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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Taken by Robert Crais

Taken by Robert Crais – Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back in action together. Nita Morales, an illegal Mexican immigrant who is successfully running a clothing business, calls Elvis to find her missing daughter, Krista Morales. Being a college student who has gone to Palm Springs with her boyfriend Jack Berman for the weekend but not yet returned the police doubt she is actually missing.

We know from the start that Krista and Jack have been kidnapped by some group that is involved with the smuggling of people into the United States.

The structure of the book is a different form of narrative. At the start not only do we know Krista and Jack have been abducted. We know Elvis has been taken and Joe is after those who have Elvis. No one should want Joe hunting them.

The book then moves back to before Elvis was captured and the plot proceeds forward.

Krista and Jack have been kidnapped by bajadores. (I was not familiar with the word. It describes gangs who steal the people smuggler gangs are illegally bringing into America and then extort money from their families.)

The bajadores are among the most vicious gangs in the world prying money out of families who have already used their resources on the smugglers.

The book is only barely a mystery. It is actually a thriller in which the action is non-stop. Unlike most of the books involving Elvis there is little character development. I regret there is little humour. Once in awhile Elvis is funny but much less than the earlier books in the series. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the body count builds through the book. I like Elvis better when he is detecting. I expect action from Joe. It is an above average thriller. It is not a challenge to the mind. It is a book for the senses. It does produce an appreciation of the cruelty of human trafficking, especially as done through Mexico. I hope Elvis is back to being the World’s Greatest Detective in the next book I read from Crais. (Sept. 8/12)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"S" is for Josef Škvorecký

The end of the alphabet is in sight on The Alphabet in Crime Fiction 2012 meme of Kerrie Smith at her blog Mysteries in Paradise. After looking through a significant number of “S” authors I have chosen to profile Josef Škvorecký, a Czech writer who, after fleeing Czechoslovkia in 1968, moved to Canada. He died in 2012. For this profile I am going to draw on the numerous obituaries on the internet of Škvorecký for their assessments of this distinguished author and publisher.

From The Telegraph newspaper:

Most of Skvorecky's books are available in English. He also wrote for film, television and radio, and had a passion for jazz (like his hero Smiricky, he played the saxophone). He once declared: "To me, literature is forever blowing a horn, singing about youth when youth is irretrievably gone, singing about your homeland when in the schizophrenia of the times you find yourself in a land that lies over the ocean, a land – no matter how hospitable and friendly – where your heart is not, because you landed on those shores too late."

From his translator, Paul Wilson, in The Guardian newspaper:

One of my fondest memories of him is a conference held in Náchod in 2004 to celebrate his 80th birthday. Dozens of scholars and translators from all over the world converged on the small town to discuss his work. The highlight was a literary tour of the area, and as the guide walked us through Náchod, pointing out places where Josef had set crucial scenes from his novels, I realised for the first time how thin was the line between his reality and his fiction, and how deeply he had written himself into the life of his country.

The last stop on the tour was a pub called The Port Arthur, where the jazz band Josef had played for in his youth, Red Music, had often performed, and which was one of the locales in his early and most controversial novel, The Cowards. While a youthful jazz trio struck up a swing classic, Josef and Zdena sat at a table surrounded by a group of friends whom he introduced to us as the real-life models for some of the characters in his books. It was a deeply moving encounter: they, like their author, had grown old but would live on through his stories.

In The National Post newspaper obituary he is quoted as saying in 1981 years before the collapse of Eastern European communism:

“Frankly, I feel frustrated whenever I have to talk about revolution for the benefit of people who have never been through one,” he said. “They are — if you’ll excuse the platitude — like a child who doesn’t believe that fire hurts, until he burns himself. I, my generation, my nation, have been involuntarily through two revolutions, both of them socialist: one of the right variety, one of the left. Together they destroyed my peripheral vision.”

