By Vignesh Ganesh, G.J. Advani Law College, Mumbai.
Reading being one of the best hobbies to be encouraged, especially for law students and lawyers alike; with our profession thriving on words, it comes as no surprise that there are hundreds of books out there just waiting for us to get our hands on them!
Here is a list of the must read books (fiction) for lawyers and aspiring lawyers. In case you haven’t read them so far, better HURRY!
The Trial by Franz Kafka
“It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”
A novel that is truly Kafkaesque in every sense of the word, The Trial is the story of a man who encounters an invisible system that is out to get him for a crime that is never revealed to him, or the reader. Heavily influenced by how Kafka viewed the legal systems of his time, the novel speaks about a system where the defendant is a victim and spectator to the obscure charges leveled against him. With an untouchable Court sending forth an officer who serves as the accuser, Judge and executioner, the protagonist discovers much to his shock that an arbitrary and complex organization has done away with the due process of law. With the myth of guilt and judgement discussed in this novel, there is a wide range of interpretations available for this story.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
A novel written by Harper Lee, published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is an American Classic. Despite its dark plot, the novel is known for its humour and warmth. Set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama, the story focuses on the events encountered by Scout Finch, her brother, Jem and their widowed father, Atticus Finch, a prominent lawyer whose stand differs from that of the society. When Atticus is appointed to represent a black man accused of raping a white woman, all hell breaks loose for the trio. They face the consequences of their stand as their lives change forever. Lee’s talent for narration makes the novel seem autobiographical, with the plot moving fluidly. The characters are memorable, with Scout Finch becoming one of the most famous literary characters of all time. With the novel based on the ‘coming of age’ theme, the story traces the journey of a child who grows up in the face of the social issues plaguing her town.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
“A lawyer has to be himself in the courtroom, and if he was afraid, so be it. The jurors were afraid too. Make friends with fear, Lucien always said, because it will not go away, and it will destroy you if left uncontrolled.”
A 1988 legal thriller, A Time to Kill narrates a story that takes place in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi. The tale transports us to a period when racial tensions ran high in America. The story is inspired by a case at the De Soto County Courthouse in 1984, where Grisham witnessed the distressing testimony of a twelve year old rape survivor. Inspired by the case, Grisham set out to write his first book, though unlike the depiction made in the book, the victim in real life was white and her assailant was black. The plot is about a grief stricken father, Carl Lee Hailey who decides to take the law into his own hands. He avenges his daughter’s brutal rape by shooting dead the bigots responsible for the crime. It is up to Jake Brigance, an untested lawyer to defend him and ultimately get him acquitted.
With slight dramatization in the narration of events in the story, one can certainly overlook the minor legal inconsistencies to enjoy the plot thoroughly.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
“There’s no need to talk about it, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does.”
A novel written by a German law professor and Judge, Bernhard Schlink, The Reader (Der Vorleser) was published in 1995 in Germany and 1997 in the United States.
The story is told in three parts by the protagonist, Michael Berg. With the plot spanning years, the tale is about the forbidden relationship between Michael, a fifteen year old student and Hanna, a mysterious streetcar conductress. As the years pass, the mysterious past of Hanna is slowly revealed to Michael as he struggles to define his relationship with her. With numerous questions haunting his mind, Michael has a hard time coming to terms with Hanna’s secrets. The author’s writing highlights the use of metaphors as we have the certain fate of Michael and Hanna’s relationship compared to that of Germany’s post-war generation. His blunt revelation of events lends authenticity to the text and reveals how the post-war generation and generations after that had a tough time coming to terms with the crimes that Nazis committed.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow
“If we cannot find the truth, what is our hope of justice?”
Published in August 1987, Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow is a legal thriller with an unpredictable twist. The book tells us the story of Rozat “Rusty” Sabich, a prosecutor who lives through numerous nightmares when he is appointed to handle the murder case of Carolyn, a beautiful attorney and co-worker who is found raped and murdered. Things take a turn for the worst when he is named as the accused!
With the story told in first person by the accused, Rusty, the book explores his emotions and attachment to the victim who wasn’t only a co-worker, but also a lover. With allies turning against him, Rusty is faced with shock and betrayal with every twist the tale takes.
