In the latest thrilling crime novel from bestselling author Robert Rotenberg, Homicide Detective Ari Greene discovers the bludgeoned body of Toronto’s most reviled developer behind his controversial new construction site.
When Detective Ari Greene was charged with the murder of the woman he loved, he stopped at nothing to clear his name and uncover the real killer. After his acquittal, Greene fled to London to get away from it all, but now he’s back. And he’s not alone—with Greene is his twenty-year-old daughter, Alison. The child he never knew he had.
Determined to leave his life as a cop behind him, Greene gets a job on a construction site for one of Toronto’s many new condos. It seems he has finally found peace as he settles into a new career and new role as father, helping Alison adjust to life in Canada.
But when Greene stumbles upon the corpse of hated developer Livingston Fox, he is plunged back into the life he tried so hard to leave behind. As the body count rises, Greene is forced into a reluctant reconciliation with his former protégé, Daniel Kennicott. The pair must delve into the tight-knit world of downtown development, navigating tangled loyalties, unexpected corruption and family secrets, some of which are closer to home than Greene could have ever imagined.
In a world where the stakes are high and the profits are even higher, Greene and Kennicott race against the clock as they follow the trail of blood and money to its shocking end.
Heart of the City FRIDAY AFTERNOON 1 Every part of Greene’s body hurt. His feet ached from the weight of the steel-toed boots he’d worn all week. His legs were sore from countless climbs up and down the newly poured concrete stairs of the condominium construction site. His arm muscles burned from the weight of the metal rebar he’d been hauling around since six-thirty this morning. And he had a blistering headache. He’d worked all day in the hot sun and during the afternoon coffee break he’d smoked a cigarette with one of his fellow workers. It was the third time since high school that he’d lit up.
“Okay, ladies, weekend’s here. It’s closing time,” Claudio Bassante, the site superintendent, said as he wove his way through the clusters of workers. He was one of those people whose face falls into a natural smile.
Thirty-seven men all played their parts in a well-orchestrated ballet. The formers, who poured the concrete floors and walls. The carpenters, who created the wooden forms the concrete was poured into. The ironworkers, who handled the rebar that reinforced the concrete. The electricians and plumbers, who hopscotched around everyone else, securing the wiring and plumbing before the concrete was poured to seal everything in place. And the labourers, such as Greene, who scrambled through the two basement floors and the three storeys that had already been built, carrying an endless array of building materials. Above all this activity, a crane towered, in constant motion, swinging back and forth like a one-armed orchestra conductor, delivering all manner of supplies to the worker bees below.
In seconds the repetitive din of metal and concrete colliding, hammers banging, and circular saws whirling all ceased. It was as if the mute button had been pushed on a loud, surround-sound television, replacing the noise with silence. Hard hats were removed, tools were put away, and the bright orange safety vests everyone wore were ripped off and discarded.
This was the end of Greene’s first week on the job, and despite all his aches and pains, he had enjoyed the simple pleasure of stacking two-by-fours, carrying cans of nails, hoisting the rebar onto his shoulder, trudging up and down the stairs, and laying them out in perfect order. The feel of his body straining and strengthening day by day. Using his muscles instead of his brain.
“Before you disappear for the weekend, we’ve got to get everything spic and span,” Bassante said to the crew. “Boy Wonder will be here any minute. He’s coming to kick the tires like he does every Friday afternoon, and I want this place to look as if the queen of England slept here last night.”
Boy Wonder was Livingston Fox, a.k.a. Mr. Condo or Mr. Con Dough, depending on your point of view, the owner, CEO, and face of Fox Developments Inc. Love him or hate him, Fox was always in the news. A high school dropout, he’d rocketed to wealth and prominence by building well-designed condominium towers throughout the city core. He threw up buildings at breakneck speed, lived an over-the-top lifestyle, complete with a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce convertible, and in just ten years had played a key role in transforming the cityscape. He was thirty-four years old.
Greene had learned this first week that most of the workmen lived in suburbs and towns at least an hour’s drive from Toronto. At three-thirty, the end of the workday, they were in a hurry to hit the road and avoid getting caught in rush-hour traffic. All hands pitched in, and in less than twenty minutes they were on their way.
Bassante had asked Greene to stick around after everyone left. They hadn’t had time to talk all week. It was no problem for Greene. Unlike his commuting co-workers, he lived downtown and walked to work. Soon only the two of them were left.
They had met in high school, a multicultural mosaic of whites, blacks, Asians, Italians, Russians, Portuguese, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews. In many ways, it had been a precursor of everything that modern-day Toronto had become.
When Bassante was in grade ten, his father, an electrician, was killed while working on a hydro project down in Niagara Falls. His mother fell into a disabling depression, and Bassante, the youngest child and the only one left at home, ended up practically living at Greene’s house for the next three years of school.
Greene sat on the edge of the third floor facing south over Kensington Market, the hodgepodge of streets and stores and houses that had been the landing spot for new immigrants for more than a century. It was one of those Toronto blue-sky afternoons, when the sun was high and would be for many more hours. The first heat wave of the season had rolled in overnight, bringing with it stifling humidity, and it felt good to sit up here and take in the breeze.
