About Me

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Considering Causes of Wrongful Conviction and Robert Raymond Cook

In two previous posts I have been discussing The Work of Justice by J. Pecover concerning the conviction and execution of Robert Raymond Cook for murdering his family in 1959 in Alberta. Pecover believes there was a miscarriage of justice. In this post I will examine the conviction from another perspective.

In Canada and the U.S. there have been a signficant number of cases of wrongful conviction in the past couple of decades. In Canada several cases of wrongful conviction for murder have brought about public inquiries. Innocence Canada (formerly the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted or AIDWYC) is dedicated to the cause of the wrongfully convicted.

At its website they list the leading causes of wrongful convictions:

            1.) Eyewitness identification error;
            2.) Jailhouse informant testimony;
            3.) False confessions;
            4.) Tunnel vision;
            5.) Systemic discrimination;
            6.) Evolution of and errors in forensic science; and,
            7.) Professional misconduct.

To provide a different examination on Cook’s conviction I have analyzed the case by considering these causes:

1.) Eyewitness identification error – There was no eyewitness identification of Cook as the killer. The evidence of the Crown was circumstantial. At the same time the jury  considered Cook’s evidence asserting innocence and that he had an alibi. They also had the evidence of Albert Wilson supporting the alibi though his testimony was crushed on cross examination;

2.) Jailhouse informant testimony – There was no jailhouse informant. The Crown did not plant a police officer with Cook. No fellow prisoner claimed Cook had confessed to the murders;
3.) False confessions – In some cases of wrongful conviction the accused has been aggressively questioned by the police and eventually confesses to a crime he/she has not committed. Cook never confessed. In the hours before his execution he insisted he was innocent;
       4.) Tunnel vision – At Innocence Canada tunnel vision is   
       defined as:

Tunnel vision is a significant problem under the umbrella of professional misconduct. In the Morin Inquiry tunnel vision was defined as “…a single-minded and overly narrow focus on a particular investigative or prosecutorial theory, so as to unreasonably colour the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information.” In some cases, police and prosecutors seek to find evidence that fits their theory as opposed to developing a theory on the basis of existing evidence.
In Cook’s case the Crown completely focused on Cook. The problem for Cook’s defence is that there was never a credible alternative suspect.

Innocence Canada provided an example of tunnel vision:

Tunnel vision played a significant role in Thomas Sophonow’s wrongful conviction. In that case the police were in contact with the actual killer, however, they were so focused on Sophonow that they lost sight of any potential alternative suspects.

Cook’s defence counsel spoke of a mysterious stranger who could have been a prison mate of Cook released at the same time but the only possibility was a man who was in Edmonton at the time of the murders but there was no evidence he was ever in Stettler or had reason to kill 2 adults and 5 children.

            5.) Systemic discrimination – Innocence Canada states:

Research has shown that race and gender play a significant role in wrongful convictions. The New York Innocence Project reports that more than 70% of those exonerated by DNA evidence were racialized persons. As a point of comparison, over 70% of the American population are of Caucasian descent. It is clear that racial minorities are at a higher risk of being wrongly convicted.

Since Cook was white and male the issues of race and gender considered for discrimination would not have a role.

While he did not come from a wealthy background his family was an average working family.

6.) Evolution of and errors in forensic science – In Cook’s case little forensic evidence really aided the Crown or the defence. There was no further identification of the blood stains on his suit beyond they were blood stains.

What was of some significance is that they did not find any trace of blood upon him including under his fingernails. Whoever committed the murders had moved bloody bodies and sought to clean the house.

There were some unidentified fingerprints in the house.

What was not available in 1960 was DNA evidence. DNA analysis has often been at the core of proving wrongful conviction. Had there been DNA evidence of a mysterious stranger it could have helped Cook but if there was no DNA of a mysterious stranger the Crown case would have strengthened.

7.) Professional misconduct – Cook was tried in an era when there was no mandatory disclosure of the Crown case. Still in his case the Crown provided its evidence. Some of that evidence was contradictory. Parts of the investigation appear to have been poorly done but there was not a plan to keep evidence from Cook.

