Old City Hall: A Novel

Old City Hall: A Novel

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by Robert Rotenberg

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"Breathtaking . . . A tightly woven spiderweb of plot and a rich cast of characters make this a truly gripping read." —Jeffery Deaver, author of The Bodies Left Behind

It should be an open–and–shut case. Canada's leading radio–show host, Kevin Brace, has confessed to killing his young wife. He had come to the door of his luxury


"Breathtaking . . . A tightly woven spiderweb of plot and a rich cast of characters make this a truly gripping read." —Jeffery Deaver, author of The Bodies Left Behind

It should be an open–and–shut case. Canada's leading radio–show host, Kevin Brace, has confessed to killing his young wife. He had come to the door of his luxury condominium with his hands covered in blood and told the newspaper deliveryman: "I killed her." His wife's body lay in the bathtub of their suite, fatal knife wound just below the sternum.

Now all that should remain is legal procedure: document the crime scene, prosecute the case, and be done with it. 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 begins to take on all the complexities of a hotly–contested murder trial.

In the tradition of defense lawyers–turned–authors such as Scott Turow and John Grisham, Toronto-based defense counsel Robert Rotenberg delivers a debut legal thriller rich with his forensic skill. Firmly rooted in Toronto, from the ancient Don Jail to the sterile morgue and the shadowy corridors of the historic courthouse, Old City Hall takes the reader inside clattering Italian restaurants and late-night greasy spoons—and outside, to open-air skating rinks and parade-filled streets. Rotenberg leads us on a fascinating tour of a city as exciting and vital as the motley ensemble populating his story: there's Awotwe Amankwah, the only black reporter covering the crime; Judge Johnathan Summers, an old navy captain who runs his courtroom like he's still standing astride the foredeck; Edna Wingate, an eighty-three year old British war bride who just loves hot yoga; and Daniel Kennicott, a former big-firm lawyer who became a cop after his brother was murdered and the investigation hit a dead end.

Douglas Preston rejoices that Rotenberg's Toronto settings "make this most multicultural city in North America come alive." Elmore Leonard has Florida; John Lescroart, San Francisco; Robert B. Parker, Boston; Scott Turow, Chicago; George Pelecanos, D.C. And now, with Old City Hall, Rotenberg offers us a page-turning legal thriller set in a diverse and surprising Toronto filled with unexpected characters and plot twists that keep you guessing until the very end.

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Chapter One

 Much to the shock of his family, Mr. Singh rather enjoyed delivering newspapers. Who would have thought that Gurdial Singh, former chief engineer for Indian Railways, the largest transportation company in the world, would be dropping newspapers at people’s doors commencing at 5:05 each morning. He didn’t need to work. But since coming to Toronto four years earlier, he had absolutely insisted on it. No matter that he was turning seventy-four years old on Thursday next. Yes, it was a silly little job, Mr. Singh was forced to concede to his wife, Bimal, and their three daughters, but he liked it.

That’s why Mr. Singh was humming an old Hindi tune to himself as he walked briskly through the early-winter darkness on a cold Monday morning, the seventeenth of December.

He entered the marble-appointed lobby of the Market Place Tower, a luxury condominium on Front Street, and gave a friendly wave to Mr. Rasheed, the night concierge. The Globe and Mail newspapers were neatly stacked just inside the door beside a diminutive plastic Christmas tree. How strange, in a country covered in forests, that they would use plastic trees, Mr. Singh thought as he hitched up his gray flannel pants and bent down to cut the binding cord with his pocketknife. He sorted the papers into twelve piles, one for each floor on his route. It had been easy to memorize which residents took a paper, and it was a simple matter to walk down the deserted hallways and drop one squarely at each door.

The solitude was very nice. So unlike the clutter of Delhi. When he arrived at the top floor, Mr. Singh knew he would see the one person who was always awake. Mr. Kevin something. Mr. Singh could never remember Mr. Kevin’s last name, even though the gentleman was one of the most famous people in Canada. There he would be, in his shabby bathrobe, a cigarette cupped in his right hand, a mug of tea in his left, scratching his gray beard with his shoulder, anxiously awaiting his morning paper.

