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 30, 2012

Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo

(4. - 637.) Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo – In the late 1970’s the Junta rules Argentina. The military is ruthlessly seeking out young Communist revolutionaries who are intent on overthrowing the government. Every night Falcon cars roll up to homes and soldiers take away suspected subversives. Most become the disappeared.

Superintendent Lascano, known as “Perro” (the Dog), is a weary veteran police officer. Deeply depressed by the unexpected death of his beloved Marisa, he drags himself into work each day. Her ghost haunts his night. I thought of Carl Mørck at the start of The Keepers of Lost Causes.

Major Giribaldi is a military officer in command of units who make young Argentines disappear. His home life is complicated because Maisabe, his wife, cannot conceive a child.

Amancio is a man accustomed by birth to a privileged life but the family money is gone and he has a demanding young wife of the highest maintenance.

When Lascano is sent to investigate three bodies dumped by a river he is intrigued by the body of an older man that was not one of the disappeared. He can instantly determine the difference as the two disappeared have their faces disfigured by multiple shots when executed. The third has died from a single shot to the abdomen.

Lascano pursues an investigation into the death of the older man. The police have been ordered not to investigate the deaths of any disappeared they might come across in Buenos Aires.

Gradually the paths of Lascano, Amancio and Giribaldi intersect in the course of the investigation. It is a time of incredible tension in Argentina. No one knows who the death squads will come for next by day and by night.

Mallo extensively develops the personalities of the characters. Each man is a real vivid person. Each is struggling with a relationship with a woman.

The book is unusual in putting sequences of conversation between two people in a long paragraph with the speakers, not continually identified, alternating statements, mostly 1 or 2 sentences at a time. Mallo also writes powerful moving descriptions. The following conversation between two women is an illustration of both aspects of the writing:

What does it feel like to be pregnant? Have you ever held a live bird in your hand? It’s like that, only in your blood.
Even though there is a simmering undercurrent of violence in Buenos Aires Mallo’s skill makes it a surprise when the blood starts flowing. I have tired of high body counts in American thrillers but it feels right in a book set in the time of the junta. I now have a sense of the constant dread that Argentines lived with during that vicious time.
The book is the first in a trilogy. I will be looking for the next in the series. I thank fellow blogger, Jose Ignacio, at the Game’s Afoot for recommending Mallo. (Jan. 18/12)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Resisting Hitler’s Empire

In my last post I reviewed Hitler’s Empire. Part of my interest in reading the book came from my experiences, during the past year, with a pair of Western European families about their actions when under the Nazi occupation.

The first example took place in central Denmark. A Danish lady said that her parents took in a young Jewish girl from Germany and hid her on their farm despite the risks of deportation to concentration camps if they had been discovered. There was no ideological basis to their action. They did not know her. They were not active politically. She was a girl in danger and they made her part of their family to save her life. Later in the war she made her way to Sweden with Danish Jews. Eventually she emigrated to the U.S. She was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.

Mazower talks about Danish resistance being so low key that as of 1943 not a single German soldier stationed in Germany had even been attacked. Instead, I think of this family, resisting German goals to exterminate the Jews of Europe. In Eastern Europe there was far greater military resistance to the Germans but also far greater local co-operation in the Nazi campaign to eradicate Jews.

The second story involved a young Dutch woman, just out of high school in 1940, working for the local telephone company. She was recruited by the resistance to alter the birthdates on identity documents of young men to save them from being taken to German for slave labour. On one occasion she was almost forced into hiding when a young man whose document she had altered was taken into custody. During the last winter of the war, forced to wear a winter coat to work because there was no heat, her chilled hands botched the alteration of a document and she had a nervous breakdown as she worried about the consequences for that young man. She recovered and, on the day the Canadians were to take over her town, she walked to work at the request of the resistance despite German warnings anyone found in public would be shot. Over 65 years later she still regretted not trying to hide a Jewish girl earlier in the war she knew who was subsequently killed in a concentration camp. The Dutch woman I met never fired a gun or set a bomb but she resisted resolutely the occupation of her country.

Mazower sets out that the resistance in Western Europe had no impact on the Wehrmacht or Germany’s economy. Danish produce flowed smoothly into German. Dutch manufactured goods were supplied to the Reich until the Netherlands was invaded by the Allies. The book discusses how often politicians, civil servants, police and industrialists co-operated, even collaborated, with the Nazis in keeping the Nazi war machine operating through the war. It outlines how the Holocaust was aided by ordinary citizens.

Yet Mazower does recognize there was resistance by average people when he stated:

“Yet it will not do to reduce the resistance to a question of military accounting. For most of those involved it was a question of pride, and a demonstration that the rule by force had not succeeded in crushing the spirit of freedom.”

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans were killed or deported to concentration camps for participating in different forms of resistance to Nazi rule.

