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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Questions and Answers with Robert Rotenberg

Today I am participating in the blogger tour organized by Simon and Schuster for Robert Rotenberg's book, The Guilty Plea. It is my second post in three days with Robert Rotenberg. Tomorrow I will post some thoughts on Robert’s Questions and Answers. My review of the book is below this post. Robert, a Toronto lawyer, actively working as a criminal defence lawyer provided vivid answers to my questions. I thank him for his candour. The Questions and Answers are:

1.)    DiPaulo never discusses his fees with Samantha. Every Toronto lawyer and every Saskatchewan lawyer I know would make that a topic during the first meeting. Most fictional lawyers are unconcerned about money. Why is there no discussion and agreement on fees?

Interesting you asked. I wrote a number of scenes in the first two books when the lawyers talked with their clients about money. How to put this gently? They sucked. They were the most boring scenes you could imagine. But, trust me fees are very much on my mind – every client, every day. So in Book Three, Nancy Parish has a long rant about how when you do a big murder trial for a client on legal aid your whole financial (and personal) life goes out the window.

2.)    While I have seen a few Ontario judges none of the judges I know appear to be models for your fictional judges. Were your judges inspired by actual judges?

I so love my judges. They are such great fun to create and write about. The tremendous writer Giles Blunt says he often judges (that word) a writer by the strength of their minor characters. Of course these are not based on actual judges – none of the characters are. But that is not to say I don’t slice little bits of people I see and splice them together. My real goal is that no character be a cliché. Maybe a bit over the top sometimes, but real people. In The Guilty Plea, I had the opportunity to show Judge Summers had another dimension. (To brag just a bit, the scene when Ari Greene goes to see Summers in his the judge’s chambers is one I am very proud of. You will see that I ended a key section of the book with it.)

A funny story: After Old City Hall came out, a judge stopped me in the hall one day and said: “Robert, that lawyer in the book, Nancy Parish, I know exactly who you based her on.” “Oh,” I said, smiling a bit to myself I must admit, “Who?” He then named a female lawyer. “Funny you should say that,” I told the judge. “You know, I’ve never heard of that woman in my life.” We both laughed. Here’s the kicker – it was true. I’d never heard of her before.

3.)    Most legal mysteries concentrate on either the prosecutor or the defence counsel. Why do you focus equally upon them?

Great question. I didn’t know a great deal about mysteries when I started Old City Hall. Never really thought of it as a mystery, indeed still don’t. But I did start reading a number of so called ‘legal thrillers’ as I went along. I always found when the Crown, or the judge, was the nasty bad guy it always seemed so cliché. Not real. I’m only interested in trying to tell the story of this city, this time, as I see it.

Nice note: I went to speak to a grade ten English class a while ago. They’d studied Old City Hall, and it was amazing. At one point I asked, “Who is the hero of the book?” A question I don’t really have the answer to. Kids said Greene, Brace, Kennicott…then one shy boy put up his hand and said “I think it was Albert Fernandez’s father. He’s the one who influenced his son to do the right thing.”

The answer totally blew me away. Brings tears to my eyes even as I write this.
I guess that’s the best answer of all.

4.)    Can a legal mystery which is not weighted to Crown or defence end in a conviction?

Happens every day in real life.

5.)    Juries and judges want a plausible alternative to the accused being the killer. In The Guilty Plea the alternative did not come until the very end though all the lawyers and police were very thorough in their investigations. It would have been more credible to me to have the alternative introduced earlier in the plot as in Scott Turow’s book Innocent. Could you explain the plotting decision to have the alternative at the end?

Well we need a very long lunch to talk about plot. The toughest thing. Plotting decisions. That’s a new term for me. Thanks, now I won’t sleep tonight!

I know there are some people who read these answers who will not have read the book, so I’m choosing my words carefully. I think if you look back again at the book you’ll see that in fact I did cover all my bases.

6.)    Having a 4 year old, Simon, as a key witness brought back memories for me of a case where I questioned a 4 year old. I sent the accused out of the courtroom during the evidence as I could not figure out how the accused should look while the child testified and wanted the jury to focus on the evidence not my client’s reaction to the evidence. In my case, unlike your case, the police and social worker had not asked neutral questions in their interview. Had you considered making Simon an actual trial witness?

I did but it was very clumsy. And I try to always change things up for the reader. If you flip through either of my books, you’ll see that each chapter starts in a very different way.

Same goes for the courtroom scenes. It is boring to just read about witness after witness. By doing it this way, the video almost becomes a character. There’s the making of the video, the feel and sound of playing the video, and Greene’s reaction to seeing himself on tape. I think this is much stronger, richer.

And, this is evidence introduced at the bail hearing. A child would never testify at that stage in the proceedings.

Thanks for the informed questions


  1. I just finished reading The Guilty Plea yesterday. It's really good! The ending REALLY surprised me, especially with what happens. That's one of the things that I like about Robert Rotenberg. His books always take you by surprise. You think you know what's coming when you actually don't.
    And by the way, my teacher lost my book report on "Old City Hall" that I did way back in September. Sad, since I never got to know my mark... :'(

  2. Thanks for the comment. I would like to have known your mark on the "Old city Hall" report. It was well done. If you are looking for a new book you might consider The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder. You can find my review on the blog. It is intended for readers younger than yourself but I think it is a good mystery featuring a young future Prime Minister.

  3. Thanks! I'll check out the book! I would also like to know the mark that I received on the book report. Quite disappointing that he lost it, but what can I do?...
    I was wondering, do you read any books that are about murders and homicides but from the science point of view? Like the Kay Scarpetta Series by Patricia D. Cornwell? They're quite interesting. Just a comment... If you don't already, you should try it!

  4. I appreciate your further comment. I have read some of the Scarpetta books. I like better the books by Kathy Reichs who sets her forensic mysteries in Montreal.

  5. I keep saying that one day, I'm going to read the books by Kathy Reichs, but I never get around to it...

  6. I expect you will enjoy her books when you get a chance to read them.