Local residents, led by the high-profile lawyer Cassandra Amberlight, had formed the Save Kensington Coalition. They objected to this condominium being erected on the northern border of their neighbourhood, but they’d been powerless to stop the project. Instead they’d extracted concessions from the hated Mr. Con Dough and forced him to reduce his plans from eleven stories to seven. Fox, never one to be modest, named the building Kensington Gate and plastered photos of himself alongside happy-looking, athletic young people across the hoardings that flanked the site.
Last November, Fox announced plans for a second condominium high-rise down the street. He’d cheekily named it Kensington Gate 2 or, as he liked to call it, K2 and was promoting it as the “Peak of Luxury in Every Way.” Some people thought he was doing this just to rub salt in Amberlight’s wounds. The venom between the builder and the protest leader was public and palpable. She’d come up with the term Mr. Con Dough. He called her Ms. Red Light, because she opposed every development he proposed.
Amberlight had spent the last few weeks organizing a march that was going to take place in the market this afternoon to oppose what she called density creep. From his perch on the third floor, Greene could see television trucks already lined up along Augusta Avenue, the street next to the building, where groups of protesters were gathering. Most were young people, with a smattering of scruffy-looking veterans. A few of them had brought their dogs; others had babies in carriers. Many held aloft signs that read “Stop the Fox. Save the Market.” Others had their phones on telescopic selfie sticks and were filming themselves and the cops standing by. One man was pounding away on a big African drum, whipping up the crowd.
Greene heard boots on the concrete behind him and turned to see Bassante walking over, carrying two Corona beers.
“You’ll have to drink it without any lime,” he said, sitting down and passing Greene one of the bottles.
“I think I can handle it.” Greene laughed and took a sip.
“You’ve worked five days straight, Ari. How do you feel?”
“A little sore.”
Bassante waved his bottle in the air. “You were always a lousy liar,” he said, “even back in grade nine.”
“Okay.” Greene took a longer sip. The beer was sweet and cool. “I hurt like hell, all over.”
“That’s why God created the weekend. Rest up. Stay cool. Take your daughter to a movie where there’s air conditioning or something.”
Below them on Augusta Avenue, more and more protesters were crowding onto the narrow street, singing and dancing and chanting.
Greene looked at Bassante. “Why aren’t you drinking your beer?”
“Boy Wonder will be here at four. Guy’s never late. I have to play the corporate game.” He flicked the bottom of his bottle out toward the commotion on the street. “Look at those kids there. What do they think? They have some special right to live down here and hang out in their trendy coffee shops all day while Mommy and Daddy pay the rent? My guys, with wives and kids to support, they’re stuck out in the burbs and commuting two or three hours a day. I’d like to see just one of these protesters put in a real day’s work.”
He took one small sip of his beer, put the bottle by his side, pulled out a roll of Mentos mint, and popped a few in his mouth. He stretched his arms over his head. “Ari, look at this city,” he said, pointing south. “Remember when we were kids, there wasn’t one high-rise downtown? Now it’s all condos and office towers. Condos, condos, and more condos. See those two new big ones down by the CN Tower?”
“They all look new.”
“The one on the left, I moved in there last year. You’ll have to come down and see it. View of the lake is amazing.”
“And the view of the building cranes,” Greene said. “They’re everywhere.”
“Toronto, it’s a city of cranes. Cost us a fortune.” Bassante pointed to the street below. “Every time we put up a building, there’s some new lawyer acting for a neighbour I have to negotiate with and pay off. Then all we do is raise their property values. Good work if you can get it. You see that house on the other side of the alley?”
Greene followed his gaze. The house was an unremarkable two-storey brick building with a second-floor window on the north side covered by a heavy brown curtain. An alleyway ran between it and the building site, then turned south behind the homes facing west on Augusta Avenue and the restaurants and stores facing east on Spadina Avenue.
“What about it?” Greene asked.
“Because our crane casts a shadow when it passes over the house, we had to negotiate a crane swing agreement with the owners to pay for their inconvenience. This one cost us thirty thousand bucks. Some numbered company owns it, and the place is empty anyhow. Can you believe that? Happens every time we put up a building.”
Bassante stood, and as he rose his leg nudged his beer bottle. It tumbled over the edge of the building and smashed onto the extended balcony of the floor below.
“Christ,” Bassante said, chewing hard on a few more mints.
“I’ll take care of it,” Greene said. “You go meet young Mr. Condo.”
“Thanks, pal. The broom and dustpan are in the work shed near the back gate.” Bassante pulled out his phone. “Weird. He should be here by now. He usually calls as soon as he arrives. Maybe he’s spending some private time with that gorgeous chauffeur of his.”
Greene finished his beer and put the bottle in his pants pocket. He took his time descending the stairs. Walking down was harder on his sore legs than walking up.
The shed was past a pair of Johnny on the Spot portable toilets at the back corner of the site. Greene hadn’t been inside it since his first day at work, when he’d been outfitted with a hard hat and safety gear.
He was sweating in the heat, and the air as he walked past the toilets reeked. When he got to the shed, it occurred to him how cut off it was from the rest of the work site. He pulled open the spring-loaded door and it slammed shut behind him.
