With The Guilty Plea, a gripping sequel to the international bestseller Old City Hall, Robert Rotenberg has delivered another sharp, suspenseful legal thriller with an explosive conclusion.
On the morning his high-profile divorce trial is set to begin, Terrance Wyler, the youngest son of Toronto's Wyler Food dynasty, is found stabbed to death in the kitchen of his luxurious home. Detective Ari Greene arrives minutes before the press and finds Wyler's four-year-old son asleep upstairs. Hours later, when Wyler's wife, Samantha, shows up at her lawyer's office with a bloody knife wrapped in a towel, the case looks like a straightforward guilty plea.
Instead, an open-and-shut case becomes a complex murder trial, full of spite and uncertainty. There's April Goodling, the Hollywood starlet with whom Terrance had a well-publicized dalliance, and Brandon Legacy, the teenage neighbor who was with Samantha the night of the murder. After a series of devastating cross-examinations, there's no telling where the jury's sympathies will lie.
As in Old City Hall, Rotenberg's gift for twists and turns is always astonishing, but his true star remains the courtroom: the tension, disclosures, and machinations that drive this trial straight to its unpredictable verdict.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
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About the Author
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Guilty Plea
By Robert Rotenberg
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2011 Robert Rotenberg
All rights reserved.
Even for Arceli Ocaya, it was too hot to sleep. The heat wave had gripped the city for days and by six in the morning her tiny apartment was already steaming. Back home in Manila, her husband and their five children would never believe it could be so warm in Canada. By next summer when she brought them over, Ocaya planned to have a bigger place, and she knew they would never understand what it had been like — all these years alone with the summer heat, the winter cold, and the eternal loneliness.
It was good that she was up early. Her employer, Mr. Terrance Wyler, would need all the help she could give him this morning. Poor man. Even though he was rich.
The bus she took every day to the subway arrived on time, but there was a delay on Eglinton Avenue where a film crew was making a movie. This happened so many times in Toronto. The trailers parked on the side of the road funneled the traffic. Ocaya saw a stone building with a new sign that said CIRCUIT COURT — BALTIMORE and police cars with the words BALTIMORE CITY POLICE on the side.
Unfortunately, most people on the subway were reading the transit newspaper, which had a picture of Mr. Wyler right on the front page with his arm around his famous American girlfriend, the actress April Goodling. The headline read DIVORCE FROM HELL TRIAL STARTS TODAY. Why do they write such terrible things? Ocaya wondered. Her employer was the nicest person she'd worked for since leaving the Philippines.
At her last subway stop, Bayview Avenue, she rushed up the escalator. Oh, no, she thought when she got to street level and saw the back of the bus pull away, its tailpipe spitting out sooty black smoke. She decided to walk the six blocks to his house.
Marching up Hillside Drive, Ocaya couldn't stop thinking about that foolish headline. "Divorce from Hell." Try being separated from your family for six years and only getting to go home to see them once. That was hell. This divorce was silliness. Mr. Wyler was an excellent father and those accusations his wife, Samantha, made against him last year were nonsense.
After three blocks she felt the sweat collect on the back of her neck. The lawns of all the expensive houses were turning brown at the edges from the long dry spell and most of the driveways were empty. For the next three blocks the street climbed at a steeper grade, but she refused to slacken her pace.
Ocaya had learned that in Toronto during the month of August many people were on holiday, especially the wealthy ones. They called it "going up north." When Mr. Wyler's son, Simon, was just a baby — and Mr. Wyler and Samantha were still married — the family went up north to a cottage and Ocaya went with them. Why they would leave their air-conditioned home to spend a week in a woodshed with an old refrigerator, a place with bugs and snakes outside, was a mystery to her. Strangest of all, one afternoon they caught seven fish and insisted on throwing them all back in the lake.
She arrived every day by seven-thirty. Mr. Wyler was always up, his stereo on loud, prancing around the kitchen, chopping up fresh fruit. Sometimes he played his piano. On the weeks he had Simon, he would make breakfast while listening to a man named Billy Joel. Apparently Mr. Joel played piano too. Her employer even named his dog Billy.
Simon had just turned four years old and was already learning to read. Short words, but Mr. Wyler was so proud. A few weeks earlier he bought some colorful magnetic letters and put them on the front of his refrigerator. Each night he spelled a short word and when Simon came down for breakfast the boy would read it. First D-O-G, then C-A-T, then H-O-U-S-E, then T-R-A-I-N.
