Publisher: MacMillan (Trade Paperback – 28 February 2023)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 327 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Fantastic new author Mali Waugh presents her excellent and memorable debut with the Australian crime fiction read, Judgement Day.
Family law judge Kaye Bailey is a woman on the rise. An honest and determined member of Melbourne’s Federal Circuit Court, Kaye is set to be the next chief judge, allowing her to make the changes she’s always dreamed about to make a real difference. However, hours after finding out about her promotion, Kaye is brutally murdered in her chambers.
Detective Jillian Basset has just returned from maternity leave and is having trouble balancing motherhood with her complicated career. Brought in with an arrogant partner to investigate the killing at the courthouse, Jillian hopes to crack the biggest case of her career. However, the murder of Judge Bailey is far more complicated than anyone anticipated, as the victim was a fierce and honest woman whose determination caused her to get on the wrong side of many of her colleagues and the people she ruled on.
As the detectives dive deeper into the judge’s life, they soon find themselves surrounded by potential suspects, from jealous judges to dangerous individuals with grudges against the entire family law system. As they attempt to understand who wanted to kill their victim, Jillian also finds her own life getting even messier, as her return to work raises problems she has been trying to avoid. Can Jillian crack the case before her own life spirals out of control?
Judgement Day was an amazing and captivating Australian novel that got my attention early on. Waugh pulls together a powerful and intense narrative that combines a brilliant murder mystery storyline with some fascinating legal thriller elements to produce a particularly impressive debut.
Waugh has come up with an excellent crime fiction narrative for her debut novel, and I liked the fantastic blend themes and story elements that she introduced throughout the book. Judgement Day starts off with an extended prologue that quickly and effectively sets the scene for the plot, introduces the victim and other key suspects, and showcases the events that led up to her murder. From there, the book primarily focuses on the main character of Detective Jillian Basset, a recent mother who is going through various personal issues as she tries to get back into her career. Forced to work with a new, glory-seeking partner, Jillian finds the journey back into the detective groove hard, but she is soon diving into the complex case before her. Waugh sets up an outstanding police procedural storyline here, as the character being their careful dive into the victim’s life, trying to identify who would have wanted to kill her.
The story moves along at a steady pace and the reader really gets drawn into learning about who the victim is and who might have wanted to kill her. Waugh loads up the story with a ton of great suspects and potential motives at this point, as the protagonists find out about all the drama that occurs behind the scenes of the court system. This takes the story in several intriguing directions, and you are soon hooked on the various leads that are presented to you. At the same time, Waugh paints a very complex and heartbreaking tale about the main character’s personal life, which I found to be just as interesting and moving as the tragic murder of the main plotline. The rest of the story moves very swiftly, especially as you are pretty invested in solving the case, and I personally managed to knock the second half of the book off in a single night. Several intriguing plot points from earlier in the book, including an infamous divorce case, jealousy from other judges, a kidnapping, and some intriguing character history, are brought together in a very clever way as the solution to the murder presents itself. Waugh set everything up extremely well, and I really liked the clever clues and hints that she had scattered through the rest of the book. The final resolution of the case, as well as the reveal of the murderer’s motivation and methods, was handled well, and I really liked how Waugh brought everything together and left the reader with a very satisfying conclusion.
While the story itself is very strong, I also liked some of the clever and compelling elements that Waugh added in to make it even more complex and emotionally powerful. The most prominent of these is the inclusion of some fascinating legal thriller elements that enhanced Judgment Day’s police procedural storyline and really helped to book stand out to me. Waugh uses all her experiences as a lawyer to paint an intriguing picture of the family court system in Melbourne, and the struggles and work of its judges become a key part of the plot. This leads to several other intriguing elements, such as domestic violence and the issues that professional women face in the workforce, especially when it comes to balancing family and the opinions of their male colleagues with a successful career. These elements are blended into the narrative in a smart and thoughtful way, and I liked how it forced the protagonists to examine the case from several different angles. While these intriguing elements are great, the focus on classic police work is still very strong, and I really enjoyed the impressive mystery that Waugh wove together in Judgement Day. The author’s focus on the character development and personal issues added a great deal to the overall story, and this ended up being quite a powerful read.
The characters that Waugh chose to focus the story on are a particular strength of Judgement Day, and I deeply appreciated some of the emotionally rich personal storylines that developed around them. In particular, Detective Jillian Basset was a brilliant lead, and you can tell that Waugh really poured her heart into her development. Not only was she everything you want in a police detective protagonist, smart, determined and empathetic to the victim, but she is also dealing with some deeper issues related to her recent maternity leave. While this initially shows itself to be her struggling to return to the office and fearing losing her place on the team, Waugh slowly reveals that her issues are much more concerning as she is suffering from postnatal depression. Feeling unable to connect with her new child, Jillian instead focuses on her work and neglects her family, leading to strain and conflict in her personal life. Waugh does an excellent job of examining her protagonist’s personal issues throughout Judgement Day, and the frank and powerful look at her mental health concerns was a key part of the book.
I also need to highlight Jillian’s new partner, Sergeant John McClintock, who was brought in as her temporary replacement while she was on leave. Now working together, McClintock initially comes across as an arrogant and ambitious male figure trying to overshadow the main protagonist, and the two have trouble working together. However, rather than stick with this cliche, Waugh provides a deeper look into McClintock and you realise that a lot of his attitudes are a façade brought on by his own issues. Waugh works these into the story really well, and Jillian and McClintock soon grow to understand each other and are able to help each other in their own ways. This partnership becomes a great part of the book, and I enjoyed these two main characters, as well as the intriguing supporting cast of suspects, witnesses and Jillian’s family, which add a great deal to story as a whole.
Overall, Judgement Day was an impressive Australian crime fiction debut from Mali Waugh and one that I am very glad I got the chance to check out. The outstanding story with its complex mystery, intriguing elements and fantastic characters ensured that I had an excellent time reading Judgement Day. I think that Waugh really showcased her writing ability with her first book and I think this is the start of an amazing new talent.