The Danish farm family and the Dutch lady acted against two of the worst Nazi programs – the genocide of the Jews and the slave labour deportations. They quietly defied the Nazis. Their humanity was not extinguished by occupation. They did what was right. Their bravery is striking.

Since hearing their stories and reading Mazower’s book I wonder what I would have done during such an occupation. I hope I would have been like the Danish family and the Dutch lady. After hearing the Dutch lady’s story at our local Rotary club I wrote a letter, signed by all the club members, expressing our thanks for her actions and our admiration for what one woman could do when faced with an occupying army.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hitler’s Empire – How the Nazis Ruled Europe by Mark Mazower

             (3. – 635.) Hitler’s Empire – How the Nazis Ruled Europe by Mark Mazower – A comprehensive examination of Nazi actions behind the lines during and after their conquest of Western Europe and far into Eastern Europe. From politics through administration through industry through agriculture through movements, often forced, of people through distribution of food Mazower examines Nazi rule.
            He starts well prior to WW II. There was ethnic cleansing in both Germany and Poland after WW I with active persecution on both sides of the border.
            The Germans sought to increase the number of Germans in border areas while forcing out Poles. There was a systematic effort in the newly created Poland to push Germans out of their properties and marginalize and make life difficult for them. Hundreds of thousands of Germans left Poland. Yet they did not swell the eastern German population for hundreds of thousands of Germans also moved to western Germany from eastern Germany.
            When the Nazis came to power in Poland and vast areas of Eastern Europe through conquest a far more ruthless and comprehensive plan was enacted in the East with regard to the Slavs.
            It did not matter what the economic consequences were for Germany. For Nazi leadership the War in the East was a racial war. Jews were to be eliminated. Almost 2 million Russian prisoners of war were allowed to die of starvation or disease. The remaining Slavs were effectively to become German slaves. It was a brutal and horrific approach.
            Once in power there were efforts to Germanize populations. As part of the process the Reich brought back 800,000 ethnic Germans from German speaking areas outside Germany.
            The process of Germanization began in the Czech Republic. It did not happen as quickly as the Nazis anticipated. Even the amphibians (individuals with Czech and German parents) were slow to choose to become German.
            In Poland there was a far more coercive program to Germanize the area. Over 600,000 farms were seized from Polish farmers in the Warthegau, one of the areas of western Poland annexed by Germany, and some 500,000 ethnic Germans settled in the area.
            Still there were far too few clearly German people to populate the areas taken in the East. Hundreds of thousands of partially German Poles were identified as eligible to be re-Germanized to move forward in the goal of Germanization. Only when attempts at colonization further east descended into chaos and fierce resistance did efforts to Germanize lands cease during the war.
            It was chilling to read the plans to Germanize huge areas in Eastern Europe when the war was over. It was clear to those residing under German occupation that the Holocaust against the Jews might very well be extended to them.
            Germany was not alone in ethnic cleansing during WW II. Its Allies eagerly expelled hundreds of thousands of people both from their existing territory and acquired lands. In support of Magyarization thousands of Serbs and Romanians were forced from Hungary. Pursuing the dream of Greater Bulgaria saw Bulgaria send thousands of Greeks out of northern Greece. Romania pushed some Ukrainians from the southern Ukraine and made a major effort to rid Romania of gypsies.
            In their racial war the genocide of the Jews was the primary goal of the Nazis. In killing Jews they most successful in the East. In Poland and the U.S.S.R. they killed the vast majority of Jews. From Western Europe they sent many thousands of Jews east but were somewhat restricted by governments making the issue of Jewish deportation a matter of national sovereignty. The Reich’s Allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) also limited their co-operation.
            Overall, Nazi governance was dysfunctional. Within the Reich there were Hitler’s personally appointed Gauleiters, a new form of aristocracy. They were his local equivalent following his personal approach to governance. Trying to carry out their regular government functions were the existing civil servants. Competing with both civil administrations was the ever expanding SS. There were no cabinet meetings of German ministers after 1938.
            In Western Europe the Nazis made huge demands on the occupied lands for manufactured goods and food.  Only Denmark, which had not resisted German invasion, was treated differently. At the same time Goring was thwarted in seizing control of Western European companies by the German industrial establishment working with their counterparts in Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
            The Nazis made sure Germans were fed better than any other Europeans. In the West rations were tolerable. In the East most were on the edge of starvation.
            The Rule of Law creates stability. Hitler despised laws and lawyers. A revolutionary at heart he considered the law to whatever he decreed.
            Before reading the book I had not understood the depths of German exploitation, cruelty and murderous actions in the lands east of Germany after conquest. I better see the reasons for the fury of the Russian onslaught on Germany.
While the Nazis recruited thousands of young men in Western Europe eager to fight the Bolsheviks the racial policies of the party prevented it from gaining the hundreds of thousands of soldiers it could have gained from Poland, Belorussia, the Ukraine and the Baltic states. Only when defeat was looming did they bring Slavs into their armies.
They could have had important additional allies join the war such as Spain and the Muslims of the Middle East but Hitler would not commit to sharing conquered lands with them.
Opposition to the Germans was muted except in the East where Nazi oppression left the Poles and Russians with little to lose by armed resistance. In Western Europe it took the brutal drives for workers being sent to the Reich to provoke real resistance. Even then attacks were limited.
The Nazis could have relieved their shortage of workers without dragooning foreign workers by bringing large numbers into the industrial work force as occurred in England, Canada and the U.S. While not discussed by Mazower, ideological considerations favoured keeping women in the home. Once again the Nazis rigid emphasis on its principles meant chronic worker shortages persisted and opposition grew quickly.
In dealing with opposition the Nazi adoption of vicious reprisals, killing large numbers of civilians, in response to attacks maintained a sullen peace in Western Europe. There were no “hearts and minds” campaigns by the Nazis. Violent responses to resistance actions gradually produced stronger resistance groups.
Mazower sets out the consequences for Germany losing the war. As the Allies smashed into Germany there were 4.8 million German deaths in the last 9 months of the war against 2.8 German dead in the first 4 ½ years of WW II.
            When the war ended the nations of Eastern Europe, led by the Soviet Union, conducted the largest ethnic cleansing in European history forcing millions of Germans west out of their countries. These Slavic nations, having seen how the Nazis exploited the presence of ethnic German minorities and how these Germans acted during the war, were determined to ensure there would never be future ethnic German enclaves in their countries.
Mazower’s far reaching look at Nazi rule in Europe emphasized to me, probably more than any other book, how Hitler’s concepts of German national superiority and the racial superiority of Western Europeans and hatred of the Jews governed, not merely guided, his empire. As Ian Keegan demonstrated in his biography of Hitler all decisions flowed from Hitler. Even when his principles were contrary to the best interests of Germany economically or militarily or politically Hitler never wavered. Had the Reich won WW II Europe would have been a grim continent with all decisions made for the benefit of Germany. Europe would have been used to serve Germany.
It is an excellent work of history. Mazower skillfully explains what happened in Europe behind the front lines. (Jan. 15/12)
(On Saturday I will discuss the actions of two European families I have met with regard to the issue of resistance to Nazi occupation.)       

