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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 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.

In contrast to most years I have read one of the books on the shortlist for Best Crime Novel. I am excited to see Gail Bowen's excellent book, The Winners' Circle, on the shortlist. 

As I did not get through last year's shortlist I am not sure if I will follow a personal tradition of reading and reviewing and ranking the books on the shortlist for Best Novel. 

The Winners’ Circle, by Gail Bowen, publisher McClelland & Stewart
The Party, by Robyn Harding, publisher Gallery/Scout Press
The White Angel, by John MacLachlan, publisher Gray Douglas and McIntyre
Sleeping in the Ground, by Peter Robinson, publisher McClelland & Stewart
The Forgotten Girl, by Rio Youers, publisher St. Martin’s Press
BEST FIRST CRIME NOVEL sponsored by Rakuten Kobo
Puzzle of Pieces, by Sally Hill Brouard, publisher FriesenPress
Full Curl, by Dave Butler, publisher Dundurn Press
Ragged Lake, by Ron Corbett, publisher ECW Press
Flush, by Sky Curtis, publisher Inanna Publications
Our Little Secret, by Roz Nay, publisher Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
BEST CRIME NOVELLA – The Lou Allin Memorial Award
Snake Oil, by M.H. Callway, published in 13 Claws by Carrick Publishing
How Lon Pruitt Was Found Murdered in an Open Field with No Footprints Around,
by Mike Culpepper, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, by Dell
Blood & Belonging, by Vicki Delany, publisher Orca Book Publishers
Dead Clown Blues, by R. Daniel Lester, publisher Shotgun Honey
Money Maker, by Jas R. Petrin, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, by Dell
The Outlier, by Catherine Astolfo, published in 13 Claws by Carrick Publishing
There be Dragons, by Jane Petersen Burfield, published in 13 Claws by Carrick Publishing
Jerusalem Syndrome, by Hilary Davidson, published in Passport to Murder Bouchercon Anthology 2017
by Down & Out Books
The Ranchero’s Daughter, by Sylvia Maultash Warsh, published in 13 Claws by Carrick Publishing
The Sin Eaters, by Melissa Yi, published in Montreal Noir by Akashic Noir
Murder in Plain English, by Michael Arntfield and Marcel Danesi, publisher Prometheus Books
The Whisky King, by Trevor Cole, publisher HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Blood, Sweat and Fear, by Eve Lazarus, publisher Arsenal Pulp Press
The Dog Lover Unit, by Rachel Rose, publisher St. Martin's Press
Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence, by Alex Roslin, publisher Sugar Hill Books
Missing, by Kelley Armstrong, publisher Penguin Random House Doubleday Canada
Chase - Get Ready to Run, by Linwood Barclay, publisher Penguin Random House Puffin Canada
The Disappearance, by Gillian Chan, publisher Annick Press Ltd.
Thistlewood, by Donna Chubaty, publisher Grasmere Publishing
The Lives of Desperate Girls, by MacKenzie Common,
publisher Penguin Random House Penguin Teen Canada
Amqui, by Éric Forbes, publisher Héliotrope Noir
La vie rêvée de Frank Bélair, by Maxime Houde, publisher Éditions Alire Inc.
Les clefs du silence, by Jean Lemieux, publisher Québec Amérique
La mort en bleu pastel, by Maryse Rouy, publisher Éditions Druide
Les Tricoteuses, by Marie Saur, publisher Héliotrope Noir
BEST UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT sponsored by Dundurn Press
The Alibi Network by Raimey Gallant
Finn Slew by Ken MacQueen
Destruction in Paradise by Dianne Scott
Dig, Dug, Dead by Sylvia Teaves

