About Me

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Lawyers of Kill All the Lawyers by William Deverell

In my last post I put up a review of Kill All the Lawyers by William Deverell. The book is so funny and the characters so vivid I have a follow up post.

In the opening four pages Deverell wittily skewers the pretentions of both lawyers and writers of mysteries.

Starting with the lawyers of Vancouver being concerned over the murder of a member of the bar:

For a while, the Bar Association maintained pressure on the authorities to solve this crime. Lawyers don’t get killed. Lawyers were members of a professional elite, safe, sacrosanct, removed from the battle. Police and criminals get killed, not lawyers.

On writers:

Brian examined the typewriter keys, as if seeking coded answers there. No suspects, no motives. One victim. Crushed to death beneath an enormous writer’s block.

The lawyers of Pomeroy, Macarthur, Brovak and Sage are far from the conservative legal stereotype. Flamboyant barely encompasses them.

Brian Pomeroy, while jubilant over the collapse of a Crown case freeing the Kitswuk Five (a group of Indians charged with setting dynamite near a salmon ladder that inadvertently killed two people) is half heartedly trying to end an affair with a luscious bad poet, Charity Slough.

John Brovak snaps in the midst of the Monster, a 6 year long odyssey involving the trafficking in cocaine. The key defendant is 12 fingers Watson (he has two stubby additional digits). It is the fifth month of the current re-trial. In a scene that made me laugh out loud Brovak takes literally a comment from the trial judge that he wanted to see “the goddamn end” of the lawyer. What trial lawyer has not dreamed of some outrageous action to express frustration in the courtroom? A contempt citation ensues and the firm plots his defence wondering whether to get him a “shrink, a lawyer or an exorcist”.

Max Macarthur, to the dismay of his partners, accepts the brief of the Crown to handle the Crown appeal of the Milsom dismissal. They are aghast at his decision as they have always been a defence firm.

Augustina Sage leaves articling student, Wentworth Chance, squirming when she completely disrobes as they share a steam in the office steam sauna.

Within the firm Augustina deals with the civil cases that come their way. Her big case involves a lawsuit by 18 aboriginal former boarding school students against the rector, the Rev. Arnold S. Doyle.

Young Chance finds himself in a situation they do not prepare you for in law school. The firm is defending Minette Lefleur for being “the alleged keeper of a houseboat of prostitution” tied up at Granville Island. Chance is dispatched to the houseboat so their client can show him why she has a very good defence to what would seem a certain conviction. Chance goes weak in the knees at the houseboat when Ms. Lefleur invites him into her bedroom – her “parlour of love” – to show the young man the evidence.

Just keeping up with the characters makes the book fun to read. If you think Deverell had to stretch to create such lawyers read the biography on his website. If anything he underplayed some of the lawyers of his days in the courts of Vancouver.

I have long thought John Grisham was a genius at inventing interesting lawyers. Deverell is his equal. Reading about Pomeroy, Macarthur, Brovak and Sage is never going to be dull.
****
Deverell, William - (2011) - A Trial of Passion; (2011) - Snow Job; (2012) - I'll See You in My Dreams; (2012) - "D" is for William Deverell; (2014) - Kill All the Lawyers

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kill All the Lawyers by William Deverell

16. – 763.) Kill All the Lawyers by William Deverell (1994) – For my 6th consecutive legal mystery I returned to Canada and the amazing lawyers of Deverell.

The title foretells the plot, which is scary for me since I am an active lawyer. Even worse the killer is targeting criminal defence counsel which is part of my practice. How could Deverell turn on his own? He was a defence lawyer for much of his legal career.

Early in the book Arthur Besterman, described as dogged but not gifted, unexpectedly wins a murder trial when O.D. Milsom’s confession that he killed three women is ruled inadmissible. He had been apprehended by a group of patrolling citizens, the White Berets, who threatened him with emasculation if he did not confess to the crimes.

Besterman, celebrating the victory, is found bludgeoned to death, probably by a baseball bat.

The firm of Pomeroy, Macarthur, Brovak and Sage barely lament their colleague’s passing as they are far too absorbed in their professional and personal crises. My next post will discuss the wild characters that make up the firm.

