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, December 7, 2016

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear – In 1932, Maisie Dobbs, having adjusted to the death of her mentor, Maurice Blanche is making her way with a renewed confidence in herself. As primary beneficiary of Blanche’s will she is financially secure, even wealthy including owning the estate, Dower House, where Blanche resided.

Her private enquiry business is doing well and she decides to take on a young woman, Sandra Tapley, as a part-time secretary. Sandra is recovering from the sudden death of her husband, Eric, at the garage where he worked.

Maisie is recruited by the British Secret Service to become a junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis, a new institution at Cambridge. Her brief:

You must report back on any observed activities – by anyone – that are not in the interests of the Crown.

She will be an internal spy. Her brief reminded me of the role John Le Carre played at Cambridge a generation later in spying on fellow students. Maisie is less conflicted than Le Carre.

St. Francis was founded shortly after WW I to provide an education for English and foreign students, in

…. English and European literature and the moral sciences. It is no secret that an emphasis on the maintenance of peace in Europe underpins much of the teaching.

Its founder, Greville Liddicote, had been a Senior Fellow at Cambridge, who also wrote children’s books, until he was forced to leave his position after he published a children’s book “about a group of fatherless children who go to live in the woods, and who decide to journey to France to end the war”. The book created such a stir it was banned.

Secrets are plentiful around St. Francis. When Liddicote is killed which secret prompted the murder? Beyond the shock of violent death in an institution devoted to peace was it related to activities “not in the interests of the Crown”?

Liddicote’s literary past is not all that it seemed.

As with all the books in the series there are aspects of the plot related to WW I. Can it be that a children’s book had consequences at the Front that have remained secret?

Maisie’s secret purpose in being at the College fits well with the book’s theme of secrets.

On “activities” at the College I anticipated the Communist penetration of Cambridge that produced a group of proficient Russian spies in real life and a never ending sequence of works of fiction speculating on undiscovered spies. I was to be surprised. There are other activities of concern.

The book reminded me there was a powerful desire for peace around the world in the 1930’s. Pacifists were now respected in contrast to the scorn and imprisonment of conscientious objectors, “Conchies“, during WW I.

Though WW II is not yet on the horizon forces of darkness are starting to assemble in Europe.

Personally, the relationship of Maisie with Viscount James Crompton has deepened but is love enough to sustain them:

She had yet to trust happiness, that much she knew. It had been so fleeting with Simon, and she wondered what it might feel like for happiness to be a constant, so that she could rest in its cradle, rather than looking across the parapet for a marching army ready to shoot her contentment down in flames.

A Lesson in Secrets is a good book. It does not have the personally emotional power of Maisie in Among the Mad and The Mapping of Love and Death but it shows Maisie as a mature woman in her 30’s looking more to the future than the past.
****
Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs; (Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death;


Friday, December 2, 2016

The Conclaves of Malachi Martin, Walter Murphy and Robert Harris

In my last post I reviewed Conclave by Robert Harris which is about the election of a new pope after the death of a pope inspired by the current Pope Francis. Reading the book set me reflecting on other works of fiction I have read involving conclaves and the effect of the backgrounds of the authors on how they described the process of conclaves.

Over a decade ago I read Vatican by Malachi Martin. The book was first published in 1986. The book is focused on the life of Richard (Rico) Lansing, an American priest who arrived in the Vatican just after World War II.

In my review at that time I said:

He is to spend the next 40 plus years in the Vatican bureaucracy serving (while not directly named) Pius XII (the epitome of a pope for the author), John XXIII (a dreamer of love who sets the church adrift), Paul VI (an ineffective leader who supports decentralization), John Paul I (a man of deep faith who is assassinated by the USSR) and John Paul II (a man of great potential limited by the effects of the attempted assassination by a Western Capitalist super-elite). Each of the popes was effectively chosen by the Curia before the conclave.

Martin is the only writer described in this post who has personal knowledge of the Vatican. He was a Jesuit priest and a theologian at the 2nd Vatican Council.

He was a traditionalist as further set out in the description of his positions in my review:

…. staunchly favours a Church run by a strong pope who listens to a strong Curia. The bishops and people have little role in his Church but to follow Rome. New thoughts on contraception and the Mass in vernacular are heresies that have brought the Church into great decline.

After the Council was completed Martin, upset by the changes in the Church, left the Jesuits.

