The Final Judgmentby Richard North Patterson
A young man has been murdered. His girlfriend, twenty-two-year-old Brett Allen, is found at the scene of the crime. She claims she is innocent—even though she's dripping in blood, the murder weapon covered with her fingerprints. Enter attorney Caroline Masters, Brett's estranged aunt. She's been summoned back to her affluent New England hometown to help
A young man has been murdered. His girlfriend, twenty-two-year-old Brett Allen, is found at the scene of the crime. She claims she is innocent—even though she's dripping in blood, the murder weapon covered with her fingerprints. Enter attorney Caroline Masters, Brett's estranged aunt. She's been summoned back to her affluent New England hometown to help Brett out of this mess…and revisit the troubled family she left behind.
Caroline learned a long time ago that the ties that bind can also be broken. Now that she's back home, she can't help but doubt her family's motives—and Brett's innocence. As the trial heats up, Caroline finds herself up against those who would kill to keep dark secrets hidden…and the state prosecutor, who happens to be her former lover and will do anything to expose the truth. Now, with her family's fate—and her own reputation—hanging in the balance, Caroline must assume the role of a lifetime as she fights to save her niece. Or destroy them both…
“Intense courtroom drama...As startling as the bang of a gavel.” People on Silent Witness
“This generation's best writer of legal thrillers...his strongest fiction to date.” Entertainment Weekly on Silent Witness
“Patterson hits the first line at a dead run....He never slows down....Everything is marvelously plotted.” Philadelphia Inquirer on Silent Witness
“Enthralling...the denouement is powerful.” Los Angeles Times Book Review on Silent Witness
“Chilling.” The Washington Post Book World on Silent Witness
“Hypnotic...[Patterson] is at his finest when he gives the emotions of [his] characters, who are connected by a lifetime of love and resentment, full reign in the courtroom. These are the scenes that his fans will anticipate most eagerly, and they are as explosive and revealing as anyone could wish.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Silent Witness
“An absorbing read.” New York Daily News on Silent Witness
“Gripping…the intelligent reader's John Grisham.” Chicago Sun-Times on Eyes of a Child
“Masterful. Eyes of a Child dazzles...right up to the very end.” San Francisco Chronicle on Eyes of a Child
“A taut nail-biter…[that] provides the thrill of a legal hunt.” USA Today on Eyes of a Child
“Patterson grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck and holds him until the very last page...The Spire might just be his best to date.” Tucson Citizen on The Spire
“Intriguing…we can't read fast enough to reach the finale.” San Francisco Chronicle on The Spire
“Gripping…A page turner with multiple twists and a well-earned conclusion at once shocking and inevitable.” Richmond Times Dispatch on The Spire
“A page-turner.” The New York Times Book Review on Degree of Guilt
“Compulsively readable.” People on Degree of Guilt
“One intense courtroom clash after another...An intelligent and gripping thriller.” The Washington Post on Degree of Guilt
“Flamboyant and entertaining.” The Boston Globe on Degree of Guilt
“Electrifying.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Degree of Guilt
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“This stellar legal thriller both informs and entertains… Patterson has exerted all his considerable skill in creating a nightmare atmosphere that will cling to readers long after the last page is turned.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Eclipse
“A satisfying fable that pits a hero who deeply believes in the rule of law against a violent, lawless regime that holds all the cards.” Kirkus Reviews on Eclipse
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“Suspenseful--pervasive danger as real as the actual reality.” New York Daily News on Eclipse
“A terrific legal thriller populated by rich, well drawn characters [Patterson] magnificently brings to life. Not to be missed.” Providence Sunday Journal on Eclipse
“Fascinating.” Booklist on Eclipse
“[A] compelling legal thriller, reminiscent of Exile. Patterson once again brings a timely, controversial subject--America's dependence on foreign oil--to the forefront in this...engrossing read.” Library Journal on Eclipse
“An electrifying page-turner.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer on The Race
“Patterson has redefined himself as a writer willing to take risks.” USA Today on The Race
“Absorbing and suspenseful.” Publishers Weekly on The Race
“Required reading.” New York Post on The Race
“With verve, intelligence, passion and humanity, Patterson tells an important story--and one that may find a place with Advise and Consent and Seven Days in May on the shelf of honored political thrillers.” Richmond Times-Dispatch on The Race
“Absorbing…timely…a gripping read.” Booklist on The Race
“Will get your blood boiling…” Grand Rapid Press on The Race
“A timely, fast-paced political yarn....Highly recommended.” Library Journal (starred review) on The Race
“A slick new entertainment…Frank Capra idealism meets Karl Rove reality.” Entertainment Weekly on The Race
“Torn from the headlines...Exile delivers.” The New York Times Book Review on Exile
“Artful…compelling.” USA Today on Exile
“Astonishing, hugely entertaining.” Bill Clinton on Exile
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The Final Judgment
By Richard North Patterson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1995 Richard North Patterson
All rights reserved.
