Judge's Waltz by Katherine Burnette
What's it About?Think of all the times people have described a book to you by saying it starts off slowly but you’ll get into it. Frankly, that never cut it for me.
Think of all the times people have described a book to you by saying it starts off slowly but you’ll get into it. Frankly, that never cut it for me.
Author Katherine Burnette subconsciously must have been listening. That’s because before you’ve left the first two pages of her legal thriller Judge’s Waltz, you’ve got a judge wearing his robe and nothing else and swinging from a hangman’s noose in his courtroom chandelier, an apparent suicide.
But it isn’t suicide. It’s murder.
If you took a vote among the people who knew the Honorable Patrick Ryan O’Shea, the tally likely would have shown more enemies than friends – or at least people who found him more despicable than compassionate. Taking whatever steps and political moves he needed to advance his career. Untoward behavior with his staff and in the courtroom. A failed marriage. Shady secrets galore.
So in seeking out suspects and motives, there are no shortage of possibilities.
FEW FRIENDS, COUNTLESS ENEMIES
We’re guided through the narrative in a quaint community not far from Raleigh, NC, where the social classes converge every morning in a local diner. It’s tough to be a stranger, and everyone knows everyone – but not necessarily everything.
Our protagonist is small-town lawyer Buck Davis, who is called in by his mentor, Judge Foster, to pick up the cases that had been handled by Judge O’Shea. Among them is a controversial 1983 civil rights case in which one of the defendants is a local store owner who had been deputized and took matters into his own hands when three youths robbed his store and beat him. Questions are left hanging about why O’Shea had not recused himself from the case because the defendants were being represented by what at the time was O’Shea’s prestigious New York law firm.
Then there are the people that O’Shea had directly crossed – Jennifer, one of his legal assistants, and an apparent victim of O’Shea’s overtures, and Angela, sister of a fellow judge, whose case of being attacked and beaten had been botched by O’Shea, then the state prosecutor, with little sympathy or professional behavior: “O’Shea sauntered around the courtroom, unprepared and disheveled. His trumpeting, braying voice jarred, and after a while, was only a cacophony of sound.”
And then there’s O’Shea’s estranged wife Mary Frances, who continued to support O’Shea and sent him money, but seems aloof and put upon when she is brought in for questioning about her former husband.
When the expert investigators scour the judge’s computer, they stumble upon disturbing images and unexplained financial transactions.
AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Burnette leaves us with a lot to process in trying to guess the killer. She also clearly knows her way around the courtroom and the legal system to provide us with some authentic plotting, as well as impressive descriptions of the small-town community at work – from the judges to the lawyers to the detectives and other investigators to the townspeople to the waitress pouring the coffee. Throw in a budding love interest, and readers have plenty to chew on.
For an enjoyable whodunit that moves swiftly and efficiently, pick up Judge’s Waltz. And what to make of that title? From a dead judge swinging from the rafters to the characters dancing their way to the finish line, you won’t find many wallflowers in this one.