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.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Series of Books on WW II on Choices and Actions

Over the next 2-3 weeks I am going to be putting up posts that relate to crime and mysteries but are not crime fiction. Instead, I will be writing about a series of non-fiction books on World War II that do not involve battles and strategies. Instead, they deal with the actions of people in Europe, mainly non-military, and the choices they made in and around the war.

The first review is of The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It is biography of the Ritz Hotel in Paris especially during the German occupation of the city during the war. Many schemes were conceived in the Ritz and a great deal of champagne consumed and Ernest Hemingway makes an appearance.

The second’s title sets out crime is at the heart of the book. It is Hitler’s Art Thief by Susan Ronald. Hildebrand Gurlitt made a fortune before and during the war through dealing in art works legitimately purchased, bought from desperate Europeans, confiscated from Jews, effectively looted from institutions and occasionally simply stolen. His legacy survived the war and in recent years his son made the father infamous.

The third is Church of Spies by Mark Riebling. Its sub-title of “The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler” encapsulates the theme of the book. It provides an interesting contrast to David Cornwall’s book, Hitler’s Pope. I had not read of the secret activities of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church during WW II.

The fourth book is Seduced by Hitler by Adam LeBor and Roger Boyes. The book explores the decisions made in Germany and across Europe during the war by all types of people. It delves into how the Nazis sought to draw people to their cause. We usually think of Nazi coercion rather than Nazi seduction.

In the reviews and accompanying posts I will occasionally refer to books in the quartet both before and after they have been reviewed on the blog.

There are larger than life stories that would challenge fictional credibility but are true.

Overall the books provide an array of approaches to the issues of choices and actions of WW II Europeans.

I invite you to join me on the journey that begins Sunday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Double Switch by T.T. Monday (Part II)

Double Switch by T.T. Monday (Part II) –In my last post I started a review of Double Switch by T.T. Monday. I considered how baseball has been portrayed as a theme in mysteries. Monday goes deeper into the game than many writers. What made Double Switch different for me as a sports mystery is that the sleuth is a major league ballplayer.
 
Still pitching in the majors at 36 Johnny Adcock has developed a sideline conducting private investigations for members of the baseball community. He is one of the few credible private investigators to have no concerns about making money from his cases. Adcock does the work free of charge as he is being paid over $1,000,000 a year to pitch for the San Jose Bay Dogs.

Tiff Tate arranges a disguise to see him in the bullpen after a game to ask that he help a client, Yonel Ruiz, a Cuban slugger who managed to escape the island and reach the Majors.

Ruiz appears to have been inspired by another power hitting defector from Cuba, Yasiel Puig, currently a star with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tiff is a brilliant character and unlike any I have come across in a mystery involving sports:

            Tiff Tate is a major operator behind the scenes in Major 
            League Baseball, right up there with the superagents and the
            major-market GMs. In exchange for a fee rumored to be in
            the mid-six figures, Tiff designs a custom on-field look for
            each of her clients, making recommendations on everything
            from uniform styling and grooming to the song that plays
            when walks up to bat. In an era when start athletes earn
            several times their annual salary in endorsements, Tiff was
            one of the first consultants to recognize the primacy of an
            athlete's image, the importance of building a unique and
            marketable persona.
 
I think of designers making over women on daytime talk shows. While I am unaware of anyone in real life making over professional ballplayers it is a great concept.

Tiff is concerned that her client is being threatened through his family back in Cuba.

In real life ballplayers from Central and South America have had to worry about kidnapping and other dangers from criminal organizations.

Since Adcock has become known for his investigative passion no one in the game is surprised when he asks questions that would be intrusive from other people.

Monday has abundant knowledge of baseball and the way of life and personality traits of major league ballplayers.

Adcock has an outsize ego which is common among elite athletes. You need confidence, even cockiness, to excel in a demanding game. It leaves Adcock often self-absorbed and insensitive.

Adcock’s approach to romantic relationships runs to casual sexual encounters. It is not a surprise he is divorced. Sex is easily available to professional athletes.

At the same time he maintains a solid relationship with his teenage daughter, Izzy. As with many divorced fathers Adcock talks of her being his priority but his off-seasons are not spent near her home.

From covering professional football as a reporter and reading constantly about sports I think Monday has over-emphasized the flaws of the average major leaguer but he does not cast them as evil.

