As the legal thriller genre develops, authors are looking for a new angle to the killer’s identity. Steve Cavanagh has recently delivered a killer on the jury (Thirteen) and a District Attorney using his position to take lives (The Devil’s Advocate). Prolific crime writer John Grisham goes one better in his latest thriller and it is no spoiler as the reveal of the killer is in the title of The Judge’s List.
The Judge’s List is a sequel to Grisham’s 2016 novel The Whistler. The Whistler centred around investigator and lawyer Lacy Stoltz. Lacy works for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct. The BJC is a state-based agency that investigates wrongdoing by judges. In The Whistler it was the association of a judge with some dodgy developers. The BJC, as Lacy keeps pointing out to the woman wanting her to investigate a judge for murder, does not undertake criminal investigations. But they are obliged to investigate complaints and Lacy eventually agrees to look into the allegation that a sitting judge is also a serial killer.
As with The Whistler, The Judge’s List is if anything a very slow burn thriller. It is a methodical investigation by Lacy and her team into the allegations all of which centre around cold cases with very little evidence. The heat is turned up only when the complainant starts taunting the judge, at which point, Grisham starts to give readers chapters from his decidedly unhealthy point of view. Also in common with The Whistler, this feels like it is building to a thrilling conclusion and while there is some tension, the climax is more of an anti-climax. So that The Judge’s List is a procedural legal tale with an interesting premise and engaging protagonist but very few thrills.