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, December 29, 2015

The Women of Skawa Island by Anthony Bidulka

The Women of Skawa Island by Anthony Bidulka – The second Adam Saint thriller opens with an apocalyptic scene. A ship in the south Pacific stops near a small island. The passengers are told a cataclysmic event is threatening all the continents of the earth. A group of 112 men and women are transported to the deserted island and left there. Ten years later a yacht visits the island snd a gay couple go ashore to frolic on the beach. They meet 3 young women and a young boy who ask the men to contact the CRDA (Canadian Recovery Disaster Agency).

The CRDA is a part of IIA (International Intelligence Agency) in Canada. The message comes as a shock to Maryann Knoble, head of the Canadian IIA. There is no record within the organization of an operation being carried out by the CRDA on the remote island but the CRDA is the owner of the island. Knoble’s predecessor, Sergiusz Belar, purchased the island before succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s.

She visits Belar in a nursing home but his damaged mind can offer no more than the cryptic phrase “Rex save Julia”.

While intensely frustrated at her inability to find out what has happened at the island Knoble realizes she cannot leave the call for help unanswered.
Unsure she can trust any active CRDA agent to undertake the task she reaches out to Adam Saint living on his father’s farm near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When he turns down her request to take on the assignment she entices him to come to Toronto by telling him there may actually be a cure for the terminal brain cancer with which he was diagnosed in the first book of the series. (Knoble continues to cruelly conceal from Saint that he is not suffering from any illness.)

Alexandra, his lovely, though crude and emotionally unstable sister, accompanies him to Toronto.

Saint receives a treatment as promised by Knoble and then leaves with Alexandra for the South Pacific. They travel to Tubuai, another small island, about 50 km from Skawa. It is the nearest inhabitated island to Skawa.

With the aid of a colouful Australian they fly to Skawa where they soon encounter the women and child and arrange for them to be returned to Tubuai.

As they explore Alexandra and Saint determine life on Skawa over the previous 10 years has been horrific. I thought of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Saint starts pulling at threads of information. He calls upon the computer skills of his nephew, Anatole, to aid him in the investigation.

In the first book of the series, When the Saints Go Marching In, I had difficulty with disbelief. With The Women of Skawa Island, while ultimately the story came together I found myself really struggling to suspend enough disbelief. In the book there is no contact with the 112 people left on the island for 10 years. The island is a decent size and but 50 km from Tubuai. To think there was no contact was very difficult for me. It is much harder to have a deserted island story set in the 21st century than it was for books set centuries ago as in Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson.

After brief appearances at the beginning of the book and their rescue the women of Skawa island do not become actual characters until approximately 200 pages into the book. I wish they had been given a greater role earlier.
I was glad to see the members of Saint's family playing an important part in the story. They are intriguing characters.
As with all the works of fiction Anthony has written he works into the plot stops in different parts of the world. As a disaster recovery agent Saint has good reason to be familiar with locations as diverse as Estonia and New Orleans.
The whole premise of the recovery disaster agent remains intriguing. They travel the world helping citizens of their respective countries in disaster situations. I wish Saint would undertake such a rescue operation in the next book of the series.
At this time I regret to say Adam Saint has not captured my reading enthusiasm as Russell Quant engaged me. I think The Women of Skawa Island is the weakest of the books Anthony has written.
Adam Saint series - (2013) - When the Saints Go Marching In 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!!

Tracking Santa!
Merry Christmas! Sharon and I are in Calgary with our sons, Jonathan and Michael. It was a long day yesterday as I worked during the morning and we then drove 815 km to Calgary during the afternoon and early evening. For most of the way we listened to Street Legal - The Betrayal by William Deverell.

It is a special Christmas for Jonathan as he married Lauren on November 14.

We are getting ready to go to Midnight Mass and will be having turkey supper tomorrow evening.

The above photo is from NORAD and here is a link to a story on how NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955 - http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/norad-tracks-santa-1.3361426

Best wishes to all!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Deadly Dunes by E. Michael Helms

42. – 839.) Deadly Dunes by E. Michael Helms – MacArthur McLellan, inevitably known as Mac, is a retired Marine First Sergeant  in his 40’s living in a travel trailer on the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida’s panhandle. To fill his retirement Mac has become a private investigator. He is a trim 190 pounds and 6’2”.

Readers of crime fiction will keep thinking of Travis McGee, a Floridian sleuth of a genearation ago, when reading about Mac. Travis was also a physically imposing former soldier living in a form of trailer, the famed Busted Flush houseboat, while taking his retirement in chunks and pursuing difficult cases. Add that each loves fishing and has a strong moral code and there is a strong likeness.

They differ in family and personal relationships. Mac has twin children in university while Travis had no known children for almost the entire series. Mac has a serious stable relationship with Kate Bell while Travis was never able to sustain a relationship.

