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.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thoughts on Q & A with Robert Rotenberg on Stranglehold

My last two posts are about Stranglehold by Robert Rotenberg. On Sunday I posted a review of the book. On Tuesday it was a Q & A with the author. Tonight I pass on some thoughts about the answers from the Q & A. I have put my thoughts in italics.

            1.) In the book DiPaulo has a sign in his office
            from Anatomy of a Murder:

                 A trial was after all a savage and primitive battle for
                 survival itself.

Do you also view Canadian criminal trials as bloody combat? In my experience in Saskatchewan criminal trials they can be intense but I would not characterize them as “savage”. While sometimes “primitive” I think most trials involve sophisticated work by the lawyers.

Savage might sound a bit extreme, but it is the perfect quote. (Hint, I used it at the front of my second novel, "The Guilty Plea," which in some ways was an homage to that novel and great film.)

But I do it is true. When we strip back all our civility in Canadian courts (and thank goodness for that civility) the core of what we are dealing with are the most basic…savage…of emotions. How else can you describe someone shooting, stabbing, or strangling another human being. (And thank goodness they do, or how would I make a living as a lawyer or a writer!)

Is a trial a savage and primitive battle for survival? Actual trials can feel stilted at times because of the formal civility. Lawyers in Canada in court will refer to each other as their friends or learned friends. Yet at the core of the trial will be fierce emotions. Whether freedom, money or reputation are in issue the witnesses and parties to the court action are involved in matters for which they have strong feelings. Words can be fought just as fiercely as swords.

3.) Has it become perilous to be the Head Crown Prosecutor in your books with Ralphie Armitage going to jail and Raglan being murdered? Or is it perhaps a defence counsel author exacting a subtle revenge upon the Crown?

Crowns have a good life. No client calls in the middle of the night. Paid vacation. Pensions. Sick days. (I haven't had a sick day or a paid vacation ever.) So if one gets killed and another ends up in jail, I say: "suck it up."  

Robert is a committed defence counsel. I fear for the future of Crown counsels in future books. I expect Crown counsels of his acquaintance would have something to say to him about the benefits of defence counsel such as being able to choose clients, not having to deal with unreasonable police officers and able to withdraw from cases as counsel.

4.) The book has an interesting bail hearing but no preliminary inquiry. Have you decided to avoid prelims in your books? If so, I would be interested in knowing why the prelim, often held in most major criminal proceedings, is not in the books.

I try to switch things around. If I wrote a book with a bail hearing, a preliminary inquiry, a trial, an appeal, another appeal to the Supreme Court, a retrial…well you get the idea. Damn boring. 

Indeed, in "Old City Hall" the prelminary hearing is about to take place.

But the bottom line is a "prelim" as we call them is usually deadly dull. A judge once told me it was like baby-sitting a sleeping child.  

Prelims can be boring in real life if the questioning is perfunctory. No verdict is given at the conclusion. Only rarely will there be a dismissal of the charge. Normally there will be committal to trial. Yet I have been able to use the chance to question witnesses at the prelim to establish the evidence needed to convince the Crown not to go to trial or set the framework for the defence to be argued at trial. It is a subtler drama to set up a case for trial through the questions in a prelim.

5.) On some websites it is now the Ari Greene series. How did that happen? I still think of it as a unique series with equally powerful police and lawyers.

Thanks. I agree. This is a marketing thing I guess that I have no control over. Note, none of the books use this phrase.

I have never thought of this as an "Ari Greene Series." I'd say for example, that the third novel "Stray Bullets" is really Nancy Parish's book. 

I've always been interested in writing about a whole cast of characters. In fact, Ari kind of appeared on the scene a bit by accident in Book One, "Old City Hall" and just kept hanging around.

But I do see him as the moral centre of the series. And knowing Ari as well as I do, I'm sure he wouldn't want his name on it. That's for sure. 

There appears a compulsion to market a series by identifying it through the lead character. Rotenberg’s books are not suited to such an approach. There are continuing characters in the series but who will be most important varies from book to book. In a comment exchange with Margot Kinberg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist I said I thought the series should have a name comparable to the 87th Precinct series of Ed McBain. I keep trying to think of a suitable name but none seem appropriate. Toronto Law seems routine. Toronto Courts is apt but far from catchy. Toronto Justice is but alittle better. I invite readers to add their own submissions for a series name.

6.) There were issues raised in the story that received little attention during the book but were featured in the resolution. As an example, there was a letter received by Greene but never acted upon him. Were there subplots cut from the book?

Afraid I can't agree with you that Greene never acted on the letter. I think that's the whole point of how he handled himself. And the novel.

Beyond that I'd rather not say. I think it's pretentious when authors talk about the deeper meaning or real themes of their books. 

Suggestion: re-read the letter again. Then perhaps re-read the last chapter.

As for the plot and subplot. In this book they are extremely complicated. (That seems to be my way.). But in the end, I think they all fit together. That's the struggle of writing and the real fun of making it work. 
It is a hard answer on which to have thoughts for a blog post as I do not want to put up spoilers. I continue to think the subplot was not well fleshed out in the book.

 I agree Robert’s plots are complicated but they are not convoluted. Robert trusts readers to grasp complex plots. I appreciate his confidence in readers.

Even more I appreciate the candour, even bluntness, of Rotenberg. He is not a man afraid to tell you what is on his mind. I believe his writing skill has him poised to become an author of international renown. He has interesting characters both seeking to solve crimes (the police) and fight court cases (the lawyers).


  1. Very interesting post, Bill - thanks!

  2. Bill, thanks for the Q&A with Mr. Rotenberg and your own thoughts based on that interview. I enjoyed both. In the Q&A I particularly liked the author's "candid" response to your question on the risks that a Head Crown Prosecutor might face. We read that sort of thing in newspapers in India where the Chief Prosecutor today receives top security cover because of the sensitive cases he or she handles, mostly terrorism related. I also liked the fact that Mr. Rotenberg prefers to write about "a whole cast of characters" that I find appealing in crime fiction. Your three posts on the author has convinced me to pick up at least one of his books, to begin with.

  3. Prashant: Thanks for the kind words. I think the cast of characters makes it a unique series and focuses the reader's attention upon the plot.