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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Quintet from Sleuth of Baker Street

In my last post I discussed attending an author event on Sunday at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. As always I did some book shopping at Sleuth.

Having listened to the descriptions of the books and excerpts from each book I decided to buy The B-Team by Melodie Campbell. I was attracted to the book by the quirky characters and Melodie’s well known and well recognized sense of humour. Her website is titled funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.ca.

Melodie spoke of the challenge in trying to write fiction that is funny. At the end of the writing process, having read the book so many times she said she has to send it away to the publisher to judge its humour as she can no longer tell if it is humorous.

As I went around the bookstore looking at shelves and tables I spent most of my time looking for authors who are harder to find in stores. I can find the books of the best sellers in almost any bookstore.

I did look for a book bound to be a best seller. Jason Mathews’ new book, The Kremlin’s Candidate, has just been published. With the success of Red Sparrow and Victim of Treason I expect the third book in the trilogy, The Kremlin’s Candidate, will be a best seller. Dominika Egorova is a fascinating spy.
My second book purchase was Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany which is the second in her series involving Emma Doyle in her Sherlockian bookshop in Massachusetts. In the first book I enjoyed Emma’s intense powers of observation and her surprise that the rest of the world did not always appreciate the swiftness of her mind. A boyfriend did not propose marriage when she told him in advance she knew he was going to propose.

In a recent comment on The Kings of London, fellow blogger and friend Moira from Clothes in Books, said she was not ready at the moment for a depressing story. I can understand the thought. Part of the reason I bought the above two books is that each of them is not going to depress me in the reading.

My third book was Cut You Down, the second book in the Dave Wakeland series by Sam Wiebe. The author gained recognition in 2012 when he won the Unhanged Arthur Award for best unpublished novel with Last of the Independents. It subsequently became his first published book. He then embarked on the Wakeland series with Invisible Dead. The series, gritty but not depressing, is set on the mean streets of Vancouver.

The fourth book was All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards. I have enjoyed reading about Martin over my years as a blogger. Between his own fiction and collections of stories he has edited and his non-fiction work few can match the breadth of his crime fiction skills and knowledge. I had always been interested in reading his Harry Devlin series about a Liverpool solicitor. With Martin having been a lawyer I wanted to read what kind of lawyer he created. (That sentence sounds vaguely Frankensteinian but I will leave it as written.)

I was going to stop after four books but, as I was lined up to pay for my books (there is a scene not seen often enough in independent bookstores), on the shelf of staff recommended books was Take Down by James Swain. It sounded abit like The B-Team with a criminal seeking to do right. Being a book set in America, Las Vegas, I expect there will be more violence than the ladies of the B-Team in Hamilton. Still hesitating I asked Marian who had liked the book and she said J.D. Knowing it is not often they like the same book I asked her thoughts and she said J.D. had told her that he thought she would like it. She said he does not often make such a recommendation and she expected to soon read the book. Take Down became my fifth purchase. And it turned out to be autographed by the author.

I did take the opportunity to ask Marian if the store had any copies of the new Susan Wolfe legal mystery. I said I had liked The Last Billable Hour and was looking for the new book. She said she had loved The Last Billable Hour but had not heard of the new book. Her computer showed that the Canadian distributor did not have any in stock. She said she would contact them and see if she could get me a copy.

While there is no longer a cat to greet customers Marian has her faithful companion, Percy, quietly wandering the store and checking out visitors.
Lovers of crime fiction will never be disappointed if they visit Sleuth. I have been shopping there for almost 30 years.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Authors at Sleuth of Baker Street

The past week has not gone as expected. I plan to get back to reviews in the coming week but wanted to write this post and my next post about my visit today to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. With fewer mystery bookstores still in business I cherish every opportunity to visit a store dedicated to the genre I love to read and write about on this blog.

Today had an unexpected pleasure. I had not looked at the store calendar and did not know there was going to be a multiple author event at the store until I arrived this afternoon.

Three Canadian authors were involved. Melodie Campbell was there to talk about her newest book, The B-Team: The Case of the Angry First Wife. Alison Bruce was presenting her new book, Ghost Writer. Ginger Bolin’s book, Survival of the Fritters, the first in a new series was the third book. She was unable to attend because of the flu.

Hamilton based mystery reviewer and former university dean, Don Graves, read his reviews of The B Team and Ghost Writer. He greatly enjoyed each of the books. He spent several years writing reviews for the Hamilton Spectator and now writes reviews for the Bay Observer.

He had an anecdote about Sleuth. When he was a university dean in downtown Toronto he would often, sometimes even twice a week, slip away from the campus on a dean’s hour break to visit Sleuth and usually buy books. He has a personal collection of about 4,000 books with most of them being crime fiction and most of those purchased at Sleuth.