The greatest contrast is in intellect. Travis is a philosopher sharing his thoughts through the books. He thinks deeply and provides insights into life. Mac’s limits are illustrated by his lack of knowledge of Fernando de Soto. Where Mac had no cluse about the 16th Century explorer of Florida I am sure Travis would have known a fair bit about de Soto.

In the opening of Deadly Dunes, the third book in the series, Mac meets with Jessie Lofton to discuss the death of her brother, Jake Loften. Killed by a bullet to his right temple the police investigation concluded that he committed suicide. Beyond the forensic evidence supporting a self-inflicted wound Jake’s marriage had recently broken up and there are major psychological issues in his past.

Jessie is convinced it is murder not suicide. Jake, an archealogist, had just started upon a personal project to prove a band of de Soto’s men had spent time on what is now known as Five Mile Island. With some skepticism Mac agrees to investigate Jake’s death.

He is stunned that same evening to learn Jessie is dead. A tire on her new Mustang has exploded and she lost control of the car.

Though he has no paying client Mac is determined to find out what happened to Jake and Jessie. He believes they were murdered.

A half million dollar insurance policy payable to Jake’s separated wife, Laurel, offers a motive for the non-grieving widow. She is already spending the proceeds.

While keeping an eye on Laurel he looks to what is happening on Five Mile Island where Jake had started looking for proof of the Spanish explorers.

In a departure from virtually every other fictional private investigator he takes on an assignment to shadow a philandering husband to earn some money while carrying on his unpaid murder investigation. It had always seemed unbelievable to me how private investigators in crime fiction disdain divorce work when you know it is a staple of the industry.

Mac gradually penetrates the deceit around the deaths of Jake and Jessie.

The book had one of my least favourite solutions. Characters kept dying until basically only the killer was left as a suspect.

It was interesting how the story became more unpredictable as the story progressed. Still Deadly Dunes was an average mystery. It is not bad but it is definitely not great. I am doubtful I will read another in the series. Mac is not going to succeed Travis McGee as a great Florida crime fiction character.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

An Exchange of Letters with Max Everhart

After reading Ed, Not Eddie by Max Everhart I wrote a letter with some questions to the author. I appreciate his prompt letter in response. Our exchange of letters is below.
Dear Max:

I enjoyed reading Ed, Not Eddie and will be posting a review tonight or tomorrow.

Occasionally for my blog I like to ask a few questions of an author but I have come to prefer asking them during a letter rather than as a series of questions.

I love baseball. The joy of the game has kept me playing ball for 55 years. My family has been playing ball in Saskatchewan for over 90 years.

In each of the Eli Sharpe mysteries there are moments when Eli returns to his ball playing days for memories of his performance or lack of performance in games yet the books have not delved into the game experiences of the individual ball players featured in your books.

Your themes have been taken from the business of baseball – the impact of big contracts on young players in Go Go Gato, the value and importance of baseballs from significant major league moments in Split to Splinter and the professional prospects of a talented woman pitcher in Ed, Not Eddie.

There is a moment of on field action with Ed but less than an inning. I would have been very interested to see how you would have described her play in several games and reactions to the game action.

I thought The Art of Hitting by Chad Harbach was a great book. Chad combined the joys and challenges of playing the game with the issues of life off the diamond.

I would be interested in knowing why you have not given actual game action a significant  role in your series.

I would further ask if you are contemplating the addition of game action to future books in the series.

I was intrigued, more appalled, by the religious based protesters objecting to Ed becoming a professional ballplayer.

Do you think such a protest would happen in real life in America? I would have thought with the number of young women in every state at university on sports scholarships and other women playing professional sports it would not be an issue even in the southern states.

In Saskatchewan there would not be such a protest.

In addition to playing ball I am an inductee as a builder in the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and currently First Vice-President.

Through the Hall I was able to meet the 24 women from Saskatchewan who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I admired their determination to be professional ballplayers.

The women of that league were accomplished players and drew good crowds to their games. I have often wondered where women’s ball would be in the sports world if the league had continued.

About 20 years ago the Hall held a special induction dinner to induct all of the women from Saskatchewan who played in AAGPBL into our Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame.

Alison Gordon wrote a fine mystery, Prairie Hardball, focused on and around the real life banquet.

Have any of your books been inspired by a real life event?

If you have time to reply I would be glad to post it with this letter.

Best wishes.
Bill Selnes
Dear Bill:

Cheers for reading and reviewing Ed, Not Eddie. I’m delighted you enjoyed the book.

