The Hanging Judge: A Novel

( 24 )

Overview

Based on the experience of the author, a federal judge who in 2000 presided over the first capital case in Massachusetts in more than fifty years, this extraordinary debut thriller offers an unprecedented inside view of a federal death penalty trial

When a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, claims the lives of a Puerto Rican drug dealer and a hockey mom volunteering at an inner-city clinic, the police arrest a rival gang member. With no death penalty in Massachusetts, ...

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The Hanging Judge: A Novel

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Overview

Based on the experience of the author, a federal judge who in 2000 presided over the first capital case in Massachusetts in more than fifty years, this extraordinary debut thriller offers an unprecedented inside view of a federal death penalty trial

When a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, claims the lives of a Puerto Rican drug dealer and a hockey mom volunteering at an inner-city clinic, the police arrest a rival gang member. With no death penalty in Massachusetts, the US attorney shifts the double homicide out of state jurisdiction into federal court so he can seek a death sentence.

The Honorable David S. Norcross, a federal judge with only two years on the bench, now presides over the first death penalty case in the state in decades. He must referee the clash of an ambitious female prosecutor and a brilliant veteran defense attorney in a high-stress environment of community outrage, media pressure, vengeful gang members, and a romantic entanglement that threatens to capsize his trial—not to mention the most dangerous force of all: the unexpected.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/14/2013
Despite the author’s credentials—Ponsor is a sitting federal judge who in 2000 presided over Massachusetts’s first capital case in more than 50 years—his attempt to draw on his professional experience for a legal thriller falls flat. Judge David Norcross, who has the requisite tragic personal backstory (a dead wife), is assigned the case of twice-convicted drug dealer Clarence Hudson, who gunned down another drug dealer and a nurse caught in the cross fire in a rundown Holyoke, Mass., neighborhood. A political decision to charge Hudson federally exposes him to the death penalty. That the case is problematic early on undercuts some of the tension from the trial scenes, while a gratuitous act of violence near the end undermines what hitherto has been a realistic portrayal of a judge’s life. Unconvincing interludes with a potential romantic partner don’t help (“An enormous moment was rolling toward him, and it was hoisting David’s innards like a swelling wave”). Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

“There are plenty of surprises to keep readers turning pages. Ponsor gives readers a unique look into the workings of a courtroom. But more than that, he demonstrates a feel for how ordinary families are affected by the legal system. Ponsor’s debut would make a great movie.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A masterful work that took me inside the courtroom, behind the bench, and into the hearts and minds of a cast of unforgettable characters. . . . Thrilling, perfectly paced, beautifully written, witty, so very smart and so satisfying.” —Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me

“That rare gem: a crackling court procedural with authentic characters and beautiful prose.” —Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot’s Wife

“A marvelous entertainment, a page-turning mystery full of romance and humor, which takes us inside the fraught and rather secretive world of a judge’s chambers. In the best way—that is, indirectly—Ponsor informs us about the facts that ought to inform debate on the death penalty. What impressed me most of all was the book’s authority; it has the heft of authenticity.” —Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains

“Novels have shown us what it’s like to be a juror, an attorney, even the defendant, but this is the first I’ve read that puts us up on the bench—a knowing, nuanced portrait of a judge and the often imperfect system he watches over.” —Joseph Kanon, author of Istanbul Passage

“A compelling tale, with a cast of vividly drawn characters and a plot that twists and turns—it entertains, as a good novel should, but even better, it also informs, as only the best ones do.” —Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action

“A debut that reads like the work of an accomplished master. A suspenseful page-turner written from the unique perspective not of a lawyer or defendant, but of the judge. I’ve never before read a book—either fiction or non-fiction—that conveys the dilemma of the death penalty with such a combination of sophistication and humanity.” —Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision

“Written with precision and heartfelt passion for the law, this riveting courtroom thriller brings the legal system to life. Filled with memorable characters, infused with a deep understanding of the death penalty and the complex interchange between crime, the police and the justice system, The Hanging Judge is an electric story, well told.” —John Katzenbach, author of Hart’s War

“Both an ode to the law in all its glory and a reflection on its sometimes tragic limitations, Michael Ponsor’s The Hanging Judge will appeal to courtroom insiders as well as readers more generally drawn to a taut story well told. Set in western Massachusetts, at the center of the action is a series of trials, historic, present-day, and of the heart. The verdict: this debut author—a federal judge in his other life—is guilty of a tour de force and, we can only hope, the start of a rich new career.” —Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle 

“Ponsor is a talent to watch. . . . The Hanging Judge is that rarity: a story that grips the reader even as it teaches some fine points of criminal procedure.” —The Washington Post