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

19. - 482.) A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – The first 250 pages about life for the poor in Bombay and rural India was interesting. Gradually Mistry cast a spell for the characters were so credible that you became an invisible observer of their lives. The lives of the untouchable rural tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash, the urban tailor, Dina, and the hill student, Macek, intertwine as they struggle to simply stay alive in Bombay. I was shocked to learn how badly the untouchables and poor of India were treated in the mid-1970’s. I thought it might have been a modern Kim (review number 194) but there is none of Kim’s romantic roaming. The perseverance Mistry’s characters show against overwhelming odds is inspiring and humbling. I found myself reading faster and faster as I had to know what happened next in their lives. Mistry neither exaggerates nor makes overt social commentary. His descriptions are adequate but neither flamboyant nor overdone. His narrative was so powerful at times I almost cried. He lets the story lead us to reflect on the cruelty of castes and the absolute corruption through the nation. Ajit had always told me India was very corrupt. I had always assumed he might have overstated the situation. I now believe he understated. How lucky I am to be born in Canada. I can understand the praise showered on the novel. It is one of the few novels that I will think about for a long time. With 807 pages I think the process of dividing into two volumes from a generation ago was a good idea. The movie Australia was a grand movie saga. A Fine Balance is a grand tale on paper. (May 25/09)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Will of the Tribe by Arthur Upfield (1962)

