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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open Secret by Deryn Collier

Open Secret by Deryn Collier – In the fictional town of Kootenay Landing in the southeast corner of British Columbia, just north of the American border, Bern Fortin is the coroner. Retired from the Canadian Forces where he was a Lieutenant Colonel who saw duty in Rwanda, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Bern is afflicted by the traumatic events, especially Rwanda, which he witnessed and sometimes participated.

Cindy Johns is an aboriginal girl growing up a generation ago near Kootenay Landing in horrific family circumstances.

Cindy’s story and some of Bern’s past are provided in a series of flashbacks.

Gary Dowd, a bookkeeper in a local company, has secrets from his youth that have affected his marriage with Michelle.

Michelle and her parents are even more disturbed by the trauma of a family tragedy.

Dr. Juniper Sinclair is a beautiful harried doctor with too much work and too many people to care for in town with not enough doctors.

Juniper’s housemate, Gia, is gradually wasting away.

Constable Maddie Schilling of the RCMP is struggling with debilitating cramps. Too early for her period she finds relief in a locally made topical cream. She also struggles with low self esteem as she compares herself with trimmer, more classically lovely, women.

Sitting against a rock ledge, enjoying the beauty and stillness of the fall mountain scenery, Bern hears a rifle shot. Instantly dropping behind the ledge he instinctively reaches for his military rifle. Finding none there he returns to the reality of the day. Calming himself he goes down to the marshy area where the sound of the shot came from and finds Seymour Melnychuk mortally wounded.

Dr. Sinclair is desperately tries to save him giving mouth to mouth resuscitation but Seymour is soon gone.

Seymour, an associate of the Hell’s Angels, had grown up with Gary and just spent some time at Gary’s home.

Seymour’s presence back in Kootenay Landing has caused fear, even terror.

No one will mourn his passing but who killed him.

Bern assists Constable Schilling as she probes the relationships of the characters and looks for connections.

The area of B.C. in which the mystery is set has major marijuana grow ops. Production of marijuana is a major industry. The business of marijuana is a prominent part of the book.

The effects and uses of marijuana are featured in ways I had not expected.

Collier does a good job of creating a realistic fictional community. Her descriptions of the mountainous country are striking even lyrical.

I wanted to like the book a lot. It is set in rural Canada. It had an intriguing murder. Yet it did not work well for me.

I found the characters depressing. While I would find unbelievable characters whose lives were all sunshine I found these characters dominated by troubled pasts. I expect those readers who like their characters dark in spirit will like the book.

I found the plot moved slowly for me. Ordinarily I appreciate authors fleshing out relationships and providing backgrounds but I did not find the pace of Open Secret quick enough for me.
I thank Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy. Open Secret will be released on April 8. It is the second book in the series. Blog readers may remember I participated in a cover reveal last year for the book.

Open Secret is the 10th book of 13 for this year's Canadian Book Challenge which ends on July 1, Canada Day. The Challenge is hosted at the Book Mine Set blog.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 Winter Saturday at Minneapolis Mystery Bookstores

As we did a year ago Sharon and I spent a few days in Minneapolis this month. As I love to do when in the Twin Cities I head to the mystery bookstores - Uncle Edgar’s and Once Upon a Crime – located a short distance apart in Minneapolis.

A few inches of snow on Friday night meant there was no parking on the street outside Uncle Edgar’s but the parking lot next door was available.

On this trip I was not going to make a random tour of the store looking for books. I had some lists of recommendations from reviews, especially from other bloggers.

I had heard that Maurizo De Giovanni’s series set in Naples and featuring Commissario Ricciardi was well worth reading. As I looked on the roundel of award winning books next to the purchase desk I found a paperback copy of I Will Have Vengeance. I was off to a good start.

I have not read any Israeli written and based mysteries. As I looked around the store I came across a hardcover copy of The Missing File by D.A. Mishani. The back cover says:

D.A. Mishani is the editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature at Keter Books in Israel and is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature.

The Missing File is his first crime fiction. Having enjoyed other professors, Margot Kinberg and Rob Kitchen, who have written mysteries as well as academic works I am looking forward to seeing what Mishani has written as he either ascended or descended to crime fiction from academe depending on your perspective.

