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 24, 2017

The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey

(20. – 907.) The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey – Death in the oilfields of Alberta has reached out to crush the Now family, more than half a continent away, on the coast of Newfoundland. Lured by high paying work in the oilpatch young Chris Now left his outport community of Hampten. Six weeks later he was dead in an accident at an oil rig. The Now family is three years into a grief that has not eased. Father, Sylvanus, drunk every day refuses to even mention Chris’s name. Sister, Sylvie, is in Africa trying to safari away from her sorrow. Brother, Kyle, constantly chews his fingers. Mother, Addie, amidst her own sadness strives to instill hope but the Now’s remain a family lost in pain.

Hard times have been a constant in outport life as the cod fishery came to an end and the residents of smaller outport communities forced to move to larger towns. Sylvanus, before grief overwhelmed him, had an uncommon spirit:

The story was still told how Sylvanus thumbed his nose at the relocation money and stayed till the last fish was caught, stayed till they nearly starved, and then determined not to lose his house, took out his chain saw and cut the house in half. He then floated both halves up the bay and landed them atop this wharf and declared to his astonished Addie – This is as far as she goes. By Christ if I can’t work the sea, I’ll sleep on it. No gawd-damned mortal telling me where I sleeps.

And still the house sits upon that wharf.

Among their neighbours are Clar and Bonnie Gillard. Clar, battered as a boy, has become a battering man and Bonnie the brunt of his abuse. Kyle cannot understand why she continues to return to him assault after assault. As she does for many Addie provides comfort to Bonnie accepting her choices.

Nearby is Kate, a middle-aged woman, who lives a simple life in a small home. Kate moved in a few years ago. Quiet about her past she has a fire going most evenings outside her home. People come and go, usually bringing a six pack of beer, while Kate plays her guitar and works on the songs she is writing of her life.

There is a confrontation between Sylvanus and Clar over Clar’s provocative disruption at the cemetery where Chris is buried.

Kyle’s quick tongue lashes Clar over his loutish behavior.

Sylvanus and Kyle, so caught up in their grief over Chris, are stunned when Addie tells them she has breast cancer and will need immediate surgery. My next post will discuss illness and death in a small Canadian community.

After getting the news Kyle runs off and gets drunk. Leaving the bar he is sucker punched by Clar. Later he passes out on the wharf outside the house.

During the night Clar is killed. He has been stabbed with a knife and his body dumped into the ocean. His dog, a Labrador, has dragged the dead master ashore.

Suspicion alights upon the members of the Now family. Kyle fears his mother or father may have killed Clar in self-defence or while protecting Bonnie. Friends rally with stories to protect Kyle.

The RCMP find talkative but not informative witnesses.

It is a rare book that manages to have a credible mystery combined with high family dramas. Morrissey meets the challenge. If anything, I found myself more interested in the Now family than the murder investigation.

Morrissey in description and dialogue brings modern outport Newfoundland to life.

The sea and rocky land make for a striking landscape. The fog is an evening companion.

Morrissey has a keen ear for the language and rhythms of the islanders. I found myself sitting among the characters listening to their conversations.

The Now men find they cannot keep hiding from their grief. Addie’s cancer and Clar’s murder force them to face their sorrow.

Kyle is told:

Well, I’m grieving a son. Weigh that in your heart when you’re judging mine. I’m all he’s got. He’s lost his sense of reality. That makes him the living dead and he’s only got me to fight for him. And he don’t know that because he’s angry with me. Real angry, and he won’t let me help.

The book is so well written it flows both gracefully and powerfully. It is an excellent contender on this year’s shortlist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Fiction Novel.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr

(Not my cover but could not find an
image of the Award Books cover)
The Three Coffins (better known outside the United States as The Hollow Man) by John Dickson Carr (1935) - Dr. Charles Vernet Grimaud is found mortally wounded inside his locked second floor study. Witnesses attest to a large man wearing a mask entering the room but Grimaud is found alone. There is no sign of escape and newly fallen snow on the roof and ground show no footprints.

