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, November 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz – The fourth book in the Lisbeth Salander / Mikael Blomkvist saga could have been a great book.

A pair of brilliant new characters are introduced. Frans Balder is a Swedish computer genius who has recently returned to Sweden from the United States with a computer full of research on his breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. He has come back to care for his young son, August, who has major developmental issues.

Once August is in his custody Balder sees, to his astonishment, that the 8 year old August can produce drawings of events that are startling in their precision and accuracy. He also appears to have a genius level talent with numbers.

There is a convincing evil organization, the Spider Society, with Russian criminals at its core. Their successful efforts at stealing leading computer technology are a real threat to the world. Their connections with America’s NSA (National Security Agency) is truly frightening.

Balder had originally left Sweden over issues of industrial espionage and theft of his research and had been in contact with Lisbeth.

Lisbeth is back in hacking glory. She has been lured by the Hacker Republic into launching a cyber-assault on the NSA. Using all of her hacking skills she penetrates to the heart of the NSA. It does not read like a fantasy.

Blomkvist is in a funk having not been involved a major investigative reporting story for some time. He is stagnating.

Yet it did not all come together for me.

Balder’s death took one of the two most interesting characters out of the book.

The mythic figure of “Thanos” leading the Spider Society felt contrived. With the identity of numerous members known it was hard to believe there was a secret leader.

Lisbeth becomes an almost conventional heroine in saving August from harm. Lisbeth has never been conventional. She verges on the maternal in her relationship with August.

Her ability to carry out despite multiple serious injuries was too much the comic book hero of many contemporary thrillers.

It is a rather clumsy scenario when a young associate of Balder, Linus Brandell, contacts Blomkvist to convince him that Balder is the next great “scoop” for Millennium.

The introduction of a new family antagonist for Lisbeth was my least favourite plot line and could have been omitted without damaging the story.

The best part of the book was August’s relationship with Lisbeth. Neither mind operates well in our world. Their capacities leave them ill-equipped to function well in modern society. August, who may have Savant Syndrome, is on the verge of being institutionalized.

Unlike the Supergun of Louise Penny’s most recent book, The Nature of the Beast, the technologies at risk of theft in The Girl in the Spider’s Web are a danger to world security.

The book has an intriguing subplot on the continuing travails of the magazine publishing industry. It is ever more difficult for a thoughtful independent magazine such as Millennium to survive in a media world driven by brief celebrity driven stories. A major Norwegian media empire has taken a significant minority stake in the magazine. Tension is rising between the business goals of the investors and the editorial leadership of Blomkvist and Erika Berger.

Lagercrantz cannot quite draw together the threads of a thriller like Larsson. I missed the driving momentum of the plots in the trilogy.

For the first time in a long time I felt a 400 page book was not long enough for the plot. Larsson’s original trilogy averaged over 600 pages per book. Except for the last book in the trilogy I thought the lengths suited the plots. The complexities of The Girl in the Spider’s Web could not be properly developed in 400 pages.

I am not sure whether I will read another by Lagercrantz in the series. As with most writers who try to carry on the series of a deceased author the new story goes well but not great. I kept wishing the 4th book had been the one Larsson had started before his death.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Personal Reactions to the Swedish and American movies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I watched both the Swedish (sub-titled) and American film versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy both movies. It has been infrequent that I enjoyed the movie version of a book.

It is impossible not to compare the lead characters from the two versions.

With regard to the Mikael Blomkvists I liked Michael Nyqvist in the Swedish version more than Daniel Craig in the American movie.

It was more that Nyqvist fitted my image of Blomkvist more than Craig. My mental picture of Blomkvist was not of a man with a sculpted body. I saw him as a good looking guy but not the hunk that is Craig. Of the journalists I have met over the few years few, very few, had a body like Craig.

My biggest surprise was Craig as an actor. Having only seen him in Bond movies before this movie I had no idea he was a good actor.

Of the Salanders I liked Rooney Mara from the American version more than Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version.

