Juliana Brody, a judge in the Superior Court of Massachusetts, is taking a break, reading a magazine and enjoying a glass of wine, while attending a legal conference in Chicago. She’s approached by a handsome man in a charcoal suit who asks her permission to sit next to her. Soon they are talking. He tells her his name is Matías Sanchez and he’s at the hotel attending a venture capital conference. She tells him she’s married; he says his wife died in a drowning accident. He shows her a photo of his gap-toothed young daughter. Juliana’s mother, Rosalind, was an alcoholic, so Juliana usually limits herself to one drink. But as she and Matías continue to talk, she continues to drink. Always the good girl, Juliana decides she will be a “live in the moment gal.” After the one-night stand, she tells Matías, “it can’t happen again,” and he agrees.
Back in Boston, Juliana is on the bench, presiding over a sexual harassment trial involving an Uber-like ride share company called Wheelz. Rachel Meyers, the young and attractive general counsel, brought a sex-discrimination case against the company. She was fired after she rebuffed several aggressive moves by the company’s CEO. Juliana has the case under control when she’s shaken to her core. Entering the courtroom and joining the defense team is Matías Sanchez. Later, meeting a friend at the Bostonia Club, she finds Sanchez sitting in a dark corner of the library. When she confronts him, he tells her he’s sorry but says she must grant Wheelz’s request for summary judgment, essentially making Meyers’ claims go away. Or else a video of their one-night encounter will be released to the Internet. Juliana knows that if that happens she loses everything – her marriage her children, her seat on the bench, and any future she might have had.
That dilemma would be enough for anyone to handle. But things aren’t great on the homefront, either. Juliana’s son, Jake, who is in remission from stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma, has been vaping with marijuana. Juliana’s husband, Duncan, believes their son is self-medicating and is taking a laid back approach. But Juliana, who Duncan often calls Judge Judy after the strident TV judge, decides to take a stronger approach which succeeds in alienating Jake. The Brody daughter, Ashley, the over-achiever, is volunteering in Namibia, taking care of women with AIDS.
Matías, however, and the people behind him, have underestimated Juliana. She’s not going to allow herself to be blackmailed and goes into overdrive to come up with a plan. At the suggestion of her good friend and former judge, Martha Connolly, she hires a private investigator, Philip Hersh, who begins to peel back the layers of the conspiracy wanting to get Wheelz off the hook. Initially reluctant to tell Duncan what’s going on, Juliana finally confesses her encounter with Matías and Duncan asks her to move out. She takes Martha up on her offer to stay in her four-bedroom condo at the Ritz-Carlton, receiving not just a room, but her good friend’s legal representation and advice when things go further south.
Judgment is the first Joseph Finder thriller I have read and I can’t wait to read his others, of which there are many. He manages to do it all in Judgment. He’s created an intriguing character in Juliana, who is not only a fierce competitor and brilliant judge, but also a dedicated mother trying to protect her son, no matter how much he resists. The triggering incident – making one mistake, in Juliana’s case, the one-night stand – is something readers can identify with. And the supporting cast is terrific, particularly Martha and Hersh.
You have to trust me that the plot is creative and timely. To reveal too much would spoil the thrill of learning the truth behind the blackmail plot. Let’s just say, it could be ripped from the headlines.
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