On a nearby street three witnesses hear a gunshot and turn to see another man mortally wounded in the midst of the street. From the residue on his clothes he has been shot with the revolver either in contact with him or mere inches away. Yet there is no one else in the street.

Analysis determines the same gun fired the shots that killed each man.

At his death Professor Grimaud was a gentleman scholar living in London whose academic interests were focused on the black arts:

Low magic was the hobby of which he had made capital: any form of picturesque supernatural deviltry from vampirism to the Black Mass, over which he nodded and chuckled with childlike amusement – and got a bullet through the lung for his pains.

The other man, Pierre Fley, was a master illusionist performing his feats of magic in a London theatre.

Through skilful questioning and careful analysis of the study Dr. Gideon Fell is able to determine that Grimaud and Fley are brothers from Transylvania in East Central Europe.

They are actually the Horvath brothers. With a third brother, Henri, they had been imprisoned before 1900. Carr sent a chill up my spine with his description of the three brothers being buried alive during a plague epidemic.

Earlier in the book there had been an earnest discussion on the vampire legends of central Europe interrupted by a spectral figure who speaks of men able to leave their coffins. He had identified himself as Pierre Fley.

The mention of the supernatural played with this reader’s mind while I tried to decipher the clues.

Having a pair of connected impossible murders is a spectacular writing challenge and Carr flawlessly sets up the murders and resolves them with a flourish.

I have never figured out a locked room mystery before the author revealed the solution and The Three Coffins was no different.

The diagram of the upper floor of Grimaud’s house helped me visualize the scene but proved of no assistance in my attempts to solve Grimaud’s murder.

In this mystery it was the double connected murders that left my analysis floundering.

How could the same gun have been used in both killings when it is clear no one left the house. A witness could have been lying but there were multiple credible witnesses everyone remained in the house after the shot was fired in the study.

Motive is a challenge. Who would have wanted both brothers dead? The investigators speculate it was the third brother until a cable from Bucharest confirms Henri has been dead for 30 years.

Yet how could a killer of both men neither be seen nor leave any sign of his / her presence at the respective murder scenes?

I could have spent many nights pondering the evidence and never been close to the solution. It was most fairly done by Carr and I appreciate his talent with the locked room. I did no better when I read The Judas Window.

After reading The Three Coffins I can understand why classic mystery aficionados consider it one of the best locked room mysteries. My good friend Margot Kinberg from the superb blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, specifically recommended the book to me.

I expect I will never figure out a locked room mystery. Give me a complex murky legal mystery any day. Sigh. 
Carr, John Dickson - (2011) - Death Turns the Tables
Carr, John Dickson writing as Carter Dickson - (2011) - The Judas Window

Saturday, May 13, 2017

2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction was announced by the ABA Law Journal and University of Alabama Law School earlier today.

On the shortlist are:

1.) Gone Again by James Grippando;
2.) Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult; and,
3.) The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.

As with most literary awards I have not read any of the books.

Certainly Grippando, Picoult and Moore are all well known authors.

In 2011 I loved Moore’s book, The Sherlockian. There were past and present mysteries involving Holmes. In my review I said:

Both White and Doyle work to solve their mysteries by Holmesian methods. We have a devout Sherlockian and the author of Holmes trying to be Holmes. The book is a triumph of logic. It is a rare mystery so devoted to logical reasoning. There are no leaps of intuition and but rare coincidences or fortunate circumstances.

It tied for third on Bill’s Best of Fiction in 2011.

I exchanged emails with Moore on the question of whether a person can cause their own death by strangulation by tying and tightening a ligature around their neck. I referred to a criminal trial which involved a young woman who tied many ligatures around in neck. Here is a link to that post - http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.ca/2011/03/email-exchange-with-graham-moore-author.html

With regard to this year’s award there were 25 books submitted. A few years ago, after John Grisham won for the second time, the criteria were tweaked to provide previous winners could not win again.

