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, September 21, 2012

"R" is for Robert Rotenberg

Moving through the second half of the alphabet we have reached “R” on Kerrie Smith’s The Alphabet in Crime Fiction 2012 meme at Mysteries in Paradise. I am glad to profile another Canadian lawyer in his 50’s who practises criminal law – Robert Rotenberg.

He has acquired numerous life experiences beyond being a lawyer. As set out on his website he undertook numerous types of work seeking to avoid the practice of law. He has driven a cab, edited an English magazine in Paris called Passion, co-created and published a magazine back in Canada called T.O. – The Magazine of Toronto, been a film producer and worked as radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Finally at 37 broke again (he had never succeeded in doing better than surviving) and a child on the way he became a lawyer.

While practising law he channelled his writing passions into a film script and then fiction. He was not an overnight success. He says on his website:

My first book was good enough to get me an agent in New York. But not good enough. The day I was told it hadn’t sold, I immediately started Old City Hall. It was 2001. By 2004 I’d hit a wall, with the book half done. I took a nine-day writing course at Humber College and worked with two talented writers, David Bezmozgis and Michelle Berry, who were most generous with their time.

He gained a publisher through the aid of another author, Douglas Preston, who had married his wife’s best friend. Rotenberg and Preston became friends. When Preston read the completed Old City Hall he was impressed and helped find a major literary agent who liked the book and engineered a bidding war between publishers.

Among Rotenberg’s most interesting characteristics are his strong opinions.

From the Canadian magazine, McLeans on interviewing new clients charged with crimes:

That’s because everybody lies, although mostly by omission, because everybody has something or someone to protect, he says, and at first they think they can. “When people come to my office, they’re in shock, and I don’t let them talk about their case at all, which drives them crazy because that’s all they want to talk about. But I don’t want them to commit to their stories. It takes a while before they learn that in the criminal justice system you can’t have any secrets.”

From the newspaper, The Toronto Star, on information from clients:

"You know, Mark Twain once said – and it's a great line – `People are like the moon. You only see half of them.'"

Also from The Toronto Star on the judicial system:

But it is also a place where truth and justice are not always possible, given human nature, he suggests. "We live in a world where everyone wants answers for everything. And we want the justice system to provide all the answers. But the reality is, we live in an ambiguous world."

With regard to seeing clients charged with family abuse he said in the newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

"For the first 72 hours, I would say every man who contacts me is in extreme shock and depression," Mr. Rotenberg says. "A lot of them are suicidal. These are normal people who love their children. Their lives have been ripped apart. The criminal justice system is a sledgehammer. When it gets involved in people's lives, it is as if you've dropped a bomb into their marriage. You have marriages ending after 18 years because someone reached out and grabbed an arm."

He is far from politically correct continuing:

"There is zero tolerance for men, but there is no zero tolerance for women," Mr. Rotenberg asserts. "Police are reluctant to charge women. In fact, I can't remember a women being charged unless there was a physical injury. Whereas, men are charged all the time without there being a physical injury."

I have enjoyed all 3 of his books – Old City Hall, The Guilty Plea and Stray Bullets. He is among the most realistic of writers of legal fiction about what really happens in and out of the courtroom. Those writers who bend or break the rules of what happens in court or preparation for court would do well to read Rotenberg. His books are full of drama while remaining accurate.

You can find links to his books and some very candid Q and A by clicking on either the Rest of Canada or Legal Mysteries.

Of the trio I think Old City Hall is best. It was 2nd on my Best of 2012 for fiction.


  1. Fascinating profile. I enjoyed Old City Hall and The Guilty Plea very much, so will look out for the third book.

  2. Bill - Thanks for this really interesting profile on Rotenberg. He really does have a wide variety of experiences and he's certainly frank. Little wonder he offers readers a realistic look at what goes on in the legal system.

  3. Maxine: Thanks for the comment. I expect you will enjoy Stray Bullets.

  4. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Rotenberg does an excellent job of mixing his varied experiences - in and out of the legal profession.

  5. These books do sound interesting. Will see if the library has them. Thanks.

  6. Peggy Ann: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get a chance to read his books.

  7. Have never been fond of legal thrillers but will have a look at these books because the author's political incorrectness does sound interesting.

  8. neer: Thanks for the comment. I hope you give Rotenberg a read.

  9. I love legal thrillers and read Rotenberg's first book and must read the others -- but that TBR mountain is quite intimidating, between the list and the actual books.

    My comment about Linwood Barclay is that because of his U.S. settings, I didn't realize he is a Canadian author. I so wish his books were set in Canada.

    As a U.S. resident, I have enough reading about U.S. locations, and many books are great, as Nevada Barr's, which have educated me about U.S. national parks.

    But, the point is to expand one's horizons, read about other countries, the customs, the idiosyncrasies, the history.

    So many protagonists are so clearly tied to their home countries that we'd sorely miss many things if they were investigating in the U.S. -- as Sherlock Holmes, Commissario Guido Brunetti, Salvo Montalbano, Commissionaire Adamsberg, Rebecka Martinsson, Harry Hole, Kurt Wallander, Emmanuel Cooper and so on.

    Expanding our experiences, even though virtual is a goal of reading fiction. It's so enriching.

  10. Kathy D.: I agree. Much of the richness of reading mysteries is lost if the setting invariably becomes generic America.

    I do admit it took becoming a blogger before I read as many of the fine non-North American mystery writers as I now reading.