When I originally began writing this series, I envisioned the stories moving very quickly, so describing actual game action was not something I felt I could (or should) include.  Too, while I love baseball and could discuss—at great length—the endless subtleties and nuisances of the game, I wanted (and want) the novels to appeal to more than just baseball fans. The Art of Fielding is also one of my favorite novels, and there are some wonderful and poetic descriptions of baseball, but, alas, that book is not about baseball—and neither are my Eli Sharpe books. All that said, now that I’ve established Sharpe’s character in the first three novels, I feel like I’m free to delve into his past and, possibly, show him in action. We’ll see. These books are homages to the classic P.I. stories I began reading and loving in graduate school. Chandler. MacDonald. Crumley. Cain. The flawed characters, especially Sharpe, and the keep-em-guessing plots are what's most important to me. But really, as long as readers enjoy them, I'm a happy camper.

As for the protests in Ed, Not Eddie. . .regrettably, yes, they could happen here in America, particularly the Deep South where this novel is set. I’m not suggesting that all southern states and cities would have a similar reaction to a star female athlete, but having lived in the south my whole life (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, namely), I can assure you that there are some unenlightened people who would feel strongly about a woman playing a so-called man’s game.  Anyway, in the fictitious town of Cook, South Carolina, where the story is set, the protests are real, and important to the plot.

I don’t draw on real life events for plots, but I definitely draw on real places. Cook, South Carolina, for example, is a reworked and hyperbolic version of Hartsville, South Carolina, where I live with my wife and son. I drew on a real life place again in a forthcoming novel of mine entitled Alphabet Land. That one is set in a corrupt, crime-ridden neighborhood where all the streets are named after letters. There is a similar place in a town near where I live, except it is called Alphabet Hill. I've been warned by a friend of mine to never go down there. . .ever.

The Eli Sharpe series is, more or less, just wish fulfillment. When I was a kid, I wanted to either be a professional baseball player or a private eye. Then, during college, I discovered hard-boiled detective stories and I loved writing, so I just tossed all those ingredients into a pot, simmered them for a while, and Go Go Gato was what I came up with. Oh, and I, like Eli Sharpe, am obsessed with Richard Nixon.


Everhart, Max - (2014) - Go Go Gato; (2015) - Split to Splinters and How Much is a Baseball Worth?; (2015) - Ed, Not Eddie

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ed, Not Eddie by Max Everhart

Ed, Not Eddie by Max Everhart – The third baseball mystery featuring P.I. Eli Sharpe has a compelling theme. Division III female university baseball pitcher Ed Leviner, has received death threats if she pitches for Cook College in the conference championship game.

What makes Ed special is that she is more than an accomplished pitcher in men’s baseball. She is talented enough to be a professional prospect.

Everhart cleverly builds Ed’s credibility by making her a knuckleball pitcher. The knuckleball requires more finesse than arm strength to throw well. A gifted female athlete could throw a knuckleball well.

I appreciated that Everhart did not make Ed a Hollywood character. She is not a beauty queen on the mound. While a commanding 6’ tall and 200 pounds in weight she is a plain looking woman. What she achieves will be based on her ability not her looks. There is the potential for a movie to be made from this book but you can be sure Hollywood would never cast a plain Ed.

Her father, Leland, reaches out to hire Eli to investigate the threats and protect Ed. The vicious and vulgar written threats have a real sense of menace.

There are several plausible sources to the threats. The leading suspect is Olin Meekins. He had been fired by Cook College as coach of Ed’s team. An evangelical preacher as well as a baseball coach Meekins is now spending his spare time leading protests against Ed playing baseball. The protesters have some feudal notions about the place of women in society.

Ed, beyond her aversion to being called Eddie, is strong willed in other ways. She has the self-absorbed personality of many elite athletes. She is indifferent to those around her. She speaks bluntly. Her life is focused on becoming a major league ballplayer.

A former college classmate of Ed discusses her personality:

“Everybody’s got their hobby, I suppose. Hers is achievement ……. Ed is what’s known as a grade grubber. She cares nothing about learning or knowledge or wisdom …. Results … she cares only about results.”

Cook County Sheriff Hage has conducted a perfunctory investigation of the death threats. While assigning an officer to protect Ed her safety is a low priority to the Sheriff.

Sheriff Hage is riled by Sharpe’s irreverence and quick wit. He has no patience for Eli .

With the death threats having been shared on the internet the information has swept around America.

Media have been drawn to the story. On the scene when Eli arrives in Cook, South Carolina is a TV van from a local station. He is shaken when he recognizes the beautiful blonde reporter. She is Vivian Vaughn, formerly Sophie Gibson, the first of his five fiancées.

Eli and Vivian broke up after a tragedy 20 years earlier that is intensely personal. The pain has barely eased over the years. The story of their loss helps explain Eli’s emotional vulnerability.

During the book Eli and Vivian haltingly approach a new relationship.