The Innocence Project provided examples of withholding evidence in a pair of wrongful convictions:

Research has shown that race and gender play a significant role in wrongful convictions. The New York Innocence Project reports that more than 70% of those exonerated by DNA evidence were racialized persons. As a point of comparison, over 70% of the American population are of Caucasian descent. It is clear that racial minorities are at a higher risk of being wrongly convicted.

Pecover points to examples of what he considered the prosecutor acting improperly in the trials but I did not see professional misconduct.

The importance of the above factors was highlighted in an article Judging Innocence by Brandon Garrett in the Columbia Law Review in 2008. He analyzed the first 200 American cases where DNA evidence proved wrongful convictions.

He examined the evidence which had produced the convictions:

A few predictable types of unreliable or false evidence supported these convictions. The vast majority of the exonerees (79%) were convicted based on eyewitness testimony; we now know that all of these eyewitnesses were incorrect. Fifty-seven percent were convicted based on forensic evidence, chiefly serological analysis and microscopic hair comparison.18 Eighteen percent were convicted based on informant testimony and 16% of exonerees falsely confessed.

For careful readers the percentages do total more than 100%. Most wrongfully convicted, as in most trials, had more than one form of evidence led agains them.

In considering the 7 primary causes of wrongful conviction with regard to the Cook case I do not see them showing a wrongful conviction of Cook.

My fourth post will add some thoughts on the book and discuss the end for Cook.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thinking about Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is gone. I was surprised. I had not heard she was suffering from cancer for the past 2 years. I was expecting to hear later this year that "Z" for Zero would be published. Her fame is illustrated by the host of stories about her in the past 24 hours in every form of media.

I never met Sue nor did I ever correspond with her. As with many authors I was not aware of the particulars of her personal life.

I am familiar with her sleuth, Kinsey Milhone. 

I was introduced to the series in the early 1980's when I heard a radio interview on the CBC morning radio show, Morningside. The host, Peter Gzowski, spoke with Sue about her series. It was clear that Peter, a devoted reader and skilled writer, was taken with the series.

I went out and found "A" is for Alibi and was hooked on the series. I read my way through the series from "A" is for Alibi to "V" is for Vengeance. 

I have not read  W or X or Y. I was finding the reading of the later books in the series slower going. Compared to the early books they were far longer and I was not enjoying them as much as the earlier books.

I continued to enjoy Kinsey's interactions with her landlord, the ever young octogenarian Henry, and her outspoken local restaurantuer, Rosie.

Unfortunately I was not finding the plots as compelling and said in my review of "U" is for Undertow that I was reading the books to continue my reading of the series.

I did find "V" is for Vengeance a better book. I intend to find a copy of "W" is for Wasted.

No matter that a fraction of the books in a series over 20 books were not the best Sue provided me with a lot of reading enjoyment over three decades. Few writers are able to match her sustained excellence.

I admired Sue's decision not to have any of the books made into a T.V. series or movies. Having worked in the industry she was scornful of their ability to do justice to her characters. That decision left it possible for me to maintain an image of Kinsey that is that of the younger Sue shown in the photo above. I know they were not identical but I firmly see the essence of Kinsey in Sue.

I am grateful her family has decided not to have another author write "Z" is for Zero. It is fitting to me that Sue's alphabet will end with 25 letters.

All the best to her family.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Assessing the Trial Evidence Against Robert Raymond Cook

Robert Raymond Cook
In my last post on The Work of Justice - The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover I outlined the circumstances of the brutal slaying of Robert Raymond Cook’s family for which he was convicted and hung in 1960.

Pecover provides a great amount of detail on the evidence at Cook's the trials with one huge gap in his review and analysis. From the start Pecover is clear that he thinks Cook should not have been convicted on the evidence presented at his two trials for capital murder.

Pecover gets so caught up in detail at times. He goes over small issues with contradictions such as why Cook was stopped by the police during the day prior to the murders. He spends pages dealing with the missing Friday newspaper and speculation it was used to help cover the bodies.

There were areas where the defence could realistically raise questions. While not well done the defence did raise the issues.

It was never established whether the shotgun used in the killings was owned by Cook’s father or was brought to the house the night of the killings.

That there were 15 unfired shotgun shells in the suit, bedroom and garage is unusual as Cook’s father was not actually hunting.

