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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany

(8. – 938.) Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany – Gemma Doyle is back in fine form as the brilliantly deductive, though a touch condescending to the less quick of mind, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookstore and Emporium. It is summer on the coast of Massachusetts and the town is overflowing with tourists. A fair share of the visitors stop by the store and Gemma is well stocked with mysteries.

A regular, if busy week, is upended by the visit of Linda Markle, a rather plain young woman, who asks Gemma if the store would host an author event for Renalta Van Markoff, the author of the wildly successful Desdemona Hudson mystery series. Van Markoff has added to the trove of Sherlockia by making the estimable Mrs. Hudson into a detective, brighter than Sherlock, who actually solves the mysteries. This Mrs. Hudson is a member of the aristocracy and bears but a slight resemblance to the Mrs. Hudson of Conan Doyle’s books which becomes even slighter with the revelation Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock are lovers.

Gemma instantly agrees to the author event for best selling authors rarely come to her store and, wth the newest book, Hudson House, just published and already atop bestseller lists readers will flock to the store.

That afternoon Ms. Van Markoff deigns to drop by the store. She makes a grand entrance:

The older woman paused for a moment, one perfectly manicured hand resting on the car door. She stood there smiling while camera and smartphones clicked. It was a hot summer afternoon, but she was draped in a black ankle-length cape with a scarlet satin lining hat shimmered as she moved. Her ruby-red shoes had four-inch heels. Her black hair was gathered behind her head in a tumbled mass, and her ruby earrings gathered the light of the sun and threw it at us ….. She extended her hand toward me, and I was enveloped in a cloud of Chanel No. 5. Expensive and classic. For a moment, I wondered if I was expected to kiss the ruby ring.

Gemma is bemused by the author as diva but appreciative of the public flair. Her mere appearance instantly draws readers to the store and a flurry of sales take place. On departure Gemma advises her sole employee, Ashleigh, that there were 27 copies of Hudson House sold. When Ashleigh asks how she knows without checking the computer Gemma says she observes what is going on the store. She is momentarily flummoxed when Ashleigh says the records show 28 sold. Observing the store more closely Gemma determines a book has been sold from the window display.

Holmesian purists, represented by local retired lawyer Donald Morris, disdain the series for, in their vision, distorting and contorting the traditional characters. Gemma, though not fond of the overblown dramatics of the series, is happy at the prospect of selling piles of books.

Gemma re-arranges the store to accommodate over 100 visitors and works out overflow with Jayne, co-owner of Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, which adjoins the bookstore.

Early Saturday afternoon Ms. Van Markoff and entourage – publicist Kevin Reynolds and personal assistant Ms. Markle and publisher Robert McNamara - sweep into the store.

Gemma is surprised to observe that the great author appears nervous about addressing her fans. Yet in the spirit of the show must go on Van Markoff is giving an excellent performance until, in the grand tradition of Victoria melodrama, she collapses and expires.

With suspects all around Gemma feels compelled to assist the police in their inquiries.

Her handsome ex-fiance, Ryan Ashburton, is leading the investigation with her nemesis, detective Louise Estrada, from the first series working with him.

Gemma does not rely only upon observation. She casts about on the worldwide web for information about the suspects.

The strength of this series is in the intrepid Gemma and the fascinating characters. The clever Emma cannot comprehend the inability of those around her not to observe the details that are instantly absorbed by her.

The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries are fun and I think Delany uses them to prick, not skewer, the pretentious. In this book the egos of inflated authors are exposed. I wonder upon which prideful group Ms. Delany will focus her attention in the next book of the series.
Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in
     Clothing Descriptions

     4.) The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries with Gemma
     Doyle - (2017) - Elementary, She Read and Fictional and Real
     Life Bookshops and Sherlock and Where is "Gemma" From?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Conan Doyle Detective by Peter Costello

(7. – 937.) Conan Doyle Detective by Peter Costello (1991) – I knew from reading The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rediscovered by Stephen Hines that Arthur Conan Doyle was involved in a number of real life criminal cases. In that book he was a powerful advocate for a pair of wrongly convicted men in early 20th Century England. Those cases are also featured in this book.

