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, September 30, 2014

Myself and Stalin

A couple of days ago Sharon and I were in Sochi, Russia. On our whole cruise I was most interested in going ashore in Sochi as there was a tour that took in Stalin’s summer dacha.

Early last decade I read a biography of Stalin. At that time my personal reviews were much shorter. I wrote:

32. - 122.) Stalin by Edvard Radzinsky – An excellent biography which penetrates the most ruthless man in the history of the world. From his humble origins in Georgia to unquestioned authority as the new “tsar” the book clearly explains his actions and motivations. As he rose he carefully watched the actions of other leaders. “Bit by bit, we learn” was the chilling quote that explained how Stalin developed the principle that any action was permitted as he pursued the “Great Dream” of socialist world domination. No man has brought about the deaths of more people. Compassion was foreign to Stalin. (Oct. 21/02)

He was also a poet and a writer.

The dacha was a vivid historic experience. It is a deep green. The guide said Stalin was worried about it being easily visible from the air and vulnerable to being bombed.

It is set in a lovely location amid the pines above Sochi and looks out over the Black Sea.

Our guide said you could book his bedroom as the dacha is part of a hotel. I am not sure that room is available but I read online that there are 18 rooms you can book to stay in overnight for about $450.00 per night with meals included in the room rate. I think there are too many ghosts haunting the dacha for me to want to stay there.

In the restored or preserved rooms there is fine woodwork. The keyhole to his private chambers is covered on both sides so no one could take a peek.

There is a room with a full size snooker table. Because of his withered left hand a special extra weighted cue was made for Stalin. It was passed around for us to balance with a regular cue. It was much heavier.

There is a small but deep indoor oval pool beside his bedroom.

Most interesting was the area where his desk is located. It is startling to walk into the room and encounter a life size wax statute of him sitting behind the desk. (He was 5' 4".) A slight chill went through me as I contemplated him sitting at this desk at night going through the lists prepared for him and checking off who lived and died.

We were allowed to have a photo taken beside Stalin. Sharon took the above photo of myself and Stalin. I felt very much a part of history.
 
Others made funny gestures for their photos. Considering who Stalin was and what he did those gestures felt disrespectful to the millions of his victims.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Books While Cruising in the Black Sea

Riviera
Sharon and I have now been on the Riviera for 18 days. During that time we have cruised through the Mediterranean and into the Black Sea. Tomorrow morning we reach Sochi, Russia. We have enjoyed wine tasting in Malta (never knew it had vineyards), Santorini in Greece (a big tasting area moving through busloads of tourists as there were 6 cruise ships in port that day), near Nessebur in Bulgaria (cheapest good wine we have had with bottles for 5E at the winery) and a village outside Constanta in Romania (5 different kinds of wine tasted but for some reason none for sale at the vineyard).

What has suffered is reading and blogging. It seems we stay active from morning through night.

Playing trivia twice a day has been fun. Today I should have pushed our team harder on the group or person who has the most No. 1 albums in history. My first thought was the Beatles. Others had different names and eventually we went with Michael Jackson. It was the Beatles with 19 albums. In trivia I find it is usually best to go with your first answer.

Each day I tote my book around the ship. This afternoon I got some reading done in the top lounge on the 15th floor of the ship.

As evident from my last post I completed Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

I am over half way through An Officer and a Spy. It is following closely what I remember from reading a non-fiction account of the Drefyus Affair.
 
I am going to try to read some more before the voyage ends but cannot say it is a priority.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin – The quiet life of rural North America does not mean life is simple. Judgments of neighbours can be harsher than in major urban centres.  From knowing everyone, community reputations are assigned early in life with a permanence that is almost unshakeable. No one is anonymous in small places.

Franklin’s description of life in southeastern Mississippi reminds me of growing up in east central Saskatchewan. I knew all the residents of the area. I knew their family histories. They knew mine. Fortunately, the reputations around Meskanaw were positive. Not so in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

Larry Ott, the odd awkward country boy, who loves to read, especially horror, never fits in at school or in the tiny town of Chabot. His ostracization by the community is sealed when a girl he took on a date in high school, Cindy Walker, goes missing and is never found. There is not a doubt from anyone beyond his mother that Larry must have sexually assaulted and killed her.

While there is no proof and he has never been charged Larry is shunned. No one comes to the garage, Ottomotive Repair, he has carried on since his father died. No one calls him or visits him. He is barely tolerated in area churches.

Now 41 Larry lives alone, eats KFC suppers by himself, watches some T.V. and reads his horror novels.