Some years earlier I had read The Vicar of Christ by Walter Murphy which was published in 1979. It is a grand sprawling saga about Declan Walsh. In the first part of the book he is a young Army officer who becomes a hero for his skill at commanding and saving a unit that is caught behind Chinese Army lines. After the war he becomes a lawyer and is chosen Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A personal tragedy leads him to resign and join a Trappist monastery. Papal Nuncio to the United States, Ugo Cardinal Galeotti, helps Walsh gain acceptance to the monastery. When a conclave in Rome becomes Galeotti calling on his knowledge of Walsh convinces the conclave to look outside the College of Cardinals and Walsh is chosen Pope. Galeotti thinks of Walsh as an American pragmatist.

Walsh in an eerie foreshadowing of the current pope chooses the name Francisco and adopts a progressive agenda.

(Lest anyone think Walsh’s election is impossible the pope is not required to come from the College of Cardinals. While long established policy is to choose a cardinal the electors could choose outside their ranks.)

Murphy was born into an Irish Catholic American family and attended both Catholic and secular universities. He was a long time law professor at Princeton.  

Harris in Conclave has as his protagonist, Cardinal Lomelli, who supports a progressive candidate. Personally he would be considered a moderate whose principles fall between the traditionalists and the progressives.

I will not give the identity of the pope chosen in Conclave as it would a huge spoiler.

With regard to his personal beliefs Harris in an article in the Catholic Herald on whether he believes in God said:

“I dislike easy atheism,” he says. “I think atheism is an easy route, a boring route, to take. I am rather drawn to people who take the more difficult route and try to engage with a greater thing. I have empathy with that.
“I was never baptised. I have always mildly resented this, as I have felt one should be plugged in from birth, just like one is given inoculations.”
He adds: “I don’t think this book could have been written by a complete atheist.”
As we are all influenced by our personal beliefs it is probably not a surprise that Martin looks for a conservative pope, Martin has a progressive for his pope and Harris has a middle of the road cardinal as his lead character.
****
Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; (2016) - Conclave

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Conclave by Robert Harris

Conclave by Robert Harris – Cardinal Lomelli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is called to the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican City at 2:00 in the morning. His fear that the Holy Father, the pope, has died are confirmed on his arrival. He is shaken by the suddenness of the death and the consequences for himself and the Church.

The late pope, a character clearly inspired by the current Pope Francis, had agitated the upper leadership of the Church. His willingness to consider and occasionally embrace change has upset the traditionalists. His commitment to reforming the finances of the Church has scared the many who have profited from their positions. The Church is among the world’s most bureaucratic of institutions at the Vatican.

An unsettled Church must now select a new pope through a conclave of the cardinals who are under 80 years of age.

Cardinal Lomelli, as Dean, organizes and presides over the conclave. Following precise rules set down over centuries he prepares the Sistine Chapel for the voting and the Casa Santa Marta as the residence for the cardinals.

Over the next 3 weeks 117 cardinals arrive in Rome from all the corners of the world. Among Lomelli’s first surprises is the arrival of Vincent Benitez from Iraq. He provides documentation that the deceased pope had recently created him a cardinal in pectore (in his heart). It is an appointment where the pope, usually for the safety of the new cardinal, does not announce the appointment even to the highest ranking members of the Curia. There will be 118 voters.

For the election each cardinal is to look into his conscience and vote for the cardinal he considers best. Campaigning is discreet but fierce. Will the papacy be returned to an Italian after a trio of non-Italian popes? Could it be a cardinal chosen  from one of the First World countries who have never had a pope? Can the cardinals support a candidate from one of the poorest nations of the world?

What struck me was the measured pace of a vote for each and every ballot. Each of the names of the cardinals is called out and he affirms his presence. Each writes his chosen name on a ballot and, in order of seniority, individually goes to the urn and deposits the ballot. Those counting the vote announce the name on a ballot as it is unfolded. It is a ritual so different from modern voting practices where large groups vote with the push of a button and the results are tallied instantly. Each vote of the conclave takes hours. The process offers time for contemplation and prayer.

With the cardinals sequestered from the world there is never a break from the intensity of the decision. They eat, talk and vote together.

Unexpected issues arise that affect the leading candidates. The cardinals are not without sin. It is a thriller but with a stately tempo. Bodies do not fill the Sistene Chapel.

I appreciated how Harris creates a tension that builds and builds. I wish more thriller writers could accept tension does not have to result from constant violent action.

I found myself anxious to know the result of the next ballot. Harris convincingly places the shifting vote totals between the traditionalists, the progressives and the non-aligned.

As a Catholic I appreciated his balanced approach. Many writing about the Church today can focus on no more than scandals. Little regard is given to the dedicated religious who work to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of the faithful.