As well there was a blood stained white shirt that no direct evidence could explain how it ended up in the family home.

While the suit was blood stained in the crotch and legs there were no blood stains on Cook’s shorts or his socks.

The gap in Pecover’s book concerned the the details of the commission of the murders. Not surprisingly Pecover does not want to dwell on the gruesome particulars. The parents, in bed, were killed by shotgun blasts fired at close range and the children, from 3 to 9 years of age, were beaten to death by the shotgun. No defence counsel or advocate for an accused will want to explore those details but they cannot be ignored and how the killings were done may support the prosecution or the accused. He spends not even two paragraphs on how the murders were committed. It was a major weakness in the book not to analyze the evidence of the killings in the same detail as the other evidence.

I wondered from the opening pages what alternative killer the defence would present to the jury. I knew the defence could not succeed without either an alternative or an alibi. Cook had been at the house the night of the murders and the next day he possessed his father’s identification and the family car. Those facts effectively prevented a successful defence limited to questioning the sufficiency of the Crown case.

At both of his trials his defence counsel sought to advance the theory of a mysterious stranger entering the house Thursday night after Cook had left the house and brutally killing his family. The defence of the mysterious stranger is among the most difficult in criminal defence. Who might this stranger be? Cook had no credible suspect.

Cook did present an alibi defence but it arose in questionable circumstances being only being raised by Cook to his counsel shortly before the first trial.

Cook had asserted that at the time of the murders he was in Edmonton committing the break and enter of a dry cleaning business with another professional criminal, Albert Victor Wilson.

While there was no proof of communication between them they were inmates at the same time in the Fort Saskatchewan jail prior to Cook's the first trial.

Any chance of success for the alibi was shattered in a Hollywood moment of cross-examination. In his evidence Wilson stated that he had searched a toolbox in the station wagon Cook was driving for a screwdriver so they could pry open a grate to gain access to the dry cleaning business. On cross examination the Crown Prosecutor, Wallace Anderson, had Wilson go from the witness box to the evidence table and open the toolbox and pull out what Pecover describes as “a torrent of screwdrivers”.

What was shocking to me as a defence counsel is that Cook’s counsel had insisted the toolbox be an exhibit. He had clearly never looked inside the toolbox. How could a defence lawyer not check the contents of the toolbox?

Pecover identifies other flaws in the work of defence counsel. I expect he is correct but beyond the startling gaffe with the toolbox I do not think they played a significant role in the trials.

I thought Pecover underplayed the significance of the jury seeing the witnesses. It is stated repeatedly and correctly by appellate courts that it is as important to see how the witnesses give their evidence as what they say in court. Cook and Wilson were not credible.

With no identifiable alternative killer and the alibi defence in tatters and Cook acknowledging he had lied to police in parts of his statements Cook was doomed to conviction. 

In my next post I will assess the reliability of the conviction.
The Work of Justice - The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Work of Justice – The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover

(41. – 928.) The Work of Justice – The Trials of Robert Raymond Cook by J. Pecover – Cook was the last person hanged in Alberta when he went to the gallows on November 14, 1960. He was 23 years old.

At the heart of the book was a horrific crime. Cook’s father, stepmother and 5 half siblings were murdered in their home in Stettler and dumped into a grease pit in the garage attached to the house.

To try to understand Cook Pecover delves into his personal and criminal history. Growing up in the small towns of Hanna and Stettler in Alberta Cook started stealing cars when he was 12. I was startled. Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan a generation later I cannot recall knowing or hearing about anyone in my area becoming a thief before becoming a teenager.

It was not clear why Cook chose the criminal life. His primary life skill was hot wiring cars but he could have been a mechanic like his Dad. He was undoubtedly affected by family circumstances. His natural mother died when he was 9 and his father remarried about 3 years later and moved to Stettler. Almost immediately Cook began stealing cars.

He was a professional thief before he was 15. Of the last 3,247 days of his life he was out of jail but 243 days.

Two days after his final release in June of 1959 he arrived in Stettler on a Thursday. That evening he met with his father. They went home together.

That night, probably around midnight, the family was slaughtered.

The next morning Cook is in Edmonton, over a 150 km away, trading off the year old family station wagon on an Impala, a flashy “brand-new white convertible, top down, red Naugahyde upholstery”. He uses his father’s driver’s licence to make the deal.