From The Globe and Mail newspaper:

Against communism Skvorecky’s writing offers a skepticism about ideologues and ideologies, an insistence on liberal freedoms, an aversion to revolutions, and a “suspicion that capitalism is probably good, liberalism may be right, and democracy is the closest approximation” that we have to an ideal government. Though Skvorecky’s writing is permeated by politics, he often joked that he belonged to the non-political “Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law.” He borrowed the concept from the great Czech humorist, Jaroslav Hasek, the author of The Good Soldier Svejk.

From The Atlantic magazine:

Skvorecky left no shortage of legacies to remember him by, but one of the more notable themes in his nonfiction writing is an emphasis on, as Welch puts it, "the oftentime minute similarities between applied fascism and communism." And some of Skvorecky's more notable variations on that theme in turn are found in his recollections and insights on the common totalitarian hatred of, among all things, jazz.

I would not have read him but for another of Kerrie’s memes. Last year I for the meme, Crime Fiction on a EuroPass, I was looking for a Czech mystery and came across Škvorecký.

I read The Miracle Game which is not a conventional mystery but does have within the story the investigation of a mystery on whether there was a miracle or a hoax over a religious statute bowing to the congregation during Mass. Until I read obituaries I did not realize it was based on a real life event.

Škvorecký’s character, Daniel Smiricky, has been described as his alter ego.

Škvorecký is a talented writer and I would like to read another of his books. They are not swift easy reads. They challenge the reader. I was not surprised to read he was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not many writers who include mystery fiction in their writing are so nominated.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton

 34. – 666.) The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton – There is a new tough girl in Canada and she is an accountant – a forensic accountant to be exact. Ava Lee forsakes the genteel world of office accounting to join her “Uncle” Chow (an uncle by Chinese relationship rather than by blood) in the collection business. They specialize in collecting money for and from Chinese individuals residing around the world when all conventional methods have failed.

Uncle and Ava work on a simple principle. They pay expenses and take 1/3 of what they recover. Ava is a salvage expert in the mould of McGee. Ava, like Travis, is a mixture of brains and muscle. While she is only 5’3” and 115 pounds her training in the Chinese martial art of bak mei makes her a formidable foe in a fight. (Bak mei was a martial art of which I had not heard before reading the book. It is aggressive and not suitable for sport as the moves are intended to cause serious injury.) I was reminded of Lisbeth Salander if she had been trained in a martial art. Considering Lisbeth’s personality it is best she remained untrained.

They deal with the cases where fraud has been committed and the money has disappeared or placed beyond reach of traditional recovery. Ava’s accounting skills allow her to evaluate how the money was taken and trace where it has gone. Once found she seeks to persuade the fraudster to return the funds. If verbal persuasion should fail alternative methods will be undertaken.

Ava lives happily in a luxury condo in an exclusive area of downtown Toronto on Bloor Street. She travels the world in her work. She has the largest passport Canada issues because of the number of entry stamps.

She comes from an unusual relationship by Canadian standards. Her mother is her Chinese father’s second wife. He established a marital relationship with her while remaining married and living with his first wife. The second wife and children are recognized but do not have the same rights as the first wife and children.

There is more character development than the average thriller.

Uncle and Ava agree to seek the return of $5,000,000 which has been taken from businessman, Andrew Tam. He has been financing the purchase and sale of seafood when he is caught in a skilful scam.

The investigation sees Ava traveling to Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana and the British Virgin Islands. In her journeys outside Canada to distant locales I was reminded of Anthony Bidulka’s gay sleuth, Russell Quant, who leaves Saskatoon for faraway places in each mystery. Adding to the comparison Ava is a lesbian though, unlike Russell, her sexuality does not play a significant role in this mystery.

I also thought of Jill Edmondson’s tough girl, Sasha Jackson, another female Toronto sleuth. Ava neither has Sasha’s biting tongue nor is she constantly swearing.

The trip to Guyana is unlikely to encourage any reader to head to that South American country. Dysfunctional is too modest a term for the nation mired in poverty and violence.

The reader is drawn swiftly along through the book. I completed it during an 8 hour flight from Europe to North America.

