Review: THE GUILTY PLEA by Robert Rotenberg

On the morning Terrance Wyler’s divorce trial is due to start his body is found on the kitchen floor by his four-year old son’s nanny. He has been stabbed seven times and it isn’t long before suspicion turns to Wyler’s soon-to-be ex-wife Samantha. In fact the evidence piles up so quickly and convincingly that even Samantha’s own lawyer seriously considers all the angles of her pleading guilty despite her claim that she did not kill her husband.

Essentially this is a book with the deceptively simple goal of exploring the implications of someone pleading guilty to a crime they claim to be innocent of. With the evidence stacked against the accused is it better to take the certainty of pleading guilty to a lesser crime (manslaughter over murder for example) or to risk everything on being found innocent by a jury? It’s hard to imagine too many scenarios more frightening than the prospect of spending many years in prison for a crime you know yourself to be innocent of but how much faith would you put in the justice system to get it right?

All the players you would expect are present in this engaging and their back stories are teased out nicely: the victim and his family, the investigating detectives, the accused’s lawyer, the prosecutor, And of course the accused woman herself. All have secrets, fears and prejudices that impact their view of the case and in many cases their willingness to tell the whole truth. Rotenberg does a particularly nice job of making the reader empathise for those characters who are forced to reveal things about themselves they’d rather have kept secret.

But the real strength of the book is in its courtroom scenes where Rotenberg has obviously drawn on his own experiences to capture the genuine drama of the setting. He makes it clear that no amount of preparation can guarantee how things will play out in court as there are so many variables that even the best judges and lawyers cannot control. Readers are drawn into the ups and downs in mood and tension each day of the trial and the way cases swing to favour one side then the other based on a myriad of small details. The tone of voice used by a witness, the amount of research undertaken by an investigator, the decision to call a witness whose memory or presentation style might not work entirely in your side’s favour and a dozen other things will all play a role in the outcome of a trial like the one depicted here.

I picked up this book based mostly on the recommendation of Bill at Mysteries and More. I was intrigued because Bill is a practising Canadian lawyer who thought this Canadian legal thriller represented the legal system he works in intelligently. I like the idea of legal procedurals and thrillers but find many of them incredible so I was curious to see if I too would find this one believable. Happily I did and enjoyed it a lot though I’m not sure if the lesson the lawyer in Rotenberg wants readers to take away is that justice is all a bit of a crap shoot but that is the impression he left me with.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Narrator Paul Hecht
Publisher Whole Story Audiobooks [2011]
Length 11 hours 12 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #2 in the Old City Hall series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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7 Responses to Review: THE GUILTY PLEA by Robert Rotenberg

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Oh, yes! I remember reading about this one on Bill’s blog too. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I’m especially glad the courtroom scenes worked well. I’ve read several novels where they…don’t. Thanks for this excellent review and thanks for the reminder that I have been meaning to read this one and must.


  2. Maxine says:

    I’ve only skimmed this review as I’ve just finished Old City Hall (also based on Bill’s recommendations of this author) which I enjoyed a lot, so am going to read this one next. Will come back to your review when I have finished it (I haven’t actually bought it yet, so must do that first!).


  3. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you enjoyed Old City Hall. Rotenberg has established a fine series. In real life I do not consider our judicial system as capricious as presented by Rotenberg.


  4. Kathy D. says:

    I liked Old City Hall, but the TBR list is just so humongous right now that I couldn’t wade through it to get back to Rotenberg’s books. However, now that I see this review I will put this on my list and try to get it at the library.
    I am so glad to read that you liked the courtroom goings-on. That to me is essential in every legal mystery, in fact, what I anticipate and enjoy if it’s done well.


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  7. Anonymous says:

    the book is very enlightening,a young law studen t in southern africa


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