Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Hanging Judge: Michael Ponsor

Summary from Goodreads:
When a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, claims the lives of a Puerto Rican drug dealer and a nurse at a neighborhood clinic, the police arrest a black drug dealer. With no death penalty in Massachusetts, the US attorney shifts the double homicide out of state jurisdiction into federal court so that he can pursue the death penalty.
The book carries us through the commission of the crime, the arrest, the choice of a venue for the trial, jury selection, and the trial. We get the point of view of not only the attorneys and the family and friends of the accused and the victims, but also the judge. And on top of all of this we get a romance.

The fictional story is framed with the true story of two men in Massachusetts who were executed for a crime they did not commit. Dominic Daley, 34, and James Halligan, 27, were arrested in 1805 for the murder of Marcus Lyon and hanged in 1806.

A major theme is, of course, the death penalty. The book focuses more on how that element affects the trial and the people involved. The story also deals with how preconceptions mold how our view of people, how we judge based on their past history, and how our perceptions can be manipulated in court.

I liked getting the picture of the trial process, especially at this level (Federal court). I have not read many legal mysteries, so I don't have much to compare against. The story was somewhat predictable but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was nicely paced, had some surprises, and kept me interested. I had mixed feelings about the romance. At first I found it irritating, towards the end I felt like it served a purpose.

Although the judge is the only character developed in depth, we get a glimpse into the lives of the clerks who work with the judge, the attorneys on both sides, the victims, and the witnesses. Not all of the characters were appealing but they all felt human and realistic, not idealized or demonized.

This book was provided for review by Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley.  You can learn more about the author at this page.

20 comments:

  1. TracyK: Not sure about this one. Sorry but it is not clear to me from the review how the case from the early 19th Century framed this story.

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    1. Bill, I wasn't sure I included enough info on that but ... and maybe framed the story isn't describing it correctly. Throughout the book there are short chapters which relate the history of the case of Daley and Halligan. I found the old case interesting.

      I don't know if you would like it but I would be interested in hearing the opinion of someone who actually knows more about law and courtrooms, etc.

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  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, I don't read much "legal" myself. If I was on top of my Net Galley books I would go for it, but I'm not and by the time I catch up something else is bound to have caught my eye!

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    1. Col, I found it interesting but I am sure it is not for everyone. Too many books out there competing for our attention. After I accepted it to review, I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I found it a good reading experience.

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  3. Tracy - This does sound like an interesting legal novel. I'm not legally very knowledgeable, but that older law story plot point does sound interesting. Thanks

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    1. Margot, the older story is just a small part of it, but still very interesting. I don't know how this rates with other legal mysteries, but I liked it.

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  4. I am a real sucker for legal mysteries - thanks TracyK - I had not heard about this one at all until now!

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    1. Sergio, I would like to expand my reading to include more legal mysteries, but I already have so mahy books... it will have to wait. I think I do have a few around my house, I just have to find them.

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  5. Legal mysteries are low on the reading scale for me since forever. I DNF Defending Jacob by Landay. I like the writer but the book was zzzzzz.

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    1. Keishon, I don't know why I never got into legal mysteries much. Except for Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries when I was younger.

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  6. I really like John Grisham so this sounds like something I'd probably enjoy. I also like that you get some character development even for minors characters, which is something I don't think happens as much as I would in Grisham's books.

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    1. Katie, I haven't read much John Grisham, only The Pelican Brief, since I love that movie so much. I have wanted to try others, especially A Time to Kill.

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  7. Tracy, the title is appealing enough to merit reading this book. I'm sure there must have been many instances of miscarriage of justice 200 years ago given the standard of investigation and the justice system prevailing at the time. I like reading legal thrillers with good courtroom battles.

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    1. Prashant, I think you would like this one, and if you try it, let me know what you think.

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  8. I like legal mysteries, too, have since I read Perry Mason books while a teen-ager. However, I'm planning to read Grisham's new one, Sycamore Row, Scott Turow's new book, Identical, and Michael Connelly's just-published book, The Gods of Guilt, all in the near future.

    I hope to read Grisham's and Connelly's during the holidays, if I can find the time. I find legal mysteries to be comfort reads -- but not Defending Jacob. That was an anxiety-provoking read, which aggravated me, I must admit.

    i do like legal mysteries with sparkling courtroom dialogue, a favorite of mine. Hope to find it with the three new books out.

    I'll probably skip this one. I'm so opposed to the death penalty that I would not enjoy this. A late friend always said, "I'm against pre-meditated murder by everyone, including the government," and I concur with that statement.

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    1. Kathy, I forgot that Michael Connelly had written legal thrillers too. I must read more books by that author. Thanks for reminding me.

      Do you have suggestions for Grisham legal mysteries that you especially liked?

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  9. Grisham's books. Well, there are many. His first one A Time to Kill is excellent. The new one Sycamore Row focuses on the same Mississippi lawyer, only years later.

    The Rainmaker is a good one, about insurance companies with a solid plot and humor. The Runaway Jury is fun and has twists.

    The Chamber is about the death penalty and the whole system around it. I learned a lot from this book, and it pushed me solidly against this horrific punishment, in addition to the movie Dead Man Walking -- as well as seeing injustices constantly.

    I haven't read The Confession, but others have recommended it, including lawyers.

    Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer is good, full of twists and turns and a lot of legal maneuvering. His other Mickey Haller books have good courtroom scenes.

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    1. Kathy, thanks for those suggestions. I will add them to my list. I should be able to pick up some of those at the book sale next year. Definitely going to get to the Mickey Haller series someday.

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  10. I like an occasional legal mystery, but once I've read one, I usually avoid others for a while. I like the idea of the historical parallel here, that's always interesting.

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    1. In 2014, I am focusing on espionage in addition to global mysteries, so I will have to put off more legal mysteries until another year, probably.

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