       2. – 634.) The Will of the Tribe by Arthur Upfield (1962) – Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte is in the remote reaches of northwest Australia in the vicinity of the Kimberley Mountains. He has been called to investigate the death of an unidentified white man found in the centre of Lucifer’s Couch, a crater formed from a meteorite crashing into the earth. (In real life it is the Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater. An aerial photo of the crater and a photo of the wall of the crater are included in this post.)
       Unlike other Bony investigations the authorities are less interested in finding the killer than in determining how this man reached the area unnoticed. Thus the book is a most unusual twist on the locked room mystery. Here the body is found in the middle of a room consisting of thousands of square miles of territory. How did he get there? He had to travel hundreds of miles to reach the crater. A horse or a vehicle would have drawn attention. A plane would have had to fly from an airport. It is impossible to see a white man travelling the vast spaces on foot without ample supplies.
       Bony settles in at the Deep Creek cattle station with Kurt and Rose Brentner and their two daughters, Hilda and Rosie. Among those working at the station are Tessa and Captain, members of the local aborigine tribe who have been educated and given responsible positions at the station.
       The book, one of the last Bony books, is the most challenging of the Bony mysteries I have read because of its treatment of the aborigine characters.
       The white characters definitely consider themselves superior. While no longer acceptable by the early 1960’s, the book makes clear it was not long before that time that it was acceptable for a white man to thrash an aborigine he considered disobedient.
       The attitudes, particularly of the white people, felt accurate to me. I can well remember as a child in Canada 50 years ago the way Indian people were generally looked down upon by white society.
       The aborigines of the area are divided into three groups. The wild blacks are some distance away in the desert. The station blacks are dependent on the station while living in their own camp. The educated aborigines, Tessa and the Captain, live at the station.
       It is an era of transition. The lifestyle of the wild blacks is gradually being eroded. Official Australia would like to see the aborigines assimilated into the white population. The same approach was in place in Canada at that time. For decades it was our Federal Government’s policy to assimilate the Indian peoples of Canada with white Canadians.
      Yet the book is far subtler than the surface portrayal of white discrimination and condescension. Bony, half white and half aborigine, has strong opinions on such matters as inter-racial marriage, aborigine connections with tribe and education of aborigines. How should the aborigines adjust to the vast white population that has taken over their continent? Should they assimilate? Should they seek to remain distinct? I found myself thinking more about the questions of culture and race than the mystery.
      While I became involved in the societal issues raised the book is focused on solving a “locked room” mystery. For the vast open spaces needed to create the “locked room” it could only have been set in Australia or Canada or Russia or Antarctica.
      The book is tied to the countryside and the people of Australia. Bony makes good use of his tracking skill and ability to question white and aborigine witnesses.
       It is a good mystery which left me thinking not only about the treatment of indigenous people 50 years ago but how the same issues are being addressed today. (Jan. 5/12)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thoughts on Questions and Answers with David Rotenberg

            Making the hero a Canadian rather than an American when part of the story is set in the United States is so uncommon I do not think I have read another mystery with a comparable hero. Had he not already had a successful series I expect David would have been pushed hard to make Decker an American.
            Decker displays a trait common to Canadians. He is knowledgeable about America. Canadians normally do not find the converse true. To take a simple example where almost all Canadians can identify the American President, there is a much smaller percentage of Americans able to name Canada’s Prime Minister.
            I agree with David’s statement that Canadians are outsiders to the United States. I go further to state that we could hardly be a sovereign land if we were not outsiders to America.
            On Decker being a thriller hero substituting brain power for brawn and weapons I admire David’s decision. In his latest book, Junkyard Dogs, Craig Johnson has his hero, Sheriff Walt Longmire, actually physically challenged by the accumulation of his injuries. It was uncommon enough fictional recognition of the consequences of repeated injuries for me to take note.
It is hard for me to recall another thriller hero who “understands the diminishing returns of violence”. It is tiring to read of fictional heroes being battered about and then swiftly rising again to smite the bad guy. At times I think there is evolving a new rule for thrillers that it cannot be a thriller without a massive body count.
            At the core of what makes the book interesting is the presence of the synasthetes. It is intriguing to read of individuals with exceptional, almost unworldly talents. Daniel Tammet is an amazing individual with special gifts in mathematics and languages. Seeing numbers in colours, shapes and sizes is beyond my comprehension. Learning conversational Icelandic in a week is even more amazing. His website is optimnen.com.uk.
The reference to the inspiration for the movie, Rainman, was to Ken Peek. His photographic memory allowed him to recall the contents of at least 12,000 books! Since he started memorizing just before he was 2 years old he was averaging 217 books a year for the remaining 56 years of his life. How many bloggers can even remember all the books they read a year ago? Decker is more socially adept than most synasthetes.
For non-Canadian readers CSIS is the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. Certainly they could use a truth teller as much as America’s NSA.
On David’s simple answer that his hero has a family because he is a father and he has a son is logical. I am sure most thriller writers are parents yet their heroes infrequently have families.
As evident by recent posts I have long been interested in the issue of sleuths and families especially the increase in characters with families. David puts the reasoning in favour of families at its most direct. Everyone has a family.
            I enjoy sagas. Stieg Larsson’s trilogy was great partly because of the ongoing story lines through the three books. While not expressed to be a set Louise Penny’s most recent books in the Inspector Gamache series are close to being a saga with the ongoing plots.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Questions and Answers with David Rotenberg

On Monday I posted my review of The Placebo Effect by David Roteberg. Today I join the blogger tour for the book. I thank David for his frank and interesting answers. I invite readers to check out further stops on the blogger tour through the links at Simon & Schuster. My Questions and Answers with David are:

1.) Why a Canadian action hero in a book that bounces between Canada and the United States? My reading experience would generally have the hero an American if the series was even partially placed in the United States.

Having the lead character as a Canadian allows a perspective on America that often Americans don’t have. I lived in the United States for many years. My wife is a Puerto Rican American. Both of my kids are dual citizens. One lives in the States; the other has the knee jerk hatred of America that is pretty common here.

