A FICTION OF LAW !
100 years of legal- fiction.by NARAYAN R. *
"A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more money than a thousand men with guns."
Mario Puzo, The Godfather
Remember Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, or James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, or the stunning performance of Al Pacino in .. . And Justice For All ? Lawyers, legal stories and dramas have enjoyed popularity on the screen and on television (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Street Legal, etc.) as well as in popular fiction. Ever since the days of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, stories and dramas portraying legal themes and brilliant lawyers have enjoyed great popularity. Who can forget the tales of King Solomon The Just; or Shakespeare's brilliant Portia, who defends Antonio, and her unforgettable words:
"take thou thy pound of flesh; But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are, by the law of Venice, confiscate Unto the state of Venice."
(The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).
What Arthur C. Clarke, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov were to science fiction, John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson and Steve Martini are to legal fiction today.
In the words of best-selling legal author William Bernhardt:
Glancing through the bestseller charts, we note the regular presence of many genre practitioners and an overwhelming percentage of novels belonging to the legal-fiction category occupying, in some weeks, up to half the charts. Every succeeding year sees major new talents breaking into print, a further indication, if any is needed, of the genre's robust health and unflagging energy. Despite a veritable plethora of new titles, the general standards of quality always appear to be on the increase. Why are so many lawyers dabbling in fiction? The question is a timely one in light of the current rash of legal suspense novels.
In the words of John Grisham:
Again the startling publishing success of the lawyer-procedural since the late 1980's also can be related to massive changes in the historical conditions, which underpin the production and consumption of suspense fiction. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the disintegration of the eastern block and the end of the cold war made the old-style NATO spy thrillers obsolete. Legal fiction stepped into this vacant niche in the market, placing the thrills now in a domestic rather than an international setting and capturing what commentators identified as "a new national mood of introspection brought on by the loss of the ideological certainties associated with the old twin- superpower world system." Each of these authors referred to in this compilation have contributed to the field of legal fiction, explored the world of law and lawyers, bringing their own viewpoint and unique insight to what seems an almost boundless arena. What should strike the legal-fiction lover is the enormous variety of theme, style and content these authors have shown in their works. Lawyer books might seem to all have the same cover art, but between the covers there is a world of difference, from the flamboyance of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason to the shrewdness of John Masterman's Ernst Brendel and from the dark world of Michael Nava's Henry Rios to the brighter world of John Mortimer's Horace Rumpole.
Goethe in Germany; Flaubert, Maupassant, Moliere, Jules Verne, Balzac, Dumas, Gaston Leroux, Maurice Le Blanc and Proust in France; Chaucer, R. L. Stevenson, John Evelyn, Henry Fielding, William Cowper, De Quincey, Thackeray, Sir Thomas More, John Galsworthy, Charles Dickens (whose Bleak House is a recognized classic within and outside the legal- fiction genre) and Walter Scott in England; James Fennimore Cooper, Wallace Stevens and Henry James in United States; Leo Tolstoy in Russia; Bankim Chandra Chartterjee and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai in India: although all studied to become lawyers, none of their works dealt in depth about the law, lawyers or justice.
Wilkie Collins, a Barrister in England in the late 19th century, was the first to use the combination of law and fiction to spectacular heights. However, few would consider him a popular cultural icon today. The works of Collins dealt in depth with various legal issues. Unlike Post or Gardner, there was no 'The Protagonist' in Collins work. The protagonist was the theme, rather than the character. No Name (1862) dealt with the rights of illegitimate children, Armadale (1866) on prostitution and abortion and Evil Genius (1886) on divorce and child custody. Women in White and The Moonstone were good mysteries. However, Collins' works were never considered as belonging to the legal-fiction genre during that period.
Again Anna Katherine Green explored the ways of the law, lawyers and justice in The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer's Story (1872). Melville Davisson Post's The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (1896) is the first acknowledged legal-fiction work, a grand collection of short stories. Post was a lawyer, a politician, a judicial reformist and above all an author par excellence. Randolph Mason, the protagonist of most Post short stories, was a skilled, unscrupulous lawyer who used his knowledge of law to defeat the ends of justice. Mason assisted criminals by cynically employing his familiarity with legal loopholes. However, in The Corrector of Destinies we find a reformed Mason who acts more in the interest of the written law. The Man of Last Resort is another good Mason work.
