Published by Open Road Media on December 3rd 2013
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Legal, Thrillers
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Based on the experience of the author, a federal judge who in 2000 presided over the first capital case in Massachusetts in more than fifty years, this extraordinary debut thriller offers an unprecedented inside view of a federal death penalty trialWhen a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, claims the lives of a Puerto Rican drug dealer and a hockey mom volunteering at an inner-city clinic, the police arrest a rival gang member. With no death penalty in Massachusetts, the US attorney shifts the double homicide out of state jurisdiction into federal court so he can seek a death sentence.The Honorable David S. Norcross, a federal judge with only two years on the bench, now presides over the first death penalty case in the state in decades. He must referee the clash of an ambitious female prosecutor and a brilliant veteran defense attorney in a high-stress environment of community outrage, media pressure, vengeful gang members, and a romantic entanglement that threatens to capsize his trial—not to mention the most dangerous force of all: the unexpected.
First, a note about the author. Judge Ponsor currently sits on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Massachusetts and as a burgeoning, bright-eyed young attorney, this gives me pause. I understand that Judge Ponsor makes it clear in the forward of the book that fictional Judge Norcross is not him and the views in the novel in no way necessarily reflect his own thoughts on the death penalty. I also know it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll ever hear a death penalty case again. I guess a novel is a more appropriate way to share the ‘insider information’ about a federal death penalty case for a sitting federal judge than a memoir… but why not a pen name? I don’t know, perhaps it’s just a silly feeling, but like I said it did give me pause. Also, Judge Ponsor is one of the more well known judges on the federal circuit here he is is talking to the American Bar Association about he ‘has no desire’ to join the Supreme Court.
Okay. The novel. Well, it’s a better legal drama than some of the new fiction that John Grisham is churning out these days. I felt like Judge Norcross’s romantic relationship with Claire was extraneous, I suppose it did add a third dimension of the character, it’s an avenue to show that judges are people too, people with incredibly difficult and often thankless jobs, but the whole thing felt a bit out of place.
The same can be said about the parallel telling about the 19th century death penalty case in Massachusetts, I understand the parallel of the cousins being put to death more because they were Catholics from out of town in an incredibly anti-Catholic area and the number of men of color currently sitting on death row (or in jail) being incredibly disproportionate to the number of white men there. But mostly it was just distracting, it didn’t add a whole lot for me.
I appreciated the attempts to humanize the lawyers on both sides of the case. The prosecutor is just doing her job and wants to see justice for the family who have lost a loved one. The defense attorney truly doesn’t believe in the death penalty, so it’s nice to see lawyers portrayed as so human.
The ending feels incredibly contrived, it’s almost as if the author was just tired of writing and wanted to wrap it up. It goes from BIG MESSY LEGAL BATTLE to nice neat package in the space of a few chapters.
Overall, this is a decent read if you’re looking for some sort of legal thriller, but it’s never going to be To Kill a Mockingbird or even The Firm.