Don has an 8 year old grandson who has become entranced by Sherlock Holmes and is devouring Holmes’ stories. In the relentless way of children he asked his grandfather the source of his books. When his grandfather tired of saying they came from Sleuth and said one came from another source the grandson said “and why not Sleuth?” He said he would soon be bringing his grandson to see the store.

Melodie’s book is about an eccentric group of Canadian women who band together. From the publisher’s blurb:

        Del's great-aunt, Kitty, has retired from a life of crime and
        embarked on a new venture, the B-Team. Although Del works
        at an animal shelter by day, by night she, her great-aunt and
        their cohorts, Dino and Ritz, use their criminal skills to right
        wrongs.

Alison’s story involves the paranormal. From the author’s website:

Jen Kirby has seen ghosts since she was a teen, but she can't talk to them or help them cross over. And, after a violent death in the family, she doesn't want to see them anymore. 

In her role as ghostwriter, Jen joins a Canadian Arctic expedition to document and help solve a forty-year-old mystery involving an American submarine station lost during the Cold War. The trouble is, there are people, living and dead, who don't want the story told, and they'll do anything to stop her.

She had a striking story of personal experience with ghosts as she recounted seeing her grandmother, soon after her death, at the foot of her bed trying to talk to her.

Boltons’ book is the start of a new cozy series. Kirkus Reviews states:

        Since the death of her husband, Alec, Emily Westhill has kept
        busy running Deputy Donut with her father-in-law, Tom
        Westhill. A former police chief himself, Tom is also a
         doughnut expert, and he and Emily cook up a truly dizzying
        array of confections from lemon-glazed blueberry to maple-
        bacon.

After the formal presentation on the books there was mingling and sweets to be consumed. On Melodie’s book is the figure of a black cat. Among the treats were cat shaped and decorated cookies. I brought back to our temporary apartment a pair of the cat cookies.

I enjoyed visiting with Melodie and Alison.

Melodie is the former executive director of the Crime Writers of Canada. She was in that position when I joined the organization.

It was nice to chat with fellow aficionados of mysteries. It appears Canadians use the phrase mystery fiction more often than crime fiction. I get few chances to visit with groups of mystery fans.

With the author event and visiting completed I looked through the store for some books. As with recent visits Sleuth I restrained myself by purchasing only five books. It is hard to show restraint at Sleuth. Don left the store with two bags of books.

My next post will discuss the store and my purchases.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

(4. – 934.) Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly – I decided to write about what I love and what makes me unhappy and the contradictions in Connelly’s books as I read Two Kinds of Truth.

Harry’s new office as a member of the San Fernando police reflects Connelly’s skill in creating unique settings:

Bosch was where he was at the start of most weeks: sitting at his makeshift desk, a wooden door he had borrowed from the Public Works yard and placed across two stacks of file boxes.

His desk is in a jail cell:

…. the former cell now fitted with steel shelves containing case files. There was a long communal bench left over from the eell’s previous existence as a drunk tank.

Connelly challenges Bosch’s image of himself in the context of his case history. Over his career he has often dealt with cold cases in which he has searched old files for a piece of information overlooked or a witness either missed or not properly interviewed or applying new forensic techniques.

Now a small semen stain has been found in clothing from a murder victim, Danielle Skylar. It is from a violent sex offender and murderer, Lucas John Olmer. He is not the man, Preston Borders, whom Bosch had identified as the killer and was convicted of Skylar’s death. Has Bosch made a mistake?

Being a perfectionist Bosch is sure, as always, he never made a mistake. Connelly creates a high standard of expectation for Bosch by making him a perfectionist. As no one in real life is perfect I find it fascinating to wonder as I read if Connelly will show Bosch to be human and err or find a way to explain the inexplicable – how did Olmer’s DNA end up on clothing in a sealed box where Bosch’s signature on the tape sealing the box looks to be untampered.

Connelly does not provide easy cases for Bosch to remain perfect. You can be perfect if you do not take up the challenge of difficult cases. No real life trial lawyer wins them all unless the lawyer declines to take tough cases to trial.

Connelly brings in unusual law enforcement issues credibly. In Two Kinds of Truth it is the Health Quality Investigation Unit at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. They investigate with regard to the over prescription and unlawful prescription of drugs.

I love how Connelly will bring back characters from earlier books, often in a new position. Here uses the Unit as a means to have Bosch's old partner, Jerry Edgar, return as an investigator for the Health Quality Investigation Unit.

