In The Guilty Plea and Old City Hall, critically acclaimed author Robert Rotenberg created gripping page-turners that captured audiences in Canada and around the world. Rotenberg’s bestsellers do for Toronto what Ian Rankin has done for Edinburgh and Michael Connelly for Los Angeles.
In Stray Bullets, Rotenberg takes the reader to a snowy November evening. Outside a busy downtown doughnut shop, gunshots ring out and a young boy is critically hurt. Soon Detective Ari Greene is on scene. How many shots were fired? How many guns? How many witnesses?
With grieving parents and a city hungry for justice, the pressure is on to convict the man accused of this horrible crime. Against this tidal wave of indignation, defense counsel Nancy Parish finds herself defending her oldest and most difficult client.
But does anyone know the whole story?
Stray Bullets is Robert Rotenberg’s third intricate mystery set on the streets and in the courtrooms of Toronto.
It was bad enough working in the kitchen of a doughnut shop for minimum wage, but having to wear a hairnet was even worse. Especially since the Tim Hortons uniform they made Jose Sanchez wear was at least a full size too big. Made him look ridiculous. Made it hard to talk to Suzanne, the pretty young server who worked out front. Not that it mattered. She had a boyfriend, a punk named Jet. And why would she be interested in an illegal immigrant to Canada whose real name wasn’t Jose Sanchez but Dragomir Ozera. And who wasn’t a chef from Portugal, as he’d told his employer, but was a Romanian linguistics student with a warrant out for his arrest. Fucking hairnet.
Suzanne and Ozera liked to hang out together on their breaks. He’d sneak her a doughnut from the baking tray, she’d snag him a coffee, and they’d head out back for a smoke. This afternoon it was almost five o’clock, and the mid-November sky was already losing its light. Suzanne was sitting in their usual spot on one of the overturned milk crates with a pack of Players in her hand. He bent down to take a cigarette, and it took three tries to light the bloody thing. The wind was strong and chilling.
He stood up, took a deep puff, and exhaled into the scant light. Then he saw it.
“Shit,” he said.
“What?” she asked, looking around.
“It’s snowing. I can’t believe it.”
Six years ago, when Ozera first arrived in Toronto from Romania, he was excited about the idea of experiencing a real Canadian winter. But now all he could think was, November fourteenth. December fourteenth. January fourteenth. February fourteenth. March fourteenth. Somehow he had to get through another four months of ice and snow.
“I guess winters aren’t like this in Portugal,” she said.
“I never saw snow once before I came here,” he said.
Of course he’d been born in the mountains of Romania and was in fact an excellent skier. These days he was having fun pretending to be Portuguese and had even grown sideburns to fit the part. At his last job he was Argentinean, complete with a long twisty mustache. Luckily, his facial hair grew real fast.
She handed him the coffee and he took a sip. He winced. At Timmy’s they served something called a “double-double.” Watery coffee with two creams and two sugars. He didn’t have the heart to tell her how horrid it tasted. Who in the world would put cream in anything you’d want to drink? he thought as he struggled to keep the coffee down.
She reached for his cigarette and took a long drag. Her shift was over. She was waiting for Jet, who always picked her up at five in his big, old Cadillac. Guy was never late. She seemed fidgety.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“It’s my ex, Dewey. Got out of jail three days ago, and I hear he’s looking for me.” She twirled her long, curly hair between her fingers.
She returned the smoke, and Ozera took a puff.
“He just finished three years for a drugstore robbery. I took the bus out to Kingston every third weekend for eighteen months.” She rolled up the sleeve on her right arm to show him a tattoo on the underside. It read: “DeWEy.” A red heart was drawn over top of the “WE.”
He offered her back the cigarette, and she grabbed it.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. Those stupid trailer visits made me feel like a sex slave. And he was calling me collect every night. Cost a fortune.” She exhaled a line of smoke that danced in the wind. “Dewey’s a jealous asshole, and he’s smart. He already knows I work here, my shift, everything. And he hates Jet. We all grew up in this little place called Pelee Island.”
