Punishment is a pleasure in debut legal thriller

Punishment, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 248 pages. $18.95 trade paper; $4.61 Kindle e-book.

Retired judge Linda Rocker has set her first novel in West Palm Beach, taking us into the courthouse in significant architectural detail. Hallways, stairways, parking areas, judges’ chambers, courtrooms, and other related locations are handled with authority. So are the workings of the courthouse: trial procedure from jury selection on through the interaction between judges and other court personnel, bailiffs in particular. In fact, the primary character among many important ones is Casey Portman, bailiff to Judge Janet Kanterman. Punishment_BookCover

One plot concern has to do with an explosion in the courthouse that, while doing little damage, stirs things up and puts everyone on edge. The threat of a follow-up to this assault on the system lingers in the background. Who is behind it? What is the motive?

The main plot is the sensational trial of a man charged with using his trained attack dog as a deadly weapon in the murder of his wife. As Casey and Judge Kanterman prepare for and move into the proceedings, readers learn that the deceased women’s father is attending all phases of the trial. Doubtful that justice will prevail, he is prepared to take justice into his own hands. Thus, another plot thread is developed that takes us into the mind and actions of this tragically suffering man who is obsessed with vengeance.

When Judge Kanterman becomes too ill to preside over this trial, her colleague Judge Barbara Clarke receives the assignment. There are hints that someone may have poisoned the liberal Kanterman to get her off the bench for this trial. Clarke’s busy schedule will become even more hectic.

Things are already difficult in Judge Clarke’s office. Ben, her bailiff has been acting quite strangely, and his friend Casey is aware of it too. Shockingly, Ben is murdered. Is this courthouse doomed to violence? Casey, up to speed on the “Dogicide” case, takes Ben’s place working with Judge Clarke.

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Things are not well in Clarke’s home life, either. Her scoundrel of a husband, Ellison Watson, is not only cheating on her but is mixed up in illegal drug activities. These involve not only a shadowy figure named Jack McGinty, but also the murdered bailiff.

To add to the complications, a relative of McGinty’s makes it onto the jury. This young woman somehow gets away with texting the proceedings to Jack. Why does he need to know the details of this trial?

The final plot line is the romantic one: Casey slides into an affair with police chief Luke Anderson. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 21, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the March 14 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition click here: Florida Weekly – Linda Rocker

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