As she climbed the stone steps to the front door, Ocaya was surprised to see that the newspaper was still there. Usually Mr. Wyler had read it by the time she arrived, and he often showed her an article he thought would interest her. This morning, with so much on his mind, he probably didn't have time. She scooped the paper up and put her key in the door. It was unlocked. Mr. Wyler had probably been outside earlier, before the paper came, and forgotten.
I'll bet the poor man couldn't sleep, she thought. His parents and two older brothers had been at the house last night for Sunday-night dinner, and Ocaya had been there to help out. The family had fought about their business. That, on top of the trial starting today, must have upset him.
It was quiet inside the house. There was no music playing. No clatter of dishes in the kitchen. No patter of Simon's little feet. And where was Billy? Every morning when the dog heard Ocaya come in, he would bark with happiness, stand up on his back legs to greet her.
The house was hot. Mr. Wyler often forgot to put on the air-conditioning before he went to sleep, especially lately when he was so upset. She took off her backpack and slid it under the front hall desk. At last she heard the click of dog tags on Billy's collar. He poked his head around the corner of the living room.
"Billy, my favorite little doggie." She clapped her hands together. "Where's Simon?"
Saying "Simon" always brought an instant response from the dog, but Billy seemed uninterested. He lowered his head. Must be the heat, Ocaya thought.
"I better get you some water." She swung open the kitchen door but the dog was reluctant to follow.
The first thing that hit her was the smell. Something strong. Horrible.
She saw the blood. A dark red splotch on the clean white tile floor. She would use one of the rags under the sink to wipe it up, she thought.
Then she saw Mr. Wyler.
He was lying on the floor near the refrigerator. His eyes were open. Vacant. She ran to him. "Did you fall, sir?"
There were cuts across his white shirt, the one she'd ironed for him on Friday. So many cuts. On his neck too. And the blood. All the blood.
Her heart was pounding. She was having trouble breathing. Thinking.
Wait, she thought, hearing the silence of the house.
"Simon," she shrieked, louder than she thought she knew how to yell. And raced to the stairs.CHAPTER 2
For some reason known only to him, every summer Homicide Detective Ari Greene's father insisted on repainting the railing on the front steps of his house. One of these years I'm going to scrape the damn things down, Greene thought as he grabbed two thin vertical bars and yanked them back and forth to make sure they were secure. The railing wobbled a bit. He'd need to fill in the cement too.
Even this early in the morning it was hot and the heat accumulated on the concrete steps. His dad had made Greene a fresh pot of tea and was drinking his usual instant coffee from an old Toronto Maple Leafs mug.
Greene laid out the morning's newspaper under the railing and opened a can of black paint with a screwdriver. The can had lasted two summers already. "I think there's enough for one more year," he said.
His father reached in with a long stir stick. "Let's hope."
Greene had just picked up a brush when the emergency beeper on his hip went off. He hadn't expected a call today, because he was number four on the handwritten list posted in the bureau of who was in line for the next murder. He picked up his cell phone and called in.
"Toronto's turning into Murder City," the dispatcher said. Her name was Denise, a tough old battle-ax Greene had known for years. "This is the fourth of the night."
"Must be the heat," Greene said.
"It's not the heat, it's the humidity." Denise couldn't wait to fill him in on the details of the three other homicides. In the Jane-Finch corridor, shots were fired and a seven-year-old girl at a backyard birthday party was hit by a stray bullet. Downtown in the entertainment district, a med student up from Buffalo got stabbed when he jumped in to break up a fight. And a home invader out in Etobicoke beat a babysitter to death when she wouldn't open the family safe.
"What've I got?" Greene asked Denise.
His father took the paint can lid and tapped it back into place with the back of his brush. Greene had been on the homicide squad for five years and they both knew the drill. When a murder call came in, he dropped everything else in his life.
"You heard of Terrance Wyler, from the Wyler Foods grocery store?" Denise asked. "The guy who's going out with April Goodling, the Hollywood star. She goes through men like water. Wyler's divorce trial was supposed to start today."
Greene read the front page of the newspaper on the porch. "Divorce from Hell trial," he said.
His father picked up the paintbrushes and the stir stick.
"Lover Boy's dead. This morning the Filipino nanny found him stabbed in his kitchen." Denise sounded excited to deliver the bad news. "His four-year-old boy was asleep upstairs. Doesn't know what happened yet."
"On my way," Greene said after she gave him the address.
"I'll clean up," his father said.
"Call you tonight." Greene bent down and kissed his dad on his forehead, then jumped into his car and slapped the emergency light on the roof.
Ten minutes later he pulled his '88 Oldsmobile behind a police cruiser in front of 221 Hillside Drive and stepped out into the morning sunlight. Taking his time, he looked up at the house, which was elevated well above the street.
