a scam against the Galaxy with a huge payoff. He has a plan:

“I’ve been making a killing off a blackjack dealer at the Rio named Jazzy,” Crunchie said. Jazzy has this bad habit of rocking her hands and flashing her hole card every fifth hand. The other day I found out Jazzy left the Rio and took a job dealing at the high-roller salon at Galaxy. I racked my brain thinking of who I knew could play a whale. Then it hit me. I’ll call Billy.”

Billy is the perfect cheater to play the high roller in the plan.

It turns out Billy's trust in Crunchie was misplaced and he is forced to attempt to identify a group of modern American gypsies before they run a scam on the Galaxy. Even though his life is at stake Billy is reluctant to actually identify the gypsy scam. Cheaters do not catch cheaters. It is contrary to the cheaters code by which Billy abides.

Over the next few days Billy is continually adjusting to multiple schemes involving the Galaxy. His ability to react instantly reflects an agile mind.

It was amazing to read of the cleverness of cheaters. While casinos spend millions on security the cheaters continually evolve techniques to scam the casinos. At one end of the spectrum large sums are spent by both sides on electronic devices. At the other end is the sleight of hand of the traditional cheater.

Billy is amoral except for his crew and fellow cheaters. He has no qualms or remorse at scamming casinos. Casinos create the illusion of chance but the odds are always against the gambler.

With the importance of the gambling industry in Nevada the state gaming board aggressively pursues and prosecutes cheaters. Billy is continually fending off and deflecting both casino security and gaming board agents.

With all the schemes and deception in his life it is no surprise that Billy has no stable romantic relationship. Women are attracted to him but relationships are superficial.

I found Take Down reminded me of the cleverness and planning of gambling deception in the movie, The Sting. As we are decades later the level of violence is higher but intelligence is more important for being a successful cheater than brawn. I think Take Down would be a great movie. I am going to look for Bad Action, the second in the series when I get ashore.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Exchanging Emails with Sam Wiebe on Dave Wakeland

After reading Cut You Down by Sam Wiebe I exchanged emails with Sam about his tough guy sleuth, Dave Wakeland. I appreciate his willingness to respond and the cantor of his reply.
**** 
Sam

I just finished reading Cut You Down and enjoyed the book.

I find Dave a fascinating character. The mixture of erudition and brawn are intriguing.

I do find myself a little discouraged by the number of violent confrontations experienced by Dave. In both Invisible Dead and Cut You Down Dave is badly beaten on more than one occasion.

While I admire his toughness it is starting to challenge my credibility that he could endure such violence without apparent permanent consequences.

I appreciate he has a persona that reminded me of famous American crime fiction characters, Travis McGee and Spenser, and in Canada Howard Shrier’s sleuth, Jonah Geller. All are big strong men with above average intelligence.

What I remember of the McGee series is that he might suffer injury once in a book but not on multiple occasions.

Spenser was hurt more often, including an assassination attempt where he was shot by a rifle and endured a long recovery lasting months. There were times later in the series when I thought the physical punishment he endured was stretching belief.

I acknowledge Dave is a hard boiled detective but he also has a wit and level of intelligence that would allow him to advance investigations with his brains rather than his fists. Dave’s love of literature reflects a thinking man

I understand his psyche leads him into dangerous situations but I am hoping he will turn from regular righteous violence to a more cerebral approach to investigations. He can keep the violence in reserve for special situations.

It is uncommon in the world of crime fiction to emphasize thinking. Violence with high body counts have become the preferred method of solving crimes.

When I read Shrier’s books Buffalo Jump and High Chicago I was discouraged by the level of violence in each book. I was glad to see in Miss Montreal an increase in the thinking and a decrease in the violence.

Yet I ask might it be possible Dave will adjust his approach to investigations?

I set out in my review that I thought you were continuing to mature as a writer and each of your books is better than the previous book.

If you are able to reply, and are willing, I would include your reply in a post with this letter.

Thanks.

Bill Selnes
****
Hi, Bill

Thanks so much for the kind words! I appreciate the comments and your knowledge and love of the genre. You raise some good points. I'll try to answer as best I can.

Speaking generally, I want the violence in the Wakeland novels to be visceral and uncomfortable. I don't want to trivialize violence. What happens has consequences for both the perpetrator and recipient.

Bear in mind Dave Wakeland is considerably younger than most other PIs. He's 29 in Invisible Dead, 30 in Cut You Down. In the Big Sleep, Phillip Marlowe is in his mid-thirties. Kinsey Milhone is in her early thirties in A is for Alibi. Wakeland is still learning, still making mistakes, and still slightly unformed in his investigative approach. Also, he's still in the age range where the body is more resilient. The violence in the Wakeland novels is much, much less than a boxer or MMA fighter endures.

John D MacDonald and Robert B Parker were both very formative authors for me.There are usually scenes in those books where McGee or Spenser dispatch multiple assailants with ease, which to me strains more credibility than enduring a few punches and slaps. I'd rather err on showing the brutality than brushing it off or making the character superhuman.

Your point about using brains rather than fists to solve cases is well taken. I feel, from my research into real-life investigative work, that while both have a role, it's actually determination and persistence that solve cases. Dave might not be the smartest or toughest guy on the block, but he's the one that won't quit. Sometimes that's unhealthy, verging into obsession, and again, there will be consequences to that.

To sum up, I think violence is an intrinsic part of the detective novel, and I take great pains to make the violence in the books realistic, and to show its consequences. If you think the events of Invisible Dead and Cut You Down haven't fully registered on Dave Wakeland and company...well, just wait for book three!

Thanks again for the review, and feel free to publish this on the blog. 

Best,

Sam Wiebe
****
Wiebe, Sam - (2015) - Last of the Independents and The Unhanged Arthur Award; (2016) - Invisible Dead and Sam Wiebe on His Sleuths; (2018) - Cut You Down