Not-so-guilty pleasure: the legal thriller

Vannessa Cronin on September 16, 2020
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Books, like everything else, have trends that come and go. And the legal thriller is like bootcut jeans: never fully out of fashion, but routinely pushed to the back of the closet in favor of the latest trend. (I'm looking at you, skinny jeans/female-driven domestic thrillers.)

However, in the last month I've read the new Jake Brigance book by John Grisham (October 13) and the new Lincoln Lawyer novel by Michael Connelly (November 10). And both are so good they've made me nostalgic for legal thrillers. While you wait for those treats to publish, here are a few others to remind you that the legal thriller is a timeless classic.


Legacy of Lies by Robert Bailey

Author Robert Bailey has been a civil defense trial lawyer in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama for almost two decades so he knows all about practicing law in a small town. In Legacy of Lies, the only African American litigator in Pulaski, Tennessee, Bocephus Haynes, must defend the district attorney general against charges she murdered her ex-husband. But corruption and prejudice put roadblocks in Haynes' way and the price for justice may well prove too high.


A Gambler's Jury by Victor Methos

An incident when he was 13 and his best friend was coaxed into confessing to a crime he hadn't committed set Victor Methos on the path to a career as a lawyer. Now he uses his insider's knowledge to write fascinating legal thrillers. In A Gambler's Jury, attorney Dani Rollins will have to go to the mat for a mentally challenged teenager—accused of selling drugs—who may be about to be scapegoated by the district attorney’s office. But can her career survive her good deed?


The Defendants by John Ellsworth

The first in the Thaddeus Murfee series, The Defendants is so good you'll want to read the rest of the series, too. Murfee is a rookie lawyer who catches a case involving a waitress accusing a local mobster. It could be the kind of thing that makes a career, but when the accused is murdered and the waitress's prints are all over the murder weapon, Murfee finds himself up to his ears in the kind of dangerous, complicated case where he'll be happy just to make it out alive.


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes is the kind of book every book club in the country should read. It's a bit of a departure from the books Picoult is famous for writing, a little more gritty, but thoughtful and thought-provoking. It tells the tale of a shocking act of violence—a school shooting, precipitated by bullying—in a small town, and the town residents: needing to heal, but divided in their response to what's happened.


An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt

Criminal defense lawyer Joe Dillard is tired of the war between his conscience and his job. And between his mother's Alzheimer's and his drug-addicted, jailbird sister, he's got enough on his plate personally to excuse him for treading water professionally for a little while. But when a beautiful young girl is accused of murdering a preacher in a Tennessee motel room, and Joe believes her innocent, he can't resist fighting the good fight just one more time.


The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly

Even a defense attorney doesn't want to be jailed with former clients: if they're in jail, they're not happy former clients. But that's exactly what happens when Mickey Haller, aka the Lincoln Lawyer, is pulled over in L.A. one night and a dead body is discovered in the trunk of his Lincoln. Mounting his own defense from the bowels of an L.A. jail is not ideal either, but he has some friends to help (and half-brother Harry Bosch turns in a welcome appearance, too).


A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

Fans of A Time to Kill should be happy to see the return of attorney Jake Brigance. Once more, he's about to take a case no one else wants. This time, it's the case of a teenage boy accused of murdering the abusive stepfather he thought had killed his mother. Only problem is, his mother didn't die, the stepfather was a local deputy, and the residents of Clanton, Mississippi are by no means convinced that it was a justifiable homicide.


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