What struck me in the end is that Ava, like McGee, while living by a strong moral code engages in amoral, even criminal acts, in her salvage operations.

The book was a worthy winner of a 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Fiction. I probably would not have read the book without the award because of the title. A title should not sway me but a book with “rat” in the title does not appeal to me.

Ava is one of the best new characters I have read this year. I will never think of forensic accountants the same. I am headed to the bookstore this weekend to look for the second in the series. (Sept. 23/12)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

53. – 463.) The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow – A companion book to the video of Randy’s last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Most last university lectures are a form of retirement lecture for a professor talking about their university lives and offering thoughts on life and education but this was a true last lecture. Suffering from pancreatic cancer, with only months to live, Randy gave a powerful evocative lecture on realizing childhood dreams. The book supplements the lecture beautifully. He hesitated to give the lecture as Jai (his wife) did not want him to waste precious family time in preparation. There was no plan to make the lecture a worldwide event. Her comment, only disclosed in the book, when they embraced on stage after he surprised her with a birthday cake, of “please don’t die” brought tears to my eyes and a special poignancy to the visual moment. He did not discuss their relationship in the lecture as he thought it too emotional. In their relationship she had initially drawn away from him and he wooed her. His parents’ encouragement and expectations were highlighted. It remains startling that they allowed him, as a child, to draw and paint on his bedroom walls and ceiling. There is a vivid story on the benefits of unexpected kindness. Disneyland replaced a salt and pepper shaker for young Randy and his sister which they had dropped and broken a few minutes after purchase. It led to his family spending over $100,000 in Disney attractions during his lifetime. He illustrated his belief that brick walls in life are only there to see how hard you want to get past them. He phoned the admissions department at Brown University every day until he was admitted from the waiting list. He was rejected from Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. program but was granted an interview with the aid of his first mentor, Professor Andy van Dam, from Brown. In dealing with his fatal illness the first round of surgery and treatment for the pancreatic cancer seemed successful but while he and Jai were waiting for the doctor on a review they realized it had metastasized. He remains private about his religious beliefs but it is clear he is a Christian and probably a Presbyterian. His use of aphorisms and clichés to promote team building is emphasized. Randy expected only 150 to come to hear a computer science professor talk about his life. 300 jammed the lecture theatre and there was an overflow crowd. Zaslow came on his own, without expenses, from the Wall Street Journal. His article started spreading the word about this truly special last lecture. The internet carried it around the world. Carnegie Mellon did not copyright the video of the lecture. (A brilliant decision as it has gained incredible goodwill and free publicity.) Millions have watched the “Last Lecture” and there is now a website through the university about Randy which includes the lecture. The ending of the book with Randy’s tender comments on how he remembers his children was wrenching and beautiful. (Dec. 27/08) (2nd Best Non-fiction of 2008)


I encourage anyone who has not watched the video to take 1 ½ hours of your life for a lecture you will never forget. I know I benefited from watching the video and reflecting on its messages.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"R" is for Robert Rotenberg

Moving through the second half of the alphabet we have reached “R” on Kerrie Smith’s The Alphabet in Crime Fiction 2012 meme at Mysteries in Paradise. I am glad to profile another Canadian lawyer in his 50’s who practises criminal law – Robert Rotenberg.

He has acquired numerous life experiences beyond being a lawyer. As set out on his website he undertook numerous types of work seeking to avoid the practice of law. He has driven a cab, edited an English magazine in Paris called Passion, co-created and published a magazine back in Canada called T.O. – The Magazine of Toronto, been a film producer and worked as radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Finally at 37 broke again (he had never succeeded in doing better than surviving) and a child on the way he became a lawyer.

While practising law he channelled his writing passions into a film script and then fiction. He was not an overnight success. He says on his website:

My first book was good enough to get me an agent in New York. But not good enough. The day I was told it hadn’t sold, I immediately started Old City Hall. It was 2001. By 2004 I’d hit a wall, with the book half done. I took a nine-day writing course at Humber College and worked with two talented writers, David Bezmozgis and Michelle Berry, who were most generous with their time.

