Recently, author Lisa Cotoggio asked authors Lee Child, Thomas O’Callaghan, Jonathan Hayes and me to list five books by category. Lee opted for books with music in them and included one of my favorites, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
I chose to take on legal thrillers. Here’s what I had to say:
If books were honest in their depiction of the often slow and arcane American legal system, the term “legal thriller” would be quite the oxymoron. To keep the action moving, authors must sometimes sacrifice detail. That is not to say that good fiction can’t be accurate. As a criminal law professor and former prosecutor, I insist on procedural accuracy in my own writing, lest my students lose all respect for me. If NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher searches a suspect without a warrant, I might not spend a paragraph explaining the legal justification for the search, but trust me, I could. As a reader, however, I can respect a writer’s choice to stretch the bounds of lawful process. What matters more to me as a reader is whether a book accurately depicts the culture of lawyering.
These five novels portray lawyers who run the legal gamut, from the most elite elechons of the bar to the barely licensed. All of them capture the quotidian details of the lives of lawyers, and all of them, most importantly, are terrific reads.
Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. While too many courtroom thrillers substitute legal jargon and evidentiary spats for character and plot development, Turow showed us that the twists and turns of a criminal trial could make for gritty drama.
John Grisham’s The Firm. The plot required suspension of disbelief, but that initial depiction of the allure of elite law firm life to a poor kid like Mitch McDeere is as realistic as it comes.
Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Through cynical, money-motivated Mickey Haller, Connelly shows us the daily work of a trial lawyer, all the way down to his choice of office supplies.
Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper series. With Cooper and detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, Fairstein captures the real-world rhythms between cops and prosecutors.
Dylan Schaffer’s Misdemeanor Man. Gordon Seegarman is a complete and total slacker who handles only petty misdemeanors, pleads out as many cases as possible, and reserves what little ambition he has for his Barry Manilow cover band. He’s also a complete and total delight.