Review: Stranglehold — Robert Rotenberg

Read: 27
To Go: 73

Book List:
21. The First Deadly Sin — Lawrence Sanders
22. Exclusive — Sandra Brown
23. White Hot — Sandra Brown
24. The Black Ice — Michael Connelly
25. The Concrete Blonde — Michael Connelly
26. The Retreat — David Bergen
27. Stranglehold — Robert Rotenberg

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Finished reading: May 29, 2013

Robert Rotenberg’s newest novel came out at a rather fortuitous time. About two weeks after it was released, the Toronto Star and Gawker published reports that Toronto’s scandal-plagued mayor had been caught on tape smoking crack cocaine (to protect myself and my little blog, I feel obliged to say that I have not seen this video and cannot verify its authenticity). Why do I consider this fortuitous timing? A recurring character—Hap Charlton, Toronto’s police chief in Rotenberg’s universe—has striking similarities to Rob Ford. And he plays a similarly scandalous role in Stranglehold. You couldn’t buy timing that good.

Also, a fair warning: this review contains spoilers. Big, shocking spoilers about who the murder victim is. If you haven’t read Stranglehold yet, have plans to do so, and don’t like to be spoiled, I would advise saving this review for later. If I wasn’t a full month behind in reviews, I’d hide the rest of it under the jump. But since the book was released in early May, and it’s now early July, I won’t.

It’s just after the Labour Day weekend, and Toronto is kicking back into gear. And Detective Ari Greene is put-putting along Kingston Road on a scooter, on the way to a clandestine rendezvous at a run-down motel in Scarborough. When he opens the ajar door to Room 8, he stumbles onto the horrific homicide of Jennifer Raglan, the woman he was having an affair with, and his life is turned upside down. Soon he finds himself pitted against his protege, Daniel Kennicott, who arrests him for first degree murder. Greene is in the fight for his life, and the only way he can prove his innocence is by solving the murder himself.

Readers familiar with Rotenberg’s Ari Greene  know him as an intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive detective who always gets his guy and doesn’t miss a clue. Stranglehold uses Jennifer’s death to develop Greene’s character further: when it comes to the love of his life, he’s reckless in his heartbreak, enough to put his career on the line to find her murderer. He’s sloppy, he misses clues, and he can’t think straight. Though he pushes himself, often, to think like a detective, grief shields him from what he’d never miss as an impartial observer. 

Greene’s grief in Stranglehold is unquestionably Rotenberg’s best writing yet. Worth highlighting is the scene that finds Greene drinking and smoking himself into oblivion, and calling the women in his life just to hear someone’s voice on the other line, which almost had me crying along with him.

Rotenberg’s other characters’ response to Jennifer’s death—Kennicott’s and Jo Summers’, specifically—makes for compelling reading, but the story is truly Greene’s. Putting him in the prisoner’s box, so to speak, answers as many questions about the series’ central character as it raises. Despite his starring role, Ari Greene has always been a somewhat mysterious figure, and as readers learn more about the secrets Jennifer Raglan left behind, they also get a few hints at Greene’s past life. But Rotenberg is smart enough to leave some mystery for future books, especially in this tidbit, which I suspect was dropped in casually just to torture:

“When Charlton became chief, he picked Greene for a secret assignment that took a year out of Greene’s life. When that was over, he sent Greene to Europe for another year to recover. When Greene came back to Toronto, he had his own office in the homicide squad.”

Stranglehold is Rotenberg’s strongest novel yet, likely because it’s more character-driven than procedural, and he tests Greene, Kennicott, and Jo, and their relationships with each other, in ways he hasn’t before. It’s a stunner, and it’s stuck with me months after I finished it.

Next book: The Black Box — Michael Connelly

– Kelsey

Stray observations: I may have played it cool about Jennifer’s death, but it was even more upsetting than knowing that Connelly wrote Sylvia Moore out of the Bosch series after two books. When I read who the murder victim was, I was sitting on the steps at Old City Hall, and gasped out loud, before uttering “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

Jennifer Raglan was an impressive character, and I’m sad to see her go. I’m also sad to see Jo Summers written out. I didn’t discuss her much, but I had many thoughts on her characterization in Stranglehold and subsequent departure. I have to wonder if it means Rotenberg is making room for new romantic relationships for Daniel and Ari, or if he’s trying to make them lone wolves.

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