John Grisham has brought back Lacy Stoltz, of the fictional Florida Board on Judicial Conduct (BJC) in his latest book “The Judge’s List.”
First seen in 2016’s “The Whistler,” Stoltz is a rather jaded investigator for the BJC, a unit of the state government that oversees judicial conduct corruption.
As “The Judge’s List” opens, Stoltz is bored and dissatisfied with her job and the unit itself. “Morale (at the BJC) was low,” and the BJC “had just seen its budget chopped for the fourth straight year…” (p. 1)
So when Stoltz receives a call from an anonymous source asking to meet, she isn’t particularly excited; after all, anonymous calls are routine.
Still, she agrees to meet the caller, who refers to herself as Margie, “for now,” and admits to using other names as well.
The two meet, and Stoltz finds herself impatient with “Margie,” who takes her time explaining why she’s contacted Stoltz. Finally, “Margie” reveals that a judge in Florida murdered her father.
Stoltz is skeptical and even more skeptical when “Margie,” whose real name is Jeri Crosby, maintains that the judge — Ross Bannick — has murdered six others as well.
Jeri’s only “evidence” linking Bannick to the murders is his motivation, which is revenge for slights, some of which occurred more than 20 years before, and his method of killing.
All victims were strangled with a 30-inch, marine-grade nylon rope, tied off with a double-clove hitch knot.
Stoltz, who is not as convinced of Bannick’s guilt as Jeri is, reluctantly agrees to review the case but cautions Jeri that the decision to open a formal investigation isn’t hers to make.
Additionally, Stoltz explains, the BJC isn’t equipped to handle a murder investigation, and eventually the state police and FBI will need to be involved.
Grisham, as always, is a solid storyteller. He fills his books with believable, sympathetic characters and page-turning plots. “The Judge’s List” is no exception.
Lacy Stoltz is nicely drawn. The reader can easily identify with Stoltz’s ambivalence about her job and her vague dissatisfaction with her life in general.
She’ll be 40 soon, and her job at the BJC seems to be going nowhere; likewise her relationship with her boyfriend, Allie, seems stalled. The reader is drawn into Stoltz’s life.
The outcome of the investigation matters: Will Bannick be charged? More importantly, will Stoltz survive?
Jeri Crosby is also nicely drawn. The details of her life, ranging from the murder of her father more than 20 years ago to the relationship she currently has with her daughter, make the reader care about her and root for her success in exposing Bannick.
I recommend “The Judge’s List.” Grisham is a satisfying author.
The plots of his books are exciting and engaging. His characters are sympathetic; readers want them to survive.
As a result, when Grisham places those characters in danger, the readers’ engagement increases, nearly guaranteeing they’ll not put the book down until they find out if the character survives.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)