Silas Jones is bright and sociable and handsome and athletically skilled. Though he only came to town as a young boy, he is designated a good guy. Since high school, when he was a talented shortstop, he has been known as 32, his uniform number. 32 is Chabot’s police department.

While he is unmarried and without children 32 has a good relationship with his girlfriend, Angie. She is clearly looking to build that relationship.

In the transformation of the South during the 1960’s and 1970’s it is a twist that the solitary Larry is white and the popular 32 is African American.
 
Each of Larry and 32 are living out their lives as expected by the community.

Life grows even more isolated for Larry when the Rutherford girl, university aged daughter of the leading town businessman, goes missing. Larry is the primary suspect. Many think he is a serial killer.

At the same time local drug dealer, M & M, the second baseman for 32 also disappears.

As investigations proceed the plot moves seamlessly back and forth between current times and the youth of Larry and 32.

It is a rare talent that Franklin has to make the lives and characters of people just getting by and the poor intriguing.

I have enjoyed those John Grisham books set in rural northern Mississppi. Both Grisham and Franklin evoke the feel of the country and the people who live there.

While Franklin’s book does not have the same racist confrontations as Grisham there is still in the late 1970’s when Larry and 32 were teenagers a continuing racial strain. Much has changed in the South since To Kill a Mockingbird.

I understand why so many reviewers have loved this mystery. Franklin draws you into the lives of Larry and 32 to depths uncommon in crime literature. He builds tension as lives are unfolded in ways I did not see coming in the plot.

I expect Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will be a crime fiction classic read and appreciated for decades to come around the world.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach With Spoilers

In my last post I put up a review of The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach. In that review I said there were topics I wanted to address but felt a discussion about them would include huge spoilers. Thus I warn readers of this post not to venture further in the post if you do not want spoilers. 

The theme for this post is limitation periods. Much of the book revolves around a carefully worded change to the German constitution which prevented Meyer from being charged with as an accessory to murder with regard to his actions as a German officer in Italy during WW II. He could have been charged  for his role in reprisal killings of Italian partisans but the quiet passage in 1968 of a bill that “certain accessories to murder were now sentenced as if they were accessories to manslaughter instead”. By operation of German laws providing limitation periods for all crimes except murder the change meant there was an amnesty for former soldiers such as Meyer.

In Canada there are no limitation periods for charging an accused with indictable offences, serious charges. Meyer could have been charged with being an accessory to murder or manslaughter in Canada even 70 years after the war.

While the book clearly challenges a law that allowed some war criminals (the question of charging soldiers for reprisals is uncomfortable for all armies in WW II were involved in reprisals though none of the Western armies on the scale of the German army) to escape prosecution because too much time had elapsed I have experience with the difficulty of defending people who have been charged decades after alleged offences.

It is ever more difficult to get at the truth the longer the time period between the alleged crime and trial.

As a lawyer you test the recollections of witnesses by what else was going on at the time of the alleged crime. What are the details of the timing of events, of the place where the alleged crime took place, of who was involved and of what was said? Decades later it is credible for a witness to say they lack those specific memories but it is more dangerous to the accused than the prosecution to lack those details.

The more prominent the accusation the more likely the public will assume guilt. Just using the phrase war criminal is to tar an accused beyond redemption in the court of public opinion.

When dealing with charges of crimes allegedly committed decades ago the fate of the accused is left to an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the accused if he or she should testify. It will be rare there is forensic evidence in these old cases.

I say there is as much injustice done in Canada because there are no limitation periods in Canada as there is in Germany where there are limitation periods.

Highly public cases of sexual abuse have led the way against limitation periods in Canada. Little attention is given to the cases involving families where accused faced trials many years later.

Recently, in a review of Once We Were Brothers by Ronald D. Balson, I touched upon these same evidentiary challenges in civil proceedings being launched six decades after the war.
 
In that book  Ben Solomon was suing wealthy Chicago philanthropist, Elliott Rosenzweig, for stealing from his family in WW II Poland because he could not sue for wrongful death due to civil limitation periods.

I referred to in posts at that time to the real life cases of John Demjanjuk.

He was found not guilty of being the sadistic WW II concentration guard, Ivan the Terrible, by Israel's appellate court when massive evidence assembled after trial showed he was not Ivan.

Demjanjuk was subsequently charged again in Germany as an accessory to murder and was undergoing trial in Germany in 2012 at 91years of age when he died before the end of the trial. Was justice being served in charging Demjanjuk a second time over six decades after the war?

