How hard would it be to get away with the perfect murder? If you work in the legal field, you might have an easier time just getting around the system, especially when you know the loopholes. Serial killers tend to be quite intelligent, sociopathic, and organized. And when you factor in an understanding of forensics and jurisdictions, it seems the perfect murder can be achieved.
At least, that’s how John Grisham positions the villain in The Judge’s List, the follow-up to 2016’s The Whistler.
Three years after she helped bring a corrupt judge to light, and almost getting killed as a result, Lacy Stoltz is back. Working with the Florida Board on Judicial Circuit to investigate judges who break the law, she starts to discover her zest for life is slowly being drained the closer she gets to 40. Jeri Crosby, a paranoid woman who pesters Stoltz into taking on a judge she believes is a serial killer, has been on the case for the past 20 odd years, all because the judge allegedly killed her father.
Ross Bannick has worked hard to get to his current position as a judge. Though he was molested as a kid at day camp and even turned away from internships, he still manages to come out on top, honing his skills and making sure his name garners respect within the field. But he has one fatal flaw: anyone who ever messes with him gets on his list. And over the past 20 years, he has been methodically working through that list to cross their name off.
But the more Stoltz refuses to take on the case, continuously telling the potential client to notify the FBI, the more tenacious the Crosby becomes. She lays out multiple murders she has come across over the past two decades, all with the same MO and style of murder — a weapon to smash in the skull combined with a rope tied around their necks. Crosby has even determined the reason behind the killings — revenge.
It’s a dish many would like to exert on their so-called enemies, but this judge takes it to the next level, using even minimal slights as the motive for murder. When Stoltz finally agrees to take on the case, she’s thrown into a two-decade investigation where the coincidences start to become less coincidence, and more fact.
Let’s be real — this series represents a creative vacuum for Grisham. It isn’t a legal thriller (something he normally excels at), it isn’t even a mystery. We know who the villain is as soon as we open the book. It’s more cat and mouse, and unfortunately, it even falls flat at that concept. The pacing is uber slow in the beginning, and when it eventually does start to amp toward the climax, it limps along, trying to drag an ending out that makes one roll their eyes up at how neatly everything is tied up.
On top of the lame plot, it’s infuriating to read how a woman approaching 40 is already lamenting how exhausted she is from her career, wondering if the best years of her life are behind her. Stoltz also frets over getting married past the age of 40 — honestly, what century is this? Is this what people (read: men) think women are still worried about? Yikes. Maybe he (or his ghostwriter) should speak to women to see what’s really on their minds.
Another novel, another churned out formulaic piece of writing from John Grisham, almost as if he’s losing his passion as he careens into his elder years as a novelist. One wonders if it’s a combination of tossing specific words into a novel generator and out pops another book that barely reveals any effort or research behind it, but The Judge’s List is a disappointing and dull way to continue a series.