Connelly finds creative ways in plots for Bosch as he ages to both challenge the stereotypes of a senior citizen either being stuck in the office or engaged in implausibly physical feats. Here Bosch goes undercover as a pill shill – an addict who goes from shady doctors with prescriptions for opioids to shady pharmacies to get the bills – for a criminal enterprise. He is perfect candidate for the operation as he is a senior and active police officer. His age creates less suspicion in the gang that he is a plant. The process of going undercover was unconvincing in its briefness but Bosch has credible dangerous experiences undercover. At the same time Bosch will mix it up with the bad guys. There is a confrontation which is physical and believable.

Intentional or not I appreciate that Connelly has written books since the Bosch T.V. series started that re-affirm Titus Welliver, the T.V. Bosch, as my mental image of the book Bosch.

At the same time as I greatly enjoy the books I regret some tendencies in recent books in the series. I have also found interesting Connelly's use of contradictions in Bosch's actions. I will explore those issues in my next post.
****
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; (2017) - Bosch - T.V. - Season One and Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch; Hardcover


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Dyed in the Green by George Mercer


Dyed in the Green by George Mercer – Ben Matthews arrives at Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia as the new Assistant Chief Park Warden. The park is located in the northern part of the island and spans the island.

Matthews is joining his girlfriend, Kate Jones, a seasonal warden at the park. Life is a little more complicated with Matthews being the supervisor of Jones.

The park is in the midst of Acadian Nova Scotia. French is spoken as much as English. The Acadians see themselves as distinct from the English population.

Matthews arrives with a clear purpose. He is committed to the ideal of protecting the park from poachers. In recent years park wardens have not vigorously sought out poachers. Some local residents have been making a habit of poaching salmon and deer.

In particular, John Donald Moores views the park as a part of his regular hunting grounds. While he earns an income from commercial fishing he is a passionate hunter and fisher of salmon.

Moores is a man who believes rules and laws were meant for other people. At times contemptuous of the wardens he also views poaching as a game. There is a thrill in outwitting the wardens.

As is the way of governments throughout the world not all rules make sense. All hunting is prohibited in the park but non-commercial fishing for salmon is allowed.

Catching poachers means long lonely hours for the wardens. They will have all night patrols and stakeouts. On cold fall nights they bring sleeping bags to get some warmth.

Tensions can run high if the wardens confront a poacher. Still when murder occurs it is startling.

American readers may be surprised to know the wardens of 20 years ago and earlier did not carry firearms as they patrolled the parks. They confronted poachers, often armed, without guns themselves. Some carried guns, contrary to regulation, but many were unarmed.

Matthews fits well with the other wardens and park personnel. His staff sees him spending as much or more time as themselves on night duty.

I enjoyed learning about the life of park wardens some years ago, Parks Canada as explained by Mercer, re-organized in 2008 and there are no longer wardens. At the same time I do not think I will read another in the series.

It is an earnest book. Mercer clearly loves Canada’s national parks and the park wardens with whom he worked for over 30 years. I am sure, as with other professions, that almost all of them are dedicated to their work. At the same time I am sure that they have never thought of themselves as saints. The only flaw I could detect in Matthews is that he is a workaholic, overly dedicated, to being a warden. The other wardens except for Joe, on the verge of retirement, are equally without blemish. Joe’s flaw is a more relaxed approach to being a warden that is reflective of his age and impending retirement.

I certainly do not need sleuths to be dysfunctional individuals but they need to be real people.


Friday, February 2, 2018

The First Black Texas Ranger in Real Life and Fiction

In Bluebird, Bluebird Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger. He is accorded a special respect because of his status as a Ranger. In the book some of the white characters struggle with their attitude towards Mathews because of their prejudices against African Americans and their high regard for the Rangers. In the end being a Ranger is more important than being black.

Having never lived in Texas I have had but a limited appreciation for the special position of Rangers within Texas society. From Bluebird, Bluebird local law enforcement may not always be excited about the participation of the Rangers in cases but the public holds them in high esteem.

The book speaks of Mathews’ uncle, William, being the first black Texas Ranger. His uncle’s position as the first black Ranger provided Willian with a unique status among black Texans. He had broken another racial barrier.

Uncle William came from a family in the black elite of East Texas and had a big personality. Dead for several years he is still a significant presence in the book.

Reading about the two Mathews as Rangers set me to thinking about who had been the first real life black Texas Ranger. That distinction came to Lee Roy Young thirty years ago in 1988. It had taken 165 years since the Rangers were founded in 1823.

Young was 40 when he was chosen to be a Ranger. He already had 15 years in law enforcement with the Texas Department of Public Safety and had been a criminal intelligence investigator in San Antonio when he became a Ranger.