Cook spent Friday and much of Saturday cruising around rural Alberta with a trio of teenagers. Eventually he returns to Stettler on Saturday and spends about an hour at the family home. He is detained on Saturday evening by the police with regard to questions concerning the new car.

After the bodies are found on Sunday he is charged with murder.

Cook provides an explanation to the RCMP that he repeats at his trials. He says that while speaking with his father on Thursday evening they agreed that they would buy a garage in British Columbia and go into business together. He said his father, stepmother and 5 half-siblings would go to British Columbia on Friday to look for a business and call him early in the week at the house to tell him where to meet them. He continued that his father gave him his identification and the station wagon so he could get a new car.

He asserts he gave his father $4,100.00 from past break and enters that he had dug up after release. The funds were to help pay for the new garage. His father, Ray, was a petty thief but the defence led no evidence of that criminality to support Cook’s evidence his father wwas quite willing to accept stolen money from his son on the day of the murders. Such a sum was neither found at the house nor on Cook.

While his father had discussed with Cook getting a garage together and had looked around Alberta there were no plans to go looking in British Columbia at the time of Cook’s release. There was no indication on Thursday that father would not be at work on Friday and the siblings would not be in school.

The problems with Cook’s explanation are obvious. It defies credibility.

In the house are found Cook’s blood stained suit and a blood stained shirt that would fit him.

Cook states it must have been a stranger who entered the house after he left Thursday evening and killed his family and then put on Cook’s suit to move the bodies and try to clean up the house.

Cook breaks down crying uncontrollably when told by the RCMP his father is dead.

In giving his statements he is calm and direct in his answers to the RCMP. In trying to explain he tangles himself deeper. It was a surprise to me that as a career criminal he would think he could “explain” away a charge of murder. There was no chance of success. Defence counsel advise accused not to make statements as they cannot help the defence. As here too often the accused is caught in contradictions. Cook ultimately was forced to admit that he lied in parts of this statements.

Cook went through life lying to the police but he took pride that when “the game was up” he had never lied in court that he was not guilty. It is too subtle “a game” for a jury to appreciate he was telling the truth in court about not committing murder because, in the past, he had only lied to the police and not in court. 

Pecover, over hundreds of pages, analyzes the evidence and defence strategies at Cook’s trials. My next post takes a look at the evidence and trials.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Listening to The Shepherd on Christmas Eve

Sharon and I are having a quiet Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. At noon our youngest son, Michael, and partner, Kaja, and a nephew, Steven, left for Calgary. Yesterday our oldest son, Jonathan, daughter-in-law, Lauren, and granddaughter, Hannah, also returned to Calgary. We will be going to Mass at 10:00 this evening.

With the temperature currently -26C and dropping and the house silent I have been thinking about past Christmas Eves. In particular, I have been thinking of some of those Christmas Eves of 30 years ago when we would drive to Oxbow to be with my sister, Ann Marie, and her family.

It was a long drive, almost 600 km. Often it was cold. We would usually be driving into the evening. After hours of travel the boys would be dozing as we neared Oxbow and it would be peaceful going down the highway with only a few other vehicles on the road with us.

My most vivid memory of that drive came the first time Sharon and I listened to The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth on CBC radio being read by Al Maitland. We became caught up in the story.

In The Shepherd it is Christmas Eve of 1957 when a young RAF pilot flying his de Haviland Vampire jet fighter from Germany to England has his electrical systems fail. Lost in the fog with fuel and hope running out a World War II Mosquito fighter bomber appears out of the clouds and guides him.

As we listened to the story in our van, with drifting snow sifting across the highway creating a sense of isolation, we had the feeling of being in our own cockpit.

We did not speak for the 31 minutes it takes Maitland to tell the story.

It left us uplifted and reflective.

We have heard the story on several other Christmas Eve journeys and it never fails to move us. Maitland’s beautiful reading of the story has made it a Canadian classic. If you would like to listen CBC provides a link at:

Should you be traveling this Christmas Eve may your trip go well and you arrive safely. 