Our relationship with the elephant down there is pretty darned important for us to understand past the knee jerk stuff. Hence, start in Toronto and work south. I was born and raised in Toronto, although I left for 15 years I’ve been back for 22, and this is the first I’ve been able to write about Toronto. Although, to be honest, it’s more about the Junction than Toronto.

Your insight is true, and there are times that publishers want to push for American Heroes. Decker’s an outsider, we as Canadians are outsiders to the world’s most powerful entity, crumbling as it may be.

2.) I have been reading a number of new thriller series this year including Michael Harvey’s Third Rail and Noah Boyd’s The Bricklayer. Both feature strong powerful physically aggressive characters with Boyd’s sleuth, Steve Vail, also being a thoughtful analytical hero. Decker Roberts lacks both brawn and skill with weapons. Why was Decker created with his mind his primary resource?

Partially because he’s an outsider. Partially because I’ve got pretty sick of cops and sleuths altogether. How many times can a guy be hit on the back of the head and get back up on his feet and continue? Talk to Mr. Crosby about hits to the head.

Decker in fact doesn’t like police officers of NSA people. He’s a loner who’s used his head to keep ahead of the inherent violence all around him. He’s not a weakling or a coward; he just sees and understands the diminishing returns of violence.

Yeah, we created drone planes to attack terrorist sites-and lots of folks are cheering this-but-surely the bad guys will eventually get hold of that access to violence. Then where will anyone be safe?

3.) Where does your interest in synaesthetes come from?

I’ve always written about people with special abilities, the five Zhong Fong novels are about a man with exceptional talent in a world where special talents are not honored. When I directed the first Canadian play in the People’s Republic of China the first thing the Artistic Director of that theatre said to me was, “You must remember that you can always be replaced”-a fine hello, how was your flight!

Synesthesia simply gives and access to the ‘other.’ There is a lot of material on synesthesia; some of the most interesting is actually the documentary on Mr. Tammet and his extraordinary abilities. There is also a gentleman called the human camera, you can find YouTube stuff on both, and BBC documentaries. As well Mr. Tammet has an interesting book.

Rainman was based loosely on the man who Mr. Tammet thought of as his spiritual father-he passed away a few years back.

4.) In doing a little research on synaesthetes I found only references to individuals who have such traits as seeing colors when they view letters. Is there a source on the net for particulars of synaesthetes such as Decker with the gift of divining the truth?

See above

5.) Is there a reason why the Canadian government, especially CSIS, was not seeking out Decker to enhance our country’s security by using his talents to assess truth telling?

I’ve tinkered with this, but there are only so many enemies for Decker. The collusion of CSIS with the NSA is hinted as in the chapter at Pearson airport. Thanks, this might be a worthwhile place for me to put some thought.

6.) It is rare for a thriller hero to have children let alone a child, Seth, with a difficult relationship with the hero. What took you to giving Decker an adult child in a real relationship with his father?

I’m a father, I have a son. 

7.) The book had a significant number of unresolved issues such as the future of Seth. The book is described as the first in the Junction Chronicles. Is the book intended to be read as part of a set of books with individual book plots set within an overall plot fully unfolding over a series of books in the same way Stieg Larsson created the Millennium Trilogy?


If so, why did you write a multi-book plot?

The baseball season is a multi-plot book. Tolstoy is a multi-plot book. All the major HBO series are multi-plot books. Just seemed the right time to write something that people would look forward to year after year.

(My review of The Placebo Effect was posted Monday. On Friday I will post thoughts on Questions and Answers with David.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Placebo Effect by David Rotenberg