Jose Ignacio from the blog The Game’s Afoot, suggested Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller when I sought out recommendations for Sharon to buy me books for Christmas last year. When Norwegian by Night did not find its way under the Christmas tree I looked for it in Minneapolis. I did not see it as I wandered the store but Elizabeth promptly went into the stacks to get a copy for me.

I then went over to Once Upon a Crime which was hosting an author event for local author, Jess Lourey. The store was filled with people looking to say hello to Jess and get copies of her new book, January Thaw, in the Murder by Month Mystery series.

When I got a chance to speak to Jess I told her that I had not read any of the books and asked for a recommendation on where to start. She said December Dread and handed me an autographed copy.

She is a busy person teaching English and Sociology at St. Cloud Technical and Community College while writing in different genres – crime fiction and young adult fiction - and raising a family.

I then enjoyed a cookie and a Coke, courtesy the publishers, as I looked around the store for more books.

I had heard good things about Black Fridays by Michael Sears and made way to the front where I asked Gary Shulze thoughts on the book. He highly recommended it to me and brought over a paperback copy.

Before going to the bookstores that day there had been another Israeli mystery author I had wanted to look for but had not written down the author’s name and could not find online where I had read about the author and his book. As I am standing at the counter I look down and there it was - Lineup by Liad Shoham. It was clear the reading gods had intended me to read the book and I made it my final purchase of the day.

Temptation abounds in each of the bookstores and the staff is so knowledgeable it makes book shopping a great experience. It is a good thing I had set myself a limit before starting the day or I would have returned with far more than 6 books.

Any mystery book lover who is in Minneapolis will equally love the stores.

Friday, January 24, 2014

More Emails with Jill Edmondson on Porn Movies

At the beginning of the week I posted a review of Jill Edmondson's new book, Frisky Business. I followed up with an email exchange about the book and the porn film industry. That exchange led to two further exchanges of emails with Jill which are below. I thank Jill for her prompt and frank responses.

For the first time I will advise readers that part of the following discussion will be disturbing and, even X-rated. I have deleted some extremely graphic language on what happens in "gonzo porn". Readers who want to read the actual language can follow the link.