Two days after the murder, listening to Brett Allen's tale of innocence and confusion, the lawyer wavered between disbelief and wonder at its richness, so vivid that she could almost picture it as truth.
The lawyer looked at Brett in silence, taking in the oval face, the delicate cleft chin, the curly ungroomed hair, the small breasts and almost too slim body of a late bloomer who, at first glance, looked younger than twenty-two. But what struck her was the bright greenness of the eyes, a gaze so intuitive and direct that it unnerved her.
As Brett described it, the night had been crisp, windless. 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.
They were naked. Brett straddled him, as she had when making love. The cool night chilled her nipples, dried the wetness on her skin. As she shivered, James, flaccid and unconscious, slid from inside her.
She felt a spurt of anger. And then the nausea returned, mingling the acrid taste of marijuana with the torpor of too much wine. All at once, the night burst into shards — images without connection, freeze-frames of color amidst a black jumble she could not remember.
That explained how she had acted with the police, she told her lawyer — pot and wine, shock and paranoia. Dope was really James's thing. As Brett said this, her lawyer saw a sheen of tears, as if the young woman had remembered some fond detail. For days after, as the lawyer grew to believe that Brett Allen was a murderer, the moment haunted her.
Before the dope, Brett told her, her memory was sound.
James had called her parents' home, where she was staying for the summer. They had talked a little; then, fearing that her mother might listen in, Brett had suggested that they go to the lake, take some cheese and wine. She had a favorite place, and they would be alone.
Whatever James had to say, she sensed, should not be heard by others.
Brett made her excuses. She saw the tight look in her mother's thin face, the cool gray eyes filling with things she did not say. For a moment, Brett was torn between pity and the desire to confront her, and then she decided that this was pointless. She left the house, its dark mass looming behind her.
She drove to the college for James. In the car, he was quiet, intent. His face was a study in black and white — pale skin, dark ringlets of hair, shadows on his sculpted face. One of his acting teachers, with mingled derision and admiration, had once called him "Young Lord Byron." The teacher, Brett pointedly recalled, was a woman.
They drove winding roads, wooded and silent, saw occasional headlights cutting the silver darkness, then the steady glow of a lone car behind them, traveling neither slower nor faster. Abruptly, they turned down a dirt road, hacked so narrow between looming pines that it was pitch black. The car lights behind them passed the trailhead, and vanished.
Hitting the brights, Brett slowed to a crawl, following the headlights as they carved a path between the rough-barked trunks of trees.
Then the path ended.
Brett stopped there. Silent, she opened the trunk of her battered black Jeep, took out the gym bag with the wine and cheese, then tucked a rough woolen blanket under her arm. James followed her into the trees.
Suddenly, there was no sky.
They edged through trunks and branches down a gradually sloping hill, feet sliding on the hardened ground, the result of two dry weeks after a rainy spring. A branch lashed at her face; in the darkness, Brett felt diminished, like some primitive amidst the mysteries of nature.
"Where are we going?" James murmured behind her. "To play Dungeons and Dragons?"
Why was it, Brett wondered, that people whisper in the darkness? She did not answer.
And then they reached the clearing.
A glade of grass, opening to a moonlit lake. She stopped there, looking out.
Behind her, James was quiet again.
"This is yours?" he said at last.
Can you leave this? she felt him ask. But she answered only the question he spoke aloud.
"Yes," she said simply. "It's mine. If I still want it."
She did not mean the lake. It was a mile across and nearly that wide; on the far shore were a few fishing camps and summer houses, unseen in the darkness. But since her birth her family had held the parcel where they stood for Brett. It was a fact as certain as her grandfather's love.
Brett gazed out at the water, postponing by her stillness the moment when they would begin to talk.
She could sense, rather than see, the platform where she had first learned to dive. Yet she could have swum there as surely as in daylight. Just as she could remember standing on the rocky inlet between the glade and the water, holding aloft the rainbow trout, speckled in the sunlight, so that her grandfather could see it.
