About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson – Every time I think there are no ideas left for using Sherlock Holmes in a mystery I am surprised. I had heard about the contemporary lawyer brothers of 221b Baker Street but did not know their connection with Holmes until I read the book.

I smiled when I read about barrister, Reggie Heath, meeting with his brother, solicitor Nigel Heath, in their new offices on Baker Street and finding out that it was a precisely drafted term of their lease that they were required to answer each letter addressed to Sherlock Holmes that came to their address. It has been some time that I came across as clever a premise for a series.

Nigel cannot bear to merely send the form letter, also required by their lease, to a woman writing from Los Angeles who has been writing letters to Holmes for 20 years since she was 8 years old. Her story about her missing father touched Nigel. Her desire to have maps returned her at this time leads Nigel to believe he should go to California to meet her.

Life is good for Reggie professionally. His practice is doing well and his investments are flourishing.

Personally Reggie is in the midst of a strained relationship with the lovely actress, Laura Rankin. Her displeasure is reflected in her willingness to take work in New York. Some of Reggie’s ambivalence results from the start of their relationship. She was dating Nigel when Reggie swept her away.

Reggie is dismissive of the woman in L.A. and wants Nigel to concentrate on a pending hearing before the Law Society over getting Nigel’s suspension lifted. Nigel’s powerful integrity had caused him to turn over a fee to the opposing side when he learned his client had acted fraudulently. He ran afoul of the Law Society when he went further with the fraud.

Reggie’s concerns are not those of Nigel. When Nigel does not show up for the hearing Reggie deftly obtains an adjournment and angrily goes to his brother’s office where he is startled to find their office manager murdered and a note from Nigel that he has gone to America. With Nigel a prime suspect Reggie chases after him.

In Los Angeles Reggie pursues Nigel which leads him into a mystery involving the construction of the new Los Angeles subway. It is a strange place for an English barrister to find himself. The story moves briskly on with Reggie gradually putting the evidence together.

Reggie is quick witted though his detecting is more physical than
cerebral. I enjoyed the book. Reggie, Nigel and Laura are charming
characters. I could not describe it a great mystery. I thought it was a
good debut and I will read the second book. I hope it may delve into
the legal careers of the brothers. No matter how I think of this book
I cannot call it a legal mystery. The brothers happen to be lawyers.
They could have been numerous other occupations such as private
detectives and the story would have worked equally well. (Aug.

Monday, August 27, 2012

“O” is for Gregg Olsen

In looking at my list of “O” mystery authors read in the past 12 years my total was 1 – Gregg Olsen. For this week’s entry at “O” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, he becomes my entry.

His website provides the following description of Olsen:

Olsen, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (an obedience school dropout cocker spaniel) and Suri (a mini dachshund so spoiled she wears a sweater).

Wikipedia adds:

Gregg Olsen (born March 5, 1959, in Seattle, Wash.) is a New York Times and a USA Today bestselling author of eight nonfiction books and six novels, most of which are crime-related. The subjects of his true books include convicted child rapist and school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, product tampering killer Stella Nickell, fasting specialist Linda Burfield Hazzard, and former Amishman and convicted murderer Eli Stutzman.

I found intriguing the number of non-fiction crime biographies he has written.

While I have not read the book Starvation Heights, his book on Hazzard must have been of particular interest to Olsen as Hazzard had a "sanitarium” in Olalla called Wilderness Heights but Starvation Heights by local residents. His website note on the book says:

In 1911, Claire and Dora Williamson traveled to Dr. Linda Hazzard's Institute of Natural Therapeutics near Seattle, Washington. There, instead of receiving medical attention, the wealthy sisters were tortured, starved, and robbed of their inheritance. Dora escaped, but Claire was not so lucky. In detail, the author recreates the shocking 1912 trial of Dr. Hazzard for the murder of the beloved sister.

I found a question and answer with the author at the sandrablabber blog very interesting:

If a notorious criminal was going to write your biography, who would you want to write about you and why?
Gregg: This is an interesting question, Sandra. Living or dead’ I suppose if I wanted to have it be well written, I’d choose Jean Harris, after all she was a headmistress before she shot Dr. Herman Tarnower of Scarsdale Diet fame. She probably knew her way around words and I’ll bet she was a very neat typist. If I wanted to disappear into the text I’d have a narcissist like Scott Peterson write the book because I’d be merely a footnote in my own story. Yet, if the goal is a bestseller, I’d like to suggest Ted Bundy. Everyone loves a sexy author with a killer smile. He’d be booked on every show. I’d be famous for a book I didn’t have to write.