What I had not realized was the extent of his involvement in real life crime. He participated in investigations to find those guilty of crime and to aid those unjustly accused.

I expect he was partially inspired by his own experience with the criminal justice system. As a young doctor in 1885 he was visited by the police who, after receiving an anonymous letter, were making inquiries into the death of a boy for whom Doyle was caring in his home as a “resident patient”. Medicated with choral hydrate he had suddenly died. Though proper, police suspicions were raised by Doyle signing the death certificate. Doyle would have at least faced a major investigation but for the visit of a local doctor the night of the death who confirmed Doyle’s treatment.

It is no surprise that he was constantly contacted by members of the public seeking his assistance in solving mysteries. The chapter title concerning those letters says it best – By Every Post a Call for Help. He responded to many letters. My next post will provide an example of both his deductive skills and his willingness to reply to letters.

Doyle was willing to lend his support to causes through the grand English tradition of writing a letter to The Times. In 1896 an American woman, the wife of a prominent San Francisco businessman, was caught stealing from a series of shops and a hotel. She pled guilty with her barrister advancing evidence of a nervous disposition “at certain periods” and was sentenced to 3 months to jail. Doyle, after recounting her theft of items of modest value she did not need, submitted:

It can surely not be denied that there is at least a doubt as to her moral responsibility, and if there is a doubt, than the benefit of it should be given to one whose sex and position as a visitor amongst us give her a double claim upon our consideration. It is to a consulting room and not a cell that she should be sent.

After considering the representations of Doyle and others she was released the next day.

Doyle was an active participant in the efforts to determine the identity of Jack the Ripper. In his analysis of the Ripper’s letter Doyle thought the Ripper had at least been to America as he used expressions from the United States. Doyle also believed the Ripper disguised himself in women’s clothes to escape from the scenes of the murders.

On his travels Doyle was consulted on local crimes. During a major trip to Africa a couple of years before his death the South African police sought his insights on a puzzling murder.

As he grew older Doyle was committed to spiritualism and looked to the insights psychics could provide in solving crimes.

After Agatha Christie disappeared the police approached Doyle. He obtained one of Christie's gloves and took it to a “medium and psychometrist” who, without information on the owner of the glove, identified it as from an Agatha who was not dead and would be found by the following Wednesday. The medium’s statements proved to be true.

Doyle sought to right injustice to the end of his life. Shortly before his death he supported the campaign to exonerate the executed American anarchists, Saaco and Vanzetti. He believed they were executed because of their political convictions rather than for committing murder.

Through reading the book my admiration for Doyle grew. He was stalwart in seeking justice for over 40 years. Many complain about injustice but few take action to right wrongs. Doyle was committed to acting in support of principle.

Costello’s approach of providing examples and analysis chronologically is my preferred approach to non-fiction. His narrative is brisk. He is not writing an academic work but his statements are well researched and his analysis solidly based.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz – After reading The House of Silk I was anticipating another Holmes mystery even though in The House of Silk it was stated by Watson to be the last of the series. My anticipation was unfounded. Holmes makes but a brief appearance Moriarty. Instead, Horowitz begins by delving into what really happened at Reichenbach Falls.

An American Pinkerton agent, Frederick Chase, has traveled to England seeking to find Professor Moriarty who has been invited to meet with a great American villain. Learning on his arrival that Moriarty has died in the struggle with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls he rushes to Switzerland to see if there is any trace of the letter to Moriarty.

At the Swiss police station he meets Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. The British policeman has come to investigate what happened and determine if the body is that of Moriarty. The circumstantial evidence leads them to believe it is Moriarty but they cannot be sure it is the great master criminal.

Jones is a wonderful character. Having been shown as lacking in deductive skills by Holmes he has diligently studied the techniques of Holmes and become a great observer. His ability to observe and deduce rivals Holmes.