Turning to James, Brett put down the gym bag and held out the wool blanket so that he could help her spread it on the glade. Laying it down, she could feel the dampness of the grass.
They settled onto the blanket, Brett sitting cross-legged, James lying on his side, head propped on one hand. Woods surrounded them on three sides; in front of them was the smooth black sheen of water. Far across the lake, Brett heard the faint cry of a heron. They were utterly alone.
"What is it?" she asked him.
James brushed the hair back from his forehead. Brett knew this as a temporizing gesture, a sign of hesitancy.
"I want us to go to California," he said at length.
Her voice was level. "I know that."
"I mean soon."
It was hard to read his face. But beneath the casual pose, so characteristic of James, Brett felt his anxiety.
He was quiet for a time. But in their year together, Brett had learned the uses of silence. She waited.
"That dope I sold," James said finally. "I never paid for it."
Brett despised James's business. They had fought about it for two months: James was adamant that this was the way for him — left without money or family to speak of — to pay his way through what he had sardonically labeled the "poison ivy league." It was, he promised, temporary.
"Never paid for it ...," Brett repeated in a flat voice. "I didn't know your friends gave credit."
"I need the money. We need the money. To leave here." James's voice rose. "Sure as hell your family won't give you any. Not for that."
"Why should they?"
"No reason to." His tone softened. "It's just that I had to do something — start a life."
He was trying to make her complicit, Brett knew. "Without asking me?" she shot back. "You're supposed to do what you want, and I'm just supposed to react to it?"
James sat up now, facing her. "I owe a little over thirty-five hundred." He leaned forward in entreaty. "I made almost forty-three selling the stuff. Enough to drive to the Coast and still have first and last months' rent."
Brett knew his dream. He would work part time and look for acting jobs; Brett would break from home and family — the stifling effect she felt of too many years of expectations — and write the books she believed she could. But this image seemed more vivid to James than to her.
"I have a life, James. A real one. And not all of it is with you." She shook her head in impatience. "My parents are work, all right — especially my mother. But I have one quarter of school left, and I owe it to them to finish, owe it to myself if I decide to get a master's degree. And my grandfather — who I love a lot, though I understand it's hard for you to get that — has a heart condition. What I do about them, I have to live with. Just like I have to live with me. This isn't about you, okay? Or even me writing the Great American Novel." She paused, finishing more quietly: "You never had a family, for bad or good or in between. It's more complex than you think."
James expelled a breath. Taking her hand, he said softly, "You're my family."
It was meant to touch her, Brett knew. But she perceived what James could never admit: that beneath his calculation was the loneliness of a seven-year-old whose mother was dead and his father vanished, his future a series of foster homes that took him in for money.
Conflicted, Brett watched his eyes, searching for the person who lived behind them.
Suddenly, James flinched. He was half standing before she heard the sound.
Underbrush rustling, perhaps the cracking of a branch. James went rigid; in that moment, Brett saw how scared he was.
It was that which raised the gooseflesh on her skin.
"What was that?" he said in a low voice.
Watching his face, thin and strained, Brett listened.
Slowly, she turned from him, saw pale branches at the edge of the glade, then darkness.
"Well," she said with a trace of humor, "they say the timberwolves are coming back from Canada. There are all sorts of animals in the woods at night. Everything but people." When he did not answer, she lowered her voice. "How much trouble is this?"
James clasped her shoulders. "He's been calling me," he said. "My supplier."
"He wants his money. I said I didn't have it yet."
Brett felt her eyes close. She was part of a deadline, she realized, that James had created for himself. "Then give him the money, that's all."
She heard him exhale. "Too late. He knows I lied to him."
To Brett, the phrase had an incomplete sound. When she turned to him, he was still looking over her shoulder. "They broke into my apartment, Brett. Last night. The place was torn up, and the sheets slashed."
Brett stared at him. Reflexively, she asked, "Did you call the police?"
He gave her a faint, crooked smile. With a strange mix of bitterness and affection, he said, "You really are the judge's granddaughter, you know."
Her voice rose. "It can't be too late, James. All they want is money. What good does it do to hurt you?"
"That's not how it works, Brett. Please believe me."
She shook her head, turning away. "There are too many surprises, too close together. I just can't deal with this...."
Her voice trailed off. He had grown up protecting himself, she thought; he wasn't used to closeness.