The story accurately describes the various procedures undertaken by lawyers on both the sides to prosecute and defend respectively. With deals cut in every corner, justice may not be all that clean.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
A novel by the brilliant author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the book was published in the year 1866. Highlighting the moral dilemmas and anguish suffered by a poverty-stricken ex-student, Rodion Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment narrates his formulated plan to make away with an unscrupulous pawn broker’s money by murdering her and trying to get away with it.
The novel purely focuses on the protagonist’s perspective, and the character is shown to have a dual personality. With a cold, anti-social demeanor, Rodion is also shown to be surprisingly warm and compassionate at times. With a chaotic struggle raging within him, the protagonist commits murder and acts of charity. With the book having a distinct beginning, middle and end, the story speaks about an ‘intrinsic duality’ in human beings and how it rules one to commit acts, which one might not want to indulge in otherwise.
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
“I view people two ways. They’ re either eye-for-an-eye people or they are turn-the-cheek people.”
A 2005 novel written by American Crime Writer, Michael Connelly, the story is about Mick Haller who is a moderately successful defense attorney who practiced from his Lincoln Continental Sedan. When the charismatic lawyer surprisingly lands the case of a lifetime, a case that he believes will just be an open and shut deal, with a big monetary reward in the end, things take a sinister turn for the worst.
The plot is fast paced, with the story taking a number of interesting twists and turns. The novel received a lot of attention from the mystery community and was a commercial success.
Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
“Animals are strictly dry, they sinless live and swiftly die, but sinful, ginful, rum-soaked men, survive for three-score years and ten.”
A 1959 Courtroom drama and one with a brilliant plot, Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver is a gripping tale of a sensational trial, with the staple diet of murder and deceit. With its authentic settings and events, this book has all the elements to make it an original classic thriller.
Speaking about the human error prevalent in jurisprudence, the characters offer their own varying positions on what is right or wrong with differing perspectives on integrity, morality, ethics and justice. It is this aspect of the system that emerges as its weakness and placing reliance on human credibility is a part of the judicial process.
The Colour of Law by Mark Gimenez
“Defense Lawyers, they’re just hired guns. They don’t care about defending the innocent, or fighting for justice. They just want to get paid.”
The Colour of Law by Mark Gimenez is a legal thriller published in 2005. The story is about a partner at a prominent Law Firm, Scott Fenney, who at the age of thirty three is at the peak of his legal career with a much loved family. But when a senator’s son is killed in a hit and run, the state Judge asks Fenney to defend the accused who in this case is a black prostitute, addicted to heroin who cannot pay him for his services. Fenny has to choose now whether to put his awesome lifestyle on hold and pursue justice for the accused, or give up her case to the public defender and in turn abandon the principles of justice that he still holds dear.
An engrossing read with a terrific plot, this book happens to be a good read for the legal thriller genre.
Primal Fear by William Diehl
“Even animals know better than to foul their own nest.”
Primal Fear, a novel written by William Diehl in the year of 1993 is about a brilliant lawyer with a bad boy image, Martin Vail. The tale is about how Martin takes up the case of a young altar boy accused of murdering an influential Catholic Archbishop. With the boy being found holding a butcher’s knife near the Archbishop’s body, it is up to Martin to defend the one who he believes to be innocent. On one hand, it is believed that Martin will lose the case, but Martin has a couple of unconventional legal tricks up his sleeve. He may just prove to be the prosecutor’s worst nightmare.
With the complex depth displayed by Diehl’s characters, the plot involves various subplots to keep it going. The book received and deserved every bit of the accolades heaped upon it by critics and readers alike.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Juror #8- “This is somebody’s life. We can’t decide in five minutes.”
A teleplay written in the year 1954, by Reginald Rose, for the Studio One anthology television series. A behind the scenes look of the American Legal System, Twelve Angry Men shows the epic conflict between twelve jurors who hold a man’s life in their hands.
The turmoil within their hearts comes to the fore with their opinions being swayed by their changing beliefs. With one dissenting member of the jury serving as the voice of reason, the agitated jurors bicker behind closed doors in a stuffy room. With each juror being ruled by an individual character trait, justice has never been in more precarious hands!