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.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

1. – 562.) Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg – The best legal mystery I have read by a Canadian lawyer. I am going to have to get one of William Deverell’s books for comparison. In character development and depiction of the legal system as it actually functions I was reminded of the best of Scott Turow. Almost as smoothly written as a John Grisham novel it varies from a Grisham story in not having a lawyer related theme. I have longed for a Canadian legal mystery that does not seek to change the rules of our courts for perceived dramatic effect. There were no pages where I went that would never happen in court.
            In the mystery Canada’s leading early morning national radio host, Kevin Brace, comes to his condo door shortly after 5:30 am to meet his newspaper delivery person, Mr. Singh, and tells him “I killed her”. His second wife, Katherine Torn, is dead in the bathtub. I thought the late Peter Gzowski would have been flattered to have himself charged with murder in a great mystery novel.
            His lawyer, Nancy Parrish, and the Crown prosecutor, Albert Hernandez, are lawyers I can see in court. They espouse a basic requirement for a litigator – careful preparation of their cases. It was refreshing to have two honourable fictional lawyers doing their best.
The one deviation from real life was Parrish never discussing or being worried about money. Every lawyer in private practice spends a lot of time dealing with the issues of fees and overhead. Michael Connelly’s character Mickey Haller is one of the few fictional lawyers who wrestles with the economics of criminal defence.
            Within the mystery there are clever plot developments. Most brilliant is Brace’s decision to only communicate with Parrish in writing. I could not help thinking it would be very frustrating to have a client who would not talk to you but would it really hamper the defence of the case?
            At times I wondered if the mystery was going to become the excessive series of twists of some Jeffery Deaver novels but Rotenberg draws back in time.
            The story is beautifully set in downtown Toronto. Old City Hall is the dominant physical feature of the mystery. The mystery is a Toronto mystery not a generic big city story.
            I will not wait for Rotenberg’s next novel to come out in paperback. Canada has a great lawyer writer. My 2011 reading is off to an excellent start. Hardcover. (Jan. 2/11) (Possible ----- best of 2011 fiction)


  1. A true page turner. Sensational, but still believable. Quick, but not too fast. The book definitely reminds me of classic Grisham. Murder, intrigue, and enough legal jargon give an aura of credibility, but not too much to drown the casual reader. I was most impressed by the vivid imagery of the novel. It paints a striking picture of Toronto and constantly highlights both the subtle and overt aspects of Canadian multiculturalism. Whether an elderly Indian "paper delivery person" who constantly reminds other charachters that he was a chief engineer with the Indian National railway, the largest rail company in the world, or a black globe and mail reporter who is desperately trying to crack the snow coloured foreign desk, the book is chalk full of characters who emphasize the true colour of this modern Canadian metropolis. I have read few books which dare to delve into so many cultural references and nuances, but any book that wishes to invoke an accurate portrayal of Toronto in the 21st century simply cannot be as white washed as many books of the past.

    Similar to some of Grisham's best novels, the story is as much about the setting as the plot. Coming from a generation of Canadians whose novels are steeped in the lore of the deep south, or set amongst the towers of Manhattan, it was a welcome change to read about a court room packed with correspondents from the globe, star, post and sun.

    I was impressed from start to finish and would happily advise anyone who is interested in crime/legal fiction to pick up this book.

  2. Mike

    Thank you for the insightful comment on the book and its reflection of the multicultural life of Toronto.


  3. Bill - many thanks for this. Just came across it this morning, before I write away on book three. The Guilty Plea, book two, is coming out in Canada in May.
    Very best,


  4. Old City Hall truly is amazing. And I've read more than my share of legal mysteries. Robert Rotenberg has done an excellent job of painting a picture of Toronto and its surroundings. I live in Toronto, and when ever he describes a scene, it is the exact image I had in my head. I loved the twists and turns, especially when we find out why Kevin Brace won't talk to his lawyer.
    I'm doing this book for my book report (grade 8), and it's only supposed to be 5 paragraphs. However, I just can't describe how good it is, along with the plot, summary, characters, etc.
    Can't wait to get his second book, "The Guilty Plea".

  5. taylorswift13 - Thanks for the comment. It is a great book and I glad you enjoyed it. If you are willing to share your book report I would be glad to get it as a comment or an email. I took a look at your blog and was very impressed.

  6. I enjoyed his two books.

    He was speaking at one of the libraries in September ... it was interesting.

  7. Teena: I am glad you enjoyed both books. I would like to meet Robert when I am in Toronto.