Cover image of "The Judge's List"

Lacy Stolz of the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct first made her appearance five years ago in The Whistler. Then, she brought down a sitting judge and the vicious criminals he was in bed with. She almost died as a result. Now, Lacy is on the verge of leaving her job after twelve mostly unrewarding years at BJR. But a troubling anonymous accusation shows up asserting that a judge on the circuit court in Florida’s panhandle is a serial killer. Never before to her knowledge has a sitting judge anywhere in the United States been put on trial for murder. But this complaint is too compelling and too detailed to ignore. And far too interesting to allow her to leave her job just yet. So opens the latest in John Grisham’s decades-long string of gripping legal thrillers, The Judge’s List.

Building suspense to a shattering conclusion

John Grisham can find evil lurking behind closed doors anywhere in America’s criminal justice system. Law offices. Courtrooms. Prisons. Sheriff and police departments. And now, once again, a judge’s chambers. In spare, fast-moving prose, he drives his stories forward with gathering momentum. And, almost invariably, the tale ends with a shattering surprise. It does so here in the author’s new legal thriller about a judge.

The Judge’s List (Lacy Stolz #2) by John Grisham (2021) 359 pages ★★★★★

Image of sitting judges in Florida
Imagine if one of the judges in Florida like these were a serial killer, as John Grisham speculates in this novel.

Ross Bannick is not just any judge, and the tip Lacy receives is not about just any murder. “For the past five years, Bannick had received a stellar A+ rating from the bar.” And no complaint had ever been filed about him. But Bannick is a serial killer who has murdered at least six people over the past two decades. He is linked to each of his victims in some way that is difficult to discover. However, he appears to have met his match in “Jeri Crosby, age forty-six, professor of political science at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.” Jeri has been patient in tracking down the connections. For she, too, has been at work for twenty years. Her father, a retired professor of law, was the second of the judge’s victims. And she is determined to bring Bannick to account for his crimes.

The true horror of the judge’s crimes is the pettiness of his reasons

What is most disturbing about Bannick’s crimes, if in fact any single aspect can be singled out, are the reasons. As Jeri sees it, the judge “keeps a list of people who have harmed or slighted him.” He murdered Jeri’s father because, more than twenty years ago, the professor had humiliated him in class. And, we learn, the reasons for the other kills were equally petty. A woman embarrassed him at a fraternity party. A man pulled a gun on him when he refused to pay for work half-done. A lawyer failed to hire him for his firm. Somehow, Jeri has ferreted out all these connections. And she is convinced that there are other victims on the judge’s list. She just hasn’t found them yet.

It’s dangerous to be on the judge’s list

Despite what seem to be mountains of circumstantial evidence, nothing Jeri has found will stand up in court. So she finds it impossible at first to persuade Lacy to take up the case. But when Lacy is promoted to become interim director of the Board on Judicial Conduct, Jeri forces the issue by filing a formal complaint. Lacy is legally bound to pursue it. And then the two women, acting both together and apart, begin to learn just how brilliant is Judge Bannick—and how dangerous it is to find themselves on the judge’s list. We follow them step by step with the meticulous attention to detail that is reminiscent of a police procedural.

About the author

Image of John Grisham, author of this legal thriller about a judge

John Grisham has become one of the world’s wealthiest authors since publishing his first novel, A Time to Kill, in 1989. Born in Arkansas in 1955 and raised in Mississippi and Tennessee, he has returned to the South again and again in his popular legal thrillers. A graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, he practiced law for a decade and was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990. He is the author of thirty-seven adult novels and seven legal thrillers for children as well as three nonfiction books. This legal thriller about a judge is his latest.

For more reading

This is one of The best books of 2021.

Previously I reviewed the first of John Grisham’s two Lazy Stolz judicial investigations: The Whistler (John Grisham takes on judicial corruption).

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