This past weekend I became a new fan of Canadian fiction novelist Robert Rotenberg. Mr Rotenberg is a criminal attorney with quite a writing resume, and not just for writing fiction. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him in person at a writers’ symposium, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his book, Strangle Hold.
Strangle Hold is the fourth of his “crime dramas” with many of the same characters. The central event of the story is, of course, a crime, which means that of course much of the story involves police procedure and courtroom tension. Once the reader starts page one, he/she won’t be putting the book down until the end–turning page after page in the hungry search to know who did it, why was it done, when will he or she be caught and will justice be served.
Yes. I will repeat that. Readers will want to keep reading from start to finish, as non-stop as possible.
There are many elements that make Strangle Hold a page-turner of this sort.
*Streets and neighborhoods of Toronto are an important part of the setting and the story. I don’t know Toronto–I am not Canadian. But I felt like I was walking or driving those streets, passing those stores in the strip malls, riding on the subways, seeing the buildings in which the police and the mayor worked, or the houses in which the people lived.
*The Canadian legal system was not just key to the story and characters–it was depicted with an intimate familiarity that made me as a reader feel like I was part of its society. What an honor to be a Crown prosecutor–I felt that pride jump off the page.
*The tension of the story never stopped. From the first page we get to know the central character, a police detective named Ari Greene (familiar to readers of Rotenberg’s previous books, but even if, like me, this is their first, we will become intimate acquaintances of Detective Greene, living and breathing his fears, his sorrow, his anguish as he walks a line between his job and his personal life. The crime happens early, and Greene –knows a lot– about the victim. This is not a spoiler–it is an incredibly brilliant hook to the reader. We don’t just want to know who did this, we not only want to know how the murderer will be found–we want to know how Greene and his friends will be affected. Our intimacy with Greene is enhanced by his relationships, good, bad, strained, comfortable, with other important characters, such as Jennie Raglan, a Crown prosecutor, with Daniel Kennecott, another police detective mentored by Greene who also appears in previous novels, with Hap Charlton, mayoral candidate.
*The most important element, in my opinion, that makes Strangle Hold impossible to put down, are the characters. Each is wonderfully conjured, with distinct qualities, quirks, endearing and frustrating–people I feel like I might know sitting next to me at a coffee shop or standing on the supermarket line. Ok–yes readers will be fascinated by the police investigation, the lawyers’ strategizing and the courtroom suspense. But fundamental to that fascination are the characters who take our hands and draw us through into that investigation, the strategizing and that suspense.
Masterfully crafted characters and masterfully crafted story. Makes for an unforgettable page-turner. I will be happily reading Rotenberg’s earlier novels and I am eagerly awaiting all his later novels.