cover image The Final Judgment

The Final Judgment

Richard North Patterson. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $25 (437pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42989-0

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. (Dec.)