However, the genre started to truly develop only in the second decade of the twentieth century. Francis Noyes Hart in The Bellamy Trial (1926) gave us the first novel-length courtroom drama, which was based on the famous Hall-Mills case. The locale is a courtroom throughout, and the novel derives much of its immediacy and conviction from being told through the consciousness of a young woman on a first reporting assignment and a more cynical, experienced reporter who falls in love during the eight days of the trial. During the trial sensations occur--a key witness commits suicide, a dilatory witness, in compromising circumstances, appears at the last moment; the solution is finally revealed only in a letter the judge receives in his chamber, culminating in what is the best feature of crime novels, the format of a court procedure. Theodore Dreiser in An American Tragedy (1923) gave us a detailed and harrowing account of trial action involved in the murder trial of Clyde Griffiths, accused of a rowboat drowning of his wife to marry a rich social heiress, known in trial as Miss X. The book is loosely based on the 1906 trial and conviction of Chester Gillette for the murder of Grace Brown. Raymond Postgate gives an in-depth study into the factors influencing jury deliberations in The Verdict of Twelve. Postgate gives a detailed biography of six of the twelve jurors, who must decide whether a middle-aged lady has committed the murder of her nephew. Each juror brings a set of personal attitudes and problems,which prevents them from considering evidence objectively, and responds emotionally rather than realistically. The jury deliberations form the core of the novel with an unconventional twist in the tail ending. John Buchan, a doyen among mystery writers of the time, also tried his hand at legal fiction. After becoming a Barrister in 1900, he later became a prolific crime writer, writing among many other works, the excellent The Thirty-Nine Steps. In The Power- House; Buchan introduced Sir Edward Leithen, a man of contemplation rather than that of action. Good Leithen works include John Macnab, The Dancing Floor and Sick Heart River. Prolific crime writer G.K Chesterton also gave us some memorable stories in legal fiction, but they never rose above the mystery genre. More famed as the creator of Father Brown, Chesterton also penned the stories of Basil Grant, a retired judge, who solves mysteries in tandem with his brother Rupert, but these have fallen into oblivion. Good stories include " The Tremendous Adventure of Major Brown" and "The Singular Speculation of the House Agent" and others, which have been collected in a wonderful collection, Club of Queer Trades.
It was only in the late thirties and the early forties that legal fiction developed as a special category in the genre of crime fiction.
THE THIRTIES TO FIFTIES
Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, the lawyer-detective, can no doubt be called the architect of legal fiction and the acknowledged master in this genre. Gardner was a lawyer who achieved moderate success in his profession. However, with the success of his novels and short stories Gardner became one of the wealthiest mystery writers of his time. The 82 Mason adventures, from The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) to the posthumously published The Case of the Postponed Murder (1973), were characterized by breakneck pacing, convoluted plots, firework displays of courtroom tactics (which Gardner once boasted that he used in his own law practise) and gripping readability. Della Street, the private secretary, and Paul Drake, the detective, were other regulars in Perry Mason Novels. Perry Mason also became a television series starring Raymond Burr. The very fact that Perry Mason outshined his creator is the testament to the success of Erle Stanley Gardner. A brief and short attempt was made by Thomas Chastain in the nineties to resurrect Perry Mason. Good works included The Case of the Burning Bequest and Case of Too Many Murders. However, the series ended after the death of Chastain in 1994. Gardner's claim as the architect of legal fiction does not rest on the fame of Perry Mason alone. Way before he created Mason, Gardner had created the young, fresh law graduate Ken Corning, who appeared in Honest Money, The Top Comes Off, Devil's Fire, Close Call etc. published from a period between 1931 and 1933. In the late forties Gardner also gave us the D.A. series of books featuring D.A. Doug Selby, including The D.A. Draws a Circle and D.A. Takes a Chance. Gardner also created Peter Wennick, lawyer and sleuth featured in Among Thieves, Leg Man and in Take it or Leave it. Gardner's last series (as A.A. Fair) featured lawyer and farmer Donald Lam, seen in Bigger They Come, Beware the Curves etc. However, the success of Gardner in Perry Mason novels completely outshadowed his other features, and today his fame rests as the creator of the legendary Perry Mason.
Arthur Train, an Assistant Attorney of New York County, saw stories in the procession of human comedies and tragedies that passed through the criminal court building. His first collection of short stories, McAllister and his Double, contained four stories of a young attorney John Dockbridge. However, Train is best remembered for his most famous character, Ephraim Tutt, a Lincolnesque lawyer with his frock coat, stovepipe hat and fondness for stogies. The early Tutt stories all followed a formula, the statement of the problem, the seeming impossibility of the triumph of justice over the technicalities of law and Mr. Tutt's solution to the problem. Tutt is a figure from American folklore, the shrewd Yankee on the side of the underdog. Great Tutt works include The Hermit of Turkey Hollow, Adventures of Ephraim Tutt, Tut Tut Mr. Tutt and Tutt for Tutt.
Henry Cecil was a contemporary of Gardner. However, Cecil was more interested in legal issues and loopholes in the law than in courtroom dramas or in flamboyant lawyers. Cecil had a good eye for detail, and though he was very knowledgeable about law and the legal system he was never pedantic. His two main characters, Ambrose Low and Colonel Brian, are shown as con men who never commit anything illegal but twist the loopholes in the law to their advantage. Tell You What I'll Do, No Bail for the Judge and According to Evidence (where Low gets a man acquitted of murdering a murderer) are fascinating examples of Cecil's creativity. Brief to Counsel and Not Such an Ass provide light reading into the day-to-day working of the English legal system.
