Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 19 October 2021)
Series: Standalone/The Whistler – Book Two
Length: 359 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Those interested in a tense, complex and brilliant thriller should definitely check out the latest novel from legendary crime fiction author John Grisham, The Judge’s List.
Grisham is an exceedingly talented author who has been producing impressive and distinctive legal-based thrillers since his 1989 debut, A Time to Kill. Grisham has since written over 40 novels, made up of mostly standalone reads with a couple of series thrown in, such as his Theodore Boone children’s thrillers. Most of these books have been absolute hits, with several being turned into massive films or other adaptations such as The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, and The Runaway Jury. While I have enjoyed some of the movies that came out of his work, I haven’t actually ever read one of Grisham’s novels before. So when I received a copy of Grisham’s latest book, The Judge’s List, I decided to check it out, not only to finally see how this author writes but because I really liked the sound of its awesome plot.
Throughout America’s long judicial history, no judge has ever been convicted or charged with murder, but that is about to change. In Florida all criminal accusations against judges are handled by the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, and their chief investigator is Lacy Stolz. Still recovering from her ordeals during her last big case and forced to deal with the chronic underfunding affecting her agency, Lacy is strongly considering a new career path. However, an intriguing new case may relight the fire within her when a mysterious woman contacts her, wishing to report a serious crime.
For years, Jeri Crosby has been hunting the man who murdered her father using every investigative trick and avenue she can find, while concealing her identity behind a series of elaborate aliases. Jeri finally believes that she knows who killed her father, and her prime suspect is a sitting judge in Florida. While this judge appears to be a dedicated legal professional, Jeri believes that he is the most dangerous form a serial killer capable of concealing his identity and using his vast legal and forensic knowledge to hide his tracks and keep his very existence secret from the police.
Determined to stop this killer no matter what, Jeri provides all her evidence to Lacy, who she believes can connect the pieces she cannot. While initially reluctant to investigate a murder, even one potentially committed by a judge, Lacy is eventually dragged into the case by her own curiosity and sense of justice. However, the suspected killer is no easy target; he is a compassionless psychopath capable of hunting down anyone who has ever wronged him and permanently ending them. Now he has both Lacy and Jeri on his list of potential victims, and he is coming for both of them!
This was an amazing novel from Grisham which proves that I really should have read some of his stuff a long time ago. The Judge’s List has a captivating and clever narrative that pits two determined women against a lethal and brilliant killer determined to survive no matter the costs. Serving as a sequel to Grisham’s previous novel, The Whistler, The Judge’s List was an outstanding thrill ride that I had an incredible time reading.
I deeply enjoyed the amazing story of The Judge’s List as Grisham came up with an extremely clever and impressive thriller narrative. The author starts things off extremely quickly, reintroducing the protagonist of The Whistler, Lacy Stoltz, and bringing her into contact with new character Jeri Crosby, who tells Lacy the story about the man who murdered her father. Grisham drip feeds the details of who the killer is and what they have done to the reader, ensuring that they have just enough to whet their curiosity, without overloading them. Thanks to the compelling and unique story that the clearly fearful Jeri tells, the readers are swiftly wrapped up in the plot, and this brilliant introduction ensures that they will come back for more. The novel swiftly continues from here as Jeri reveals more details about the murderer she is stalking, setting him up as a real monster who is seemingly supernatural in his ability to avoid detection and destroy those hunting him. As Lacy gets closer to starting the investigation, you start to get some scenes shown from the perspective of the killer, whose intense and chilling point of view serves as a grim counterpoint to that of the protagonists. While Grisham initially keeps the identity of the killer hidden during his scenes to help cast doubt on Jeri’s story, you soon get a very good picture of who the killer is and why they are committing their crimes.
This proves to be an exceptional setup for when the killer become aware of the investigation and starts to take some drastic measures to eliminate their pursuers and fulfil their master plan. I loved the impressive and clever cat-and-mouse game that soon develops as the killer attempts to stay one step ahead of the protagonists while also discovering who they are and how they can be eliminated. There are some powerful and brutal moments in this second part of the book, and I honestly had a very hard time putting it down once I got concerned for the characters. This second half of the book was just outstanding and it all leads up to an intriguing and surprising conclusion. While I might have preferred a more legal-based ending, perhaps with some sort of trial, I appreciated the brilliant moves that the antagonist pulled and it was an overall satisfying and fantastic way to wrap this excellent story up.
