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, September 24, 2016

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny – The Map

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny – For my third post on A Great Reckoning I return to Three Pines. After murder occurs at the Surete du Quebec Academy where Armand Gamache has been appointed commander he brings four cadets with him to stay in Three Pines. He is quietly protecting them during the investigation.

While there has been ongoing turmoil at the Academy, even before the murder, the residents of Three Pines have been examining a unique cache.

Gabri and Oliver have gathered together a mass of papers and documents, recently found during renovations to the bistro, that formed the original insulation. The aged poet, Ruth Zardo, and Reine Marie spend leisurely afternoons sorting through and considering this wall archive.

During their review they become absorbed by a hand drawn map with illustrations around the edges. Hidden for almost a hundred years, it has Three Pines at its heart. The roads of the map all lead to the village.

I loved maps when I was a boy. They took me to places far from the farm in Saskatchewan. I never thought of them as means of finding your way home.

Until reading A Great Reckoning I never thought of them as creations in which we are left looking down from the heavens upon the earth.

The map is a surprise for the village is not on any modern maps; not even the ubiquitous Google Maps. Our rational minds question how can it be that a village is absent from an obsessively mapped world?

Reine Marie provides an explanation by quoting the latin phrase damnatio memoriae (banished from memory) but why has Three Pines been banished from memory?

Yet there is magic in Three Pines being absent from maps. The village belongs to another world that the characters arrive in from the real world. Penny has created such an amazing place in Three Pines that it is real to me. In reading the series, especially A Great Reckoning, I leave my real world for the paper world of Three Pines. It is a “looking glass” experience as I am taken into the imaginary world of Three Pines just as the fictional young cadets feel themselves leaving their real world for the other world of Three Pines. I had a sense of the legendary Brigadoon where once every hundred years a Scottish village comes alive. The four students are experiencing a village that does not officially exist.

On their arrival Gamache billets each of the cadets with a villager. It is brilliant plotting as the villagers are drawn into the mystery and we see the young cadets respectively interacting with Clara, Ruth, Myrna, Gabri and Oliver.

To occupy the Cadets Gamache instructs four of the cadets to research the map.

Not often does a reader of mysteries have a moment of pure astonishment. Where and when the cadets find a sign of the map’s history in Three Pines left me almost gaping in surprise.

Yet how can an aged map explain a lost village. If the discovery of the map left me astonished the reason was even more powerful. In the conclusion of the 12th book of the series Penny leads readers to the poignant background of Three Pines. The explanation is so beautifully crafted and so perfect and so unexpected I was left sitting in my chair in wonderment.

A Great Reckoning is the culmination of a dozen books. It is the best in a grand series and deserves to be an award winner.

In reading her acknowledgements I was misty eyed as Louise went through the dozens of people who have helped her and her husband, Michael, so that she could continue writing. His dementia has progressed and he needs constant care.

Loss comes in different ways to everyone. Louise, in the midst of the swirl of caring for and loving Michael, has written a classic.
****
Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny - Comparisons

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny – I have had an uneven reading relationship with recent additions to the Armand Gamache series. Some I have greatly enjoyed. A few have left me troubled enough to write posts on what I liked and disliked in the same book. The last, The Nature of the Beast, left me frustrated and unhappy. I have no reservations about A Great Reckoning.

In my first post on the book I described the principal setting of the Academy for the Surete. The Academy is a closed setting for murder but far more plausible than the closed locale in The Beautiful Mystery. One of my frustrations with the earlier book was that it was a Gilbertine (an order that was extinguished in the 16th Century) monastery that was purportedly secretly established and maintained in rural Quebec for hundreds of years with the monks having contact with their neighbours and recruited from other monasteries for their singing talent. Had the book been a work of fantasy the monastery might have been credible but not in a mystery series firmly set in contemporary Quebec.

By contrast, the Academy of A Great Reckoning, is set in a community with real contacts and challenges in its relationship with the citizens of the town. The cadets and professors at the Academy are not in a hidden institution. They come from varied communities in Quebec and reflect the diversity of the province. The demands of training have them focused on life in the Academy but they do interact with the world outside the Academy doors.