Harold Q. Masur is yet another famous lawyer-writer and the creator of the flamboyant lawyer detective Scott Jordan. Though Jordan can be compared to Perry Mason in the sense that both are lawyer detectives, Jordan tales generally eschew the elaborate courtroom dramas that are the hallmark of Mason stories. Masur draws on his legal background to provide plot springboards, which turn on some interesting aspect of law that Jordan encounters during practice. Narrated in the first person, Jordan books are tightly plotted, well clued and frequently surprising in denouement. The Big Money, The Legacy Lenders and the short story collection The Name is Jordan are the best among the Jordan works. Though not featuring Jordan, The Attorney is a classic tale of a sensational sex-murder case which focus on the complexities of the criminal trial system and legal ethics and is a must-read for the legal-fiction lover.
Edgar Lustgarten, a British criminologist and lawyer, started his writing career in the early 1930's. Lustgarten realistically portrays lawyers, judges and witnesses while maintaining suspense till the end. A Case to Answer is a masterfully written narrative of a trial of a young man for the murder of a prostitute. Game for Three Losers deals with an elaborate plot of blackmail involving a highly regarded Member of Parliament. It portrays a legal system where innocents are not protected and even worse, may be tried along with the guilty. Prisoner at the Bar, The Judges and the Judged are other good works of this author reflecting not only an incisive wit but also a probing criticism of the law.
Craig Rice (pseudonym for Georgina Randolph) the first dame in legal- fiction is best remembered for the Chicago lawyer John J. Malone whom we first encounter in 8 Faces at Three where the victim is found in a room where all the clocks have stopped at three. Malone is no Perry Mason or Mr. Tutt, except in his success in the courtroom, a setting we are never shown. Short and pudgy, with a red face and hair always in need of combing, Malone wears a suit with a perpetual slept-in look, his shirtfront and vest covered with cigar ash. However Malone's compelling interest in life is justice. He will reveal the guilty party in the story and then proceed to defend him in the coming trial. Other regulars in Malone novels include Jake and Helene Justuses and Von Flanagan, a homicide detective. The basic format of Rice novels involves a statement of the problem in an imaginative opening scene told from the viewpoint of the victim or chief suspect and then shifts to introduce Malone. The success of Malone even prompted Rice to adopt another pseudonym Ruth Malone. Trial By Fury and The Right Murder ranks best among the Malone novels.
Henry Wade was a Justice of Peace and a County Alderman for Buckingham shire in England. His experience as an Alderman is revealed in the exciting, suspense thriller, Dying Alderman. In Missing Partners, Wade takes us to the effects of miscarriage of justice on the victims of such miscarriage. Too Soon To Die is an interesting thriller where the protagonist resorts to homicide and fake suicides to escape from the exorbitant tax laws of England. On the whole Wade provides an enjoyable evening read.
Cyril Hare (pseudonym for Alfred Alexander Clark) became a county court Judge in 1950. But his series detective, Francis Pettigrew, is an aging and unsuccessful lawyer who is barely making a living. He originally showed much promise and aptitude for law, but a series of misfortunes have left him a bitter man. Hare's early novels did not feature Pettigrew or Hare's legal expertise. Tragedy at Law is the classic Hare work, which gave him recognition as a legal author. It is a lovingly detailed story of a judge who falls onto the wrong side of the law when, while he is far from sober, his car hits a pedestrian. Very near the end of the novel, a murder problem arises and Pettigrew matches wits with the State and wins the case. Henry Cecil has acknowledged this work as "a work of the highest class in detective fiction with a legal background." Hare followed Tragedy at Law with With a Bare Bodkin, When the Wind Blows and That Yew Tree's Shadow. Other regulars in Hare novels include Inspector Mallett, who started as Hare's principal character in his earlier works but was relegated to the status of a sidekick with the success of Pettigrew works. Pettigrew and Hare both have gained an almost legendary status in the contemporary legal-fiction genre.
John Masterman, though a non-lawyer and a history teacher by profession, is the creator of the famous Viennese law teacher and detective of international repute Ernst Brendel. Brendel first stars in An Oxford Tragedy considered a classic at the time of its publication in 1951. Brendel, who arrives in a college to give a series of lectures, engages in a lively discussion of the nature of crime and detection. Soon after the evening's discussion a teacher is found dead and Brendel starts his investigation, which provides a thrilling read, filled with suspense and mystery. In 1956 Brendel returned in another chilling mystery, The Case of the Four Friends: Diversion in Pre- Detection, another minor classic. It is very difficult not to like this erudite, sophisticated and compassionate Viennese lawyer. However, it is a mystery why Masterman did not create other Brendel mysteries following the success of these two works.
Henry C. Bailey was one of the acknowledged superstars of the Golden Period of British mystery. Bailey is best remembered for the fictional lawyer Joshua Clunk, a lawyer who strongly believes that end always justifies the means. Clunk is a family-minded man and resorts to brain rather than brawn in conducting his investigations. In The Great Game Clunk he deviously establishes doubt about police evidence to secure an open verdict. In Slippery Ann, Clunk gets a client acquitted but immediately initiates additional enquiry. Other novels include The Wrong Man, The Little Captain and Shrouded Dead. In short, Bailey entertains.