In 2007 I read his mystery, A Wicked Snow. In my review I said:

It is a fascinating portrayal of the life of the child of a serial killer. How do you understand why your parent is a killer? It is truly a journey into the heart of darkness.

It was a chilling book.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Private Patient by P.D. James

1. - 464.) The Private Patient by P.D. James – Another closed setting in rural England. Mr. George Chandler-Powell has a clinic in the Manor, a large traditional home in Dorset. At the clinic he conducts cosmetic surgery on wealthy women. Rhoda Gradwyn, a 47 year old investigative journalist, with a terrible scar from her teenage years decides to have the scar removed at the clinic as she no longer needs it. Suspense is created in the opening sentence of the mystery which states she is to die in 3 weeks and 2 days. She is killed at the Manor and Adam Dagleish is called to investigate the murder. James stirs interest when we learn that Adam and Emma have become engaged. In Dorset Adam and his team are challenged by an equal opportunity murder. Any of the 9 present could have murdered Gradwyn. The setting is eerie in that there is ring of pre-historic stones next to the Manor at which a woman was burned 400 years ago. As they probe the stories of the residents and their histories potential grudges against Gradwyn are discovered. The ending is more satisfying than recent Dagleish stories. The solution is plausible and not created by unknown facts. There is a touch of ambiguity that is unusual in a mystery. At 88 James continues to write beautifully. Her mysteries are works of art. Hardcover. (Jan. 1/09)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“N” is for Stuart Neville

For this week’s entry at “N” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, I have chosen Stuart Neville.

On his website Stuart succinctly described his background:

I have been a musician, a composer, a teacher, a salesman, a film extra, a baker and a hand double for a well known Irish comedian, but I'm currently a partner in a successful multimedia design business in the wilds of Northern Ireland.

What I found most interesting about Stuart’s life in online research was the role of a literary agent in his life.

Early in 2008 he submitted a short story to ThugLit. On his website he discusses what happened next:

To my delight, I received an email on my birthday, 25th of January, telling me the story had been accepted and would appear in the February edition.

On March 10th I was working late at my office when I received an email from literary agent Nat Sobel. He had read THE LAST DANCE in February's ThugLit, and he asked if he could take a look at the novel mentioned in my bio. He casually rattled off a few of his clients, including James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh and Richard Russo. After I picked myself up off the floor, I sent the novel off, fully expecting a "Thanks, but no thanks."

To my ongoing shock and delight, Nat offered to take me on just a few days later. Some months on, I have publishing deals in the USA, UK and Japan.

On his Blog Adventures in Novel Writing at conduitnovel.blogspot.com, no longer active, he explained with regard to Sobel:

Turns out his favourite way of finding new writers is through short story publications. He found Richard Russo and FX Toole that way. Hmm, thinks I. So much for query letters and slush piles.

In an interview at The Electric Spec website he discussed the signifcant impact Sobel had on his writing with Betsy Dornbusch:

What is working with him like and how did it affect your approach to your book?

Nat is a very hands-on agent, and he loves to nurture new talent. At the same time, he's tough, and very hard to please. If he doesn't think you're giving your best work, he isn't shy about saying so. I often advise hopefuls to get critique for exactly this reason; if you're lucky enough to get the chance to work with a great agent, you can't be precious about your writing. I worked on revisions for another three months or so before Nat felt the novel was ready to go out on submission.

Further on his blog he offers advice to authors on the adverse consequences of behaving badly with publishing professionals such as literary agents:

And it's not just because they offended some well-liked and respected publishing professionals. It's also because all publishing professionals choose the authors they want to work with based not just on the quality of writing, but on how that author behaves. If an author is rude, arrogant, stupid, and/or showing signs of mental instability on a public blog, it's a pretty safe bet they're going exhibit those traits in their working relationships too. And who wants to work with somebody like that?