It is harder for me to say why I preferred Mara. Perhaps it was I saw in her the touch of vulnerability that underlies the hard edges of Salander.

In watching each movie I was struck by how visual images are sometimes more powerful than a written description.

When Salander is brutalized by her new guardian I was almost unable to watch the scene.

Later in the movie when Blomkvist is studying photos a vital clue appears far more vividly from the visual images.

The Swedish movie had a budget of about $10 million and grossed $104 million in world release.

The American movie cost almost $100 million and had a $232 million international gross.

While Swedish films were made of the whole trilogy only the first has been filmed in America. There have been many stories about sequels but none have been made.

In the past week there have been stories that Hollywood is looking at a sequel involving the latest book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is not part of the trilogy. They would skip the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy. As well it is reported that Crain and Mara would not be the stars. Ah, trust Hollywood to screw up an exceptional series of thrillers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

When I was done reading The Girl Who Played with Fire I desperately wanted to read the third in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but it was the fall of 2009 and the book had not yet been published in North America. During the winter the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto obtained some copies of the book from England where it had been published. I thought about buying the English edition but it was $60.00 and I had never paid that much for a work of fiction. I waited until it was published in North America and was glad I waited.


29. - 542.) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – The third volume of the triology is well crafted but lacks the unpredictability and passion of the opening two novels. It  did not exert the same hold upon me. As the books carried on the plot initiated in the first it would have worked better had I been able to keep reading from the second to the third. Lisabeth plays a surprisingly subordinate role spending most of her time in hospital recovering from her grievous wounds. The thriller revolves around Mikael’s efforts to gain support for Lisbeth and identify the members of the secret service conspiracy who are seeking to have her returned to a mental institution for life. The return from retirement of the conspirators who originally had her confined as a teenager was chilling. However, the forces mustered by Mikael were clearly superior and the ending was never in doubt. Larsson, not Greaney, is the true successor to Robert Ludlum. Mikael’s relationships with women remain unconventional. It was disappointing in comparison with the first two books but remains a wonderful story. I have heard a 4th novel had over 300 pages written before Larsson’s death. Considering the worldwide success with all three currently on New York Times bestseller lists - the second has been on the trade paperback fiction list for 55 weeks – I expect it will be finished and I will instantly buy it. (July 12/10)

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

In my last post I put up a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson as a part of my two weeks with Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the spring of 2009 and was anxious to read the second in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, as soon as possible. I was able to get a copy in the fall and I read it in a rush. It is my favourite in the trilogy. Tonight I put up my review. Thank you to those who have already provided their reaction to the series. 


35. – 498.) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson – The second novel in Larsson’s trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is as wonderful as the first. Lisbeth, after traveling the world for a year using the billions of kroner stolen from Wennerstrom, returns to Sweden. Fiercely independent and extremely reluctant to commit to any personal relationship she cuts off all contact with an extremely puzzled Blomkvist before her departure. On her return she looks for work to fill her life. While Lisbeth is adjusting to life with unlimited resources Blomkvist and Berger decide to publish both an issue of Millennium and a companion book on the sexual exploitation of young Slavic women lured or taken to Sweden for prostitution. Lisbeth’s legal guardian, the lawyer Bjurman, is plotting his revenge on Lisbeth and reaches out to criminal connections for assistance. In one horrifying night Bjurman, the writer of the expose, Dag Svensson and his partner Mia Johansson are murdered. When Lisbeth’s fingerprint shows up on the murder weapon, a gun owned by Bjurman, a massive womanhunt for Lisbeth is immediately launched. Tension builds from page to page as the police, her former employer Milton Security and the Millennium staff search for her. Cleverly Larsson goes weeks into the hunt without letting us know Lisbeth’s actions. Lisbeth is as frustrating, quirky, unpredictable, brilliant, violent and stubborn as the opening book. I could see every young Hollywood actress wanting the role. (There is a Swedish production.) It has been some time since I started or almost exclaimed aloud while reading a book. I did it twice in this novel. Lisbeth has become an unforgettable heroine. I raced along eager to read the next progression or twist in the plot. I hope the third book will be published this year. Larsson’s website said 12 million books have been sold out of the trilogy. Hardcover. (Sept. 4/09) (With The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo Best fiction of 2009)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two Weeks with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist

A few days ago I started reading The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz which continues Stieg Larsson’s series of thrillers featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. I read the original trilogy in 2009 and 2010 but have not posted those reviews written before I started this blog. I have decided to post those reviews in succession starting tonight with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In addition I will have another couple of posts connected with the books or their author, Stieg Larsson. I will conclude the two weeks with a review of The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

I believe I first heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from The Merchant of Menance, the newsletter published by the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. I was swept away when I started reading the book.

I am finding it interesting to go back 6 years to see my reactions at that time. I invite readers to comment on their reactions to the series as I spend a couple of weeks in thriller Sweden with one of the great duos in crime fiction.

12. - 475.) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – A remarkable debut crime thriller. The characters are amazing. Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist bound for jail for aggravated libel of Wennerstrom. Lisbeth Salander is a brilliant 25 year old investigator still deemed incompetent because of her resolute refusal to conform to society’s norms and absolute unwillingness to explain herself to experts. Henrik Vanger, an elderly Swedish industrialist, uses Salander to investigate Blomkvist and then hires him to determine what happened to his niece, Harriet, 37 years ago when she disappeared from their island home in northern Sweden. For over 30 years he has received a rare pressed flower on his birthday. With no better prospects and wanting to get away for awhile Blomkvist undertakes the study. He dreams of how he will get back at Wennerstrom who set him up for the libel conviction. At the same time Salander is dealing with personal challenges. The story accelerates to a page turner when they start working together. In addition to the complex plot each has a complicated personal life. Relationships are unusual. Blomkvist has a loving relationship with Erika Berger though she is married and her husband is aware of the relationship. Salander is a personality that defies easy description. The plot twists and explodes with excitement. I was reminded of some of the financial thrillers of Michael Thomas. I understand it was the first of a triology. I can hardly wait for the translation of the second. I read with regret that the author died just after delivering the books to be published. What a great pair of mysteries from Sweden this year. Hardcover. (Mar. 16/09) (With The Girl Who Played with Fire Best fiction of 2009)

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Woman and Her Gun

In my last post, a review of Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke, I set out how Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle of the French Judicial Police, had been referred to a psychologist because she had not wearing her gun in the 20 years she has been a police officer.

Tropéano’s Gun has psychological involvement with characters beyond Aliette but I will focus on Aliette in this post.

In both books I have read in the series Brooke has dealt with the psychology of police officers.

In probing the minds of police officers Brooke did not look to the superficial – the very evil v. the very virtuous or the dysfunctional v. the supremely competent - in Walls of a Mind. He dealt with the nuances of the relationship between two women in authority, Chief Inspector Nouvelle and Agent Margot Tessier from the French Internal Secret Service.

There are no physical confrontation between the women but there is a subtler conflict of words and attitudes. They challenge the will of each other.

Each has obviously had to deal with male bias on their way to authority but there is no gender solidarity. The women in authority find it no easier to co-operate than men.

Nouvelle projects a moral superiority to the secret agent. Tessier patronizes the police officer.

They inflict wounds of the mind.

In Tropéano’s Gun Aliette’s superiors require her to see a psychologist about her reluctance to carry her gun. While she professes not to wear it because she has never needed to use the gun in her police work her answer is unconvincing.

By not carrying a gun she creates risk for fellow officers if she is unarmed in a dangerous confrontation. The problem arose in Walls of a Mind.

Equally she may not be able to protect members of the public if a situation spirals out of control or arrest a criminal.

What is inside Aliette’s head that caused her to leave her gun in her underwear drawer for 20 years?

To remain an officer she starts carrying her gun and going to the shooting range.

Carrying a gun does not mean she will use it but Aliette starts thinking differently with a gun on her hip. She is a little less careful. She will venture more readily alone into risky areas of the city. She becomes more aggressive.

How some men relate to her is different. There are men who are excited about a woman with a gun.

We usually associate guns with men. Readers can instantly visualize a man with a gun. Do we see a woman with a gun differently?

Jill Edmondson, in her series with Sasha Jackson that is set in Toronto, does not have her tough girl P.I. carry a gun. In an interview she said she will probably have to get Sasha carrying a gun to be credible.

I would say men think little about a gun. In Tropéano’s Gun Aliette thinks a lot about her gun. She has a sense of power from carrying a gun that is absent when she is unarmed.

When Aliette is forced to play in her sandbox it is the psychologist who places a toy handgun in the sand to get her started. Aliette scraps a hole in the sand to the bottom of the box. She associates the blue bottom with the sea. Told by the psy to do as she wants in her world Aliette leaves “the gun at the bottom of the sea”.
Brooke, John - (2014) - Walls of a Mind and Clashing Women in Authority; (2015) - Tropéano’s Gun

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke

Tropéano’s Gun by John Brooke – Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle of the French Judicial Police presents a problem to her supervisors that has never been an issue in the United States. She does not wear her gun.

The Saint-Etienne Walther P38 she was issued on her graduation 20 years earlier from police academy has spent two decades resting at the back of her underwear drawer. (She does not advise where it has been store.)

The absence of the gun has become an issue because of the incident at the end of the last book, Walls of a Mind, where there was a shootout and she could not help as she was unarmed.

Aliette explains her reasoning for not carrying her gun:

“Because I have never ….. I mean to say, I don’t believe in …. I mean to say, a gun has never really fit with …. with my way of doing things. With all due respect, sir.”

The Divisional Commissionaire, Gael Doquès, advises her she must have respect for rules and operational procedure. He presents here with a “brand new flat-black SIG Sauer SP2022” and a detached silencer. She undertakes to wear it while on duty and practise regularly.

Before she leaves he tells her that she has been assigned to see a psychologist, Gabrielle Gravel, to deal with the issues she has with her gun. Aliette needs to get with the program.

A reluctant Aliette attends at the office of PsychoDynamo, where the stylish psy tells the officer she will “help you come to terms with your role as an officer of the law”.

Aliette is surprised, I was startled, when Gabrielle says the primary therapy will involve Aliette playing in a small personal sandbox with any of the hundreds of figures and objects Gabrielle has assembled. If she wants Aliette can wear a mask from Gabrielle’s extensive collection or make her own mask.

After a wary initial interview Aliette returns to work. While her territory is some distance from Béziers she is often at headquarters for meetings.

Within the city there is a developing major investigation. Two street people have been stabbed to death. The killings appear random but bizarre notes in the same hand writing have been found near the bodies.

Within the Judicial Police tension has been rising because of the appointment of Nabi Zidane, a French Chief Inspector of African descent, to lead the elite city squad. The unit is the most prestigious posting in the region. Zidane is resented because of his North African heritage by many within the Judicial Police who felt it should have not gone to anyone from an African background.

When a police officer is the next victim and his gun is taken the investigation becomes intense. The internal divisions with the Judicial Police are exacerbated.

Back at the office of the psy Aliette is carefully exploring her feelings about being a police officer and wearing a gun and why she needs a gun. As with most people she is a private person not anxious to explore her own psyche.

The mystery proceeds with the search for the killer roaming the streets at night and with Aliette continuing therapy with regard to her gun.

Tropéano’s Gun is far from the North American thriller. Violence is there but does not dominate the story. Instead, the book focuses on the dangers within our minds. My next post will delve into the psychological issues. Tropéano’s Gun is a mystery which requires the reader to think rather than just riding the flow of the action. (Oct. 27/15) 
Brooke, John - (2014) - Walls of a Mind and Clashing Women in Authority