Anthony Gilbert is the pseudonym of author Lucy Beatrice Malleson. She is famous for creating one of most interesting fictional lawyer-detectives of all time, "the criminal's hope and judge's despair" Arthur G. Crook, who has for a change not even one success to his name. Crook is a colourful, cheeky, hardworking middle-aged, cockney guy who, in spite of his diligence, occasionally lapses from standard professionalism. His office (like many a screen detective's) is shabby and in shambles. Crook is a regular 'hero to the rescue'. Though the regular plot is murder, the works are never redundant. Good works include And Death Came Too, A Question of Murder, The Visitor and Death Wears.
Dr. R. Austin Freeman's creation Dr. John Thorndyke, like the author, is both a doctor and a lawyer. Thorndyke remains as one of the most convincing scientific investigators in contemporary crime fiction. Accuracy of technical details, precise scientific investigation, etc, are the hallmarks of all Thorndyke novels. The medical-jurist's keen acumen both as a doctor and as a lawyer is revealed in all Thorndyke novels, the classic one being The Cat's Eye. A Silent Witness and As A Thief in the Night are rich in technical details. Dr. Thorndyke Intervenes is based on the Druce- Portland case of 1907. Freeman's ability to ring the changes from one Thorndyke case to the next is almost as remarkable a feat as his original conception of this great medical jurist.
Richard Lockridge was a well-known, prolific crime writer. He has left his mark in legal fiction also with the character Bernie Simmons, an Assistant New York District Attorney. And Left for the Dead and Devious Ones are good Simmons novels.
August W. Derleth created Judge Ephraim Peck, a shrewd, elderly small town lawyer. As a crime writer or as a legal-fiction writer, Derleth's career was overshadowed by the other big names in legal fiction during the period. Mischief in the Lane, Murder Stalks the Wakely Family and Man on All Fours are best among the Derleth works. Derleth's plots, though good, lack finesse and polish, and this might account for the author's dismal performance as a legal-fiction author. Skip Derleth and you have missed nothing.
C.W. Grafton embarked on one of detective fiction's most original title patterns with the critically acclaimed The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope. Following the lines of the old nursery rhyme Grafton could have completed a ten-volume series about Kentucky lawyer Gil Henry. That he stopped with The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope and The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, is regrettable not because of such tantalizing titles but because Henry was one of the most promising lawyer-detectives of the forties. The rapid plot movement and legal background recall Erle Stanley Gardner, especially The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, in which Henry's fancy footwork would do Perry Mason proud. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is one of the finest non-Henry, Grafton works where a lawyer defends himself of a not-unjustified murder. Though the Henry novels are just two in number, Grafton has carved a niche in popular legal- fiction folklore. However, today Grafton is better known as the father of novelist Sue Grafton.
Marie Lowndes, another non-lawyer and a descendant of Joseph Priestly and a protégée of Robert Browning, drew on her knowledge of courts and lawyers and of recent crimes to produce a series of carefully plotted crime and suspense novels. Lizzie Borden, Motive and The Chink in the Armour traces the fallacies and shortcomings of the Marriage laws, whereby women become subject to the most cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of their spouses. Lizzie Borden and Letty Lytton involve lengthy inquests and trials all based on actual court scenes. Marie Lowndes provides an interesting read not only to the hardcore legal fiction lover but also to the reader who enjoys popular fiction.
Waynan Jones (pseudonym for Norman Daniels) deserves his place over here, not because he is a great legal author, but because he has created the one and only super-hero lawyer in the wide world of fictional lawyers. He created a crime fighter, The Black Bat, who was really an attorney, Tony Quinn. Black Bat is a Shadow type of character. Good books include Murder Town, Murder Calls Black Bat, and Voice of Doom. Waynan Jones is a welcome 'change' in this category of legal authors. And speaking of comics, did you know that America's favourite teenager, Archie Andrews, of Archie Comics eventually became a lawyer? (See, Riverdale: Fifteen Years Later).
Other good lawyers-turned-authors of this period included James M. Fox (pseudonym for J.M.W.Knipscheer), Benjamin Benson, Fergus Hume, Octavious Ray Cohen, Dornford Yates, Roy Fuller and C.H.B.Kitchin. They are good authors of popular fiction but, while none of their works can be included in the class of legal fiction, they will provide good reading for the connoisseur of crime fiction.
THE SIXTIES TO EIGHTIES
The sixties and seventies showed a severe dearth of legal authors. However it was in this period that one of the alll-time greatest works in legal fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written. This Pulitzer-winning work by Harper Lee featured lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a black man accused of raping a white girl. Atticus Finch was immortalized by Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar as best actor in the screen adaptation of the novel. Through the eyes of two children, Scott and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explored the irrationality and hypocrisy of adult attitudes about race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. A haunting and touching read, To Kill a Mocking Bird remains one of the classic works of all time and it would be a crime to the book, if it were just relegated to the status of legal fiction alone. Michigan Judge Robert Traver's Anatomy of a Murder, a courtroom drama, about a man accused of killing a man who raped his wife, had a controversial ending and was another acknowledged classic in legal fiction written during this period.
But apart from these works, good books in legal fiction were few and were far between.
William Harrington was an attorney who made his mark in legal fiction during this period and has continued his success into the nineties. He used his legal expertise as a specialist in courtroom drama. Which The Justice, Which The Thief, designed as a corrective to inaccurate media depictions of court room procedure, concerns the trial of a man and a woman accused of armed robbery of a jewel store. The clarity of the writing and the keen observation of people and institutions make this work a semi-classic in the realm of legal fiction. This work was followed by Trial, which deals with the politics of capital punishment, and Power, which are best sellers in their own right. Harrington returned to another courtroom drama with Partners, rich in ambiguity of the law and morality and the fact that truth and the appropriate verdict on evidence do not always coincide. Harrington's other works include The Jupiter Crisis, Scorpio 5 and Skin Deep, which are good thrillers but cannot fall into the category of legal fiction.
George V. Higgins, a graduate of the Boston Law School in Massachusetts and a former Attorney, has been associated with realistic dialogue, intricate plotting, and a persistent digging into the political, social and criminal landscapes of Greater Boston since the publication in 1972 of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. A year later came The Diggers Game, a best seller. Higgins speaks in a voice that rings with social conscience and aspires to the timbre of Dickens. Most books feature lawyer and a sort- of detective Jerry Kennedy. Good works include Kennedy for the Defence, Penance for Jerry Kennedy, Cogan's Trade and a Choice of Enemies. Higgins was the acknowledged superstar in this field during this period. However, since the eighties Higgins has more or less lost his charm as a legal author with the arrival of Grisham, Turow and Martini. Nevertheless, good books which made bestseller charts in spite of this hefty competition include The Agent and A Change of Gravity.
Michael Gilbert, a London Solicitor, authored the critically acclaimed masterpiece, Smallbone Deceased, which bridged the gap between classic whodunits and legal fiction. Though Death of a Favourite Girl and Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens are other good works, they do not boast of the finesse of Smallbone Deceased. On the whole Gilbert's novels are not only plausible but also possess an unusual substance, not felt in many an author's works.
Eleazar Lipsky, during a twenty year running writing career, authored many books including Murder One and The Devils daughter. In Murder One, Lipsky presents New York Asst. DA Esau Frost, who prosecutes a prostitute accused of murder. Behind-the-scenes courtroom action is a highlight of this novel. In The Scientists Lipsky presents a situation where a scientist is accused of usurping credit for the discovery of a wonder drug from a fellow scientist. (I believe this work to be the first one dealing with patent right in the field of legal fiction). Malpractice is an excellent courtroom drama on medical negligence. The People Against O'Hara and Lincoln McKeever are other good works of this author who achieved enviable success during this period.
Roderic Jeffries is a best-selling novelist and author of more than 90 thrillers, most of them being of the whodunit type. However ,Jeffries' background in law and lawyering has been skillfully narrated in three great courtroom dramas. In Evidence of the Accused, two men, the husband and the lover are tried for the murder of a wealthy socialite. Each confesses to the crime while the other is being tried. The ending is a tour de force, which produces the murderer and leaves him free outside the reach of law. Like Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution it keeps the reader guessing till the very end and is a page- turner in the real sense of the term. In an An Embarrassing Death, a person accused of murder undertakes his own defence without help of any lawyer. Dead Against The Lawyers is yet another riveting courtroom drama from this great lawyer-turned-whodunit storyteller.
Among mystery writers who combine intelligence, wit and cleverness, it is hard to beat Jane Langton, whose novels feature Homer Kelly, attorney, scholar, and sometimes detective; they are not only entertaining but also instructive and thoughtful. Homer Kelly is tall, ungainly, ill-dressed and brilliant as a lawyer and a detective. In The Transcendental Murder Kelly investigates the murders of local amateur experts on the transcendentalists. The Memorial Hall Murder has Kelly investigating a crime among the Harvard Faculty. Kelly has traces of Perry Mason here and there, but in the world of fictitious lawyers Kelly occupies a special position.
Jack Ehrlich was a writer who found his true metier as an author of westerns. However, the author has made his contribution to the realm of legal fiction also. In Revenge, Ehrlich put forward a unique theme. It briefly summarizes two trials of the protagonist, one as an advocate and the other as the defendant. A good read. In Court Martial, Ehrlich takes us into the world of Lt. Carl Richter ,a fill-in trial officer of the US Air Force, who tries the case of an officer accused of desertion. The Girl Cage is an interesting read into the plea of insanity regarding the mental competency of the only witness in a murder case. The Drowning and The Chantham Killing are other good works of this author.
Robert L. Fish is best known for Sir Percival Pugh, whom we first encounter in The Murder League. Here three down-and-out elderly writers take to murder to gain publicity and show that they still have'it' in them. Pugh is faced with the difficulty of defending them. A good book with strong comic touches. This work was followed by two sequels, Rub-a-Dub-Dub and A Gross Miscarriage of Justice. In A Handy Death, attorney hank Ross defends a baseball player who is accused of murder, when the victim dies of injuries suffered as a result of the accused's assault eight years back. A good trial drama. Fish, I believe, is the only American author to realistically portray the British legal system in his works. Fish also is credited with creating the TV series Trials of O'Brien, which has been compiled in a short story collection with the same tittle.