Harris writes so well of historic events. He effortlessly inserts information that enhances the plot. However, I was disappointed in the ending. There was one twist too many with that final twist a contrived political statement about the Church. It spoiled my enjoyment of a well written book. But for the conclusion Harris had a great book.
****
Harris, Robert - (2002) - Archangel; (2004) – Pompeii; (2008) - Imperium; (2012) - "H" is for Robert Harris; (2014) - An Officer and a Spy; Hardcover or paperback (See also in non-fiction)  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Crossing the Atlantic



Sharon and I are back at sea on the Rivieria. Part of the Oceania Cruises fleet the ship has a capacity of 1,250 passengers plus almost 800 crew members. We are on a transatlantic voyage and staying on for a Caribbean sojourn. We came aboard in Barcelona and entered the Atlantic last night. Tomorrow we spend the day in Madeira and then across the Atlantic.

I am not sure how often I will be posting. We will see how encouraging the weather is for being outside and how involved we get with ship activities.

From the approximately 2,000 book ship library I have a couple of Maisie Dobbs books and Until Thy Wrath be Past by Asa Larson.

Currently I am reading Conclave by Robert Harris. Moira Redmond at her fine blog, Clothes in Books, piqued my interest with her review of the book. It is off to a fine start and I have become absorbed in the conclave.

I will close as it is time to go to the Captain’s Reception.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sam Wiebe on His Sleuths

After reviewing the Invisible Dead I wrote an email to the author, Sam Wiebe, with a few questions. I appreciate his quick response and thoughtful answers. Our emails form this post. I recommend readers look up his books Last of the Independents and Invisible Dead.
****
Sam

I recently read and reviewed Invisible Dead for my book blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. I enjoyed the book.
 
Last year I read and reviewed Last of the Independents. I consider it an excellent debut.

I am writing to you as I am puzzled about the similarities between the private investigators in your books.  

In Last of the Independents Michael Drayton is a 29 year old former police officer turned P.I. who has an office on East Hastings in Vancouver. He is very opinionated, scornful of authority and obsessive in his investigation. His prime investigation is corporate related but his passion is searching for missing people. That passion focuses on seeking children for parents. I described Drayton in my review as having a “physical presence and an innate stubbornness”. He is single and living modestly. 

Each of the above statements apply to Dave Wakeland in Invisible Dead

I had expected there would be series of books featuring Drayton when I read Last of the Independents. He was an interesting character. I loved his supporting cast of the Hastings Street Irregulars.

When I heard of Invisible Dead I thought it would be the second mystery in a Drayton series. Instead, I learned that Last of the Independents was a standalone and Dave Wakeland would be the sleuth in a continuing series.

Most authors I have read who create multiple sleuths will make them significantly different characters. Going back to the Golden Age of crime fiction Agatha Christie created two of the most popular sleuths ever – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple – who are very different people. Jeffery Deaver has Lincoln Rhymes and Kathryn Dancer. In Canada Vicki Delaney has three different women in Fiona MacGillivray, Molly Smith and Lucy Richardson (while writing as Eva Gates). 

I would be interested in knowing:

1.) Why you created Wakeland when you already had Drayton;
2.) Why they could be half-brothers;
3.) From looking at photos of you how much, if any, of the description of the sleuths is based upon yourself; and,
4.) Will Wakeland’s further cases be set in locales away from the streets of downtown Vancouver.

Thank you for considering my questions. If you are able to reply I would appreciate it if you would advise whether I can put your replies in a post on my blog.

Best wishes on future writing. I consider you one of Canada’s best young crime fiction writers.

Bill Selnes
****
Hi Bill, 

Thanks for the kind words. By all means use this response on your site, if you want.
 
1. When I wrote Last of the Independents I wasn't really thinking about doing a series. In some ways I think the ending wraps up Mike's story; he'll go on or he won't, but the major decision in his life is over.
 
With Invisible Dead I was writing about a more serious subject matter with a slightly more realistic tone (in my opinion, of course), and with an agent and a new editor/publisher to bounce ideas off. I had the luxury of thinking and re-thinking what I'd want to do with a series character, how I'd want to set things up. Wakeland inhabits a world that more closely resembles the real Vancouver, with financial constraints that more accurately reflect what a lot of people in their late twenties/early thirties are going through (again, my opinion only). I also wanted to write someone who was a bit less of a typical hero, less comfortable with violence if no less familiar with it.

