The Hanging Judge: A Novel by Michael Ponsor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
**The Hanging Judge** by *Michael Ponsor* is really two stories in one book. Ponsor dedicated his book to the memory of both Dominic Daly and James Halligan who were "hanged by mistake" June 5, 1806, at Northampton, Massachusetts. For me, a mistake is reaching for the salt instead of the pepper, or maybe confusing the diet soda for the sweetened beverage. But, hanging as an accident? Not so much. That seems like an act of such magnitude that no one could possibly do that when he really wanted to do something else instead. Mistakes can be corrected. Hanging is forever. However, that is how Daly and Halligan are remembered. On the basis of very little, if any, concrete evidence, two innocent men were hanged because of the perspective of justice rather than the hardcore evidence the crime which led to it.
Edgar "Peach" Delgado and Ginger Daley O'Connor did not know each other. All they did together was walk on the same street at the same time when both were murdered in a drive-by shooting. Edgar Delgado was the target; Ginger O'Connor was mistakenly at the wrong place at the wrong time. It didn't matter that Ginger, a pediatric nurse, just wanted to pet a dog she saw in the street. She was just as dead as Delgado who was the intended victim. An investigation was set in motion to bring the murderer to justice, and this is where matters got more interesting and revert back to the justice of 1806 when someone's hunch could be all it took to find an accused man guilty of whatever crime was handy. Back in 1806 all it might take to throw suspicion on someone was for him to be a stranger in town. In the present day, all that was needed was a few bad marks on a record, and guilt could be assumed.
Which is how Clarence "Moon" Hudson became the primary suspect in the murder of Delgado and O'Connor. He was the perfect fit for the profile of a killer, and he knew "Peach" Delgado well enough to have a motive assigned to him. Hudson said he was innocent, but with his background the only one who was convinced of his innocence was his wife, and her word was discounted simply because she was his wife.
This forms the basis of the case that is prosecuted in Hanging Judge and it's hard to believe that this is Ponsor's first novel. The story follows the judge in the case, David Norcross, as he has to deal with issues surrounding the case. Add to that the complication of a woman, Clare Lindemann, who Norcross meets under unusual circumstances and definitely wants to get to know better, and there are twists and turns in the story that give a more realistic picture of what a sitting judge goes through while on the bench than most courtroom novels explain. It is not simply a matter of ruling on objections, or instructing a jury. Even a judge's conversations outside the courtroom can pose problems for a case he is hearing should something he says or a reference he makes be taken out of context or simply used against him. I was impressed with the way Ponsor introduced issues central to the trial, and resolved how both sides of the story were examined.
What most impressed me about The Hanging Judge was Ponsor's characterization of David Norcross. How seriously Norcross takes his position as a Federal Judge, and how his assumption of that responsibility affects his life in both large and small ways brought a perspective to that job I had not considered before. Norcross became, for me, the image of what I want a judge to be,no matter how difficult his decisions are to make as opposed to a judge less concerned about interpreting the law as it was intended to be applied. For that reason, I hope Ponsor is planning more novels in this vein wherein David Norcross will be tested ethically thereby giving his story more than one level of consideration. I believe Ponsor has the writing talent to build upon a judge who has heart as well as some issues he needs to confront, hopefully with the help of Clare Lindemann. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys courtroom drama and a mystery that kept me guessing until the end.
I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review
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