The negatives did not dominate the book but I was left alittle weary of the amorality of those characters in the book who a part of  the major leagues. I have found more moral people on  professional sports teams than those portrayed in Double Switch.

Giving Adcock an unabashed ego makes for an interesting sleuth. Adcock knows he is an elite athlete. His confidence carries over to his sleuthing where he is equally sure he is one of the best. While his personality is occasionally irritating readers will remember Adcock. Nero Wolfe knows he is a genius and embraces opportunities to display his intelligence.

Double Switch is a good book and well worth reading. I would like to see how Adcock’s character develops in future books.
****
Monday, T.T. - Double Switch (Part I)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Double Switch by T.T. Monday (Part I)

Double Switch by T.T. Monday (Part I) – Johnny Adcock is a 36 year old left hand specialist reliever for the San Jose Bay Dogs in Major League baseball. A 14 year veteran he is brought into games, usually the 8th inning and often with runners on base, when the Bay Dogs are facing a tough left hand hitter and the game is on the line. Adcock may work 10 minutes a night. In a busy week he works 3 nights.

Off the field he clearly has lots of down time. Beyond some physical conditioning Adcock has little to do in baseball after his half hour of work per week but he has spent a lifetime honing his pitching skills and training himself mentally to be ready for those 10 minutes of intense pressure in a game.

If you understand the above two paragraphs Double Switch is a book for you. Monday, actually a pseudonym for Nick Taylor, knows major league baseball and does not make the book a primer for baseball. The subtleties of game action and preparation are skilfully described.

Writers who set their mystery in the world of sports face a choice in how to approach the sport at the heart of their book.

They can keep the descriptions simple to allow readers with little or no knowledge of the sport to be able to follow the story. They can minimize the actual sports content of the plot and focus on the characters and the mystery.

In the Eli Sharpe series by Max Everhart there is little recall by Sharpe of his past playing days and only modest portrayals of current game action for those characters playing the game.

In an exchange of letters Max explained:

         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 late Alison Gordon wrote a series of mysteries with Toronto newspaper reporter, Kate Henry, as her sleuth. Henry would touch on games played but not discuss them. In the final book of the series and my favourite Saskatchewan mystery, Prairie Hardball, she sets a mystery around the induction into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame of the women from our province who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Beyond mention of the joy they had playing professional ball the games are not discussed.

Monday, in Double Switch, has taken the third approach of entering into the depths of the beauty and challenge of baseball. He discusses the thought a professional pitcher puts into pitching in a tough situation:
 
         With the count 0-2, I want to play with him a little.
         Eventually, Diggy figures out what I have in mind, and I
         deliver: a slider outside, about a foot off the plate, that
         bounces and sends up a puff of dust.......

         I throw another slider in the dirt that Barrow takes for ball
         two ..........

        I plant my left foot on the rubber and stare in. For the third
        time, Diggy gives the signal for the changeup low and inside. I
        shake him off, and then let him cycle through all the signs,
        refusing them all one by one. When he returns to the change I
        nod.

I was reminded of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. In that lovely book Harbach’s plot line includes wonderful descriptions of game action. A powerful plot line involves the hero,  Henry Skrimshander, suddenly becoming unable to throw accurately from shortstop to first base. The mind is interfering with the fundamentally simple skill of throwing the ball.

My preference, whether the story features a lawyer or a ballplayer, is to explore what is happening in court or on the ball diamond. I do not want plots brought down to generic depictions. Not every reader will appreciate that the Double Switch, while appropriate for the plot, is also the description of a managerial strategy in late inning baseball games where the league involved does not have designated hitters. I believe enough readers will grasp the baseball intricacies of the book.

For those not initiated into the game or simply uninterested it is a good mystery that does not require the reader to know baseball.

My next post will actually discuss the story.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 Arthur Ellis Awards Shortlists

For lovers of Canadian mysteries late April is a great time of the year as the Shortlists for the Arthur Ellis Awards are announced. The Crime Writers of Canada held a series of events across Canada tonight to announce the Shortlists.

For the first time in four years I have already read one of the books on the shortlist. Earlier this year I read The Night Bell. I regret to say it was not one of my top Canadian reads of the last year.