He gained a publisher through the aid of another author, Douglas Preston, who had married his wife’s best friend. Rotenberg and Preston became friends. When Preston read the completed Old City Hall he was impressed and helped find a major literary agent who liked the book and engineered a bidding war between publishers.

Among Rotenberg’s most interesting characteristics are his strong opinions.

From the Canadian magazine, McLeans on interviewing new clients charged with crimes:

That’s because everybody lies, although mostly by omission, because everybody has something or someone to protect, he says, and at first they think they can. “When people come to my office, they’re in shock, and I don’t let them talk about their case at all, which drives them crazy because that’s all they want to talk about. But I don’t want them to commit to their stories. It takes a while before they learn that in the criminal justice system you can’t have any secrets.”

From the newspaper, The Toronto Star, on information from clients:

"You know, Mark Twain once said – and it's a great line – `People are like the moon. You only see half of them.'"

Also from The Toronto Star on the judicial system:

But it is also a place where truth and justice are not always possible, given human nature, he suggests. "We live in a world where everyone wants answers for everything. And we want the justice system to provide all the answers. But the reality is, we live in an ambiguous world."

With regard to seeing clients charged with family abuse he said in the newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

"For the first 72 hours, I would say every man who contacts me is in extreme shock and depression," Mr. Rotenberg says. "A lot of them are suicidal. These are normal people who love their children. Their lives have been ripped apart. The criminal justice system is a sledgehammer. When it gets involved in people's lives, it is as if you've dropped a bomb into their marriage. You have marriages ending after 18 years because someone reached out and grabbed an arm."

He is far from politically correct continuing:

"There is zero tolerance for men, but there is no zero tolerance for women," Mr. Rotenberg asserts. "Police are reluctant to charge women. In fact, I can't remember a women being charged unless there was a physical injury. Whereas, men are charged all the time without there being a physical injury."

I have enjoyed all 3 of his books – Old City Hall, The Guilty Plea and Stray Bullets. He is among the most realistic of writers of legal fiction about what really happens in and out of the courtroom. Those writers who bend or break the rules of what happens in court or preparation for court would do well to read Rotenberg. His books are full of drama while remaining accurate.

You can find links to his books and some very candid Q and A by clicking on either the Rest of Canada or Legal Mysteries.

Of the trio I think Old City Hall is best. It was 2nd on my Best of 2012 for fiction.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Shape of the Water by Andrea Camilleri (1994)

The Shape of the Water by Andrea Camilleri (1994) – The first Inspector Salvo Montalbano swiftly took me deep into the machinations of Sicilian life. Montalbano is advised he has a client (a term for the dead that will remain with me).

All levels of officialdom are instantly alerted when the client is identified as Silvio Lupanello, best known as “the Engineer”. Lupanello, heir to a construction dynasty, has spent his adult life in the shadows manipulating the local party in perpetual power to gain 80% of the government contracts. Only a few days before his death he moved into the position of provincial secretary for the party.

The establishment becomes agitated as it learns of the details of Lupanello’s death. He has been found in his car in an area of Vigata known as the “Pasture”. It is the place to go for all types of prostitutes. Not surprisingly Lupanello has been found in a compromising position.

An autopsy reveals death from natural causes. Religious and civil authorities lean on Montalbano to swiftly close the investigation and avoid all publicity about Lupanello’s manner of death.

Montalbano carefully asks for some time to assure the public there has been a proper investigation of a distinguished member of society. He is given a brief amount of time with emphasis on brief.

There are questions in his mind starting with why the car was driven over a very rough river bed that damaged the suspension to get to the Pasture.

Carefully examining the area of the death and questioning the government cleaners he comes up with a pivotal clue whose exploration leads him on an unpredictable journey through Sicilian society.

Montalbano proves as gifted manipulator as those attempting to control him. The truth is elusive in a society that is determined to preserve appearances. The title fits perfectly with the story. The author explains that on its own water has no shape. We make it the shape we want for our own purposes.