Mr. Kevin was the host of a morning radio show that was broadcast across the country. Mr. Singh had tried to listen to it afew times, but it was just a lot of chatter about fishing in Newfoundland, fiddle music in the Ottawa Valley, and farming on the prairies. These Canadians were funny people. Most of them lived in cities, but all they seemed to discuss was the countryside.

Mr. Kevin, despite his unkempt appearance, was very much a gentleman. Rather shy. Mr. Singh enjoyed the ritual conversationthey had each morning.

"Good morning, Mr. Singh," Mr. Kevin always said.

"Good morning, Mr. Kevin," Mr. Singh always said in reply. "And how is your beautiful wife?"

"More beautiful than ever, Mr. Singh," Mr. Kevin would say. Putting the cigarette in his mouth, he’d open his palm and pass an orange slice over to Mr. Singh.

"Thank you," Mr. Singh would say, giving Mr. Kevin his newspaper.

"Freshly sliced," Mr. Kevin would answer.

They’d then follow up with a short discussion about gardening or cooking or tea. Despite all he must have had on his mind, Mr. Kevin never seemed rushed. It was simply courteous and respectful conversation at an ungodly hour. Quite civilized.

It took the usual twenty-five minutes for Mr. Singh to methodically work his way up to the twelfth floor. There were only twosuites on the top floor. Mr. Kevin’s suite, 12A, was to the left, around the bend, near the end of a long corridor. The resident to the right, an older lady who lived alone, took the other paper, which he always delivered last.

Mr. Singh arrived at Mr. Kevin’s door, and as usual it was halfway open. But there was no sign of Mr. Kevin. I could just leave the newspaper here, Mr. Singh thought. Then he’d miss their daily conversation.

He waited for a moment. Of course, he could not knock, that would be highly improper. Humming louder, he shuffled his feet, hoping to make enough noise to announce his arrival. Still, no one came.

He hesitated. It was the engineer in him. He liked routine. Order. He remembered the day his eleventh-form mathematics teacher taught the class that there was no such thing as parallel lines. That because the earth was round, any two parallel lines would eventually meet. Mr. Singh didn’t sleep for a week.

There was a noise from inside the apartment. An odd, hollow sound. That was strange. Then a door closed. Good, he thought as he waited. But there was silence again. Maybe he should leave.

Instead, he took Mr. Kevin’s newspaper and dropped it onto the parquet floor just outside the door. It landed with a loud smack, which he hoped would signal his presence in the doorway. He’d never done anything like this before.

There was another noise inside. Distant. Were they footsteps? What should he do? He certainly could not enter.

Mr. Singh waited. For the first time, he looked down at the front page of the newspaper. There was a picture of an ice hockey player raising his arms in the air and a story about the local team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. How odd that the name was misspelled: Leafs and not Leaves. And the color of the leaf on the jersey was blue. Mr. Singh had seen lovely red and yellow maple leaves. But never a blue one.

At last he heard footsteps approaching the door. Mr. Kevin came into the hallway, wearing his usual bathrobe, and opened the door all the way. Mr. Singh heard a soft tap as it rested on the door stopper.

But where was his cigarette? His tea? Mr. Kevin was looking at his hands. Rubbing his fingers. Mr. Singh noticed something red on his fingertips.

He had a pleasant thought. Blood oranges. He so loved to eat them back home, and he’d recently found that they arrived in Canadian stores this time of year. Had Mr. Kevin been cutting one?

Mr. Kevin raised his hands to the light. Mr. Singh could see the red liquid clearly now. It was thick and heavy, not thin like juice from an orange.

Mr. Singh’s heart began to race.

It was blood.

Mr. Singh opened his mouth to speak. But before he could say a word, Mr. Kevin leaned closer. "I killed her, Mr. Singh," he whispered, "I killed her."

