Canadian attorney Rotenberg’s second legal thriller asks whether the estranged wife of a Toronto grocery king took a murderous shortcut in settling the terms of their divorce.
Someone certainly had it in for Terrance Wyler. The co-owner of Wyler Foods was stabbed seven times and left to bleed out on his kitchen floor. Detective Ari Greene, working once more with lawyer-turned-cop Daniel Kennicott (Old City Hall, 2009), quickly settles on Samantha Wyler as the obvious suspect. The couple’s negotiations over their divorce had been stormy from the beginning; Samantha had threatened Terry by e-mail the night he died; and she not only visited the crime scene ahead of the police but pinched the murder weapon. Ari’s former lover, one-time head Crown Attorney Jennifer Raglan, recalled from obscurity to try the case, aims for a conviction on second-degree murder charges. But she’s repeatedly overruled by insecure, wavering Judge Irene Norville, who, swayed by Samantha’s lawyer, Ted DiPaulo, doesn’t want Samantha separated any longer than possible from her 4-year-old son Simon, even though mother and child have never been close. So Raglan watches as Norville first grants Samantha bail and house arrest, then high-handedly arranges for her to plead guilty to manslaughter. The likelihood that Terry’s killer will go free in five years outrages his parents and his two brothers, much-married Nathan and Jason, crippled by spinal muscle atrophy, who are mollified only because avoiding a trial will keep their darkest family secrets secret. When Samantha’s day in court finally comes, however, she refuses to admit that she stabbed Terry. Now the stage is set for a trial guaranteed to make no one happy, except of course for experienced genre fans who find plea bargains anticlimactic and downright wimpy.
Ferocious, blunt-edged and finally unremarkable courtroom battles swirl around a cast of characters who consistently act as if they have more interesting depths than they’re willing to show.