        62. – 623.) The Placebo Effect by David Rotenberg – Decker Roberts is a synaesthete. His innate gift is the ability to tell if someone is telling the truth. When he hears a statement he can close his eyes and the patterns he sees tell him if the statement is true. It is a gift sought after in the business world and he is well paid to see and listen to job applicants. His talent works best when he can see the speaker.
Decker is a resident of the Junction area of west Central Toronto. When not determining the truth he is a film / theatre director and acting teacher. He lives with considerable personal sorrow. His wife has died of ALS. He is estranged from his 19 year old son, Seth.
Another synasethete, Michael Shedloski, has a gift for balancing items creating unique sculptures from ordinary items. His gift extends to determining the ratios that provide balance in many other circumstances.
Cincinnati pharmaceutical manufacturer, Henry-Clay Yolles, is struggling with the cost of production of a new anti-depressant, Calatrex. He hires Shedloski to work out a new ratio between placebo and active drug. When Shedloski provides an increased ratio that makes the drug feasible he is dumped by Yolles.
Yolles is interested in calling on Decker’s truth telling talent. A resentful Shedloski publicly protests his dismissal and decides to warn Decker that Yolles will take advantage of him.
In Washington D.C., the National Security Agency (NSA), is very interested in Decker as a means of evaluating information from those who threaten America. Yslan (pronounced “island” without the “d”) Hicks, studying synasethetes, is carefully observing Decker. The NSA becomes ever more involved as it wants to protect a potential asset.
Narrowly escaping death when his house burns down Decker initially does not even realize it was attempted murder. After realizing someone is trying to kill him Decker searches for his attacker. The pace accelerates as Decker is both pursued and pursuer. The book is at its best following Decker in his quest. There is a startling twist with regard to his son, Seth.
There are touches of the supernatural throughout the book. I am not found of the supernatural in thrillers or mysteries but it t never becomes dominant in the book.
Decker is a unique hero. I had never heard of synaesthetes before reading the book. Ordinary synaesthetes have a crossing of senses such as seeing letters of the alphabet in colours.
The book is unusual in the plot shifting back and forth between cities in the United States and Toronto. Few mysteries and thrillers move between the countries.
It is the first book in The Junction Chronicles. There are lots of unexplored threads to the lives of the primary characters. I enjoyed the book. I did find it disjointed at times. It is a thriller seeking to meet the challenge of balancing action in the mind and physical action. I have high hopes for the second book in the series.     
        The Placebo Effect is my 7th book of 13 to be read in the 5th Canadian Book Challenge. I have now reached the Lac Mistassini level.    
        (The Placebo Effect is being published on February 7, 2012. I am following this review on Wednesday with Questions and Answers with David as part of the Simon & Schuster blogger tour for the book. I will conclude the trio of posts on Friday with my thoughts on David's answers.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sledge Patrol by David Howarth

21. - 484.) Sledge Patrol by David Howarth – When Germany took possession of Denmark in WW II to “protect” the country from the Allies there was no declaration of war. Greenland’s governor, Eske Brun, believing it was in Greenland’s best interests not to submit to Germany effectively made Greenland independent. The north east coast of Greenland is one of the most isolated areas of the world. With weather reports are useful for shipping Brun wanted to know if Germany was establishing a weather station. Using a handful of hunters (more trappers) based in Eskimoness he sent out sledge (dogsled) patrols up and down the coast. To provide military status in case of capture he formed the Greenland Army which had 9 members. In the late summer of 1942 Germany did send a ship to set up a weather station on the coast. Unintentionally they set up their station on an island just over 60 miles from Eskimoness. When they were discovered in early 1943 the Germans successfully attacked Eskimoness and its 3 defenders. In an epic journey the Greenland commander, Ib Poulsen, walked 230 miles in winter weather in 11 days wearing improvised shoes made from sacking. (He was able to move from hunting hut to hunting hut as he made his way south.) As the Germans and Danes sledge up and down the coast a Dane is killed. What is remarkable is the regret each side felt in war coming to the Arctic. Howarth portrays Greenland as a starkly beautiful land and the hunting life in the Arctic to be a wonderful way to live. The climate forces harmony on its inhabitants. War is a strange and foolish concept and an unwanted intrusion. The Eskimos are terrified as they have no experience of war. They cannot understand it. The German commander, Ritter, is a reluctant warrior as he has lived the hunting life in Spitzbergen. In one of the most isolated areas on earth WW II had its most intimate conflict between the Greenland Army and 19 Germans. It is an epic story of survival in a weather hostile land. (June 3/09) (Most interesting of 2009)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Burnt Out by Nelson Brunanski

Burnt Out by Nelson Brunanski – The third Bart Bartkowski mystery is the best in the series of small town Saskatchewan mysteries.
            After a successful spring season and a short break Bart is getting ready to return to his fly-in fishing lodge to get it cleaned up. Back home Crooked Lake (the town of Wakaw in real life) is getting ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
            Dominating the Saskatchewan summer is a heat wave that has left the whole province tinder dry. Up north forest fires are being ignited after every thunderstorm.
            After flying his float plane up to the lodge Bart and trusted employee, Charlie McKenzie, make a good start on the cleanup. That night Bart suddenly awakes to find the camp in flames. While a water bomber contains the fire the lodge is totally destroyed. While examining the devastation Bart stumbles over a charred body.
            RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) investigators fly in to deal with the murder and what was clearly arson. Close attention is paid to Bart.
            The consequences of the fire are multiplied for there was no fire insurance. Bart, to save high premium costs, had discontinued insurance coverage a year ago. His wife, Rosie, is crushed as she contemplates them looking at starting over again.
            Trying to figure out what to do with the destroyed camp Bart is approached by a mining company, Uranium Inc., which wants to buy out Bart’s lease.
            Adding spice to the mystery is the return of Janine Kincaid to Crooked Lake. A few years younger than Bart, she had gone unnoticed by him while in high school. Now a stunning single woman she makes very clear her interest in Bart.
            Crooked Lake celebrates the centenary in classic small town fashion. Rosie contributes her design skills to the float being put in the parade by the Junction Stop, a local gas station.
            Within the book there are legal proceedings that grate upon me as a lawyer. They do not take place in the right court, they proceed in a manner different from our Criminal Code and they have a decision that would not occur in Canada. I wish authors set out legal procedures accurately. The drama of the story does not have to be compromised by accuracy. When errors are made it makes wonder about the other research done by the author.
            I did appreciate the skilled legal assistance needed was provided by a Saskatchewan lawyer residing outside Saskatoon or Regina.
            The book has a deft little twist. Several names of people or places in the book are plays on real life names. You would have to be familiar with Wakaw to pick out these names.
            In previous reviews of Crooked Lake and Frost Bite I had expressed admiration for the faithful picture of rural Saskatchewan but regretted the quality of the mystery. This time the mystery matches the portrayal of Saskatchewan. I was not fond of the ending but the series has improved dramatically. As always the cover is striking and will jump out in a bookstore. I look forward to the 4th in the series. My 2012 reading is off to a fine start.
           The book is the 6th book I have read in the 5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge hosted at the Book Mine Set blog. I have reached the Williston Lake level. My goal is to read 13 books to reach the highest level of the Challenge. (Jan. 1/12)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best Mystery Books of 2011 from Reviewers and Bloggers Around the World