I have read and reviewed and enjoyed his first book, The Ghosts of Belfast also published as The Twelve.

I summed up the book:

The story is a powerful exploration of the psychological costs of killing upon the killers.

While thought provoking it is also a compelling page turning read.

I plan to read the next in the series, Collusion, later this year.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thoughts on One-L reviews of Myself and my son, Michael

In the past week I have posted reviews of Scott Turow’s book, One L, by myself and my son, Michael Selnes. This post will include some thoughts on the reviews and Turow’s experience with 1st year law at Harvard.

I was not surprised that Turow, Michael and myself had comparable experiences though we attended law school in different countries as much as 40 years apart.

The experiences were more similar than different because the teaching process in law school has changed relatively little in the past 40 years. Indeed, it is not much different for the past 125 years.

Case studies with professors often asking questions using the Socratic method has been at the core of law school education since the 19th Century.

While not familiar with every university department I expect law school changed the least in how the subject was taught over the 20th Century.

I do think the law school experience was better for Scott and Michael because they did not have to worry about an arbitrary fail percentage. Within a few years of my completion of 1st year law universities came to value first year law students and eliminated failure curves.

There was a camaraderie among Canadian students with regard to information for Michael and myself that was not present for Turow. The classes of Michael and myself readily shared information and notes were freely circulated with classmates. My hand written notes were often copied because they were legible. Classmates copying for the first time would be caught off guard by how long it took to copy as I normally got 13 words a line.

In a telling moment in One L, Turow finds how much he has changed when he refuses to share a course outline unless the student seeking the outline prepares material that can be used by Turow for study.

For all of us the intensity of 1st year law was the same whether the background was 2 years of Arts & Science (myself) or an undergraduate degree (History and German for Michael) or a graduate degree (English for Turow).

For all of us 1st year law was a time when our classes became bands of brothers and sisters in the law. We were forged by the year. It appears to me comparable to any situation where a group is tested to the core of their beings. It is the closest I will come to the feeling of a unit of soldiers. First year law is a shared time of which we can tell but can only be truly understood by having the experience.

Turow said in 2007 that One L was still selling about 30,000 copies annually. It was a remarkable number for a book written 3 decades earlier. I do not know current sales.

I expect many of the 48,697 students who started law school at accredited American universities last year have read the book. (As an aside Canada has 2,000 first year law students each year. America has 10 times the population of Canada but 24 times as many law students.)

I would not recommend One L to students going into law school. I think it is likely to cause too much anxiety. It is well worth reading after first year law or if you are not going to law school.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One-L by Scott Turow (1977) - My Review

One-L by Scott Turow (1977) – My last post was a guest review of One-L by my son, Michael, who finished first year law in April of this year. In this post I present my review of the book. I did not read Michael’s review until I had written this review so I could not be influenced by his thoughts. My next post will have some thoughts on the reviews of myself and Michael.

It has been 40 years since I survived first year law at the University of Saskatchewan. I was in law school during the same era as Turow who endured first year law at Harvard in the fall of 1975.

The book is a combination of fiction with regard to the identities and information of those named other than the author and a memoir of Turow’s memories. The book is told in the form of a first person narrative that is very vivid.

Turow accurately tells of the confusion of first year law students as they encounter an educational program different from any they have experienced. Professors teaching students of that era in arts and sciences would hope students were prepared. Law professors expected careful preparation before classes.

Turow portrays the desperate effort at the start of first year to fully brief all of the assigned cases. He outlines a life where 1L’s, including himself, became full time daily residents of the law school library. Relatively few of my class became so obsessed.

The law school Socratic process of being picked out by certain professors and finding out there were no clear right answers was a familiar experience. I had professors who were just as intimidating as Turow recounted with Professor Perini in Contracts.

I never worried as much about my responses and those of classmates as Turow and his section agonized over at Harvard. I just admired those few with the ability to provide thoughtful answers in the pressure of law school classrooms.

It took time at the U. of S., as it did for the 1L’s of Harvard, to figure out going to class was truly optional when none of the year’s mark was based on the classroom.

The drama of first year exams was comparable. The building of anxiety over a single exam determining the mark for the course affects every student.

