From writer to lawyer to magazine editor to radio producer to lawyer again, Toronto criminal lawyer and author Robert Rotenberg has had more lives than a cat. After penning bestselling legal thriller Old City Hall in 2009, Rotenberg has produced a smash sequel in The Guilty Plea, released in May.
Beginning with the murder of a wealthy business magnate and a got-nothing-but-motives ex-wife, the book’s page-turning twists and relatable, personable characters are sure to thrill mystery lovers and lit elitists alike — especially with the Toronto backdrop weaving subtle layers of Canadiana into the prose. Precedent chatted with Rotenberg about his latest success.
The book comes off as very authentically Canadian. Was this intentional?
It’s very intentionally set in Toronto. My goal was to write about this place in this time. It’s not saying how horrible it is or how wonderful it is; it’s just how it is.
What was the research process like?
I was a journalist for 10 years before becoming a criminal lawyer, but those two jobs are kind of the same: you’re always trying to figure out what really happened. I learned to always go to original sources, visit the actual scene.
How has your experience as a lawyer informed your writing?
Much of the books are about the lives of lawyers during trials. In the first book, there’s a scene where a character has a nightmare that she went to the wrong court and had all the wrong documents, and almost every lawyer I know has said that has happened to them.
Were any of the characters or events based on real-life lawyers or judges?
Everyone asks me this, but the answer is no. The characters are really just an amalgam of the personalities that I see.
Do you have any advice for other lawyers who think they have a novel in them?
Set your alarm for five in the morning and write every day. That’s what I did for 20 years. Still do. And don’t underestimate how hard it is; it’s harder than doing a murder trial.
Do you still practice law?
I do, but it’s getting harder to do both.
What’s next for the series?
I sold the television rights to CTV to develop it into a series. If that happens, it’ll be very exciting. I’m also working on a third book right now, which should be out next year.
What has the response been like from other lawyers?
It’s been incredible. One judge — a former Crown — said to me, “I loved the book, but I didn’t know there was so much sex at the Crown’s office!”