Michael Underwood is a Solicitor and crime writer who works largely by undramatic means. This might seem a contradiction. Crime and especially murder, is at first blush a strongly dramatic affair. But it is so only at first blush. Underwood's legal background conveys not only the full tedium of the crime but also covers a good deal of its sober progress from point to point. He does this by describing the course of investigation, the course of legal process and finally the court room scenes, which are all narrated in a wholly undramatic manner. Good works include The Unprofessional Spy, Menaces, Menaces and Hand of Fate.
Evan Hunter is the author of A Matter of Conviction, The Paper Dragon and Three Blind Mice. A Matter of Conviction is about juvenile delinquency where three young men are accused of murder. The Paper Dragon is a fascinating exploration into the world of writers and publishers and into the law of copyright. Evan Hunter has continued his success into the nineties also, one of the few authors of this period to achieve distinction in spite of the presence of genre specialists Grisham and Turow. Lizzie takes us to the life of Lizzie Borden (earlier explored by Marie Lowndes). Under the pseudonym Ed McBain Hunter created Florida lawyer-sleuth Mathew Hope, who in Three Blind Mice defends a wealthy tomato grower of murder of Vietnamese immigrants; in Mary, Mary he defends a school teacher of murder. Ed McBain is more a nineties writer than Evan Hunter. This change of name might well account for Hunter gaining success in the nineties. Gladly The Cross- Eyed Bear is another good Hope novel.
Sara Woods is best remembered for her creation, the barrister, Anthony Maitland, 'a barrister who never loses a case'. Her forty-eight Maitland works are a fascinating study of the English legal system and explore the way that barristers, solicitors and police try to see justice done within the sometimes frustrating boundaries of the system, an insight into which is found in Wood's critically acclaimed Bloody Instructions. Woods' books are more than Perry Mason-like accounts of trials. Each case study builds logically to a courtroom climax. Case studies include child custody battles as in Most Deadly Hate, art theft (Cry Guilty), libel (Enter a Gentle Woman), and even amnesia as in Defy the Devil. On the whole Anthony Maitland books are interesting mysteries that provide pleasant puzzles and an insight into the law at work. They ought not to be read one after another as they can seem much alike after a while, but as most things, as part of a mixed diet they are fine.
Throughout his legal career--as a private attorney, county prosecutor, state legislator and trial judge-- Joe L. Hensley has kept up a second career as a mystery writer. Hensley's tone is quiet and low-keyed; his pace is unfrenetic and unhurried and he has a nice talent for character drawing. The majority of his books deal with the crusading Bington criminal lawyer Donald Robak. Hensley has little interest in fireworks displays of legal ingenuity in the Gardner tradition, and his novels tend to avoid the courtroom. The offenders vary from a female juvenile defender as in Minor Murders to a disgraced former cop as in Outcasts. Hensley is at his best in Robak's Cross, which has, for a change, more courtroom action than all Robak novels put together.
Lawrence Block, the prolific thriller author, though he had no formal training in law, has also tried his hand at legal fiction. He has created New York lawyer Martin Ehrengraf, who can at best be referred to as the black sheep among fictional lawyers. Randolph Mason might have been unscrupulous but he is no match for the deviousness of Ehrengraf, whose philosophy and style of practice make Mason look like a saint. He was featured in several stories including The Ehrengraf Method and in The Ehrengraf Presumption. In The Ehrengraf Method, the protagonist arranges for the release of his client, a serial killer, by the simple ploy of committing murder in the same style when his client is in jail. In The Ehrengraf Presumption, the lawyer gets the Client A off on a murder charge by framing B for the crime; then takes on B as a client and gets him off by framing C. During this period, as I said earlier, legal- fiction faced a lull, and the legal profession was held in contempt; and this might have accounted for the success of Ehrengraf novels, which were a pure snub of the world of the law and lawyers.
And finally, there was Edward Grierson, a lawyer-turned-writer who took to fiction but did not stick with legal fiction alone and has won fame as an international thriller author of repute. However, his best work on law is The Second Man, about the trials of a lady barrister, both in and out of the court, and won for him the British Crime Writer award in 1956. Reputation for a Song is a composed study of a domestic murder and a good courtroom drama. The suspense is not in finding the identity of the murderer, but in finding whether he will hang. The Massingham Affair and A Crime of One's Own are other good legal works of Grierson.
But, as I said, legal fiction faced a lull in this period. Good books were rare and great authors, only a handful.
THE NINETIES & AFTER
The late 1970's and early 80's showed a slump in the field of legal fiction. But in the late eighties the arrival of two youngsters into this field transformed the face of legal fiction forever. John Grisham and Scott Turow have made legal fiction the Ain thing@ in the field of popular crime fiction. The publication of Turow's Presumed Innocent in 1987electrified the legal-fiction genre and prompted even many a non-legal author to start writing about law and lawyers. A number of women authors have also achieved stupendous success with the creative use of the law in this period. In this category I have clubbed lawyer- writers and non-lawyer writers, though the majority among them are lawyers-turned-authors. More than one hundred authors have gained popularity as legal authors during this period.
