On a hot August morning, Arceli Ocaya, the nanny of four year-old Simon Wyler, arrives at her usual time, 7:30 AM, to find that nothing is as usual. The front door is open, there is no sign of Terrance Wyler who always has the stereo playing loudly as he chops fresh fruit in the kitchen, and Billy, the family dog, who always greats Arceli with loud exhuberance, approaches her with his head down. Arceli heads to the kitchen and knows from the smell that there is a great deal of blood in that room. Then she sees Terrance Wyler on the floor, his body torn with multiple stab wounds. Arceli races to the stairs, desperate to find Simon. The little boy is still sleeping.
Detective Ari Greene gets the call to lead the investigation. Greene is number four on the list of four detectives to be assigned to a murder; it is his bad luck that the death of Terrance Wyler is the fourth in the city. Because the homicide squad isn’t at full strength, Daniel Kennicott, a patrol officer, is assigned to assist Greene. Daniel and Ari have a good working relationship built on a previous case.
Shortly after arriving at his law office, Ted DiPaulo receives a phone call from another attorney, Winston Feindel, a family lawyer who referred criminal problems to DiPaulo. Feindel has been representing Samantha Wyler in what the tabloids refer to as the “divorce from hell.” The trial is scheduled to start this day. Feindel had referred Samantha Wyler to Ted so that he could prepare her for what would be a brutal cross-examination. Now Feindel tells Ted his job is done; there is no divorce when one of the parties is dead. And, by the way, when he arrived at his office Sam was sitting on the stairs waiting for him.
When Ari is talking to Simon, getting him ready to go to Arceli’s apartment until his relatives have been informed, the little boy drops a bomb shell. ” ‘She cried last night,’ ” Simon said…..’Silly Simon,’ Ocaya said. ‘Last night you were not at your mother’s house, you slept here.’ ‘My mom came into my room here at my dad’s house. She kissed me and she was crying.’….’She said she wouldn’t see me for a long time. How come?’ ”
At Feindel’s office, Ted gets his own surprise from a member of the Wyler family. “She opened her arms and held out a red-and-white dish towel. He was about to take it. Then his lawyer’s instincts kicked in and he pulled back. ‘Sam, listen to me. Put that on the carpet and open it. Slowly.’ Fixing him with her eyes, she placed the towel down and unfolded the corners one at a time….’It’s from our kitchen’…. She exposed a black-handled knife, stained from top to bottom with blood.”
The Wyler family is ubiquitous in the Toronto area. Wyler Fresh billboards are all over the city and environs and the fruit and vegetable business has made the family very wealthy. Nathan, the oldest, is the hands on member of the family, the hard-worker who bears the responsibility of choosing each day’s batches of food, as perfect as possible to maintain the family reputation. Jason, the second son, is disabled. He has a motor neuron disease that is slowly killing him. Terrance, the youngest, is the golden child. Strong, good-looking, and charming, he benefits from the family’s success without having to contribute to it. Terrance met Samantha when she came to work as an accountant for Wyler Fresh. As an accountant, she was a plus for the family. She was not what they wanted for a daughter-in-law. When the marriage ended five years after it began, the Wylers wanted her to leave with what she came, nothing, including her son.
It is bad enough that Sam took the murder weapon from the scene but when the police learn that Sam had received a message from Terrance just before he died, the noose tightens. She had gone to the house and she claims that Terrence was already dead. Why did she live Simon there and why didn’t she call the police?
THE GUILTY PLEA is a police procedural/ legal mystery and it is a definite plus that the characters from OLD CITY HALL are back. Ari Greene, Ted DiPaulo, and Daniel Kennicott are characters that are fully formed, interesting, and compelling. The murder in THE GUILTY PLEA is the place from which the story moves forward and backward. The secrets of two families could destroy both if revealed. Affairs inform two stories, and the guilty plea has two meanings.
It has been five years since Rotenberg’s first book, OLD CITY HALL, was published. THE GUILTY PLEA is an excellent book, one I read in an afternoon. It doesn’t pack quite the punch of OLD CITY HALL but I do hope Rotenberg’s third book makes it to the shelves much faster.