A Merry Christmas to all my blogger friends and readers around the world!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wishing I had Read Attica Locke's Books in Order

I prefer to read a series in the order the books were written as I like to see the lives of continuing characters unfold chronologically. With the Jay Porter series of Attica Locke I read the second book, Pleasantville, before reading Black Water Rising. That sequence occurred because I was reading Pleasantville as a part of my reading for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. Reading Black Water Rising subsequently reinforced my preference for reading a series in order.

If you have not read both books this review is likely to have more information than you will want to have before reading the books.

Both Black Water Rising and Pleasantville are set in Houston. It is striking for consecutive books to be set 15 years apart. Black Water Rising takes place in 1981 with Pleasantville in 1996. With over a decade between the books there are bound to be major changes in the lives of the characters.

In Black Water Rising Porter’s wife, Bernie, is struggling through the late stages of her pregnancy with the child who will become their first born daughter, Allie.

The relationship between Bernie and Jay is at the heart of Black Water Rising and is discussed more fully in my previous post, a review of the book. Their problems are real and their love for each other is strong.

In the opening of Pleasantville we learn Bernie has died about a year earlier after a lengthy illness. Jay and the children have been devastated. While it was wrenching to read about the effects of their loss it would have been a more powerful a reading experience had I first read Black Water Rising and known their trials and joys as a young couple.

Jay has progressed from being a bitter angry young man to a loving father devoted to his children. Without reading Black Water Rising a reader would not be able to see his personal development.

In Black Water Rising Jay’s past as an angry young black radical still plays a major role in his life. He is called upon to use political connections with the mayor, a former student activist with him, in a strike involving longshoremen.

In Pleasantville Jay is still involved in mayoral issues but no longer because of his personal connections to a white mayor. The African American population of Houston is not just fighting for a role in civic government. Alex Hathorne, a fellow resident of Pleasantville, is a strong candidate for mayor.

Locke has personal knowledge of Houston mayoralty politics as she helped her father as he ran for mayor in 2009.

Jay has moved from protest to being a member of the black establishment living in the most affluent black neighbourhood of Houston and having achieved considerable financial success. The contrast in political background and upward mobility of Jay over 15 years is striking. He is headed to being a part of the Houston establishment.

In Pleasantville Jay has achieved legal and financial success from suing big corporations for their misdeeds. It is a vast shift from his storefront struggling practice of Black Water Rising where he is scraping by from month to month. The shift in his legal life is immense. I wish there were one or more books chronicling the years between Black Water Rising and Pleasantville to explain how he became so successful.

Each book is an excellent book on their own. To have read them in order would have been to have read a legal and historical saga of African American life in Houston.

Locke, Attica - (2016) - Pleasantville; (2017) - Black Water Rising  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

(37. – 924.) Black Water Rising by Attica Locke – It is 1981 in Houston and Jay Porter, a young black lawyer struggling to survive in private practice, wants to celebrate the birthday of his very pregnant wife, Bernie. With little money coming in he barters for a “moonlight cruise”. There is a boat and water and night but it is far from a romantic evening. As they make their way along the turgid Buffalo Bayou they hear a woman screaming and then a gunshot. They see a body roll into the river. Jay dives into the murky water and rescues her. The young white woman refuses to say what happened. Jay does not provide particulars on himself and Bernie.

When Jay and Bernie drop the woman outside a police station. Jay decides to do no more:

Just the idea of being anywhere near a police station at this time of night, looking like a ragged dog, tangled up in some white woman’s mess makes him more than a little dizzy. He knows firsthand the long, creative arm of Southern law enforcement, knows when he ought to keep his mouth shut.

His fear, even as a lawyer, spoke clearly to me of the position of black Americans dealing with police.

The next day Jay manages to stave off a summary dismissal of a civil action by his client, Dana Moreland, against City Commissioner, J.T. Cumings. Ms. Moreland, a hooker, alleges she was injured while riding with Mr. Cumings when he hit a telephone pole. At the time of the accident she was in a vulnerable position.

Bernie's father, the Reverend Boykin, calls upon Jay to attend a meeting of the black Brotherhood of Longshoremen. They are at odds with the white International Longshoremen's Association. While under court order to integrate the process is not going well.

The black longshoremen unwilling to put up with their continuing subservient position on the docks are looking to strike. 

