A Time to Kill takes place in Mississippi in the 1970s; a time when racism was still very evident in the southern states. Racism is the main issue in the book, and the fast-paced story revolves around a trial in which a black man, Carl Lee Hailey, has killed the two white men who raped his ten-year-old daughter. It’s a riveting read as we see a young lawyer defending Hailey in court; will he be able to save both the client’s life… and his own?
Exile manages to create the perfect blend of an exciting thriller with an intelligent political analysis of the continuous battles between Palestinians and Israelis. As well as this, it’s a courtroom drama and love story, all based around a brave and controversial subject.
District attorney Andy Barber, his wife and their 14-year-old son, Jacob, have an idyllic life in suburban Massachusetts, until one of Jacob’s friends is stabbed to death. Their son then becomes the prime suspect, but is he a sociopathic murderer? Jacob maintains his innocence, but as it plays out in court, his father finds it increasingly difficult to believe him. Andy will therefore face a trial of his own: between loyalty and justice. Defending Jacob is a character-led family drama as much as it is a courtroom thriller.
Turow’s first courtroom thriller (1989) is claimed by many to be one of the best legal fiction books ever written. Turow himself is a former US prosecutor, and his intimate knowledge of the procedures helps to draw the reader into this gritty, real drama of political corruption and murder trial. With plenty of twists and turns, the book is written in the present tense, helping the reader to identify with the protagonist, and create an air of relentless suspense.
Nineteen Minutes is set in a small town in the wake of a devastating school shooting (that lasted precisely nineteen minutes). Tackling a sensitive issue, Picoult manages to give the reader a window into all sides of the story: parents of the students, lawyers, the judge, the shooter, and so on. The reader is constantly seeking answers and, as a result, the book is hard to put down. Thought-provoking, intense and compelling, it is a story that leaves a huge impact.
Anatomy of a Murder – Robert Traver
Anatomy of a Murder (1958) was by John Voelker, writing as Robert Traver, and is said to have inspired the modern era of courtroom drama. The story was based on a case Voelker had been involved in as a young defence lawyer. A pure legal thriller, it is centred around a tense murder trial that could go either way. The suspect admits the killing, but claims it was justified because the victim raped his wife. As a result, the book raises many issues and thought-provoking questions: was the murder justified? Was the client temporarily insane?
Marcia Clark, author of Guilt by Association, is a former deputy district attorney who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder case. She uses her knowledge in her debut novel to depict Rachel Knight, a fiercely intelligent prosecutor who has to take on her colleague’s toughest case after he is found dead at a gruesome crime scene. A polished and intricately-detailed book, Clark’s experience allows her to write with confidence. As well as taking place in the courtroom, we see Rachel’s interactions with witnesses, cops and contacts, allowing us to get to know the character on a deeper level.
So, the jury’s out. Have you read any of these legal thrillers, or are there any you would add to the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.