Brian Pomeroy flees to Costa Rico after an embarrassing incident with a lover becomes public. While there he communicates with Vancouver by letter.

Having always dreamed of writing a great mystery he sets out to actually write a legal mystery with the aid of the directions in Mr. Widgeon's book on how to plot a mystery. Thus within the mystery is a mystery being developed. Pomeroy’s heavy drinking in the tropics seems to spur his muse.

In florid prose Pomeroy explains:

But you want to hear how the novel progesses. Well, the ghostwriter within is still calling the shots. I often feel like a spider enmeshed in his own web, struggling, then submitting to the demon inside, who guides his amanuensis’s hapless hands across the keyboard.

Back in Vancouver the firm is lurching forward.

Articling student, Wentworth Chance, cycles madly about the city delivering documents and picking up documents and searching documents all the while looking for any woman interested in meeting a new graduate from law school.

With Pomeroy in Costa Rico his wife, Caroline, departs for Vancouver Island to join protesters against clear cut logging. Chance is left to feed the owls in the Pomeroy backyard. The big horned owl is called Howland.

At a supper for the bar a box is delivered containing a grenade. Brovak’s swift reaction avoids multiple deaths.

The next morning a letter arrives at the Vancouver Province newspaper containing a message in cut out letters from the paper. It reads:

“Counsellors of crime, Beware the Sword of Justice. Criminal lawyers are marked for DEATH by the Executor of God.”

Below the message “Besterman” is Xed out. “Pomeroy” and “Brovak” are also named.

It closes with a page from the New Testament:

            “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of  
            God.”

The signature line contains the name “The Executor”.

A killer called “The Executor”. Why is the word for the administrator of a will, executor, used instead of executioner? Can it be a killer lacking language skills or is it some sophisticated sociopath playing word games? All are puzzled.

Fear roams the courts of Vancouver.

Suspects abound. It appears there are many with grievances against the Vancouver criminal defence bar.
 
Brovak suspects a RCMP officer obsessed with the Monster.

While many other cases are adjourned the Monster continues its grind through the court.

At Pomeroy, Macarthur, Brovak and Sage the lives of the lawyers continue at a frenetic pace despite the danger of the Executor.

Kill All the Lawyers proceeds swiftly filled with clever language and comic situations. I would never have dreamed a book about killing lawyers could be so funny.
****
Kill All the Lawyers is the 11th book of 13 I have read in the 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge hosted at the Book Mine Set blog.
 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Canadian Crime Fiction and Our Indigenous Peoples

Canadian crime fiction often touches upon the challenges we have as a nation in our treatment of our indigenous peoples variously described as First Nations, Metis, Inuit, Indian and aboriginal. Our history often reflects they have been treated badly by governments and fellow Canadians. Often there has been a perception of them as less Canadian or living on the wrong side of town whether in town or out on the reserve. Canadian crime fiction has dealt with both the prejudice towards indigenous peoples and how they have been respected.

Margot Kinberg in her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, inspired this post with her post, People Put Me Down 'Cause That's the Side of Town I was Born In. I appreciate her sparking my thoughts.

In The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns, a part of the Legacies and Leaders series involving young future Canadian Prime Ministers, a young John Diefenbaker in 1908 refuses to join the prevailing community view that an Indian, River’s Voice, has killed his neighbour. Diefenbaker’s white neighbours are all too ready to put the blame on River’s Voice.

Saskatchewan author Gail Bowen, in her Joanne Kilbourn series, sets out the way Indian people can be looked down upon in Saskatchewan while providing new perspectives that lack prejudice. It is little surprise Gail should have considerable insight into the issues as she taught at the First Nations University in Regina until she retired.

Midway through the series Gail breaks through the stereotype of White – Indian relations by introducing Inspector Alex Kequahtooway as a major character with whom Joanne becomes romantically involved for a time.

Most recently in her current book, The Gifted, she looks at current public perceptions. In the book her husband, Zack Shreeve, is working on a massive redevelopment plan that will change North Central Regina. The neighbourhood in fiction and real life has notoriety across Canada for its high level of crime. There are tensions between the developer and the residents, mainly indigenous.

