by Joseph Finder
For lawyers who read legal thrillers, isn’t half the fun looking for legal errors? When lawyers write legal thrillers, they don’t make — ahem, rarely — make those mistakes, so more of the fun comes from imagining oneself as that protagonist — crusading for clients, never stymied by continuances or overdue time sheets.
Joseph Finder’s Judgment, out this month from Dutton, won’t give you much pleasure in finding mistakes, but it will give you a terrific, turbo-charged plot and command you to keep reading. As the saying goes: I couldn’t put it down.
Judgment differs from the standard legal thriller in that its main character is a judge. Juliana Brody, fortyish, is a rising star in the Massachusetts Superior Court, and Finder gives us a vivid picture of what that involves: the mentor, connections, rivals, paperwork, quiet clubs, and noisy fundraisers of a public life in law. Brody has a husband she loves, two children, a house in the suburbs, and countless invitations to speak at legal conferences.
It’s at one of those conferences that Juliana makes the fateful mistake that is Judgment’s inciting event. She has an extra glass of wine, then falls into conversation with an attractive man at the hotel bar, is moved by his heart-rending story of a recently dead wife and immediate single-parenthood, and winds up going to bed with him. We don’t know Juliana well at this point, but Finder unfolds the story in a way that has us nodding: of course, I see how that could happen. Who doesn’t make compassionate mistakes?
That’s what Juliana tells herself, anyway. One mistake, a city far from home, a complete stranger she’ll never see again — until Monday morning when the stranger walks into her Boston courtroom, as a member of the defense team in the sexual discrimination case before her. From the way Finder tells it, I was hooked.
Joseph Finder’s thrillers have always been uncanny in their ability to draw on the zeitgeist — his first novel predicted the Gorbachev coup, the second the terrorism on Wall Street, and his most recent, “The Switch,” was all about high-ranking government officials abusing access to classified information. Judgment keeps that zeitgeist-savvy tradition, setting up an entirely believable “me too” case involving a pitilessly and realistically described Uber-style ride-haling service.
Juliana’s one-night-stand has video of their night together and threatens to publicize it unless Juliana agrees to let the ride-haling service protect its internal “chats” from discovery.
Juliana, backed into a corner, won’t betray her oath but can’t bear to destroy her family and reputation either. Juliana’s discovery of a dead body puts her at the scene of a crime, and from that point she’s suppressing evidence and lying to the police, while continuing to adjudicate the sexual discrimination case.
Along this breakneck and convincing ride, we meet characters we may already know: a ruthless opposing counsel, a tired chief justice of the superior court, a Wall Street titan, and a Russian underworld figure.
Juliana working to save herself, her family, her legal career, and her self-respect is the story Judgment tells at roaring speed. I started this book late one afternoon, didn’t put it down until I finished it that night, and at no point did I have to stop and say, “No, that’s not right.” Read this thriller — it’s good.
Allen J. Smith practices commercial litigation and appellate law in Miami.