Top 10 Legal Thrillers of All Time
When I tell people that my third legal thriller, Losing Faith, comes out on April 14, some ask what it’s about, but others ask if it’s any good. When that question is asked, I think about whether it can stand up to the following:
- Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. The book that created the genre and, in my opinion, still the best. Juxtaposing the complexity of a high-stakes criminal trial, the intrigue of a big-city political drama, and the marital tensions of the best character-driven novel, it’s still the gold standard. It came out the first summer I worked in a law firm, and many of the lawyers sat in their offices with the door closed so they could read it.
- A Time to Kill by John Grisham. John Grisham’s first book, although many read it after the publication of The Firm, made him a household name. It’s his best use of the courtroom and the most beautifully written of his books.
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Although not a “thriller,” Mockingbird is the best book about lawyers bar none, and so it merits inclusion on any list of legal books. It’s probably not too much of an overstatement to say that most courtroom lawyers see themselves as Atticus Finch at least one time in their career.
- Defending Jacob by William Landay. The best legal thriller I’ve read in the last five years. Like Presumed Innocent, Landay combines a sharp courtroom drama with keen psychological insights, in this case about the relationship parents have with their children.
- Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille. Less famous perhaps than DeMille’s Gold Coast, the legal thriller through the fog of war distinguishes this work from the usual courtroom drama.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Capote proves that there’s no reason that a legal thriller has to be fiction. If you haven’t read it since high school, read it again.
- Legal Tender by Lisa Scottoline. Scottoline likes to say she doesn’t write legal thrillers; she writes books about women, and that’s what makes her books so good—they’re about people first and the law second. All her books are first-rate, but I like Legal Tender, one of the early ones, the best.
- First Counsel by Brad Meltzer. I’d love Meltzer’s work even if we didn’t share an obsession with Batman. In First Counsel, Meltzer combines two things I really love—the law and politics—and does so in an utterly convincing manner.
- The Emperor of Ocean Park by Steven L. Carter. One of those legal thrillers that gets the accolades of high-brow fiction. More than ten years after I read it, I still think about it whenever I hear the word excelsior.
- Line of Vision by David B. Ellis. I came across Ellis because a bookstore owner told me that my work reminded her of his. I hope that’s true because Line of Vision, Ellis’s first book, is a page-turner from start to finish.
Honorable Mention: The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez; Alafair Burke’s All Day and A Night; Matthew Quirk’s The 500; and Kermit Roosevelt’s In the Shadow of Law.