(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.