2. There are absolutely similarities, but that's also because I wrote both of them! 
 
3. I don't know; I don't picture either character as looking like me. I sort of follow the lead of Ross MacDonald and Chandler in that the character is a vehicle for the readers to view the story, so tons of description would only create a gulf.
 
4. The second Wakeland novel, Cut You Down, will be out February 2018, I believe, and will include Vancouver as well as some Eastern and American locales.
 
Thanks again for reading these, Bill. I appreciate it.
 
Best, 
Sam Wiebe

Monday, November 14, 2016

Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe

Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe – Fiction and real life intersect in the opening scene. Private investigator, Dave Wakeland, is at the Federal prison in Agassiz, British Columbia:

Ed Leary Nichulls was serving eight counts of second-degree murder up in Ken. “Scrapyard” Ed lured runaways and prostitutes out to his family salvage lot, killed them, eventually, and eventually disposed of the bodies. He didn’t avoid the authorities for long, once they’d started looking. But that had taken years.

In real life Robert Pickton, a pig farmer just outside Vancouver, was convicted of killing 6 prostitutes on his farm. (Once convicted 20 more charges of murder were stayed. He was suspected of killing a total of 49 women.)

Having taken on the investigation of a long missing prostitute, Chelsea “Charity” Loam, Wakeland is interviewing Scrapyard Ed to see if he has any knowledge. It is a creepy conversation.

Wakeland is a tough private investigator based on East Hastings in downtown Vancouver. He had followed his father into the Vancouver Police Department but soon left. Discipline and orders are anathema to Wakeland.

Recognizing his non-existent business skills he has joined with the clever business oriented Jeff Chen. Where Wakeland is a P.I. Chen is a security consultant. Chen sees the business building a corporate clientele providing discreet services for difficult company situations. Wakeland can assure the suits of an appropriate physical presence in the firm.

Wakeland does have an addiction that limits his attention to corporate clients. He is devoted to handling at least one difficult personal case all the time.

Charity came from an indigenous background. Taken in by Gail Kirby she turned wild as a teenager. Choosing the streets and drugs led her to hustling and down to prostitution. Eleven years later her foster mother wants Wakeland to search for Charity and has $200,000 available.

There are no good places to look for a long missing prostitute. After learning nothing from the serial killer Wakeland goes down into the streets of East Vancouver.

He establishes a personal relationship with a source, Sharlene “Shay” Nelson, who is also reliant on drugs and prostitution.

Wakeland is a clever man. I have not encountered Greek philosophers in noir or any other sub-genre of crime fiction:

I put the flashlight in a grubby Canadian Tire bag and made my second trip down Alexander. Kid Diogenes, prowling the city with his lantern on a quest to find one honest man.

That quest includes a conversation Wakeland has with a famed local artist and lecturer on art:

They were missing the humanity with which I was trying to imbue my subjects – but then perhaps so was I. Perhaps I was so eager to become the Great White Protector, Champion of the Downtrodden, that I had done the exact opposite of what I’d intended.”

“So that’s why: ‘No faces, no races, no spaces,’ “ I said.

“Right,” he said. “Departicularize. It’s the only way to avoid all possible chance of misrepresentation.”

“I like you early stuff better,” I said.
     
While his time is spent mostly on dark streets Wakeland is the rare tough guy P.I. comfortable in the rarified air of academe.

His life has been difficult. Not many damaged private investigators appeal to me but Wakeland is an engaging sleuth. His obstinacy is self-destructive but he is only moderately reckless. Though obsessed with finding Charity he has relationships. Family is a real part of his life.

I liked Wiebe’s debut novel Last of the Independents. The Invisible Dead is better.

I was glad to read the Invisible Dead is the start of a series.
****
Wiebe, Sam - (2015) - Last of the Independents and The Unhanged Arthur Award

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Musings on Longmire In Its 5th T.V. Season

For the past few days Sharon and I have been watching the 5th season of the Netflix series, Longmire. I knew she was enjoying the latest episodes when at the end of the first couple of shows she turned and said to me “is it over already?”

We like to watch 1-2 episodes an evening and occasionally skip a few evenings. Our sons, now in their 30’s, and their partners more often will binge watch a series often viewing several episodes during a day or evening.

Sharon and I grew up on T.V. that had weekly episodes and do not normally binge on a series though Sharon may watch several episodes of a series during a day that has a marathon of a series.

I noticed in particular in watching Downton Abbey how our anticipation grew during the week between episodes as we spoke about what had happened and guessed what might take place in the next episode.