Within Ed’s family there is a gender twist as the alcoholic parent wearing camouflage gear to the law office and working on the taxidermy of animals she has shot is Ed’s mother, Linda Chavis. It is a Mom in financial trouble who is pushing to help Ed with her finances for, if Ed is drafted in the first round, a $1.5 million signing bonus is possible. Ed is utterly disdainful of her mother and refuses to talk to her.

Ed, Not Eddie is the best written of the Eli Sharpe mysteries. There are strong characters with an intriguing plot. Best of all the narrative flows smoothly. Pages glide by. It has the potential to be a break through book for Everhart. I only fear that the lack of sex and minimal violence will hold down sales.

Eli has become of my favourite 21st century sleuths. Everhart’s series is the best mystery baseball series I have read since the Kate Henry mysteries of the late Alison Gordon.
Everhart, Max - (2014) - Go Go Gato; (2015) - Split to Splinters and How Much is a Baseball Worth?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stieg Larsson's Literary Legacy and Swedish Inheritance Law

The 4th Salander / Blomkvist thriller and Eva Gabrielsson
The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson has been one of the most successful mystery / thriller series of all time. An estimated 80 million copies have been sold around the world. As Larsson died just before the series was actually published he could not carry on the series. It was little surprise that publishers wanted another author to take over the series. Earlier this year the fourth thriller, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and David Lagercrantz, with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, was released. While the original trilogy were great books I found The Girl in the Spider’s Web a good book.

Yet the fourth in the series need not have been a completely new book. Larsson was well on his way to completing a fourth book. Reports indicate he had about 200 pages of the fourth book written at his death.

Many deceased authors have had a partially written book completed by another author after their death. Among the most famous examples in crime fiction involves Raymond Chandler and his sleuth, Philip Marlowe. Poodle Springs was completed by Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series.

Several unpublished books by Robert Ludlum have been polished and published since his death.

Why Lagercrantz wrote a completely new thriller revolves around Swedish inheritance law. Larsson had been in a 32 year long common law marriage with Eva Gabrielsson when he died at 50. Larsson died without a will.

In a quirk of Swedish law Gabrielsson is not entitled to any of Larsson’s literary estate because they were in a common law relationship rather than a formal marriage. His father and brother inherited all the money made from the books.

I was startled, even shocked, to learn of the Swedish law a decade ago for in most of the Western world the survivor of a common law relationship has inheritance rights as a spouse by statue.

In Saskatchewan if a couple has lived together for two years in a common law relationship they are deemed spouses and have all the rights and obligations of officially married couples. If one of the partners subsequently dies without a will the surviving spouse receives the whole estate if they do not have children. If there are children it will be shared between the survivor and children.

In Sweden there is a comprehensive statutory regime on common law relationships with regard to all financial issues except estates.

Swedish couples living in common law relationships are described as living as “sambos” (samboförhållande – sambo relationship). The law governing those relationships is the Swedish Cohabitation Act (“Sambolag”).

There are extensive provisions on division of property in that law and the legal responsibilities for children are the same for common law as married couples.

What is different is that there is no provision for spousal support after a common law relationship ends and there is no right to share in the solely owned property of a deceased common law partner’s estate.

The reasoning on estates is given in a 2015 National Report: Sweden by Prof. Maarit Jänterä-Jareborg, Prof. Margareta Brattström and LisaMarie Eriksson is:

The Swedish model, adopted in the Cohabitation Act of 2003, is to protect the partners through a right to share in certain property acquired for the couple’s joint use, the ‘cohabitation property’; this model also applies when the relationship is ended by the death of a partner. Probably due to this emphasis, the surviving partner does not enjoy any rights of inheritance in the case of intestate succession.

Cohabitation property will include such shared property as a home.

The justification is weak because surviving spouses in a formal marriage receive far more from the estate of a deceased partner.

Hardly believing Sweden was clinging to such an outmoded inheritance law distinguishing between common law and formal marriages I sought out information through personal connections from a practising Swedish lawyer. He confirmed the law and said “the legislation is far behind but for some unknown reason nothing is being done about it”.

With regard to the continuing legacy of Larsson, when he died the partially completed book was on the laptop computer in the possession of Gabrielsson.

Gabrielsson unsuccessfully negotiated with father Erland and brother Joakim with regard to the literary legacy. While she claims they wanted too much control I expect the problem is that she was dealing from an impossible legal position. Moral claims fare poorly in legal negotiations. She would have been well advised to take the reported seat on the board and 1.75 million pounds.

On what the 4th book could have been The Independent newspaper said:

From the Larsson aficionado’s point of view, the quarrel matters because the writer – who planned 10 books in all – left a 200-page fragment of a fourth Millennium volume behind at his death. Preserved on a laptop, the unfinished narrative takes place in northern Canada. It was intended to deepen Salander’s back-story, and would have been called God’s Revenge. Thanks to the breakdown in relations between Gabrielsson and the estate, this material has never come to light, so it can form no part of Lagercrantz’s sequel.