Once again it is my intention to read and review and rank the books on the shortlist for Best Novel.

One good thing about not having read most of the Shortlist for Best Novel means I am introduced to some new Canadian mystery writers.

Of the remaining nominees I am glad to see Jayne Barnard on the Shortlist for Best Unpublished Novel. She is a Facebook friend and a true devotee of crime fiction.

The full shortlists are:

Best Novel

Peggy Blair, Hungry Ghosts, Simon & Schuster
John Farrow, The Storm Murders, Minotaur
Andrew Hunt, A Killing in Zion, Minotaur
Peter Kirby, Open Season, Linda Leith Publishing
Inger Ash Wolfe, The Night Bell, McClelland & Stewart
 
Best First Novel

J. Mark Collins, Hard Drive, iUniverse
David Hood, What Kills Good Men, Vagrant Press
Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Unquiet Dead, Minotaur
Alexis Koetting, Encore, Five Star
Brian R. Lindsay, Old Bones, Volumes Publishing
 
Best Novella

Jeremy Bates, Black Canyon, Dark Hearts
Alison Bruce, Deadly Season, Imajin Books
M.H. Callway, Glow Glass, Carrick Publishing
Barbara Fradkin, The Night Thief, Orca Book Publishers
Brian Harvey, Beethoven’s Tenth, Orca Book Publishers
 
Best Short Story

Karen Abrahamson, With One Shoe, The Playground of Lost Toys, Exile Press
Hilary Davidson, The Seige, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
Sharon Hunt, The Water Was Rising, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
Scott Mackay, The Avocado Kid, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
S. G. Wong, Movable Type, AB Negative Anthology, Coffin Hop Press
 
Best Book in French

Luc Chartrand, L'Affaire Myosotis, Québec Amérique
Jean-Louis Fleury, L'affaire Céline, Éditions Alire
André Jacques, La bataille de Pavie, Druide        
Jean Lemieux, Le mauvais côté des choses, Québec Amérique
Guillaume Morrissette, L'affaire Mélodie Cormier, Guy Saint-Jean éditeur
 
Best Juvenile/YA Book

Robert Hough, Diego’s Crossing, Annick Press
Jeff Ross, Set You Free, Orca
Kevin Sands, The Blackthorn Key, Aladdin
Allan Stratton, The Dogs, Scholastic
Stephanie Tromley, Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Kathy Dawson Books
 
Best Nonfiction Book

Gary Garrison, Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth about Canada’s Prisons, University of Regina Press
Dean Jobb, Empire of Deception, Harper Collins Publishers
Debra Komar, The Bastard of Fort Stikine: The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Murder of John McLoughlin Jr., Goose Lane Editions
Jerry Langton, Cold War, Harper Collins Publishers
 
The Dundurn Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel

Jayne Barnard, When the Flood Falls
Alice Bienia, Knight Blind
Pam Isfeld, Brave Girls
J.T. Siemens, Better the Devil You Know
J.G. Toews, Give Out Creek

Monday, April 18, 2016

More Bookshops in Canada's Booktown

Tulips at Butchart Gardens
In my last post I wrote about two of the six bookstores in Sidney, British Columbia. Sidney is Canada’s only booktown.

After visiting Beacon Books and the Military and History Bookstore my next stop was at Tanner’s Books. The store provides readers with a wide variety of new books. What makes the store unique are two areas. It has a huge magazine section with over 2,000 magazines and 40 newspapers. In the back is the absorbing Travel and Nautical Room. Within the room are over 500 maps and nautical charts. As well there is a large collection of travel and nautical books.

I spent some time in the Mystery section. The photo shows a selection of the books in the section that includes books by Peter May I have read and reviewed.

Next door is The Children’s Bookshop. It is a bright airy bookstore with a large collection of children’s books. The website for Sidney as Booktown describes the books available:

We have books on everything from A to Z: airplanes, bears, cooking, drawing, Encyclopaedia Brown, fairies, growing up, Harry Potter, inuksuks, jokes, kites, little girls, mermaids, Nancy Drew, ordinary kids, pirates, quilting, rocks, sisters, totem poles, underwear, volcanoes, Waldo, x-rays, yearlings, and Zambonis.