Getting back to Longmire we have enjoyed the recent seasons on Netflix more than the earlier seasons on A & E.

The last few seasons have had true continuing story lines that carry through the whole season of 10 shows. While the episodes are self-contained there are real themes.

A year ago we watched the saga play out involving deputy, Branch Connally, who ran against Walt for the position of county sheriff.

This year the casino on the Cheyenne reservation has opened and there is continuing interaction between Walt and Jacob Nighthorse, who runs the casino. Neither trusts the other but they must deal with challenging criminal issues connected with the casino.

I found the continuing story lines have allowed for far more character development and blessedly less violence than most American police shows. I now enjoy the T.V. series as much or more than the books.

In watching the series on Netflix I have come to reflect on some of the main characters.

I better appreciate Lou Diamond Phillips as Walt’s Cheyenne lifetime friend, Henry Standing Bear. Where he does not fit my physical image of Henry (he is smaller than the Henry of the books) his actions and languages accord with my expectations from the book.

A Martinez as Jacob Nighthorse is a terrific character. Not many current series are willing to have an indigenous American as a bad guy. It remains a challenge for Hollywood to have politically correct villains. As the series has developed Nighthorse has become a more complex character. Originally just a self-interested businessman on the Rez he has become a business leader providing work opportunities for band members previously unemployed or under employed.

It continues to irritate me how unprofessional Katee Sackoff as deputy, Vic Moretti, appears with her uniform shirt almost half unbuttoned and a top underneath. I have never seen a real life female officer who dresses like the T.V. Moretti.

Unfair or night I find it easier to accept the casual dress of the T.V. Walt. As the Sheriff I expect he has greater leeway. Maybe Vic could become Sheriff and just discard the pretence of a uniform.

Robert Taylor become my mental image of Walt. The casting was as perfect as many English series have in choosing a lead character. The Walt of the books always had a presence from his physical stature and strong, though quiet, personality. He is clearly in charge of situations. Taylor has that same charisma.

I just read that Netflix is committed to making a 6th season but has already decided that will be the final season.

Originally the series was cancelled by A & E after the 3rd season because the demographics of viewership were too old with the average age of viewers being 60 rather than 40. While the series remains very popular on Netflix it appears there are still not enough younger viewers. Our time has truly passed when a good T.V. series is axed because Baby Boomers are no longer a prime time audience.
****
Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish; (Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day;  (2015) - Where is the Walt Longmire Series Headed; Hardcover
 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey – Colorado born Clyde Barr returns home after 16 years in hot and troubled lands. He has spent those years not exactly a mercenary, not quite a freedom fighter, certainly not a soldier. He is a violent idealist willing to fight for those who have been victimized by the cruel and greedy. During those long years he has been involved in more than his share of killing. Most recently he spent a few years in a Mexican prison where his sense of honour almost got him killed.

Back in Colorado he is enjoying some time alone in the mountains and contemplating heading to the Yukon. Barr is not much interested in spending time with people.

His plans change when he gets a cryptic phone call from his sister, Jen. She is in trouble and needs him. They have a special relationship forged in the horrors of growing up with a drug addicted mother who brings home a string of vicious boyfriends. While he ran away after high school she stayed in Colorado often using drugs as her personal escape. Barr owes her and will help her.

A few phone calls and it is clear she is with a major drug dealer and in real danger. Barr sets off on a quest to rescue Jen.

Unlike many current action heroes he is not so stubborn as to act on his own. He seeks out a professional gun man for support and gains an unlikely ally in Allie, a lovely bartender from a dive he stopped at to ask a few questions.

His investigative skills are almost exclusively violent. I thought of Joe Pike from the mysteries of Robert Crais. Barr is a touch less taciturn than Pike but certainly his equal in body counts.

Nothing Short of Dying is easy reading. Storey keeps the narrative rolling yet it is hard to turn a major meth making villain into an interesting character. As with most current thrillers the evil one is pure evil.

Nothing Short of Dying is a thriller where it is best not to weigh the reading down with thinking. Let the action flow.

There is a potentially interesting character in Barr were more time spent on developing him and less on action sequences. He occasionally reflects on where he has been and where he might go with his life.

I think Storey has the ability to write thrillers. It would be great if he could ease away from the customary high body counts.

If you are looking for a fast paced thriller with black and white characters you will enjoy Nothing Short of Dying. Lee Child, William Kent Kruger, C.J. Box, Nelson DeMille, Lori Armstrong, Craig Johnson and Jeffery Deaver all provided glowing blurbs.