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-17
A legal thriller written by, and from the viewpoint of, a federal judge. A drive-by shooting in the central Massachusetts city of Holyoke kills two people, including a Puerto Rican man and a middle-class white woman. The state has no death penalty, but the case is moved to federal court, where a death sentence is possible. A black man, Moon Hudson, stands accused of capital murder and drug dealing. Innocent or guilty, Hudson is no angel, and some in his neighborhood want him to get the lethal injection that the prosecutor is looking for. The Honorable David Norcross must preside over the trial in which a pair of smart, determined attorneys face off against each other. Can Norcross ensure a fair trial and prevent a circus? Woven into the tale is the true story of two Massachusetts men hanged in 1806 on the basis of spurious testimony. As Irish Catholics, the accused didn't stand a chance--they truly faced a hanging judge. But Judge Norcross is nothing like that, being portrayed as a thoroughly professional judge and a likable widower whose idea of profanity is saying "Criminey!" He falls in love with a woman, providing a subplot that threatens to ruin the trial but otherwise highlights the judge's humanity. Meanwhile, there are plenty of surprises to keep readers turning pages. Ponsor gives readers a unique look into the workings of a courtroom. But more than that, he demonstrates a feel for how ordinary families are affected by the legal system. Ponsor's debut would make a great movie.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480441941
  • Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 142,950
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Ponsor graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him a life-tenured US district judge. From 2000 to 2001, he presided over a five-month death penalty trial, the first in Massachusetts in over fifty years. Judge Ponsor continues to serve as a senior US district judge in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Western Division. The Hanging Judge is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

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1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 8, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Fabulous Legal Thriller with Great Characters I could not wait

    Fabulous Legal Thriller with Great Characters

    I could not wait to read Michael Ponsor's book The Hanging Judge. The first draw for me was my absolute love for legal thrillers, but the second was the locale. I lived half of my life in New England and any book that will take me back their with any authenticity makes me very happy.

    The Hanging Judge brings the reader inside the the courtroom of a death penalty case. It does so in a way that is absolutely flooring. Not only does the reader get to see the case from the side of the judge, the lawyers, and the person being tried, but the police, investigators and victims' families and more are all included. You might think this would be overwhelming, but Ponsor handles it remarkably. Each character is not a shadow but brought completely to life. They have back story and motives that are unique to themselves. The star is the story though each character is living as if they are the center. Michael Ponsor proved that he has a very intricate knowledge of the legal system as well as the human condition. That strength shines through in this novel.

    I was floored at how my mind switched gears as I read and grasped the intricate cuts of this mystery thriller. The Hanging Judge had me scratching my head and stretching my mind's muscles as I tried to come up with the conclusion. This excited me all the more. There was no easy out for this story. Well done. I highly recommend it, and certainly do look forward to Michael Ponsor's next work. I hope it comes soon.

    This eBook was provided to me for free through the publishers via NetGalley. This had no impact on my opinion. My opinion is all my own.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2013

    The details about the court preceding is unprecedented, you norm

    The details about the court preceding is unprecedented, you normally see the defendant and the prosecution going head to head, you do not hear how the judge brings in information to protect the equality of the case, how he leans on the court to make it impartial, looking at the defense and making sure its fair. The aspect of looking at the court room from the other end of the bench makes all trials something to look into not just from the ruling but how it takes place, who speaks, to how the jury is addressed from swearing in, to opening statements through the final decision of the jury in a capital offence death sentence trial... this is a great book to open a discussion on our judicial system, and to show how there is more to play in the court system then i ever thought about...

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    This is what I would describe as an intelligent crime/legal nove

    This is what I would describe as an intelligent crime/legal novel, which makes good sense as the author is a long time senior U.S. district judge in the United States District Court of Massachusetts, Western Division. Ponsor manages the delicate task of balancing all the myriad sides of a major criminal trial from the commission of the crime, through the investigation and the trial. Along the way there are glimpses of the personal lives of all involved.

    At first I questioned the level of some of these personal details. Why did we need that level of information? But then there were reasons shown and I came to see that Ponsor definitely had methods to the many parts of his story of a death penalty case.

    Among the things I take away from this novel is how much we don't know about our fellow man/woman and all the stresses they live under...and how that may affect others.

    A very strong 4 to 4.5. I look forward to Judge Ponsor's next book.


