‘Judge-Sicle’ Murder Mystery Thrills to the End

By Vic Fleming

How could I not read the latest David Rosenfelt novel, “Airtight?” How could I not?! The author’s very publicist himself sent me an advance reading copy, asking that I do so. That, plus the book starts out with the murder of a judge, and I obviously want that case cracked, right?

The ship of this New Jersey Superior Court Judge, Daniel Brennan, had come in. Danny, a former All-American college basketball player whose promising career in the NBA was cut short by the same knee injury that cut my own basketball career short, had been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals. He was to fill a vacancy to be created by the impending resignation of his predecessor, a woman who needed to care for her ailing husband. (OK, it could happen that way in New Jersey, I suppose.)

But before he can switch benches, while his nomination is pending before the Senate, Judge Brennan gets himself stabbed to death while eating his favorite snack, a Fudgsicle. Thus, the tabloids tabbed it the “judge-sicle” case.

The main suspect, druggie Steven Gallagher, was recently convicted in front of His Honor and out on bail, awaiting sentencing. An anonymous hotline tip leads our protagonist, N.J. State Police Detective Lucas Somers, to a Patterson, N.J., apartment, where Somers shoots Gallagher to death while storming into the residence without a warrant.

Fast-forward, but only a little. I don’t want to give it all away.

Steven’s brother, Chris, is a mysterious, black-operations military guy who knows his brother was no murderer. Therefore, he reasoned, Steve shouldn’t have been shot by a cop barging into his home. Wanting justice and revenge, he comes to town bent on having his way.

Luke Somers’ brother, Bryan, an investment banker, is married to a state prosecutor, with whom Luke may be in love. Chris kidnaps Bryan, locking him in an underground residence. Though chained to a radiator, he has leeway enough to enjoy food, TV, and email access on a computer with a limited battery (no charger). Oh, and did I mention he has only a one-week supply of air?

From the foregoing bargaining position, Chris demands that Luke find the real killer of Judge Brennan and then apologize for killing Steven. If he does so, Bryan won’t have to die.

What follows are 275 more pages of chaotic intrigue, involving politics, environmental law, judicial ethics, electronics, explosives and who knows what I’m forgetting to mention? Oh, yeah, and even though there’s no Andy Carpenter in this book, Rosenfelt’s fifth standalone (to go with 10 Andys), there is nonetheless the one-liner or two per page to keep things lighter than expected in a legal thriller.

As has been my experience with Rosenfelt’s other books, once I dug in, I couldn’t put it down till I was done. The ending wasn’t what I wanted, but then they never are. There’s a reason he’s the novelist and I’m not.

David Rosenfelt’s “Airtight” should be in bookstores in mid-February with a price that’s competitive with the other stuff coming out these days. And it’s worth the cost of admission – if you’re already a fan.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.