My class had an extra level of pressure not present at Harvard 5 years later than my first year. We knew 20% of our class would fail. It is my bitter memory of law school that there was an arbitrary, though un-stated, fail percentage. At Harvard few would fail though all would be humbled by the year.

Nothing in my university experience prepares you for a law school exam which provides complex sets of facts and asks you to discuss the law. For students accustomed to gliding along and simply providing back to professors what they have been taught the law school tests are daunting. You have to think.

Turow expresses his anger over a 4 hour exam at the university or an 8 hour take home exam actually determining your knowledge of the subject and your ability to be a lawyer. I have come to realize that the format of the law school exam is the type of test faced every day by a lawyer dealing with a new client or facing an unexpected issue during a trial. The tests tell something of the ability to think under intense pressure. Still I do think it is unfair to put all the year on a single exam and never want the experience again.

Turow does an excellent job of the angst of 1L’s receiving grades in B’s and C’s rather than the A’s which have dominated their pre-law days. Harvard’s 1L’s are deeply resentful. They cannot bear the thought they are no longer among the elite of their academic group. It is an arrogance few at Harvard recognized. For myself, I was happy to escape 1st year with a 68 average. It was enough for me that I had passed.

Turow further touches upon a disconnect that made law school a strange place for me. Unlike all my other educational experience there was no correlation between study and exam performance. The courses in which I studied the least were usually my best marks.

Both Turow and myself  enjoyed being part of the brightest group of people with whom I had taken university courses.

For the 1L’s of Harvard and my class it was the most intense intellectual effort of university days. It was the first time I had committed everything I had in me. I was exhausted at the end of first year law.

Reading One-L will provide an excellent perspective on why law students of the 1970’s say they survived first year law. (Aug. 11/12)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One-L by Scott Turow (1977) - Guest Post by Michael Selnes

The following post is my first guest post and was written by my younger son, Michael. I had wanted to read One-L by Scott Turow (1977) for a long time. When I decided to read it this year I thought another perspective would be interesting. I asked Michael, who was just finishing 1st year law at the University of Calgary, if he would read the book and provide a review. I am very glad he accepted my proposal. On Friday I will provide my review of the book. I look forward to feedback from blog readers, especially on Michael’s review.


One-L by Scott Turow (1977) - “I am a law student in my first year at the law, and there are many moments when I am simply a mess.”  This statement, while over dramatic and grandiose, in many ways encapsulates a sentiment that all first year law students feel at least once during the roller coaster that is being a 1L (the acronym for a first year law student). 

After a couple of months of reflection upon my experience of a 1L, I would edit this simple statement to say “I am a law student in my first year at the law, and there are many moments when I am simply a mess, but many more when I am having the time of my life”.  While I thoroughly enjoyed Turow’s take on being a 1L at Harvard, I did find he partook too extensively one of the national sports of law school; feeling sorry for yourself. There is no doubt that the pressure is at times immense, the work difficult and the tests daunting, but one should not lose perspective about where they really are.  Law school is a wicked opportunity to meet other intelligent and engaging people, to challenge ones self and have one last kick at the academic can before being thrust full throttle into the real world. 

That said, I imagine without a doubt Harvard Law in the 70’s was a much more intimidating environment to engage the law that U of C is today.  Law schools, which are inherently conservative intuitions, have adapted with modern pedagogical methods and for the most part gone is the dreaded Socratic method, high fail rates and overall mental anguish that used to characterize legal studies.  It is because of this shift that the theme of the book, “meeting my enemy” is slightly less poignant today than it was 30+ years ago, but regardless the sentiment still exists.  

I can still remember the Dean speaking to us on the first day about how from this day forward we will think differently.  We will think like lawyers.  I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I do now. Like Turow, while learning to love and hate the law I was inevitably shaped by it.  Whether it is meeting your enemy, or simply resigning yourself to the fate that there will always be a prof who catches you unprepared, a classmate who understood something better or an issue left unspotted, the first year of law is an incredibly visceral experience that can only be fully appreciated by those who “survive” it.  His ability to capture this is perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book.  Turow uniquely put into words the daily grind that all law students learn to endure after the new shine of the law wears off and 7 months of grueling case summaries endure.

