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, December 12, 2017

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

(40. – 927.) Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart – Since I began blogging random purchases of crime fiction have become infrequent. There are many excellent authors whose books I read regularly. In addition there is an abundance of recommendations from fellow bloggers. Thus it was a fortuitous accident that I picked up Jade Dragon Mountain in a Saskatoon bookstore. The cover attracted me. While I do my best not to judge a book by its cover a well designed cover can get my attention. Reading a couple of pages drew me into the story and I bought the book. It was my best accidental purchase of the year.

In 1708 former imperial librarian Li Du, exiled from Beijing for being the friend of traitors enters the city of Dayan (now Lijiang) in what is now known as the province of Yunan. The city is near the border with Tibet. Since becoming an exile he has been a traveling scholar following the journeys of famed Chinese travel authors. His cousin, Tulishen, is the Magistrate in Dayan.

Li Du arrives at a time of great excitement. The emperor is coming to Dayan preside over a solar eclipse as Commander of the Heavens:

The Emperor of China had the power, according to ancient tradition, to predict astronomical phenomena. Displays of this power confirmed the Emperor’s divine legitimacy, the more effective the demonstration. Members of the intellectual elite, of which Li Du and Tulishen numbered, were aware that for many years it had been the Jesuits at court who had provided the Emperor with a yearly calendar of astrominical events. Naturally, public acknowledgement of their role was forbidden, as it would tarnish the pageantry of the Emperor’s predictions.

For almost a year the Emperor has been on a grand tour from Beijing that will culminate with the celebration of the eclipse.

While the Emperor has severely limited foreigners from entering China and kept trade at a minimum there are constant efforts to open up China.

For the celebration in Dayan a pair of Jesuits and, Sir Nicholas Gray,  an ambassador for the British East India Company have come from India.

One of the Jesuits, the elderly Brother Pieter, is a skilled astronomer who had spent several years in Beijing.

Gray is hoping to convince the Emperor to allow the Company trading access to China. Gray brings numerous gifts including an amazing tellurion, a device that depicts heavenly bodies in their orbits.

Joining them is a marvelous Arab storyteller, Hamza, who beguiles audiences with a never ending series of stories.

Li Du, uninterested in the great celebration, prepares to leave Dayan when Pieter dies suddenly in his room. Despite official protestations Li Du can tell the Jesuit’s tea was poisoned.

Magistrate Tulishen would be content with Tibetan traders, who have already left Dayan, being blamed. Tulishen wants no disturbance of the celebration as he hopes his successful management of the event will lead him to be promoted to a higher post in Beijing. Li Du initially accepts the whitewash but cannot abide the coverup and returns to Dayan to investigate the murder.

Through Hamza’s clever use of rumour the Magistrate is forced to let him investigate but Li Du is given but 3 days to solve the murder.

As he investigates there emerges a dangerous and subtle plot that could change the future of China.

While the Westerners want an open China there are many Chinese who feel there is nothing to be gained from open borders. They have contempt for the Europeans.

With intelligence and persistence Li Du gradually uncovers the secrets of each of the main characters. The book is filled with well drawn and interesting people.

Jade Dragon Mountain is a mix of historical and crime fiction that I find irresistible when it is done this well. Hart drew me into the life and times of early 18th Century China. Li Du in the bustling Dayan reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim in India. They are both inquisitive, clever and determined. While Kim is caught up in the Great Game of espionage Li Du navigates the complexities of rural and imperial Chinese society and bureaucracy.

I gained a feel for the China of 1708 in the same way I feel comtemporary China 300 years later in the Inspector Chen mysteries of Qiu Xiaolong. Both Li Du and Chen are unusual men as they are not caught up in the national striving, prevalent in every generation, for greater power and position and wealth. They leave superiors uneasy for they are not susceptible to the temptations that make most men vulnerable to pressure and manipulation.

And I guarantee the ending will be a surprise.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Politics is an Honourable Profession

Kevin Phillips
In my previous post I reviewed The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes, a biography of Ted Hughes. After moving to British Columbia in his early 50’s Ted was the first Conflict of Interest Commissioner for the province. In that position and through other assignments he reviewed the allegations of misconduct against provincial politicians.