    An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley for the purpose of review.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2013

    Lives are intertwined by a violent act ¿ how would a drive-by af

    Lives are intertwined by a violent act – how would a drive-by affect your life? As a person who is far outside the circles of gang violence I cannot even begin to fathom how my life would change after such an event.  What about being the man or woman on the bench? How would your life be altered permanently if you are being told your newest case will be the first capital punishment case in over a century?  Net yet have I had the privilege of reading a book, fiction or non-fiction, written by a judge/former judge.  So this was very much a pleasure because as a reader we get the chance to watch the story unfold from the perspective of the bench.  Many crime/mystery/court room drama stories are told from the point of view of the lawyers, criminal, or even the victim, leaving the man or woman overseeing the courtroom proceedings in the background; this time, however, the author pulled from their own personal experiences as a federal judge to delve us into this world and the crime that has been committed.
    The life of the honorable David Norcross, newly appointed Federal Judge for Massachusetts will forever be altered by the present case in front of him; the State of Massachusetts vs. Clarence “Moon” Hudson; not just his personal life, but his professional life has a chance at being altered as well.  First his personal life; as a widower of five years he’s finally starting to date again, and this case threatens to dampen his newly budding relationship with one Dr. Claire Lindemann, associate professor at UMASS.  How he handles the implications surrounding the possible death penalty phase of this case will forever change his view on the judicial system.  The question of right and wrong as it applies to the death penalty are raised several times throughout the novel as our Honorable Judge waffles back and forth, can he in essence sentence a man claiming innocence to death?  The answer to this is solely on the shoulders of the respective attorney’s working the case and the members of the public chosen to sit on the jury.  There is an underlying theme of this novel and that is one of a fair trial – throughout the book the reader is told the story of two innocent men, of Irish Catholic Descent, being unfairly tried, convicted, and executed for a crime they were later found innocent of committing.  This case from over a century prior weighs heavily on David’s mind as he lays comparison to the case presently in front of him and this one from an age seemingly long ago.  Judge Norcross is being told by the Federal Courts that Clarence needs to be executed, and used as an example of how the state punishes those who participate in racketeering and murder on behalf of street gangs.
    As a reader I found this novel, the pace, and character development done extremely well, the way the lives of the characters are intertwined perfectly and the way the author weaves their back stories into the present.  The author does this in such a way that the reader feels for each person individually and how their personal plight and perspective unfolds.  This is one I will wholeheartedly recommend to any crime/courtroom drama lover!

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2013

    I received this book via NetGalley to give an honest review. I l

    I received this book via NetGalley to give an honest review.
    I love a good crime novel and this one had me really on the edge of my toes with reading it. And the fact that it was written by a judge now that is pretty cool. You follow Judge Norcross and his first ever death penalty case which is not an easy case. Now I am given this book 4.5 star rating instead of a normal 5 like I was hoping for. There were some questions I had and answers I would have liked to seen answered but I will get to that in a bit. 
    It was nice to actually get to be inside a court room and see how the judge is picked a bit and get a feel of it all. And you get a bit of inside to the so called crooked cops. Now this book seemed to focus a bit on Norcross's love life and the case it is like you went back and forth between the two and it wasn't confusing but it did make you kind of wonder exactly what did one have to really do with the other. When Ginger who is a by-stander gets killed by a stray bullet who is meant for a rival gang member name Peach well the people want justice for her. Especially the US Attorney. 

    What I wish there was more of was more investigation  into Moon by his lawyer. It just didn't seem as though is lawyer wanted to investigate anything. But his lawyer did seem good to know what was best for him. It was really nice how this author knows how the legal system works and just doesn't "guess". When Ginger's son speaks it just broke my heart as you could really feel how he was feeling and it was just out of hate it was from his heart. 
    If you are looking for a really good crime novel that is well-written, the story will draw you in. Then pick up your copy, I know I will be looking forward to more from this author. 

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    The death penalty is complex and emotional issue that is handled

    The death penalty is complex and emotional issue that is handled with depth and sensitivity in this writer's debut legal drama. It engages the reader quickly and moves along at a fast pace, with unexpected twists and turns... trust me, you will not anticipate how the story ends. I like that. The characters are interesting and well developed... there are no good guys and no bad guys, just real guys. I like that very much. I have not come across many courtroom dramas with the judge as the proponent, and I found this perspective very interesting. One of the things I liked best was how well the author described the legal proceedings, and in particular the judge's instructions to the jury about the intricacies and implications of the death penalty, what it means and what it does not mean. The author interlaced the main story with a parallel story line involving a true historical death penalty case. I hope there is a second book coming out soon, for this is a writer I want to read again.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014

    I would probably give it a 3.5 rating. It is very readable and a

    I would probably give it a 3.5 rating. It is very readable and as a mystery has some unexpected turns so it was suspenseful.

