Race to Judgment
Select Books, 2017
Frederic Block’s legal thriller Race to Judgment is the kind of work which can suck you into a whole new genre of literature. What stands out most with Block’s novel is just how balanced and, yet, energized it is. Block’s Ken Williams is a character who can stand next to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins as an ingenious, hard-nosed, but ultimately kind hero.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Block knows how to depict the kind of high drama in a courtroom. After all, he has served as a New York US District judge since 1994. During his time on the bench, Judge Block has seen high profile cases and a cast of real life characters–bullies, charlatans, financial thugs, and wannabe mobsters–pass before him. Coupling this with his always keen eye taking in the other big cases around him, Block has dynamically crafted what he terms ‘reality fiction.’ The story is first order quality thriller writing.
Again, for a debut novel, Race to Judgment is impressive. Block is able to give readers a well-balanced story. Although there are many long scenes set in a courtroom, there’s never a moment where they feel long-winded or esoteric. At every moment, Block writes a story that keeps itself in perpetual motion taking the reader along through face-paced prose to an exciting conclusion. I would hope that Block seriously considers bringing Ken Williams back in a future novel, the character is just too talented of an advocate and too sincere to exist just in one story. Readers deserve more of him.
This story weaves the exoneration of a man 16 years in jail framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the defense of a wrongly accused young black man years later by the same corrupt criminal justice system, and the legal as well as cultural defense of a Hasidic woman’s sexual abuse. Few things are more New York City, more Brooklyn than the story Block gives us. Add to this mix Block including the music to eight songs he credits to his character Williams, who relaxes as a jazz pianist and country songwriter, and we are given one of the richest novels one could find.
Ken Williams, based on real life African-American lawyer Ken Thompson, isn’t a man struggling against demons or motivated by some need to atone for a passed guilt like so many other protagonists in the the genre. Rather, Williams is a man who realizes his own talent and skill, how he must stand for those who can’t stand up for themselves. This protagonist is one of those rare heroes uninterested in personal gain. Instead, he is motivated by a deep driving need to do what is right, not just legally but morally. This puts him in opposition to a criminal justice system too often blind to its own prejudices and too forgiving of its own failures due to bias. There is something vital and urgent to Ken Williams, especially given our current cultural moment as the criminal justice system is being pressed to reform itself by movements like Black Lives Matter. He is a champion we need not just in fiction but in real life.
Race to Judgment is an exceptional legal thriller, the kind of crime fiction that elevates the genre while being vastly entertaining.
Judge Frederic Block was appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York on September 29, 1994, and entered duty on October 31, 1994. He assumed senior status on September 1, 2005. He received a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University in 1956, and an LL.B. Degree from Cornell Law School in 1959. During his twenty-three years on the bench, Judge Block has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the trials of former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, Peter Gotti, Lemrick Nelson and nightclub magnate Peter Gatien. He regularly sits by designation on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Block recently authored the best-selling book entitled DISROBED: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge. He also co-authored the 1985 off-Broadway musical Professionally Speaking (music and lyrics). He has likewise published articles on a variety of legal topics.