He became famous when Premier Bill Vander Zalm, an outspoken and colourful businessman, called upon Ted to investigate Vander Zalm’s business dealings, while Premier, with a Taiwanese businessman, Tan Yu, concerning the Premier’s money losing business Fantasy Gardens:

Depending on the eye of the beholder it was either the height of kitsch or an enchanting retreat, with extensive gardens, a giant windmill, a miniature train, a reproduction of Noah’s Ark, statutes depicting the life of Jesus and a Dutch castle with a drawbridge left over from Expo ’86.

The name and description of Fantasy Gardens may seem like fiction but it was real.

After arranging for the government to provide VIP treatment of Tan Yu on his arrival in British Columbia there was a late night meeting at which a revised agreement for sale of Fantasy Gardens was reached. The evening concluded with the Premier being given $100,000 in cash.

Vander Zalm, in his first interview with Ted, did not tell him about the $100,000. After Hughes found about the cash there was a second interview in which Vander Zalm “said he had not mentioned the cash because it was a private matter that had nothing to do with the sale of Fantasy Gardens.” The revised explanation was not believed. I doubt the explanation would have helped even if believed. Vander Zalm had no real concept of conflict of interest.

In his report:

Hughes found that the fundamental issue wasn’t that Vander Zalm did not understand the need to draw a line between his public and private life, it was his “apparently sincere belief that no conflict existed as long as the public didn’t know what was going on.”

The Premier resigned after the devastating report was released.

While many might conclude Ted was out to punish devious and wicked politicians it is actually his conviction that being a politician is an honourable profession and deserves to be respected:

Hughes’ strong belief  in the fundamental honour of most politicians was matched by his zeal and determination to protect the honour of the profession. Hughes understood that as a public servant he was serving political masters, but from early on he also loyally served an ideal that his masters were also public servants who had to meet high standards to maintain the public trust. If they failed to meet that standard, he was ready to say so.

He supported strong conflict of interest legislation to support politicians

Ted’s opinion of the profession of politics led me to reflect that the provincial politicians I know best are honourable men and women doing their best for city or province or country. I think we are often unduly harsh in judging the motivations of politicians. I have known each of the MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) for Melfort over the past 40 years. They represented three different political parties. I consider each to be an honourable person.

Norm Vickar, former farmer and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA when I came to Melfort in 1975.

He was followed by an auctioneer, Grant Hodgins.

He was succeeded by Carol Carson who had been Mayor of Melfort.

Rod Gantefoer, the co-owner of the local KFC franchise, was our next MLA.

Most recently Kevin Phillips, a newspaper man and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA until he died suddenly last month. At Kevin’s funeral the Premier, Brad Wall, and a provincial Minister, Joe Hargreaves, spoke of Kevin’s integrity. Kevin worked hard to get a women’s crisis shelter built in Melfort, the first new shelter in 28 years in our province, including walking miles in red high heeled shoes in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraisers. I knew Kevin as a friend and as a client. I can affirm he was a man of integrity and principle. 

I resent the attitude that politics is a dishonourable profession and support Ted’s view that the vast majority of politicians are honourable people.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes

(38. – 925.) The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes – Ted Hughes has led a life that humbles the reader. He has worked into his 90th year on public service striving to make Canada a better country.

He grew up in Saskatoon and after high school attended the University of Saskatchewan. He graduated with his law degree in 1950. In an era where young lawyers were paid very modestly he hitchhiked the 140 km from North Battleford to Saskatoon on Saturdays to visit his girlfriend, Helen, and attend chuch. He would take the bus back on Sunday nights.

Love blossomed and he married Helen in 1954. Her father, an Anglican minister, presided at his church, St. John the Evangelist.

Ted remained in private practice through the 1950’s though he found charging for his services awkward, especially with clients who had limited resources:

“That was the reason, and the principal reason, why I wasn’t happy in private practice. I hated the billing part of it and rendering accounts.”

Interested in politics he became an active member of the Progressive Conservative Party. The 1950’s were a good time to be a Saskatchewan supporter of the federal PC’s. The party leader, John Diefenbaker, was from Saskatchewan and became Prime Minister in 1957.

It was an era where it was rare to see a Canadian lawyer appointed to a superior court position without being a member of the federal governing party. With impeccable party credentials Ted was duly considered for the bench and appointed in 1962 when he was 35.

One of my regrets in reading the book was that he did not want to come to Melfort in 1962 where the position was allocated. Since he chose not to reside in Melfort we have not had a resident superior court judge.

One of the reasons I wanted to read The Mighty Hughes was because I appeared before Ted Hughes when he was Mr. Justice Hughes of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench in the late 1970’s. I wish I could say I remembered specific cases. I do remember he was a good judge and well respected by the bar.