The email exchanges have left thinking about the state of our current society.
Thanks for your prompt reply. Is it alright if I post our email exchanges on my blog ?  You may post the last exchange we had  (your email 19 JAN 2014 and my reply to it on 20 JAN 2014).
Before discussing your reply I noticed you did not respond to my questions about male actors in porn films. I would be interested, as set out in my email yesterday, in whether their backgrounds, experiences in the industry and effects differ from women.
Ha ha!  I knew the lawyer in you would get back to me on my “non” answer.  I was actually thinking about that as I walked to work yesterday.  Let me steer you back to Hedges and Empire of Illusion because that actually is my answer (albeit obliquely).  As mentioned, chapter 2 of that book was my inspiration.  It primarily looks at women, so I guess, maybe, that was why I looked at women. 
As I walked along to work mulling this over, I wondered about men and porn, and whether I should have looked at men’s situations more.  But the men’s stories never grabbed my interest the way women’s did.  I have no idea why that is.  Maybe I can relate to and empathize with the women’s stories in a way I can’t with those of the men?  Who knows? 
I wondered, after our exchange, if I should have aimed for more of a balance.  Then the little voice inside my head (a slightly defensive voice!) said “no”.   Frisky Business is a novel, not non-fiction.  It’s not meant to be an example of investigative journalism, it’s not a documentary.  It’s just the story I decided to write.
But Bill, you’ve got me thinking: Maybe in a future novel, I will take a look at men and sex and exploitation...  Hmmm...
I have not read Empire of Illusion. I do remember you telling me previously about your paper on Human Rights and the Sex Trade.
I dislike censorship but I do like regulation and taxes with regard to the adult film industry. I am not sure if any of the following has been done in Canada.
Agreed re: dislike of censorship, and yes to taxes and regulation. 
I deal every day with the issue of informed consent. I think the issue can be partly addressed by governments requiring consents from actors in specific forms which could then be monitored by public health inspectors.
I think Occupational Health and Safety should be setting rules requiring condom use because of STDs in the industry.
Public Health departments/officials certainly should be involved in the sex industry (that’s one of the many reasons why I am in favour of decriminalizing prostitution). Safe practices must be put in place and enforced.  But what would that look like in the real world of porn?  A lot of porn is amateur; a lot of it is underground.   
I think adult film studios should be required to be registered with Workers Compensation Boards for actors, male and female.
That is an excellent idea! 
I think there should be specific taxes on downloaded porn in the same way there are “sin” taxes on tobacco and gambling.
I agree.  I have no idea what the “mechanics” of something like that would be, but a sin tax on porn is a good idea.
“If we can get a man on the moon, certainly we can figure out a way to protect children from unwanted porn,” said Winnipeg Conservative MP Joy Smith, who is formulating a private member’s bill that would automatically block access to online pornography. Anyone wanting to access porn would have to contact their Internet service providers.
Mrs. Smith hosted a recent meeting for parliamentarians and other stakeholders in Ottawa, with speakers including Gail Dines, a self-described radical feminist and sociology professor at Boston’s Wheelock College who founded the Stop Porn Culture group, and Julia Beazley, policy analyst at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
They warned about the increasingly violent nature of modern pornography and its effects on young users, which Ms. Dines described in an interview as a “public health emergency situation,” which she says is proved by empirical research and academic studies.
Whoa!  I’ll get back to violence in a moment, but I’m curious about what the studies/research Ms. Dines referred to have shown. 
I’m pretty open-minded, but a lot (not all) of porn nowadays crosses a line (in my opinion).  Much of what is produced today is not what one would call art, even in a loose sense of the word.  Instead, much of what’s available online is exploitative and degrading.
Go back in time, maybe the Seventies, and porn was one guy, one girl, a leopard print bedspread and a cheesy moustache.  You had to duck into a dark alley to buy it.  Then things got a bit more daring: two girls and a guy, or two guys and a girl, maybe a bit of “back door,” and so on.  Then *poof* fast forward to the 21st Century and the Internet.  Porn is now bigger, faster, nastier, harder, more degrading, and more violent that a generation ago.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter Two of Empire of Illusion:
(I chose to delete the excerpt as stated above because it is so extreme I did not want it on my blog. Links below will take you to the excerpt if you want to read it.)
This short video (2:58 minutes) from BookTalk on C-Span2 gives a glimpse of Chris Hedges’s view on pornography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOZLdw6n2L4  and here’s a link to read more of the excerpt from Empire of Illusion by Hedges.  http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/page2/20091011_the_victims_of_pornography
Thanks for your reply.
I am left disgusted by "gonzo porn".
I would like to post your email reply, which includes my email to you, but I would delete the excerpt from the book. Frankly, I do not want to put up the extremely graphic contents of the excerpt on my post. I would post the link you provided to the pages in the book from which the excerpt was taken so readers of the blog could read the excerpt if they chose to follow the link. I consider your reply to provide valuable information to the discussion.
I agree with Hedges that "gonzo porn" cannot be justified as free speech.
If women in Canada are being injured by intentional violent acts during filming our Criminal Code should be considered. The Code does not allow consent to assault causing bodily harm.
I would also post this email and any reply you would wish to make to it.
Thank you.
Hi Bill,
Sure - go ahead and post my more recent reply.  I understand about not wanting to include the excerpt, but the link to it is good (for those who wish to read it).
Yup.  I, too, am disgusted by "gonzo" porn.  After I'd read what Hedges wrote, I was appalled and angry.  You can see from this where and how I was inspired to write Frisky Business.  
In the video clip I sent with the previous email, Hedges makes an interesting point about the inconsistency of folks getting upset about an exploited factory worker on the other side of the globe, yet accepting  the ways in which women in the porn industry in America are treated. 
I did not realize that "The [Criminal] Code [of Canada] does not allow consent to assault causing bodily harm."  That is very interesting and gives me something to chew on.  (I'm also thinking of this vis a vis the Workers' Compensation Board - which you mentioned in the last email).
I have no idea how big or small the porn industry in Canada is.  I'd like to think it's not terribly huge.  I  think the numbers to focus on, though, are the ones that reflect on the industry worldwide.  According to an October 2012 article on The Next Web:
"It is hard to know where the industry stands today. Some statistics put its revenues as high as $97 billion a year at one point in the last decade, with US revenue at around $13 billion." 
A more recent article (January 2013) on Huffington Post offers a similar figure for the USA:
"Theo Sapoutzis, the CEO and Chairman of Adult Video News estimates that the pornography business made $10 billion in 2012."
Also worth noting is the number of movies filmed every year. According to The Guardian (January 2011):
"[the industry] produces more than 13,000 films a year in the United States alone".

