Richard North Patterson frequently rejects the label "legal thriller" for his novels, and The Final Judgement works hard to transcend this limiting category. A cleverly assembled murder mystery told with rich prose ("Moonlight refracted on the still, obsidian waters of the lake and traced the pines and birches and elms surrounding it. The only sound Brett heard was the rise and fall of James's breathing.") and filled with a cast of quirky small-town New Englanders, the novel ultimately succeeds through Patterson's talents as a writer, not just as a plotter.
As in many of Patterson's best novels, The Final Judgement draws on flashback sequences to ground the story and establish key characters. Forty-five-year-old Caroline Masters, a minor figure in Degree of Guilt and Eyes of a Child is the narrative center, and much of the suspense in the novel derives from the slow unwrapping of her past--the death of her mother and estrangement from her father. In the opening of the novel, Caroline is waiting for a message from the White House appointing her to the U.S. Court of Appeals, when, instead, her long-distant father gives her a call. Her niece has just been named the primary suspect in the murder of her boyfriend. The college-age Brett Allen was found naked, passed out from drugs and alcohol, with a knife in her hand, and covered in her boyfriend's blood. The family wants Caroline to return to New Hampshire to defend the girl.
The perils that face Caroline multiply quickly. By taking the case, Caroline clearly jeopardizes her chances for the Court of Appeals appointment. And by returning home, she must inevitably face the accumulated memories and resentments of the New Hampshire crowd, including Caroline's high-school boyfriend who is the prosecuting attorney. But her niece's life is at stake. Ultimately, The Final Judgement is a tale of the deep and twisted history of a New England family, but it is told in a captivating style that is--despite Patterson's reservations about the rubric--"thrilling." --Patrick O'Kelley [via]