Legal thrillers of any sort are my absolute favorite. There's something about a trial that is just so captivating. The outcome of the trial always has me on the edge of my seat. No matter if it is a good legal based novel, movie, or Law & Order episode, I am hooked. This debut The Hanging Judge by federal judge Michael Posner, was no different for me.
The Hanging Judge begins with the murder of a local gang member, Edgar "Peach" Delgado, and an innocent bystander, pediatric nurse, Ginger Daley O'Connor. It's obvious from the beginning that the intended target is Peach. Sadly, Ginger, a pillar of her community, is killed in the cross-fire. Because of her being a victim in what is viewed as senseless violence by rival gangs, and political implications, the US attorney makes what is a case for the state, a federal case. By making the charges against the defendant federal, the death penalty can be imposed, in a state where there is no capital punishment (ie Massachusetts) if that person is found guilty.
The novel then shifts from the view points of the Honorable David Norcross, who is relatively still a rookie federal judge for the District of Massachusetts, Western Division. He has the privelege of presiding over the first capital murder case in the state in years. Lydia Gomez-Larson and Bill Redpath also share the bulk of the narrative. Lydia is the prosecutor while Bill is the defense counsel.
Michael Ponsor writes an interesting procedural of federal cases and all that can go right or wrong. With most legal thrillers with a defendant fighting for his life, the battle lines will be drawn on the "yay" or "nay" regarding capital punishment. Other than this, the plot isn't thrilling in the sense that one or another character is always concerned that they will torn apart by some random crazed killer but rather the idea that we readers get that the defendant's life is in the hands of 12 people who could decide if he's deserving or not of the death.
What was most astonishing to me is the level of flimsy evidence the federal prosecutor has. There are poor witness accounts of seeing some hooded figure running through an alley. The testimony of the driver who was caught after the massacre is the most damning evidence if we ignore the fact that he's only agreed to testify so long as he has a reduced sentence. It's frightening that someone's life can be uprooted so drastically with circumstantial evidence. There's no smoking gun whatsoever, yet a jury can possibly decide his fate with so little evidence proving his guilt. Ponsor suggests that many trials are all about who's most believeable rathar than what's true.
My one gripe with this novel is that the constant character view shifts make the first half somewhat tedious to get through. It almost felt like a slow moving train and I was only anxious to get to the verdict because I couldn't really rally behind any characters. Thankfully, Ponsor's writing is good enough to keep the train from falling off the tracks and rights the journey for the second half.
Fans of legal thrillers will definitely want to read this debut novel The Hanging Judgeby Michael Ponsor. It's an eye-opening reality to what's right and wrong with our judicial system. It's a little disheartening but still, all that matters is what's believeable and not so much what's truth. ***