And finally, Business Insider offered a few disturbing facts about the porn industry:

-The online porn industry makes over $3000 per second
-There are 40 million regular consumers of porn in America
I could go on and on digging up statistics and numbers, but I think the above are enough for now.
What's more interesting and disturbing is what possible effects all of this has on the viewers.  This concern was sort of raised in the National Post article you mentioned in your earlier email:
"They warned about the increasingly violent nature of modern pornography and its effects on young users, which Ms. Dines described in an interview as a “public health emergency situation,” which she says is proved by empirical research and academic studies."
I have no idea about this; I've never looked into it, but my gut tells me that all of this can't be good for viewers (regardless of age).  It must surely have a negative impact on sexuality.  In fact, this article on Salon (October 2013) gives a first hand account of the detrimental effect an addiction to pornography had on one young man: 
"But porn didn’t visit my mind to spice things up; it colonized my sexual brain. Porn grabbed as much terrain as it could and wiped out whatever native culture might have otherwise lived there. Now, I can’t just complement my sex with a little visual arousal, I practically need it to cum.
This dependence is narrowing. I can’t have whole sex, complicated sex, balanced sex. I can only compartmentalize the many facets of sexuality. Sensuality is for massages. Mindfulness is for conversation. Emotionality is for hugs. Sexuality is for viewing. 
I need to focus less on avoiding the subjects of my porn fantasies — incest, rape, and S/M — and more on getting rid of the dynamic of them — addictive, isolating, voyeuristic — however I can.  This way, I can acknowledge my kinky desires and feel comfortable sharing them with a partner. This way, I can incorporate other dimensions of sexuality that I currently exclude from sex: sensuality, emotionality and mindfulness." 
I think I'll leave it there for now... Jill


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Email Exchange with Jill Edmondson on Frisky Business

After reading Jill Edmondson's books I have found it interesting to correspond with her. After completing Frisky Business, a review of which is my last post, I exchanged emails with Jill.

Thank you for forwarding a copy of Frisky Business.

I have fewer questions and more observations in this email about Frisky Business. As set out in my review which I have posted today I found the book challenging.

As I read the book it struck me that there was comparatively little about the experience of men as actors in porn movies beyond Clint.

You set out how the women are lured into the industry from troubled and difficult backgrounds. Do the men have the same backgrounds?

It was clear that the women had no positive experiences and could only endure the movies by shutting down emotionally. What about for the men? Have they been damaged by acting in such movies?

When Sasha interviews Clint, a “co-star” with Kitty, she effectively finds him an average guy who happens to work in porn movies. His motivation sounds like many young people striving to get ahead:

“Look, I make a lot of money, I cum several times a day, I’m just about mortgage free, and if I play my cards right, I can retire before I’m forty.”

Is Clint the exception among the men or a typical male porn actor? I do not recall any of Sasha’s women clients having a home or condo or retirement plan.

If men and women have different backgrounds and effects upon them of being in the industry did you reach any conclusions on the reasons?

With your abhorance of the adult film industry do you think there should be regulation of the industry or censorship? If so, where would you draw the line as courts and legislatures have found it very difficult to determine what is erotic and what is pornographic among adults and what should be banned.

The book has left me thinking.

