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Old City Hall [Hardcover]

Robert Rotenberg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 3 2009
Kevin Brace, Canada's most famous radio personality, stands in the door of his luxury condo-minium, hands covered in blood, and announces to his newspaper delivery man: "I killed her." His wife lies dead in the bathtub, fatally stabbed.

It would appear to be an open-and-shut case.

The trouble is, Brace refuses to talk to anyone -- including his own lawyer -- after muttering those incriminating words. With the discovery that the victim was actually a self-destructive alcoholic, the appearance of strange fingerprints at the crime scene, and a revealing courtroom cross-examination, the seemingly simple case takes on all the complexities of a hotly contested murder trial. Meantime, much to everyone's surprise, the Leafs are making an unlikely run for the Stanley Cup.

In the tradition of defence lawyers turned authors like Scott Turow and John Grisham, Robert Rotenberg delivers a legal thriller rich with his forensic skill and insider knowledge, taking readers on a tour of Toronto from the Don Jail to the towers of Bay Street and into the shadowy corridors of the Old City Hall courthouse.

Elmore Leonard has Florida; John Lescroart, San Francisco; Robert Parker, Boston; Scott Turow, Chicago; and now, with Old City Hall, Rotenberg offers us a page-turning legal thriller set in a diverse and surprising Toronto and filled with unexpected characters and plot twists that keep you guessing until the very end.

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Old City Hall + The Guilty Plea + Stray Bullets
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Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

For years, Robert Rotenberg has been one of Canada’s foremost criminal defence lawyers. Now, taking a page from his older brother David (author of the Zhong Fong mystery novels and the historical epic Shanghai), he applies his courtroom knowledge to a clever debut that modifies the legal thriller template into a larger study of the vagaries of human behaviour. When Gurdial Singh arrives at radio host Kevin Brace’s house to deliver the morning newspaper, he finds the man in hysterics, covered in blood and shouting that he has killed his wife in the bathtub. What appears at first to be an open-and-shut case proves far more complex, however. Rotenberg’s writing style is understated and fluid, enhanced but not overwhelmed by his insider knowledge of Toronto’s criminal courts and the streets surrounding “the Hall.” He also takes care to show off the city’s charms and frustrations, whether describing Front Street’s “comfortable, almost European feel” or the traffic-clogged “Don Valley Parking Lot.” What is most evident in Old City Hall is the breathing room Rotenberg gives his story. The twists and turns unfold briskly, but the author allows sufficient time to develop his cast of characters in three dimensions, rather than simply giving them a series of quirks. The generosity also augers well for future novels – with the burden of proof solely on Rotenberg to turn his initial promise into a lasting second career as a crime writer.


"Clever, complex, and filled with an engaging cast of characters, Old City Hall captures the vibrancy and soul of Toronto." -- Kathy Reichs

"Robert Rotenberg knows his Toronto courts and jails, he knows his law, and he knows his way around a legal thriller. Old City Hall is a splendid entertainment." -- Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle

"An amazing debut." -- Nelson DeMille

"This is one of those novels where you only need to read the first chapter to be swept away." -- Douglas Preston

"Old City Hall is a wonderfully written and intriguing murder mystery by Robert Rotenberg, a criminal lawyer practicing in the largest city in Canada. The book provides a genuine insider's view into the psychological and legal chess games portrayed by all of the various characters in the criminal justice system." -- Edward L. Greenspan, Q.C.

"Breathtaking.... A tightly woven spiderweb of a plot and a rich cast of characters make this a truly gripping read...Robert Rotenberg does for Toronto what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh." -- Jeffery Deaver

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Add this one to your reading list! April 5 2009
Greg Iles, Stuart Woods, Phillip Margolin, Eric Rill. Exceptional story-tellers have a way of grabbing you by both lapels and pulling you in. Add Robert Rotenberg to the list. Old City Hall is a delightful read seen from the point-of-view of six utterly believable characters: a paper-delivery person, a beat cop, a detective, a reporter, a prosecutor and a defence lawyer. The story is crafted around the stabbing of the wife of a prominent broadcaster. The investigation, proceedings, jail visits and court room scenes that follow are masterful. The book is chock full of delightful morsels like how to spot when someone's lying. Or things young lawyers need to know about not alienating an old judge. But mainly this is just a mesmerizing read. Fast paced from start to finish. Definitely put this one on your reading list.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Infectious and accomplished first novel Feb. 14 2009
"Old City Hall" is breathtakingly good. It's a crisply paced murder-mystery with a satisfying plot and sufficient twists to keep it addictive and infectious to the very end. The novel boasts an intriguing and consistently sympathetic cast of characters, the most colourful and endearing of which is the city of Toronto itself. Rotenberg rounds out the story with historical and cultural background on the city, and behind-the-scenes legal, law enforcement and incarceration insights that add interest and dimension to the overall story without unduly slowing down the plot momentum. Rotenberg handles a complex narrative with a confidence and deftness that belies the fact that this is his first novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing first novel March 18 2010
Format:Mass Market Paperback
With a murder and a confession within the first few pages, this book would seem to have nowhere to go. Wrong! The plot, which delivers as many twists as a corkscrew, kept me up far too late last night.

The book is well paced and the characters fully developed: the detectives; the accused and his family; the prosecutor, and witness Mr. Gurdial Singh; none are cardboard characters or placeholders.

It was a rare pleasure to read, and I hope for more novels from this very talented Canadian author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great first mystery March 27 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a sucker for any book set in Toronto; it's always cool when you know the setting. This procedural feels accurate and real. The story unfolds beautifully, and stays plausible, though it reaches it's high point early enough to make the last few pages drag. The story of a Peter Gzowski-ish radio personality who appears to have killed his wife is excellent and the characters interesting. I am going to read Rotenbergs next book shortly; I am curious to know what he does with the people he just introduced. This is a quality piece and definitely worth a look.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wanted to like it, didn't May 9 2013
I have a hard time placing this novel in the genre of crime fiction, it's really not police procedural, since so much of the focus of the story relates to the Crown and Defence attorneys. Likewise, it's not really just about lawyers because the cops in the novel (one of whom is a former lawyer who somehow seems to be able to play at detective while still being a uniformed officer) play a significant role in the plot. The mental gymnastics and logical leaps the major players employ to arrive at a theory for the crime in question I found difficult to accept. The lawyers seem like they should have a significant role, but for the most part they don't do anything, or arrive at any conclusions on their own. The story was mostly there, it just seemed to lack focus.

The setting in Toronto was good, and the fact that it doesn't try to Americanize the process. The judge was probably my favourite character, although his role is minimal.

Gum shoe detectives (think Bernie Gunther, Martin Beck) are my preferred genre, if that's your thing I wouldn't recommend this. If you're more into the court room scenes you might like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It walks on my ground and talks my talk July 13 2010
I loved this book. I read it in record time and it is being added to my list of books to recommend and books to keep. The characters are vivid and believable. The story itself is realistic and anyone who knows Toronto can follow the footsteps they take. I can't wait for Mr. Rotenberg's next book and also the series they are planning based on this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Writing July 24 2010
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It's such a treat to have good Canadian writers. I believe Mr. Rotenberg did exceptionally well for a first novel. Kept me intrested page after page.

I can hardly wait for his second book and hope he keeps up the good work. So many authors seem to have one or two books and then quit writing.

I especially like that it's written in the third person. Again, authors seem to have one or two novels in the third person and then switch to the first person which to me detracts from the story telling.

E. Smith
Edmonton, AB
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great.... May 4 2010
Robert Rotenberg's first novel, Old City Hall, is a good, but not great work. He writes well about the city of Toronto and it's citizens, particularly the ethnic pieces that have come together to make Toronto one of North America's most cosmopolitan cities. And his story is fine, but not written as well as a more experienced writer might have done. I think Old City Hall is a good, strong 4 star, I just can't give it 5 stars. Maybe his next book will get up to 5. This one, however, is a good start and a good read.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasure
It was a pleasure to read a Canadian crime novel that was not only well written but paced and planned perfectly. It was fun to visit Toronto and area.
Published 1 month ago by Kristine Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT a bedtime story.
Very entertaining. I read way past my bedtime: instead of relaxing me, the story just kept getting better. Read more
Published 1 month ago by P. R. Trust
5.0 out of 5 stars I attended Robert Rotenberg reading.
I attended a Robert Rotenberg reading at Kitchener Public Library in the fall of 2013. He piqued my interest in his book with his humour and wit in person. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Susan
3.0 out of 5 stars Good background on Toronto
I can take him or leave him. Not a bad writer for a lawyer, probably should have changed his name, if that's his real one, wouldn't seem to inspire much confidence to a potential... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Oldie Goldie
3.0 out of 5 stars Old City Hall
This book started out really well, very interesting but gradually it wore itself down! I read Stranglehold and ought it to be excellent and fast paced; but Old City Hall reaches... Read more
Published 8 months ago by TRISH CHARD
3.0 out of 5 stars History lesson or crime drama?
It seems to me Robenberg could not decide on weather to write a novel about Toronto, it's culture, history and multiculturalism or a crime novel so he just through the two... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Jessica Brisbois
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Read
Recommended by a friend and I quite enjoyed it. Fun to read a story based out of your home country.
Published 9 months ago by kbruynzeel
5.0 out of 5 stars first novel a good one
His writing style is easy to follow, especially with his descriptions of Toronto and area. I like his set-up of alternating chapters with his main characters who could stand alone... Read more
Published 21 months ago by elis
4.0 out of 5 stars Great characters, great city
So many great characters in this book, I hardly knew which was the main one. I felt connected to each one's point of view and that much more aware of the import of their... Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2011 by Mark Victor Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg
Nice to have a exciting novel that is Canadian. Well Written and an interesting ending. Once I started reading it was hard to put down Will certainly buy his next novel.
Published on June 13 2011 by JNN
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