Best Legal Thrillers

I wrote this legal thriller. Then I wondered, what other legal thrillers are like my legal thriller? I embarked on a reading research campaign. I read—and charted by title, author, and salient features; after all, I’m a former lawyer—twenty-three legal thrillers in about two weeks (I don’t want to exaggerate). I want to share with you the highlights of this trek through legal thriller land.

The Good Daughter: Relationship Legal Thrillers

This legal thriller by Karin Slaughter represents a distinct subset of thrillers I read: family members caught in the legal wringer. Of the set I came across, The Good Daughter is the best. Two daughters and an eccentric lawyer dad. No mom because she dies in the opening scenes from childhood. Superbly drawn characters with a great mystery at the heart of the story: what fully happened in those early childhood scenes? As I found with many thrillers in this “family relationships” subset, you don’t have to care one whit about courtroom scenes or legal maneuverings to enjoy The Good Daughter (William Morrow, 2018).

The Law of Innocence: Noir Legal Thriller

The Law of Innocence is a traditional legal thriller by Michael Connelly. You may know Connelly as the creator of Harry Bosch, who makes an appearance in this thriller. Bosch is the half-brother of our main character, defense attorney Mickey Haller who practices law out of his Lincoln car. Problem is, in this story, a dead body winds up in the trunk of said Lincoln. These are known at the Lincoln Lawyer series.

The book has nice literary spurts. It begins with an analogy of the legal system as a tree, which carries through the book. The book continues the trend where the attorney becomes involved in the legal case forming the backbone of the story. In this instance, the cops arrest Haller for the murder of the dead man. He must defend himself from inside prison. I much admire Connelly’s ability to move quickly through scenes. He gives us just enough information to picture what’s going on while never slowing down. I’m not taken enough to pursue reading more of his work. But if you like traditional scruffy defense lawyer thrillers, you’ll enjoy The Law of Innocence (Grand Central Publishing, 2021).

small great things: Racism in Legal Thrillers

I came across Jodi Picoult’s novel small great things hunting for legal thrillers. Thus, I know it was categorized as such, but I haven’t seen it described that way again. Probably because, though a lawsuit lurks at the center of the plot, the story isn’t about the lawsuit. It’s about racism. A white supremacist couple demands the hospital remove a Black nurse from the care of their newborn. Later, in the nursery under the eyes of the nurse, the newborn dies. The rest of the story explores how racism plays out in America. Also the white lawyer’s privileged ignorance about the same. I could have done with less “humanizing” of the racist couple, and I was puzzled by the lawyer’s overlooking a key piece of evidence. But I appreciated Picoult’s direct addressing of the question. Small great things (Ballentine Books, 2018)

Dead Center: A Funny Legal Thriller

David Rosenfelt’s Dead Center is an outlier from the other three legal thrillers in this blog post. It’s light and funny and has sex, in a comedic kind of way. Like the Lincoln Lawyer above, it’s part of a series featuring a defense attorney. The law in this story is quite tangential to the humor and wit and humorous wit. If there’s a “cozy legal thriller” sub-genre, that’s where I’d put Dead Center (Grand Central Publishing, 2007).

Apropos of zilch re: best legal thrillers but a great quote from a store on Magazine Street

Best legal thrillers, Dead Center by Rosenfelt, Jodi Picoult, Noir legal thrillers, small great things, The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, The Law of Innocence

Comments (4)

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Hi, Joe. My tour of legal thrillers might be over, but I do intend to continue with book reviews. One of my 2022 “resolutions” was to talk about books that I appreciate the author having taken the time to write. So I’ll definitely keep those coming.

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