Best regards.
Hi Bill,

Thanks for your note.  I'm glad the book left you thinking - always a good thing :)

Have you read the book I referred to in the author's note at the end? Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (my all time favourite author). If you haven't, I recommend reading CHAPTER 2 from said book. Frisky Business was 99% inspired by that chapter.  I suppose the other 1% inspiration comes from a paper I wrote when I did my MA.  The essay was on Human Rights and the Sex Trade.  (I may have mentioned this to you in an earlier communication...?) 

As for the tension between erotica and porn... yikes!  An age old question, one for which there will (likely) never be an answer.  And censorship... oh oh... My knee-jerk response is that censorship is a no-no and must remain so - as awful as some things may seem to me, I fear slippery slopes and thin edges of wedges.  Educate rather than silence.  

But I must qualify above with a couple things:

- no minors
- full, informed consent - which is (as you know) much more than saying "yes".  An addict who's desperate for a "fix" is not consenting with a clear mind (in my opinion).  

I really do see many sex workers (porn actresses, call girls, etc.) as victims.  

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a middle aged man I've known for years.  I was stunned when he claimed that a hooker can't be raped.  I haven't talked with the man since then.

I really do think there needs to be more support/options for people who may land on a downward spiral (people from abusive situations for instance, drugs, etc).  Whether that support is shelters, rehab, training programs or some combination of these, is not for me to say, but it's tragic to me when a human being ends up being treated like a piece of meat or a receptacle.  

Back to you... Jill

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Frisky Business by Jill Edmondson

Frisky Business by Jill Edmondson – The 4th Sasha Jackson mystery sees her investigating the death of a porn movie star, Kitty Vixen. I found it the most challenging book of the series. Overall I liked it but I also have concerns with regard to the book.

Kitty’s fellow actresses led by Raven Greywolf, porn actress turned escort, put some money together to hire Sasha to investigate Kitty’s murder. The trail has grown cold for the police.

Sasha, as she probes AAA XXX, the studio which had employed Kitty, learns the details of a lucrative business which is as exploitive as any other sex business. The bodies of the men and women who “star” in the movies are commodities. It is mass production visual sex for the internet.

The $1,000 a day earned by the women hardly seems worth the damage to their psyches. While male actors are discussed they play little role in the book.

To help understand the business Sasha watches a considerable amount of porn. She is turned off by the movies.

Kitty has been well regarded because of the large number of her movies which are downloaded on the net. At the same time she had been stirring matters up at the studio by wanting better pay and working conditions.

Sasha keeps prodding at witnesses gradually developing what was going on in Kitty’s life before she was killed.

Sasha receives some crude threats but is undeterred. If anything she becomes more focused in the investigation.

Reading about Sasha’s life is a great reason to read the book. Jill continues to develop her sleuth.

Among the funniest scenes in the book are the driving lessons Sasha has undertaken. In her 30’s she has yet to master driving.

In her personal life she is suffering mixed emotions about her relationship with downtown lawyer, Derek. Sasha is tentative about committing fully to the relationship. It is Derek who wants to make them a couple. She is not sure she is ready to live with Derek.

Unfortunately, while Jill’s loathing of the adult film industry is well justified, the book ventured into being preachy about the industry which obscured the plot at times.

I found the male characters becoming one dimensional. Either they were very good or very bad. If they were very bad they were likely to be unattractive, even ugly. I understand Jill could not bear to have positive characters as adult movie executives. I wish they could have been more rounded.

Unlike earlier books it was not a mystery with regard to the solution. It was clear who committed the crime. Finding evidence to prove guilt was the story. It is hard to maintain suspense when the resolution is clear early in the book.

For some reason I found the mystery about porn movies more difficult to read than Jill’s explorations of S & M, prostitution and telephone sex in earlier books.

I continue to enjoy the series. I did not find Frisky Business as good a book as The Lies Have It. I am confident the next book in the series will be better. I thank Jill for forwarding an electronic copy to me. The book is currently only available in an electronic format.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

“Why?” in Legal Mysteries

In real life and the best legal fiction judges and jurors want to know “why” as they make decisions in trials. How witnesses give evidence is important but at the heart of cases is “why”.