Murder in a monastery is harder to be convincing than murder in a police academy.

I was grateful in A Great Reckoning that there was no implausible, if not impossible, secret location near Three Pines. In A Brutal Telling there was a hermit living in a cabin a few kilometres from Three Pines who was apparently invisible to the residents of the area. In the most recent book, The Nature of the Beast, it was a giant gun, so large you can stand up inside the firing chamber, which was supposedly concealed in the forest less than a kilometre from the village. Having grown up in rural Canada there is no plausible way for there to be an unknown hermit or a huge hidden gun so close to the village. The inhabitants of rural Canada know what is around them.

In A Great Reckoning the homes of the regular characters and the bistro are featured. Beyond the bistro being impossibly welcoming each house is a home. None are grand edifices. Each is a place for real people.

The feature of the village in A Great Reckoning is the small church that serves as a sanctuary for the residents. Far from being secret it is accessible all the time. It plays an amazing credible role in the book. In The Nature of the Beast the church had an unworthy and unlikely role.

When I finished The Nature of the Beast I was uneasy about the direction of the series. That book had an end of the world, Doomsday scenario, with Gamache saving the world at the final minute. Gamache is not the character to be saving the world.

A Great Reckoning turned from rescuing the earth from Armageddon to having Gamache return to his police roots in becoming commander of the Academy that had trained him as a police officer. 

It has been a reading roller coaster proceeding in consecutive books from the weakest in the series, The Nature of the Beast, to the best, A Great Reckoning.

My third post will explore how a map made A Great Reckoning a special reading experience.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny - The Academy

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny – Since retiring from the Sûreté du Québec Armand Gamache has been receiving a stream of offers from “major corporations, to political parties anxious for him to run for office, to police organizations, national and international”. After patiently weighing the opportunities he has become the commander of the Sûreté Academy which trains officers for the force.

Ordinarily it would be a perfect fit for Gamache. He has spent a lifetime of mentoring and training young officers after graduation.

Yet running the Academy is a far greater challenge from when Gamache was a student. Under the previous corrupt leadership of the Sûreté the Academy has become a vicious place turning out brutal officers. Evil now lurks about the academy.

While the Academy was nominally led by a senior officer it was the second-in-command, Serge Leduc, who actually ran the institution. Known as the Duke he formed the young recruits while carrying on assorted illegal activities.

Gamache dismisses many of the professors but startling everyone, especially Leduc, Gamache keeps Leduc on as a professor.

Even more shocking Gamache reaches out to Michel Brebeuf and asks him to teach at the Academy. Brebuf has disgraced the force and betrayed Gamache, his childhood friend.

After classes begin Gamache comes to appreciate how difficult it is to change the culture of an academic organization, even if he has the authority of a commander in a police academy.

As part of his efforts to re-make the Academy he reviewed every new application and admitted some unlikely candidates.

Most striking is Amelia Choquet. Swiftly nicknamed Goth Girl she has multiple tattoos and piercings. Her high school marks were “abysmal”. She was a rooming house away from life on the streets. Yet she has taught herself ancient Greek and Latin.

As Gamache labours at the academy Reine Marie has become involved in archiving material donated to the regional historical historical society.

Aged poet, Ruth Zardo, is reviewing a cache of documents and papers found in the wall of Gabri and Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines. In her review she comes across a map. Its uniqueness and importance will be considered in the third post I will be writing about A Great Reckoning.

As the school year progresses Gamache is trying to determine if he is making progress in changing the Academy.

Readers learn about four students, two new and two graduating, among the group of students and professors that have spent numerous evenings with Gamache.

The Academy is thrown into chaos one late winter morning when the Duke is found dead in his rooms. He has been killed by a single shot to the head fired from a traditional revolver that he had stored in his bedroom. There are no signs of a fight. Though the scene is clearly staged it was not done to suggest a suicide. Why was this tableau created and what is its hidden meaning?

The location, characters and murder set up a mystery that is enthralling. While it is possible there was an intruder the expectation is that the killer was residing at the Academy. The Sûreté homicide unit led by Gamache’s former colleague, Isabelle Lacoste, must investigate both the students and faculty of their own force. All the professors are experienced police officers with extensive knowledge of murder. All, including Gamache, are suspects.