He enjoyed being a judge and presided over the family property trial of Colin Thatcher and JoAnn Wilson, one of the most contentious family property trials in Saskatchewan history. He rejected claims by Thatcher that his father only intended gifts of property to be for his son and a further claim that there was a secret trust of property for Thatcher and his mother. Some believe the judgment was the catalyst for Ms. Wilson being shot and some time later murdered. (I have written about Thatcher’s murder trial in posts related to Thatcher’s book, Final Appeal – Anatomy of a Frame.)

Unhappy with both the process of picking a new Chief Justice for the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan and the actions of some colleagues on the bench he resigned his position, after prudently arranging a pension, and moved to Victoria, British Columbia to take up a modest position with the B.C. government as a Legal Officer Specialist.

At 53 Ted was starting a new career. His abilities and hard work were recognized and he soon became Deputy Attorney General. While carrying out all the many tasks of that position he started chairing government inquiries into individual cases and broader based issues.

In 1990, now 63, he became the first conflict on interest commissioner for B.C. Early in his time in that position he investigated and found some provincial ministers to have breached the guidelines. He built a reputation of integrity.

Ted became famous when the Premier, Bill Vander Zalm, called on him to investigate and report on the Premier’s dealings, while Premier, with regard to a business venture, Fantasy Gardens, and a Chinese investor. In my next post I discuss Ted’s investigation and explore some of his thoughts on politics as a profession.

During his mid-70’s Ted took on developing an arbitration program to adjudicate thousands of claims from former Indian residential school students that they were physically and/or sexually abused while in school. He established a system that managed to deal with the huge number of claims. I had some cases proceed through the hearings. While I do not agree with how some claims were dealt with it was a system that was considerably quicker than going through individual court actions.

In his 80’s he conducted an inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair in Manitoba. The 5 year old Indigenous girl, residing with her mother and stepfather, in the last months of her life “was sadistically beaten with a handle from a refrigerator and an iron rod. When she died, her mother and Mackay wrapped her lifeless body in plastic and buried it in a shallow grave near the town dump.” In his report he discussed the failings of the provincial child welfare system and the inequities facing Indigenous people in Canada.

Approaching 90 Ted was involved in a task force on homelessness in Victoria.

While devoted to making Canada a better place his character may be best demonstrated by the reaction of staff at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina where he stayed extensively over several years while working on the Indian Residential Schools Claims:

When he finished in 2008, the hotel staff who had been serving him in the bar and dining room presented him with a plaque that read, “In Appreciation of your Kindness, Warmth and Generosity that you’ve shown us at the Hotel Saskatchewan. It has been a Great Honour getting to know you. We wish you all very Best in your Future.”

He has earned his description as “Western Canada’s Moral Compass.”
You cannot help thinking as you read the book that you, as a reader, should do more public service for your community, province and nation.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Legal Representation in The Color of Law

In my previous post I provided a general review of the legal mystery, The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez. In this post I will be discussing A. Scott Feeney’s representation of Shawanda Jones against murder charges. To have that discussion I may provide more information than readers who have not read the book may want and even spoilers. You are warned.

Scott is faced with a major challenge in framing a defence. Shawanda admits she was with the murder victim, Clark McCall, the night he was killed and that they had a physical confrontation and that her gun was used to kill him. At the same time she insists she did not kill him.

Scott proceeds from an assumption that Shawanda is lying about not killing McCall but that she was acting in self-defence. His client is resolute. She did not kill McCall.

Worried a jury will not believe her and she will be convicted and executed he rightly explores with her and the prosecutor a guilty plea with a lesser penalty.

Ted DiPaulo, defence counsel, in The Guilty Plea by Robert Rosenberg equally looked at a guilty plea for his client, Samantha Wyler, accused of murdering her husband, Terry Wyler. She even brings to his office the bloody knife used to kill her husband.

When a trial risks a far worse sentence than a guilty plea every defence lawyer has discussions with the client on what they could admit to reach a deal.

In the end neither Scott nor Ted can make a deal as each woman refuses to admit killing. A lawyer, even when convinced his client is guilty, is bound to proceed with a trial when his/her client will not admit guilt. They are entitled to their day in court.

While most of The Color of Law deals with the problems for Scott arising from his representation of Shawanda he gradually prepares for trial.