For me as a 1L reading this book I was intrigued by how much still is the same.  The utter confusion one feels when they first attempt to brief a case, and spend 3 hours of meticulous reading, re-reading and summarizing only to realize they missed the ratio (the crux of the case, the reason you are reading it).  The dread of the Socratic method and the sheer terror it inspires (I can still remember the first time I was humiliated in front of my classmates and how much it motivated me to be on top of the cases going forward.  No-one will ever “enjoy” the Socratic method, but it sure is a powerful incentive to actually read the case.) The constant jockeying  for position, competition and comparisons that drive students crazy (perhaps even worse now as many students feel the pressure and need to start applying for work before they have even learned to brief a case).  The intimacy with your classmates (when you spend 5 hours a day, everyday with the same 30 people you get to know their quirks, mannerisms, gifts and flaws).  And finally, the anxiety of final exams (there is nothing like a final worth between 70%-100% of your final mark, a mark which most employers will use to separate you from your classmates).

In spite of these similarities I would be loath to not point out some differences.  When he was writing, there was still a large gender imbalance and women were struggling to break down the glass doors of the law school.  Today, men tend to be the minority in most of their classes (albeit a very slight minority) but unfortunately this has not translated to the upper echelons of law firm partnership.  Competition at law school will always be fierce, but I surprisingly found law to be more collegial than any of my undergrad programs.  Notes were shared without question, study groups did not hoard materials and people genuinely wanted to see each other succeed (although this might be a product of the fact that 99% of us will land decent jobs out of law school, a fate not shared by many of our American counterparts).  Finally, much of the formality has worn off.  Profs do not carry the gravitas they once did (I doubt even at Harvard).  In keeping with more modern pedagogical methods students and profs interact more as equals, a situation in my opinion that works to all of our advantage.

All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely.  Even if Turow preached a bit too much, and felt a little too sorry for himself, he deftly captured the emotion and experience of being a 1L and in doing so likely helped shape the perspective of generations of future students.

Monday, August 13, 2012

“M” is for Seichō Matsumoto

With the letter “M” we start on the second half of the alphabet in Kerrie Smith’s meme, The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, hosted at her blog Mysteries in Paradise. My “M” will be Japanese author, Seichō Matsumoto.

His life spanned most of the 20 century being born in 1909 and dying in 1992. Born on the island of Kyshu he neither attended secondary school nor university. Through personal dedication he was well read.

His writing career did not start until he was 40 after World War II. He was a very prolific writer. The Wikipedia article on him states:

Renowned for his work ethic, Seichō wrote short fiction while simultaneously producing multiple novels-at one point as many as five concurrently—in the form of magazine serials.

Overall the article says he produced 450 literary works in 40 years.

He has been credited with popularizing crime fiction in post-war Japan.

The World of Wolcott Wheeler blog has an interesting article on Seichō’s life. He describes him as:

Who was Seicho Matsumoto? Imagine a writer who is one part Raymond Chandler, one part John Steinbeck, and one part Gore Vidal. The closest thing we’ve ever had to him in America was the great Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate and Winter Kills.

He continues:

Like Condon, he was obsessed with conspiracies, like Steinbeck, he was a radical, like Vidal, he was a keen left-wing observer of his society who knew where the levers of power were located, and like Chandler, he was a riveting mystery writer with serious literary qualities.

I have read and reviewed one of his books, Inspector Imanishi Investigates.

James Kirkup in his obituary of Matsumoto in the Independent describes the character Inspector Imanishi:

Matsumoto's Inspector Imanishi is often compared to Simenon's Maigret. He is a typical Simenon anti-hero, but otherwise the comparison does not hold up. Though he is indeed in the great line of Martin Beck and Van der Valk, he most resembles PD James's Adam Dalgliesh.

My reading of the book could not deduce comparisons of those famed European investigators. I did note that the Inspector was incredibly dogged in his pursuit of evidence.

