The Hanging Judge
By Michael Ponsor
Open Road Media, 2013
This debut novel is a legal drama centering around a capital case in Massachusetts.
After a drive by shooting ends in the death of both a drug dealer and an innocent bystander, Clarence “Moon” Hudson, an African-American man with a checkered past and a new wife and baby, is accused of both murders. Although Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, the US attorney’s office uses RICO statues to try the murders as a federal death case. Judge Norcross presides over the case, the first Massachusetts judge on a death trail in many years. Norcross and Moon are two of many characters–including the defense counsel (Bill Redpath), the assistant US attorney (Lydia Gomez-Larsen), the judge’s clerks, cops, witnesses, the victims’ families and Moon’s family, who are turned upside down by the charges. Interwoven in the novel is the story of two Irish men, who in the 19th century were accused of, an executed for, a murder they did not commit and for which they were later exonerated by Governor Dukakis.
I don’t read a lot of legal dramas, but I picked up this book because my late father was a legal researcher who spent his life trying to prove that there was discrimination in the way the death penalty was applied. I had not seen a lot of novels that explored the same subject and I was curious. This book is well paced and Ponsor builds suspense around the trial. As the evidence against Moon is collected, I was not sure if he was guilty or not. Ponsor, a judge himself, also does a really good job at showing the weight of working on a capital case for both attorneys and the judge. No one wants to be the person who participates in a trial where an innocent man is killed. And yet at the same time, the novel shows how our legal system is as much a show of believability as it is a quest for “truth.” This book is a good look at the legal system and a well-paced legal drama.
I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.