Kerrie Smith at her superb blog, Mysteries in Paradise, undertook to gather together lists of favourite mysteries of 2011 from around the world. She advises she had 35 contributors with 364 different books listed. (The books did not have to be first published in 2011.)

There were 7 books that were mentioned 5 or more times:

1.) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (7)
2.) The Keeper of Lost Causes (also published as Mercy) (7)
3.) The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (6)
4.) A Trick of the Light by Louis Penny (5)
5.) Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (5)
6.) Field Gray by Philip Kerr (5)
7.) The End of Wasp Season by Denise Mina (5)

Of the top 7 I have read and reviewed The Keeper of Lost Causes and A Trick of the Light. In my 2011 Bill’s Best of Fiction I included The Keeper of Lost Causes which had tied for 3rd.

Of the 13 titles mentioned on 3-4 lists I had read and reviewed The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly.

There were 26 books on 2 lists. From that group my reading and reviews included:

1.) Bury Your Dead and The Brutal Telling. Both books are by Louise Penny;
2.) The Sherlockian by Graham Moore; and,
3.) The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.

With Bury Your Dead and The Sherlockian both on my Bill’s Best of Fiction I had 4 of the top 46 on my list. (I did manage not to look at any other lists until I had picked my favourites.)

What I noticed most about the compilation of lists by Kerrie was that Louise Penny is the only Canadian author and the only author to have 3 different books mentioned on 2 or more lists.

It was a remarkable year for Louise. Inspector Gamache has become the best known Canadian sleuth and has achieved international stardom.

I chose Bury Your Dead as my favourite fiction of 2011. It has probably won more crime fiction awards than any other Canadian mystery. Published in 2010 most of the awards came that year.  The awards include:

1.) The 2011 Nero Award;
2.) The Macavity Award for Best Crime Novel in the US
3.) The Anthony Award for Best Crime Novel in the US;
4.) The Agatha for Best Novel at this year's Malice Domestic;
5.) The Arthur Ellis for Best Crime Novel in Canada;
6.) The Dilys Award in the
, as the book the mystery bookstores most liked to sell in 2010;
7.) American Library Association has named BURY YOUR DEAD the Best Mystery of 2010.
8.) AudioFile named BURY YOUR DEAD as the Best Mystery of 2010.
9.) The Canadian Booksellers Association named it their top hand sell of the year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Litigators by John Grisham