Condemned by Kevin Thornton

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

Reading is going slowly so I looked back to an older unposted review by an author I appreciated. I am sad she is gone. I would like to have read more books involving Adelia. 
24. - 434.) The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin – Salerno doctor of death, Adelia, is called upon by former lover, Bishop Rowley, to investigate the poisoning of Rosamund, lover of King Henry II. Adelia, in her guise as Mansur’s helper, has become Henry’s secret investigator. The estranged Queen Eleanor is suspected. If she orchestrated the killing civil war is a certainty. A shadowy assassin is involved.  To my surprise Adelia has a baby from the liason with Rowley. While not a family it is a rare event in mystery fiction for the hero(ine) to have a child. As Rowley, Adelia, Mansur, Glytha and baby Allie travel to the tower, surrounded by a maze, in which Rosamund lived they encounter a fierce English winter storm (it sounded like a classic Canadian prairie blizzard). Initially they are storm stayed at Godstow Abbey. The murder of a young gentleman on the bridge to the Abbey is another puzzle. An early criminalist, Adelia, seeks to examine crime scenes and bodies before the evidence around them is compromised by other investigators and the curious. The bitter weather, in an era, when winter travel was precarious and dangerous is as much a challenge as the minimal clues. Adelia, following the approach of countless mystery detectives exemplified by Spenser, pokes around until the murderer reacts. The history is interesting. The plot flows well. They are not too many bodies. The characters are not stereotypes (not every bad guy is ugly with a miserable personality). The suspense builds through the book.The solution is credible. Hardcover or paperback. (June 11/08)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Fictional and a Real Life Mass Murder of a Family

Jane Harper

While reading The Dry by Jane Harper, which I reviewed in my last post, I thought about the real life mass murder of a family in Alberta for which Robert Raymond Cook was convicted and hung. Late last year I wrote a series of posts about the murders and trials and execution of Cook. In both book and real life I found some intriguing similarities.

(This post does not contain spoilers which solve the mystery in The Dry but there is more information than some readers would want before reading the book.)

In each case there is overwhelming evidence the murders were committed by a family member. In The Dry Luke Hadler is believed to have gone insane and killed his wife and son and then himself. In the Cook murders Robert Raymond Cook was convicted of murdering his father, step-mother and five half-brothers and half-sisters.

In both cases a shotgun was used. In The Dry all the victims were killed by the shotgun. In the Cook killings the parents were shot and the children bludgeoned with the shotgun.

In both cases the proffered motive was money. In The Dry the Hadlers are facing financial disaster because of prolonged and it is thought Luke cannot bear the loss of the family farm. Cook takes the family station wagon the night of the murders and trades it on a flashy convertible the next day.

Robert Raymond Cook
Yet the motives are challenged. Luke was not showing signs of depression. His parents, in particular, cannot believe he would have killed his wife and then hunted down and killed his 6 year old son because of financial problems. Cook returns to the town of Stettler the day after the murders and shows no sign of mental imbalance. Within the correctional system guards, accustomed to the manipulations of inmates, cannot see him as a ruthless killer.

For the murders in each case not to have been committed by Luke or Cook there is the challenge of determining another suspect. There is no immediate alternative in either case.

In the book and real life the murders took place in small rural communities. With everyone in the respective towns knowing each other there is a larger group of potential suspects than most big city murders. At the same time the isolation means the killer is most likely from the community.

In both cases there is no evidence of any family member or friend being in the family home at the time the killings took place.

In the Cook case there was an effort to find enough clues to implicate an unknown stranger. In the end there were the inevitable discrepancies of a major case but not enough to be convincing to a jury that there was a mysterious stranger.

In The Dry there is no thought of a mysterious stranger being the alternative to Luke as killer. The investigation focuses on the members of the community who would have had the opportunity to commit the murders.

In the real life Saskatchewan case of David Milgaard, wrongfully convicted of murdering a nurse, the actual killer, a known rapist at the time of the murders, was residing near the location of the murder.

As usual in cases where the evidence is convincing the police investigation in The Dry and the Cook murders was not rigorous. There was little reason to think each piece of evidence must be carefully assessed.

Modern technology offered some evidence in The Dry. There is a camera mounted on the barn that provided video of the family truck being driven into the yard and the sounds of the killing shotgun blasts and then leaving the yard. The video was also limited as it did not show the driver.