John Grisham, as a young lawyer, took to fiction as a pass time. His first work was the critically acclaimed A Time to Kill. It was a story of white lawyer defending a black American accused of killing, in an open court, two white teen-agers who raped his twelve-year-old daughter, a sort of a 'reverse To Kill A Mockingbird'. But it was with the success of his next work The Firm that Grisham leapt into the league of best-selling authors. The book became a movie starring Tom Cruise. It was the story of a young lawyer who single-handedly moves against the Mafia that has a stranglehold over his Firm and its partners. The publication of The Chamber secured critical acclaim to Grisham once again. It was a story of a young lawyer defending his grandfather, an erstwhile member of the Ku-Klux clan accused of murder. The Rainmaker dealt with the trials and difficulties of a young lawyer struggling to make a mark in his profession. The Pelican Brief was another chiller thriller: what do you do if a judge stands in the way of your winning the case? Simple, just kill the judge. It was a story of a young woman (played wonderfully by Julia Roberts in the screen version) who discovered this truth and the danger she faced in trying to bring the guilty to the book. The Runaway Jury showed how the jury system could be manipulated so as to achieve the verdict one desires. The book dealt with the case of a compensation claim against a tobacco-manufacturing company for causing cancer to smokers. In the book heavy damages were paid. It is ironic that soon after the release of this book an American Jury awarded a huge compensation to the wife of a person who died of cancer caused due to smoking. The Client, The Partner, The Testament, and The Brethren, though bestsellers, could not boast of the legal-thrill, which was the hallmark of other Grisham works. However, the publication of The Street Lawyer, a story about a lawyer who grows disgusted with his money-oriented profession and turns to social interest litigation, provides an interesting read. The author's next work, A Painted House, is expected to hit the stands in early 2001.Grisham also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Gingerbread Man. A gripping narration and a fast-paced theme are the secrets of Grisham's success.
Scott Turow's Harvard Law School training, recorded in One L, a non-fiction description of his experiences as a first-year law student, has provided a solid legal foundation for his novels. The result is five hard-hitting, thought-provoking novels that go beyond the limitations of the mystery genre to face the illusory nature of reality and what is meant by justice. Though Pleading Guilty, Laws of Our Fathers and Personal Injuries have become best sellers, it is still his first two books, Presumed Innocent and Burden of Proof by which Turow is identified. If Grisham based all his novels in Memphis, it was Kindle County that formed the background of all of Turow's works. Presumed Innocent captures the investigation scene, the suspense and the internal maneuverings of a headline trial where the prosecuting attorney himself is accused of the murder of his mistress. Told in the first person, from the viewpoint of Rusty Sabich, the accused prosecutor, it traces the moral dilemma, confusion and ethical confrontation of Sabich and his lawyer Sandy Stern. The result is a first class thriller, which later became a movie starring Harrison Ford. Turow's next work, Burden of Proof, traced the personal trials of Sandy Stern, who came home one day to find that his wife had committed suicide and showed how he balanced his professional obligations and his personal tragedies. Turow's sense of courtroom finesse and skill at misdirection is clearly revealed in these two thrillers and is a must-read for every legal-fiction lover. Turow's latest novel, Personal Injuries, centers on lawyer Rob Feaver, who bribes judges who decide his cases. Though not as exciting as Presumed Innocent, Personal Injuries does provide a good read. Incidentally Turow also has edited a short story collection, Guilty as Charged.
Traditionally, legal fiction has been restricted to novels. But John Mortimer has broken the shackles and introduced the short story into this realm. Mortimer describes himself as a 'writer who does some barristering', though he has been a defense lawyer since 1948. His creation Horace Rumpole is yet another example of the creation becoming more famous than the creator. Rumpole can no doubt be referred to as England's favorite defense barrister. He is a fearless tamer of judges (often addressing them as 'old darling or 'sweetheart'), but always kept in order by 'She Who Must Be Obeyed' (Rumpole's wife Hilda). Rumpole is known, not surprisingly, as a 'character.' His exploits at the Old Bailey, an unsurpassable blend of eloquence, wit, cynicism and experience, are collected in eleven wonderful short story collections including Rumpole for the Defence, Rumpole a la Carte and The Trials of Rumpole. Critics have praised Rumpole to the best mock-heroic fatty since Falstaff and as the nearest thing to the Wodehousian perfection of Jeeves stories. Rumpole stories have won for Mortimer, the prestigious British Academy Writer of the Year Award. Rumpole also became a television series starring Leo McKern. In addition to the Rumpole series John Mortimer also has written some great law dramas, including The Dock Brief, a touching story of an unsuccessful barrister who finds it difficult to make ends meet, and also has edited Famous Trials, a non-fiction work about great English criminal trials.