Alone, Brett walked to the water's edge.
After a time, she heard his footsteps behind her, then saw his faint reflection in the water next to hers, a slender profile with hands jammed in pockets. He made no move to touch her.
Another part of her, she realized, was listening to the woods behind them.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
She hunched her shoulders. "I don't know."
"We have to decide."
"You decided without me, James. Now I have to decide what I want. Without you."
His shadow seemed to slump a little. At length, he said, "Then just be with me, all right?"
Brett knew what James meant, perhaps before he did. It was James's instinct to see lovemaking as a refuge from his insecurity. So that, taking him inside her, Brett never knew whether he was reaching for her or running from himself.
She turned to him. "Trying to fuck me into submission?"
The crooked smile again. Beneath it Brett saw a flicker of vulnerability — James exposed to himself. "Not really."
She felt a first twinge of guilt. "Good," she said. "Because I'm hungry. And thirsty."
Tentatively, James took her hand. They walked back to the blanket.
They knelt there, James unwrapping the cheese and slicing it with a pocket knife, Brett pouring red wine into a paper cup. There was no sound but their own.
With the second cup of wine, Brett felt the alcoholic glow. A pleasant lassitude crept through her limbs.
She sat between James's legs, back against his chest, in a silent declaration of truce. They shared a cup, James taking it from her hand and placing it back again. Brett was not a drinker; with each sip, the night seemed to close in a little, become a cocoon of warmth. The passing moments were impressions — the rise and fall of crickets chirring, the sheen of water, the rich red taste of wine, the rough-smooth feel of James's face against hers. She tried to push their troubles away, save her decision for the cool, clear morning that would light the lake with silver, then with gold.
"What are you thinking?" he asked.
"I'm just being," she answered, and drained the cup.
James knew not to push her. Silent, he reached around her and filled the empty cup.
"Some grass?" he asked. "I brought a joint."
It was wrong, part of her thought. They should not drift toward lovemaking dulled by dope and wine; whatever happened would have little meaning beyond release. But she needed time to find the answer that might well end them.
When James lit the joint, sucking in the first hit with a low quick breath, she took it from between his fingers.
She did not do this much. The first acrid puff was hot and raw in her throat. But with the second, slower and deeper, she settled in James's arms.
The night changed again. The stars had a diamond clarity, undimmed by clouds or city lights. Brett became lost in them.
They stayed like that, passing the joint back and forth as they finished the bottle of wine. James seemed less a person than a presence; what Brett felt now was a deep immersion in this place — the sky, the water, the rattle of breezes in unseen trees. It was all she wanted.
And then James's hands, tender and tentative, brushed against her breasts.
She wore no bra. Through her T-shirt, she felt her nipples rise beneath his hands, her nerve ends suddenly alive, a pulse of warmth where James had not yet touched. A silent murmur filled her throat.
In this way, at least, he knew her. This way, they worked.
The tips of his fingers touched her nipples now, gently moving. And then she felt the wine and the dope and the shiver of skin exploding in a savage impulse.
She turned to him, balanced on her knees, and raised the T- shirt over her head.
Slowly, as if in a ritual, he untied her sneakers, pushed her to the blanket with one hand cradling her back, then unzipped her jeans and slid them down and off.
That he did not undress said the rest. She lay on her back, watching the stars, as he reached beneath the elastic of her underpants.
Brett opened her legs for him.
James bent his face to her. For an instant, Brett felt it as a silent offering, a plea for closeness. Then all she felt was his face against her thighs, his seeking tongue.
When her hips began to move, she could not help this, nor did she want to. The sounds from her lips were more cry than murmur, becoming quicker, a guide for him. Blood rushed to where his tongue caressed her, swift with the hotness of dope and wanting. Her movements lost all rhythm.
A cry in darkness.
Brett's eyes shut tight as the spasms ran through her body. Only as a tingle reached her fingers did she hear the woman's cries, slower and softer, recognize them as hers.
And then she was still.
She could not seem to move. Beneath the torpor, sex and dope and wine seemed to loop in circuits through her brain.
Awkwardly, Brett got to her knees. She could feel the heat receding from her thighs.
James seemed unreal now, in pieces: eyes wanting her, a hand pulling her close. She felt smoke and alcohol in the pit of her stomach. The night began to spin.
"Jesus," she murmured.
