OLD CITY HALL - Robert Rotenberg
Despite a rather shaky start in the legal profession, Robert Rotenberg's background in criminal law explains the perspective of his first novel OLD CITY HALL, most of the the book is being told from either the defence or the prosecution viewpoints.
OLD CITY HALL starts off in a decidedly disarming manner, with polite, proper and very Indian Mr Singh going about his daily job of distributing newspapers which always involves a chat with Mr Kevin in Suite 12A. On this particular morning the door is open as usual, but there is no sign of Kevin Brace. When he eventually appears in the hallway of his apartment, Mr Singh is the only person to hear him confess to killing his wife. Kevin Brace refuses to speak again. He doesn't speak to the police who investigate the crime, to his cellmate as he awaits trial, or even to his own defence counsel.
The case of Kevin Brace is the reason a number of characters all come together, although Brace himself is almost a bit player in the entire book. Partly this is because of the use of the Counsel viewpoints, partly because of Brace's decision not to speak. I have to admit I found other characters failure to deduce the reasons behind his speechlessness somewhat inexplicable at the end of the book, although this aspect is really difficult to talk about in a review without giving the game away - suffice to say, there were aspects that made clanging noises for quite a while after I finished reading.
Whilst there is a crime at the centre of the book, it does take a slightly lower profile in this book. An odd thing to conclude as ultimately the story is about the trial of that crime. Possibly this is because this isn't the sort of book where a crime is committed and a guilty party must be identified, rather this is book concentrates on "post arrest". Whilst there is definitely still some investigating going on, mostly it's not about the who, but more concentrating on the why of the crime, it's also the story of the trial and the characters involved in that trial. The crime itself is over and the investigation has a slightly different focus, and therefore intensity, once preparations for, and the trial itself, commences. Having said that, the trial even takes a slightly lower profile as well. Perhaps it's partly this difference that made OLD CITY HALL compelling, possibly it's partly because the lawyer characterisations are really very strong. The book slowly builds the story of the two counsel, aspects of their private lives and their involvement in the trial, at the same time as the facts behind the case are revealed. The lives of the perpetrator and victim are gradually drawn out, the motivation behind the death of Kevin Brace's wife is explained, and Mr Singh goes back to delivering his papers.
A celebrated talk-show host confesses to the brutal murder of his young wife. The words "I killed her" are the last he will speak. But what lies behind his vow of silence? Can this really be the straightforward crime of passion it first appears?