Publicly it was stated that it was a necessary charge to show war criminals will always be hunted down. It was essentially a symbolic charge. It was a race to see if the would survive the criminal process and he did not live to hear his final verdict. It was a modern show trial.

How Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian, could be charged in Germany with being an accessory to murder as a prison camp guard while Meyer in this books could not be charged as a German officer is a question I have not researched.

A balance is necessary in legal systems. I say it is wrong that murderers or accessories to murder should ever be able to avoid being charged. At the same time I think we are better served as societies by having limitation periods on other offences. The occasional, I would say rare, prominent case that would go unpunished is countered by the number of innocent accused who avoid trials many years later. Our Anglo / Canadian legal systems are based on some guilty being found not guilty to avoid any innocent being found guilty. Limitation periods support that principle.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach Without Spoilers

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach translated by Anthea Bell - Casper Leinen has just graduated from law school in Germany. He has decided to make his legal career as a criminal defence lawyer. While his grades and work performances were good enough to gain Caspar positions in the judiciary or with large corporations or in big Chambers he chose criminal defence. His goal as a lawyer is “to put on a robe and defend his clients”.

As many young lawyers in many countries of the Western world do Caspar puts his name down on the list to take legal aid cases. In Canada and most other nations they are ill-paid and often thankless cases. It is not clear how much lawyers are paid to take legal aid cases in Germany. Accused in legal aid cases consistently have many problems in their lives beyond legal issues. There is often little a lawyer can do to gain an acquittal. The best you can do for your client is to get a fair punishment for the crime. Yet any young lawyer wanting to do criminal defence work takes legal aid cases. You gain vital court experience, learn how to deal with clients and get known within the legal justice system. I was there 39 years ago.

Caspar gets a Sunday morning call to take on a case but it is not the usual legal aid case. Fabrizio Collini has killed Hans Meyer, a prominent 85 year old German industrialist, in a Berlin hotel.

It has been a particularly brutal murder. He has executed Meyer with 4 shots to the back of the head. Collini has then obliterated Meyer’s face stomping him until the heel of his shoe breaks off. Collini then tells the staff of the death and sits quietly in the lobby until the police come and arrest him.

Police, prosecutors, the examining magistrate and Caspar instantly see revenge as the motive because of the manner of the murder but no one can be certain of the motive as Collini refuses to explain why he killed Meyer.

There is a startling personal twist that adds interest to the story but to discuss it or the reason for the murder would be to spoil the book. Still those issues are so compelling I will discuss them in my next post with warning.

The personal issues lead Caspar to think of withdrawing from the case. He gets sound advice from a senior defence counsel, Professor Richard Mettinger, who tells Caspar that his duty is to defend people. Whatever Caspar thinks of the crime and the personality of his client it is his responsibility to defend his client. I agree. Every young lawyer who undertakes criminal defence must accept their obligation is to provide the best defence for the accused no matter whether the client is of good or bad character and without regard to the circumstances of the crime. It is not an easy commitment but it is necessary for an effective legal system

Caspar’s friend, a baker, sums it in two sentences:

            “You’re a lawyer. You have to do what lawyers do.”

Unlike much legal fiction Caspar is not a super lawyer. He works hard. He honours his profession by doing the best job he can for his client.

More surprising the prosecution is concerned with finding out what happened and why then getting a conviction and life sentence.

It is an elegant book. It is too rare a modern mystery is written in under 200 pages. Von Schirach tackles a complex theme and addresses it well without needing 500 pages or more.

Caspar reminds me of myself as a young lawyer. I never handled a murder trial but I was in court often fighting for clients. Neither Caspar nor myself are flamboyant courtroom performers. Each of us strives to be well prepared.

The book will make you think about legal systems. It is a very good book deserving of the praise it has gained around the world.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Books While Cruising in the Mediterranean


Sharon and I are back cruising with Oceania Cruise Lines. We are on back to back cruises on Riviera. The first cruise travels 14 days from Barcelona to Istanbul.

Earlier in the week we were in Malta. To my surprise we visited a winery and came back to the ship with two bottles of wine which cost us a total of E18.00. 

For the balance of this cruise we are moving between Greek islands and mainland Turkey. Tomorrow will be Alanya in Turkey. 

As usual, when I am on Oceania I went to the shipboard library on the first day of the cruise. As shown on the photo (which is the same photo I used on an earlier post on a cruise with sister ship, Marina) of the library it is an inviting place for a booklover.
 
I picked out 3 books from the library:

            1.) Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin;

            2.) An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris; and,

            3.) The Blackhouse by Peter May.

