By Kaye Bailey
Publisher/Year: Pan Macmillan Australia/2023
Family law judge Kaye Bailey is found murdered in her chambers. Is this the work of a disgruntled complainant? Or an inside job by a jealous colleague? Or is there something even more insidious at the heart of this brutal act?
Detective Jillian Basset is just back from maternity leave, struggling with new motherhood as she tackles the biggest case of her career. As her work and home lives get messier and messier, though, something’s going to give.
Exploring the murky underworld of the justice system and setting a cracking pace, Judgement Day is a gripping thriller from a fresh and compelling new Australian voice.
Reviewer: Ruth Wykes
Judgement Day opens with Kaye Bailey, a Family Law Court judge who will discover that evening she is about to become the next Chief Judge. As this ordinary afternoon unfolds, we follow Kaye and get to know a woman who is principled, strong and compassionate and who has successfully found her niche in the Boys Club world of Melbourne lawyers. Kaye is murdered that night in her offices, and I love how we already care about her. The author, Mali Waugh, made Kaye a strong character who shadows us through the whole story.
In Chapter 2, we meet Detective Jill Bassett, the investigator who has recently returned to work from parental leave. It is obvious early on that work is Jill’s refuge, almost an excuse to avoid going home. Jill Bassett is suffering from postpartum depression, avoids treatment and is tortured by doubt about her ability to parent her son. Jill’s husband has become a stay-at-home dad to fill the void and to care for their 8-month-old baby.
For the most part, this is a police procedural, peppered with the author’s experience as a lawyer. The subplots are gritty and even minor characters have a depth that Waugh slowly draws out. The red herrings are intriguing, and the twist is a big surprise.
I love the characters. I especially love the tension and the depth of the relationship between Jill and John McClintock. John is partnered with Jill and, at first, she is resentful. On the surface he seems shallow, a man who plays the game and is being fast tracked for promotion. Yet, as the story unfolds, so do the vulnerabilities that he has locked away inside himself.
This is a beautifully paced page turner. Waugh is a lawyer, and it shows in the depths in which she depicts the competitive and backslapping world of lawyers: jealousies, competitiveness, the secrets they keep, and the way they are sometimes motivated to flexibly bend the law.
The author showed courage in depicting a woman with postpartum depression in such a raw manner. At times it’s uncomfortable, and invites judgement from the reader but the topic is slowly built into the story in a way that brings us understanding and compassion for Jill.
I was really surprised that even though Kaye is murdered at the beginning of the story, she remains a central character right to the end. I really wanted justice for her.
I was surprised that this is Waugh’s debut. It is beautifully written and held me captive until the final page. I highly recommend this book; it’s exciting to have another outstanding new voice amongst Australian women crime writers.