The Bottom Line: The hunters become the prey in this must-read for fans of serial killer fiction.
The fourth entry in Nikki Stern’s Sam Tate Mystery Series picks up as Pat McCready, a young detective working under Sam, spots potential similarities in the murder of two law enforcement officers in separate states. Sam advises Pat to focus on cases within their jurisdiction when he’s on the clock. But privately, the insight sparks a curiosity within Sam that she won’t be able to let go.
Before long, it’s clear that a series of homicides across Montana, California, Georgia, Illinois and potentially elsewhere may be connected. The victims were law enforcement professionals who played a part in apprehending serial killers. The hunters have now become the prey (check out the chilling quote from the Book of Matthew before Chapter 1), and it’s reasonable to assume that Sam – who recently apprehended the Dry Ice Killer – might also be on the target list.
Fresh off the success of the wildly entertaining Freeze Before Burning, author Nikki Stern delivers far more than just an intoxicating crime thriller. It’s also a platform for professional and personal character development. The novel finds Sam at a crossroads. Having risen to the lofty position of Criminal Commander for the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland, her growing reputation has earned her a spot on a multi-state task force run by the FBI (one FBI senior analyst calls her a “killer-catching superhero”). And yet she’s unfulfilled. Her achievements haven’t brought a rise in pay, and as a “classic introvert,” she hasn’t focused on a clear career path. While Sam is quickly becoming a mentor to McCready and others, she herself still seeks mentorship.
Judge Not is the book where Sam brings serious gravitas to her role. Former partner and lover FBI Assistant Director Terry Sloan may be perfectly competent, but it’s clearer than ever that Sam is actually the most capable person in the room. But to reap the rewards of her talent, she’ll have to survive – and defeat – The Judge.
Elsewhere, Stern rounds out Sam’s personal life nicely, complete with significant romantic developments. Overall, Sam’s personal and professional lives mix gloriously. Case in point: Sam takes adorable dog Jax for a walk to clear her head, and as if in a state of meditation, has a mind-bending eureka moment that proves critical to solving the case. Seemingly simple scenes like these deliver surprisingly high emotional punch, setting Stern’s fiction apart from the pack.