I had a great time with the impressive writing style in this book and it has definitely made me want to check out more of Grisham’s work in the future. The author tells a clever and sharp story, and there are some amazing twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I appreciated how the author revealed the identity of the killer quite early in the book and the rest of the narrative follows the protagonists’ attempts to prove it and then catch him, which was a refreshing change. Thanks to the cool plot point of the killer being a well-respected genius judge, this proves to be a very complex and intense investigation, and you are honestly uncertain if the protagonists will succeed in their investigation. I found the inclusion of a judicial conduct board to be an interesting investigative base for the narrative, and it was fascinating to see Grisham utilise his legal knowledge to make this organisation and the characters associated with it feel very realistic. The author’s use of various perspectives worked well here, especially as you get some amazing shots from the antagonists’ point of view, and you really end up with a full and distinctive plot. I can say with confidence that readers need no knowledge of any of Grisham’s previous books to enjoy The Judge’s List despite it being a sequel to The Whistler. I deeply enjoyed the story this book contained and the way that Grisham told it, and it proved to be very addictive.
I also need to highlight the great characters contained within The Judge’s List, especially its two central protagonists, Lacy Stoltz and Jeri Crosby. Lacy is the returning protagonist from The Whistler, and Grisham introduces some great storylines around her that impact how she investigates the case in this book. Lacy is still traumatised and damaged after the murder attempt that occurred in the first book, which makes her reluctant to get involved with another dangerous case, especially with the increased profile her previous success has given her. Lacy has also reached a bit of a mid-life crisis here as she is facing stagnation in both her career and her romantic life. This becomes a major part of her character as the book progresses, and it was interesting to see her try and balance them with her role in the case. I also liked the intriguing reluctant investigator angle that Grisham worked into this character, as Lacy isn’t convinced that she should be involved with a murder case. However, her inherent curiosity and sense of justice keep dragging her back into the investigation despite her better judgement, and it makes for an intriguing story angle. I had a great time getting to know Lacy in this book and I would love to see more of her in the future.
The other major protagonist is Jeri Crosby, who has been hunting the book’s killer for years. The author does an amazing job with this character, and you soon get introduced to a dedicated woman deeply obsessed with finding the person who murdered her father. I loved the great storylines written around Jeri, and it was amazing to see the various impacts of her obsession, including failed relationships and estrangements from family. Despite her obsession, Jeri is a very collected and cautious person who has adapted to hunt the monster that killed her father. For most of the book Jeri appears to be extremely paranoid, due to her belief that the killer can track down any pursuer and make them disappear, and I loved how Grisham justified her concerns. Watching this character finally get to bask in the success of her lifelong venture is pretty cool, although I do question some of Jeri’s choices during the final stages of the case. Still, this was a brilliant bit of character work here and I deeply enjoyed diving into the psyche of this obsessed character.
While I deeply enjoyed the protagonists of The Judge’s List, the true standout character must be its complex and dangerous antagonist who serves as a brilliant counterbalance to Lacy and Jeri. Grisham has gone out of his way to produce a truly impressive and distinctive antagonist here, and I loved the concept of a murderous judge who uses their position and knowledge to get away with their crimes. The author sets them up perfectly, first introducing the idea of the killer through Jeri’s eyes, and then fleshing them out in person with several excellent and thrilling chapters shown from their perspective. From there, you find yourself caught in the mental web of an unrepentant killer, who acts on petty grudges for their own self-satisfaction. You really get a sense of what this villain is capable as the book continues, and I found myself really starting to hate him, which is enraging as he manages to slip a lot of nets and proves to be near impossible to catch. Grisham does a brilliant job diving into the head of this great antagonist, and the reader is given a powerful view into their motivations and history, ensuring that they know how and why he became a killer. I really enjoyed following this excellent antagonist, and I thought that his character arc went perfectly, and it was fascinating to see the lengths they will go to win, no matter the personal cost.
Overall, The Judge’s List was an intense and impressive novel from John Grisham, which is making me really regret not checking out any of his books sooner. This latest novel had a brilliant and powerful plot that takes the reader deep into the mind of a demented killer. Filled with complex and compelling character moments and a thrilling and twist-filled narrative, I had an exceptional time reading The Judge’s List and it comes extremely highly recommended. I will definitely be reading more books from Grisham in the future, and I cannot wait to see what other outstanding novels he has written.