I further commented on the functioning of his police department:

In the police department he is respected and respects his superiors. It is so different from most contemporary mysteries where there is frequently a lack of respect, support and co-operation between investigators, supervisors and administrators.
Kirkup had some interesting information on the structure of the book:

Reading these works in English is rather hard-going, even though (or perhaps because) the drastically condensed Inspector Imanishi Investigates is re-edited, re-arranged and sharply condensed from the 766 pages of the original paperback to 300 large-print pages of American English. The fiction serial tradition in Japan is largely to blame, because it forces authors to overwrite. So plots are over-contrived, characters too many and too wooden; too many coincidences and rigid plot-structure leave no room for inspired shock endings or psychological subtlety, while the jog-trot dialogue is often just desultory Japanese-style conversation saying nothing and leading nowhere

I did enjoy the book and hope to find more of Matsumoto’s books.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn

35. – 667.) Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn – Every year a special author or two renders me grateful to be a reader of mysteries. Earlier this year L.R. Wright with The Suspect was such an author. This summer I am glad to have found Malla Nunn.

In a departure from my usual reading I start with the third in her series involving South African police Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala. It is 1953 and apartheid controls South African life.

They are assigned to investigate a murder at Roselet, a village on the edge of the Drakensberg Mountains, a few hours away from Durban.

On their arrival they find the deceased, Amahle, is the beautiful 17 year old daughter of the local Zulu Chief, Matebula. Their first challenge is to gain access to the body located near a path on a foothill to the mountains. A Zulu impi (fighting force) bars the way. It takes a combination of diplomacy and assertion of the rights of white domination to get by the Zulu warriors.

They find a body with no obvious cause of death. There is a thumbtack sized wound in the back.

Shabalala, displaying impressive tracking skills that reminded me of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte, quickly determines the body has been moved there after death.

In Roselet, they find the officer, Constable Desmond Bagley, in charge of the local detachment curiously disinterested in the murder.

They seek the aid of Dr. Margaret Daglish in determining the cause of death but she is unwilling to conduct any examination of the body. She allows them to move the body into a cool cellar until a doctor can come from Durban.

There is a moment when a small shiver goes down my back as Shabalala speaks to the spirit of Amahle. While Cooper professes not to be superstitious he has his own voices from WW II.

During her life Amahle has been reluctant to reveal herself:

“Keeping your true self hidden from others isn’t a trick,” Emmanuel said. “It’s a sacrifice”.

With the locals uncooperative and volunteering no information Cooper and Shabalala settle in for the investigation.

Pressing on they determine that Amahle was a maid for the Reed family, the most prominent farmers in the valley. The Reeds continually flout their superiority as members of the English ruling class.

An adjacent farm is owned by Boer, Sampie Paulus. The Boer neighbours are clearly resentful of the English Reeds.

At the Matebula kraal the mourning is mixed with tensions over the economic consequences of Amahle’s death. She would have demanded a huge bride price payable to her father.

Cooper works easily with Shabalala. While pragmatically accepting the rigid race distinctions Cooper lacks overt prejudice. His youth amidst the different races of Sophiatown has made him far more egalitarian than most white South Africans. In our post-apartheid era it is shocking how completely the white population dominated black South Africans.

The beautiful valley between the sharply rising foothills is an important part of the plot.

Nunn creates a mystery that combines the era, the geography and people of South Africa of the early 1950’s. The mystery could not have been set in a different place and time.

I appreciated her judicious use of Afrikaner and Zulu words. There are enough to give the flavour of the community but not too many to need a dictionary.

The process of detection involves traditional skills (tracking as mentioned above), science, skilled questions and an understanding of community and culture.

Nunn describes Cooper’s ability to do more than interview:

“The doctor was ready to talk and he was there to listen. In this lifting of burdens lay the unspoken beauty of police work.”

Blessed are the Dead is a brilliant book. I will soon be returning to the lives of Cooper and Shabalala.

I thank Hannah Conlin at Simon & Schuster for sending me the book. (Aug. 4/12)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

“L” is for Paul Levine

For my entry this week in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog Mysteries in Paradise I have selected Paul Levine. He is one of the most humorous writers of legal mysteries. I have read 3 books in his Solomon and Lord series.

In addition to writing several other series he is an accomplished screenwriter noted for writing numerous episodes of JAG.

Anyone who posts the following about his legal education and career on his website has humour at the core of his life:

Paul is a graduate of Penn State University where he majored in journalism and the University of Miami Law School where he majored in the swimming pool. He passed the Florida Bar exam in his first try in what he suspects was a computer glitch.
He is the recipient of Penn State's Distinguished Alumnus Award and has served as an Alumni Fellow in the university's College of Communications. In law school, he served on the national championship moot court team and was an editor of the Law Review.

