For those of us who try to live our lives in a judgment-free zone, what are we to make of Joseph Finder’s latest thriller, Judgment (Dutton)?

Should we judge Juliana Brody for not wanting to stay cooped up in her hotel room after nailing a speech at a legal conference? Who are we to say she’s not entitled to skip down to the lobby bar and have a drink – even extend her customary limits with a second? And what’s the harm having light conversation with an attractive, vulnerable male stranger?

Who are we to judge if she heads back to said stranger’s hotel room for an unforgettable sex romp?

And did we mention Juliana Brody is married….and happens to be a Superior Court judge?

As we learn, this is not a random passionate digression whose cigarette ashes can be swept under the hotel carpet. This seemingly innocuous fling turns out to be an orchestrated encounter caught on video to compromise Juliana.

Along with corrupting Juliana’s image, this deception helps influence a high-profile sexual harassment case she is hearing against an upstart Uber competitor — whose tentacles apparently extend far beyond the ride pickup market. Her career, family and life are on the line.

Judgment is a conspiracy story,” said Finder in an interview with BookTrib. “But when I started out, I wasn’t sure what the conspiracy would be.”

“Then every day I’m writing, the news reports how the Russians are interfering with the election and all that. It occurred to me: the Russians are really good at the notion of kompromat – compromising material. Basically it’s blackmail. It would be interesting if something happening around us touched the real world of my judge.”

Finder’s work is a study in levels of control. Juliana is accustomed to being in charge of her courtroom when she dons the black robe and becomes the ultimate decision-maker. “She is ambitious, smart and seems to have the material to be a future Supreme Court justice. She is a tough woman,” said Finder. “We see judges on television and movies, and we never get a sense of what their home lives are like. What are the pressures? What would happen if a judge really slipped up?”

But following her actions with the stranger in Chicago, Juliana’s life spins out of control.

Finder has created a forthcoming, intelligent, take-charge protagonist – which he needs to do in order to give her any hope of squirming out of her dilemma. She is not used to being out of control and won’t even concede that she is. She crosses many boundaries you wouldn’t expect from a judge and faces many roadblocks as she treads deeper and deeper into government contacts and agencies.

“In all my standalones, I pick an ordinary character and place him or her in extraordinary circumstances, where their lives are turned upside down. In order to survive, they have to dig deep and pull out all the resources they can. She has no choice other than being as ruthless as the bad guys.”

In the midst of her life-altering dilemma, Juliana shows her mettle in a particularly appealing scene in the book when she is called in to meet the superintendent of her child’s school as the boy is about to be expelled for marijuana dealing.

“Juliana has all these things going on for her – her career is about to crumble away, she might be separating from her husband, then she finds her son is about to be thrown out of school,” said the author. “I wanted to show Juliana with all this home pressure going on to illustrate how cool under pressure she can be.”

Finder said he found it challenging to write about the courtroom scenes (“I’m not a lawyer – I got my legal degree from CBS”) and some of the family scenes.

“There are family scenes where a lot of dynamics are going on between Juliana, her husband and son. The son is screwing up at school, the husband may have cheated, there’s a lot of resentment. These are tough scenes to write about because a lot of things are left unsaid.”

Regarded as one of the top thriller writers in the business, Finder sets out to keep readers guessing. “I used to outline books completely, but that became boring. Now, I come up with the major turning points of the story, and usually don’t start writing a book until I know how it’s going to end. Once I start writing, I leave myself open to going in any direction. Sometimes I surprise myself while I’m writing, so I hope I’m surprising the reader as well.”

A key issue that Finder explores is what it means to be a good person. “We all have the resources with us to fight the bad guy and we are all capable of doing good. And we are all capable of doing bad.”

“Sometimes you have to do a little bad to fight off the bad guys.”

Judgment will be available to purchase Jan. 29, 2019.

ABOUT JOSEPH FINDER:

Joseph Finder is the New York Times bestselling author of ten previous novels, including Vanished and Buried Secrets. Finder’s international bestseller Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writer’s Thriller Award for Best Novel of 2006. Other bestselling titles include Paranoia and High Crimes, which both became major motion pictures. He lives in Boston.

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