The name of so many things in this country ended in the “ee” sound, Ozera thought. Timmy’s. Harvey’s, a hamburger chain that competed with Wendy’s. Hockey. The manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was named Burke, but everyone referred to him as Burkee. Now there was Dewey.
“What’s he look like?”
They shared the smoke as she described her former boyfriend. Real short. Spiky red hair and a squished-in face. Scary dark eyes. Usually hung out with his buddy Larkin, who was a foot taller and had long hair all the way down to his ass.
“I’ll keep my eyes open for them.” He butted the cigarette on the curb and headed back inside. In the kitchen, two fresh racks of cinnamon crullers were ready. He pulled them from the oven and headed out front.
Dewey and Larkin must have come in while Ozera was outside with Suzanne because he saw the two guys she’d just described to him right away. They were sitting by the door. Larkin, the one with the long hair, was chatting up some black girls at the next table. Dewey, short and red haired, stared out through the front windows at the dimly lit parking lot. He wore a blue-and-white striped British football scarf around his neck and was rubbing the tassels at the end between his fingers.
The place was busy. Line-ups at both cash registers. Off to the side, the shift boss was dealing with some Chinese customers who didn’t speak English. He was trying to explain to them that the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Yuen, weren’t in today.
Nobody noticed Ozera. He looked through the front windows into the parking lot and saw a pair of headlights approach as Jet’s Cadillac drove in.
Dewey was watching it too. Ozera saw him tap Larkin on the elbow, say something to him, point out the window, and jerk his head in that direction.
Ozera dropped the cinnamon crullers on the counter and rushed out back. He opened the door and looked around. No one was there.
“Suzanne,” he yelled.
“Suzanne, Dewey’s here with his friend.”
He closed his eyes. Be smart, Dragomir, and stay out of this, Ozera told himself. The last thing he needed was more trouble.
Back home, after he’d graduated from university in Bucharest, there’d been absolutely no work. He was the oldest of five kids, and his mother was alone. His father had left long before. Ozera joined the Romanian International Football Team, a fake team that had never played a game of football—or soccer, as they called it in North America—and was a perfect way for twenty men to sneak into Canada. At the time Toronto was booming, and there were tons of construction jobs, even for a linguistics student who’d never picked up a hammer in his life.
Things were fine until the recession hit. Overnight the work dried up. He scratched out a few jobs, and then he got stupid. Got caught stealing some food. It wasn’t something romantic as in Les Misérables when the guy stole a loaf of bread to feed his family. He’d hidden some imported French brie, lovely-looking goose pâté, and two thin boxes of expensive Belgian crackers in his satchel. That’s what you get for trying to impress a girl. The cops released him, and gave him a piece of paper with a date to go get photographed and fingerprinted, and another date to go to court. He never went. Couldn’t risk it with immigration.
Ozera turned to head back inside. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted the milk cartons where he’d just been sitting with Suzanne. He thought how nervous she looked smoking her cigarette. Her tattoo, the “WE” and the heart above those two letters. Her ex-boyfriend Dewey staring out the window, tapping his buddy Larkin on the elbow to go outside.
He heard male voices coming from around the side of the building nearest the parking lot. He sighed and closed the door quietly. He tiptoed to the corner and peered around it.
Dewey and Larkin had their backs to him. They were standing in the shadows, beside a row of low bushes that ran all the way along the wall, watching the Cadillac. Ozera took a few silent steps closer.
Out in the corner of the parking lot, Jet was standing beside the front door of his Cadillac. Ozera couldn’t see Suzanne anywhere.
A fat man holding the hand of a little boy walked up through the middle of the lot. “Daddy, daddy,” the boy said as they walked toward the front door. “It’s snowing.” The child’s sweet voice carried well in the early-evening air.
“First time in your life,” the father said. He sounded ecstatic.
Ozera braved a few more steps forward. He could hear Dewey and Larkin talking.
Suddenly Suzanne emerged from the other side of the building, running across the lot behind the father and son, rushing toward Jet.