What is barely addressed in the plot before trial is who actually killed McCall. If there is strong evidence against the  accused who is maintaining innocence who was the real killer? The presumption of innocence is useful but judges and juries want to know who is the potential real killer if it is not the accused.

The alternative would not have been needed as much if she had denied being at the murder scene or her gun was not there. With those circumstances the defence, if it does not have an alternative, can still credibly argue the prosecution has not proven the accused was the killer. Famously O.J. Simpson did not need an alternative as he denied being at the scene of the murder.

I knew from early on in the book that Scott would have to put up an alternative to Shawanda killing McCall but none is developed during preparation for trial. My credibility was stretched. What  stretched it to the breaking point, but not further, was the trial in which Scott develops on the fly an alternative with the aid of evidence delivered to him during the trial.

No real life competent lawyer would be working out a theory of the defence in the midst of a trial. There are shifts in strategy in trials as unexpected evidence is heard but it was unbelievable to create a defence in The Color of Law during trial that should have been ready long before trial.

At one point Scott goes fishing for evidence from a hostile witness. A death penalty trial is the worst time for a lawyer to go on a fishing expedition. The approach may have been used to create a defence worthy of Hollywood but it strained belief.

Grisham, a great legal mystery writer, has trials in his books but there is no ad hoc advocacy. Surprises occur and must be dealt with but there is never a fishing expedition.

Scott’s hero (and Gimenez’s hero) is Atticus Finch from To Sing a Mockingbird. Both Scott and his creator would have been well advised to have remembered how Atticus carefully prepared for the defence of Tom Robinson and skillfully carried out his strategy during the trial.

Gimenez could have had as much drama with the development of the alternative killer prior to trial and unfolding the story at trial. Making the defence work in a trial is just as dramatic as coming across it during the trial. 

I want to read a further book in the series to see if Gimenez becomes more realistic in Scott’s representation of clients.
Gimenez, Mark - (2017) - The Color of Law

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez

(39. – 926.) The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez (2005) – A. Scott Feeney has a perfect life. A great athlete he was a star running back at SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas who became a legend after rushing for 193 yards against the University of Texas. As bright as he was athletic Scott was 1st in his law school class. He is charming and handsome. Ford Stevens, the largest and most prestigious law firm in Dallas, recruited him out of law school. He rose swiftly to partner status and is earning $750,000 annually. He has a $3.5 million house in the exclusive Town of Highland Park. His wife, Rebecca, was Miss SMU and is poised to become Chair of the Cattle Barons Ball. His 9 year old daughter, Boo, is precocious and fascinated by the practice of law. (They are reading the U.S. Constitution clause by clause for a bedtime story.)

Scott finds the legal solutions for his wealthy corporate clients. His most important client, developer Tom Dibrell, pays the firm $3,000,000 a year to deal with his issues. Whether corporate or personal Scott is ready. Early in the book he negotiates a $1,000,000 settlement of a sexual harassment complaint against Dibrell. It is not Dibrell’s first settlement.

Then District Court Judge Samuel Buford calls Scott to his office. Though Scott is not a criminal lawyer the judge has decided to appoint him to represent Shawanda Jones charged with murdering Clark McCall. He was the son of Mack McCall. Mack is the senior Senator from Texas and a presidential candidate. Jones is a young black prostitute with a heroin addiction. The judge wants to make sure she has capable counsel. With the firm having a significant federal court practice Scott accepts the appointment.

Senior partner, really firm dictator, Dan Ford schemes for Scott to actually avoid representing Shawanda. Eventually Scott hires a struggling classmate, Bobby Herrin, who practices criminal law to take over but Shawanda insists upon Scott.

At home tensions rise when Scott agrees that Shawanda’s 9 year old daughter, Pajamae, can live with him until the trial is over as Shawanda cannot afford bail.

Scott faces a dilemma. Shawanda will not oblige everyone by pleading guilty. Though the evidence is strong she insists she is innocent. The firm insists he find a way to be removed as her counsel or convince her to make a plea bargain.

Scott must address why he is a lawyer. He has obligations to his firm and regular clients and Shawanda. Those varied commitments conflict.

Gimenez provides an interesting exploration of the resolution of that conflict and the consequences for all involved.

I can see why there are blurbs referencing John Grisham. Gimenez provides an unflattering portrayal of big firm law in America. Grisham has taken the same approach in several books.