I would love to have seen Lisbeth in Canada’s Arctic. If only the widow, father and brother could have co-operated as all of them were willing to have proceeds of the 4th book benefit Expo magazine which was Larsson’s real life magazine.
* Larsson, Stieg – (2009) - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; (2009) - The Girl Who Played with Fire; (Best of Fiction for 2009) (2010) - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Lagercrantz, David - (2015) - The Girl in the Spider's Web (see Stieg Larsson)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Split Point Lighthouse in The Clue of the New Shoe

The Clue of the New Shoe by Arthur Upfield is set in the vicinity of the Split Point Lighthouse about 80 km from Melbourne. The murder victim is actually found in a form of cupboard which has been added to the interior of the lighthouse.

I am glad to be able to report  Sharon, Jonathan and I visited the lighthouse in Australia 5 years ago.

The overall area of the lighthouse is far more settled now than it was over 60 years ago when the book was written. The immediate vicinity and the lighthouse look unchanged from the descriptions in the book.

Bony vividly describes the cliffs at the Point. They are real and I had no desire to even approach the edge as Bony does in the book.

It  is ironic that not having read mysteries involving lighthouses for years I read this year Bony's mystery and two earlier mysteries in the Lighthouse Library series by Eva Gates (Vicki Delany) which is set in another real lighthouse, the Bodie Island Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The photo of the lighthouse above is a little darker than usual as it was a cloudy and windy day at the Point.

Jonathan I went up the spiral case to the platform at the top of the lighthouse. After 132 steps I was glad there was a fine view of the ocean.

Near the lighthouse is a walkway to a lookout.

I am at the end of the walkway which goes down to the end of the point that is in the photo below. 

In The Clue of the New Shoe Bony was at Split Point in Australian winter. He was the only guest at the hotel. 

Upfield in his house at Airey's Point, which is the area of the lighthouse, in 1952 had to leave his car in town for a period of time because it was too muddy to get to his house.

In the final photo Sharon and I are standing at the end of the walkway with Eagle Rock behind us. It was cool and blustery and beautiful. A Canadian cannot admit it was cold when it was above freezing. Still there were but a handful of tourists at the Lighthouse.

Driving the Great Ocean Road in June is a great way to avoid crowds.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Clue of the New Shoe by Arthur Upfield

40. – 837.) The Clue of the New Shoe by Arthur Upfield (1952) - Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte is in southern Australia in the area where the Great Ocean Road starts less than 80 km from Melbourne.
He has been sent to the district of Split Point where the body of a naked man was found in the lighthouse. The local and regional investigation was unable to even identify the victim. 

Bony poses as the owner of a small sheep station of 100,000 acres in New South Wales far enough way to be difficult to check on his identity but close enough for a man seeking a holiday away from his wife.
Bony continues with his contrarian view that time is of great assistance in an unsolved murder investigation. He has a patience he attributes to the aboriginal side of his family.
Comfortably lodged in the Inlet Hotel he starts developing relationships with the local residents. Where current sleuths always in a hurry know little of the personalities and lives of those around a crime Bony learns life histories and the interplay of family and community relationships.

It is slow going with an unidentified victim. None of the locals recognize the body.

No motive is possible without knowing who has been killed.

I reluctantly admit I am far from an observant blogger. I did not see coming in the book how the pivotal evidence would be found that led to the victim's identity. There was actually a visual image in front of me all the time. The image is part of this post . Sigh!

When the body is identified Bony can start gathering direct information from the locals during their daily drinking at the hotel bar. Bony shouts his share of beer. They are living in a time when little attention was paid to drinking and driving.

While glad to read another Bony story I found The Clue of the New Shoe a rather average story. It was more an ordinary undercover detective mystery.

Bony is always more observant than the average detective and does use his tracking skills in the book but the location and other characters did not show Bony at his best.
The residents of Split Point were unremarkable except for Old Penwarden, an 80 plus coffin maker, whose love of his craft is striking.

The book took place in a rural setting but it was a well settled community with only white residents. There were no connections to aboriginal people.

I realize that I like Bony best when he is detecting in the remote wild country of Australia.

The book was located in a real life spot in Australia that Sharon, Jonathan and I visited 5 years ago. My next post will be about the Split Point Lighthouse.

Upfield was actually living at Airey's Inlet where the lighthouse is located when he wrote The Clue of the New Shoe which was originally published as The New Shoe.

In a biography the local general store, which mainly sold paperbacks, sold 24 hardcover copies of The New Shoe immediately after publication but could not obtain more copies from the national distributor as they were out of stock. There were dark thoughts that because Upfield was an Australian writer his books did not get priority with English centered publishers.