In the Cook case there were uninvestigated fingerprints but, taking place in 1960, the murders were long before DNA evidence. One of the reasons Milgaard was ultimately freed was the identification of Larry Fisher’s DNA on the clothing of the murder victim.

The most striking commonality between fiction and real life is a major issue with regard to shotgun. The shotgun shells used in The Dry were not the shells normally used by Luke. In The Dry the investigators spend a lot of effort on working out whether the different shells mean Luke did not commit the murders. In the Cook case neither the police nor Cook’s legal counsel could solve the mystery of whether the shotgun was owned by Cook’s father before the night of the murders or whether it was brought to the house by the killer. The unidentified ownership of the shotgun was one of the discrepancies that did not bother the jury.

There was tunnel vision involving the police in both cases. In The Dry the original investigating officers do a comprehensive but superficial examination of the evidence for they do not see contradictory evidence requiring a more thorough investigation. The RCMP are completely focused on Cook. What might have happened in the Cook case had there been a pair of officers such as Aaron Falk and Sgt. Greg Raco from The Dry who examined the evidence without assuming guilt before they started considering the evidence? I doubt they would have found a different killer. There was too much evidence pointing to Cook’s guilt.

One of the chilling but fascinating sections of The Dry was the killer’s justification of mass murderer. Harper provides an all too credible rationalization. As Cook went to the gallows protesting innocence we cannot know his reasons for murdering his family. Some in Alberta have always believed he did not kill them.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Thoughts on the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

As with everyone in Saskatchewan and many beyond our borders I have been thinking about the bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. Tragedy comes in different ways to all of us. 

Sometimes it is sudden. I have received a call from the RCMP in the night of a loved one being badly injured in an accident.

Other times it can come slowly. In 1991 I started representing hemophiliacs infected with AIDS. At that time there was no treatment and all were dying. Over the next 5 years 8 of my first 11 clients died.

Whether sudden or slow the emotional loss was intense. How to move forward after tragedy is a personal decision. My Catholic faith has helped sustain me.

I do the best I can to appreciate each day knowing it may be too late tomorrow.

Now the living Broncos, their families and the community of Humboldt face a loss that challenges description.

Sharon grew up near Humboldt. I went to high school at St. Peter’s College in Muenster. We know many people who will be in grief in Humboldt.

I have prayed and will pray again for the lost and those still alive.

Reviewing The Dry Through Bernadette's Review

Just over a month ago Bernadette, a good blogging friend, died in Adelaide, Australia. I never knew Bernadette except in the virtual world of blogging. I never knew her last name was Bean until her passing. She was a fine blogger. No one was more candid in their assessments of books than Bernadette. She had some epic ranks about what she disliked though she was never personal in her thoughts. When she did like a book I took notice. The Dry by Jane Harper was a book she admired. As my personal form of tribute to Bernadette I am putting up her post below and adding my comments on the book and review in brackets.
Jane Harpers THE DRY is well named. The drought-ridden, stiffingly-hot town of Kiewarra and its surrounding farmland dominate the book. Remote. A small population; always someone you know nearby which can be a blessing and a curse. And the weather. Always the weather. Refusing, almost with intent, to give even a hint of relief from the heat and dryness and failing to provide the sustenance needed for the farming everyone relies on for their livelihoods. Their lives.

(Australians know heat. While we experience heat in Western Canada it can never compare to Australian heat. What I can relate to such heat is the equivalent pressure from the cold we live with in winter. Cruel winters with -40 sap energy and drive people inside but farmers with livestock must still work outdoors. Unless you have lived in rural country where heat or cold test residents it is hard to understand the stress of prolonged extreme temperatures. Harper vividly explores the consequences of devastating heat and drought.)

The story opens with an all-too imaginable scene of an apparent murder-suicide of a farming family in this inhospitable place. All dead except for baby Charlotte.