Ozera looked back at Dewey and Larkin.
Then he saw the gun.
It happened so fast.
Bang. Then bang. Then bang.
Ozera’s ears were ringing from the sound. He couldn’t believe what he’d just seen.
For a moment there was this weird silence. Like that space in sound and time after the lightning, before the thunder rattles down on your head. The air filled with an acrid smell.
He jumped back, stepped through the bushes, and slammed his shoulders against the nearest wall.
“Oh God! Help!” the father screamed from near the front door.
Car doors slammed. Wheels squealed.
“What the fuck,” Dewey hissed.
“My son!” the father cried out. “He’s been hit!”
Jet’s Cadillac peeled out of the lot.
Ozera wished he could disappear into the wall behind him. The rough bricks dug into t...
--This text refers to an alternate
I've read Rotenberg's first two books in this series and loved them. The detail and intimacy of the city is palpable.
Stray Bullets brings back characters from the last two books like, Ari Greene, Daniel Kennicott and Nancy Parish. The story takes place in Toronto so I know where everything is happening. If you aren't from Toronto, then this book can double as a guide book :-)
Robert Rotenberg’s Stray Bullets is an entertaining, albeit mindless read. The story takes place in Toronto, Canada and involves the murder of a young boy outside a Tim Horton’s and the pursuit to find the truth in what happened. It was a quick and easy book, a good novel for anyone looking for some simple mystery.
The story starts with a shooting incident during the season’s first November snow fall and continues through the trial of the suspect. It was engaging and Rotenberg does an excellent job of keeping you reading, especially by ending his short but numerous chapters with cliff hangers.
Rotenberg’s book has been heralded as “doing for Toronto what Ian Rankin did for Edinburgh”, however, I disagree. Having read Rankin’s books, I enjoyed them a lot more than I did this one. Maybe I’m being biased due to the fact I’m Canadian, but I felt it was too “Canadian”. It seemed like Rotenberg repeatedly named commonly-known street names and intersections just for the sake of reinforcing his Toronto setting. The technique didn’t add anything particular to the plot, and didn’t allow me to picture the action any more clearly.
Stray Bullets is part of a series of books that revolve around Detective Ari Greene. Interestingly, each chapter is shown from a different characters point of view. Although not written in first person, each chapter was seen from the eyes of Detective Greene, or the Crown Attorney, or the defence attorney, etc. He also didn’t find a way to establish any sort of connection with the characters. They were just figures inside of a story. On top of that, Rotenberg has a funny habit of continuously reminding the reader of who characters are even though you’ve come across them numerous times already. It was somewhat repetitive and occasionally frustrating.
Overall, Stray Bullets was a good, quick read. It was exactly what I was looking for after finishing the marathon of a book that is A Storm of Swords in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Rotenberg kept my attention, not because it was a profoundly captivating book, but more so because I just wanted to know the outcome once I had started reading it. All that being said, it’s a fine summer novel to decompress on between books.Read more ›
Read all four of Rottenberg's books in order. Terrific to have a smart murder mystery so unabashedly set in a Canadian city with excellent insight into the Canadian judicial system. Really couldn't put it down!!
I just finished this & I loved it!! Robert Rotenberg's returning characters, especially homicide detective Ari Greene & his favourite beat cop Daniel Kennicott are people I always look forward to revisiting. Ari's compassion for the families of the victims, his patient passion for his married lover Crown attorney Jennifer Raglan, his tremendous respect & love for his widowed father, & his easy-going mentoring of worthy younger cops make him so real & believable that you want to meet this guy! And he knows every little diner (& diner-owner!) in the city. And the city of Toronto rivals Ari for star billing in this author's books, with its true blend of old & new, gritty & glittering. If you know the city at all, you can see it all unfold in your mind, & if you don't, Robert Rotenberg will bring it to life in vivid detail for you. I can't wait to read Ari & Daniel's next story, one that hits way too close to home for them both. I cannot recommend the books of Toronto lawyer Robert Rotenberg highly enough--they are guaranteed great reads!!!