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The Hanging Judge: A Novel Paperback – December 3, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 552 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This gripping legal thriller is told from the unique perspective of the federal court judge presiding over the first death penalty case in Massachusetts in more than 50 years. The moral issue here is highlighted by an occasional chapter dedicated to the telling of the true story of an 1806 hanging, the result of a verdict that was reversed 200 years later. A drive-by shooting is at the root of the present-day case. A Hispanic drug dealer and an innocent bystander are killed, and a sharp cop ends up nabbing the getaway driver, who gives the name, Moon Hudson, as the shooter. Moon is a family man, married with a baby, but he also has a past that the jury will never hear about. The state’s case hinges on the word of a gangbanger who has agreed to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence, and Moon’s life hangs in the balance. The death penalty case is compelling, but Ponsor fails to fully develop his characters, leaving a bit of an emotional void. Richard North Patterson tackled a similar subject in Conviction (2005) with considerably more passion, but perhaps the lesser passion here stems from Ponsor’s decision to use an impartial judge as his narrator. --Stacy Alesi


“There are plenty of surprises to keep readers turning pages. Ponsor gives readers a unique look into the workings of a courtroom. But more than that, he demonstrates a feel for how ordinary families are affected by the legal system. Ponsor’s debut would make a great movie.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A masterful work that took me inside the courtroom, behind the bench, and into the hearts and minds of a cast of unforgettable characters. . . . Thrilling, perfectly paced, beautifully written, witty, so very smart and so satisfying.” —Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me

“That rare gem: a crackling court procedural with authentic characters and beautiful prose.” —Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot’s Wife

“A marvelous entertainment, a page-turning mystery full of romance and humor, which takes us inside the fraught and rather secretive world of a judge’s chambers. In the best way—that is, indirectly—Ponsor informs us about the facts that ought to inform debate on the death penalty. What impressed me most of all was the book’s authority; it has the heft of authenticity.” —Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains

“Novels have shown us what it’s like to be a juror, an attorney, even the defendant, but this is the first I’ve read that puts us up on the bench—a knowing, nuanced portrait of a judge and the often imperfect system he watches over.” —Joseph Kanon, author of Istanbul Passage

“A compelling tale, with a cast of vividly drawn characters and a plot that twists and turns—it entertains, as a good novel should, but even better, it also informs, as only the best ones do.” —Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action

“A debut that reads like the work of an accomplished master. A suspenseful page-turner written from the unique perspective not of a lawyer or defendant, but of the judge. I’ve never before read a book—either fiction or non-fiction—that conveys the dilemma of the death penalty with such a combination of sophistication and humanity.” —Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision

“Written with precision and heartfelt passion for the law, this riveting courtroom thriller brings the legal system to life. Filled with memorable characters, infused with a deep understanding of the death penalty and the complex interchange between crime, the police and the justice system, The Hanging Judge is an electric story, well told.” —John Katzenbach, author of Hart’s War

“Both an ode to the law in all its glory and a reflection on its sometimes tragic limitations, Michael Ponsor’s The Hanging Judge will appeal to courtroom insiders as well as readers more generally drawn to a taut story well told. Set in western Massachusetts, at the center of the action is a series of trials, historic, present-day, and of the heart. The verdict: this debut author—a federal judge in his other life—is guilty of a tour de force and, we can only hope, the start of a rich new career.” —Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller (December 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1480441945
  • ISBN-13: 978-1480441941
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (552 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 24, 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I selected this book because I enjoy an absorbing legal thriller, and the accolades were mostly positive. Additionally, the premise of the story, as well as the author's academic creds--Yale and Harvard--were heightened by the fact that he is a U.S. district judge in Massachusetts. The story is told mostly through the eyes of the federal judge, David Norcross, presiding over the case. Massachusetts (my original home state) doesn't have the death penalty. But what if a RICO crime, linked to a drive-by murder, allowed the case to be tried in federal court as a capital punishment case? Ponsor's debut novel sets out to probe the ongoing controversy of the death penalty.

The primary problem stems from the alleged controversy. The author, instead of exploring both sides of the death penalty argument, advanced his platform against execution. Characters that regarded the death penalty as acceptable sounded flat, faulty, sinister, or doltish, and emanated from stock, one-dimensional voices. Ponsor did attempt to show inner conflict in the prosecutor, but, as it turns out, it was just another way to articulate his stand against capital punishment.

Instead of a true polemical novel that challenges the reader, it hand-fed me all the (intelligent) answers from one angle. I already agree with Ponsor's views, but I don't want a PC book to reinforce what I already know. It lacked a convincing character with intelligent views that sympathized with the death penalty.

And, speaking of characterizations, the people that populated the novel sounded forced and borrowed. You know when a character feels organic and authentic--he or she inhabits the traits written by the author. Instead, they were either mouthpieces of Ponsor or cut-ups from derivative material.
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Format: Paperback
There are tons of mysteries and courtroom dramas novels seen in the perspective of the lawyer, the law enforcement officer, and even the indicted. But The Hanging Judge may be the first novel I have read that is mainly in the perspective of the judge. It is because the author, Michael Posner has been a judge since 1984 and is currently a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.. It's nice to see a novel written by someone who knows all the facts, intricacies and problems that abound in our legal system.

Of course, it is even better that Michael Ponsor is an excellent writer and shows an amazing amount of promise in his debut novel. The author takes on the issue of capital punishment in this taut courtroom drama. the main protagonist, David Norcross, is a judge with some deep doubts about the legal system, especially pertaining to capital punishment. He is assigned a case involving a drive-by shooting resulting in the death of a gang member and a respected member of the community. It is clear almost from the beginning who is guilty and who is innocent but that is not really the point. This is more of a drama than a mystery as its main focus is on the actions and emotions of the principles who are caught up in the situation. There are no simple actions or answers throughout this well-developed story. I became very involved in the tale and pretty much read through the night to see what would happen. It has a satisfying climax but this is a story that is too realistic for a Perry Mason "I did it" ending. Various plot diversions come into being and culminate at the end always staying true and realistic to the story with good guys, bad guys but mostly people in between doing things is the best way they know how to.

Yes, I'm being vague.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am thrilled to review this book, and feel particularly qualified to do so. The Hanging Judge is the story of a case in which the United States seeks the death penalty for a drug-related shooting that resulted in killing not only the intended drug dealer, but an innocent bystander as well.

Because I am a retired career Assistant U.S. Attorney (federal prosecutor), I can vouch for how accurately the author has described what is involved in federal prosecutions and how plausible his plot is. This is perhaps not too surprising, given that the author is a Senior United States District Judge, but is welcome nonetheless. How often have I picked up a crime novel, only to find a completely bogus description of the criminal justice system, riddled with inaccuracies? By contrast, how often does one pick up a "crime novel" like this one, and see a blurb from Tracy Kidder on the cover? No review I can write will impress more than the fact that Ponsor's writing friends, Kidder, Jonathan Harr, Josaeph Kanon, and Joe McGinnis recommend this book! But I will try.

The story is told in an interesting technique. It unfolds chronologically, and the segments of the chronology included are told in accurate detail, but big chunks of the story which are not essential to the narrative are skipped. For example, we read a detailed account of portions of the first jury selection where a Unitarian (gasp! like me!) actually ended up in the Foreperson's seat. I won't tell you what happens, but events require the first jury to be replaced with another. The book skips all that went on in between, and takes us next to a segment of the trial before the second jury.
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5 Comments 73 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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