The relationship between Boo and Pajamae was very well done. The girls bounce from innocent to being worldly. I found myself eager to know what they would be doing in the book.

In my next post I will discuss Scott’s representation of Shawanda. There will be more detail some readers many not want and possibly some spoilers so I decided to separate the review. 

The Color of Law is a good book.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Legitimate Business by Michael Niemann

(35. – 922.) Legitimate Business by Michael Niemann – An opening to remember:

There is no rush hour in a refugee camp. No jobs to get to, no appointments to keep. Just waiting. Waiting to go home. The Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons, some ten miles south of El Fasher in Darfur, Sudan, was no different. The closest Zam Zam got to a rush hour was when the food aid arrived.

Then a sniper, Garreth Campbell, shoots an elder, a female police woman from Bangladesh and a young woman. He calmly drives away.

At the same time, the spring of 2010, in Dusseldorf Valentin Vermeulen, an investigator for the OIOS (United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services) is completing a short vacation. He checks for fraud in U.N. operations around the world. Having stirred up the bureaucracy in New York by reporing on possible fraud by the son of the Secretary General he has been designated to travel to the distant missions of the U.N. as far from New York as possible. While exiled he remains stubbornly resolute in pursuing fraud.

Before leaving Dusseldorf he has a difficult conversation with his daughter, Gaby. He has not seen her in 8 years and is attempting a reconciliation. His marriage had broken down and Gaby did not handle it well. She ended up using heroin, and he, after tracking her down, forced Gaby into rehab. He eventually left Belgium for the U.N.

Back in South Sudan, Priya Choudhury is intent on investigating the murder of her friend Ritu Roy. They were members of a 140 woman detachment of Bangladeshi policewomen sent to Zam Zam.

Shortly after the killings Vermeulen arrives in Darfur to conduct an audit of the United Nations/African Union Mission (UNAMID).

His aide, Winston Wambai, is a member of the Kenyan military peacekeeprs.

Legitmate Business has such a promising start. There are challenging issues with regard to refugees and war in the region. Niemann starts exploring the frustrations of the U.N. personnel in a war zone where they are barely tolerated. Yet he does not make the conflict as simple as Arabs v. Africans.

Unfortunately the plot then starts descending into an average thriller with a trip to a camp of one of the warring factions. Vermeulen and Choudhury want to interview Amina, a young girl who saw the shooter. Unwanted and univited at the camp the journey stretches credibility as they demand of the commander that they be able to talk to her.

Later there are a series of hair breadth escapes that are the staple of modern thrillers.

Legitmate Business is a competent thriller I lament that it could have been much more. A book in the mode of John Le Carre was within Niemann’s grasp. I thought of The Night Manager where a principled young man takes on an international arms dealer. There is also shifty arms dealing in Legitimate Business.

Unlike The Night Manager the bad guys are purely evil in Legitimate Business.

Niemann has the knowledge and imagination to have avoided thriller violence to solve the mystery. Instead, he chose the approach of Indiana Jones. Vermeulen is an intelligent hero who was limited to being an action hero.

What did surprise me was an ending that was a return to real world reality. The beginning and the end showed what Niemann is capable of writing. 

If you love the current Hollywood approach to thrillers you will enjoy Legitimate Business. I hope Niemann’s next book pursues issues through the book as well as thrills.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Getting the Law Wrong in Glass Houses

I enjoy reading about fictional court cases, criminal or civil, and was intrigued when Louise Penny in Glass Houses wove into the plot a trial of the murderer with Armand Gamache as the prime witness. It took considerable cleverness to conceal the identity of the accused and the murder victim while recounting testimony at the trial.

Penny’s trial also has a hidden agenda that is fascinating, even brilliant.

Unfortunately Penny’s description of the trial could not have taken place in Canadian criminal courts. I acknowledge every writer can adjust real life norms to fit their fiction but it grates on me when trials are described that do not follow real life procedures and rules of evidence. If such “details” are of little interest to you read this post no further. If you have expectations of crime fiction featuring trials to be “real” you will find this post of interest.

I acknowledge it is hard to portray a trial if you have not been a trial lawyer. The actual rules of conduct and evidence are complex. I found it difficult to know whether Penny knew the rules but chose to disregard them.

Feelings are not evidence. Evidence of feelings will rarely be allowed as the feelings of a witness are not facts but the opinions of the witness.

In one exchange:

“How did it strike you,” the Crown asked, “when you saw Lea Roux come to the defense of the cobrador?”

