Crime and courtroom drama make up a popular genre of books, but Google “best legal thrillers” and you’re bound to see To Kill a Mockingbird on the list. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Harper Lee novel. It’s a classic on every high school reading list, but it was written in 1960 and lots of page-turning legal books have been published since then. If you’re looking for a good read to cozy up with, here are ten great choices to put on your list.
Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt
Centered around President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order 9066, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Allegiance is a thoughtful historical fiction that takes readers from the office of J. Edgar Hoover to an internment camp in California, confronting the delicate balance between security and liberty as well as the president and court’s role in maintaining that balance. Although the events took place 75 years ago, the issues remain very much alive to this day.
Kermit Roosevelt, the great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and the fifth cousin four times removed of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, worked as a lawyer with Mayer Brown in Chicago before becoming a law professor at Penn Law, where he focuses on constitutional law and conflict of laws.
A Criminal Defense by William L. Myers Jr.
Lawyer Mick McFarland takes on the case of his life defending David Hanson, high-profile businessman and Mick’s close friend in law school, who is accused of murdering a TV news reporter, who had coincidentally contacted Mick for legal help just before her death. As the trial progresses, Mick faces losing his family, firm, and everything dear to him. He must pull out all the stops to craft the most masterful criminal defense, pushing moral and legal limits in the process.
This mystery will draw you in with its character development and keep you guessing with its plot twists, which Myers enhances with realistic courtroom details from his thirty years of trial experience in state and federal courts.
Dark Moon by Deborah Hawkins
Former U.S. Supreme Court clerk Alexa Reed is accused of murdering her ex-husband Michael Reed and a psychologist, and all the evidence fits. Michael was an abusive, unfaithful husband who paid off the psychologist and used the ties of his Supreme Court Justice father to paint Alexa as an unfit mother and win custody of their two children. Criminal defense attorney Sarah Knight, who has a dark past of her own, faces escalating threats orchestrated by her client’s nasty ex-father-in-law throughout the case, and must risk revealing the secrets she has tried so hard to hide in an effort to save her client.
Deborah Hawkins taught college English and worked as a technical editor before going to law school. She now is a certified appellate specialist, who believes every legal case has an important story attached to it. With master’s degrees in English and law, writing Dark Moon allowed Hawkins to combine her love of both subjects.
A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow by Mike Farris
Written in the style of a novel but scrupulously following actual events through original court transcripts and police investigation paperwork, A Death in the Islands tells the story of rape, murder, and courtroom drama of the 1930s that threatened to start a race war in the Hawaiian islands.
Mike Farris is a complex commercial litigator as well as entertainment lawyer focused on the movie and publishing industries in Dallas, Texas.
Defending Jacob by William Landay
A New York Times bestseller and named one of the best books of the year by several publications, Defending Jacob is a suspenseful murder saga that has respected and well-loved assistant district attorney Andy Barber defending his own 14-year-old son, who is accused of murdering the school bully.
A graduate of Yale University and Boston College Law School, William Landay was an assistant district attorney before turning to writing.
An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt
A Mystery Readers International finalist for “Best Debut Mystery,” An Innocent Client is the first book of eight in the Joe Dillard Series. Dillard is a savvy but cynical attorney who is eager to quit criminal defense, but when a preacher is murdered after visiting a strip club and a beautiful waitress is accused of his murder, Dillard jumps at the opportunity to defend a client who might actually be innocent.
Scott Pratt worked as a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor for daily papers in Tennessee and received his law degree from the University of Tennessee in 1998 after commuting over two hundred miles a day for three years.
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
In this #1 best selling legal thriller, Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney that works out of the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car defending a slew of sleazy clients including con artists, drug dealers, and prostitutes. When a Beverly Hills playboy asks Haller to defend him after being arrested for assault and attempted rape, it is a dream come true – Haller’s first high-paying case in years, one that seems to be a slam dunk and “franchise case” that will continue to bring clients in. Everything threatens to fall apart when someone close to Haller is murdered and he has to fight to save his own life.
A former newspaper reporter who worked the crime beat at the Los Angeles Times and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Michael Connelly is the bestselling author of twenty-eight novels and one work of nonfiction whose work has been translated into thirty-nine foreign languages.
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson
In this story within a story, the setting shifts back and forth from Chicago 2004 to Poland from 1936-1944. The story begins when retired city worker Ben Solomon shows up at the opening night gala of Chicago’s Lyric Opera and puts a gun to the head of insurance magnate and philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig, accusing him of being a former Nazi SS officer. Rosenzweig, of course, denies this accusation and claims to be a Holocaust survivor. Solomon convinces attorney Catherine Lockhart to take on his case to bring Rosenzweig to justice, telling a tale of himself as a boy growing up in Poland during the escalation of Nazi Germany and occupation of Poland. Solomon’s wealthy Jewish family fostered a German boy who Solomon believes later became an SS Officer known as the “Butcher of Zamosc.” Though clear and convincing, the biggest problem is that Solomon has no proof.
Ronald H. Balson is a Chicago trial attorney whose practice has led him to international travel. A telecommunications lawsuit brought Balson to Warsaw and southern Poland in the early 2000s, inspiring him to write his first novel Once We Were Brothers.
Prejudicial Error by Bill Blum
John Solomon, former chief trial deputy for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, fell from grace when his affair with police officer Mary Delgado cost him his job. Solomon receives the opportunity to redeem himself through a high-profile case defending an accused cop killer, but first he has to face his replacement and longtime nemesis Howard Ainsworth and Delgado, who was the arresting officer.
Bill Blum is a former State of California Administrative Law Judge and death-penalty litigator who is currently a columnist with Truthdig.com.
Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Written as a sequel to Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill published back in 1988, Sycamore Row starts when Seth Hubbard, a secretively and surprisingly very wealthy man, kills himself and his handwritten will reveals the family has been cut out and his black maid replaced as his beneficiary. Seth Hubbard’s children question their father’s sanity and contest his will in a hotly contested court battle with many surprises along the way.
Well known as a master of the legal thriller, Grisham is the one who inspired many lawyers to try their hand at writing. He wrote his first novel in 1988, between working at a small Mississippi law practice and during courtroom recesses, and has since written one novel a year. His books have been translated into 40 languages and become international bestsellers with nine turned into films.