Personally her daughter is living with Riel Delorme who has come from a difficult indigenous background, been involved with gangs and still has major personal demons.

Scott Young’s two mysteries feature another indigenous Canadian, Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak, who has achieved Inspector status. Matteesie, an Inuk from the North West Territories. It is striking that Matteesie is the first Inuk RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s on a force that has been in the Arctic at that time for a century.
 
Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte had reached Inspector status in Australia in the 1930's in the series by Arthur Upfield.

In a fictional trial occurring a generation earlier in the early 1960’s in I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell a young Indian, Gabriel Swift, is charged with murder. From a poor reserve near Vancouver the police look down upon him as a “lippy Indian”.

The same book touches upon the problems and abuse that took place in residential schools to which many rural Canadian Indians were sent, especially in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Indian children were sent away to the schools for up to 10 months of the year. Many were abused. All had to deal with efforts to remove their cultural identity.

In Arctic Blue Death by R.J. Harlick there is an exploration of the business of Inuit sculpture and art both historically and present. Inuit artists have gained great respect for their works around the world.

Louise Penny’s most recent book, How the Light Gets In, includes as part of the plot how senior corruptHHowH Quebec police officers had in the reserves in Western Quebec, far from the major cities, manipulated and killed Cree Indians. While I found some of that subplot over the top it reflected an attitude that still exists.

It is a topic that will continue to appear in Canadian crime fiction. Approximately 10% of Saskatchewan’s population is First Nations people. The issues of white and Indian peoples living together is not going to disappear in Canada.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Jury Master by Robert Dugoni

15. – 762.) The Jury Master by Robert Dugoni – Having enjoyed Murder One last year by Dugoni I decided to read an earlier book in the series featuring lawyer, David Sloane. Murder One was a fine legal mystery and on the shortlist for the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Based on Murder One and the title of The Jury Master I was expecting another legal mystery. To my disappointment The Jury Master is actually a thriller that happens to feature a lawyer. Even had I read the blurbs on the paperback, which I did not following customary practice, I would have thought it was a legal mystery. To me the title is misleading.

While Sloane certainly is a Jury Master the book has little to do with him being a lawyer.

The opening of the book does show why he is called the Jury Master. Sloane has a rare, almost mystical, talent for connecting with and persuading juries. His closing address wins a case for the defendants in a wrongful death suit. He has regrets over his success.

I was hoping I would learn more about his mastery of juries. Instead, the book veered into a thriller.

Joe Branick, special assistant to the President of the United States, dies in a park in West Virginia. For reasons Sloane cannot fathom Branick, the day he died, was trying to contact Sloane.

Charles Town, West Virginia detective, Tom Molia known to all as “Mole”, balks at the swift effort to have Branick’s death declared a suicide. He is uneasy partly because a young policeman responding to the report of death has disappeared.

Rivers Jones from the Federal Department of Justice, acting on the personal instructions of Parker Madsen the White House Chief of Staff, takes over the investigation into Branick’s death. Mole is even more suspicious.

Finally, in rural Washington, Charles Jenkins a retired CIA operative gets a visit from Alex Hart from the Federal Government. What she brings with her shocks Jenkins.

From there the book races along at excellent thriller pace. There is the occasional need to suspend belief but nothing extreme.

There is a conspiracy at play that is also more credible than the average fictional conspiracy.

Sloane is mystified as he cannot ever recall having a connection to Branick. He does not recall ever dealing with him or working with him or even meeting him.

Aiding Sloane is his long time personal assistant, Tina. She is the assistant of a lawyer’s dreams keeping the office in order and meeting Sloane’s needs almost quicker than he tells what is to be done.

Dugoni does well in letting the reader and Sloane work out the conspiracy. It is frightenly plausible.

It was interesting to receive background on Sloane. He had orphaned at 7 by an accident and raised in foster homes. His youth had been a struggle. Joining the U.S. Marines at 17 set him on his path to success. In this book Sloane is based in San Francisco. By Murder One he is in the state of Washington.