In John Grisham’s most recent book, Sycamore Row, Seth Hubbard, a white businessman in Ford County Mississippi, leaves 90% of his estate to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang, and excludes his children from the will. Jake Brigance, instructed by a letter from Hubbard, to defend the will can understand from the poor relationships between Hubbard and his children “why” he would limit their inheritance or not give them money but “why” would he leave millions to Lettie. No matter what evidence exists to support Hubbard had the mental capacity to make the will unless Brigance can explain “why” the bequest was made to Lang it is unlikely a jury will find the will valid.

In William Deverell’s book, A Trial of Passion, a university student, Kimberly Martin, wearing nothing but a tie and adorned with lipstick designs on her body, including red circled nipples, arrives at the home of a retired Anglican bishop claiming she has been raped by the bishop's next door neighbour, law professor Jonathan O’Donnell. Defence counsel, Arthur Beauchamp, can challenge the reliability of Martin’s memory but ultimately must face “why” she would not tell the truth about her relationship with O’Donnell and is falsely claiming rape. While the Crown must always prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt it is hard to raise enough doubt without being able to argue “why” a complainant in an alleged sexual assault is not credible.

Sometimes a defence counsel must deal with the “why” of a client’s actions. In Robert Rotenberg’s book, The Guilty Plea, Samantha Wyler brings to the office of defence lawyer, Ted DiPaulo, the bloody knife used to kill her husband. While DiPaulo finds a way to deliver the knife to the police without identifying the source as his client he must deal with the issue of “why” she had the knife if she is not the killer to have a credible defence to the murder charge.

Another example takes place in Innocence by Scott Turow. Rusty Sabich wakes up one morning to find his wife, Barbara, dead beside him. She has died in her sleep during the night. When he sits with her for 23 hours before calling his son he creates a “why” with the length of time that must be addressed in the trial. While being beside his dead wife for so long is not evidence that he killed her it is a “why” that cannot be ignored by defence lawyer, Sandy Stern.

Whenever a confession is presented in evidence defence counsel must address “why” it is not the truth. In The Confession, another book by Grisham, Donte Drumm, a young black man has confessed to murder in Texas. The jury is not convinced the confession was wrongfully obtained. Drumm is convicted and sentenced to die.

Though I do not think the demonstration should have had the impact it did, an important moment for the jury in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial came when the gloves the prosecution alleged he wore to commit the murders did not fit him. The prosecution was unable to explain adequately to the jury “why” the gloves did not fit O.J.

In providing an answer to “why” lawyers cannot merely provide an explanation. A real life example comes from Diefenbaker for the Defence by Garrett Wilson and Kevin Wilson. On Christmas Day of 1929 Antena Kropa was shot in her home in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. Her husband claimed that a drunk Alex Wysochan, a lover of Antena, was threatening them. As the husband fled the house through a window to get help he said he heard 3 shots fired. When the authorities arrived Antena was dead and a wounded Alex was lying beside her. Alex was convicted of murder when John Diefenbaker, for all his legal skills, was unable to logically explain “why” to the jury, in the circumstances outlined, they should believe Antena’s husband had shot her instead of Alex.

The problem for Diefenbaker was one of Solomon’s laws. While the Solomon and Lord books of Paul Levine are best known for their humour the laws of Steve Solomon about the practice of law are real as much as funny. From The Deep Blue Alibi:

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.

Yet in real life and in fiction people do not always act and reason logically. The greatest challenges in court with “why” come when you believe your client but the truth to the question of “why” is not rational.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø and Thoughts on Harry Hole Past and Present

Back in 2006, long before I began blogging and when I was writing shorter reviews, I read and reviewed The Devil’s Star.

Having just read and reviewed the first two books in the series, The Bat and Cockroaches, I was curious to see what my thoughts of Nesbø were over 7 years ago. I held myself back from my looking up my review of The Devil’s Star until I had finished reading and reviewing TheBat and Cockroaches.

