In preparation for this new proposal/series I’m not talking about yet, I spent last night reviewing my favorite legal suspense novels looking for elements that made them work. Here are a couple threads I’m finding, tell me what you think.
1) Strong legal suspense starts with a strong what if. What if the father of a girl who was brutally raped by two men kills them? And what if a white man agrees to defend him in a rural southern town? That’s a strong enough what if to propel John Grisham’s first legal suspense. What if an attorney is desperate for clients because her husband has kicked her out and she’s starting over in a new town? And what if a woman comes to her accused of murdering her husband but she has no recollection of the event? Those are the what ifs that propel Perri O’Shaughnessy’s first book Motion to Suppress.
2) Setting doesn’t matter as long as it is key to the story. Lisa Scottoline sets the majority of her books in Boston. Perri O’Shaughnessy uses Tahoe. And John Grisham favors Mississippi, Tennessee, and DC.
3) Characterization is secondary in some, but really propels the page-turners. I could see growth in John Grisham’s writing as I flipped through ten of his books. That’s encouraging to me. Especially since I love his first two books anyway. But some of the later books suck you in and don’t let go. And I think it’s because the characters are so clear and distinct.
4) The law can serve a multitude of functions. Maybe it’s simply the backdrop because the main character happens to be an attorney. Or the book will focus on a trial and follow it from filing to discovery to court.
So what do you like to read in a legal suspense? I look forward to reading your comments.