I will continue to read Bony mysteries as I find them in used bookstores. They are not common in Canada.
Upfield, Arthur - (2011) - Cake in the Hat Box; (2011) - The Widows of Broome (2011) - "U" is for Arthur Upfield; (2011) - The Bushman Who Came Back; (2012) - The Will of the Tribe; (2012) - The Battling Prophet; (2012) - "U" is for Arthur W. Upfield; (2013) - The Bone is Pointed; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II; (2013) - "U" is for Death of a Swagman (1945); (2015) - Death of a Lake 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Literary Challenge of Finding the 6th Cambridge Spy

Image result for spy
Writing about the alleged 6th spy from Cambridge appears a never ending industry. As each of the Cambridge Five was identified there was speculation there were more spies from Cambridge.

In my last post I reviewed Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, an espionage thriller, which involved the 6th spy whose identity was being concealed by British Intelligence. Cumming attracted a good readership for a book on an alleged spy now 91 years of age.

Within the book Cumming mentions that former English Prime Minister Harold Wilson was theorized to be a Russian spy.

Other real life names alleged to the 6th spy include:

1.) Leo Long, a British Intelligence officer during WW II, whom Blunt asserted that he recruited;

2.) Ludwig Wittgenstein was named a spy by Kimberley
   Cornish in 1998;

3.) Guy Liddell lost the opportunity to head MI 5 because
 of fears he was spy; and,

4.) Cambridge academic, Andrew Gow, was mentioned by art critic, Andrew Sewell, in Sewell’s memoirs and even described as the spy master.

The literary hunt for the 6th spy is like the many purported killers of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. After reading Killing Pilgrim by Arlen Mattich which starts with the assassin being a Yugoslav intelligence office I looked at other alleged killers. There have been at least 8 other individuals asserted to be the killer of Palme.

With regard to the 6th spy I mentioned in my review that a new biography of Guy Burgess, Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie, names English physicist Wilfrid Mann as the 6th spy.

One of the challenges for naming a 6th spy, whether for fiction or non-fiction, is that a 6th Cambridge spy was never identified in The Mitrokhin Archive by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin in the first volume of this massive work of information from the KGB prepared after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Having The Mitrokhin Archive on a bookshelf I looked at its reference on the Cambridge spies. Only five are identified. Indeed, the index refers to the Cambridge Five and the Magnificent Five.

Within the book each of the Five is discussed. There is no mention of a 6th spy.

Had there been a 6th spy why was “he”, no one has ever speculated on a “she”, not listed in the Archive? There was enormous pride in Russia at this great intelligence coup. To have added more names would have made an even greater intelligence feat. The absence of a 6th spy is an inconvenient fact for writers.

Cumming addresses the issue and explains why his 6th spy is not in The Mitrokhin Archive:

“Everyone thinks the entire history of Soviet espionage was contained in Mitrokhin.” Charlotte lit a cigarette and looked utterly content. “But there was a ton of stuff he didn’t get his hands on. Including this.”

It is one of the customary means of getting around official records. Simply state they are incomplete. The flaw with regard to the 6th spy is that the Cambridge spy story was a highlight of Soviet espionage and very well documented in the Archive. If there was a 6th spy he would have had an equally prominent role in the archive – even a greater role than the Five - for it would have been a best selling scoop to have revealed the 6th spy in the Archive. It would have meant his identity had been concealed for decades after the Cambridge Five had been revealed and the authors are revealing a great secret. At least Cumming did not ignore the problem.

Was there a 6th spy appears destined to a topic long into the future despite the Archive. We love to find new solutions to unsolved mysteries. There continue to be books about Jack the Ripper more than a century later with Australian teacher, Richard Patterson, the latest as he renews this fall his claim that poet Francis Thompson was the Ripper.
Cumming, Charles - (2015) - Trinity Six

Monday, November 30, 2015

Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

Trinity Six by Charles Cumming – What mystery reader has not heard of the quintet of English spies (Burgess, McLean, Philby, Cairncross and Blunt) who went to Cambridge together in the 1930’s and then spied for Soviet Union. The note at the start of Trinity Six says they were described as the “Magnificent Five” within Russia. British intelligence was devastated for a generation by their betrayals. 

Yet were the Five the extent of treachery among the students at Cambridge in the 1930’s? Was there a 6th spy who has never been identified? Many in real life have thought there was another spy. This fall Andrew Lownie in Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess states physicist Wilfrid Mann was the 6th spy. Cumming turns to fiction to find the 6th man.

In Trinity Six Sam Gaddis is an unlikely spy hunter. He is a 43 year old academic teaching Russian history at University College London. He becomes involved in espionage for the simplest of reasons. He needs money. Income tax authorities have levied a claim over 21,000 pounds. His ex-wife is seeking thousands more for the education of their daughter, Min, in Spain. He does not earn enough to meet his obligations.

