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Top Ten Legal Thriller Novels

16 January, 2012

Needless to say, there are a lot of legal thriller novels at any local bookstore. But which ones are the best? Keyser Law picked the following as the top ten. Share in the comments your favorite legal thriller


1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Ranking number one by leaps and bounds is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. As a brilliant commentary on the tilted legal system in the segregated South (set in the 1930s), the book won the Pulitzer Prize and has become one of the most widely touted books regarding race of all time – so much that it is rightfully required curriculum in most school systems. Everyone should read this book, legal thrill-seekers or not!

2. A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Plucking the same racial heartstrings but this time by a different author, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill is an emotionally charged thriller that centers on the trial of a vengeful father that killed the men who raped his daughter. Although this was actually the Grisham’s first book, it didn’t get any recognition until after his other books caught fire. Now, it’s arguably his most celebrated novel and has been adapted to both a Broadway play and a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson.

3. Primal Fear by William Diehl
Taking a bit more of a “terrifying” tone than some of the other more traditional “thrillers” on this list, William Diehl’s Primal Fear is its own brand of crime novel. Shadowing an altar boy that has been accused of murder and the lawyer that has been assigned to defend him, this creepy tale was adapted into a film in 1996, starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton.

4. Eyes of a Child by Richard North Patterson
Most any list of all-time greatest legal thrillers will include To Kill a Mockingbird and Richard North Patterson’s Eyes of a Child – it’s that good. When the legitimacy of a death-by-suicide is questioned, a dark sequence of family history is uncovered, for better or for worse.

5. The Firm by John Grisham
Of course, there is not a more prolific author of legal thrillers than John Grisham and that’s why he and his book, The Firm, are more than deserving of another top spot. Although this was Grisham’s second novel, the book about a budding lawyer that gets hired by a prestigious law firm that he can never leave, or else, is the one that ultimately put him on the map.

6. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
As Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent is a legal thriller that made major waves when it was published in 1987. Written in first person by the protagonist, Rusty, the acclaimed novel about a lawyer that is wrongfully accused of murdering his colleague was eventually made into a major motion picture, starring Harrison Ford.

7. Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini
Continuing the list of firsts, Compelling Evidence is a fantastic crime novel by Steve Martini – his first and most successful. Called a “gripping, fast-paced novel” by critics this is a story about a woman that is accused of killing her husband and thusly turns to her ex-lover to defend her in court. What’s not interesting about a love triangle?

8. The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace
While most of these legal thrillers are centered upon murder trials, The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace takes a vastly different approach as it is fueled by the trial against the obscenity of a banned book. Referring to the alleged thoughts that go through a woman’s head during the seven minutes of sexual intercourse, this book was highly controversial, to say the least, when it was published in 1969.

9. The Best of Rumpole by John Mortimer
Although it is one of countless books written by John Mortimer, The Best of Rumpole is widely considered to be, not only his best, but one of the best legal thrillers of all time. What makes this novel so different from the rest is not so much the excitement of the plot but the endearment of Rumpole himself, the defense barrister protagonist.

10. 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Admittedly, this is not a novel but as a far as creative legal literature goes, 12 Angry Men, the 1954 play by Reginald Rose, is amongst the most compelling of all legal thrillers. When 12 jurors are unanimously prepared to sentence a man for murder, one not-so-convinced juror stands up to the majority and brings them, one-by-one, to the verdict of not guilty. While it may not be a novel, 12 Angry Men is a must read!



Matthew Minton  –   28 February, 2015

    The “The Firm” is NO.5 but QB llV isn’t in the top 10??  Come on now,  The Firm is a good book, a good read but let’s be serious.

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