This year’s panel of judges are:

Deborah Johnson, winner of the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and 
author of The Secret of Magic; Cassandra King, author of The Same Sweet Girls 
Guide to Life; Don Noble, host of Alabama Public Radio’s book review series as 
well as host of “Bookmark,” which airs on Alabama Public Television and Han 
Nolan, author of Dancing on the Edge.

They are described as a panel of writers.

For unexplained reasons the Award will be handed out at the University of Alabama this year rather than at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

I am planning to read and review the shortlist and post my thoughts on whether I agree on the best book.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks – Jane Larson is a skilled and aggressive litigator in New York City. Forsaking her mother Martha’s lifelong support for the poor and the weak Jane is in a law firm devoted to the needs of corporate America.

Jane has prospered in the lucrative world of commercial litigation:

Modesty does not forbid me from saying I tore the place up and made Ridge look very good. It’s not that I am a genius. Rather, many lawyers at big firms are scared to death to take cases into a courtroom for a trial and I was not. I pushed my matters to conclusion like a muleskinner with a whip and, as a result, the firm’s clients were very happy.

Jane is lured by a legal assistant, Francine, into representing Francine’s friend, Gail Hollings, caught up in a family law dispute with her ex-Larry over his claims he cannot afford child support. Gail asserts he has abundant money from selling drugs.

Gail successfully draws media attention to her cause by wearing outside and even inside the courtroom:

…. dressed, if you could call it that, in the kind of barrel contraption drawn in cartoons to represent those who have lost all they own in the stock market. Like those cartoons, beneath that barrel she appeared to be little except a flesh-colored spandex leotard that might keep her out of jail, I supposed, but left no part of her well-constructed body to the imagination.

Gail’s young daughter, Courtney, is also in a barrel.

Though the judge is mightily unimpressed a hearing is scheduled. Media coverage generates a call to Jane with a tip on where to find at least a fair amount of Larry’s hidden money.

I appreciated Jane’s use of her legal skills to exploit the information and get the court order needed to open up a safety deposit box containing thousands of dollars. Little to follow involves legal talent.

Shortly thereafter, Jane and a handsome young lawyer, Bryan, are in a street confrontation with Larry in which she is almost shot. While at the hospital after the incident Jane learns Larry has been murdered.

The rest of the book sees Jane working to solve who, out of multiple candidates, killed Larry.

Jane reminded me of the wise cracking heroines of the 1940’s who are tough and quick with a quip. At one point I wondered if the story actually was set 70 years ago as there is reference to a typewriter and ribbon in Larry’s office. But such modern technology as cell phones convinced me the story was in the present.

I wanted Jane to be a great character. I liked her a lot but her breezy approach to life does not work well for me in the 21st Century.

I found myself wishing that the story was not about Jane dealing with some ordinary mystery over the lost money of a ne’er do well, now I am drifting back in time. I would have preferred to see Jane applying her wit and wisdom on some major commercial malfeasance.

I regret to say I found the reading a chore and the book took far longer to read than it should have for me. I expect readers who want a lighter mystery with a nifty heroine would enjoy Jane. Unfortunately, Weave a Murderous Web was not for me.

With most of the characters handsome or beautiful I think the book would have worked better as a television show.

The back blurb says the authors “have been married for a little over forty years and have produced about twenty books and exactly three children so far. At press-time, they still love their children more”. I wish them well but will not be reading another book by Ms. and Mr. Hicks.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Dramatic Spring for Saskatchewan Libraries

It has been an unexpectedly dramatic season for the Public Libraries of Saskatchewan. In the provincial budget in March the government unexpectedly announced that $4.8 million in library funded was being cut from funding.

The government said they were eliminating all provincial funding, $1.3 million, for the public libraries in the major centres of Saskatoon and Regina.

The balance of $3.5 million was being cut from the regional library system. It meant the regional libraries were to receive 58% less money.

Funding for northern libraries was not directly affected.

The Saskatchewan Party, the governing party, is facing a $1 billion plus deficit and was looking to a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to address the deficit.