Physically they are far different. Horowitz describes Jones:

as he moved inside I saw that he was about the same age as me, perhaps a little younger, with dark-coloured hair lying flat on his forehead and soft grey eyes that questioned everything. There was a sort of seriousness about him, and when he stepped into a room, you had to stop and take notice. He was wearing a brown lounge suit with a pale overcoat, which was unbuttoned and hung loosely from his shoulders It was evident that he had recently been quite ill and had lost weight. I could see it in his clothes, which were a little too large for him, and in the pallor and pinched quality of his face. He carried a walking stick made of rosewood with an odd, complicated silver handle.

After finding and decoding a secret message to Moriarty, sewn into the suit of the drowning victim, they rush back to London seeking out the Café Royal, the location for the meeting of the criminal masterminds – Moriarty from London and Clarence Deveraux from America. Chase intends to impersonate Moriarty.

At the Café Royal there is a teenage messenger, Perry, who swiftly penetrates the impersonation and shows great dexterity with a knife.

Jones follows Perry to a fine English home, Bladeston House. Though he does not see Perry actually enter the home he is confident that it was the destination of the messenger. It turns out the house is being rented by Scotch Lavelle, an American criminal colleague of Deveraux.

Lavelle is unperturbed by the visit of the British police and Chase and their inquiries are turned aside. Frustrated they decide to return the next day to investigate further what is going on in Baldeston Hall. In the morning they are shocked to learn that Scotchy, his wife and servants have all been slain.

Great evil is about in England. Mass murder was, and is, much more common in America.

Chase is given the rare opportunity to attend a meeting of Scotland Yard inspectors planning how to investigate the murders. Chase is barely tolerated by most of the inspectors. (Most had little regard for the Holmes that continually showed them up.)

Ultimately, the investigation takes them inside the American embassy where the Ambassador is Robert T. Lincoln, the son of the assassinated President. Even in the 1890s diplomatic immunity is a challenging issue.

Through the book Jones continues to dazzle with his deductive skills. I enjoyed the portrayal of the police inspector who would be the new Holmes.

Yet what I will remember best is the startling twist that occurs at the end of the week.  While I am never surprised that I do not catch clues I was caught totally off-guard by the twist in Moriarty. It was dramatic, even melodramatic. I thought Jeffery Deaver was the modern master of the crime fiction twist though I sometimes thinks he has one or two or three twists too many in his plots for the Lincoln Rhyme series. Horowitz surpasses Deaver in the close of Moriarty

I consider it a better book than The House of Silk mainly because of Chase and Jones. The American Chase is a dogged and reliable hunter of criminals. Jones is clever and decisive. They are a formidable pair who are bold in their pursuit.

As with The House of Silk I had to work at times on suspension of my disbelief. Great criminal masterminds are almost as difficult to create as convincing grand conspiracies. Horowitz does well but not enough for me to go further than thinking it is a very good book. Moriarty is excellent reading entertainment.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

(5. – 935.) House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – It has been some time since I read a currently written Sherlock Holmes novel. My last 21st Century experiences were with the Holmes novels of Donald Thomas.

The book opens with displays of clever Holmesian deduction through observation that strongly reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes.

Holmes confounds the faithful Watson by deducing from a swift look at Watson that not only has Watson’s wife left London to help care for a child ill with influenza but that Watson has left home in a hurry and missed a train.

While Watson contemplates the brilliance of Holmes a visitor, the wealthy art dealer Edmund Carstairs, arrives to seek the assistance of Holmes. He is concerned for his safety because of a mysterious stranger who is following him. With a flair for turning the mundane to the distinctive Horowitz has the stranger “wearing a hat, a flat cap for the sort that is sometimes called a cheesecutter”. It is the cap which makes the stranger memorable to the elegant Carstairs. Not because of its humble style but due to its connection with America.

Carstairs has recently travelled to the United States to pursue justice against a gang that killed an agent of Carstairs during the robbery of a train. The group of Irish American felons are known as the Flat Cap Gang.

As Holmes and Watson search for the mysterious stranger Holmes calls upon his Baker Street Irregulars. The homeless boys of the London streets are extremely efficient in collecting information and seeking out individuals.