"Hello, Detective," a young policewoman at the front door said when he got to the top of the stairs. She was a thin East Indian woman with a slender nose. "P. C. Mudhar. I'm the first officer on scene."
"Detective Greene." He shook her hand. It was sweaty. "Your first homicide call?"
"Where's the little boy?"
"Upstairs with the nanny." Her voice was thin. "I told her to keep him in the room."
"You see him?"
"For a second. He was waking up. The nanny says she found Mr. Wyler in the kitchen when she came to work this morning." Mudhar had a palm-size police notebook, and she flipped it open. "She said that was about seven-thirty. I checked the body. There are no vital signs."
"You call for backup to cordon off the street?"
Mudhar shook her head. "Not yet, sir."
"Don't worry," Greene said. "I called it when I was driving over. Cars will be here any minute. Send someone to Tim Hortons to get a chocolate milk and a doughnut with sprinkles."
"I told dispatch to hold off the ambulance until we get the boy out of here. Anyone else in the house?"
"No, sir. I checked. It's clear."
Mudhar smiled and closed her notebook.
"What's the nanny's name?" he asked.
She opened her notebook again. "Arceli Ocaya. Says the boy's mother has been acting strange the last few weeks."
As he'd driven to the house, Denise the dispatcher had briefed Greene on the recent police occurrences involving the wife. Samantha Wyler had been harassing her soon-to-be ex-husband with nasty voice messages and angry e-mails that were close to the line, but not actual threats. A pair of rookie police constables had warned her to stop. The usual stuff.
With four murders on the go, there'd be a scramble among the homicide detectives to grab good officers to work their cases. Greene called Daniel Kennicott, a smart young cop who'd worked with him on his last murder. Kennicott had his cell phone set so if Greene called it had a special ring tone.
"Detective Greene?" Kennicott said.
"Where are you?" Greene asked.
"On patrol. Started my shift about half an hour ago." Kennicott sounded sleepy. "First day back. What's up?"
The two men had a complicated relationship. Kennicott's older brother, Michael, was murdered five years earlier. At the time Kennicott was a lawyer at one of the top downtown firms. Twelve months later when the investigation stalled, Kennicott quit his law job and joined the force, determined to make the homicide squad in record time. It was Greene's only unsolved case.
"A new murder." Greene gave him the address. He was going to start Kennicott off with the toughest assignment of the day: informing the family of the murder.
"Be there in ten minutes," Kennicott said.
Greene turned to Mudhar. "What's the name of the boy upstairs?" Beads of perspiration pooled on the side of the young policewoman's face. The reality of homicide work was that usually it was the greenest of the green cops who were the first to arrive.
This time Mudhar didn't need her notebook. "Simon." Her bottom lip began to quiver. "It's gruesome."
Greene put his hand on her shoulder. "Stay here and cover the door." He looked at the cloudless sky. There was a smell of mint in the air. He must have crushed some coming up the steps.
"Yes, sir." The wash of relief across Mudhar's face was palpable.
Greene walked through the front hall and opened the kitchen door with his elbow. Already knowing what he'd see inside didn't make it any less disturbing. Wyler's fit, trim body was splayed out on the tile floor, arms flung to the sides, apparently helpless in the face of a knife attack that had lacerated his chest, the top of his shoulders, and his neck.
Greene bent close to the body without touching it. There were no obvious cuts to Wyler's fingers or forearms. Forensics would look for skin or DNA under his fingernails, but at first blush there were no defensive wounds. The smell in the hot room was overpowering.
Scanning the kitchen, Greene saw a half cantaloupe on the counter, fruit flies swarming all around it. The rest of the room was as spotless as the hallway had been. All the cupboard doors were closed. Greene put his hand inches from the dishwasher. It was cool. Same with the stove, where he noticed three dish towels draped over the handle. The first was red and white, and the second was green and white. There was a gap the width of a towel and then another green one. A wooden block near the sink held a number of black-handled knives. The widest groove was empty. No sign of a knife on the floor or the counter.
There was nothing else Greene could do here until the forensic officer arrived. He had a sudden urge to be out of this room of death. He had to go upstairs to talk to a boy who no longer had a father.CHAPTER 3
Ted DiPaulo opened the door to his law office and stared at his desk. What a fucking mess. Damn, he hated paperwork. Even more, he hated a boring week like the one coming up. Today nothing was doing, and he'd be stuck pushing that pile of paper around. Tomorrow he had a guilty plea for a drunk driver, Wednesday a sentencing on a fraud case, Thursday a meeting with a new client charged with stealing from his employer. Friday zip. He could do all this in his sleep.