I have been a member of the Melfort Public Library for almost 40 years. It was a shock to hear the government was planning such devastating cuts to the funding of provincial libraries. There had been no consultations with library boards and library staffs.

Going into the budget announcement everyone in the province knew there would be cuts in government spending but I could not believe libraries were targeted with such extreme cuts.

Saskatchewan has a wonderful integrated library system where any library card holder can access books and material from any library in the province. There is a daily flow of library items around the province.

Starting in our part of the province in 1950 regional libraries were developed that now cover the whole province. Each regional library has a central headquarters which organizes materials and provides much of the library administration for the region.

Most recently a provincial library card system was established that allows a card holder to walk into any public library in the province and borrow from that library.

The proposed cuts would have effectively ended the provincial library system. It would have been impossible to carry on the provincial wide system. We would have returned to a fragmented system of individual community libraries.

The primary government rationale was that the number of items checked out of libraries had declined by 1.7 million items in the last 10 years and that there were 175,000 fewer library card holders.

Both justifications were flawed. Checking out books has declined but usage of electronic services, such as e-books, has increased dramatically. On card holders the decrease took place during the conversion to the one card system. Before the new system many Saskatchewan citizens, including myself had at least 2 library cards. I had cards for both Melfort and Saskatoon. After the change everyone has only one card.

I could not believe that the Party I supported would propose a fundamental re-structuring of a pivotal information service for the province even without consulting the public and libraries. I was dismayed when our local MLA, Kevin Phillips, raised the question of whether libraries were a core service. It appeared to me that the government no longer valued libraries.

Negative reaction was swift and widespread across the province. Defenders of public libraries appeared in every community.

Well known mystery author, Gail Bowen, was among the most public protesters.

While I was in Florida read-in protests were held in 70 communities including Melfort. In our city of 6,000 over 200 people came for a read-in outside Kevin’s office. I would have been there had I been in Melfort.

With protests continuing and the proposed library cuts eroding support the Government abruptly announced at the end of April that all the library funding cuts were reversed. Education Minister, Don Morgan, said the government was not afraid to admit it made a mistake. 

There will now be a consultation process on the future for libraries in Saskatchewan. It remains a puzzle to me why the government ever embarked on the budget cuts for libraries. There was no movement in Saskatchewan that funding for libraries should be slashed. I do wonder what will be next for our libraries. I will be doing my best to convince the government they are at the core of learning and information in Saskatchewan.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Shopping Perfection

Through several years of reading the Clothes in Books blog of my friend, Moira Redmond, I have become aware of descriptions of clothes in books. Janice MacDonald in her series featuring Miranda “Randy” Craig, a session lecturer in English at universities in Edmonton, is very conscious of what Randy and others are wearing.

Randy, having a modest budget for clothing, admires fine clothing but must normally purchase in moderately priced stores. Most often she is focused on the sales racks.

In MacDonald’s book Hang Down Your Head, published in 2011, one of the major characters, Barbara Finster, owns three high end women’s clothing stores, boutiques seems more appropriate considering the pricing, in Edmonton and Calgary. They are modestly called the Barbara Shoppes.

As set out in my review of the book Barbara and her brother, David, have abundant attitude as they protest a huge bequest from their mother’s estate to the University of Alberta for its Folkways collection.

Insatiably curious Randy easily draws her best friend, Denise into visiting two of the stores to see what Barbara and her Shoppes are all about.

We all have our vulnerabilities. On the drive Randy frets about whether she is dressed to enter a Barbara Shoppe. Denise does little to quell the unease:

Denise raked a clinical eye over my ensemble, which consisted of red jeans, red Birkenstock rubber clogs, and a white and red striped T-shirt …. She nodded, and said that I looked as if I’d been hauled away from my prize-winning perennial garden and had a sort of Katherine Hepburn disregard for fashion.

After Denise’s mixed blessing Randy hesitates to cross the shop threshold. Denise provides tactical advice:

“Ready, Randy? Just remember, these women can smell fear. Just try to look bored and we’ll be just fine.”

