When Calvin Jeffries's body is found in the courthouse parking garage, eyes widen and horrified tongues wag. The fact that Jeffries was a thoroughly reprehensible human being doesn't detract from the notoriety of the first murder of a sitting Oregon judge. Defense attorney extraordinaire Joe Antonelli has a long history with Jeffries. Years ago the judge threw him into jail for contempt in a vain attempt to deter Antonelli from winning yet another case. But one of Antonelli's colleagues suffered even more. As the curious Antonelli pieces together fragments of the legendary judge's past, he discovers that Jeffries apparently drove Elliott Winston insane, had him committed, and married his wife. If only Elliott weren't still securely in the psychiatric hospital, what a sterling suspect he'd make!
But the police find the killer, a homeless man with the murder weapon and a willingness to confess, who promptly commits suicide after being taken into custody. The legal community breathes a sigh of relief--until a second judge is murdered in the same manner. When another homeless man is arrested, Antonelli's "bizarre coincidence" antennae start to quiver, and he offers his services to the defendant. So convinced is he of Danny's innocence that he plunges undercover into the vagrant's world, searching for evidence of a setup. But his discoveries seem to point directly to the impossible--for how could Elliott Winston, safely tucked behind bars, be the murderer?
At some point during The Judgment (the exact moment will vary according to individual tolerance), you may find yourself putting the book aside and picking up an Elmore Leonard for an emergency infusion of quality dialogue. Along with everyone with whom he comes in contact, Antonelli suffers from an apparent speech impediment that usually makes him sound like a particularly pompous 19th-century pundit.
When author D.W. Buffa lets his courtroom savvy take center stage, the novel moves along briskly (even though Antonelli takes some rather remarkable legal liberties, it's all in good fun). The subplot involving the return of Antonelli's high-school sweetheart, however, feels less integral than afterthought-ish. Though Buffa tries to tie everything together at the end with a heavily contrived twist that probably set O. Henry yawning in his grave, the novel's final note isn't one of ringing irony. It's more like a dull thud. --Kelly Flynn
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From Publishers Weekly
Inventing a perfectly odious victim and an obvious killer with the perfect alibi, Buffa cooks up a convoluted legal thriller littered with plot-twist land mines that explode when least expected. Toss in a poignant midlife romance and an innocent, put-upon defendant, and you have a novel with wide appeal. So few people grieve when loathsome circuit judge Calvin Jeffries is stabbed to death and gutted in the courthouse parking garage that it comes as a shock when the confessed killer is revealed to be a homeless man with no apparent ties to the victim. When a second sharp-tongued judge is killed the same way in the same spot, the cops call it a copycat killing and arrest a retarded homeless man on an anonymous tip, finding him with the murder weapon. Seasoned defense attorney Joseph Antonelli, himself a particularly maligned target of the venomous Jeffries, is persuaded to take the case and becomes convinced that both murders were planned by the same brilliant criminal one Antonelli is particularly familiar with, since the man once shot him. Antonelli's investigator, disbarred lawyer and recovering alcoholic Howard Flynn, sees his own dead son in the retarded defendant and throws himself wholeheartedly into the case. Unfortunately, Antonelli's suspect has been in the state home for the criminally insane for the past 12 years and could not possibly have committed the crimes. Meanwhile, bachelor Antonelli's high school sweetheart re-enters his life after a bout with manic depression and a rough divorce. Buffa (The Prosecution) once again produces a fast-spinning tale that jolts and veers enticingly off-track, but always stays comfortably in sight of the main objective. Well-developed characters and the rich Portland, Ore., milieu add depth to this excellent thriller. Agent, Wendy Sherman. Major ad/ promo; author tour; audio.
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