The Old City Hall of the title is a
Gothic building that years ago was converted from Toronto's city hall into the city's main criminal courthouse. … Known affectionately as just "the Hall" by everyone who used it - cops, criminals, Crown Attorneys, defense lawyers, court reporters, judges, interpreters, clerks, and journalists - it was the only building in the downtown core that was elevated above the street, making it stand out above the surrounding sidewalks like a judge's dais looking down on a courtroom.
The book goes on to describe the inside and outside in great detail. This detail is a hallmark of Old City Hall - from the courthouse to the outskirts of the city, from the homes of the rich to the homes of the not-so-rich, and the work that all the characters do. The reader comes away with an incredibly strong sense of Toronto, Canada and its people, particularly its multiculturalism. The latest statistics I found are from three years before Old City Hall was published. You may read them all here. A sampling:
*Half of Toronto's population (1,237,720) was born outside of Canada, up from 48 per cent in 1996.
*The top five visible minority groups in Toronto were:
South Asian at 298,372 or 12.0 per cent of our population;
Chinese at 283,075 or 11.4 per cent;
Black at 208,555 or 8.4 per cent;
Filipino at 102,555 or 4.1 per cent;
Latin American at 64,860 or 2.6 per cent
In Robert Rotenberg's first book in the Old City Hall series, the spotlight moves around and shines on several characters - lawyers, journalists, police. I am assuming, and I hope, that many of these are continuing characters in the series. Each person in Old City Hall is well-defined and not one-dimensional at all. The reader gets to know each of them as individuals.
Daniel Kennicott used to be a lawyer, but when police couldn't find the killer of his brother he felt compelled to quit the law and become a policeman. Now he works with the detective who headed up the investigation of his brother's murder, Ari Greene. The murder of Daniel's brother is his only unsolved case. Ari's father is a Polish Jew who survived the horrors of World War ll but lost his daughter in that war.
Jo Summers works for the Crown, the prosecuting attorneys. Her father is a judge who is described as having a bad case of "judgitis" - a term meaning that the job has gone to his head and that he is "pompous and rude." She lives "on the Islands."
Toronto was originally chosen as a townsite by the early British settlers because a chain of islands about half a mile offshore formed a perfect natural harbor. The Islands, as they were known, had been a cottage destination for wealthy Torontonians at the start of the twentieth century, then were turned primarily into parkland in the 1940s. In the sixties a group of adventurers took over a number of the dilapidated old homes and, after years of fighting with the city council, established a freestanding community across the water from the most expensive real estate in the country.
I first learned of this book from a series on NPR called Crime in the City. You may read the excellent article here. And there's a site where Robert Rotenberg talks about setting his books in the Toronto he knows so well.
What is the book about? What is the mystery? I think I'll let the author himself tell you.
For me, I'll just say that I loved this book - the story, the characters, and the city of Toronto.
I read this book for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge.