About Me

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany – I love Gemma Doyle. From England she is tall, angular, quirky and possibly a distant relation of Arthur Conan Doyle. She is possessed of a keen intelligence, powerful observational skills and a precisely deductive mind. Were she to smoke a pipe and play the violin we would have a 21st Century Holmes. As it is she is a great new sleuth in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.

The setting of Elementary, She Read is equally well done. Gemma is part owner and manager of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium at 222 Baker Street in West London on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Through a connecting door is Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room providing sandwiches, pastries, coffee and tea to tourists and locals. They are so vivid I can see the shop and tea room and wish they were real. My next post will discuss the Bookshop and its connections in my mind to real life mystery bookstores.

Not all cross Atlantic transplants work but Emma fits very well into America. Maintaining her accent and British reserve she is perfect in the Emporium and the subsequent investigation. Knowledgeable but not fanatical about the Holmes canon, Gemma enjoys mysteries.

Jayne Wilson, pert and blonde, is Gemma’s best friend and is the manager / part owner of Mrs. Hudson’s.

Spring has arrived and the tourist season is building. On a lovely afternoon a bus full of touring bridge ladies arrive for tea and then to shop at the Emporium. After filling themselves at the Tea Room over 20 mature women descend upon the shop buying books and Sherlockania. Mugs, DVDs, posters, puzzles and other collectibles fly off the shelves.

Fully familiar with her inventory, “the computer is a functioning backup”, and obsessed with order, the books must be in alphabetical order, Gemma cannot abide the disorder on the shelves left by the ladies. Upon their departure:
     
      Shaking my head, I set about organizing them. A book with
      fading red leather binding had been shoved in the middle of the
      bottom shelf. I could tell instantly it didn’t belong there. That
      sort of leather binding should be with the historic books and
      magazines, not the current ones. I pulled it out. It had been
      slipped into a clear plastic wrapping. The binding was Morocco
      leather, adorned with gilt flourishes. A Study in Scarlet was
      embossed in ornate gold cursive on the cover. Judging by the
      thickness, it was probably not a book but a bound magazine ….
      A cold sweat ran down the back of my neck….. Beeton’s
      Christmas Annual. 1887.

It appears to be an original of the first magazine featuring the first Holmes story. Such a magazine has a value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After running through her memory of the afternoon customers Gemma quickly deduces the magazine was left in the store by a nondescript older woman. Seeking both to return the magazine and find out why it was left Gemma tracks the woman to a local hotel and finds her murdered in her room.

Gemma offers her analytical and deductive skills to the lead detective, Ryan Ashburton. The tall, dark and handsome officer declines the offer. While their contact is subdued it is clear to Jayne that Gemma and Ryan have been  a couple in the past.

Gemma can be irritating:

      …. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that some people
      don’t understand my attention to detail and thus misunderstand
      the conclusions I draw from it. I have tried to stop, but I might
      as well stop thinking.

In a brilliant example of how Sherlockian deductiveness interferes with personal relationships Gemma had agreed, a few years earlier, to marry Ryan before she had been asked. Gemma had explained to Ryan:

      “You’re wearing your best suit and a brand new tie, if I’m not
      mistaken. You’ve gone to the trouble of shaving after work
      which you normally don’t do. You’ve even polished your
      shoes. You have a touch of sweat on your brow but this room  
      isn’t hot. Somewhat to the contrary, I think. They’ve turned the
      air conditioning on too early. The bulge in your jacket pocket is
      the size and shape of a ring box. You gave the waiter an
      unobtrusive nod that had him grinning like a fool, and if I’m not
      mistaken, he’s bringing the champagne now, Veuve Clicquot,
      excellent choice.”

The proposal did not proceed.

In the book Gemma will carry on with her own investigation especially when the other lead detective, Louise Estrada, makes very clear that Gemma is her lead suspect. Gemma does not aid her circumstances when she points out to Detective Estrada the flawed reasoning of the officer in suspecting Gemma.

