Ladies and gentlemen of the jury…
😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
When a gang-related drive-by shooting in Massachusetts results in the death of an innocent bystander, the government decides the case should be tried under federal rather than state law, so that the death penalty can be applied. The driver of the car was caught at the scene and, as a result of a plea bargain, will be the chief prosecution witness against the defendant, Clarence ‘Moon’ Hudson. Judge David Norcross is set to preside over the trial…
Michael Ponsor is a federal judge who, in real life, has presided over a death penalty case. This gives a real air of verisimilitude to this well written and intriguing legal thriller. The reader doesn’t know whether Moon is guilty or innocent and, although privy to a little more information than the jury, on the whole is given the evidence as they are, during the course of the trial. For most of the book, this puts the reader into the position of being the thirteenth juror, having to decide what verdict to bring in. I thought that might leave things a bit up in the air at the end, but I’m glad to say that Ponsor manages to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion that still stays within the overall tone of realism that runs through the book.
The characterisation of the major players is very strong. Judge Norcross is a widower and finding himself attracted to a woman for the first time since the loss of his wife. We see the strains he is under, presiding over a case that is at the centre of political controversy over the death penalty. While there is criticism of the system in the book, all the lawyers are refreshingly portrayed as ethical, trying their best to get the right result for their client, be that the defendant or the government. The defence attorney, Bill Redpath, is a particularly well drawn character – a man who has both lost and won capital cases in the past, and whose experiences in Korea have left him opposed to killing whether sanctioned by the state or not. Moon is a young man who, after a typical deprived upbringing and a youth spent in gang-related crimes, seemed to have put all that behind him and has a new life with his young wife and baby. But now, Sandra has to question whether the man she loves and thought she knew has gone back to the life she thought he had left behind.
In his short introduction, Ponsor says that no-one should presume that any of the characters in the book should be taken to represent his own opinions on capital punishment. However, the fact that the main story is intercut with occasional chapters telling the true story of a miscarriage of justice that led to the hanging of two innocent men back in 1806 left me feeling that the overall tone of the book was anti-death penalty. But the pro/anti argument is only touched on lightly – this is mainly a legal procedural, and the thriller elements that play a part in the plot are kept well within the bounds of realism, making the whole thing believable and convincing.
Overall, after a dramatic beginning, I found the first few chapters a bit slow as the scene was set and the characters introduced, but after that I became more and more involved in the story, wanting to know the truth of the case and what the jury’s verdict would be. The quality of the writing and storytelling made this an absorbing read, and I look forward to seeing more from Ponsor in the future.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road.