First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet. Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A childs scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometer radius of the farm.

(I found the imagery powerful. It is not often I shiver reading a passage but reading of the deaths of the family deeply affected me.)

We are drawn into the story of this place via Aaron Falk. Kiewarra has dominated his life too. He was born there but left as a teenager. Forced out. Literally. After one of his friends had died.
Officially she committed suicide but many locals think Aaron played a role in her death. Only something as dramatic as his best friend Luke Hadlers funeral brings him back 20 years later, after hes made a life for himself as a Federal police officer in Melbourne. Well that and a veiled threat.

(It is hard to create a realistic combination of past and present violent death that has a plausible connection. Harper does it very well. I was driven to read how the mysteries could be solved while maintaining the connection.)

Still Aaron plans to be in an out of town pretty quickly but Lukes parents have other ideas. They dont believe their son killed his wife, their son and himself. They want Aaron to prove it. Need him to prove it.

(It is clear that Aaron is motivated by guilt but what did he do 20 years ago for which he still feels guilt. Could it be that this honourable man has been a killer despite his protestations?)

A lot of crime novels relay on abnormalities to keep readers attention. Serial killers with macabre fantasies. Impossibly convoluted crimes. Implausibly brilliant and/or quirky detectives. THE DRY has none of that. Even that horrendous weather is par for the course in the driest continent on the planet. Yet even without gimmicks and quirks. The story is completely gripping. There is such a palpable sense of the hidden here. Some peoples secrets are innocuous – merely an attempt to wrestle some privacy from life in the fish bowl that small
town living can be. Others are embarrassing. Others are truly awful. Criminal. Harper does a brilliant job of keeping us guessing about which is which right through the novel.

(Bernadette says far better than I can that secrets of the past and of the present are at the core of the book. All are real. What was most impressive to me was Harpers ability to establish secrets for characters as teenagers and as mature adults 20 years later.)

THE DRY is a very modern tale of Australian life that happens to have a crime or two in it. Theres no criminal mastermind at work. Just ordinary people reacting to what they experience. What they think they know.

(Bernadette aptly comments on the impact of what characters think they know. Assumption, whether based on fact or prejudice, is dangerous but is especially prevalent in small towns where residents know family histories for generations.)

Aaron feeling unable to walk away, wanting to know the truth about his old friend Luke. Once and for all. Lukes parents wanting to feel like they can look people theyve known all their lives in the eye again. The local policeman wondering if the murder suicide is really staged or does he just want it to be something unusual. Random locals believing the version of that long ago death that has become folklore.

(In some mysteries the lives of average people are simplistic, even dull. Harpers folk are well rounded interesting people with strong, even obsessive, emotions.)

Amidst the powerful backdrop of place that these peoples stories could get swamped but Harper brings them all vividly and realistically to life and makes the reader desperate to know what has brought each of them to the point at which weve met them.

(It is a story that has some universal themes but Harper with powerful backdrop of placemakes it a book that could only happen in rural Australia. I was equally desperate to find out what happened and read well into the night to finish the book.)

It would be more remarkable that this is a debut novel – because it is about as flawless as they come – except that Harper is a long-time journalist. So storytelling is clearly not new for her. Even so, whatever she produces next will have a lot to live up to. I for one cant wait.

(While Bernadette would likely hate a reference to a blurb, on my paperback copy the author, David Baldacci, echoes Bernadettes conclusion:

            Every word is near perfect. Read it!)

My experience of this truly excellent book was further enhanced via a fabulous narration of the audio version by local voice artist Steve Shanahan. His voice changes for different characters are perfect, his cadence and pacing are natural and he seems to be enjoying the story himself (this is not always the case.)

(I lament Bernadettes passing but am grateful to have known her. I hope there can be some form of remembrance of her concerning Australian crime fiction as her nation has lost a passionate, even fierce advocate, for its crime fiction, especially the works of woman writers. As I look for books to read I will go back to her blog for recommendations for and against books.)