In 2006 I wrote:

39. - 354.) The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø – Norwegian detective, Harry Hole, is a talented detective who does not fit the bureaucracy of the Oslo Police Department. He is also drinking himself into oblivion over the troubled investigation of the killing of his female colleague and nightmares from his childhood. He is also ruining a good relationship. In the midst of his personal deterioration a series of ritualistic murders (a five pointed star drawn in a continuous line is featured) challenge the department. Aspects of the killing pattern are clear but they struggle for a solution. Harry is partnered with rising detective, Tom Waaler. It is an unlikely combination as Harry suspects Waaler of corrupt and illegal acts. The investigation and relationships develop through a sweltering late Oslo summer. Harry, while deeply flawed, is an obsessive investigator. The solution is clever and credible. Excellent. Hardcover or paperback. (Sept. 18/06)

In 2006 I was as focused, as now, on Harry’s flaws and downward spiral in life.

I agree that in all of the books he is an “obsessive investigator”. I expect his tenacity entices us as readers.

In all 3 books Harry has a unique relationship with his police partner. All the partners are strong characters.

What is different is that, while I enjoyed The Bat and Cockroaches, I would not call the ending of either book clever. The Bat, though the solution was fine, did not really have a plausible ending.
After almost two weeks of reading and then reviewing Harry Hole it is time to move on from Norway. I have returned to Canada to read a pair of Canadian authors.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett – The second Harry Hole books starts with Harry drunk every minute he is off duty. He has switched from Jim Beam whiskey to beer but daily drinks while off duty until drunk. He is managing to show up sober for work but is just going through the motions. His mind is deteriorating:

"Harry closed the door to his flat, shouted that he was home and nodded with satisfaction when there was no answer. Monsters came in all shapes and sizes, but so long as they weren’t waiting for him in the kitchen when he came home there was a chance he would have an undisturbed night’s sleep."

Abruptly he is he called into his Chief’s office as he is being sent again far out of Norway to deal with the death of a Norwegian citizen. In The Bat, my last post, he went to Sydney, Australia. In this book he goes to Bangkok, Thailand because the Norwegian Ambassador, Atle Molnes, has been found murdered in a hotel whose clientele are customers from the First World meeting prostitutes.

Harry has achieved celebrity for solving the Australian case and is a suitably high profile officer to be sent to Thailand. With his excessive drinking official expectations for a real investigation are low which accords with their desire for a quiet solution to the murder.

Harry leverages his position to get a promise to fully investigate his sister’s rape when he returns from Thailand.

The weather is just as hot as in Australia but in Thailand the humidity is exhausting for the Norwegian visitor.

Nesbø, as in The Bat, has a striking police inspector with whom Harry is to work. He describes Liz Crumley:

The head acquired a body, and Harry had to blink twice to assure himself that he wasn’t seeing things. Crumley was broad-shouldered and almost as tall as Harry; the hairless skull had pronounced jaw muscles and two intensely blue eyes about a thin, straight mouth. The uniform was a pale blue shirt, a large pair of Nike trainers and a skirt.

They get along well as Liz tolerates Harry’s idiosyncrasies.

Liz takes Harry to examine the body which has been left on the bed at the motel where the air conditioning has been running to keep the body tolerable. Harry determines the murder was unlikely related to prostitution and was well planned.

As he meets the dysfunctional Molnes family Harry realizes they must be carefully examined. The widow, Hilde, is even deeper in her gin bottle than Harry is into his beer bottles. Barely mourning she cares little about her husband’s death. Teenage daughter, Runa, is beautiful and bitter. She has a prosthesis over her withered right arm.

On delving into the Ambassador’s life Harry is drawn into contact with several expatriates from Norway. Each has his own connection with Molnes.

With the circumstances of his death, being found in a motel room for which a prostitute had an assignation contracted and was waiting a call at the office, and the setting of Bangkok there are sexual issues involved in the case.

I expect most readers will be like myself in assuming the issues involve sex with children. The story proves far more complex.

Just as in The Bat, Harry provokes some very bad men. In that part of his approach to investigation he reminds me of Spenser’s penchant for prodding.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as The Bat. The violence quotient was higher in this book and I found the ending unnecessarily twisted.

Harry is coping with his private demons but not addressing them whether he is drunk or sober.

