The Legal Thriller
Anyone who writes a legal thriller must be influenced by John Grisham. I know I was and still am. Some of his books are about lawyers rather than the law, but I think he is at his best when his stories have legal principles at their heart. His first novel ‘A Time to Kill’ examined the dilemma between right and wrong, and legal or illegal. The main protagonist in the novel is lawyer Jake Brigance and he believes his client Carl Lee Hailey by killing the assailants of his daughter ( a very brutal rape ) had the moral high ground. Can Brigance ensure Hailey is acquitted on the grounds of insanity and how will the lawyer try to ensure that happens. It is a gripping tale because as Grisham says in the opening note ‘The greatest dramas occur not on screens or stages, but daily in countless courtrooms across this country’ The same can be said of courtrooms in the UK although the drama is often concealed behind the more clinical approach of barristers and solicitors in English courts.
When I wrote my novel ‘Crucial Evidence’ I wanted to tell a story about a female barrister who believed passionately in justice and was prepared to compromise her own career in order to ensure her client received a fair trial. When the novel was first published and I searched for the book on Amazon using the title ‘Crucial Evidence’, John Grisham’s novel Sycamore Row came up on the screen side by side with mine own novel. I have finally read the book, which is described as a sequel to’ A Time to Kill.’ Jake Brigance is once again battling racial prejudice when a rich white male, Seth Hubbard, kills himself and leaves the bulk of his wealth to his cleaning lady, a younger black female, and specifically disinherited his children and grandchildren. Hubbard has instructed Jake to fight any attempt by his family to set aside the will. The trial has its ups and downs and illustrates one of the interesting things about this type of novel – the reader is encouraged to form a view of the witnesses, the judges rulings and the jury’s verdict.
Grisham understands the way lawyers work,( something that writers of police procedurals don’t often show in their descriptions of police work) and their was one passage in Sycamore Row which I thought reflected my own feelings about being an advocate. Jake’s wife asks him ‘Why do you want to be a trial lawyer?’
And he gives this answer, ‘Because I love it. It’s what being a lawyer is all about. Being in a courtroom, in front of a jury, is like being in an arena, or on the field. The competition is fierce. The stakes are high. The gamesmanship is intense. There will be a winner and a loser. There is a rush of adrenaline each time the jury is led in and seated.’