“I would’ve been surprised to see anyone standing between a man swinging a fireplace poker and his target.”

A judge would not want Gamache’s opinion on the actions of Ms. Roux. The judge would want the narrative of what happened.

At another point the prosecutor asks:

          “What tips someone over into murder?”

The question allows Gamache to give a lecture on his theory of murder:

“What makes someone kill isn’t opportunity, it’s emotion,” Gamache spoke quietly, softly even. As though confiding in a good friend. “One human kills another. Sometimes it’s a flash of uncontrollable anger,. Sometimes it’s cold. Planned. Meticulous. But what they have in common is an emotion out of control. Often something that has been pent up. Buried. Clawed away at the person.”

When the prosecutor objects that Gamache’s statement is irrelevant the judge denies the objection as Gamache is the Crown’s witness and the prosecutor had asked the question.

As I read the passage I was saying no in my mind. Even without objection from the defence no judge would have allowed the question let alone the answer. Once again it is not evidence but opinion.

The prosecutor could in his address to jury set out an argument on how the evidence supports a theory of murder but no witness would be allowed such a speech.

Later the prosecutor invites Gamache to speculate on knowledge there was murder:

“When you arrived at the restaurant, Chief Superintendent, did you get the impression the people already knew?”

It is not for Gamache to provide his opinion on what they “already knew”. If the prosecutor wants to “know” what they “knew” he needs to call the people at the restaurant as witnesses.

Procedurally the trial judge would never invite the prosecutor and witness, Gamache, into her Chambers without including defence counsel and the accused.

Only in the most exceptional circumstances will the accused not be present when a trial matter is being discussed. Not long ago in Saskatchewan a new trial was ordered when the accused was not included in a conference involving judge and legal counsel.

As a final example no author should ever have a Canadian judge wielding a gavel. There are no gavels in Canadian courts.
Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Unhappiness with Glass Houses by Louise Penny

In my previous post I set out what I liked about Glass Houses, this year’s addition to the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny. I enjoyed the book, especially the presence of the cobrador as a conscience. At the same time I was unhappy with other aspects of the book. To discuss those qualms will mean at least significant disclosure and possibly spoilers in this post.

Louise returns to a theme she has explored in earlier books. Through several books there was an ongoing secondary plot involving vast corruption within the top ranks of the Surete that Gamache was personally battling. I did not find that conspiracy convincing and thought it a distraction. I was glad when it ended in How the Light Gets In.

The plot line in Glass Houses of a great strike against drug traffickers secretly prepared and led by Gamache featuring grand deceptions inside the Surete defied credibility. Unfortunately, we all know there is no single police operation that can devastate drug traffickers. The war on drugs of the U.S. and Mexico in which most of the leaders of Mexico’s cartels have killed or captured has not dramatically decreased the flow of illicit drugs.

I thought Penny’s efforts to graft a thriller plot line on to the murder mystery worked no better here than the apocalyptic plot involving a secret gun in The Nature of the Beast.

While Penny has reduced Gamache’s role from saving the world to saving Quebec I have been distressed in both books as Gamache was never a character to rescue the world or Quebec from doom.

In the secondary plot of Glass Houses she places Gamache in the even more implausible role of an action hero. There is a Hollywood movie scene starring Gamache in a violent confrontation.

Gamache as a man of action is credible to me but not participating in a bloody fire fight.

Gamache, as a middle aged man, is ill cast in the role of action hero. His advancing years make such actions implausible. It is the problem faced by aging James Bond’s through the 007 movies.

His personality, rather reserved even formal, was carefully developed through the series. While it is interesting to see characters change Gamache is not an action hero.

It further defied belief that Gamache as Chief Superintendent of the Surete would be personally involved. I have feel writers putting the leaders of police forces into Hollywood action scenes are succumbing to the lure of body counts. As much drama could have been created by having him dispatch the officers and await their hopeful return.

The secretive criminal mastermind faced by Gamache was not believable in his public face through the book. It would have been much better to have created an evil genius who operates his empire with a coterie of notable hench men and women.

The Gamache series is better when it tackles individual cases and human emotions rather than extravagant thriller concepts, especially those venturing into the realm of the super hero.

There remains an area that troubled my reading and it is the trial portrayed in the book. My concerns will be explored in my third post on Glass Houses.
(Three Pines - Fictional Location) Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011)(2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In and Comparing with The Gifted; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map