Led by Reverend Boykin they want Jay to talk to the white mayor, Cynthia Maddox, about providing police protection if they go on strike.

They know Jay and Cynthia had a personal relationship while in university over a decade earlier.

While the mayor is now a member of the establishment she was a student radical at university going so far as to join the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). 

Jay was also a student activist though more focused on black issues. During his university years he was associated with some of the leading young black activists including Stokely Carmichael.

Because of his promise to his father in law Jay talks with Cynthia. It is a difficult conversation. 

Jay soon finds out a middle aged white man was found shot to death in a car in the vicinity of where he saved the woman. Unable to leave the issue alone and worried what will happen to him and Bernie if the police find out he did not report what he knew Jay investigates the murder.

Jay, coming from a tough background, has a hard time with relationships. He loves Bernie but holds so much within himself. He is so guarded.

With an unresolved past and a complex present Jay treads a challenging path.

Black Water Rising is a strong first novel. It gave me more insight into the lives of black Americans (I use the description of the book) at the beginning of the 1980's in the southern United States.

In my next post I will discuss the impact of reading Black Water Rising after reading the second book in the series, Pleasantville.
Locke, Attica - (2016) - Pleasantville

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

(40. – 927.) Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart – Since I began blogging random purchases of crime fiction have become infrequent. There are many excellent authors whose books I read regularly. In addition there is an abundance of recommendations from fellow bloggers. Thus it was a fortuitous accident that I picked up Jade Dragon Mountain in a Saskatoon bookstore. The cover attracted me. While I do my best not to judge a book by its cover a well designed cover can get my attention. Reading a couple of pages drew me into the story and I bought the book. It was my best accidental purchase of the year.

In 1708 former imperial librarian Li Du, exiled from Beijing for being the friend of traitors enters the city of Dayan (now Lijiang) in what is now known as the province of Yunan. The city is near the border with Tibet. Since becoming an exile he has been a traveling scholar following the journeys of famed Chinese travel authors. His cousin, Tulishen, is the Magistrate in Dayan.

Li Du arrives at a time of great excitement. The emperor is coming to Dayan preside over a solar eclipse as Commander of the Heavens:

The Emperor of China had the power, according to ancient tradition, to predict astronomical phenomena. Displays of this power confirmed the Emperor’s divine legitimacy, the more effective the demonstration. Members of the intellectual elite, of which Li Du and Tulishen numbered, were aware that for many years it had been the Jesuits at court who had provided the Emperor with a yearly calendar of astrominical events. Naturally, public acknowledgement of their role was forbidden, as it would tarnish the pageantry of the Emperor’s predictions.

For almost a year the Emperor has been on a grand tour from Beijing that will culminate with the celebration of the eclipse.

While the Emperor has severely limited foreigners from entering China and kept trade at a minimum there are constant efforts to open up China.

For the celebration in Dayan a pair of Jesuits and, Sir Nicholas Gray,  an ambassador for the British East India Company have come from India.

One of the Jesuits, the elderly Brother Pieter, is a skilled astronomer who had spent several years in Beijing.

Gray is hoping to convince the Emperor to allow the Company trading access to China. Gray brings numerous gifts including an amazing tellurion, a device that depicts heavenly bodies in their orbits.

Joining them is a marvelous Arab storyteller, Hamza, who beguiles audiences with a never ending series of stories.

Li Du, uninterested in the great celebration, prepares to leave Dayan when Pieter dies suddenly in his room. Despite official protestations Li Du can tell the Jesuit’s tea was poisoned.

Magistrate Tulishen would be content with Tibetan traders, who have already left Dayan, being blamed. Tulishen wants no disturbance of the celebration as he hopes his successful management of the event will lead him to be promoted to a higher post in Beijing. Li Du initially accepts the whitewash but cannot abide the coverup and returns to Dayan to investigate the murder.

Through Hamza’s clever use of rumour the Magistrate is forced to let him investigate but Li Du is given but 3 days to solve the murder.

As he investigates there emerges a dangerous and subtle plot that could change the future of China.

While the Westerners want an open China there are many Chinese who feel there is nothing to be gained from open borders. They have contempt for the Europeans.

With intelligence and persistence Li Du gradually uncovers the secrets of each of the main characters. The book is filled with well drawn and interesting people.