He did not seem to hear; suddenly his movements had the clumsy concentration of drunkenness. As he pulled down his pants, Brett had the jaded, antic vision of a monster she had seen in an old movie, tottering over Tokyo as he swayed from side to side.
She swallowed, fighting sickness and self-disgust. When he held his penis to her face, she shook her head.
Just don't lie down, she told herself.
"Lie back," she murmured.
He did that. Clumsily, she turned from him, crawling naked toward the gym bag.
"Where are you going?" he asked dully.
Mute, she fumbled through the bag and then pulled out a foil square. Crawling back, she held it out to him.
"You're on the pill," he said.
Brett stared at him. "I'll put it on for you."
Watching her face, he said nothing more.
Fragments now: sheathing him in latex, its oily slickness between her fingers. Clambering on her knees to mount him. The blunt feeling of him as he entered her. A fever on her skin, too clammy for passion.
As James moaned, urging himself to climax, she thought of two dogs mating.
She rode him out of stubbornness, fighting sickness. He did not come. Desperate, Brett wrenched him upward with her hands beneath his spine. He flinched beneath her; dimly, she realized that her nails had scraped his skin.
His eyes opened wider. "I love you ...," he murmured.
Brett stopped moving. Tenderness overtaking her, she touched his face.
James was asleep.
As she shivered in the sudden cool of night, he slipped from inside her. She stared at him, sick and stupid again, fighting the impulse to lift him by the hair. And then, abruptly, anger became sadness.
There was still goodness in him, she knew, much that had not been ruined. He was tender with her, always. When she grew angry with him, he did not lash back; he watched her, puzzled, trying to comprehend. As if listening for music he could not yet hear.
Gently, she laid his head down, turned it to one side. He slept with a child's innocence.
Lost in dope and darkness, Brett had forgotten the lake was there. And then it struck her: the cool water might clear her head.
Rising, she turned to the water.
It seemed opaque, a glassy rock. Brett clambered naked from the glade across the rocky shore, crying out as the sharp stones cut her bare feet.
A splash, shocking coolness as she hit the water.
Swimming felt hard and slow. Suddenly, she was swathed in blackness, swallowed by the lake. In panic, she flailed to keep from drowning, felt herself go under....
And then, shivering and panting, Brett was lying facedown on the rough wooden planks of the diving platform. She felt surprise, then fright that she could not remember how she got there.
Slowly, like a woman half drowned, Brett turned on her back. Her mouth had the brackish taste of algae and still water. Her heart throbbed in her chest.
Gradually, her breathing eased. She had no thought of swimming back.
Time kept slipping. Brett saw an image from childhood: her mother, calm and sure then, teaching her to dive, her grandfather watching with that air of pleased reserve. Brett stared up at the moon, so seemingly close that she could almost touch the craters on its face.
And then the sense was upon her, primal and instinctive, that they were not alone.
Brett trained her eyes on the water. Distances were lost to her. When she turned to the glade where James lay sleeping, it seemed to move away. The faint moonlight on the grass was like the glow of phosphorus.
A sudden shadow rose from the grass.
Brett sat up. "James ..."
Excerpted from The Final Judgment by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 1995 Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON is the author of Silent Witness, Eyes of a Child, The Spire, Degree of Guilt, Eclipse, The Race, Exile, and more than a dozen other bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, he was the SEC liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor and has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups. He lives on Martha's Vineyard and in San Francisco and Cabo San Lucas with his wife, Dr. Nancy Clair.
Richard North Patterson is the author of In The Name Of Honor, Eclipse, The Spire, Exile, The Race, Degree Of Guilt, Eyes Of A Child, Silent Witness, and many other bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, he was the SEC liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor, the assistant attorney general for the state of Ohio, and has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups. In 1993, he retired from his law practice to devote himself to writing. His first novel, The Lasko Tangent, was the winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel in 1980. He is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and is a recipient of their President's Award for Distinguished Alumni. He lives in Martha's Vineyard, San Francisco, and Cabo San Lucas with his wife, Dr. Nancy Clair. "Richard North Patterson is a terrific novelist."-The Washington Post
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Many twists and turns. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommend it!
I thought that this was an excellent book. Not quite as wonderful and Silent Witness and Eyes of a Child also by Patterson, but it was great. Well worth the time!
Suspenseful. Hard to put down. Couldn't wait to finish then sorry that it ended.
Like his writing; will probably enjoy.
This book was published years ago, not just recently. I already have the book in my library.