From a 1989 article and interview with Associated Press he indicated he had “dreamed of being a ranger as a child in south Texas and said the reality has pretty much lived up to the dream”.

On his motivation to be a Ranger he said:

“You’re trying to find or to obtain something unknown, or that’s not easily found or disclosed, so it’s that challenge in itself that I find most exciting.”

He had no problem with being a possible role model:

“There’s always that possibility, that someone will see me and say: “If he was successful in his chosen field, then I can go forth and do the same in mine”.

He was hoping in 1989 that his status as the first black Ranger would “just fade away” and people would focus on his work as a Ranger. He retired in 2003.

The first black woman Texas Ranger was Christine Nix. Her selection as a Ranger came in 1994, 6 years after Young.

An article for OA Online said:

For the next 10 years, until her retirement, she investigated murders, rapes, white collar crime and political corruption. She used hypnosis as part of her investigative techniques and jokingly told her children she had psychic powers.

After she retired from the Rangers in 2004 she became an Assistant Professor and program coordinator of Criminal Justice at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas.

Small in stature and soft in voice she always had a sense of humour:

      "Clint Eastwood (in a movie role) said, 'a man's got to know
      his limitations.' I knew my limitations, and as a police officer, I 
      couldn't run very far, but I warned, 'if I break a nail or mess up 
      my hair, someone's going to jail.' "

In Bluebird, Bluebird Darren Mathews was very appreciative of his Uncle William leading the way for African Americans in becoming
Rangers. At the same time old Rangers were always comparing him  to his Uncle.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

(1. – 931.) Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – After seeing Bluebird, Bluebird on many 2017 lists of best books and enjoying the reading of Black Water Rising I asked Santa for Bluebird, Bluebird and it was under the Christmas tree. I am glad I received the book. It is a wonderful book which has rightly propelled Locke into authorial superstardom.

It is a classic American Western with the lone lawman, Darren Mathews, fighting a powerful criminal gang. Mathews is a big man with a .45 on his hip and a 5 tipped star badge upon his chest riding into Lark, Texas in his Texas sized truck. Among contemporary Western American fictional lawmen I thought of Sheriff Walt Longmire from the series by Craig Johnson.

That the lawman is African American and the gang is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas brings the old West into the 21st Century. Too often I find mysteries with a police officer acting on their own not credible but Locke has created a believable plot.

Making Mathews a Texas Ranger cements the iconic Western theme.

His family has deep roots in East Texas. They are a part of the black establishment of the region with a family home still at the center of their lives no matter where they work.

Continuing another Western tradition Mathews has a lovely wife back in Houston who, weary of worrying about her husband riding into danger, has demanded he leave the Rangers or she will leave the marriage.

Mathews thinks of resigning from the Rangers and returning to law school.

Yet he cannot resist the lure of solving a double murder in Lark. Michael Wright, a black man with roots in Texas, but now resident in Chicago, is found dead in a bayou outside Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, a country cafe. He has been brutally beaten. Two days Missy Dale, a young white woman, is found dead in the same bayou behind the same cafĂ©.

The story veers from the simple blacks and whites of Western lore into the complexity of racial relationships in the 21st Century of rural Texas.

The black residents know the local white sheriff, in a different American tradition, is looking to arrest one of them for the murder. Little effort will be made to investigate Michael’s death.

Mathews, a man of stubborn integrity, will not abide an investigation looking only for a black killer as resolution.

With the authority given him by his status as a Ranger he probes more deeply into the lives of white folk and black folk. What does not fit evil Southern tradition of exacting vengeance on black woman when a white woman is attacked is that the black man was killed before the white woman.

Locke shows the discomfort the white residents have with a black Ranger but equally the respect they have for his badge. The world of race relations is being turned upside down.

I have not even discussed the remarkable characters who fill the book. Just one will suffice to illustrate the superb characterization.

Geneva, almost 70 years old, grieves her husband Joe, murdered 6 years ago. The book opens with her visiting his grave:

Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Late morning sunlight pinpricked through the trees, dotting a constellation of lights on the blanket of pine needles as Geneva’s feet as she snaked the cord between Mayva’s sister and her husband, Leland, Father and Brother in Christ. She gave the cord a good tug, making her way up the modest hill, careful not to step on the graves themselves, only the well-worn grooves between the headstones, which were spaced at haphazard and odd angles, like the teeth of a pauper.

Locke has created a Western lawman for this century in Mathews. I hope Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in a series. I want to read more of his adventures.
****
Locke, Attica - (2016) - Pleasantville; (2017) - Black Water Rising and Wishing I had Read the Books in Order