As a guy I have few, if any, qualms about whether I am properly dressed for shopping and how I will be perceived in a men’s wear store but I have been married long enough to appreciate those matters are real issues for women.

Once in the store Denise recommends trying on some clothes. They will have some “entertainment shopping”. Randy doubts she is petite enough for the Barbara Shoppe. Denise advises her not to worry for “a place like this has to have sizes for the dowagers who are rich enough to not have to worry about tennis lessons”.

She soon learns another lesson on sizing for the well-to-do woman. Normally she wears a size 12 or 14 but at the Barbara Shoppe she is a size 9.

Denise, at home in any women’s clothing store, tries on an outfit that leaves the sales representative, Pia, purring:

Denise’s suit was wheat coloured, with black and gold piping around the edges of a boxy jacket and the pocket flaps. Black and gold military buttons marched down the front. Pia pulled a black suede headband from behind her back and offered it to Denise. She was right. It was perfect, pulling back Denise’s blond hair and declaring it part of the ensemble.

Pia has a recommendation for Randy:

Pia reappeared at that moment and flourished a sailor top in front of her. It was made of a thick, cream-coloured polished cotton, and navy piping was worked into two lines around the squared-off sailor collar. My mouth must have hung open because Pia beamed with a look of self-congratulation. She had my number good.

(I have done my best to find a suitable image of the fictional middy. The above photo was the best I could see online. I welcome any reader with a better image to send me the link.)

Trying it on Randy dreams:

It was perfect. It hung just to the right length to make my hips seem controllable, and felt like silk against my skin. The long sleeves ended in cuffs that looked tailored, but somehow hid an elastic making them easy to slide into. With my hair drawn back into a braid, I looked like a young Victorian girl ready to recite “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” for my mother’s tea party, or to be Anne Shirley’s bosom friend, Diana. I loved it. I turned to the door, and opened it. Denise and Pia were standing there, waiting, and both of them clapped spontaneously at the sight of me.

But shopping love must be priced. While reduced from $150 to $93 it remains too expensive for Randy. She leaves the store depressed. I found myself wishing her boyfriend, Steve, had been there. He would never have let her exit the store without the middy.

Denise, following a shopping principle often pressed upon me personally by Sharon, suggests they go to the other Barbara Shoppe in Edmonton to see if the middy is there at a “deeper discount”.

In the second Shoppe despair turns to joy. The middy is there in her size and marked down further because a replacement brass button has rendered it less than perfect – “[T]he rope on the anchor leads off to the left instead of the right, and it’s not top drawer brass” - though no one but an obsessive shopper would discern the flaw. For $49 Randy buys the middy.

Fewer mysteries than I would expect make clothing stores and the experience of women shopping for clothes a part of the plot.The social implications for women of budget versus luxe shopping have a dynamic of tension. Most likely I am reading the wrong mysteries for shopping scenes.

I thought MacDonald beautifully explored the pleasures and frustrations of women shopping for clothes while showing how Randy, a highly educated and confident woman, is beset with insecurities in a Barbara Shoppe. 

I rarely make a specific recommendation but this is a book for you, Moira.
MacDonald, Janice - (2015) - Another Margaret and Q & A; (2017) - Hang Down Your Head

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald

(17. – 904.) Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald – Miranda “Randy” Craig, with her Master’s Degree in English has usually been limited to sessional teaching positions in Edmonton. Her life changes when an “enormous” anonymous bequest is made to the University of Alberta designated for its Folkways Collection.

That collection includes the only “fully set of Moses Asch’s legendary recordings”:

One of the great visionaries for the preservation of world music, poetry and soundscapes, Moses Asch had been so impressed with the Edmonton music scene every time he visited that he willed his personal collection to the university.

America’s Smithsonian Institute had been surprised, even chagrined, that it did not have the full Asch collection. A relationship was soon established between the Smithsonian and the U of A.

Dreams of building a fully searchable database of the Asch collection in Edmonton suddenly became feasible with the bequest.