If you are looking for a thriller with a lawyer it is a good book. If you want a legal mystery, move on to a different book. I will still characterize it as a legal mystery for the main character is a lawyer and there are elements of law in the book. (Apr. 9/14)
****

Friday, April 11, 2014

Patents and Vaccines and Ethics

In my last post I reviewed A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein. The book is a legal thriller involving a court case over the alleged infringement of a patent for an AIDS vaccine.

Within the book was a discussion about the cost that such should be paid for treatments of a vaccine. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the research and testing of the vaccine.

Drug companies could simply work out a worldwide price recouping their costs and make a profit. However, the ability to pay of patients needing the treatment varies immensely by country. Within the book there is debate on how much to charge for the product in wealthy America versus how much to charge in poor southern Africa.

Proposals involved charges of hundreds of dollars for American AIDS patients against $45 in Africa. It was recognized that even $45 is beyond the reach of many Africans.

These 21st Century issues over this AIDS vaccine product reminded me of issues raised in the hearings of the Canadian Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood System during the 1990’s.

The Commission was investigating how and why Canadian hemophiliacs and blood transfused were infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C from tainted blood during the 1980’s. I represented a group of hemophiliacs who did not want representation by the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

There was information on efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine. A difficult issue involved clinical trials. While there was no product being tested at the time there was a challenging ethical question.

Was there a way to ethically run trials in which only half of the people received the vaccine? You would be putting the other half of the cohort at a risk for being infected with AIDS which had no treatment until the mid-1990’s. At the same time, if the potential vaccine, were effective potentially millions around the world were being denied a product that could prevent them from being infected with AIDS.

It was doubtful an appropriate protocol could be drafted for North America. There was discussion on whether trials could be conducted in Third World countries where having the chance of being in the group getting the vaccine was better than any other they would have to avoid infection. Should a protocol be undertaken in a Third World country that could not take place in North America?

A more current discussion can be found on the vaccineethics.org website at http://www.vaccineethics.org/issue_briefs/HIV_clinical_trials.php.

The premise of the book also brought to mind a situation that took place in litigation following the completion of the hearing of evidence in the Inquiry.

In the book Michael Seeley is called from Buffalo to San Francisco to take over as lead counsel this huge patent infringement case but 2 weeks before trial. I might have thought the scenario implausible but for what happened in judicial review proceedings involving the Inquiry.

Several parties to the Inquiry sought to have the Commissioner restrained in his ability to assess responsibility in his report. At the Federal Court Trial Division the application was denied. The decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Approximately 2 weeks before the hearing of the appeal the lead counsel for the Commissioner fell sick and needed surgery. No one wanted an adjournment because of the time involved to re-schedule the appeal. Dozens of lawyers were involved.

A new lawyer stepped in on behalf of the Commissioner to argue the appeal. It was a tremendous challenge. He did his best.

I was one of several lawyers appearing for groups of victims at the appeal. We all had intervener status. All of us supported the Commissioner. We sought to assist the new lawyer by dividing the issues to be argued and adding specific submissions. The appeal was denied as I hoped.

Ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada decided the Commissioner could write his report unhindered. It can be found at http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/hcan-scan/commission_blood_final_rep-e/index.html. What happened in the Canadian blood system is a long and sad story.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein

A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein – In an unusual approach for me I am reading the Goldstein series featuring lawyer, Michael Seeley, in reverse order. Last year I read the third in the series, Havana Requiem, which won the 2013 Harper Lee Book Prize. This spring it is the second, A Patent Lie.

The book opens with Seeley having left his big New York City firm to return to his hometown of Buffalo where he is a solo practitioner. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic change in a litigator’s legal life. From working with teams of associates and paralegals to conduct huge trials for immense legal fees he is now representing individuals seeking thousands of dollars in cases such as breach of civil rights by the police. Seeley has a middle aged part-time secretary and a cranky radiator in his office. He has become one of the thousands of American lawyers scrambling to find enough clients to make a living. He is reasonably content and has stopped drinking.

To his office comes his brother, Leonard Seeley, a doctor who has left medical practice to join an emerging biotech company, Vaxtek, which has invented a patented form of vaccine against AIDS.

Leonard is on a quest to have his brother take over the lead chair in a case launched by Vaxtek in San Francisco against St. Gall, a major international pharmaceutical based in Switzerland for patent infringement.