A new member, Ross Dixon, is successful in finding the stranger. The young teenager displays an unexpected fear outside the hotel of the stranger but refuses to divulge what has made him fearful.

The investigation takes Holmes and Watson into a dangerous evil conspiracy that even Holmes’ renowed brother, Mycroft, with all his government connections cannot penetrate and causes Mycroft to warn Holmes of the danger of investigating the House of Silk.

Readers know Holmes will not be deterred and the detective plunges forward.

It was a pleasure to see Holmes escape a very dangerous situation, impossible to Watson, through his wits and talents at disguise.

It is a good Sherlock Holmes novel but not one to rival the best of the current generation of Holmes’ novels. I think the early books in the series of Laurie R. King featuring Holmes and Mary Russell are better.

I found the conspiracy interesting and its nature monstrous but it is so hard to have a convincing vast conspiracy about which nothing is known by a figure such as Holmes with his vast memory and connections everywhere in London.

To suspend my disbelief with regard to a conspiracy I find it easier with more modest conspiracies for which there is some knowledge whispered about city or country.

I appreciated the touch of the fastidious in dealing with the subject matter of the conspiracy. It was convinicing, as a story purportedly by Watson, not to provide a detailed portrayal of the actual wickedness at the heart of the conspiracy.

I enjoyed the depiction of the aggressive, risk taking Holmes with Watson in the traditional role of the somewhat helpful chronicler whose deductive powers are minimal. The House of Silk does not adopt the current conceit of the Watson’s created in this century to either match or at least be close to Holmes in detective skills.

The House of Silk captured my interest to see where Horowitz could take the series especially since Watson states within the book that The House of Silk will be his last story of Holmes. I have started the second, Moriarity, and am already intrigued.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cultural Issues for Canadian Indigenous Sleuths

In my last post I discussed some of the issues involving non-white police officers and their cultures. In that post I went through some of the experiences of several non-Canadian police. Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger in Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. NapoleonBony Bonaparte travels around Australia conducting investigations into difficult cases. Nathan Active returns to his birthplace, Chukchi, on the northwest coast of Alaska as a state trooper.

In Canada there are several series with indigenous police officers.

Scott Young's sleuth, Matteesie Kitologitak, was the first Inuit to become an RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s.

In The Shaman’s Knife he returns to the Arctic where he was raised to pursue a murderer who also injured his mother.

Matteesie’s white wife in the South has seen her mother-in-law once and “apparently didn’t really warm to a toothless old Inuit woman with a tattooed face and only one eye”.

The investigation takes him to a village on the Arctic Ocean coastline of mainland Canada. As he investigates he uses the experience gained from living on the land as a youth to examine tracks in the snow. I was reminded of the tracking skills of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte.

Within the story there are shamanistic issues harkening back to the time when there were no white peoples in the North. Because of his Inuit background Mattessie consults the local shaman.

In Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman readers are introduced to Kala Stonechild who has moved from northwest Ontario to become a member of the Ottawa Police Services. Her superior is Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau. 

Stonechild has had a difficult life including time in foster homes as a child. Her background brings an edge to her personality.

In the big city she misses the stars of the night sky on her home reserve.

I have read she is the first female fictional First Nations sleuth.

In Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair the shift is in reverse from city to country. Charlie Pike from Ottawa Police Services is sent to northern Ontario to work on the investigation into a woman who has been strangled on his home reserve of Manomin Bay.

Band members, upset with the unsolved murders of a number of women, have established a blockade denying access to local police.

The protesters, trusting Pike as a fellow member of the band, allow him onto the reserve to investigate the murder. 

While not the lead character in a crime fiction series, Alex Kequahtooway, is an important character in several books of the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen.

One of the intriguing aspects is their relationship. The indigenous Regina police officer and the white university professor become lovers. Their inter-racial relationship has some tensions for some on each side of the racial divide. Though their relationship fails Gail presents them in a positive way as a couple.