Though not a music scholar folk music is a passion of Randy. She was ready when:

The call went out for people skilled in online writing, with an understanding of university policy and project work and strong communication qualifications. Teaching English, writing magazine articles and monitoring chat rooms had to come in handy somehow, and after a process of three vigorous interviews and the inspired admission that I played the banjo, I was offered the continuity and writing position.

(Were it not for the combination of the position being fictional and that she is already a professor I could see my friend, Margot Kinberg, of the blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, being perfectly qualified for the position.)

Unfortunately, her dream job is threatened by a nasty sibling duo, David and Barbara Finster, who are outraged that their late mother has made such a huge bequest for folk music. It is a puzzle to Randy why they should resent folk music. In a public scene at the Folkways Centre David makes it loudly clear the bequest will be challenged.

David, the owner of a major construction business, and Barbara, with a pair of high end ladies apparel stores, are wealthy and bitter.

Before Randy can even assess the risks presented by the Finster duo David is murdered on the edge of campus. Worse yet:

…. Finster’s body was deliberately staged. He’d been stabbed, strung up from a beam, and a note was hanging from the handle of the knife still sticking it him. It said, HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD.

The inescapable reference to the Tom Dooley folk song focuses police attention on the Folkways Project and Finster.

Randy’s lover, Edmonton Police detective Steve Downing, is a part of the investigation, though not the lead because of Randy. Still it leads to uncomfortable moments in their relationship.

Randy, though well aware of the never ending fierce intra-university battles for project funding, cannot see who at the university would have wanted to kill Finster and implicate the Folkways Project. Or can it be that murder lurks in the hearts of folkies?

In the midst of a mid-summer Edmonton heat wave the investigation is accelerated when there is further violence.

One of the major tasks for Randy is to assist in an ambitious taping project of the folkwaysAlive! stage at the Edmonton Folk Festival.

Handsome and brilliant and charming Dr. Woody Dowling arrives from the Smithsonian to be the institutional link for the festival. Randy loves Steve but finds Woody intriguing.

The story culminates at the massive Folk Festival. MacDonald provides a vivid portrayal of the fun of the Festival. From sitting on tarps on ski runs providing a natural amhiteathre through quality festival food folk there is a wonderful atmoshphere for folk music fans.

I liked the book but the narrative slowed at times. The book is at its best in discussing folk music and artists and the Festival. It is not a strong mystery. You will want to attend the Edmonton Folk Festival after reading Hang Down Your Head.
MacDonald, Janice - (2015) - Another Margaret and Q & A

Friday, April 21, 2017

2017 Shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Canadian Crime Fiction

If it is later April it is time for the Shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards to be announced. Annually the Crime Writers of Canada hold a series of events across Canada to announce the Shortlists.

As with most years   I have not read one of the books on the shortlist. 

Following a personal tradition I intend to read and review and rank the books on the shortlist for Best Novel. 

I was impressed to see there were 90 books nominated for the Best Novel Award. Such a number reassures me there is going to be lots of good Canadian crime fiction reading long into the future.

Not having read the Shortlist for Best Novel means I will be reading some new Canadian mystery writers.

The full shortlists are:

Best Novel

Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada

Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo

Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press

Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award

Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing

Best Short Story

Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing

Best Book in French

Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire

Best Juvenile/YA Book

Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Nora McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books

Best Nonfiction Book

Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart 
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane

Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press

Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her Ann
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon

The Crime Writers of Canada had a further announcement:

CWC announces the 2017 Derrick Murdoch Award recipient Christina Jennings. The Derrick Murdoch Award is a special achievement award for contributions to the crime genre. This year's recipient is Christina Jennings, founder, Chairman and CEO of Shaftesbury Films. She has won a number of awards, including Genies, Geminis and Canadian Screen Awards, among several other nominations and accolades throughout her career. Christina founded Shaftesbury Films in 1987 as a feature film company. She has produced movies and television series based upon the work of several Arthur Ellis Award-winning Canadian crime writers including the late novelist and playwright Timothy Findlay (External Affairs), novelists Gail Bowen (the Joanna Kilbourn TV movies) and Maureen Jennings (Murdoch Mysteries), as well as historian Marjorie Freeman Campbell (Torso).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens

 (16. – 903.) Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens (2011) – Retired United States Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, reflects on the USSC by focusing on the men, to date they are all men, who have been Chief Justice of the Court. In his long legal career as clerk, litigator and judge he has personal experience with the last five Chief Justices.