It is a great start to a new series. I have enjoyed Vicki’s books. Elementary, She Read is the best principally because I think Gemma is her best sleuth. The book will be released on March 14th and I expect it to be very successful. Gemma is a strong candidate for my favourite new sleuth of 2017.
****
Delany, Vicki -

     1.) Const. Molly Smith - (2013) - A Cold White Sun

     2.) Fiona MacGillivray - (2014) - Gold Web

     3.) Writing as Eva Gates the Lighthouse Library Series 
     with Lucy Richardson - (2014) -  By Book or by
     Crook and Bodie Island Lighthouse; (2015) - Women v. Men in
     Clothing Descriptions

Thursday, January 19, 2017

10th Canadian Book Challenge Half-Way

The Canadian Book Challenge is hosted annually by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set Blog. It runs annually from July 1 (Canada Day) through June 30. Participants strive to read and review 13 books written by Canadian authors during the 12 months. The end of December marked the half-way point in the 10th Challenge.

(The logo for the Challenge changes each year. I consider the logo to the above to be one of the best.)

The Challenge is going better for me this year than most years. Last year in March I had read 9 books for the Challenge. As of the end of 2016 I had already read 9 books. Within the next couple of weeks I will have completed another 3 books. It may be the earliest year I will have reached the 13 books for a successful Challenge.

The books I have read for the Challenge to date are:

1.) Open Season by Peter Kirby;

2.) A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley;

3.) The Scottish Banker of Surabaya by Ian Hamilton;

4.) A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map

5.) A Candle to Light the Sun by Patricia Blondal and Patricia Blondal

6.) Jack - A Life with Writers by James King

7.) Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe

8.) Safe at Home by Alison Gordon

9.) Set Free by Anthony Bidulka

With 3 of them, A Great Reckoning, A Candle to Light the Sun and Jack - A Life with Writers, being on my Best Lists of 2016 the Challenge has had excellent reading.

Out of the remaining 6 books Set Free was my favourite read. Anthony has written an intriguing thriller.

What I just recognized is that out of the 8 works of Canadian fiction I have only read 2 new authors. I need to be more open to reading Canadian writers I have not read previously. I am going to have to head over to the Crime Writers of Canada to look up some "new to me" Canadian mystery writers.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Set Free by Anthony Bidulka

Set Free by Anthony Bidulka – Anthony’s first standalone has a setting distant from the Saskatchewan based mysteries of his earlier two series featuring Russell Quant and Adam Saint.
Set Free mainly takes place in Boston though the locale is not immediately clear at the start of the book. Anthony unfolds action and then adds back story. The reader gradually discovers the characters and their histories.

The book is more complex in structure than Anthony’s previous books. It opens with an excerpt from a book written by Jaspar Willis, his protagonist. That book, also called Set Free, and therefore Anthony’s book Set Free have a great opening line:

      I would have packed less if I knew I was going to die.

The Jaspar Set Free non-fiction is the Bidulka fictional Set Free.

Jaspar is kidnapped in Marrakech, Morocco on his way from the airport to his hotel. He is held in a dismal room. While there he is beaten and photographed as his kidnappers pursue an unknown goal.
Why Jaspar is in Morocco subsequently unfolds.

Jaspar and his wife, Jenn, unexpectedly had a daughter, Mikki. In a reversal of traditional gender duties Jaspar stays home and Jenn is the primary earner. While at home Jaspar pursues a relatively undistinguished writing career. Jenn is working hard as a lawyer.

Their lives are upended when Jaspar writes a book that becomes a best seller. Anthony takes the opportunity to become the reviewer of his character's book:

      In the Middle was a (mostly) fictionalized account of an everyday
      guy who takes a year-long leave of absence from regular life to
      travel the world. An earlier reviewer described the book as
      "gut-wrenching, side-splitting, surprisingly heartfelt, a
      must-read for anyone wading through the mess of midlife.
     When the New York Times called it "the Eat, Pray Love for middle
      aged men and the women trying to love them," sales exploded.