Moving down the street is The Haunted Bookshop. Beyond having a great name it is Vancouver Island’s oldest bookshop being founded in 1947. It was nice to see a bust of Shakespeare welcoming book lovers.

Inside is an intriguing combination of out-of-print books and ordinary secondhand books. Antiquarians will enjoy the opportunity to look for books.

I took a look at the paperback mysteries. There is a modest selection.

On the way out of the store I noticed a few paperbacks on a table. On top was Alison Gordon’s book, Safe at Home. While glad to see her mysteries in the store I was sad that they were on the clearance table at $1.00 per book. I guess I had hoped she was a more significant author whose books kept their value. I bought Safe at Home.

My last stop was at Galleon Books and Antiques. With regard to books:

This shop specializes in non-fiction subjects, including BC history, Exploration, First Nations, Military, and Art History. Antiquarian and collectible books can also be found.

There is a greater assembly of antiques and collectibles than books in the store.

After completing the tour of the books Sharon and I walked abit along the waterfront and decided our next stop would be the Butchart Gardens. They are among the most beautiful in the world. Below is a photo of part of the Sunken Garden.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sidney, British Columbia is Canada's Booktown

Sharon and I are spending an extra long weekend on Vancouver Island. Yesterday we made a trip out to Sidney, about 25 km, from Victoria. Sidney is unique in Canada as it is our nation's only booktown.

It is a beautiful weekend on the island with the tulips and fruit trees in blossom. Sidney's downtown has planters filled with flowers. Coming from Saskatchewan where last weekend it had reached -16C it was a lovely welcome to the Island.

Beacon Street is the main shopping street stretching from the highway to the ocean. In a 5 block stretch are 6 bookstores. It is remarkable to find 6 bookstores in a community of 11,500 people. During the day I stopped at all of the bookstores.

The first was Beacon Street Books. On the Sidney Booktown
website it is described as: 

 A general bookstore of secondhand books – 4,000 sq.ft. – thousands of good used books covering categories the Arts,
Classics & Literature, General Fiction, Nature, Travel, Nautical, Music, Reference, 
    Canadiana, Self-Help, and the Sciences. Browse in our Modern First
    Editions and Authors Signed editions, and look through our
    collectable, rare, and antiquarian books.

I looked through the general mystery section of current books. There was a nice selection but I restrained myself.

My next stop down the street was at the Military and History Bookshop. The store had the largest collection of military books I have seen since I was at a comparable bookstore in the other booktown I have visited, Stillwater, Minnesota.

As you enter the store there are a pair of mannequins in Canadian uniforms. In the hand of the female mannequin in a naval uniform is a copy of the book She Went to War - The Rhonda Cornum Story by Rhonda Cornum.

I spent quite awhile browsing in the sections dedicated to World War II and left with two books.

The first, Seduced by Hitler by Adam LeBor and Roger Boyes is about the choices made by people who lived under Nazi rule in and outside Germany during WW II. The decisions made by ordinary Europeans during the war have long fascinated me.

The second, How Papa Won The War by Gordon Wagner, is an autobiography of a veteran who grew up in rural Saskatchewan and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war. He spent time on duty in Canada, England and India.

In addition to the beautiful flowers Sidney has lifesize statues of people sitting on benches along Beacon Street.

Next to Tanner Books is a statue of an older woman reading a book. A town putting up statues with a reading theme is impressive.

After my tour Sharon and I finished the day in Sidney with a Pier Platter (smoked trout, citrus prawns, smoked salmon, crusted tuna, pickled salad, olives, almonds and flatbread) and fresh salmon main course at Haro's Restaurant.

My next post will cover the remaining four bookstores in Sidney.

(I took the photos for this post with my trusty IPhone Plus.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Heart of Hell by Alen Mattich

(17. – 859.) The Heart of Hell by Alen Mattich – The third Marko Della Torre novel is a continuation of Killing Pilgrim. In that book Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was assassinated by a killer from the Yugoslavian Secret Service. The story sees Della Torre involved in an American plan to kill the assassin known as “The Montenegrin”.

With this book carrying on the story it is difficult to review without passing on information that would potentially spoil Killing Pilgrim. There are spoilers in this review with regard to the earlier book.

It has been a few months since the end of Killing Pilgrim and Della Torre is back in Zagreb. The simmering conflict between Croatia and Serbia over Croatia’s declaration of independence has boiled into war. Regular and irregular Serb forces are attacking Croatia by land and blockading the Croatian coast.