He develops an investigation that is ambiguous in nature. It is officially unofficial but he uses the power of his police position to gain information and conduct interviews.

The book slides smoothly. Author and translator have the knack of drawing the reader through the novel. I also want to taste the baby octopus dish that captivated Montalbano.

I will read more in the series. (Sept. 17/12)

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Q" is for Kwei Quartey

It is late in the week but I have a post for the letter “Q” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. I have chosen to profile Kwei Quartey.

His website provides the following background information:

Dr. Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana and raised by a black American mother and a Ghanaian father, both of whom were university lecturers. Even though his professional writing career began after he became a physician, his desire to be a writer started at a very early age.

Kwei Quartey now lives in Pasadena, California. He writes early in the morning before setting out to work at HealthCare Partners, where he runs a wound care clinic.

There is interesting Q and A on the website which includes the following about having parents in Ghana who both taught at university:

Do you think the university environment as you grew up had a lot to do with your interest in writing?

Undoubtedly. Our house was a treasure trove of books. There were hundreds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, in all our bedrooms, the sitting room and the study – even the dining room. On Saturday mornings I liked to go down to the university bookshop, which was very well stocked, and spend hours browsing. Yes, I was your classic nerdy kid reading on a Saturday instead of out playing soccer. Reading as voraciously as I did inspired me to write my own “novels” when I was around eight to ten years old. I typed or hand-wrote them, and then stapled them together and bound them with illustrated cardboard covers.

Later he provides a somewhat unexpected perspective, to me, on the supernatural and illness:

I have to add that as a doctor, I don’t scorn people’s attempts to explain suffering through the supernatural or the paranormal, because I don’t have all the answers either. There are still many, many diseases that are a mystery to the medical community, and in fact, even with advanced technology we still find ourselves at a loss as to what a particular patient has, and sometimes we never arrive at a diagnosis.

Jen’s Book Thoughts blog has a lengthy interview which includes:

Q: Your “day job” is that of a physician in Pasadena, California. What originally led you into medicine? Then what turned you to writing? Was it always a goal or did you wake up one morning and think, “I have a great plot idea; I need to start writing?”

Kwei: I wanted to be a writer from the age of eight, long before wanting to become a doctor. As a kid, I wrote short stories and novelettes, stapling the pages together with brightly colored jackets. The books I was reading inspired me, and the process of story creation fascinated me. My interest in medicine took off around 12-years-old, and I became something of the “house doctor,” looking up any medical conditions that family or friends reported. During the time I was in medical school, I did no writing, but a year after I became an MD, I was feeling strangely unfulfilled, and I turned back to writing by first going to a creative writing course at UCLA-extension.

At the ImageNations blog which promotes African Literature there is another intriguing interview with Quartey. The following comes from that interview after his first book, Wife of the Gods, was written:

7. How far have you been received as an author, in Ghana and abroad? And is you book available in Ghana?

Reception has been gratifying and in many cases even better than I had hoped. The novel is not widely distributed in Ghana and is therefore not available except perhaps in one or two bookstores. The reason for this is that only Random House owns the English language rights. For my next novel CHILDREN OF THE STREET, the English rights will be available to Ghanaian publishers, who can then print, publish and distribute the book in Ghana.

Quartey has given numerous good interviews of which the above are examples.

I read Wife of the Gods. I enjoyed reading about a setting, rural Ghana, that is far from the mysteries of the Western world I usually read. I found the pace somewhat slow but was glad I read the book. “Darko” Dawson is a sleuth with strengths and flaws. He pushes past local officials seeking a convenient solution while at the same time exhibiting a frightening casual willingness to use violence.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen – I bought the second in the Carl Morck series to be published in Canada the first time I saw it in a Canadian bookstore two weeks ago. It proved good cruise reading.

Morck remains deeply unhappy that he is still buried in the depths of Copenhagen’s police HQ in charge of Department Q dealing with cold cold cases. His frustration level is increased when he is assigned a secretary / personal assistant, Rose Knudsen. She had qualified as a police officer but failed her driving test. Wanting to stay in police work she stayed on as an assistant. Morck has not wanted any more staff which comes closer to making Department Q an actual department.

