Detective Samantha Tate is back on the case in author Nikki Stern’s JUDGE NOT, the fourth installment in the Sam Tate Mystery series which finds Sam tracking a serial killer who is hunting law-enforcement officers. More specifically, the Judge is hunting cops who once captured serial killers, murdering them by the same methods the captured killers used. For example, the two detectives who captured the Headhunter killer were found beheaded, and a cop who caught a hit-and-run killer was himself a victim of vehicular homicide. Even though she’s a detective from tiny Talbot County, Maryland, Sam has a high-profile reputation as a “serial killer hunter,” which makes her a prime target for the Judge. Indeed, he reaches out to Sam personally as the death list grows and the kills get closer to home. A good portion of JUDGE NOT is devoted to unraveling the motives and mental processes of killers, and how the Judge holds poor police work responsible for serial murders. Of course law enforcement isn’t alone in sensationalizing the capture of serial killers (perhaps the villain in the next Sam Tate mystery will target true crime writers).
Stern’s storytelling combines Ellory Queen-style detective work, Michael Connelly and James Patterson’s sense of adventure and the author’s own great ear for dialogue. Her chapters are short and dialogue-driven, which keeps the pace of the novel flowing smoothly. More importantly, Stern understands the mixed-up mind of Sam Tate, who faces crises both personal and professional. Sam’s crimefighting skills, outlined in the first three Sam Tate thrillers, have earned her celebrity status in law enforcement circles. She uses this to her advantage, allowing her to breach protocol and gain access to an elusive—and deadly—sheriff. Sam’s outlaw antics not only make her a target for the Judge and jealous colleagues, but also strain her romantic relationship with FBI agent Terry Sloan, the focus of a sizzling subplot that blows up by the novel’s close.
JUDGE NOT ticks many of the boxes crime fiction fans enjoy—gun talk, clever clues, misdirection, and ultimate justice. But it’s the author’s understanding of her central protagonist that makes this entry to the series so memorable. Sam Tate is a force to be reckoned with, and her journey is far from over. Stern deftly builds tension and delivers a thrilling climax, but it’s really the final chapters that prove the most powerful, poignant, and philosophical.
Nikki Stern’s style is fast and focused in her compelling thriller JUDGE NOT, the fourth installment in her series featuring a memorable female detective.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader