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, January 31, 2011

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

11. – 570.) The Sherlockian by Graham Moore – A brilliant combination of past and present mysteries inspired by and connected to Sherlock Holmes.
In his deerstalker hat, Harold White, the newest and youngest member of the Baker Street Irregulars, is in New York for the annual meeting. White, who makes his living as a reader for law firms, is a worthy hero for dedicated mystery readers. Excitement is at a fever pitch as the Irregulars await the appearance of Alex Cale who has advised that he has found the missing diary of Arthur Conan Doyle. The missing diary is from late 1900 near the end of period between Holmes going over Reichenbach Falls and Doyle bringing Holmes back. When Alex is found dead in his hotel room Harold with journalist, Sarah Lindsay, set out to investigate the death and find the diary.
            Simultaneously, in alternating chapters Doyle, with the aid of author Bram Stoker, is living the period of the missing diary and seeking to solve London murders. 
            Both White and Doyle work to solve their mysteries by Holmesian methods. We have a devout Sherlockian and the author of Holmes trying to be Holmes. The book is a triumph of logic. It is a rare mystery so devoted to logical reasoning. There are no leaps of intuition and but rare coincidences or fortunate circumstances.
            White is the brilliant thinker while Doyle is the dogged investigator. Where White makes progress through his deductive skills Doyle advances his investigation by the hard dreary work of checking out slender leads.
            Doyle is forced to consider his stalwart opposition to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement while Lindsay is White’s practical aide.
            Both mysteries are worthy of Holmes. It is remarkable to read a book so soon after Bury Your Dead where there are multiple mysteries within the same book. Moore has managed to create a pair of mysteries solved by Sherlockian principles without Holmes working out the solutions.
            Doyle’s determination to solve murders reflects his real life efforts to correct injustice. See 27. - 159.) The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
            It is a captivating book with a wonderful cover. It is a superb first novel. (Feb. 22/11) (See the post below on an email exchange with the author Graham Moore)

Email exchange with Graham Moore, author of The Sherlockian, on self garroting

After reading and reviewing The Sherlockian I wrote to the author, Graham Moore, about the question of whether a person can strangle themselves by tying something around their throat. My email to him and his reply form this post.



After reading a book I prepare a personal review which I post on my blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, which is located at mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com. My review is at the end of this message. As set out in the review I was very impressed by The Sherlockian.

The deaths of your character, Alex Cale, and the real life Sherlockian, Richard Lancelyn Green, by strangulation with a shoelace and the ambiguity of whether death was suicide or murder brought to mind a recent court case I handled. Part of my legal practice is criminal defence.

A year ago I successfully defended a Saskatchewan prison guard who had been charged with assaulting a young woman inmate. We led evidence that she had tried to strike him and he had defended himself.

The young woman was about 5’6” and 250 pounds. She was a deeply troubled person who often tied ligatures around her neck to choke herself. The evidence at trial showed numerous times while she was an inmate in Saskatchewan she either passed out or nearly became unconscious.

She was then transferred to other penal institutions in Canada. She continued to tie ligatures around her neck at each institution. Her life came to an end when she tied a ligature one night and died. There is great controversy in Canada over staff not intervening when they knew she had the ligature tied around her neck. A coroner’s inquest is dealing with the issue.

There have been various public reports and television documentaries about her.

There is no doubt for me that a person can bring about the end of their life by tying something tightly around their neck.

I would be interested in any comments you might have on this message and the review. I am considering posting the message and would include your response if you make one and give permission for it to be posted.

I look forward to your next book.

My review is:

Click here on The Sherlockian to link to my review


Bill Selnes


Thanks so much for sending that! Fascinating. I appreciate the update on the state of the medical debate about garroting.

And thanks for the kind review; I'm grateful.

So glad you enjoyed the book,


Savage Run by C.J. Box

9. – 568.) Savage Run by C.J. Box – Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, is pulled into the investigation of an amazing scene where an exploding cow has blown up environmental activist / eco-terrorist Stewie Woods and his new bride. Initially, Pickett accepts the theory that Stewie and his bride blew themselves up by mistake while engaged in a bizarre form of protest. Reporting the explosion to lawyer and rancher, Jim Finotta, who owned the deceased cattle Pickett is coldly received. (I hate a lawyer character who abuses his status and connections as a lawyer.) The actual killers, the Old Man and Charlie Tibbs, are engaged in a ambitious program against the environmental movement on behalf of the shadowy Cattlemen’s Trust, a rancher’s organization whose roots are deep in Wyoming’s history.
    There are complex political and social overtones without simplistic analysis for either side. Unlike most mystery heroes Pickett does not pursue the investigation of a killing that is not his responsibility. The personal connections of his wife, Marybeth, bring the investigation to him. As he seeks the truth Pickett is involved in an incredible wilderness chase that rivals that set in a car in any big city. Pickett follows the classic American theme of the lone Western lawman. If he had a mask and did not have a family the upright Pickett would be a current successor to the Lone Ranger. Adding interest Pickett’s family are integrated into the story.
     With the bad guys and good guy known from the start there is no mystery to finding the killers. The story leads up to how they will confront each other. There are well done twists. Box skilfully makes mountainous Wyoming and its history pivotal parts of the book. The story had to take place in Wyoming. It is a good but not a great book. I intend to continue reading the series but am behind about 8 years in the sequence. (Feb. 13/11)

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

8. – 567.) Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny – The most powerful mystery I have read in a long time. I have never been more emotionally involved in a book. There are a trio of interconnected mysteries involving Armand Gamache. The Chief Inspector of the Quebec Surete, has gone to Quebec City to spend time with his mentor, Emile, because Gamache’s mistakes led to a disaster costing the lives of members of his unit. This wise prudent man is haunted by his memories. The tension and anguish in those memories unfolding through the book shakes the reader.
Having seen himself err Gamache asks inspector Beauvoir to re-examine their past certainty of who killed the Hermit at Three Pines. Could the wrong man have been convicted?
 In Quebec City Gamache finds some solace in the library of the Literary and History Society of Quebec (the Lit and His). He spends quiet hours in the beautiful reading room studying an aspect of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
 The serenity of the Lit and His is shattered by the death of Augustin Renaud, a fanatic who had been consumed with searching for Champlain’s grave and body so the founder of Quebec could be further adored and glorified. The investigation requires an old fashioned search through aged books and hundreds of years of Quebec history.
 The story explores among the rarest of mystery themes – a hero who is fallible. Gamache’s struggles with the night are the doubts that haunt us all. How do we let go of guilt over past actions? How do we forgive ourselves? Lapsed from his Church there is no faith for Gamache to draw upon in his trials.
 At the same time there are exquisite moments of wonderful memory. Gamache recalls the beautiful words of the wedding blessing bestowed upon himself and Reine-Marie - “Now there is no more loneliness”.
 Penny’s rich characterization and wonderfully drawn descriptions of place evoke the mysteries of P.D. James.
 Reading in February, the month in which it is set, made it perfect winter book. Eriksson’s Swedish winter is dark and grim. Penny’s Quebec winter is bright and fresh. As I look outside in Saskatchewan today the sun is gleaming off the white snow thick upon the ground.
 It is a masterpiece mystery certain to be one of Bill’s Best of 2011. (If you have not read The Brutal Telling I recommend it be read first. The books are really a two part saga.) (Feb. 6/11)

Tin City by David Housewright

7. – 566.) Tin City by David Housewright – The opening pages talking about small scale commercial beekeeping took me back 40 years to the farm at Meskanaw helping my Dad with the bees. Housewright accurately describes the helmet, veil and smoker used by a beekeeper. Rushmore McKenzie is visiting his father’s friend, Mr. Mosley a beekeeper in a Minneapolis suburb, when he is asked to find out why bees are dying. The violent consequences to McKenzie’s humble search are breathtaking.
            With Mr. Mosley dead and a lawyer’s wife raped McKenzie seeks revenge. The former St. Paul policeman has unique financial security. He gained a $3 million dollar reward for tracking down an embezzler.
            The mystery is a police procedural without a police force. McKenzie systematically pursues leads with the aid of useful members of quasi-respectable / quasi- criminal society.
            He is a unique detective having a 1,000 book collection and loving libraries. I am impressed by any detective who appreciates libraries.
            Having visited Minneapolis several times over the years I appreciate Housewright firmly setting his hero and his mystery in the Metro area. McKenzie is not a detective in a generic American city.
            The investigation has numerous twists that are always credible. McKenzie is a charming easy going mystery solver with a ready wit and a readier gun. I am looking forward to reading more of his adventures. (Feb. 1/11)

Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore

I have been going to Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto since it was in its second location. Most of my visits have been to the striking black store at 1600 Bayview over the past 16 years. It is my favourite bookstore though it is 2,500 km from Melfort. I go every trip I make to Toronto.
Walking into Sleuth is to enter a mystery lovers paradise. Floor displays, table displays and four walls are filled with books. Around the counter J.D. and/or Marian welcome all customers. For many years joining the greeting were the cats with Paddington the last of the group. A dog, Percy, has replaced the cats. It is a special place. When I enter the store my body relaxes and I am at home.
My sons, once they were old enough to read adult books in the mid-1990’s, were always eager to join me driving to Leaside or riding the bus from the Davisville subway stop.
On one memorable winter visit Jonathan, curled up in a chair before the fireplace, was so engrossed in his book that his runners started smoking before he realized he was too close to the fire.
I always appreciated that J.D. and Marian were willing to discuss what might interest a shopper and provide specific rather than generic recommendations. Their newsletter, The Merchant of Menace, is equally helpful. I eagerly await the bi-monthly publication to see which books are being recommended. They have introduced me to more mystery authors than any other source. From experience I know if they recommend a book I am likely to enjoy it.
Within the store, the shelf of their newsletter recommended books is a starting point for surveying the store. I have appreciated having the recommended books in one location instead of scattered through the store.
Sleuth has the largest selection of mysteries in Canada and one of the largest in North America. It has been wonderful to find new authors on every visit and know that it is probable earlier books in a series will be in stock.
After 31 years in three locations on Bayview Sleuth is moving to 907 Millwood Road (the southeast corner of Millwood Road and Sutherland Drive). While it is hard to see the store move I am looking to forward to the new store where J.D. and Marian promise to make finding books easier by keeping all of an author’s books in one area.
I hope Sleuth will be open for another two decades in its new home. My only problem with Sleuth is being unable to take home all the books I would like to buy on each visit. You can visit Sleuth online at http://www.sleuthofbakerstreet.ca/.

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

6. – 565.) The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson – Wyoming’s Sheriff Walt Longmire leaves Absorka County again to solve a mystery. This time he travels to neighbouring Campbell County instead of Philadelphia. It is a return to his roots in the rugged Powder River country.
Longmire doubts the beautiful Mary Barsad has pumped 6 bullets into the head of her husband, Wade, despite her immediate confession. In a bizarre decision, Longmire decides to go undercover as an insurance adjuster and starts asking questions in Absalom. All 40 residents, are hardly welcoming. They are an insular group focused on surviving in a harsh land. Social life is focused around the AR, a beat up bar of the type that can be seen throughout the American West.
Yet, continuing the Powder River country’s long history as a place of refuge, people continue to seek the isolation including Juana, an all purpose bar/motel employee with her half-Cheyenne young son, Benjamin. They are illegal Guatemalan immigrants.
            It is late fall. The stark landscape and big weather, a feature of every Longmire mystery, are getting ready for winter. The land has turned golden. It is Longmire’s favourite season. This fall is an empty time for him as Cady has returned to Philadelphia.
            With Longmire away from home the customary characters play smaller roles in the story. I miss them. Dog, his dog, is his primary support. Juana provides insight on the locals.
            Was it not for the confession there would be an abundance of suspects for Wade was a man who needed killing. He is far from a “victim”. Unlike the classic mystery no one has a good word for the deceased.
            As the story unfolds yet another classic Western gun, the Henry “Yellow Boy” rifle, becomes part of the story. In Cold Dish it had been a buffalo Sharps rifle.
            The big sheriff is a good companion and Wyoming has the great spaces of Saskatchewan. The Dark Horse is as much a classic Western as a mystery. Johnson continues to capture me and draw me swiftly through the story. Excellent. (Jan. 29/11)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson

5. – 564.) The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson – It took me a long time to really get involved with the story. In the midst of a harsh Saskatchewan winter reading a dark mystery set just before Christmas in Sweden maybe has too much winter. Reading about the problems from snow drifts is less interesting when you have just come in from shoveling the driveway. I found myself increasingly interested in the story and the last half of the book was gripping. It is a good police procedural.
            John Jonsson, known as “Little John”, is brutally murdered in Upsalla. It is hard to understand why an unemployed metal worker is tortured and killed. His wife, Berit, and teenage son, Justus, are devastated.
            A team of Swedish police conduct the investigation. Unlike the Wallander series where the stories focus on Wallander there is an emphasis on the team. I was reminded of Ed McBain’s long running series on the 87th Precinct. We learn a lot about all the investigators. While there is more about Ola Haver, leading the team, and Ann Lindell, on maternity leave, it is far more a team story. They conduct a thorough investigation diligently exploring and following up collections. I will be interested in seeing if the next follows McBain’s pattern of not always concentrating on the same members of the team in every story.
            My slow involvement in the story probably reflected that I did not find the powerful connection needed to the victim as P.D. James set out in Talking About Detective Fiction. I may have been unreasonably affected by Little John’s past.
            The story is more interesting because there is far more family involved than the average mystery. Erikson’s character development is excellent. They are real people. Hardcover or paperback. (Jan. 26/11)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

4. – 563.) The Reversal by Michael Connelly – The beginning of the book is startling with Mickey Haller accepting an appointment as a special prosecutor to handle the re-trial of Jason Jessup whose 24 year old conviction for the abduction and murder of Melissa Landy has been reversed principally because of DNA evidence that a semen stain on the victim’s dress was from her stepfather. Haller primarily moves from the defence to prosecution table because the DA promises to move his ex-wife, Maggie “McFierce” McPerson, to downtown L.A. from suburban exile. After 35 years of criminal defence except for a handful of prosecutions a couple of decades ago I wonder if I could conduct a major prosecution. When I started as a lawyer it was routine for Saskatchewan lawyers to both defend and prosecute. The system gradually evolved into full time prosecutors and defence counsel. To have available the resources of the province would be such a change. Haller swiftly and readily makes the shift. I regretted that he used some of the manipulations as a prosecutor he had resented prosecutors using against him. There was a major contrast with Robert Rotenberg’s Canadian lawyers in Old City Hall who played fewer games as they prosecuted and defended.
            Haller calls upon Connelly’s other main character, Harry Bosch, to be his investigator. Bosch is his usual dogged confrontational self.
            In a continuing departure from most American crime fiction the characters of Haller and Bosch are rounded out by their relationships with their teenage daughters.
            The book unfolded as a procedural with methodical police and legal work. The greater emphasis was on the legal side. Connelly may have come up with a new genre – the legal procedural – to rival police procedurals.
            I did see a glaring error in how the trial was conducted by the defence that I would be glad to discuss with any reader after they have read the book.
            I found myself wanting Jessup to be found not guilty. I kept thinking of the series of great miscarriages of justice in murder cases that Canada has experienced in the past 20 years where innocent men spent decades in jail.
            The writing was as skilful as ever but I did not find the book as satisfying as most Connelly novels. The story simply unfolded with impeccable logic. I think I prefer Haller and Bosch in separate books. Connelly is a great author who has written a good book. (Jan. 17/11)

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

3. – 562.) Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris – Sex and murder in contemporary Saudi Arabia. Sixteen year old Nouf ash-Shrawi is missing from the family island. Her brother, Othman, calls on his friend, Nayir ash-Sharqi, to assist in the search. Othman, when Nouf is found dead, asks Nayir to find out what happened. Her traditional Saudi family cannot understand what has happened. Aiding in the search is Katya Hijazi, a lab technician in the coroner’s office. The devout Nayir is deeply troubled about working with a woman. His senses of modesty and appropriate place are unsettled. Their investigation is a mixture of the old (tracking footprints) and the new (chemical analysis). A Bedouin tracker is an expert in determining information not just movement from examining human footprints. Katya has been trained to operate the most modern laboratory equipment. There is one of the best descriptions of wind since the opening lines of Who Has Seen the Wind. The investigation is hampered by the strict rules on women in Saudi Arabia. They are not to be with men who are neither spouse nor family nor escort. The hajib is to be up at all times only exposing the eyes. Katya, as a working woman and a woman free with her opinions, is a difficult partner for Nayir. His comfortable acceptance of a woman’s limited role is challenged by Katya. He is more open to change than he had realized when he first met Katya. It is a wonderful story. It is made special by the use of its setting. While the basic themes are universal Ferraris superbly incorporates the land, people and culture of Saudi Arabia into the mystery. It is a thoughtful mystery. (Nayir strongly reminds me of Travis McGee from the John Mcdonald mysteries. He is a big, rough hewn single man living on a boat with no real occupation.) I look forward to the next in the series. Hardcover or paperback. (Jan. 13/11)

Simon Wiesenthal by Tom Segev

2. – 562.) Simon Wiesenthal by Tom Segev – The famed Nazi hunter had as dramatic a life as any person has ever lived.
            Growing up in Buczacz, Galicia (part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a child and part of Poland as a young man) he trained to be an architect. He was also an accomplished artist. He said the Jewish community was well aware of the rise of the Nazis during the 1930’s but “during that period, we never took them seriously”.
            When the Germans invaded he was rounded up with the other Jews of Lvov. Out of a community of 160,000 to 170,000 there were but 3,400 left alive when the Russians arrived.
            Wiesenthal survived by being a useful worker for the Germans, by being be employed by a good “German”, by being lucky not to chosen for random execution, by being sheltered for a time after escaping, by being taken by an SS unit as the Russians closed in that needed prisoners for their retreat and by having a tough constitution and a will to live that kept him alive, but barely as he was 97 pounds, until the American army arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp in May of 1945.
He always had hope. Viktor Frankl described hope as essential to survival in the camps.
            Unlike most survivors Wiesenthal immediately took up an active life working to help fellow refugees and identify Nazi criminals.
            His personal passion was finding Adolph Eichmann. He passed onto Israel in 1953 a reliable tip that Eichmann was in Argentina. The letter was buried in a file as finding Eichmann was a low priority in Israel for much of the 1950’s. Because Israel preferred to keep the details of Eichmann’s capture secret Wieshenthal received far more credit than he deserved. Wiesenthal accepted the acclaim and made little effort to correct the record.
            Wiesenthal was a brilliant publicist, especially as a self-promoter. For a man devoted to the pursuit of Nazi criminals who needed accurate information he was often unreliable, sometimes deliberately deceptive, in describing events. Except when testifying in court or in interviews with Yad Vashem, he usually embellished his life. As a lawyer it is hard to find people credible for whom the truth is flexible. What is the core of truth when there are varying versions? That Wieshenthal’s sworn evidence was truthful makes it harder for me to understand why he was reckless in his statements outside court.
Wiesenthal had a driving relentlessness in the pursuit of war criminals that could not be deterred or deflected.
            Segev recounts the story of Franz Stangl, a Linz policeman who became the Treblinka commandant. An apolitical young man gradually became a committed Nazi who did not see the concentration camp inmates as persons. The pivotal moment came when he accepted a position within the Nazi euthanasia program. It was the first acceptance that “some” lives have no value. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable that our society is drifting toward assisted suicide.
            The finding of Stangl in Brazil is classic Wiesenthal. There is no doubt Wiesenthal found him but there are multiple conflicting versions on how he was discovered.
            Wiesenthal wrote a bestseller The Sunflower about a fictional wartime meeting between himself and a young dying SS officer who sought forgiveness from Wieshenthal, as a Jew representing all Jews, for taking part in the brutal slaughter of Jews. Wiesenthal said he could not forgive a wrong that was not done to him. At Wiesenthal’s request many prominent people from around the world wrote to him on what they would have done. Most agreed with Wiesenthal. I think he could and should have forgiven if he felt the confession was genuine. He was asked, not personally but as the representative of the Jewish people. He represented 6 million clients when hunting Nazi war criminals. A Catholic priest forgives sins as the church’s representative of God. Judges every day dispense forgiveness on behalf of society with the sentences they impose on those who confess their crimes.
            The conservative Wiesenthal had a brutal ongoing fight with the socialist Austrian chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, over Kreisky downplaying the hunt for Nazis and including them in his government. In a sad spectacle they battled in libel suits. Kreisky sought unsuccessfully to besmirch Wieshenthal’s reputation arguing he was a Gestapo collaborator. Despite searches by secret services, including Poland, the evidence clearly showed he was never a collaborator.
            Wiesenthal specifically spoke up for other concentration camp victims – the Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses and homosexuals. In particular, he sought redress for the Gypsies. He saw the Holocaust as a crime against humanity. His efforts to include non-Jewish victims produced major conflicts with those Jews who did not include non-Jewish people. However, he claimed the Nazis executed 5,000,000 non-Jews. It was a fictitious number. There is no reliable number.
            His exaggerations were used against him late in his life by American Jews when he opposed their efforts to prove Kurt Waldheim a war criminal. Waldheim lied about his army career but was not a war criminal.
            It was clearly unfair that he was not jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Elie Wiesel. For perhaps the only time in his life he did not resort to self-promotion. As well the methods used in his lifetime pursuit of Nazi criminals and his views of the Holocaust had upset important people around the world.
            Wiesenthal never fit within an institution. His Vienna Centre was always a one man controlled operation. When the Wiesenthal Center was opened in Los Angeles he gained income and glory but became disenchanted when it did not follow his dictates. It is impossible to see him managing and leading a large organization. Working for someone or sharing responsibility did not suit his personality.
            In the end, he was a vivid example of the power of one. Without his 60 year pursuit of Nazi war criminals hundreds, if not thousands, would not have been brought to justice. I was reminded of the German lawyer, Hans Litten, who bravely sought to have Nazi criminals held accountable during their rise to power. Each man never wavered seeking justice through courts rather than bullets. (It was shocking, that despite Wiesenthal and other Nazi hunters less than 10% of the identified war criminals were actually convicted.)
            It is a fine biography. There are an abundance of excellent stories illustrating Wiesenthal’s life. Excellent. (Jan. 8/11)

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

1. – 562.) Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg – The best legal mystery I have read by a Canadian lawyer. I am going to have to get one of William Deverell’s books for comparison. In character development and depiction of the legal system as it actually functions I was reminded of the best of Scott Turow. Almost as smoothly written as a John Grisham novel it varies from a Grisham story in not having a lawyer related theme. I have longed for a Canadian legal mystery that does not seek to change the rules of our courts for perceived dramatic effect. There were no pages where I went that would never happen in court.
            In the mystery Canada’s leading early morning national radio host, Kevin Brace, comes to his condo door shortly after 5:30 am to meet his newspaper delivery person, Mr. Singh, and tells him “I killed her”. His second wife, Katherine Torn, is dead in the bathtub. I thought the late Peter Gzowski would have been flattered to have himself charged with murder in a great mystery novel.
            His lawyer, Nancy Parrish, and the Crown prosecutor, Albert Hernandez, are lawyers I can see in court. They espouse a basic requirement for a litigator – careful preparation of their cases. It was refreshing to have two honourable fictional lawyers doing their best.
The one deviation from real life was Parrish never discussing or being worried about money. Every lawyer in private practice spends a lot of time dealing with the issues of fees and overhead. Michael Connelly’s character Mickey Haller is one of the few fictional lawyers who wrestles with the economics of criminal defence.
            Within the mystery there are clever plot developments. Most brilliant is Brace’s decision to only communicate with Parrish in writing. I could not help thinking it would be very frustrating to have a client who would not talk to you but would it really hamper the defence of the case?
            At times I wondered if the mystery was going to become the excessive series of twists of some Jeffery Deaver novels but Rotenberg draws back in time.
            The story is beautifully set in downtown Toronto. Old City Hall is the dominant physical feature of the mystery. The mystery is a Toronto mystery not a generic big city story.
            I will not wait for Rotenberg’s next novel to come out in paperback. Canada has a great lawyer writer. My 2011 reading is off to an excellent start. Hardcover. (Jan. 2/11) (Possible ----- best of 2011 fiction)

Spies in the Balkans by Alan Furst

48. – 561.) Spies in the Balkans by Alan Furst – Constantine “Costa” Zannis is a multi-lingual, 40 year old single Greek senior police officer handling “special” cases for the Commissioner in Salonika as World War II is descending on Greece in 1940 and 1941. He is not a government secret agent but moves skillfully through the shadowy world of doubtful deal makers and organized crime. He is a profoundly moral man who allows himself to be drawn into helping Jews escape from the Third Reich as the Final Solution draws near. There is no financial reward for his participation. There are no tangible benefits to getting involved. He is simply a good man doing his best to help the persecuted in a cruel world. Costa is not a cartoon figure blazing away at the bad guys. At the same time he is a brave man willing to take real risks. As a Greek whose family and friends fought for independence from Turkey but a generation earlier I believe he identifies with the plight of the Jews. Inevitably the real intelligence agencies seek to use his talents. Unlike most fictional “spies” Costa has a loving family relationship and a rather complex love life. Tension builds inexorably as the German invasion looms. The excruciating choices of men and women facing war are vivid. Furst creates drama without mounds of bodies. The people and plot are so realistic, so different from Rules of Betrayal. At the same time he provides a credible resolution that is not the bitter ending of most Le Carre novels. It is a subtle engaging book. Excellent (Dec. 27/10)

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

47. – 560.) The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo – When I started reading I thought it was a work of fiction featuring a unique trio (William Fleisher, Richard Walter and Frank Bender) who lead the formation of the Vidocq Society – an assembly of the best crime solvers in the world. It did not feel like fiction with the constant references to real detectives, profilers and lawyers. Then there were photos of the dynamic trio and photos related to some of the cases. At that point I thought it was non-fiction though I felt puzzled I had never heard of the Vidocq Society. There was enough ambiguity that I went online after completing the book to confirm it was not an elaborate ruse. The net confirmed there is a real Vidocq Society. The book is a mélange of fiction and non-fiction that on television would be described as a docudrama. I prefer either fiction or non-fiction. Having real people carrying on conversations and expressing their thoughts blurs the boundaries too much for me. For non-fiction I prefer narrative and actual quotes. Turning to the book Fleisher (polygraph expert), Walter (psychologist profiler) and Bender (forensic sculptor) are a fascinating cast of characters. They were portrayed as larger than life masterminds. Yet many of their coups were not the result of brilliant insights. Numerous cases already had a primary suspect who was ultimately proven the criminal. Their participation brought the focus to the suspect that should already have been there. An example was the Scott Dunn case where the live-in girlfriend, Laetisha Hamilton, was always the only logical suspect. Walter’s involvement convinced local police to concentrate on her when they should have always been after her and her new boyfriend. Walter’s dogged persistence in having the blood soaked bedroom walls and floor substitute for a body to comply with Texas law was important but his pivotal role did not come as a profiler. There were very few cases when the Society came identified an approach or suspect other than the primary existing suspect. The Society would confirm logic. The involvement of the characters’ personal lives did make the book more interesting. I still have difficulty seeing profilers as important in solving a crime. By the time all the information is assembled that is needed for a profile there will already either be a logical suspect or the profile quite vague. It is a well written book. (Dec. 25/10)

Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich

46. – 559.) Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich – I am ambivalent about the thriller. The primary characters are intriguing – the beautiful Emma Ransom, a former Soviet agent working for the Division a secret American spy agency not part of the CIA and the handsome Dr. Jonathan Ransom, a surgeon working for Doctors Without Borders. The twist is that they are married though separated. Each is caught up with the issues of Islamic fundamentalism. Emma is involved in a plot to assassinate a terrorist financier, Prince Rashi, while Jonathan is taken prisoner by the Taliban to treat an ailing leader in the mountains. Their stories start coming together when a nuclear cruise missile is identified as intact near the peak of a mountain in the Himalayas. In the middle is international arms dealer, Lord Balfour, an Indian living in Pakistan who never heard of a deal from which he could not make a profit. My ambivalence starts with the go it alone, cowboy mentality, of the Division. When dealing with a potential missing nuclear weapon it is hard for me to believe that every branch of the American military and spy agencies would not have been involved. Great thrillers can suspend disbelief but only so far with nuclear bombs. Reich is a smooth writer whose actions sequences are gripping. Overall the book read like the cartoon aspects of current Hollywood action movies. It is too predictable. When the good guys and girls are all great looking and brilliant I start with some disbelief. You always know the result but the story was just too predictable. The characters are not as one dimensional as Hollywood but Reich’s writing skills could not compensate for the plot. Paperback (Dec. 16/10)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

45. – 558.) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I do not often seek out book prize winners but Wolf Hall, the 2009 Man Prize winner, was everywhere in bookstores at the end of last year and early this year. Universally well reviewed and featuring powerful characters from English history I was drawn to the saga.
Thomas Cromwell barely survives brutal lout for a father. His exceptional intelligence and a supportive sister allow him to escape from the village.
By the mid-1520’s he is a lawyer for Cardinal Thomas Woolsey, Chancellor of England for King Henry VIII. In this position Cromwell embodies the role of lawyer as counselor rather than advocate. He is a skilled adviser to the Chancellor manipulating the complex dynastic politics of the Tudor court.
With history having already determined the ultimate fate of the characters I had a continuing feeling of impending doom knowing the future of many characters as the King strives to end his marriage to Queen Catherine and wed the calculating Anne Boleyn. None foresaw the schism within the Church and resulting upheavals coming from that quest.
Anne Boleyn is Cromwell’s equal in royal maneuvering, patiently manipulating the king, coolly moving forward to achieve her goal of marriage to the king. Cromwell, in dealing with Boleyn, shows yet another lawyer’s skill in never compromising is representation of the Cardinal while  maintaining a close relationship with the aspiring Boleyn.
Cromwell upholds a lawyer’s obligations to a client by remaining loyal to the Cardinal even when his client is cast aside by the King. While never compromising his loyalty Cromwell assists the King. Recognizing Cromwell’s blend of integrity and skill, the King makes this commoner his primary legal adviser.
In this position Cromwell reveals he is also a fine legal craftsman as he drafts the laws that eliminate the Pope as head of the Church in England.
Cromwell is the man who gets things done enabling the king to have his new queen.
With a new Queen in place and the Church under control Cromwell further demonstrates his overall mastery of the legal profession by his skillful advocacy in prosecuting Thomas More.
Seeing Thomas More portrayed as a cruel and rigid administrator fully ready, even eager, to burn as heretics the men and women wanting to read the Bible in English was a jarring contrast from More’s image in the movie A Man for All Seasons. He inexplicably becomes principled to the point of martyrdom after Henry has been made head of the English Church.
I did find the use of “he” rather than “I” by Mantel for Cromwell disconcerting in structure when Cromwell speaks as an “I” rather than a “he”.
Mantel does brilliantly portray a man who rises from humble origins to great positions because of his intelligence and physical presence. He moves comfortably among the aristocracy uncaring of their disdain for his background. Mantel’s Cromwell is a vivid figure. He loves his family.
Above all he is a consummate lawyer using all his many talents on behalf of his clients. I will be interested in how he deals with Boleyn’s trial in the sequel. Cromwell was a reluctant prosecutor of More whose stubborn refusal to compromise meant death. Cromwell will not be able to so easily justify his role in trying and executing Boleyn to allow the King to wed again.
From the author’s skill in portraying Cromwell as a lawyer I thought she might have had legal training. Reading about her after completing the book confirmed she studied law. Hardcover. (Dec. 3/10)


Curious about other views of More and Boleyn I turned to my Folio Society Notable Historical Trials to read of the trials of More and Boleyn.

The Execution of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas

44. – 557.) The Execution of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas – An intriguing title since we all know Holmes was never executed. Rather than a lengthy novel featuring Holmes and Watson there is a return to the original Holmes stories with individual cases being solved by the famous detective. Arthur Conan Doyle’s combination of penetrating observations, clever deductions, forensic analysis and bold confident actions are skillfully continued by Thomas. It was a refreshing to return to the stand alone stories. After reading the book I think Holmes is better suited to stories than novels. I have enjoyed Laurie R. King’s series of Holmes and Mary Russell but they tend to lose the flavour of individual cases being solved in different ways by Holmes. The title story features Holmes kidnapped and imprisoned by a nefarious band of master London criminals. After a mock trial he is to be executed. How Holmes manages to escape while being shackled, nightly drugged and continuously watched was deftly done. Holmes needed all of his skills, especially mental talents, to find a way out. As usual with Holmes the body count in stories is minimal. Holmes does not solve mysteries by the multiplication of victims or the attrition of suspects. The second story involves Holmes applying his methods in pre-WW I espionage. Watson remains a devoted aide, always stalwart, usually slow in understanding but never a caricature. It was an entertaining collection. I shall look for earlier collections. Hardcover or paperback. (Dec. 3/10)

Body Work by Sara Paretsky

43. – 556.) Body Work by Sara Paretsky – V.I. Warshawski is coping with another mean Chicago winter. This time the story comes from her cousin, Petra, working at a club where the Body Artist has been attacked. Never one to shy from a problem Vic heads to the club. The Body Artist is a woman whose performance involves sitting naked on a stage, covered with a heavy foundation makeup, and inviting audience members to paint on her body. (The image is more disturbing than erotic to me.) One of the regular audience members, Chad Vishinski, is a troubled Iraq vet. America now has troubled vets from WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. For some reason Chad is upset by the images painted by Nadia Guaman, another regular audience member. When Nadia is dramatically killed and the gun is found next to an unconscious Chad the establishment has an easy solution. Vic, on behalf of Chad’s family, digs into the circumstances. As she bluntly probes the story leads her to the Iraq war and the prominent role of private contractors in America’s 21st Century wars. The scent of big money has lured corporate America into participating in their nation’s conflicts. Mixed in is a storyline involving more classic Chicago gangsters. The secondary plot does not work as well in this book as it normally does in Paretsky’s complex plots. The Warshawksi books remain the only series of entertaining, well written, mysteries that expose the flaws of major American business. They continue to appeal to me as Vic ages (in her 50’s she is from my generation) and the consequences of her physical confrontations have a greater impact on her body. I was reminded of the older Spenser of Robert B. Parker’s novels accepting, but not conceding, that his body could not do what everything he wanted. V.I. is a lady I wish my wife Sharon and I could meet and share a drink with in downtown Chicago. Paretsky deserves the praise and recognition P.D. James gave her in Talking About Detective Fiction. Hardcover. (Nov. 20/10)

Shaman Pass by Stan Jones

42. – 555.) Shaman Pass by Stan Jones – Alaska State trooper, Nathan Active, is called out to a shee fishing hole where Victor Solomon has been killed by a harpoon. The harpoon, an amulet and the body of an Inupiat man (brilliantly named “Uncle Frosty” by Jones) had just been returned to the village by the Smithsonian after being in Washington for over 80 years. There had been sharp disagreement between the Inupiat “establishment” and one or more local activists over whether the body should be put on display at the local museum. (It is not hard to determine the author’s sympathies.) An outspoken protester, Calvin Maiyumerak, is a suspect in the theft and therefore the murder. As Active probes he is drawn back into Inupiat history before white people came to the northwest slope of Alaska. It was a grim time where the culture was dominated by shamans who enforced many taboos. Active contacts his biological mother and grandfather for information about that era. Vivid stories are told him. The past becomes ever more intertwined with the present as Active searches for the killer. Seeking more information Active takes a trip to a whaling camp on the edge of the shore ice. Every action outside must consider and respect the weather. Even short trips can be journeys in a land without roads. Landscape and climate play a far greater role in the story than the average mystery. The Active series is far far away from the English country home mystery. Internally, Active’s dream life has been troubling him. An elder does her best to help him understand. I thought of the importance of dreams and the world of spirits in the lives of my Cree clients. The spirit world is alive to Aboriginal people wherever they reside in North America. The importance of humour in indigenous life is constantly present in the book. Jones evokes the playful exchanges between indigenous people – not quite teasing, not really needling, on the edge of sarcastic, occasionally biting, always entertaining. He skillfully uses the country and its people’s history to enhance the mystery. A mystery becomes special when the story and solution are unique to its setting. The mystery unfolds smoothly and Active’s character is becoming ever more real. (Oct. 24/10) (Tied for third best fiction of 2010). The author's website is http://www.sjbooks.com/

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

41. – 554.) Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo – Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is a pedantic, even fussy, career assistant prosecutor who has transferred from Lima to Ayachucho, his hometown, in rural Peru. Saldivar reminds me of a former law school classmate who became a senior prosecutor for Saskatchewan. A grisly murder, the victim burned beyond visible recognition, becomes his case. It is the first civilian handled murder case in decades. Over the previous couple of decades the military has dealt with policing as they battled the Maoist Shining Path in the region. With a presidential election near the central government wants to show how the pacified area has returned to civilian rule. Saldivar seeks to follow proper procedures. His carefully worded reports and requests for assistance are ignored. His equally precise personal life is dominated by his close relationship with his mother. He talks to her every morning and every evening. She is dead. I thought about Mackenzie King talking to his deceased mother when he was Canadian Prime Minister. Accepting no one wants an investigation he writes an artful report that causes his superiors to give him more important assignments. However, after his closing report there are more murders. No one wants to hear the terror may have returned. The brutality of the past conflict is stunning. Saldivar becomes that most inconvenient of bureaucrats, a dedicated sincere official using all the correct processes to pursue an unwanted truth. Saldviar’s interactions with other officials are vivid. Thousands are coming to Ayachucho for the famous Holy Week processions. Officialdom rejects even the suggestion of the terror reviving in the mountains. Saldivar plods diligently forward. Doubting the wisdom of his actions he finds he can no longer take the bureaucratically appropriate exit. It is a powerful character portrait and a fascinating mystery. I thought often while reading the mystery how fortunate I am to live in rural Canada. (Oct. 14/10) (Second best fiction of 2010.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver

39. - 552.) The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver – Lincoln Rhyme confronts the challenge of finding a killer using electricity to slay victims. The horrific effects of an arc flash spewing bits of molten metal through a body and cauterizing the wounds spook Amelia Sachs. I had not appreciated the killing power of electricity. The killer demands Algonquin Power, New York’s largest power company, take actions that would temporarily decrease the power used in New York. Unlike some of the Rhyme mysteries there is no pulling back from clever murders. Algonquin’s CEO, Andi Jesson, is a strong woman devastated by the murders. In the background, the Watchmaker has arrived in Mexico. Rhyme provides long distance support to the Mexican police. Trace evidence leads Rhyme, Sacks and the other members of the team towards the killer. The story was not really unfolding logically which is a surprise in a Rhyme thriller but Deaver smoothly draws logic out of the plot. As with every Deaver story no story line can be taken for granted. I never see the twists coming in his plots. In the end it was a very satisfying book. In his personal life Rhyme seems more human and even vulnerable as he considers his quadriplegic life. There can be few more dramatic shifts in form of investigation than between my preceding read, Child 44, and a Rhyme mystery. From Stalinist Russia where the primary official investigatory tool is torture and forensic investigation is non-existent when torture is not utilized to 21st Century New York where sophisticated scientific instruments are relied on to analyze the evidence. Very good. (Oct. 5/10)

Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

37. - 550.) Blood Safari by Deon Meyer – Lemmer is a private bodyguard in South Africa who has experienced a brutal upbringing, a successful career as a government bodyguard and years in jail for killing a man in a fight. He is assigned to guard the lovely Emma le Roux who is searching for her brother who disappeared in the Louveld over 20 years ago. She challenges his first law of not becoming involved with the client. Beneath Lemmer’s professionally calm interior a simmering violence is always present. The investigation leads them into the area of the Krueger National Park and the increasing danger to wildlife from modern and ancient societies. The book preaches a bit too much about environmental issues. Sara Paretsky often focuses her novels around her causes but does not make them seem like part of the book was copied from non-fiction research. The violence of modern South Africa is present throughout the book. It discourages me from visiting the country. Meyer does explore the collective psyche of modern Afrikaner residents of South Africa. We learn far more of the personal history of the characters than the average thriller mystery. Lemmer, in the grand tradition of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, pokes around until the reaction against him breaks open the investigation. Lemmer has the strong moral code of the avenger. His personality is darker than most mystery heroes. He reminds me of Joe Pike, the dark hero, created by Robert Crais. I wonder alittle at how effective the translation is from Afrikaner. It is a good book. Paperback (Sept. 19/10)

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

38. - 551.) Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I had been seeing the distinctive cover (a man walking down railway tracks below a large 44 with the Red Star between the numbers) at bookstores for a couple of years. The novel starts in 1933 with a starving Ukrainian family trying to survive the winter. (Stalin had cruelly taken much of the harvest from the Ukraine causing millions of Ukrainians to die.) Desperate for any food, two boys pursue a cat into the forest and kill the cat. Suddenly they are attacked and one of the boys taken. Twenty years later Leo Demidov, a rising officer with the MGB (secret police) and WW II hero, is diligently capturing large numbers of Moscow residents considered dangerous to the State. He brushes aside a colleague’s insistence his young son was mutilated and murdered. His life changes when he must track down a veterinarian who is seeking to escape the U.S.S.R. Leo’s belief in the communist system is shaken when he realizes the vet was trying to escape because he realized he was being investigated. In Stalinist Russia everyone investigated was bound to be found guilty. Sentences were death or the gulag. Torture was routinely used to gain the answers desired by interrogators. Leo’s life is completely turned upside down when he is denounced. He refuses to denounce his beautiful wife, Raisa. Only Stalin’s death saves their lives. They are sent to Voulsk several hundred kilometers east of Moscow where he will be a member of the militia. The crushing downturn in their lives lays bare their real relationship. Each has entered and stayed within the marriage for different reasons. Their personal lives are far more complex than the average mystery. Shortly after arriving in Voulsk he realizes there is a serial killer of children. No one is pursuing the killer because the U.S.S.R. could not have a killer roaming the country. Each killing has been solved by finding some undesirable member of the community guilty. It is Kafkaesque. Leo and Raisa decide to risk their lives because they are questioning the system by seeking a serial killer. Mystery heroes come from many different circumstances. Few can be stranger than the detectives pursuing a killer who, the State says, cannot exist. Life in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1950’s fits Hobbes definition of “nasty, brutish and short”. Everyone lives in fear. I was reminded of Arkady Renko who, a generation later, also facing a State interested only in finding “undesirable” killers. I find it hard to read about the killer of children. His gruesome attention to detail is well described. As the book wore down I thought the inevitability in the story had the heroes destined to a Le Carre ending. It is a harrowing book. I look forward to Smith’s next book if the victims are not children. Excellent. (Sept. 27/10) (Best of fiction 2010)