Michael Ponsor

Michael Ponsor is a senior judge on the US District Court of Massachusetts. He was appointed to the position in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton. A graduate of Harvard, Judge Ponsor was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and took his law degree at Yale.


"A legal thriller written by, and from the viewpoint of, a federal judge. A drive-by shooting in the central Massachusetts city of Holyoke kills two people, including a Puerto Rican man and a middle-class white woman. The state has no death penalty, but the case is moved to federal court, where a death sentence is possible. A black man, Moon Hudson, stands accused of capital murder and drug dealing. Innocent or guilty, Hudson is no angel, and some in his neighborhood want him to get the lethal injection that the prosecutor is looking for. The Honorable David Norcross must preside over the trial in which a pair of smart, determined attorneys face off against each other. Can Norcross ensure a fair trial and prevent a circus? Woven into the tale is the true story of two Massachusetts men hanged in 1806 on the basis of spurious testimony. As Irish Catholics, the accused didn’t stand a chance—they truly faced a hanging judge. But Judge Norcross is nothing like that, being portrayed as a thoroughly professional judge and a likable widower whose idea of profanity is saying “Criminey!” He falls in love with a woman, providing a subplot that threatens to ruin the trial but otherwise highlights the judge’s humanity. Meanwhile, there are plenty of surprises to keep readers turning pages. Ponsor gives readers a unique look into the workings of a courtroom. But more than that, he demonstrates a feel for how ordinary families are affected by the legal system. Ponsor’s debut would make a great movie." —Kirkus, starred review


THE HANGING JUDGE will be #15 on the New York Times e-book bestseller list on May 4. It will also be #19 on the combined print & e-book bestseller list for that week.

Michael Ponsor's first novel, THE HANGING JUDGE, will be published in December 2013 by Open Road Integrated Media. Audio rights have just been sold to Recorded Books. 

Book trailer for THE HANGING JUDGE

Advance Quotes


"The protagonist of this novel is a judge, and, improbably enough, so is the author. The result is a marvelous entertainment, a page-turning mystery full of romance and humor, which takes us inside the fraught and rather secretive world of a judge's chambers. In the best way - that is, indirectly - Ponsor informs us about the facts that ought to inform debate on the death penalty. What impressed me most of all was the book's authority; it has the heft of authenticity." Tracy Kidder


"A compelling tale, with a cast of vividly drawn characters and a plot that twists and turns—it entertains, as a good novel should, but even better, it also informs, as only the best ones do." Jonathan Harr


"The Hanging Judge is a masterful work that took me inside the courtroom, behind the bench, and into the hearts and minds of a cast of unforgettable characters.  It is all these things: thrilling, perfectly paced, beautifully written, witty, so very smart and so satisfying."--Elinor Lipman 


"Michael Ponsor's The Hanging Judge sounds with the same authority as a gavel coming down hard. Written with precision and a heartfelt passion for the law, this riveting courtroom thriller  brings the legal system to life. Filled with memorable characters, infused with a a deep understanding of the death penalty, the complex interchange between crime, the police and the justice system, The Hanging Judge is an electric story, well-told. That it would be an accurate presentation of a court case is to be expected, given the author's standing as a United States District Court judge. But first time author Ponsor displays a veteran writer's eye for telling detail and intense description so that this page-turner of a novel rises above many of its significantly more pedestrian contemporaries." John Katzenbach


“A debut that reads like the work of an accomplished master.  A suspenseful page-turner written from the unique perspective not of a lawyer or defendant, but of the judge.  I've never before read a book--either fiction or non-fiction--that conveys the dilemma of the death penalty with such a combination of sophistication and humanity.” Joe McGinniss


“Both an ode to the law in all its glory and a reflection on its sometimes tragic limitations, Michael Ponsor’s “HANGING JUDGE” will appeal to courtroom insiders as well as readers more generally drawn to a taut story well told. Set in western Massachusetts, at the center of the action is a series of trials, historic, present-day, and of the heart. The verdict: this debut author –a federal judge in his other life --- is guilty of a tour de force and, we can only hope, the start of a rich new career.” Madeleine Blais


“Novels have shown us what it’s like to be a juror, an attorney, even the defendant, but this is the first I’ve read that puts us upon the bench – a knowing, nuanced portrait of a judge and the often imperfect system he watches over.”  Joseph Kanon


“Michael Ponsor has written that rare gem:  a crackling court procedural with authentic characters and beautiful prose.  I adored this book.”  Anita Shreve


The Hanging Judge

(Open Road, December 2013)