The heat hit him first. It was furnace-hot inside. The sun streamed through a large south-facing window and blinded him for a moment. But all his years as a street cop and homicide detective had honed his instincts. Something about the stillness of the room wasn’t right. He could feel, before he could see, that there was someone else in the shed.
As his eyes adjusted, he could see through the window the hoarding that surrounded the building site and above it the old house on the other side of the alley.
Then he looked down.
Livingston Fox was lying flat on his back, right in the middle of the floor.
He wasn’t wearing one of his usual hand-tailored Italian suits, just a plain white cotton T-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. His arms and his legs lay limply beside him, his hands and feet anchored by heavy concrete blocks. His head was slouched to one side. His eyes bulged open, unmoving. And his chest was pierced by a long steel rebar, plunged right through his heart.
Robert Rotenberg is one of Toronto’s top criminal lawyers and the author of several bestselling novels, including Old City Hall, The Guilty Plea, Stray Bullets, and Stranglehold. He lives in Toronto. Visit him at RobertRotenberg.com or follow him @RobertRotenberg.
"The only complaint I ever have about Robert Rotenberg's novels is that he takes too long between books. . . . [Rotenberg] makes his legal-cop dramas spot-on for details, along with terrific plots and characters that evolve."
– The Globe and Mail
“Pleasantly loaded with [complications], each one delivered in Rotenberg’s swift and sure brand of prose.”
– Toronto Star
“Rotenberg is a natural storyteller. Full of colourful, fascinating characters, Heart of the City moves fast and always keeps you guessing.”
– David Bezmozgis
“Rotenberg, who earns the title as Canada’s John Grisham, is well worth reading, especially for those of us who love crime novels with a Canadian setting. The city becomes a character in his story, but this is a writer who full well knows how to build legal suspense and he does.”
– Owen Sound Sun Times
“Rotenberg has created believable and likeable characters, put them into a fast paced story and sprinkled the mix with astute observations of contemporary urban life. What more can we ask for.”
– MAUREEN JENNINGS, author of the Murdoch Mysteries
Praise for Stranglehold
“his fourth and best.”
– The Globe and Mail
“…his most shocking book yet.”
– The Orillia Packet & Times
“Rotenberg does rich work — full, and full-hearted, compelling and compassionate. And judging from Stranglehold’s final words, there’s more of this good work to come.”
– London Free Press
“Readers of all descriptions will get off on Stranglehold’s courtroom drama…the action is authoritatively presented…and as twisty as anything from Perry Mason’s worst nightmares.”
– Toronto Star
“Author Robert Rotenberg was in the business of turning Toronto into fiction before Toronto became stranger than fiction.”
– Metro News
Praise for Stray Bullets
“A cracking good story.”
– Toronto Star
“Rotenberg really knows how to build legal suspense.”
– The Globe and Mail
“The added frisson of a city craving justice combined with evidence that can’t quite add up the way law enforcement and prosecutors want them to gives Rotenberg the extra storytelling juice he needs to propel Stray Bullets to its inevitable but riveting conclusion.”
– National Post
“Rotenberg makes it his own with propulsive plotting, crisp, vivid, no-wasted-words writing, and, most importantly,distinct characters virtually all of whom make individual claims on a reader's interest and empathy…In fact, the entire unfolding and resolution of a tragic, sadly semi-familiar, crime-and-punishment tale shows a real pro of a writer, just getting better and better.”
– London Free Press
Praise for The Guilty Plea
"Not since “Anatomy of a Murder” has a novel so vividly captured the real life of criminal lawyers in the midst of a high-stakes trial. This is a book that every lawyer, law student, and law professor should, no must, read."
– Edward L. Greenspan. Q.C.
"A few lawyers are really expert in managing cases--especially criminal cases--in the courtroom. A small percentage of these are very good at making trials come alive. Robert Rotenberg is one of the few, along with Scott Turow, David Baldacci, John Lescroat. His Guilty Plea is a crackling good read. Plan to keep turning pages late into the night!"
– F. Lee Bailey
Praise forOld City Hall:
"It's clear that Old City Hall has enough hidden motives and gumshoeing to make it a hard-boiled classic."
– The Globe and Mail
"Loved it! Rotenberg’s Old City Hall is a terrific look at contemporary Toronto."
– Ian Rankin
"The book has wowed pretty much everyone who's read it. . . . A finely paced, intricately written plot is matched by a kaleidoscope of the multicultural city's locales and characters."
"Twenty-first-century Toronto is a complicated place, rife with the kind of paradox and contradiction that lends a city depth and complexity. It's a good setting for sinuous legal machinations to unfold, steeped in that elusively desirable literary quality we call character."
– Toronto Star
"A convincing portrayal of backstage operations in the justice system. . . . An enjoyable addition to the literature of urban crime."
– The Times Literary Supplement
"Clever, complex, and filled with an engaging cast of characters, Old City Hall captures the vibrancy and soul of Toronto."
– Kathy Reichs
"Robert Rotenberg knows his Toronto courts and jails, he knows his law, and he knows his way around a legal thriller. Old City Hall is a splendid entertainment."