Paul was a trial lawyer with the mammoth, filthy rich international law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he did not even pretend to know all his partners' names. He specialized in "complex litigation," cases so abstruse that even lawyers charging 500 bucks an hour didn't fully understand them. Paul tried hundreds of cases and handled appeals at every level, including the Supreme Court. Along the way, he filed expense accounts nearly as creative as his legal briefs.

He taught communications law for a time at the University of Miami. I expect he provided his students with more humour than the average professor of law. For some reason law professors are not noted humourists.

His website provides the following on the Solomon and Lord series:

THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award, and KILL ALL THE LAWYERS was a finalist for the International Thriller Writers award. TRIAL & ERROR was called a "quick and tightly crafted caper" by Publishers Weekly, which also praised the book for its "endearing wit and memorable characters." (The magazine also called the novel a "fine rainy day read," but Paul insists it can be read in any weather, short of a category 4 hurricane).

The reviewfromhere.com blog has an interview with Levine from last year which includes:

            Is there an author that inspired you to write?

    John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series had a big 
    impact. So did Carl Hiaasen’s novel, “Tourist Season.” The
    mixture of humor and suspense really influenced my work.

Authors on the Air has an online oral interview with Paul Levine that describes him as an “Author, Wind Surfer, Foodie and more!” One of the interviewers is a former trial lawyer.

While the timing of his career is not clear from his website he said he began his legal career in the early 1970’s during the Authors on the Air interview.

While writing the Lassiter series he was not satisfied with his female characters and, wanting to create a better feminine character, came up with Victoria Lord.

The Solomon and Lord books I have read are:

1.) Solomon v. Lord – I loved the book. It is the funniest legal mystery I have read;

2.) The Deep Blue Alibi – It is a very good story with a dramatic opening featuring a speedboat blasting out of the ocean at Solomon and Lord;

3.) Kill All the Lawyers – I was somewhat disappointed in the book which spent very little time in the courtroom and was focused on Solomon.

Each book in the series is noteworthy for Solomon’s laws such as:

4. You can sell one improbable event to a jury. A second “improb” is strictly no sale, and a third sends your client straight to prison.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Life in My Hands by J.W. Ehrlich

2. – 465.)  A Life in My Hands by J.W. Ehrlich – The flamboyant San Francisco lawyer wrote his autobiography at 65 in 1965. He recounts leaving home in rural Maryland at 16 after a dispute with his father. After serving in WW I he rode the rails to San Francisco arriving totally broke. While working 2 jobs he also attended law schools. He supplemented his income by boxing professionally. A very clever and innovative lawyer he became San Francisco’s choice for those in desperate trouble with the law. He maintained friendships with the police, underworld and business community. He obviously never turned down a request for an interview and always provided one or more lively quotes. He would use tricks and manipulations if needed. Mainly he relied on hard work and his oratorical skills to save everyone he represented who was charged with capital murder from the gas chamber. He represented people in family law and other forms of litigation and had business clients. He reminds me of my practice on the grand scale of San Francisco. He loved the city. The “Master” had no patience for those who considered themselves high and mighty. He enjoyed the characters of his city. He deplored false modesty and was proud of his accomplishments. At 65 he relished every day from when he awoke at 5:00 in the morning until he retired around midnight. He had a simple fee quote for those charged with murder. It was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G they owned for what service is more valuable than saving a client from execution. As I re-read the book (I have an old paperback version) I was reminded more and more of Ajit. Each had a long term excellent marriage and 2 children. Each was a small fierce fighter for his client who was afraid of no one. Each was ready to throw a punch if necessary. The stories are told very well. It is easy to understand his success at the bar. (There is a blog carried on by his estate called neverpleadguilty. Apparently that was his standard advice to clients. There is abundance of interesting information and a video of him on the Johnny Carson which was thoughtful and almost ½ hour long.) (Jan. 4/09) (Second Best of 2009 non-fiction)

Friday, August 3, 2012

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

33. – 665.) An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear – It is the early fall of 1931 and the Depression is worrying Maisie Dobbs as business has slowed. It is with relief that she is retained by James Compton to investigate an unexpectedly large number of fires and small crimes around Heronsdene, a village in Kent, where Compton Enterprises is considering the purchase of a brickworks. I appreciate that Winspear has Maisie concerned over finances. It makes her more real.

