I'm going to put a short and sweet warning label on this one: D. W.
Buffa is addicting. I was unfamiliar with his work until I picked
up THE JUDGMENT, his third novel concerning defense attorney Joseph
Antonelli. I had intended to read 20 pages or so before bedtime. I
didn't stop reading until my eyelids rebelled some three hours
later and threatened my system with total shutdown if I didn't put
the book aside. My Fourth of July came and went, sacrificed to this
account of deception and abuse of power and love and murder. No
regrets. Buffa is incredible.
I'm able to find precious little biographical information about
Buffa. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and
was a defense attorney in the Portland, Oregon area for 10 years.
If he practiced defense law for 10 years, he undoubtedly has enough
anecdotal material to fill a whole shelf of books. At least.
THE JUDGMENT doesn't contain a lot of explosions, karate fights, or
any of the other elements that make certain books great. What
violence there is takes place, for the most part, off of the page
and out of the main action. No. Buffa begins THE JUDGMENT with the
funeral of Judge Calvin Jeffries and its aftermath. Jeffries,
possessed with a brilliant legal mind that was instrumental in
drafting Oregon procedural law, was governed by a corrupt spirit
and an evil soul that manifested itself in vindictive rulings
issued more for the purpose of punishing counsel for some
unintentional or minor slight than for the administration of
justice. Buffa's description of Jeffries, told through the
recollections of Antonelli, are nothing short of perfect. Any
attorney who has been in a courtroom with even semi-regularity will
recognize Jeffries. What emerges is a portrait of an individual for
whom no abuse of power is unthinkable if it enables him to get what
he wants. And when he is found murdered, there is not exactly a
lack of suspects.
The individual eventually arrested by the police, surprisingly
enough, is a homeless man in the grip of a mental disorder. The man
confesses to the crime and then commits suicide in his jail cell.
Then a second judge is murdered under almost identical
circumstances. An obvious suspect, another homeless individual with
a severe mental disorder, is arrested with the murder weapon in his
possession and the case seems closed. Antonelli, however, cannot
believe that the cases, so similar, aren't somehow related. As he
undertakes his representation of the defendant and begins his own
investigation, Antonelli finds that the common element of both
murders is rooted, shockingly, within his own past. At the same
time, a former lover of Antonelli appears and reenters his life
with secrets of her own. These elements combine and collide to
provide a climax that will haunt and resonate with the reader long
after their reading is completed.
Aficionados of the mystery genre will not find THE JUDGMENT
particularly challenging from a "whodunit" standpoint. Buffa leaves
plenty of clues and doesn't really rely on sleight of hand or
misdirection to keep the reader guessing. Buffa's considerable,
incredible strengths lie not with his ability to design a mystery,
but with his narrative and descriptive skills. Some critics have
taken him to task for his dialogue, noting that his characters
sound as if they're giving a speech rather than conversing. This
misses the point; Buffa infuses a dialogue into his characters such
that it leaves the reader wishing that people did speak that way.
Everyone in THE JUDGMENT tells a story, and everyone tells a story
that is riveting. And Buffa, in THE JUDGMENT, is the grandmaster of
If there is an insolvable mystery associated with THE JUDGMENT, it
is why Buffa is not a household name at this point in his career.
The man is a marvel; his ability to tell a story while holding a
reader's interest is such that he leaves me in doubt as to my
ability to even hold a pencil properly. If you're not a fan of
Buffa's at this point, you should be; and if you read THE JUDGMENT,
you will be.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011