• Entering the perennial debate about whether former prosecutors or defense counsel are biased as judges, Zagel’s fictional jurist comments:

Defense lawyers who become judges often achieve fame as great friends of the prosecution. One of them sits on my court and has told me, “You were a prosecutor, so you might have entertained some doubt about the guilt of the defendant. As a defense lawyer, I had no doubt at all. You may have wondered whether he was a really bad guy. I usually knew he was worse than you could imagine.” Prosecutors who become judges sometimes become the bane of their breed; the judge recalls his own days as a giant in the courtroom and resents the pygmy that now stands in his former place. If the prosecutor does not toe the judge’s line, the judge may start ruling against the prosecutor just to show him who is the boss. A judge who is angry enough can kill a prosecutor’s case by ignoring the law.

A verdict on Money to Burn is easy to reach: With an improbable plot made sort of probable, aided and abetted by a comfortable prose style and by a gang of insights culled from real-life experience, Judge Zagel’s novel is a guilty pleasure.

Steve Weinberg is a free-lance journalist in Columbia, Mo. He is completing a multiyear study of local prosecutors’ offices across the nation.