Monday, October 14, 2013

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

52. Old City Hall - book 1 in the Old City Hall series  by Robert Rotenberg
mystery, 2009
Kindle book
finished 9/8/13

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: 
*Toronto, with a population of 2.79 million people (5.5 million in the GTA - Greater Toronto Area) is heralded as one of the most multicultural cities in the world and is ranked as the safest large metropolitan area in North America by Places Rated Almanac. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home.

*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.


  1. Oh, what a treat ... thank you for this, Nan. I've been looking and waiting for something special to take me away. And this one is surely the one

    I was born and grew up in Toronto, left after high school to go to college in the US. My heart longs to see it again, but I don't think that will be possible.

    Off now to check out the Kindle edition.

  2. I'm sure this will qualify as your 'something special to take me away' - It will be extra special for you since you know Toronto.

  3. Did I comment? Or only try to? Can't be sure. But I am fascinated by this review and have ordered the book from my wonderful Akron library.

    1. No comment came through. I think you'll like the book. I actually ordered the whole series in print version. I really loved Old City Hall.

  4. I will visit those links Nan, but didn't want to forget to leave a comment I like fiction with a strong sense of place and I like police procedurals that make me care about the characters (their lives as well as the mystery). This sounds perfect.

    1. It really is a perfect book that fits your criteria!

  5. This sounds enticing. I have requested the book and it is waiting for me at the library. Love the photo.

    1. I ended up buying all four in the series in print version. :<)

  6. I'll have to check this one out. One of my favorite tv discoveries in recent years has been the show Flashpoint, which is set in Toronto. (I recommend it if you haven't seen it. Four of five seasons are on Netflix streaming and it airs several times a week on the ION tv network.)

    1. I think you'll like it. I'll check out the series.

  7. I liked this book and the ones that followed.

    1. This was such a happy surprise for me. I hadn't heard of the books until the NPR piece.

  8. Nan, I love that you loved this so much! One of the things I'm beginning to recognize is that I am extremely picky about certain facets of a novel and not so much about others. I think this is true for every reader - all of us have pet peeves and one of mine is the kind of wooden explaining I found really glaring in Old City Hall. That said, I also listened to it as an audiobook which tends to lend itself to certain kinds of writing and not others. But me, if I enjoy the characters enough (as I did with this) or if I enjoy the writing enough, pretty much everything else falls by the wayside - books I have loved and passed on have gotten some interesting (read: politely negative!) reactions from people who are more plot-driven or setting-focused than me.


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