With success life becomes hectic. Jaspar rides the publicity wave now demanded of the famed in America. Some fortune accompanies the fame but Jaspar needs more than one best seller for a secure financial life.

Tragedy strikes the family living the American dream. To say more may spoil the book for some readers but I cannot review it without discussing those events. Venture no further if you prefer to limit your knowledge of the book.

Mikki is abducted. Jaspar and Jenn are left barely functioning. The intense strain is exacerbated by whether Jaspar is at fault. Their friend, Katie Edwards, a local T.V. reporter helps them cope with the media onslaught.

While the story of Mikki's kidnapping is being revealed Jaspar is moved from captivity in the city to the country. With little food his body gradually deteriorates. His mind becomes pre-occupied with Mikki. In the forms of a child and as a teenager she joins him at night. While surreal the story is powerful in imagining how body and mind react to prolonged deprivation.

As I was feeling uncomfortable that the story was drifting into the too incredible that diminished my enjoyment of Anthony’s previous book, The Women of Skawa Island,  Anthony brings the plot together in a truly unexpected and credible way.

I have not read a plot where the lead character is both the parent of a kidnapped child and a kidnap victim himself. Anthony delves into the mind of Jaspar in both scenarios. The title of the book becomes perfect.

Beyond those issues Anthony explores a writer’s responsibility to the facts and a journalist’s ethics in the midst of a huge story.

Anthony's real life love of travel is reflected in the book by setting a significant part of the story in Morocco. All of his books have had his lead character travel to a fascinating distant land as part of the plot.

Anthony does well in building tension and keeping the reader off-balance. Set Free is a rare intelligent thriller unlike most American thrillers in that there is not a steady accumulation of bodies. A reader can enjoy the book as a thriller yet be left thinking about freedom. Anthony has written a fine book. (And take a look at his website to see how the book was inspired by a trip made to celebrate his 50th birthday.)
****
** Bidulka, Anthony – Russell Quant series and Adam Saint series and standalone:

Russell Quant books - (2004) - Amuse Bouche (Most
Interesting of 2004 – fiction and non-fiction); (2005) - Flight of Aquavit (2nd Best fiction in 2005); (2005) - Tapas on the Ramblas; (2006) - Stain of the Berry; (2008) - Sundowner Ubuntu; (2009) - Aloha, Candy Hearts; (2010) - Date with a Sheesha; (2012) - Dos Equis; Paperback or Hardcover

Adam Saint books - (2013) - When the Saints Go Marching In

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Famous Holograph Will

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye a holograph (handwritten) will by 85 year old Whitney Vance is a vital part of the plot involving Harry Bosch’s search for a living descendant of Vance.

For the wealthy holograph wills can replace carefully crafted wills leaving estate plans in turmoil. Readers who watched the original version of the T.V. series, Dallas, may remember the tumult when patriarch Jock Ewing died and a holograph codicil turned up that completely altered the hundreds of pages of trusts in the will he had previously signed. Family conflict erupted.

Holograph wills are generally good business for lawyers as interpretation is often needed. What was clear to the maker of the will is not always clear to those who read it after death.

In Sycamore Road by John Grisham a holograph will by a white businessman, Seth Hubbard, gave the bulk of his multi-million estate to an African American housekeeper. (I am a little surprised some have thought Grisham showed a lack of originality in Rouge Lawyer with Sebastian Rudd having a strong resemblance to Connelly’s character, Mickey Haller. When Connelly used a holograph will I have yet to see a complaint that he was too close to Grisham’s use of such a will.)

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye there is a clever additional twist with regard to the holograph will. In the package mailed to Harry that contains the will there is the heavy distinctive gold pen used to write and sign the will. The pen was made from gold mined by Vance’s great-grandfather and has been handed down in the family from generation to generation.

The pen will make it easier to establish the holograph will is genuinely written and signed by Vance. In proving the writing and signing of the will the pen would be important for it was the pen used by Vance to sign documents. If the ink in the pen matches the ink on the will there is important proof supporting the validity of the will.

Holograph wills are an exception to the requirement that wills to be valid need to have the signatures of two witnesses. Who can be the witnesses is a subject for another post.

For most holograph wills a handwriting expert is not needed if there is no dispute over the making of the will and there are people who can swear affidavits that the body of the will and signature are in the handwriting of the deceased.

As we now live in an era where some people rarely handwrite anything and some signatures are more printed than written I wonder how experts will give opinions on contested holograph wills in future cases. Experts need examples of uncontested handwriting to have the comparisons needed for analysis

While I have not researched California law in Saskatchewan the Wills Act provides that that a holograph will must be totally in the handwriting of the testator, the maker of the will.

As a young lawyer I dealt with a case where the testator’s wife had printed the will and he had then signed it. Though no one was challenging the will it was rejected for probate as he had not written all of the will.

Holograph wills need not be written on ordinary paper. I once probated a will that was written by the testator on the back of an envelope. We filed the envelope as part of the application for probate.

The most famous holograph will in Saskatchewan and, perhaps the world, was written in 1948.

A farmer in west Central Saskatchewan, Cecil Harris, was pinned beneath his tractor when it rolled on its side. While Harris could not free himself he could move his upper body. Taking out his jackknife he scratched on the fender of his tractor:

In case I die in this mess I leave everything to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris

While discovered alive he died from his injuries.

The family lawyer, George Stanley Elliott, arranged for the portion of the fender containing the holograph will to be cut out. He then tendered that portion of the fender to the Surrogate Court as the will of Harris.

It was accepted for probate. The fender will was the first will in the British Commonwealth not written on paper to be accepted for probate.

In the 1920’s a British court had refused probate of a will written on an egg shell.

When the Kerrobert courthouse closed the fender will and the jackknife were taken to the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon where I attended law school. The photo at the top of this post shows the display at the College of Law Library. The photo to the right shows the fender bearing the scratched words of Harris.

The fender will and jackknife are vivid legal artifacts of a Saskatchewan tragedy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly – I remain amazed by Connelly’s ability to create believable but unexpected new paths in life for Harry Bosch. At 66, because of his actual age and his lawsuit against the Department over his forced retirement due to age, Harry is clearly beyond any return to the LAPD.

In the previous book in the series, The Crossing, he had looked at a quiet retirement working on restoring a prized historic motorcycle and spending time with his daughter, Maddy. The sojourn into retirement lasted barely longer than a phone call from his half-brother, Mickey Haller, to help Mickey with the defence of an innocent man.

Conflicted over going over to the other side, criminal defence investigations, Harry held true to his conviction that “everybody counts or nobody counts” and pursued the investigation with all the vigour he brought to cases as an LAPD detective. Yet he remained clearly uncomfortable.

As the book ended I hoped, but was unsure, that Harry would work with Mickey again on criminal cases.

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye Harry has both found his way back into law enforcement and a niche as a private investigator.

Harry has joined the police force of the small city of San Fernando. While San Fernando is completely surrounded by Los Angeles the mainly Hispanic city has its own civic administration and police force.

With San Fernando still in financial disarray from the recession of the past decade the city has allowed Harry to join the Police Department as an unpaid officer. Harry is a part-time detective expected to work at least a couple of shifts a month. Of course Harry works far more often. Though members of the LAPD scorn Harry as part-time and small time Harry has a badge and is back solving cases.

Beyond Harry’s work with the SFPD (He is not beyond letting the public think he may be working for the San Francisco Police Department) Harry is available for hire as a private investigator.

As a P.I. he is retained by 85 year old Whitney Vance, a billionaire aviation businessman, to determine if Vance has a living heir. As a young man in 1950 in first year at the University of Southern California Vance had met a Mexican girl and she became pregnant. His father had forced the end of the relationship and Vance has never known what happened to Vibiana.

During the course of his investigation Harry is drawn back to the Vietnam War. He was the same age as the son born to Vibiana.

