“There was a dead body in the trunk of Avery Fish’s Fleetwood Cadillac.” With that opening sentence, one of the more eye-catching in recent fiction, author Joel Goldman kicks off his deadly spider web of a legal thriller.
FINAL JUDGMENT takes place in Kansas City and features defense attorney Lou Mason, who has taken on a case that will quickly spin out of control on him. When he is approached by Avery Fish, a grandfatherly Jewish investment banker accused of ripping off clients in a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, Mason figures it will be a simple case of pleading out and hoping for the best.
"FINAL JUDGMENT is a paperback original that reads quickly and deftly combines both legal intrigue and hard-boiled crime elements."
While at the Federal Courthouse in Kansas City, a bomb-sniffing dog turns up a surprise in the trunk of Fish’s car. The body is not only decapitated and without hands but also wrapped up in plastic and obviously placed in a spot where someone wanted it to be found. Any deal Mason could have worked out for Fish is quickly pulled off the table as the corpse instantly makes him a murder suspect.
The body is eventually identified as that of an employee at the local riverboat casino --- the Galaxy --- by the name of Charles Rockley. Most notably, Rockley had been a criminal defendant in a well-publicized sexual harassment case that was brought up by Galaxy co-worker Carol Hill. What relationship, if any, does Fish have with Rockley? Or, could someone simply be trying to get to Mason through Fish and thought this was the most effective way to get his attention?
Even though Fish and Mason have a humorous relationship that is driven by the 5,000-year-old bond between fellow Jews, it does not end up being a fruitful relationship for either of them. Mason has no choice but to remove himself as council for Fish due to conflict of interest. This conflict is not simply due to the dual set of charges Fish is facing, but the fact that Mason and the Galaxy Casino have a history.
Mason is confronted by a local judge named Vanessa Carter, who blackmails him into discovering who is sending her threatening notes and other warnings. Judge Carter and Mason will forever be bound by the fact that Mason’s best friend --- a big bruiser with the moniker of “Blues” --- was released by Carter from charges that were brought up against him. The influence behind the deal was the former owner of the Galaxy Casino, a mutual friend of Mason. Carter is threatening to reveal all, an act that would find Mason disbarred from practicing law, unless he agrees to help find who is after her.
What transpires from this point is a search for the truth that will require the reader to have a scorecard handy just to keep all the players straight. No one is who they appear to be, and Mason often finds that out the hard way. Ironically enough, the dead man himself was actually a small-time hood named Tommy Corcoran. Mason begins prying into the Galaxy and the alleged sexual harassment case and finds a lot of people with something to hide. It is nearly impossible to tell friend from enemy as the plot twists too often to keep things clear.
Even with all the crosses and double-crosses, only the most astute mystery reader will be able to figure out what is really going on. At that point, it may be too late for our protagonist. FINAL JUDGMENT is a paperback original that reads quickly and deftly combines both legal intrigue and hard-boiled crime elements.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 29, 2012