Lacoste reflects on the words of Mathew 10:36 that Gamache, when he was in charge of homicide, would pass on to new members of his squad:

          And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

The dynamics of the academy alone make this a compelling mystery. Penny then develops a fascinating plot line involving Three Pines. Her skill in combining the stories and reaching into the past is breathtaking. My next post explores why I find the 12th book in the series far better than some recent Gamache stories.
****
(Three Pines - Fictional Location) Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In and Comparing with The Gifted; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II)
 

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

Occasionally I like to post a review I wrote before starting to blog. This post has a review from 2008 when I read Chasing Darkness. I have not read any books by Robert Crais for some time. I had found more recent books heavy in bodies and light in humour. Re-reading my review of Chasing Darkness reminded me that, almost a decade ago, the humour quotient was diminished. Still the review reminded that I liked the Elvis Cole series. Maybe it is time to go back to reading Crais.
****
28. – 438.) Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais – Elvis Cole is stunned when the LAPD alleges a murder suspect, Lionel Byrd, that he cleared 3 years before was actually a serial killer whose victims also include the murder for which he was cleared. Elvis, the World’s Greatest Detective, cannot believe that his work set free a killer. With the confidence/arrogance of those who cannot admit mistake Elvis and Joe Pike set out to find the real serial killer. Their investigation is stalled by a task force scooping up the evidence and cutting out the local police. Elvis calls on Carol Starkey to find a way to the evidence hidden away. At the same time he is dealing with his guilt and the anger of families who believe he set free a killer. As the case unravels it appears the killer may be a prominent politician. It is one of the rare mysteries where I sensed the killer well before the identity was revealed. Elvis is excellent at pursuing the threads leading to a solution. I did miss some of the personal life of Elvis being a part of the story. I miss the humour of the earliest in the series. Elvis has become too serious. I was impressed that the “bad guys” cannot be identified by physical flaws. Hardcover or paperback.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What's New in Canadian Crime Fiction

Anthony Bidulka
On a quiet September Sunday evening I took a look at what books have just been published or will be published by members of the Crime Writers of Canada as noted in the summer edition of Cool Canadian Crime and through a look around the worldwide web.

From June 1 of 2016 through May 31 of 2017 there were 43 books listed in CCC for release.

There were several books I am looking forward to reading from the new releases.

Later this month Anthony Bidulka is launching Set Free. The launch party will be Thursday, September 29 at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon from 7:00 – 8:30. It is my regrets of the fall that I will not be able to go to the event. Sharon and I are flying to Calgary that weekend to visit our sons.

The book is a stand-alone thriller. Anthony provided me with some information earlier this year:

My new book, Set Free, will not have a Saskatchewan setting, with most of the action taking place in Boston and Morocco. This will be my first published work without an obvious Saskatchewan tie.

I plan to read it as soon as I can get a copy.

Currently I am reading A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. It is the 12th book in the Armand Gamache series. It sees Armand undertaking a new position and is off to a good start.

Armand has been placed in charge of the training academy for the Sûreté du Québec.

The book is #1 on the New York Times bestseller lists for hardcover fiction and combined ebooks/print fiction for the list being published in the New York Times Book Review on September 18. (They publish the list early online.) With such a launch it could be the best selling book in the series.

I am looking forward to reading Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe which will be his second book. I greatly enjoyed his first, Last of the Independents. He has a new sleuth in Dave Wakefield.

I am not sure what to make of the promotional headline:

Dave Wakeland isn't the usual PI. A 29-year-old ex-cop, he makes a habit of bad ideas.

I hope he is not a dysfunctional sleuth.

In February of 2017 there will be published Tumbled Graves by Brenda Chapman. In the CCC it was described as a mystery involving “Stonechild and Gundersund” which puzzled me as the series had involved Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau. Further searching revealed that Staff Sergeant Rouleau is dealing with a personal crisis and sends Stonechild and Paul Gundersund to investigate the crime. Glad to solve that mini-mystery.

It will be the second book I have read with the words Tumbled Graves in the title. A few years ago I read Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter.