Excerpted from Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg.Copyright © 2009 by Robert Rotenberg.Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Robert Rotenberg is one of Toronto's top lawyers, defending, as he likes to say, "everything from murder to shoplifting." He lives in Toronto with his wife, a television producer at CBC News; their three children; and their little dog, Fudge.

Robert Rotenberg is the author of Old City Hall (Sarah Crichton Books, 2009). He is also one of Toronto’s top lawyers, defending, as he likes to say, “everything from murder to shoplifting.” He lives in Toronto with his wife and three children.

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Old City Hall 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
macabr More than 1 year ago
Each morning, Gurdial Singh, formerly the chief engineer for Indian Railways and approaching his 74th birthday, delivers newspapers to the condominiums at the luxury Market Place Towers in Toronto. He begins at exactly 5:05 am and exactly 25 minutes later, Mr Singh reaches the 12th floor apartment of Kevin Brace, the most famous radio host in Canada. Mr. Kevin would be waiting at the half-opened door with a cigarette in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. Their ritual conversation never varied. Mr. Kevin would say, "Good morning, Mr. Singh" and Mr. Singh would reply, "Good morning, Mr. Kevin. And how is your beautiful wife?" Then Mr. Kevin would say, "More beautiful than ever, Mr. Singh." Their routine never changed and each looked forward to their few minutes of conversation about gardening or other mundane matters until the morning in December when Mr. Singh arrived at the apartment and Mr. Kevin was not at the door. It was half way open but there was no sign of anyone until Mr. Kevin appeared, without cigarette and tea. Mr. Kevin said nothing until he whispered, "Mr. Singh, I killed her." Thus begins OLD CITY HALL, the first of what I hope will be a series by Robert Rotenberg. Kevin Brace has the most recognized voice in Canada but after the whispered confession to Mr. Singh, he refuses to speak another word, not even to his attorney. There are great characters in this story. The first officer to arrive at the scene, Daniel Kennicot, joined the police after the unsolved murder of his brother. Kennicot had been a member of a prestigious law firm but felt compelled to try to find the killer by working in the police department. Detective Ari Greene, the chief investigator, realizes that Kennicot will be invaluable to the investigation of what will be a very high profile case. Albert Fernandez, a young prosecutor, is next in line for a homicide case, his first, and he has no idea who Kevin Brace is. Nancy Parrish is a solo practioner, trying to get her law practice off the ground. When she receives a call from Detective Greene telling her that Kevin Brace has indicated that she is his attorney, she is definitely puzzled. She had met Brace at a Christmas party and had done a short interview on his show, but she knew she was not in that class of attorneys who would eagerly jump in to defend a man like Kevin Brace. Her puzzlement deepens when her client tells her that he will not speak to her or to anyone else, that he will only communicate with her in writing, and that she must never mention to anyone that he is silent. Once started, I was compelled to finish at one go but I hated to see the story end.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
It's a good story, but the author goes on an on, throwing everything into it but the kitchen sink. It's like he had all of these ideas, so he had to use them. A 50 page edit would have made the story much sharper.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg is an impressive first novel. His in-depth descriptions of Toronto, City Hall and the people are first-rate. The plot deals with the murder of a radio-show host's wife and his confession. He then refuses to speak another word after the confession. This makes for an intriguing interaction between client and attorney, to say the least. The story is well written and holds the reader's attention with surprises and enough action to not slow down the story.
whoizme88 More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book. This book was given to me by goodreads and I had not heard of the author so I picked it up and began to read. The plot is wonderful, many themes going at one time, but not so many that you lose track of what is happening. You get to know the characters well and enjoy them and their personalities which are all different. Rotenberg has written a book that will be of interest to any mystery reader. There are many twists to the plot which keep you hopping and wondering how it will all finish. An excellent and enjoyable read. J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the 'Isms'"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There really isn't any more to it than that.
NickyCaffey More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed Robert Rotenberg's debut. The story is gripping and interesting to follow. I couldn't put this book down.
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