He began his direct contact with the Court in 1948 when he was a clerk for Justice Wiley B. Rutledge.  At that time Fred Vinson was the Chief.

Earl Warren was the next Chief. Stevens appeared before him as a practicing lawyer.

He served as an associate Justice of the Court when Warren Burger, Bill Rehnquist and John Roberts were Chief Justice.

It is remarkable that he has personal knowledge of almost one-third of the Chief Justices. There have been 17 during the history of the Court.

Stevens is a forthright scholar and writer. He has the knack of distilling complex legal arguments to their essence, often in a few sentences. It is a skill that I wish the current American and Canadian Justices of our respective Supreme Courts would use more often in writing judgments. So many judgments go on at great length seeking to explain, justify and inform on broader legal principles rather than limiting their judgments to the direct legal issues of the appeal.

I was struck by Stevens description of the collegiality of the Court. After reading The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong I was left with the impression there was a lack of collegiality at the Court.

Stevens provides a powerful anecdote on how the Justices interacted. He stated that in over 30 years of conferences (meetings to discuss and vote upon cases) no Justice had ever raised their voice. He sets out in the book there were strong differences between the Justices in their legal philosophies, as reflected in their judgments, but there was always respect.

The American Supreme Court and, I expect the Canadian Supreme Court, are models for politicians on how major public issues can be considered and vigorously debated without descending to personal invective and disrespect for those with whom you disagree on issues.

Stevens speaks of a tradition that reinforces their personal respect and friendship for each other. Before entering the courtroom to hear oral arguments the Justices all shake hands.

On the judicial philosophy spectrum Stevens and the late Antonin Scalia were often far apart. Personally, Stevens speaks of his good friend Nino.

Politicians and media – left and right – often speak of the judicial future of the Supreme Court in apocalyptic terms. You would think the end of the nation is upon America because of the composition of the Court.

Certainly, the Court has a major role in the United States but perhaps it is Stevens’ perspective of the Court as a 200 plus year old institution that he avoids such rhetorical excess.

He sets out his opinions on decisions he considers rightly and wrongly decided but usually does not venture into a discussion on their implications for the nation.

His examination of historic decisions demonstrates rarely are judgments on issues fixed for all time.

Where the Court upheld segregation late in the 19th Century just over 50 years later the Court unanimously moved America down the road to integration with Brown v. The Board of EducationHe goes on to show how America would have been better served had the Court simply directed trial judges to implement their decision. A subsequent Supreme Court decision directing integration to occur with "all deliberate speed" effectively set up an approach to resisting integration.

In his consideration of the role of the Chief Justice he shows how the Chief Justice is a first among equals. His vote on an appeal carries no greater weight than the other eight Justices. There is some deference in the process of decision making as he is the designated leader of the Court but not when the moment comes to vote on the disposition of an appeal.

I think the most significant roles in decision making by the Chief Justice involve his management of the conferences and his responsibility, when he is in the majority, to assign to a Justice the writing of a judgment.

Stevens explains that the tradition of identifying Courts by the name of the Chief Justice is often misleading. More apt would be to look to the Justices whose votes are the swing votes on closely divided issues. Their votes actually control the judicial direction of the Court. Were such an approach in place the current Court would be called the Kennedy rather than the Roberts Court.

As this review indicates I found more interesting Stevens’ thoughts on major decisions and the actual functioning of the Court than I did in his analysis of the five chiefs and the earlier 12 Chiefs. Those analyses, especially of the first 12, were but moderately interesting for me. For a reader without a background in the history of the Court his examinations of the Chiefs would be a good primer. I do wonder whether Stevens’ generous nature and clear love of the Court may have limited his observations and opinions.