Memories of the war are never distant for Harry. While working out a restaurant to meet Maddy he refuses to go to any Vietnamese restaurant because during the war he had eaten Vietnamese food every day. Maddy does not understand. She thinks it is a racist reaction. Why, as an American soldier, was he not eating American food? Harry explained that as a tunnel rat he had to eat Vietnamese food so that he smelled Vietnamese. To have smelled like an American would have endangered him underground.

Harry, while searching for an heir for Vance, is working on the case of the Screen Cutter rapist for the SFPD. There have been four rapes within the small city in recent years where the rapist has cut a screen to gain access to a victim’s home and assaulted her. The rapist is clever but also arrogant. He has never used a condom.

For the obsessive Harry there is a challenge in pursuing two investigations each of which would normally occupy him day and night.

The Vance investigation takes an amazing twist when Harry receives a handwritten will in the mail from Vance. In my next post I will discuss this holograph will and some real life holograph wills.

With the arrival of the will Mickey is brought into the story as Harry needs legal help to navigate treacherous legal waters involving wills. Mickey is far from a wills expert but, in the same spirit with which I approach the different areas of litigation in my practice, will do the research and get extra help, if needed, to handle the case.

Harry’s fire to solve cases is undiminished. As I am but two years younger than Harry I appreciate Connelly has found a way to allow a senior citizen, without ignoring age, to be a fascinating and vital sleuth. More great adventures await Harry.
****
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Whistler by John Grisham

The Whistler by John Grisham – As usual Grisham had me hooked me in the opening pages. Once again he has created a fascinating lawyer in Lacy Stoltz, a staff lawyer with the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. I have always found his strength to be his lawyers.

The Board investigates complaints against Florida judges. Much of their time is spent investigating complaints concerning judges who have personal issues that have rendered them incapable of judging properly. One of her current investigations is a judge whose alcoholism is affecting him on the bench. However, the allegations sometimes involve corruption.

Lacy and another staff lawyer, Hugo Hatch, drive to St. Augustine to meet a mysterious source who claims to have information on a corrupt judge on a vast scale. While skeptical the claim is overblown they have agreed to the meeting. 

They meet Ramsey Mix, who has changed his name to Greg Myer, at a marina. A disbarred lawyer, Myer, has regained his licence to practise law. He is acting as an intermediary for a go-between who is representing a “mole” who has information on a circuit court judge in northern Florida. 

None of the trio is altruistic. They expect to gain millions under Florida’s Whistleblower statute which pays informants who provide information that allows the State to recover illicit funds. At the same time the trio is very wary convinced that their lives are in danger if identified. 

While the arrangement is convoluted Lacy and Hugo get enough from Myer to proceed with an investigation. 

They soon learn that the judge is Claudia McDover and the corruption involves a casino owned by the small Tappacola Indian Tribe. Though the Tappacolas are modest in number the casino is a gusher of money. Each member of the tribe, excepting married women who receive half the regular amount, is paid a monthly dividend of $5,000. 

The investigators wonder how McDover could be corruptly involved. The casino is on an Indian reservation with its own tribal court. Neither McDover nor the State of Florida have any jurisdiction on the reservation. The Federal Government has actually little interest in what is happening on the reservation.

McDover’s role comes from her position in the county adjacent to the reservation. She has a perfect record of deciding in favour of developers building golf courses, condos and other developments. She can also disrupt the casino for she has the authority to deal with issues involving the toll highway which is the only access to the casino. 

The judicial corruption is connected to a shadowy group of developers. Myer advises they are the descendants of the Catfish Mafia, a loosely organized crime gang, which has moved to Florida and evolved into the Coast Mafia. Such is their discretion they are but a rumour to legal authorities. 

Can Lacy and Hugo penetrate the carefully constructed web that conceals the corruption? 

The conspiracy reminded me of Grisham’s book, The Firm, which was set in Memphis and involved a Chicago crime family. 

I regret there is no action in a court. While I do admire his willingness to not restrict his stories to trials and appeals I prefer Grisham’s books involving court cases. 

I enjoyed the book and was glad it was not one of his books with an overtly political point of view but it is not one of Grisham’s best.  

There is a flaw in the story in that there are so few people who could be the “Deep Throat” source. In the Watergate scandal the source was never identified until he revealed himself because there were so many possible informants. 

More troubling was the last third of the book. It was an unfolding of the inevitable. While I deplore implausible twists there was no effective drama to conclude the book. For the first time in a long time I felt Grisham was just writing a narrative in that portion of the book. It was a letdown. 

I do appear to be in a minority on Grisham’s latest books. In the New York Times there was a glowing review of The Whistler and the Times thought The Whistler far better than Rogue Lawyer. I disagree. I consider Rogue Lawyer much better than The Whistler
****
 Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd;

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bill's Best of 2016 - Non-Fiction and Most Interesting

In addition to my Best of Fiction picks I highlight each year my favourite non-fiction reads and a category I call Most Interesting for books that caught my attention in some special way.


BEST NON-FICTION

1.) Church of Spies by Mark Riebling - Whenever I think I have exhausted the history of World War II a book comes along to surprise me with new information.

Riebling provided an abundance of information on how Pope Pius XII provided assistance and support for the German Resistance to the Nazis.

Had any of the plots succeeded in assassinating Hitler and installing a new government the Pope was ready to publicly assist peace negotiations.

Most remarkable was the story of a German Catholic hero, Josef Muller, a Bavarian lawyer who plotted against Hitler and was a courier between Germany and the Vatican. There is a great spy story to be written using Muller as inspiration.
 
2.) John Le Carre by Adam Sisman - I had barely known any of the personal history of David Cornwell until I read this fine biography.
 
With a father who was a self-styled businessman, but really a con man, Cornwell grew up in a world inhabited by vivid characters.

I had not known of his proficiency in languages, especially German, and his significant employment in British Intelligence until I read the book.

The discussions on how he wrote his books were fascinating with the depths of his research impressive.

I continue to believe it will be the definitive biography of Le Carre for this generation.
 
3.) This Old Man by Roger Angell - The author continues to write a few articles a year for the New Yorker in his 96th year.

While his primary vocation was editing fiction for the magazine his avocation has been covering baseball for over 50 years. As someone who has written a sports column while carrying on the practice of law I can appreciate the duality of his life.

In This Old Man are essays about himself, baseball and miscellaneous topics of interest. Sprinkled here and there are haikus.

Angell is remarkable for the grace of his prose. His words flow across the pages.

He faithfully follows the dictum of his stepfather, E.B. White, to "be clear" in his writing. 

3.) Jack – A Life with Writers by James King - I do not think I know any current publishers as men or women who are great characters in themselves.

Jack McClelland from the Canadian publisher, McClelland & Stuart, was very much in the public eye for over 40 years as a publisher after World War II.

Yet what made him unique was wide and varied and pungent correspondence with his authors.

You have to love a man who would write to one of Canada's leading poets, Irving Layton, as follows:

      Are you really all that bloody insecure? I could vomit. Let’s get
      a few things straight and on the record ……Another thing I
      should tell you, old friend, is that the most important thing that
      your poetry accomplished in this country is to make poetry
      respectably unrespectable. Of if you prefer, unrespectably
      respectable. Poetry in Canada used to be in the hands of old
      ladies and the odd gifted human being like Bliss Carman ….
 
MOST INTERESTING

1.) Tundra Kill by Stan Jones - I have enjoyed every book in the Nathan Active series set on the northwest coast of Alaska in the fictional town of Chukchi.

While the mystery in Tundra Kill is well done it is the character of Alaskan Governor, Helen "Wheels" Mercer, who makes the book one of my Most Interesting books:

      Active masked his astonishment as she swept into the room,
      complete with the Helly-Hansen parka, the rectangle glasses,
      the weapons-grade cheekbones, and a cloud of the famous
      perfume, though he couldn’t remember what it was called. And
      the calf-length high-heel boots – what was the brand?