Steve Martini is an exception among legal authors in the sense that he was an author before he became a lawyer. Martini's first novel ,The Simeon Chamber, was followed by Compelling Evidence, starring attorney Paul Madriani, about a highly charged murder trial, and has been translated into almost fifteen languages. Following its success Martini wrote Prime Witness, another Madriani thriller, and yet another bestseller. But it was Undue Influence, published in 1994, that won Martini international fame as a legal author. This book is an unputdownable courtroom drama keeping the reader at tenterhooks till the very end. Martini, before becoming a full-time novelist, was a journalist specializing in law issues. Later ,as a lawyer, he also had the privilege of drafting numerous legislation for the California Legislature. Martini has followed the success of Undue Influence with The List, The Judge, The Attorney (featuring Madriani) and Critical Mass. His latest book The Jury is expected to hit the stands in early 2001.
Richard North Patterson is a lawyer writer who stands along with Grisham, Martini and Turow as best- selling legal authors, not only in Europe and America but also in India. A former Assistant Attorney General of Ohio and a reputed trial lawyer in Washington, he was also involved in the Special Prosecutor team covering the Watergate Scandal. Law and politics and their interplay are the basic themes of Patterson novels and are best revealed in his bestsellers. However, his novels also bear a high sense of righteousness and ethics. His first novel, The Lasko Tangent, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1979. The book was a result of his experiences as a trial lawyer during the Watergate Scandal and is loosely based on the same. This was followed by The Outside Man, Escape the Night and Private Screening. His works Degree of Guilt and Eyes of a Child both feature attorney Christopher Paget of The Lasko Tangent fame. Patterson was awarded the French Grand Prix de Littt'erateur Polici'ere award in 1995. The Final Judgment, Silent Witness, No Safe Place, Protect and Defend and Dark Lady are other good books by Richard North Patterson.
Willam J. Coughlin was a late-comer to legal fiction. His contributions to legal fiction are just five in number, written between 1988 and 1992, before his death in 1993. In Her Honor Coughlin presented Kathleen Talbot a judge who falls in love with an attorney whose case she is trying. A courtroom drama of the first order, it also provides an in-depth study about the justifiability of euthanasia. In The Presence of Enemies is a courtroom drama about the legacy of a multi-millionaire, who left too much to his 'young fourth wife.' However, Coughlin is best remembered for Detroit lawyer Charley Sloan, who first appears in the whodunit courtroom drama Shadow of a Doubt, which has been referred to as the classic Coughlin. Death Penalty, Day of Wrath, Heart of Justice and The Judgement are other good Coughlin works.
Sol Stein started his career in the mid-seventies but attained popularity only in the early eighties. Stein is the creator of ace defense lawyer George Thomassy, a very skilled advocate who gives the best for his clients, whether guilty or not. In The Magician, Thomassy investigates the assault and battery committed on an amateur magician while in Other People Thomassy defends a strong-willed rape victim. The Touch of Treason is another good work.
Lisa Scottoline practiced as a trial lawyer in Philadelphia before turning to full-time legal fiction. She had also served as a law clerk in the Pennsylvania Circuit Court of Appeals. Her first novel, Everywhere That Mary Went, was nominated for the Edgar Award, while her second novel, Final Appeal, won the Edgar. Her great works include Rough Justice, Legal Tender and Running From the Law. Mistaken Identity is another good work by Scottoline. It seems that she derived her inspiration to write this novel, a story about a lawyer defending her twin accused of murder, after meeting her half-sister, about whom Scottoline came to know about only very recently. Scottoline is one of the few women legal authors who have attained best seller status, the first since Craig Rice in the forties. People Magazine has called her 'the female Grisham.' Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Scottoline's latest work, A Moment of Truth, has just hit the best seller charts in Europe and U.S. It is just a matter of time before Scottoline makes it as big as Martini and Turow have in India.
A. W. Gray, through his pseudonym Sarah Gregory, has won the title of 'another female Grisham' and has created the Texas sleuth and lawyer Sharon Hays. Sharon Hays has appeared in more than four novels. Public Trust, The Best Defense, Capitol Hill and In Self Defense are good books by Gregory. In In Self Defense, Sharon defends the daughter of a multi-millionaire accused of killing her father. To add masala, there is the presence of a psychotic killer who is bent on killing Hays, all culminating in a good courtroom drama. In In Best Defense, Sharon Hays defends a Hollywood actress accused of murdering an actor. A good read but is reminiscent of certain whodunit type books of Agatha Christie.
* I am a lawyer practicing in Thiruvananthapuram, India. Along with my legal practice I am also studying a post graduate course in Human Rights and in Business Law. As a student of law, I represented my College, (Kerala Law Academy Law College, Kerala University, Thiruvananthapuram, India) for several National and a few International Moot Court Competitions. I am also a member of ILSA, the International Law students Association. I enjoy popular legal- fiction and am a proud owner of all Grisham novels. I have read all Turow works (I'm intending to start a collection soon) and also enjoy the Rumpole works of John Mortimer. I also relish an occasional Martini and a rare Scot (ch) t-oline with a Patterson on the side.