Yet he does not become a spy. With writing and research his only marketable skills he casts about for a story for a popular non-fiction book. Rumours reach him that there was a 6th man. It would be an easy sale if he can identify a 6th man.

His friend, Charlotte Berg, wants him to join her in writing about the hidden spy. He is tempted. Before he has made his decision Charlotte dies of an apparent heart attack. Readers know she was actually poisoned by the Russian FSB.

As Gaddis probes her research files he cannot find her sources. A dogged researcher he checks calendars and phone records. He finds a couple of leads and pursues the threads.

Gaddis believes he is onto a story when he learns British Intelligence faked the death of a British diplomat shortly after Communism collapsed. Why would they resort to such extreme measures?

While it is clear why British Intelligence would not want the 6th man to be identified there is no clear motive for Russian intelligence to take violent action to prevent discovery.

Gaddis is an amateur in the professional world of espionage feeling his way through spy craft and trying not to get killed.

Trinity Six is far from American thrillers with their double digit body counts though there are violent scenes.

Within the plot there are crosses and double crosses and triple crosses. There are enough crosses to leave everyone paranoid about who can be trusted.
I was reminded of the real life Eddie Chapman in Zig Zag by Ben Macintyre. Chapman is at least a double agent convincing both British and German intelligence that he is spying for them.

Russian head of state in the book, Sergei Platov, is a thinly disguised Vladimir Putin. Cumming follows the traditional approach of creating a character like Putin but with just enough difference. Jason Matthews in Palace of Treason actually named Putin. I expect the different approaches reflect different libel laws between America and England.

While the ending is credible it does not have the bleak conclusion of most John Le Carré espionage novels.

Trinity Six was a good book and I expect to read more of Cumming.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Chessmen by Peter May

The Chessmen by Peter May – I started 2015 by reading the first two books in the Lewis trilogy – The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. As the end of the year nears I have completed the trilogy.

The book opens with a flourish. Fin McLeod is camping with his friend, Whistler Macaskill, on a mountain in southwest part of the Isle of Lewis. In the morning they look down into the valley and the loch that had been there the night before is gone. The whole lake has disappeared. There is nothing there but “a big empty hole”. Whistler says there has been a bog burst. It is a wonderfully evocative phrase.

When the pair look more closely at the great hole Fin sees something red and white. Through binoculars he sees it is a small one engine plane. He is able to read its call sign on the fuselage and recognizes it is the sign for the plane owned by their friend Roderick Mackenzie who went missing with this plane 17 years ago.

While Whistler does not want to get involved beyond reporting the plane Fin insists on going out to see the plane. When they reach it Fin is startled to see the plane is undamaged. More important there is a body in the pilot’s seat. When they open the door they can see terrible damage to the head. Their friend Roddy has been murdered.

Whistler has been Fin’s friend since they met at the boarding school in Stornoway that the boys and girls from the island attended after they completed elementary school. The book takes us back into their school lives.

At school Fin also became friends with Roddy who was already on his way to fame having formed a Celtic band that includes Whistler on flute and the lovely Mairead as the lead singer. While teenagers they are an accomplished band and play all over the island. They have a unique blend of traditional Celtic music with rock music.

As the story progresses we learn of the personal histories of Fin and his friends and some more history of the island.

In the present Fin has found employment as head of security on the Red River Estate. They need an experienced investigator as poachers are seriously damaging the salmon stocks. While there have always been locals who poached a fish or a hare or a deer the poaching has become organized and threatens the business. Awkwardly for Fin his friend, Whistler, is a brazen poacher though only for food.
The murder investigation is difficult 17 years after Roddy’s disappearance. It is hard to even understand why Roddy and the plane would even be at this remote loch far from the area of his flight plan.

In their personal lives Whistler is attempting to live off the land as much as possible. To gain some money he has carved a large set of the Lewis Chessmen. (The original Lewis Chessmen were found on the shore of the island in 1831.)

Fin and Marsalis continue to renew a relationship broken for 20 years. Marsalis remains wary of the reliability of a man who her cast her aside at university and later separated from his wife when their child died.

In a subplot Donald Murray is facing a trial within the Scottish Free Church over whether his violent actions at the end of The Lewis Man make him unfit to be a pastor within the church. He will be tried before 12 members of the Church in an open trial. Fin will have to testify as he was an eyewitness.

The Chessmen is a wonderful book. Readers are caught up in the lives of real people. May has created lively interesting characters with nary a stereotype among them.

While no character could rival Tormond Macdonald of The Lewis Man slipping deeper into dementia Whistler is a larger than life character, physically and emotionally, with a vivid personality

The story of Sòlas, the Gaelic island rock band, and their rise to international fame is fascinating.

