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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

(33. – 920.) Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg – (Spoilers are inevitable in this review with regard to previous books written by Rotenberg because he carries on the story of many of his characters from book to book.)

There is not the explosive crime opening of earlier books such as a famous radio host announcing to his newspaper delivery man he had killed her (his second wife is dead in the bathtub) in Old City Hall or a shocked widow delivering to a defence lawyer the knife used to kill her husband in The Guilty Verdict or a stray bullet killing a child in a coffee shop parking lot in Stray Bullets or a Crown prosecutor, Karen Raglan, found strangled in a motel room awaiting her lover police detective Ari Greene in Stranglehold.

There was a dramatic opening with regard to Greene, who after months away from Toronto following being cleared of the murder of Ms. Raglan, is returning to the city with Alison Gilroy, the 20 year old daughter, he never knew. She was born to an English lover who gone back to England and has now died.

Greene has made a quiet return to Toronto with Gilroy. He has just started working as a construction worker on a condo development being built by the high profile developer, Livingston Fox. The young aggressive Fox has managed to gain the enmity of anti-development community. He has gained the derisive nickname of Mr. Con Dough.

Leading the charge against a further condo development in the Kensington Marker area, near where Greene is working, is 67 year old Cassandra Amberlight. She is a “progressive” aggressively on the front lines of every protest against commercial development with personal bullhorn in hand. She has been equally aggressive in private life having been convicted of assaulting a pair of ex-spouses. In a twist on conventional spousal abuse she has assaulted both male and female spouses.

As in Stranglehold it is Greene who finds the body. In a shed at the back of his work site Greene finds the body of Fox impaled on the floor by a length of rebar. Unlike Stranglehold he immediately calls the police. The case is assigned to his protégé, Daniel Kennicott.

Later that day Greene is contacted by his former criminal defence lawyer, Ted DiPaulo, who has already been called by Amberlight. She knows instantly she is the prime suspect. DiPaulo wants Greene to assist him in the defence. He pays Greene, who is reluctant to accept money, a retainer of $100.00 which is the same amount, the only amount, Greene had paid him when Greene was charged with murder.

Gilroy becomes ensnared in the investigation as she strives to start a career in journalism through a blog. As a fellow blogger she is bound to be a favourite character of mystery review bloggers.

Fox’s parents are New Age eccentrics running a wellness clinic, the Foxhole Wellness Centre, just north of Toronto. Their parking lot sign reflects a laidback approach to life:

            Peacefully park your troubles this way.

The parents hold a highly public outdoor midnight candlight ceremony to celebrate their son’s life.

It would be hard to find a child, in fiction or real life, who was more different than his parents. It is little surprise that the hard driving Fox argues constantly with his father.

In the high stakes world of condo development financial disaster is but a project away. Fox has stretched himself thinly with a major new project on the waterfront.

It is a strong story and the pages turned easily but where are the lawyers? DiPaulo makes but brief appearances and Crown prosecutor, Albert Hernandez, makes but token appearances.

The front page blurb from the Telegraph-Journal that “Rotenberg is Canada’s John Grisham” is as ill timed as most blurbs. Until Heart of the City I would have found the claim plausible though William Deverell is another great Canadian writer of legal mysteries.

Heart of the City is a police procedural. The major characters are Kennicott and Greene. The investigation is carefully conducted.

Still there is a hidden legal moment in the book that ratcheted up the tension. Kennicott, a lawyer before he became a police officer, conducts an interview of Amberlight which is really a skillful cross-examination. I have read transcripts of lots of real life police interviews and trial transcripts and I see a lawyer pinning down Amberlight not a police officer questioning a suspect. It was the best scene in the book.

Heart of the City is a page turner but it is a conventional police procedural. The earlier books tackled major legal issues. While it is a well done police procedural there are enough police procedurals in Canadian crime fiction. There are too few good Canadian legal mysteries. In fact, I am writing to Rotenberg to ask where the lawyers went in Heart of the City.
Rotenberg, Robert – (2011) - Old City Hall; (2011) - The Guilty Plea; (2012) - Stray Bullets(2012) - "R" is for Robert Rotenberg; (2013) - Stranglehold


  1. It is interesting, Bill, that in this case, Rotenberg has shifted his focus away from the law, and onto the police investigations. I understand what you mean about the attorneys. Still, it sounds like a well-written story with some solid tension. Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is well-written. I hope to get an answer from Robert on where have all the lawyers gone.

  2. I'd wonder that, too. Did he follow Shakespeare's instruction to "first, kill all the lawyers."

    I, for one, would like them back.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Glad to report no lawyers killed.

      Even more glad that you would like the lawyers back.

  3. I worked for the New York Civil Liberties Union for 10 years. Yes, I like lawyers who fight for social justice and those who defend people who need it.

    And I've known a lot of very good-hearted and principled lawyers in my life.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. For 42 years I have defended the accused in criminal proceedings. I have always striven to represent each person as an individual.

  4. I'm sure you've done your best with each defendant. You've taken civil cases, too, haven't you?

    I've known a lot of well-known social justice lawyers and know of those who work for the Innocence Project. A friend in Texas who works with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, was talking to me last night about the lawyers in the Innocence Project and how good they are at what they do.

    Also, she told me that it was hard for her to read Grisham's book, "The Confession," which you have mentioned, I believe. She has known a lot of people on death row in Texas, and recognized some of them in that book. It turns out Grisham had interviewed many of the same people as research for the book.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. My general practice includes lots of civil cases. Many of those cases are family law. Every day I deal with the issues arising from spousal breakups.

      The Confession is a demanding, even harrowing, book that will not be forgotten by a reader.

  5. My friend was devastated after reading that book since she recognized some of the characters as people she knew, since Grisham had interviewed several inmates on Texas' death row.

    I think some of the people she knew were executed and she was reminded of them when she read it. I have great respect for the work she does, and she visits and has friendships with people on death row. And she is devastated when someone is executed.

    Sometimes, she is the only person visiting a prisoner as some have no families or friends and spend years incarcerated there.

    It's sad all the way around, but she is a committed person.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I admire your friend for her willingness to work with the damned. She must have a powerful spirit to deal with the depressing circumstances she must encounter daily.

  6. She has a backbone of steel and a heart of gold.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could meet her. I am sure conversations with her are interesting.