Richard North Patterson frequently rejects the label "legal thriller" for his novels, and The Final Judgement
works hard to transcend this limiting category. A cleverly assembled murder mystery told with rich prose ("Moonlight refracted on the still, obsidian waters of the lake and traced the pines and birches and elms surrounding it. The only sound Brett heard was the rise and fall of James's breathing.") and filled with a cast of quirky small-town New Englanders, the novel ultimately succeeds through Patterson's talents as a writer, not just as a plotter.
As in many of Patterson's best novels, The Final Judgement draws on flashback sequences to ground the story and establish key characters. Forty-five-year-old Caroline Masters, a minor figure in Degree of Guilt and Eyes of a Child is the narrative center, and much of the suspense in the novel derives from the slow unwrapping of her past--the death of her mother and estrangement from her father. In the opening of the novel, Caroline is waiting for a message from the White House appointing her to the U.S. Court of Appeals, when, instead, her long-distant father gives her a call. Her niece has just been named the primary suspect in the murder of her boyfriend. The college-age Brett Allen was found naked, passed out from drugs and alcohol, with a knife in her hand, and covered in her boyfriend's blood. The family wants Caroline to return to New Hampshire to defend the girl.
The perils that face Caroline multiply quickly. By taking the case, Caroline clearly jeopardizes her chances for the Court of Appeals appointment. And by returning home, she must inevitably face the accumulated memories and resentments of the New Hampshire crowd, including Caroline's high-school boyfriend who is the prosecuting attorney. But her niece's life is at stake. Ultimately, The Final Judgement is a tale of the deep and twisted history of a New England family, but it is told in a captivating style that is--despite Patterson's reservations about the rubric--"thrilling." --Patrick O'Kelley
From Publishers Weekly
Patterson's previous bestsellers (Degree of Guilt and Eyes of a Child) were closely linked by shared characters, but his new thriller is tied to those two through only a tenuous bond?its heroine, Caroline Masters, who was the judge in Degree. Here, the reader meets Caroline as a candidate for the U.S. Court of Appeals, and as a determined woman who seems to have left sentiment, and her New Hampshire patriarch of a father, far in her past. But when her niece, Brett, is arrested for the murder of her slippery boyfriend, Caroline?despite the risk to her own career?is drawn by the young woman's plight into acting as her defense counsel. This task is made no easier by the fact that the prosecutor in the case was once Caroline's lover, and still yearns for her. At first, Brett's case looks hopeless?the killing was committed in the woods at night when she was drunk and disoriented, and there is no evidence that anyone else was there. But as Caroline focuses on a shifty state witness and rough-and-ready police procedures, promise for a lesser verdict than murder begins to glimmer. While Patterson excels at writing courtroom scenes, at the center of this novel lies not legal melodrama but the burden of Caroline's past and the reasons she has chosen to escape it. All in all, it's a somber, skillfully plotted performance with plenty of genuine surprises (though not in the identity of the killer), and with characters more substantive than those in Patterson's previous, California-based outings. 250,000 first printing; Literary Guild main selection.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.