Jade Dragon Mountain is a mix of historical and crime fiction that I find irresistible when it is done this well. Hart drew me into the life and times of early 18th Century China. Li Du in the bustling Dayan reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim in India. They are both inquisitive, clever and determined. While Kim is caught up in the Great Game of espionage Li Du navigates the complexities of rural and imperial Chinese society and bureaucracy.

I gained a feel for the China of 1708 in the same way I feel comtemporary China 300 years later in the Inspector Chen mysteries of Qiu Xiaolong. Both Li Du and Chen are unusual men as they are not caught up in the national striving, prevalent in every generation, for greater power and position and wealth. They leave superiors uneasy for they are not susceptible to the temptations that make most men vulnerable to pressure and manipulation.

And I guarantee the ending will be a surprise.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Politics is an Honourable Profession

Kevin Phillips
In my previous post I reviewed The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes, a biography of Ted Hughes. After moving to British Columbia in his early 50’s Ted was the first Conflict of Interest Commissioner for the province. In that position and through other assignments he reviewed the allegations of misconduct against provincial politicians.

He became famous when Premier Bill Vander Zalm, an outspoken and colourful businessman, called upon Ted to investigate Vander Zalm’s business dealings, while Premier, with a Taiwanese businessman, Tan Yu, concerning the Premier’s money losing business Fantasy Gardens:

Depending on the eye of the beholder it was either the height of kitsch or an enchanting retreat, with extensive gardens, a giant windmill, a miniature train, a reproduction of Noah’s Ark, statutes depicting the life of Jesus and a Dutch castle with a drawbridge left over from Expo ’86.

The name and description of Fantasy Gardens may seem like fiction but it was real.

After arranging for the government to provide VIP treatment of Tan Yu on his arrival in British Columbia there was a late night meeting at which a revised agreement for sale of Fantasy Gardens was reached. The evening concluded with the Premier being given $100,000 in cash.

Vander Zalm, in his first interview with Ted, did not tell him about the $100,000. After Hughes found about the cash there was a second interview in which Vander Zalm “said he had not mentioned the cash because it was a private matter that had nothing to do with the sale of Fantasy Gardens.” The revised explanation was not believed. I doubt the explanation would have helped even if believed. Vander Zalm had no real concept of conflict of interest.

In his report:

Hughes found that the fundamental issue wasn’t that Vander Zalm did not understand the need to draw a line between his public and private life, it was his “apparently sincere belief that no conflict existed as long as the public didn’t know what was going on.”

The Premier resigned after the devastating report was released.

While many might conclude Ted was out to punish devious and wicked politicians it is actually his conviction that being a politician is an honourable profession and deserves to be respected:

Hughes’ strong belief  in the fundamental honour of most politicians was matched by his zeal and determination to protect the honour of the profession. Hughes understood that as a public servant he was serving political masters, but from early on he also loyally served an ideal that his masters were also public servants who had to meet high standards to maintain the public trust. If they failed to meet that standard, he was ready to say so.

He supported strong conflict of interest legislation to support politicians

Ted’s opinion of the profession of politics led me to reflect that the provincial politicians I know best are honourable men and women doing their best for city or province or country. I think we are often unduly harsh in judging the motivations of politicians. I have known each of the MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) for Melfort over the past 40 years. They represented three different political parties. I consider each to be an honourable person.

Norm Vickar, former farmer and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA when I came to Melfort in 1975.

He was followed by an auctioneer, Grant Hodgins.

He was succeeded by Carol Carson who had been Mayor of Melfort.

Rod Gantefoer, the co-owner of the local KFC franchise, was our next MLA.

Most recently Kevin Phillips, a newspaper man and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA until he died suddenly last month. At Kevin’s funeral the Premier, Brad Wall, and a provincial Minister, Joe Hargreaves, spoke of Kevin’s integrity. Kevin worked hard to get a women’s crisis shelter built in Melfort, the first new shelter in 28 years in our province, including walking miles in red high heeled shoes in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraisers. I knew Kevin as a friend and as a client. I can affirm he was a man of integrity and principle. 

I resent the attitude that politics is a dishonourable profession and support Ted’s view that the vast majority of politicians are honourable people.