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Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

Old City Hall

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Shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2009.

CWA Judges’ comments:Old City Hall is a legal drama set in Toronto. Intriguingly, it is about a man accused of murdering his wife who refuses to say anything at all about what happened that night, even to his own lawyer. He maintains a stoic silence throughout and it takes the combined efforts of the defence, the prosecution, and the police, each of whom pieces together parts of his past to reveal the truth of what actually happened. Along the way comes a touching love story and the revelation of the back stories of all the main characters which makes for a rich and complex drama.’

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Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

Old City Hall opens with a bang, or perhaps a stab: Canada's leading radio show host, Kevin Brace, comes to the door of his luxury condominium with his hands covered in blood and tells the newspaper delivery man: 'I killed her.' The 'her' in question is his young wife, whose body lies in the bathtub of their suite, a knife wound through the sternum.

So, if he killed her, where's the mystery? That's the question asked by the detectives plowing through what should be an openand- shut case. Even Kevin's defense attorney doesn't know what really happened, because he refuses to talk to her or to anyone else after muttering those incriminating words. With the discovery that the victim was actually a self-destructive alcoholic, and the appearance of strange fingerprints in the Brace apartment, the mystery gets more complex just as it should be getting simpler.


Breathtaking ... and all the more so because this is the author's first novel. A tightly woven spiderweb of plot and a rich cast of characters make this a truly gripping read. And of particular interest is the setting: Robert Rotenberg does for Toronto what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh. Jeffery Deaver An amazing debut novel. Robert Rotenberg's Old City Hall has everything a legal thriller should have, and more: absolutely engaging characters, a tight, taut, and believable plot, a heart-quickening pace, and, best of all, some of the finest writing I've read in years. This one has winner written all over it. Nelson DeMille Robert Rotenberg's Old City Hall is one of the best books I've read in ten years. I devoured it in two sittings. Rotenberg is a criminal defense attorney, defending lowlifes and celebrities alike in Toronto, and he really knows his clients. His characters are stunningly good. They're real people. His Toronto settings make this most multicultural city in North America come alive. He writes with assurance and panache. He has a series of characters who may well become a classic. He even has a sense of humor. This is one of those novels where you only need to read the first chapter to be swept away. If Old City Hall doesn't win an Edgar, I'll trade in my pen for a fishing rod... Douglas Preston 'Clever, complex and filled with an engaging cast of characters ...
Kathy Reichs

'There is nothing in Old City Hall to suggest that it's Robert Rotenberg's debut. The middle-aged Canadian criminal lawyer has got it all -- pace, good characters, tension and an intriguing plot ... The resolution is clever and surprising.'
Marcel Berlins, The Times

'Written by a real-life Canadian defence lawyer, this sweeping debut, with a vast, colourful cast, focuses on the apparent murder of his wife by talkshow host Kevin Brace. Then suddenly, he stops talking ...'
Henry Sutton, Daily Mirror

'Apart from evoking the seasonal rhythms of life in the city, the novel offers a convincing portrayal of backstage operations in the justice system ... Old City Hall is an enjoyable addition to the literature of urban crime.'

.J. Jackson, TLS 'Each character is lifelike and credible; the scenes are exciting as the murder investigation zigzags slowly forward; and the Canadian setting is very well described. In crime fiction's minute sub-categories this is a legal thriller, but there is much more to the story than law and clues -- a skilful, tasty concoction.
Jessica Mann, Literary Review

'Another debut novel, this is tremendously readable and well-plotted, providing a mystery which intrigues almost to the last chapter'
Morning Star

'Highly-tipped in the awards stakes this year is Canadian Robert Rotenberg's Old City Hall. Part legal-thriller, part murder investigation, Rotenberg (himself a lawyer) really gets under the skin of that fine city of Toronto'

'Old City Hall is proof that Robert Rotenberg is one of the most striking writers on the current crime scene'
Crime Time

'The atmospherics, and especially Rotenberg's affection for the city of Toronto and involutions of law, make this a fast-paced, appealing addition to genre'
Kirkus Reviews

'A roller coaster of a legal thriller that's got it all -- an outstanding and fast-paced plot, well-developed characters with depth and personality, great dialog, plenty of courtroom and investigative drama, and an explosively satisfying conclusion.'
Library Journal starred review

'Rotenberg creates a legal thriller that recreates the growing tension of a major murder investigation incorporated by a wonderful cast of characters'
Greenock Telegraph

'As a mix of both detective work and legal thriller, as both a puzzle and a study of characters, Old City Hall delivers ... it's certainly the best first novel I've read since Child 44, and that's high praise'
Crime Time

& Irresistible Targets blog 'This is a first-rate debut thriller for Rotenberg, who weaves Toronto into the plot as a character to this intriguing crime, 4 STARS
Manly Daily (Australia)

'Highly tipped in the awards stakes this year ... Rotenberg really gets under the skin of that fine city Toronto ... it is already being said that he does for Toronto 'what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh'
Deadly Pleasures

'A big book in more senses than is intriguing how it develops in the skilled hands of the author'
Yorkshire Gazette

'This engaging thriller is wonderfully assured'
Western Daily Press

About the Author

Ten days after he was called to the Bar in Canada, Robert Rotenberg was on a plane to Paris, France. Hed talked his way into the job of Managing Editor of Passion the English-speaking magazine of Paris. After almost two years in France, Rotenberg returned home and created his own city magazine, T.O., The Magazine of Toronto, which he edited and published for eight years. He spent a year as a film company executive, and another year as a current affairs radio producer. Then Rotenberg returned to his initial calling. Seventeen years ago he opened up his own criminal law practice and is today one of Torontos top lawyers, defending, as he likes to say everything from murder to shoplifting. Through it all he has always written. He sent his first short story to The New Yorker when he was fifteen and received a very nice rejection letter. He tapped out a screenplay on his old portable typewriter when he was in law school, and the ubiquitous novel in a drawer was his warm-up exercise for Old City Hall. Today Rotenberg lives in Toronto with his wife, a television producer at C.B.C. News, their three children and their dog. He is currently ten chapters in to his next novel.

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Book Info

Publication date

5th February 2009


Robert Rotenberg

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John Murray Publishers Ltd an imprint of John Murray General Publishing Division


Trade Paperback
384 pages


Crime / Mystery
All Shortlists and Winners
eBook Favourites

Crime & mystery



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