As she readies herself to leave London she learns that Simon, the doctor she loved and worked with in WW I, is failing quickly. Since the shell blast that wounded him late in the war Simon’s body has mended but his mind is shattered and unresponsive.

I thought of Wilfred Owen’s poem Disabled about a WW I veteran when I read of Simon’s silent existence. Owen’s poem ends:

            Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
            And do what things the rules consider wise,
            And take whatever pity they may dole,
            Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
            Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
            How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
            And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Maisie has never grieved the end of her relationship with Simon and finds herself filled with conflicting emotions over his abrupt decline.

In the country Maisie contemplates another broken relationship. She has been estranged from her mentor, Maurice Blanche, over his decision in Pardonable Lies to keep information from her. She misses their intimate conversations.

The area around Heronsdene is filled with hops pickers. There are Londoners having a working vacation. As well a tribe of gypsies has come to pick. The local residents have little regard for the city pickers and less for the gypsies as reflected in the signs on their businesses saying “No Gypsies Allowed”.

Maisie visits the gypsy camp and forms a relationship with the matriarch, Beaulah, and we learn, to my surprise, that Maisie’s maternal grandmother was a water gypsy.

As with the other mysteries in the series the investigation has elements that stretch back to WW I. While Maisie is occasionally frustrated by the “old boy” network of male public school ties she is equally a member of a special comradeship – those who have served at the front during the war. When male veterans hear she was a front line nurse doors open and information flows more freely.

Heronsdene is a grim community harbouring a secret from the war. While the residents resist giving her information Maisie proceeds with her customary diligence gradually assembling the facts she needs on her case map.

I prefer some ambiguity about the bad guy. There was never a doubt here of his identity or that he was the evil at the center of the community secret.

When Maisie ultimately determines what happened it is wicked, cruel and completely credible.

Maisie finds it a challenge, when a whole community in need, to meet her goal in each case of providing peace for all involved. She is more successful than I would have expected.

I admire Maisie as a character. I was less excited about this plot. I still enjoy the series and will keep reading of Maisie as she continues to make the personal adjustments from a maid under the stairs to an independent successful businesswoman. (June 29/12)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

“K” is for Joseph Kanon

It is time for the letter “K” at the Alphabet in Crime Fiction at Kerrie Smith’s blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I have chosen the American author Joseph Kanon.

Born in 1946 he studied at Harvard and got a Master’s Degree in English Literature at Trinity College in Cambridge in England.

He then went into the publishing industry where he was an editor and then in management. He was President of E.P. Dutton and an Executive Vice-President of Houghton Mifflin.

Tired of commuting between New York City and Boston and wanting to do something different he took up writing fiction and published his first book, Los Alamos, when he was 49 in 1995. When that book won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel he was onto a writing career that will see his newest book, Istanbul Passage, published earlier this year.

His website advises that he is a winner of the “The Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust”.

From an interview at Simon & Schuster he revealed something of his personality when he said:

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Marcel Proust, Evelyn Waugh,
F. Scott Fitzgerald

In an interview with Jesse Kornbluth for Random House Kanon discussed how he wrote Los Alamos:

Kornbluth: What was your writing day like?

Kanon: Five days a week, I went to the public reading room at the New York Public Library. There's enough going on so you don't feel isolated. And when you need a book, the staff is helpful.

Kornbluth: Did you have an outline?

Kanon: Because it's a thriller, you know where it's going to come out. I wrote a thriller because I like to read them. And it forces you to pay attention to the story.

While in New York City I visited the public reading room of the main branch of the New York Public Library and loved the room. Though on vacation I needed to some work one night and went there. It was a wonderful place at which to do my work. My only regret was how early it closed in the evening.

Going back to Kanon, I have read his second book, The Good German. I enjoyed the book a great deal.

Most mysteries do not tackle “big questions”. The Good German was a book on the “big questions” that happened to have a murder mystery involved. Who was a good German during WW II is a challenging question? Reading The Good German will make a reader reflect that there is not a simple answer.