I am anxiously awaiting Heart of the City, the next legal mystery by Robert Rotenberg, which is scheduled to be published next May. It has been too long since Stranglehold was published.

As always I find myself drawn to authors I already know when reading these lists. I find it hard to look forward to a new author on a list. I will read new authors but most often on recommendations or because of awards.

I find it a reflection of how many books are being published versus how many I can read when I noted that I have read only 10 of the 43 authors.

There is a lot of Canadian crime fiction being published.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Scottish Banker of Surabaya by Ian Hamilton


The Scottish Banker of Surabaya by Ian Hamilton – After struggling my way through The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe I was glad to be swiftly drawn through The Scottish Banker of Surabaya.

Ava Lee has spent the summer at a lake near Toronto recovering from the wounds she suffered in The Red Pole of Macau. Physically she is doing well. Emotionally she remains fragile. She is wavering about returning to work with Uncle in “debt recovery”.

Her mother, Jennie, a professional level mah-jong player, has whiled away many summer hours at the Casino Rama near the lake. While there she has become friends with Theresa Ng who has a problem.

Jennie, skillfully using mother guilt, persuades Ava to have a meeting with Theresa. She explains to Ava that Theresa is Vietnamese Chinese and members of her family and other Vietnamese immigrants have lost over $30 million in an investment scam.

Ava learns the money is hard earned cash which the Vietnamese have never declared as income. They have been lured by a young Vietnamese accountant into investing in the Emerald Lion Company and promised a return of 10%.

They deposited the money through an account at the Bank Linno, an obscure Indonesian bank with a single branch in Toronto.

Suddenly there are no more statements, the young Vietnamese accountant has disappeared and the Bank has closed its Toronto branch. As the funds invested were never taxed the Vietnamese have not pursued the scam with Canadian authorities.

Ava is their last hope. While the debt recovery cases of Ava and Uncle usually involve greater sums Uncle agrees they should take on the case.

With her usual efficiency Ava wears an Adidas workout outfit and packs a carryon bag (two pairs of slacks, two dress shirts, one pair of shoes, toilet travel kit, bras, panties, three T-shirts, shorts and her favourite jade cuff links) and is off to Hong Kong.

While restrained in her packing Ava has the clothes to be stylish. She dresses for supper in in a way I believe my blogging friend, Moira, at her blog, Clothes in Books would appreciate:

Ava put on black lace underwear and a black push-up bra. She brushed her hair until she could see it gleam in the mirror, and then fixed it back with her ivory chignon pin. She had packed a pink shirt that was a particular favourite and she secured its cuffs with the green jade links. She left the top two buttons of the shirt undone to show her gold crucifix. Then slipped on her fitted black linen slacks and her Cole Haan black leather pumps … an extra touch of red lipstick and a little more mascara than usual … put on her Cartier watch.

In Hong Kong she is left uneasy after meeting Uncle. He is frailer and thinner while denying any medical issues. His driver, Sonny, and housekeeper, Lourdes, are concerned but they respect his intense privacy.

To follow the money Ava is soon on her way to Surabaya where the bank is headquartered. (Because of my lack of knowledge of Indonesia I did not know Surabaya is a city of four million people and the second largest city in Indonesia.)

In Surabaya Ava faces personal challenges greater than any confronted in the first four books in the series.

The violence quotient is diminished in comparison with The Red Pole of Macau but the violence which occurs is fierce and personal. The resolution of the case requires as much brain power as fire power with the conclusion forecasting a change in Ava’s life that sounds intriguing.

The combination of new family developments, less reliance on violence and a potential shift in Ava’s life have me looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
****
Hamilton, Ian - (2012) - The Water Rat of Wanchai; (2013) - The Disciple of Las Vegas; (2014) - The Wild Beasts of Wuhan; (2014) - The Red Pole of Macau
****
The Scottish Banker of Surabaya is the third book I have read for the 10th Canadian Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Alittle Quicker Finish to he Honest Folk of Gusdeloupe by Timothy Williams

The Honest Folk of Gusdeloupe by Timothy Williams – In my last post on the book I spoke of the first 100 pages being slow going. The remaining 222 pages went alittle faster. There were just enough genuine twists to keep me going forward.

