Friday, November 11, 2011

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

I picked this book from my list because it is a murder mystery, and I love mysteries. Upon reading I found that it was actually more of a police procedural - but that's ok, because I love those too! It does have a lot of revelations and cliffhangers and so on thrown in, so there's something for everyone.

The story starts with a famous (fictional) talk radio host, Kevin Brace, opening his door to his newspaper delivery person and saying "I killed her.". His lover's body is in the bathtub, stabbed to death. Sounds pretty open-and-shut, right? Well that would be a pretty short novel, wouldn't it?

Rotenberg tells the story through a number of different characters trying to solve the case: the first police officer on the scene, the detective, the Crown attorney, the defense attorney, and a handful of other characters with varying levels of involvement. There are a lot of twists and turns as information is uncovered or, more often, as characters remember a key detail or read a significant piece of paper, etc. The book conforms pretty solidly to the murder mystery beat, and that is not a bad thing.

One critique I had was that there were a few too many cliffhanger chapter endings. Because Rotenberg is looking through the eyes of many different characters, he can end a chapter on a cliffhanger and then start the next one with another character, so you don't know what that startling revelation or sudden realization was until later. Come to think of it, I can think of two that were never actually explained (although perhaps I am a less than careful reader). Anyway, I was starting to lose interest after a while.

Something I loved about the book was how bold it was about being set in Toronto. You know how you see so many movies shot in Toronto that are supposed to take place somewhere else, and then you see one actually set in Toronto and it's like, wow, that's a refreshing change! This was the book version of that. Besides the title building, the book name checks Front Street many times, the St. Lawrence Market, the Toronto Islands, and even some spots in my neighbourhood like Clinton Street, Cafe Diplomatico, etc. Even the Maple Leafs get some love, as a constant backdrop to the main story.

I think it's a very good book. Rotenberg, a lawyer by trade, obviously knows what the hell he's talking about, and he makes it compelling and accessible for the non-lawyers in the crowd. He clearly loves Toronto dearly, and makes creative use of the layout of the city. He is a master of non-overbearing symbolism, which is trickier to pull off than you might think. And he is frank and upfront about the uneasy multiculturalism of this city.

I gotta say you guys, I loved Old City Hall and I highly recommend it. Four CN Towers out of five.

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