If there was one thing DiPaulo couldn't stand, even more than dishonest prosecutors or incompetent judges, it was not having enough to do. Not having a big case on the go. Not getting into court to cross-examine a witness. Not having the press lapping up his every word.
Bloody summer. His law practice was too damn slow, as if everyone were on holiday. Even his best criminals.
DiPaulo needed to be in court the way an actor needed to be onstage. That's why he'd started his career as a Crown Attorney, where prosecutors were on their feet all day long. With his love of doing trials and his great capacity for work, he had risen through the ranks fast. Became the youngest-ever head Crown of the Toronto office at the age of forty-one.
He'd thrived in the job. Couldn't get enough of the pressure. The profile. Then, five years ago, his wife, Olive, was diagnosed with liver cancer. She died in three months, and in the blink of an eye he had to take care of his two teenage kids. All those years before that, he'd been a part-time parent, practically living at the office. That was no longer an option. He quit and went into private practice so he'd have more time.
At first Kyle, then fourteen, and Lauren, twelve, clung to him. Wanted him home every night for dinner. Funny thing. Just as he got used to it and started to crave their company, they turned into full-fledged teenagers. On the go all the time. And perhaps they knew their dad was much easier to live with when he got his daily dose of the courtroom. Soon he was back to doing big cases, sleepless nights and crazy hours, with the added bonus of a new closeness to his children. But that was time-dated, like a container of yogurt in the fridge. Kyle was away on a six-week canoe trip and would be off to university in September. Lauren was home, taking a summer school course. Another year and she'd be gone too.
He stopped for a moment at the credenza near his office door and picked up a framed photo. Olive died four months after their twentieth anniversary. On the first Mother's Day after her death, the kids gave him this picture of the two of them on top of Ayers Rock. They had taken the hiking trip to Australia to celebrate their forty-fifth birthdays, which were one week apart. Ted was very tall, over six feet six. And big. Olive was quite short, fine and delicate.
It was his private ritual to look at the photo every time he entered and exited the office. In a job where the demands on his time and emotions were so extreme, he was determined to keep this piece of his own life intact. Half a decade. He'd never forgotten.
He settled behind his desk and the phone rang. DiPaulo smiled. On Saturday night he'd been invited over to some friends' house for dinner and they'd introduced him to a woman named Chiara. She was an orthopedic surgeon, a few years older, smart and independent, Italian even, though a dark beauty from Sicily in contrast with his blond northern Italian blood. They'd joked about who started work earlier on Monday mornings, and as he was leaving, he gave her his card and said, "Call if you want. Earlier the better."
Excerpted from The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg. Copyright © 2011 Robert Rotenberg. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: August,
Part Two: September,
Part Three: November,
Part Four: January,
Part Five: April,
A Note About the Author,
Also by Robert Rotenberg,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's not often that you can read a book about a trial that does not take liberties with reality or just shows a plain indifference to the way things really happen in a courtroom. So, The Guilty Plea is refreshing for that reason alone. The author has seen enough courtrooms that he knows what happens, and he kept his novel true. The story of a murder trial is well told, the characters are believable. I did not like the ending, but I grant that it was a real possibility, so who am I to complain?
I enjoy a number of genres - legal thrillers being one of them. But when mentally going over my list of favourite authors, I realized that none of the legal list were Canadian. So I was excited to read Robert Rotenberg's new novel The Guilty Plea. Rotenberg is a practicing lawyer who lives in Toronto and has based his series in the same city. I love reading a book with Canadian references - Timmies, the Globe and place names as well - Eglinton/Bloor, Jane and Finch. Knowing the settings are real and having seen some of them make the novel all that more authentic. But what makes Rotenberg's novels really pop is his knowledge of the Canadian legal system, his trial expertise and the number of years he's been at it. His plots, characters and dialogue all have the ring of authenticity and that 'insider's' point of view. It just makes his novel all the more believable. The Guilty Plea brings back characters from Rotenberg's first novel 'Old City Hall'. Homicide Detective Ari Greene, Officer Daniel Kennicott, lawyers, Crowns and others. I found all of the characters believable and connected with them. Their personal lives are just as engrossing as the primary plot line. In the Guilty Plea, Terrance Wyler, the youngest son of a Canadian food conglomerate is found stabbed to death in his kitchen while his young son sleeps upstairs. His estranged wife shows up at her lawyers - with the bloody knife from Wyler's kitchen. Open and shut case. But she swears she's innocent. As Greene investigates, he finds more questions than answers. I very much enjoyed The Guilty Plea, although I found the end a bit rushed. I will definitely be adding Rotenberg to my 'must read' list.