It was hard to limit myself to 3 books.

Unfortunately (if it is unfortunate not to be reading because we are busy with cruise ship activities and shore excursions) I am still reading Crooked Letter Crooked Letter.

Regular blog reader Kathy D. highly recommended the book. Many other bloggers have written positive reviews of the book. I am enjoying the book.

During the cruise day I play team trivia once or twice a day.

My mystery blogger credentials were left suspect when I could not come up with the second most translated English author (Shakespeare is most translated). I thought it might Arthur Conan Doyle. The team consensus was Charles Dickens. The correct answer was Agatha Christie.

This evening we are gliding through the Mediterranean.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver

The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver – On a bitter November day with sleet pelting down in New York City a young sales clerk goes down to the basement of her boutique to search for some clothes needed in the store. A latex clad unsub grabs her, subdues her by injecting a sedative into her neck and drags her into a sub-basement of which few were aware existed in the building. He then pulls out a portable tattoo machine and tattooes her with the words “the second” in Old English script. Instead of ink he uses poison that kills her.

Lincoln Rhymes gets the call to investigate the scene. Amelia Sachs, wearing a headset cam, must worm her way down a tunnel to the murder scene in full protective gear. The journey challenges her claustrophobia (mine also).

At the scene, in a distracted moment, a handful of powder is released into her face. Fortunately the powder causes irritation rather than serious injury.

The unsub, Billy Haven, is a skilled skin artist not a mere tatttoist. He loves skin. In a scene that is fascinating, though creepy, he caresses the skin of the victim not for sexual gratification but because he loves skin. He calls skin God’s canvas.

The tattooists think of their work as mods (body modifications).

Mainstream tattooists are horrified that the unsub is using tattoos to poison people. They cannot fathom such a tattooist.

Worked into the story are stories from around the world of the history of tattoos. They had and have more far more significance than decoration.

Lincoln leads the search for the unsub, called the Underground Man. The unsub has a vast knowledge of underground Manhattan to rival Lincoln’s encyclopedic knowledge of his city. With more attacks paranoia sweeps New York as residents are reluctant to venture below ground.

Lincoln is startled when he realizes the unsub has studied Lincoln’s forensic methods and is challenging him. The unsub’s underground actions take Lincoln and the reader back to the first book in the series, The Bone Collector. While the unsub is not taking trophies he is obsessed with skin in a way comparable to the bone collector.

The unsub is a wickedly clever killer who leaves very little trace evidence at his attacks. He reacts swiftly and decisively when the police interrupt him.

The greatest puzzle is trying to determine why the unsub is killing random victims by poison. There does not appear to be any financial gain. No one is being extorted. No sexual motive is apparent.

At the same time Lincoln is intrigued that the Watchman has died from a heart attack in prison. He sends rookie, Ron Pulaski, undercover to the funeral home to see who picks up the ashes.

While the theme of the book recalls The Bone Collector the quick thinking and adaptable unsub reminded me of Malerick in The Vanished Man. Each is a master of misdirection.

The Skin Collector had me racing through the plot. Having read the whole series I knew Deaver would have twists in the story but, as usual, I did not detect them. I find it amazing how he leaves clues but I cannot put them together.

Lincoln’s quadriplegia has its smallest role in this book. Lincoln appears to have accepted his disability and no longer lets it dominate his days. His plans for suicide have drifted away. He is actually working on relationships with people other than Amelia.

I loved that the book includes diagrams. With modern technology it should be easier to insert illustrations in mysteries. I find they enhance the story and hope that, with a best selling author like Deaver using drawings, other current authors will put them in their books.

The Skin Collector is a fine book. Readers who have enjoyed earlier books in he series will equally like the book. (Sept. 6/14) 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Flight Delay ..... Grrrrrr!

This is not the post I intended to put tonight. Sharon and I have started a holiday trip today. I was going to write about what I intend to read on the trip but got distracted and frustrated when we reached the airport in Saskatoon. For a change we were well ahead of time. Then at check-in the young WestJet agent said because of weather issues our plane is 3 hours late!

We had already dispatched our van with friends so we have been sitting in the departure area since 7:30 this evening and hope to leave around 12:15.

I am not optimistic about departure time. They just announced our plane was hit by lightning and they have to do a tail switch.

I have spent the evening reading The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver. It is suitably fiendish and rather chilling about all the poisons around that an evil person can use.

I will pass on more about the trip and book plans later in the weekend.

For now I will try to be patient ........