No one had a more brilliant legal mind than Judge Calvin Jeffries. And no one cared less about the law and more about power. That is, until Jeffries is found murdered in a courthouse parking lot. The crime shocks the community, but justice is swift. Jeffries’s killer is caught, confesses, and then unexpectedly commits suicide in his jail cell. The case is closed.
Soon a second judge is stabbed to death under identical circumstances. This time the suspect is a homeless derelict who doesn’t even know his own name. Like the Jeffries murder, the killing appears to be an open-and-shut case, and a copycat crime as well.
Yet there’s one attorney who knew both sides of Judge Calvin Jeffries too well to believe the murders were simply random acts of violence. Attorney Jospeh Antonelli agrees to defend the accused. What he discovers challenges everything he knows about crime and punishment…and himself. Beneath the tidy, well-cataloged pile of evidence, he uncovers a twisted trail of retribution and obsession that leads to the real killer - and a plan even more chillingly flawless than the mythical “perfect crime.” For the culprit it is the perfect defense…and Antonelli is his chosen, though willing, instrument.
When Calvin Jeffries’s body is found in the courthouse parking garage, eyes widen and horrified tongues wag. The fact that Jeffries was a thoroughly reprehensible human being doesn’t detract from the notoriety of the first murder of a sitting Oregon judge. Defense attorney extraordinaire Joe Antonelli has a long history with Jeffries. Years ago the judge threw him into jail for contempt in a vain attempt to deter Antonelli from winning yet another case. But one of Antonelli’s colleagues suffered even more. As the curious Antonelli pieces together fragments of the legendary judge’s past, he discovers that Jeffries apparently drove Elliott Winston insane, had him committed, and married his wife. If only Elliott weren’t still securely in the psychiatric hospital, what a sterling suspect he’d make!
But the police find the killer, a homeless man with the murder weapon and a willingness to confess, who promptly commits suicide after being taken into custody. The legal community breathes a sigh of relief—until a second judge is murdered in the same manner. When another homeless man is arrested, Antonelli’s “bizarre coincidence” antennae start to quiver, and he offers his services to the defendant. So convinced is he of Danny’s innocence that he plunges undercover into the vagrant’s world, searching for evidence of a setup. But his discoveries seem to point directly to the impossible—for how could Elliott Winston, safely tucked behind bars, be the murderer?
At some point during The Judgment (the exact moment will vary according to individual tolerance), you may find yourself putting the book aside and picking up an Elmore Leonard for an emergency infusion of quality dialogue. Along with everyone with whom he comes in contact, Antonelli suffers from an apparent speech impediment that usually makes him sound like a particularly pompous 19th-century pundit.
When author D.W. Buffa lets his courtroom savvy take center stage, the novel moves along briskly (even though Antonelli takes some rather remarkable legal liberties, it’s all in good fun). The subplot involving the return of Antonelli’s high-school sweetheart, however, feels less integral than afterthought-ish. Though Buffa tries to tie everything together at the end with a heavily contrived twist that probably set O. Henry yawning in his grave, the novel’s final note isn’t one of ringing irony. It’s more like a dull thud. —Kelly Flynn