Book Talk: ‘The Judge’s List’ is lethal
In his current best-seller, “The Judge’s List” (2021, 357 pages), John Grisham reintroduces us to Lacy Stoltz, the judicial investigator from his 2016 blockbuster, “The Whistler.” Lacy is still single, content “to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself.” And, once again, she’s tasked with investigating a sitting judge. But, there’s a difference: In “The Whistler,” the judge was on the take; in “The Judge’s List,” a different judge is on a two-decade killing spree.
In Grisham’s latest offering, Lacy is a member of the fictitious Florida Board of Judicial Conduct and is contacted by Jeri Crosby, the daughter of a professor at Stetson Law School who, she claims, was murdered by Judge Ross Bannick twenty years ago. However, there was no evidence of the crime, really no investigation, and Bannick was never even considered to be a “person of interest.”
Lacy doesn’t want to touch a closed “cold” case, and she doesn’t even work for the agency that investigates such allegations unless a formal complaint is filed. However, she’s intrigued by the research that Jeri has done and her persistence over such a long time. But Jeri’s meticulous data gathering did not stop with her father’s death. She doggedly followed Judge Bannick’s connections to several other murders that have been committed over the years.
Through a series of conversations with Jeri, Lacy is gradually becoming convinced that there is reason for Jeri’s suspicion. Jeri has relentlessly stalked Judge Bannick, uncovering paths that have been crossed by the judge and at least seven or eight murder victims.
However, Judge Bannick is an expert on the law and on police procedures, forensic investigation, and the mistakes that other serial killers have made. So, his killings are “perfect.” None occur close to home, and they take place in various states throughout the South. His courtroom procedure is above reproach, and his reputation within his field is highly respected.
Jeri’s thorough record of timelines, locations, and events creates plenty of circumstantial evidence to convince Lacy that Jeri must file an official complaint so that her agency must, by law, investigate the allegations. However, Judge Bannick is the most cunning of serial murderers, brilliant in his planning of each crime, and — through his computer spyware — always at least one step ahead of investigators.
In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, Grisham writes, “I’ve thought a lot about (Lacy since “The Whistler) and always wanted to bring her back for one more adventure. I could not, however, find a story that would equal such a dramatic success as her first, until I found a judge who’s also a murderer.”
Unlike so many of Grisham’s successes, this is not a courtroom drama. The novel begins slowly, with Jeri revealing bits and pieces of her theory. But as the author delves into the mind of a deranged killer, it picks up speed until the reader is biting his or her nails at the end.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.