    This is really an anti-death penalty book which is not surprising since Massachusetts does not have capital punishment and is a very progressive state. The concern of the book is whether people who are "different" from the majority of the population in given area can receive a fair trial.

    Like many books written by lawyers, the focus of the book is on the lawyers and the legal process. It explores some advantages that the prosecution has in that it can offer people reduced sentences in exchange for testifying for them.

    As a novel and a piece of fiction the novel as too anti-death penalty. This anti-death penalty bias did not make the book hard to read or unenjoyable. However, really top fiction is able to represent multiple points of view and areas of grey. The drama of the book would be increased if we had a few more sympathetic people who are for the death penalty. Also really top fiction presents us with a realty that may depart from the author's intentions


    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

    If you like court room dramas

    This from the bench is interesting twist it is not a genre i like to read whether from the attorney bench jury prisoner or viewers but is a good solid read. nook might consider a court room collection as they have cozy/books/food mysteries

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I read quite a bit of nonfiction on death penalty cases, and I w

    I read quite a bit of nonfiction on death penalty cases, and I was looking forward to a fictional take from an author who is also a judge. Unfortunately, this book was a major disappointment for me.

    First, I want to say Michael Ponsor does an exceptional job of showing the problems within our court system. If you're unfamiliar with the intricate web we call justice, which is often more about procedure and politics than innocence and guilt, then this will be an eye-opening read. 

    One problem I had came with characterization. We have at least a half-dozen viewpoint characters, but none of them stand out as original or interesting people. Judge David Norcross, who is supposed to be the main character, is just one in an ever-revolving line. He doesn't feel like a lead character, especially through the first third or so of the book. Most of the characters feel forced and predictable, though I did love the defense attorney. 

    Where the book really falls apart for me is in the storytelling. Ponsor meanders through, giving us loads of extraneous information. Very little of relevance happens in the first half of the book. If you're looking for a courtroom drama, that aspect doesn't even begin until the second half. The first half can't really be called a crime story, as the interactions are more about personal drama than the crime itself. Large sections are dedicated to characters who are secondary at best. While I appreciate that Ponsor is trying to show us the lives of all the people involved, this winds up pulling us away from the important characters and our emotional connection suffers. In many ways, we are told rather than shown and I couldn't fall into the story.

    This book is divided into four parts. At the end of each section, we find a short chapter about a real death penalty case that took place in the early 1800s. Ponsor attempts to tie that real case into his fictional characters' current world and it just doesn't work. The historical sections don't blend into the story, but stand isolated. I do think there is a compelling story in that old case, though perhaps it should be written on its own either as historical fiction or true crime. 

    In the end, I struggled to get through this weighty book. Michael Ponsor's attempt is admirable but, for me, is in need of a major edit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2014

    The contest

    I will be on soon those who want to be a judge go to res two those who want to help stay here

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  • Posted June 18, 2014

    Good book, but bad language throughout

    This was a very good book for a first novel. The plot and character development were good. It gave insight into the life of a judge. The mystery kept one wondering until close to the end. The reason I only gave it 3 stars was the bad language. It is too bad so many contemporary authors think bad language is necessary for whatever reason. A really good author can get the point across without using "f", etc. words and taking the Lord's name in vain. I won't read anymore from this author if he continues this practice.

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  • Posted May 23, 2014

    Great summer reading!!

    Great story, fast reader. Shows both sides of the death penalty controversy.

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  • Posted May 9, 2014

    definitely not a waste of my time

    I chose to purchase this book after reading some of the online reviews. I had just finished a long, difficult read of a plodding classic masterpiece for a book club, and was interested in a distinct change of pace to "cleanse the pallet", so to speak. I also didn't want to waste my time with some shallow "pop" courtroom drama. This book was the perfect solution for me. I must admit that the fact that the author was a judge made the book more substantial and credible to my thinking. The plot includes a fascinating description of the many considerations involved in a trial with a possible death penalty. I found this book to be intersting, engaging, believable, thought provoking, and, well . . . for lack of a better term, just plain fun to read. I will recommend it for our book club agenda next year.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Great Legal Drama. Loved Michael Ponsors' first novel and am l

    Great Legal Drama.
    Loved Michael Ponsors' first novel and am looking forward to more! I'm not a fan of dual story lines, but this is one that was very well done! He gives lots of detail about all the characters, but it's not over done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2014

    bravo

    Excellent!!! Please write another.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    Not much on legal

    Found myself wanting to skip pages and then whole chapters... Hate books that are not page turners.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 1, 2014

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    Posted May 9, 2014

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    Posted June 17, 2014

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    Posted April 20, 2014

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