Reluctantly looking for a new file Morck’s attention is grabbed when his original assistant, Assad, finds and brings to his attention a file on his desk that was not actually assigned for his review. It involves the horrific double murder of a brother and sister 20 years ago that was resolved by the confession of a young man. While the file is closed by the police and judicial system there is evidence the killer was part of a gang of wealthy young people who have been attacking people for pleasure.

Its current members are Ditlav Pram, a prominent developer of private hospitals, and Ulrike Jensen, an investment adviser, and Torsten Florin, a designer of women’s clohes. All of them relish the hurting and killing of innocent people. They are a chilling collection of the rich and disaffected.

They had formed their gang while attending a Danish boarding school. Each has problems with their parents and the gang becomes a type of family that could have been inspired by the infamous California Manson family.

Complicating the current activities of the gang is the lurking presence of Kimmie, the sole female member of the gang when they were young. Living on the street and plagued by voices Kimmie haunts the book.

Morck, Assad and Rose start assembling information on the gang. Morck is hardly committed to the investigation when the Chief of Homicide directs he drop the case on instructions from above. For Morck it is the equivalent of a direct order to press ahead. He acknowledges he has a quirk in his personality that when told not to do something he is driven to do it. His father had manipulated Morck on occasion into certain actions by forbidding him from doing them.

A trip to the cabin in which the murders took place turns from the routine when Morck and Assad find the crime scene has been recently altered.

The investigation drives forward as they find more and more bits of information connecting the gang to many cruel crimes.

At the same time we see Kimmie struggling with life and her past. She is one of the most remarkable characters I have read since Lisbeth Salander.

The book explores the heart of darkness of the rich and twisted elite of Danish society. I thought of Leopold and Loeb of the 1930’s Chicago who killed a boy for the experience. Ditlev, Kimmie and their fellow gang members are evil.

Assad is a far more assertive character in this book. He participates in the questioning of witnesses though he is not a police officer.

Rose is an intriguing assistant. Her efficiency and competence leave Morck unable to find a reason for dismissing her.

Adler-Olsen has vivid descriptions through the book. Describing three private detectives:

“Deep creases at the corners of their mouths indicated a hard life. They were not the kind of lines businessmen earned under the sickly glare of office lights while stacks of paper flowed across their desks during the wee hours of the morning.”

I liked how the members of Department Q cleverly discovered information and connections by their investigative skills. Coincidence and luck are not at the heart of their work.

It is a powerful book though not for the faint of heart. (Sept. 5/12)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Statue of Varg Veum in Bergen, Norway

Sharon and I are on a cruise in northern Europe and visited Bergen, Norway on Monday. We took a bus tour that went to Edvard Grieg’s home and museum. When we arrived back downtown I asked if the statue of Varg Veum at the Strand Hotel was in the vicinity. When our tour guide said he had not heard of Veum and looked puzzled about the Strand I was not optimistic we would see the statue. However, the bus driver knew where the Strand was located.

It turned out the hotel had been taken over by the Scandic chain and was now known as the Scandic Strand. It was actually located where we were stopping to look at the fish market and Hanseatic League buildings.

We walked over to the hotel and Varg was standing against an alcove on the side of the hotel with a door leading into the building.

The bronze Varg looked very comfortable leaning against the wall. Sharon took the above picture of me with Varg.

From reading the Writing on the Wall I thought it was late winter weather to be cold and damp and grey in Bergen. It is the same weather in early September. After listening to our tour guide say it rains 241 days a year I realized it is cold and damp and grey all year long in Bergen.

I cannot say the statue fit my mental image of Varg but the author was satisfied and it is a unique way to honour an author who put Bergen on the world mystery book stage. I think other cities should consider bronze statues of their sleuths. There are a lot of statues around the world honouring less worthy subjects. To the right is a photo of Gunnar Staalesen with his sleuth, Varg.