Along the way the mystery is solved but the life stories of the characters and the Isle of Lewis make The Chessmen a great book.

While life problems and relationship issues remain there is an element of hope in The Chessmen that was absent in the darkness of The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man.
I hope that May returns at some date to Lewis to provide us further sagas on Fin and the other islanders. They are a memorable group living average lives with passion.
May, Peter - (2003) - Snakehead; (2014) - The Blackhouse; (2014) - The Lewis ManBookmark Inspiration for the Outer Hebrides

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Q & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series

During the summer I read and reviewed the 15th Joanne Kilbourn mystery by Gail Bowen. I have had a chance to do a Q & A with Gail on writing and the series. As always she is forthright and interesting. I thank Gail for her candour and look forward to the next mystery to be published next spring.
1.) When you started the series did you have a plan for how many books would be written?

No!!!  #16 in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series will be published on March 1, 2016 and I’m well into writing #17.  When I started the series, I had three children at home; I was teaching full-time at the university; I was very involved in politics and I was teaching Sunday School.

The opening of Deadly Appearances grew out of an old fashioned political picnic when Roy Romanow had just become leader of the party. The picnic Joanne is attending is exactly the picnic I was attending. I remember looking at the truck flatbed we were using as a stage.  A carafe of water for the new leader was sitting on the edge of the flatbed and I remember being so proud that we lived in a country where a leader’s carafe of water could be left unattended with a few hundred people swarming about.  Then I thought, “What if someone slipped poison into the water.”  That was the beginning, and I had no plan to go beyond that one book.  Then the idea for Murder at the Mendel crept into my mind; after that, The Wandering Soul Murders began to take shape.  The ideas have kept coming and I’ve kept writing. 

2.) Anthony Bidulka has told me that his Russell Quant series is on indefinite hiatus. He said his passion for writing was taking him to new projects such as his Adam Saint series. You have continued to write excellent books featuring Joanne. What has been able to keep you inspired to write more Joanne Kilbourn mysteries?

First, I should say that I wish Tony would revisit to the Russell Quant series. I loved those books. 

About me.  I made the decision to have Joanne age in the course of the books and that’s been a great boon.  Her life changes; new people come into her life; the nature of her work changes; her children grow up; she has relationships and her priorities change.  All of these changes have given me rich material from which to draw.

The continuing cast of permanent characters has also been a gift and a source of inspiration.  Readers care about Joanne’s children and the friends who have become constants in her life: Howard Dowhanuik, Jill Oziowy, Margot Hunter, Brock Poitras, Delia Wainberg, Blake Falconer, Chris Altieri, Kevin Hynd to name a few. Each of these characters has a story and those stories give me firm ground from which to explore issues that concern me.

Finally, Alistair MacLeod once said, “Writers write about what worries them.” And there seems to be no shortage of issues that worry me.

3.) I must admit I regret Zack leaving the courtroom for city development and now municipal politics. Might we have Angus stepping forward into legal cases with Zack providing some mentorship?
In book 17 Zack’s life changes radically.  I can’t say much more than that, but in The Winners Circle, the firm of Falconer Shreve, Altieri, Wainberg and Hynd is once again front and centre.

4.) As with some of the characters residing in North Central Regina I have clients with multiple challenging issues in their lives. While they retain me to address their legal issues I find myself occasionally providing advice that is more properly related to their personal problems. I justify it on the basis that were they to better address personal matters they would have fewer legal problems. At the same time I realize I have been blessed in my life not to have all their challenges. I was impressed that Joanne recognizes the difficulty of helping from a position of privilege. What did you draw on to make Joanne a practical activist?

Truly, I drew upon my own experience. In my adult life I’ve moved from starry-eyed idealism to a much more pragmatic approach to how we can create a community in which everyone has a chance to create a good life. Like you, I am acutely aware of the fact that I have been blessed, but to paraphrase J.S. Woodsworth, I believe we have to work for a world where these blessings are shared with others.

5.) I can barely believe that I have just realized that I have never asked you in our past exchanges why both of Joanne’s husbands have been lawyers. There are lots of occupations. It cannot be accidental that each of her husbands is a lawyer and that one of her sons is a lawyer. I would be very interested in knowing why lawyers are so prominent in Joanne’s life.

It happens that I know a number of lawyers and I know a disproportionate number of judges. They don’t always talk shop when they’re around me, but the topic of the law does come up, and their very different attitudes towards the law intrigue me.  A judge friend says the law is simply plumbing, and lawyers are plumbers.  Other lawyers see the law as a beautiful and complex intellectual construct. One thing they all agree on is that there’s a lot of drudgery in the day to day work, but there are also some immensely satisfying moments, especially in trial law.
Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail; 2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the Mendel; The Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose Street; Hardcover