While America does not recognize Croatia’s independence members of the Croatian government are working hard to gain American support.

When America wants help in going after the Montenegrin for killing the three Americans who tried to kill him the Croatian government will gladly assist.

As Della Torre was a part of the earlier mission he is pressed, even threatened, to aid the American intelligence officers going after the Montenegrin.

It is clear to Della Torre that the Americans are after corrupt police officer, Julius Strumbic, who was part of the earlier mission. The American team is not interested in seeing Strumbic arrested.

Still, why would America put such resources into pursuing the killers of a trio of Americans who had undertaken a dangerous mission? Della Torre never really knew why Palme would be assasinated by a Yugoslavian agent. There were rumours related to Swedish assembly of centrifuges used in nuclear power and bombs but why a Yugoslavian conducted killing? Centrifuges were being sent to Yugoslavia but what risk could Palme be to Yugoslavia?

Despite threats against his family Della Torre refuses to join the Americans and sets out with his superior for Dubrovnik with some vague plan to warn Strumbic. While his journey and quest are in the best traditions of thriller fiction it was the weakest part of the plot. With Dubrovnik under a tight blockade it is almost impossible to reach the city. It would have been simpler to have sent a message to Strumbic. Though getting a message through would have been difficult it would have been easier than breaching the blockade.

The actual getting through the blockade was the best part of the book. It was ingenious and unexpected.

I did not really find enough in the plot to sustain the American killing mission and resolution of Killing Pilgrim. Now it may be somewhat unfair as Killing Pilgrim had such a brillian premise and execution. The theme of The Heart of Hell is more modest. Mattich did raise my reading expectations with the excellence of Killing Pilgrim. I found The Heart of Hell an average thriller.

I missed a deeper involvement in the book of Della Torre’s family. They played roles but were not as important as in Killing Pilgrim. Their minor presence left the book a more conventional thriller.

I did gain appreciation of the ferocity of Balkan wars. Hatred runs deep in Croatia and Serbia.
****
Mattich, Alen - (2015) - Killing Pilgrim and Who Killed Olof Palme?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Governor Sarah Palin and Red Parkas

I have despaired at times while reading the fine Clothes in Books blog of my blogger friend Moira Redmond as she has posted photos and images of women wearing purported winter clothes that would not allow the wearer to survive an hour in actual winter weather. (I exaggerate. They would survive but would soon be enduring frostbite and needing medical attention.)

At last I now have a chance to show some actual winter wear connected to a book that will permit a woman to still look fashionable before the world.

Helen Mercer, the stylish and beautiful governor of Alaska, is an amazing character in Tundra Kill by Stan Jones. As set out in previous posts she was clearly inspired by former Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin.

In the book Jones has Mercer wearing a red Helly Hansen parka. While it is April on the Northwest coast of Alaska winter’s grip is still strong upon the land.

As Ms. Palin is constantly photographed I was able to find photos of her in actual parkas. They are even red parkas. From looking at photos of Ms. Palin in a variety of clothes she loves red.

It seems women in red attract attention in mysteries. I enjoyed Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong and wrote both a review of the book and a post on red mandarin dresses. I wonder if Ms. Palin has a red mandarin dress in her closet of red. She would wear it well and look stunning.

I quibble abit with the lack of anything on her head in her parka photos but am confident that as soon as the cameras were turned off she would have put on a cap or headband.

I think she looks great in her parkas.

In the interest of truth she may not be wearing Helly Hansen parkas in the photos. Here is a photo of an actual Helly Hansen woman’s parka.

Helly Hansen was founded by Norwegian sea captain, Helly Hansen, and his wife, Maren Margarethe. The company has been making outerwear to deal with all climates for almost 140 years.

For the woman headed into real winter weather I can recommend a Helly Hansen parka. Style and warmth for less than $500.
****
 Jones, Stan – (2009) - White Sky, Black Ice; (2010) - Shaman Pass; (2012) - "J" is for Stan Jones; (2013) - Frozen Sun; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II; (2015) - Village of the Ghost Bears; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2016) - Tundra Kill and An Exchange with Stan Jones on Sarah Palin and Helen Mercer; Hardcover