(71. – 632.) The Litigators by John Grisham – Finley and Figg is a two man law firm eking out a slender existence on the streets of southwest Chicago. Harvard graduate, David Zinc, is toiling day and night on bonds for the 600 plus firm of Rogan Rothberg.
            Oscar Finley and Wally Figg pretentiously call themselves a boutique firm. They are actually street lawyers ready to take on the legal needs of all who enter the office. The daily mix of their practice is my life as a lawyer. I equally work on the problems of people not corporations or governments. Fortunately, I am not literally chasing ambulances as Finley and Figg anxiously listen for ambulance sirens nearing their office.
            Zinc is exhausted by the hours demanded by his firm. Almost all his waking hours are consumed reviewing documents from international bond transactions. He is too tired to conceive a child with his wife. About to enter the office one morning about , his usual arrival time, he snaps and successfully dives for the descending elevator. After a long day of drinking he ends up at the office of Finley and Figg and asks for a job. The bemused partners decide to give Zinc a chance, principally because he is willing to work for little money.
            Figg, perpetually seeking a case to take them to the big time, is a master of cheap advertising. He is known for being the first lawyer in Chicago to advertise on bingo cards.
            Figg manages to snag a case concerning a cholesterol drug, Krayoxx, manufactured by Varrick Labs, a pharmaceutical well sued for problems with other drugs. Reading of court actions being commenced in Florida with regard to Krayoxx, Figg conducts a desperate search around Chicago for other clients with potential claims over Krayoxx.
            Having assembled several clients Figg is given the opportunity to join with nationally known mass tort lawyers to go after Varrick. Figg is in the big time. He is totally unready for this level of litigation.
            I can remember what it was like 20 years ago when my small firm joined national litigation over Canadians infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through our blood system. Unlike Figg we appropriately managed our participation in billion dollar litigation.
            Grisham’s distaste for the mass tort bar is once again evident in the book. I understand his dislike of some of their tactics but I believe his disdain is over-stated. There is no way individual plaintiffs can seek redress for wrongs done by drug companies and governments. Only through class actions of hundreds, if not thousands, of plaintiffs with the lawyers taking their fees on a contingency basis is there the prospect of proper compensation.
            Zinc follows a wild ride through the process of a major claim against a pharmaceutical. Finley & Figg desperately want a settlement that will provide them some financial security for the first time in their careers.
            To the amazement of his former colleagues and the consternation of his parents and in-laws Zinc loves working with people. He finds it, as I do, interesting dealing with all the varied legal problems encountered by people.
            As the action proceeds in Chicago Varrick follows an unconventional defensive strategy. It allows the case to proceed on a Federal Court judge’s “rocket docket” towards trial. They will not contest every application, do not make discovery of every document difficult, do not launch every possible motion to delay the process. Having been involved in several national Canadian class actions I have never seen a defendant adopt the same strategy. One reason is that the Canadian actions have all involved claimants in numerous provinces joined in one action and the defendants cannot pick the weakest case to defend in court.
            Finley & Figg are ill-prepared novices in a high stakes world. When the court actions involve money of 9 or even 10 digits you need to be well resourced and well prepared.
Once again Grisham creates interesting lawyers who are credible lawyers and places them in a contemporary legal case. No author has better litigators. (Dec. 29/11)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Tonight I am putting up a post of a review written in 2008 when I first encountered Maisie Dobbs. It was my favourite work of fiction that year.
22. - 432.) Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – A wonderful new character. Last year it was Walt Longmire. This year it is Maisie Dobbs. A jacket blurb likened Winspear to Alexander McCall-Smith’s books. It is an apt comparison. At its core the book is a mystery. It is not a great mystery. It is a great book. Maisie is far more than a detective as she seeks to restore the well being of her clients. From modest origins she reaches university at the start of WW I with the aid of Lady Rowan and Lord Julian. Her mentor, Maurice Blanche, is a wonderful wise man with abundant aphorisms. Maisie’s intelligence and humanity are striking. Her time as a nurse near the trenches and relationship with war surgeon, Dr. Simon Lynch, is a tender look at a couple in the midst of an overwhelming war. The story unfolds in 1929 as Maisie goes out on her own. The term detective agency is far too narrow a description of her services. Her adoption of a person’s posture to determine what they are feeling is unique. I longed for her to meet and ease the tormented Ian Rutledge of Charles Todd. I loved the New York Times comment “be prepared to be astonished”. Excellent. Hardcover or paperback by choice. (May 31/08) (Best fiction of 2008.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bill's Best of 2011

The choices reflect the year when the books were read by me. They are not always the year the book was published.


1.) Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (569.) – The best in the Inspector Gamache series. The haunting story was a multiple award winner.

2.) Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg (562.) – A great debut legal mystery set in Toronto.

3.) The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (620.) – A wonderful start to the series of Danish detective, Carl Mørck.

3.) The Sherlockian by Graham Moore (572.) – The book moves between Arthur Conan Doyle and a current Sherlockian


1.) The Cinderella Army by Terry Copp (596.) – The Canadian Army in WW II is given gritty difficult tasks after Normandy.

2.) Simon Wiesenthal by Tom Segev (563.) – A comprehensive biography of the renown Nazi hunter

3.) He Left Them Laughing when He Said Good-bye by Grant MacEwan (589.) – An intriguing look at the early Calgary lawyer, Paddy Nolan


1.) Prairie Hardball by Alison Gordon (588.) – My favourite Saskatchewan mystery featuring Saskatchewan women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame.

2.) Cake in the Hat Box by Arthur Upfield (574.) – I have come to enjoy the mysteries of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte in rural Australia from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. This is the first book I read in the series. Over the year I read two more Bony mysteries.

3.) The Judas Window by John Dickson Carr writing as Dickson Carter (629.) – A superb locked room mystery with a precisely logical solution.

3.) The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns (615.) – Future Canadian Prime Minister, John G. Diefenbaker, at 12 years of age solving a rural Saskatchewan mystery in 1908. I would have loved to have had this book when I was 12 years old.