What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Are you mad at Judge Parker too? October – December 2022

No, I’m not mad at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Not yet, anyway. The story has been a big conspiracy-tinged murder mystery. I have no doubts about Marciuliano’s ability to create a big, confusing, messy scenario. He’s done it many times, often in interesting ways. But I agree he has a habit of jumping the action ahead a couple months, so we don’t see the exact resolution of the chaos. It’s an effective way to change what the default condition of things is, but it can leave mysteries under-written or under-motivated.

I can be okay with a mystery that isn’t perfectly explained. Heck, I love your classic old-time-radio mystery. Those are all attitude and action and fun dialogue. The story logic is a charming hypothesis. I understand readers who have a different view and understand if they have no faith in where this is going. We readers still don’t know Deputy Mayor Stewart’s reason for framing Abbey Spencer for her bed-and-breakfast’s fire. Whether you can accept that Marciuliano had one for Stewart, I imagine, tells whether you think this mystery has an answer.

So this should catch you up to mid-December 2022 in Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about March 2023, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap here. That might help you more.

Before getting to the recap, a content warning. The story started with murder, and several murders or attempted murders are centers to the action. If you do not need that in your goofy fun recreational reading, go and enjoy yourself instead. We can meet back soon for the Alley Oop plot recap or whatever I get up to next week. I’ll put the recap behind a cut so people can more easily bail on it.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 17 December 2022.

Sam Driver’s old partner Steve Shannon had a mystery for him. Someone murdered almost all the family of Judge Duncan, and framed his son for it. It’s the first time since Marciuliano took over that the main cast had a mystery they could just walk away from. But Sam needs to do something besides be divorced from Abbey Spencer, if that’s gone through. And when Shannon gets shot up while on the phone with Sam, pulp fiction law requires he investigate.

Gloria, Steve Shannon’s wife(?), also insists on investigating. Insisting on not investigating: Abbey Spencer, who as a friend of Steve’s or Gloria’s or both. Sam asks, reasonably, how his danger is her business since she broke up with him. She answers, also reasonably, that he’s got a family, and it’s not like she doesn’t wish she could get back together.

Sam: 'What do you mean, 'be here' for me? You broke up with me.' Abbey: 'You don't think somewhere behind all the solid reasons to leave you there still isn't some flicker of a wish we'd get back together? But you keep acting like death won't find you, Sam. Death seeks out every one of us. Not because we're so special, but because we're all equal in the end.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 18th of October, 2022. So this wsan’t the best possible campaign speech for Abbey Spencer, but she did get a lot of write-in votes in Funky Winkerbean Township. Also this is a thing I do like in Marciuliano’s writing, that characters are reflective enough to realize when their feelings are paradoxical.

Since there’s nothing to do but wait for Steve to emerge from intensive care, Gloria badgers Judge Duncan into talking with them at his lake home. They set out early the next morning, a day we can infer was the 9th of November. She plans to let Sam ask questions while she snoops around. At Duncan’s lake house they find a strange absence. Gloria wants to break in; Sam says no, they can’t. They can look around to see if something looks amiss and, ah, there’s an open door. They do go in, which Sam admits is breaking. Here I have to stand on what I learned about the law working on a student newspaper thirty years ago. That is that they were not breaking, since the building was open. They are merely entering. I’d imagine not illegally, since they were expecting to meet a person they expected to be there.

They can’t find Judge Duncan. They do find guard dogs, kept hidden in the bedrooms or something, which Sam realizes is a thing you do to catch an intruder. The dogs run to the window, though, on alert. There’s intruders, people who shoot up Gloria’s car and then shoot a lot into the house. They don’t hit much, but you don’t need to aim if you have enough rounds. The intruders call out Sam and Gloria by name, starting to say something about how this was never their fight … and then they’re shot dead too. By the time Sam and Gloria emerge everyone else is dead or fled.

Sam, in the shot-up car: 'OK, let's review --- Judge Duncan invites us to his lake house for a talk but flees before we can get there.' Gloria, driving: 'He leaves two guard dogs alone -- at a vacation home --- but keeps them hidden as if he wanted to surprise someone.' Sam: 'Cops -- or gang members or both --- show up way quicker than any silent alarm would have tipped them off to our presence.' Gloria: 'Someone calls us out by ame --- they know it's us --- and then everyone kills everyone else.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of December, 2022. Again, I don’t believe cartoonists write these recap strips to undercut my plot recaps. But sometimes I am forced to ask how much I believe that.

Sam figures they need to get out before anyone else, including possibly corrupt cops, shows up. Their car is riddled with bullet holes but somehow still drivable, and they go to Sam’s friend Terry who has a garage and a last name I imagine. Terry, indebted for some past adventure I don’t know, is willing to hide the shot-up car and spills. Also to provide some exposition. The C18 gang — Cavelton 2018 — is “behind every bad headline in this town that isn’t about politics … heroin, fentanyl, etc”. And that the gang won’t think twice about killing him and everyone he cares about. Sam asks, like they went after Judge Duncan? And no: Terry says that Duncan’t their best customer and everyone knows it.

Meanwhile, Steve is out of intensive care. Gloria admits to him where they went and he says Judge Duncan was never going to be there. He was shot up when he went to meet Duncan, and Steve says Duncan “has a habit of purposefully putting people in harm’s way”.

Steve, explaining from his hospital bed: 'The shooter was almost purposefully bad, but fire enough bullets and you're bound to hit something. Maybe Judge Duncan thought I'd be okay and then tell the police someone was gunning for *him* ... or maybe he needed to scare me off the case. Or maybe he thought the shooter would inadvertently finish the job.' Gloria: 'But Judge Duncan hired *you* to help *him*!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of December, 2022. Again with the very efficient plot recaps. And yes, I don’t see a way to square all these elements of the mystery, but am willing to grant there may be one. (I am particularly willing to grant that the shooters over-estimate their competence.)

Sam, now better aware of how dangerous, if inexplicable, this all is, goes to Abbey. To warn her, in part. Also to answer six thousand increasingly hurt texts. Abbey had run for Mayor of Cavelton. While Sam and Gloria were at Duncan’s house she was feeling lousy about her loss and wondering why Sam didn’t even send a text of condolence. And so Abbey visited the hospital and warned Sam about the foolishness of taking this case on Election Day. The sense I get is this wasn’t the thing that kept her from winning the election, but who knows how she’ll come to see it?

Next Week!

It’s time for me to check in on those lovable time-travelling scamps in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop … unless something changes the timeline by next Tuesday. What will happen? We’ll just see.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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