It is hard to discuss the plot for discussing the twists would be to spoil the story. What led up to the professor / broadcaster / environmentalist who leaped to his death from an office building and the attractive young tourist found dead on the beach was not predictable.

The dual investigations proceed through the book occasionally intersecting.

Anne Marie Leveaud, judge d’instruction, is an interesting person. She is a 42 year old single mother of two children who grew up in Algeria when it was part of France. Her husband disappeared from her life after becoming involved in terrorist violence concerning the independence movement in Guadeloupe. She is not perfect. She has flaws in her personal and professional life.

I regret to say she never became a truly interesting character for me. I wanted to like her. She is an admirable figure but she never caught me as a reader.

A continuing frustration in the book involved the repeated scenes where witnesses and police would not answer Ms. Leveaud’s questions directly. My patience was exhausted with the obstinate nature of the characters. I am accustomed to answers that are not always truthful but to avoid any response was to make the narrative choppy.

As noted in my last post the men of Guadeloupe were obsessive in their pursuit of women. There actions and attitudes did not change in the last 222 pages. Can it be that Caribbean men are living stereotypes?

The book stayed filled with examples of the racism of the island. The distinctions made between white and black and all the shades in between are never ending. The islanders of East Indian descent are simply called Indians. The racist attitudes are constant and depressing.

Guadeloupe may be a physical tropical paradise but the islanders are a grim group. I do not know if Caribbean noir is appropriate but I found the portrayal dark

 I did find the end of the book convincing and all too real. Unfortunately, it was too late for me. I think other readers might gobble up this book but I do not see reading another in the series.
****
 Williams, Timothy - (2016) - The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe - Part I

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Slow Start to The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe by Timothy Williams

The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe by Timothy Williams – Occasionally I like to try reading a book no one has recommended and just looked appealing at a bookstore. While in Victoria during our short April trip I stopped at Munro Books, the iconic downtown bookstore, whose owner gave the store to his employees last year. While in the store I went through the crime fiction section and saw a paperback copy of The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe. 

I had not heard of the Anne Marie Laveaud series before seeing the book.

With no recommendation how do you decide whether to buy a book?

As usual I avoided reading the summary on the back as I either find they have too much information or are misleading.

That left the blurbs. I sometimes find the short blurbs useful. Unfortunately, none featured a blogger I would know.

There was a blurb from Mystery Scene on the front cover. On the back were blurbs from BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. None spoke of a book filled with violence. They indicated the book dealt with challenging themes. Publishers Weekly spoke of the “legacies of colonialism …. nuanced racism, and troubled interactions between men and women”.

In the end it was the setting that tipped the balance for purchase. I have read few mysteries set in the Caribbean and none in Guadeloupe. I thought I could learn something of the French island of Guadeloupe by reading the book.

While I have always waited to finish a book to write a review for the blog I am going to break my approach and start my review with this post before I have completed the book.

Up to tonight it had been slow going in the book.

Ms. Leaveaud is a hard working juge d’instruction but I was plodding along with the reading as she plodded along with her investigation.

Initially, she had been called to look into the death of Rodolphe Dugain “better known to most television viewers as Monsieur Environnement”. When police officers arrived at his office to investigate allegations of misappropriation of funds at the Centre Environnement he slipped away and went to the 14th floor and, in an apparent suicide, jumped to his death.

While the official sources are vague Ms. Leaveaud is warned she should not pursue what happened and accept it was suicide.

While unwilling to give up she is assigned to another case that has a higher priority. A young woman, wearing only her bikini bottom, is found dead on a beach. The threat to island tourism has her superiors pushing for a swift resolution.

Ms. Leaveaud is earnest and politically correct.

She works in a challenging atmosphere. According to the book all island men, whether single or married, are obsessed with pursuing every woman they encounter each day.

There is significant casual racism. The lighter the colour of a resident’s skin the better for social climbing on the island.

The opening part of the book provided some glimpses of Guadeloupe but it had not drawn me into life on the island

A 100 pages into the book I was wondering whether to continue to an end that seemed many pages away when I was totally surprised by a plot twist. It jump started my interest in the book and I am reading on.

My next post will advise if the rest of the book proved entertaining.