Any mystery lover heading to Bergen has a unique statue to enjoy and a special photo opportunity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing on the Wall by Gunnar Staalesen

Writing on the Wall by Gunnar Staalesen – Varg Veum is almost 50. He has been a private investigator in Bergen, Norway for a long time.

He is intrigued when a local member of the judiciary is found dead in a downtown hotel dressed in women’s lingerie. (In real life there was a former member of the Saskatchewan judiciary who gained unwanted attention partially because of young men joining him in the “boom-boom” room of another man’s basement.)

When Sigurd, the mother of Torild, hires him to find her 16 year old daughter who has not been home for a week he undertakes the job without great enthusiasm. Veum is far from certain that she needs to be found. Her parents have recently separated and Torild is rebellious.

Sigurd is saddened to realize that she can barely provide Veum with the names of any friends of Torild. She has been shut out of her daughter’s life.

Following up Sigurd’s information, Veum talks to a pair of Torild’s friends who are equally sullen and uncommunicative about Torild.

Veum identifies an arcade, Jimmy’s, as a teenage hangout where Torild has spent time with other teenagers.

His investigation shifts dramatically when Torild is found dead near a road on the edge of Bergen. The pretty young girl has been asphyxiated.

While the police take over the investigation Veum cannot let go the death of the girl and starts probing her activities in the last few months of her life.

What he finds made the book difficult to read for me and hard to describe with out spoiling the book. It is sufficient to say Bergen teenagers are being exploited. What has happened to Torild is all too credible.

Neither the teenagers nor adults come out well in the book.

The title will remain with me. Veum is told:

            Children are the writing on the wall for us ……

If I had not liked Veum, who has a nice self-deprecating personality, I am not sure I would have finished the book. The story was grim and the resolution inevitable.

Bergen in late winter matches the story. It is cold and damp and grey.

I expect to read another in the series in the hope not all of them have so bleak a plot. My next post will feature the statue of Varg Veum that has been put up in Bergen. (July 4/12)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

“P” is for Edward O. Phillips

Moving through the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise we have reached the letter “P”. I am profiling another Canadian author, Edward O. Phillips.

Phillips was born in 1931.

Good Reads summarizes his life:

Phillips is a Canadian who has lived most of his life in Westmount, Quebec. He earned a law degree from the Université de Montréal in 1956, but decided against legal practice. He subsequently graduated from Harvard University with a Master's Degree in Teaching, and later earned a second Master's Degree in English Literature from Boston University

I am always alittle sad when someone completes law school but does not practise law. I have no good reason beyond regretting someone went through the challenges of law school but did not become a lawyer.

After completing his multiple degrees Phillips taught school for 7 years before becoming an artist. There are conflicting reports on his artistic career.

Wikipedia says:

“His work was exhibited in five one-man and numerous group

The Quebec Writers Federation Literary Database of English Quebec Authors has another view:

“After teaching in both public and private schools, he embarked on a brief, undistinguished career as a painter. After he had sold pintings to his family and friends, he tried his hand at writing fiction.”

He started writing in 1981. He has 11 books with his mystery series featuring Geoffry Chadwick, a Montreal corporate lawyer.

Chadwick is a gay man with a more complex lifestyle than most gay sleuths. He has been married to a person of the opposite sex. With gay marriage now legal in Canada I need to be clear on marital gender when discussing marital status.

I have read one book in the “Sunday” series of Chadwick books. It was Buried on Sunday which won the Arthur Ellis Award.

In the book Chadwick gets personally caught up in a hostage situation with fleeing bank robbers. It is cleverly written.

I found Phillips a witty and humorous writer. In an interview at Cormorant books Chadwick observed humour is more fuzzy than wit. He quoted Noel Coward saying Oscar had wit but no humour.

After reading the book I wrote Anthony Bidulka saying I saw Chadwick as fictional uncle to Anthony’s sleuth, Russell Quant. Anthony said he had Chadwick books to read but had not reached them.