I had read The Devil’s Star in 2006. I am now going back to see what I felt about Harry at that time and my next post will be about that book and my past and present thoughts on Harry. (Jan. 11/14)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Bat by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett

The Bat by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett (1997) – I was stunned by The Bat. It is a powerful book that happens to be crime fiction. I can see why the first book in the Harry Hole series was such a success when it was published in Norway almost 17 years ago.

I do not find sending the sleuth to a location thousands of kilometers from home often works well. The Bat is an exception. I cannot see the book working if it were set anywhere but Australia.

Among the striking aspects of the books is the humour. When Harry arrives in Sydney he dreads being called Hole by the ordinary English pronunciation. When the Australians latch on to Holy he is content.

Harry is sent to Australia to liaise with the Sydney police on their investigation into the death of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian woman, who has been strangled and sexually assaulted.

He is teamed with Andrew Kennsington a beaming and bright Aboriginal who establishes a friendship with Harry in a day. Their banter is engaging. It is a tribute to Bartlett’s skill as a translator that he preserves the funny exchanges. I think one of the hardest aspects of translation is to save humour. Every language has quirks in humour that defy easy translation.

Andrew’s recounting of Aboriginal stories is both fascinating and integral to the plot.

Hole is attracted to Birgetta, a beautiful red headed Swede, and she accepts his somewhat awkward invitation to go out.

As she wonders why he does not drink Harry reveals he is an alcoholic:

“All my life I’ve been surrounded by people who love me. I’ve been given everything I asked for. In short, I have no explanation for why I’ve turned out as I have.” A puff of wind brushed Harry’s hair, so gently that he had to close his eyes. “Why I have become an alcoholic.”

He stopped drinking, after driving a car under the influence which was involved in an accident where a colleague was killed and a teenager paralyzed. The psychological effects of the accident, especially how it was dealt with by the police department, have permanently damaged Harry.

It is a struggle for Harry to have personal relationships. Andrew and Birgetta breach his walls of loneliness.

Harry describes the consequences of being a detective:

“You’re a tiny bit damaged every time you unravel another murder case. Unfortunately, as a rule there are more human wrecks and sadder stories, and fewer ingenious motives, than you would imagine from reading Agatha Christie. At first I saw myself as a kind of knight dispensing justice, but at times I feel more like a refuse collector.

Harry cannot just be an observer, a police tourist. He joins the Australian officers in the hunt for the killer.

In the investigation, as Harry looks at the evidence, he wonders if there is a serial killer. As the police look at that possibility anxiety rises within the department that they may have a killer moving around the continent.

Harry finds it difficult to put the information gathered together:

“It’s a bad job on God’s part to give a man with so little intelligence such a good eye for detail, ….”

The bat, an aboriginal symbol of death, provides the perfect title for the book.

Harry Hole reminds me of another Harry, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Each man has great determination. Their intense focus lets them put together clues other police officers have been unable to assemble. Both are flawed men in their personalities. Each battles sorrow.

It was a book that left me wanting, almost desperately, to know what happens next to Harry Hole. The Bat left me haunted by Harry. Lauren, my older son’s girlfriend, had given me The Bat and Cockroaches as Christmas gifts. While I usually prefer not to read books back to back from a series as too often I find it makes me tired of the characters I started reading Cockroaches, the second book in the series, as soon as I finished The Bat. (Jan. 5/14)

Monday, January 6, 2014

New to Me Authors for October to December of 2013

As I have been occupied with writing posts about my best reads of 2013 I am a little late with my fourth quarter review of Best New to Me authors for the meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her excellent blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

For October, November and December I read four new authors of fiction:

1.) Outburst by R.D. Zimmerman;

2.) Furies by D.L. Johnstone;

3.) A Cold White Sun by Vicki Delany; and,

4.) Japantown by Barry Lancet.

In non-fiction I read books by two new authors:

1.) Fire on Ice by Darrell Davis; and,

2.) Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones.

Over the course of the 3 months I read 13 books with 11 being fiction and 2 of non-fiction.

The totals are slightly lower than the second and third quarters of the year.

Japantown was my favourite new book of fiction for the quarter. I think Lancet has created a compelling character in Jim Brodie who will soon be well known to readers around the world.

In non-fiction Jim Henson is my choice though by a narrow margin over Fire on Ice.