With our province continuing to have issues over the relationships between white and indigenous Saskatchewanians I have appreciated the continuing respect for indigenous Canadians shown by Gail in her fiction.

With 15% of our provincial population being indigenous I am hopeful a new crime fiction writer will create an indigenous Saskatchewan sleuth.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cultural Issues for Non-White Crime Fiction Sleuths

While reading Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke I was struck by how Daren Mathews, in his position as a Texas Ranger, was affected by being an African American. Though we are well into the 21st Century some white Texans were still uncomfortable with him being a Ranger. They would respect the badge but retained their prejudices towards the man.

Locke states:

      Without the badge, he was just a black man traveling the highway alone.

Locke provides an example of the Ranger badge through Uncle William, one of the first black Rangers. Mathews recalls as a boy visiting a police station with Uncle William:

And they showed him a level of deference Darren had never seen from white men. They had no choice. William outranked every last one of them. To this day Darren believed his uncle took him on that ride to show him the power of the Rangers badge.

Within the Ranger bureaucracy there are tensions related to race. There is a unit dedicated to public corruption. When Mathews wants the Rangers to create a unit devoted to hate crimes his report is rejected:

The report had done little more than mark him as overly interested in something for which he was imagined to have an outsize personal stake, which brought little respect from his highers-up and courted the resentment of more than a few white Rangers.

In the book Mathews grudgingly earns the respect of Sheriff Van Horn, the white Sheriff of Shelby County.

The roles of non-white police officers intersecting with their racial background and racial issues is present in several other mystery series.

At one time the best known example would have been the great fictional Australian sleuth, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte who is part Aborigine. His interactions with Aboriginal life are prominent in numerous books.

In The Will of the Tribe, written in the early 1960’s, Bony is in northwestern Australia on a vast cattle station where the whites definitely consider themselves superior to the blacks. It is a time of transition as there are wild blacks living the traditional lifestyle on the land, station blacks working in laboring jobs who live in a camp at the station and educated blacks who live on the station.

In The Bone is Pointed he deals with a traditional Aboriginal form of punishment. “Bone pointing” can threaten the life of an Aborigine who believes in its power.

In The Bushman Who Came Back Bony must deal with both blackfellow law and whitefellow law. One of the issues involves a young woman, Meena, being owned by Canute, the leader of a group of Aborigines.

In Cake in the Hat Box we see the whites communicating by radio and the Aborigines by sophisticated smoke signals. As well Bony finds out there is a parallel traditional black murder investigation to his official investigation.

Through the series Bony’s expert knowledge in traditional tracking skills is often used.

In America it has been too long since I read any of the Tony Hillerman books featuring Navajo police officers,  Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, for me to remember the details of their lives as indigenous officers. 

I have read and enjoyed the mysteries of Stan Jones featuring Alaskan State trooper, Nathan Active, who has a different background to the above sleuths. He is Inuit and was born in the fictional town of Chukchi on the northwest coast of Alaska. Where the officers mentioned above grew up in black or indigenous cultures Active was adopted by a white family and raised in urban Alaska in Anchorage.

Many of the continuing racial issues for Active in the series revolve around questions of his Inuit identity. There is a feeling that he is not really Inuit having lived much of his life away from Chukchi on the northwest coast. He is looked at as more white than Inuit.

His birth mother wants him a part of Inuit culture. She seeks to find him a nice Inuit wife. Active is trying to fit back in Inuit culture but it is not easy. A local delicacy provides an example. From my review of Tundra Kill:

It is a land where a man is viewed with suspicion who is not interested in muktuk supper:

The two women looked at each other and shook their hands in astonishment at the idea of an Inupiaq man passing up a nice chunk of boiled bowhead whale skin with an inch or two of fat still on. “Not even if it’s fresh!” Arlene said.

In Frozen Sun Active goes in search of the beautiful Grace Sikingik who moved to the city to go to university. She has disappeared into a life of sex and drink on the infamous Four Street in Anchorage. Too often young indigenous men and women have ended up in a self-destructive lifestyle in the big city.

I have more examples from Canadian mysteries which I shall discuss in my next post.