Mercer was clearly inspired by former real life Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin. Mercer dominates Tundra Kill.

As she is a real northerner I was able to post a photo of Palin in a bright red parka.

2.) Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo by Joseph Greaves - The book revolves around the lives of the quartet of characters named in the title. All are real life people - Tom Dewey, Lucky Luciano, George Morton Levy and Cokey Flo Brown.

Greaves follows their lives through the first third of the 20th Century culminating in the highly publicized trial of Luciano in New York City that made Dewey famous.

The book reached Most Interesting for two reasons.

First, the book used actual excerpts from the transcript of the trial. Dewey's cross-examination of Luciano demonstrated the folly of Luciano refusing Levy's recommendation he not testify at the trial alleging he was the mastermind of prostitution in New York.

Second, Levy was a powerful example of a non-flamboyant very successful criminal defence lawyer. I admit bias in favour of an unassuming skilful litigator.

3.) A Candle to Light the Sun by Patricia Blondal - The book is an excellent portrayal of life in rural Manitoba during the Depression and after World War II.

Life was already bleak in Mouse Bluffs from the economic effects of the Depression. Adding drought and dust storms left many in despair.

What drew me to the book was the story of the author. Knowing she was dying of cancer Blondal voluntarily left her husband and children to spend three intense months writing the book. She died soon after knowing it would be published.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Bill's Best of 2016 Fiction

2016 was a good but not outstanding reading year for me. I read many fine books but not as many great books. I choose to wait until the very end of the year before making my choices of the Best.

For Bill's Best Fiction of the year I have not and will not hold myself to choosing books written in the given year. I set out my personal criteria as my favourite book this year was published in 1995.


My favourite trio of Fiction books of 2016 were:

1.) Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - I like many but love few books. I loved reading Snow Falling on Cedars. In my review I found the book "lyrical and compelling". The writing was beautiful.

The story of a trial of a Japanese American charged with murdering a white American on a fictional island in Puget Sound after World War II involved a retrospective examination of the process and consequences of the internment of Japanese Americans during the war.

While the plot fits within my personal definition of a legal mystery it is far more the story of people during a tumultuous time in American history.

Having watched the drama and vitriol of the last fall's American election it is clear looking from the North that race and ethnicity and immigration are as much issues in the United States of 2017 as they were over 70 years ago in World War II.

My enjoyment of the book was enhanced by the random way in which the book came to me. My younger son, Michael, found a battered copy in a used bookstore / café in Puerto Vallarta and thought I would enjoy the book. It was his best gift of the year.

2.) A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny - I consider A Great Reckoning a classic. I think it will be long remembered as one of Penny's best works.

After some recent disappointment with the Armand Gamache series A Great Reckoning I was very glad Penny returned to a plausible plot and a clever realistic position for Gamache as the Commander of the Academy for training new members of the Sûreté du Quebec.

What made the book truly memorable was the search for the meaning to a map found within the walls of the bistro in Three Pines.

The heart wrenching revelations of that hand-drawn map explained the impossibility of Three Pines being absent from current maps.

In a year of triumph for her writing, A Great Reckoning spent weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, Louise endured great personal sorrow in the passing of her husband, Michael, from complications of dementia. The word image she provided in an article after his death of her holding hands with Michael as he died will long remain with me.

3.) The King of Fear by Drew Chapman - I have grown discouraged with many thrillers but The King of Fear encouraged me that there are still writers creating intelligent thrillers.

In the book his hero, Garrett Riley, battles a scheme to attack America's financial system.

In my review I wrote that Chapman has shown that the greatest dangers to America are not the isolated attacks of Islamist terrorists but rather technological warfare.

In light of recent revelations concerning Russian hacking in the elections of 2016 Chapman was prescient in his theme.

I was also impressed that Chapman gave Reilly a great adversary in Ilya Markov. Too few thrillers in recent years have provided a real foe.

For 2017 I am off to a good start with The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly.