We all know that lawyers write some of the best fiction. Okay, so I happen to be a lawyer who writes fiction—but I’m not biased. Really. I have proof!
Here are three fantastic reads by my fellow/fella colleagues at the bar. We’ve all had our days in and out of court tackling tough cases, flaky witnesses, annoying adversaries, and exacting judges. We’ve experienced the thrill of investigative discovery, the tedium of preparation, the surprises and heartbreaks that arise in the midst of trial. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the criminal courtroom provides fertile ground for moral dilemma and human drama, a launching pad for the imagination of the novelist.
The writing styles and plotlines in these novels differ greatly, but each author touches on a common underlying theme: the life story behind the face might not be what you expect. Each novel features a character who may just end up surprising you. I will attempt to avoid spoilers and give you merely an enticing flavor of each.
A Good Killing, by Allison Leotta
Leotta is a former sex crimes prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. A Good Killing features her fictional sex crimes prosecutor, Anna Curtis. In an unexpected twist, family loyalties cause Anna to switch hats for the first time in her career as she takes up the defense of her sister Jody, who finds herself in big trouble with the law, indicted for murder. The victim is a revered high school coach, Owen Fowler.
The storyline will hit home with any woman who can think back to high school days and find, in memory, a teacher, coach, or counselor who was popular, maybe even the subject of a young girl’s dreams, only to realize later, with the maturity of adulthood, that the perception was dangerously skewed. Coach Fowler is just such a character, a man with a nasty secret. Other secrets abound in this novel, as Jody does her utmost to keep Anna in the dark—not a good thing for an attorney representing her sister in the trial of her life. Tensions between the personal and the professional always draw me in, especially when the conflict implicates the ethical obligations of an attorney.
Another interesting aspect of A Good Killing is its structure, written from two points of view in alternating chapters. We hear Jody’s voice, speaking to Anna in first person, alternating with Anna’s point of view, written in third person. The technique is effective in building suspense, as the two tales ultimately merge in a satisfying conclusion.
This is the fourth novel in the Anna Curtis series, but each is a standalone. The fifth is soon to be released. Click here for Allison’s website
The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens
Eskens is a criminal defense attorney with previous experience on the other side of the courtroom as a prosecutor. His debut novel, The Life We Bury, cannot be pigeonholed. It has characteristics of literary fiction, mystery, and legal thriller. Protagonist Joe Talbert is a college student turned boy sleuth when he undertakes a writing assignment for English class and interviews an unlikely subject for a biographical essay—war hero and convicted murderer Carl Iverson.
This novel draws you in from the start with engaging, unique characters and vivid writing that makes use of all the senses. You can smell the unique odors of the nursing home Hillview Manor, see the “old woman wearing a crooked wig,” and feel the ambience of an archive room, where the “essence” of “millions of souls packed away on microfilm” waits to be “felt, tasted, and inhaled again.” In one of my favorite scenes, you can hear the pro forma litany between judge and attorney during a bail hearing, likened to “a Catholic funeral mass.” The suspenseful and entertaining conclusion of The Life We Bury takes Joe Talbert through harrowing twists and turns that may test the bounds of plausibility—but you’ll be so immersed and on the edge of your seat that the ordeal becomes all too real.
Eskens has published a second novel, and the third is on the way. Click here for Allen’s website
A Conflict of Interest, by Adam Mitzner
Mitzner is a partner in the commercial litigation department of a New York City law firm. His expertise in securities litigation finds its way into his debut novel, A Conflict of Interest. Of the three novels under review here, Mitzner’s contains the most courtroom drama and litigation strategy—all of the kind of stuff that fascinates lawyers and law buffs alike!
In this novel, protagonist Alex Miller is a white collar defense attorney representing client Michael Ohlig in a securities fraud prosecution. Mid-trial, Alex learns a secret about Ohlig—a very serious transgression—that profoundly affects Alex’s personal view of his client. Trying not to let his animosity stand in the way of providing a brilliant defense, Alex must also grapple with a client who constantly battles him over issues of trial strategy, right down to the crucial question of whether Ohlig should take the stand in his own defense. The stress level hits a high note as the author depicts, in detail, the high stakes environment, pressure, and politics of a big law firm, and the toll that the environment takes on the lawyer’s home life.
If you want a fast-paced courtroom thriller, A Conflict of Interest is for you. Mitzner has also published two other novels, and a third will be released in April. Click here for Adam’s website
A common lament among mystery/suspense/thriller writers is the lack of time to enjoy the many fine novels of our contemporaries, as we struggle to find every spare minute for our own writing. I’m currently on a break between the third and fourth Dana Hargrove novels and have a bit of time to write a few short stories and to read a few extra novels. Prediction: another installment of Legal Eagles will make its way to this blog! Reading another good one now…