The trial is but two weeks away. Vaxtek needs a new lawyer as Bob Pearsall, the man who put together the case, has died in what has been ruled suicide when he was hit by a train.

Vaxtek demands a lawyer with national level experience in patent litigation to represent them. They will not allow a junior or even a partner at Pearsall’s firm to take over the case. The future of Vaxtek rests on winning the case. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in the case.

With no lawyers available in San Francisco who could lead Leonard is reaching out to his brother who has handled comparably sized patent cases in New York City. Still it is improbable that Seeley’s younger brother would seek him out. Seeley had left his family at 15 and has had infrequent contact with his brother for decades.

Few lawyers can resist a challenge and the stroking of their ego that they are the perfect lawyer for a case. Seeley is soon on his way to San Francisco.

While an unlikely scenario to take over a case at that time it has enough plausibility to be credible. My next post will touch upon some AIDS litigation in my past.

The case has all been assembled. Much of the case is simply presenting the evidence and arguments. It needs an experienced lawyer to deal with the cross-examinations of opposing witnesses and the surprises that inevitably occur in a trial.

On his arrival Seeley is coolly welcomed by the second chair, Chris Palmieri. He understands Palmieri is not excited about the interloper from the East but Palmieri seems unnecessarily frosty.

In the rush of final trial preparation Seeley is uncomfortable that there is not a deposition of the researcher, Lily Warren, who had claimed to discover the vaccine for St. Gall ahead of Vaxtek. Seeley is startled to see St. Gall has stipulated that Vaxtek is first.

Seeley finds himself troubled about an admission that puts St. Gall at such a disadvantage in the case. Whichever claimant is first in a patent case has a powerful position.

From this slender thread the plot spins out into a court room thriller unlike any other I have read.
 
I am sure Goldstein is an excellent law professor. His explanations of legal concepts in the abstruse area of patent law are clear and easily understood.

Once again Goldstein has made intellectual law exciting and interesting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Take by Graham Hurley

It has been a busy week for me with a trial on Monday and a mediation on Thursday and preparation all week long for a jury trial starting next Monday. For this post I am putting up a review I wrote in 2008:

37. - 447.) The Take by Graham Hurley – English Detective Inspector Joe Faraday is struggling with the new management methods of crime where plans must be made in writing and meetings held and local developers worked with and good statistics maintained. He is also mourning the death of his assistant in a headon collision. While coping with the huge volume of paperwork and Vanessa’s death a prominent surgeon disappears under suspicious circumstances and a flasher is terrifying women. The system has little inclination to pursue a potential disappearance. Detective Paul Winter is a relic of a detective for whom the ends justify the means and he decides to pursue the trail of Pieter Hennessey. Winter is a far more complex rogue detective than customary. He is trying to deal with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in his wife. Faraday is also a real person. He loves birding and is muddling through new female relationships. It is an excellent police procedural with interesting people. The conclusion was satisfying as there was no crowd of bodies. (Sept. 13/08)

Monday, March 31, 2014

New to Me Authors for January to March of 2014

2014 is moving right along with today being the end of March. The last day of the third month means it is also time for a quarterly post on New to Me Authors which is hosted by Kerrie Smith in her fine blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
 
For the first three months of 2014 I read:
 
1.) Open Secret by Deryn Collier;
 
2.) I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes;
 
3.) Lineup by Liad Shoham translated by Sara Kitai;
 
4.) The Missing File by D.A. Mishani translated by Steven Cohen;
 
5.) Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller;
 
6.) December Dread by Jess Lourey; and,
 
7.) Who Killed Sir Harry by Eric Minns.
 
I read one work of non-fiction, Hitler’s Savage Canary by David Lampe, a book on the Danish Resistance during World War II. I expect to have a review next quarter.
 
It was an average quarter for me in reading about 7 new fiction authors.
 
It was an easy choice for my favourite new author. Norwegian by Night is an exceptional book well deserving of its numerous awards.
 
My second choice, I Am a Pilgrim, is an exceptional thriller I expect will sell very well when published in North America this spring.
 
Third best would be December Dread which introduced me to a captivating new sleuth in Mira James from Battle Lake, Minnesota.