Sometimes in the justice system, it’s hard to tell who the bad guy is. In these legal thrillers, those who pursue, uphold or enforce justice are also a little — or a lot — on the bad side. Some push the limits of legality in their methods, while others lack common decency, have their own guilty secrets, or are out-and-out criminals. Regardless, the personal struggles of the morally ambiguous and conflicted — not to mention the machinations of the downright evil — create subplots as interesting as the cases they’re involved in. Here is a sampling of legal thrillers on the dark side of the law, some by authors you may recognize, and others by lesser-known authors worthy of your consideration.
The Firm by John Grisham (Dell)
What better place to start this list but with the dean of legal thrillers, John Grisham? Fresh out of law school, Mitch McDeere is lured to sign on with small tax law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke with a sweet deal full of perks and compensation and assistance in passing the bar. But this law firm isn’t all it seems, and the partners have a habit of dying untimely, suspicious deaths. Soon, Mitch is embroiled in an FBI takedown of his employer, which turns out to be a tax fraud and money-laundering operation for the Morolto crime family of Chicago. But the firm is starting to suspect Mitch’s loyalties. Can he collect enough evidence before he becomes yet another of the firm’s deceased attorneys?
The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)
Rachel North is a law student married to Jack, a criminal defense attorney. She plans one day to work alongside him, but things are far from perfect between the would-be partners. There are secrets, lies, jealousies, and some past history involved. And then there’s the murder case — which turns into multiple murders. Told through the viewpoints of Rachel, Jack, and the prosecuting attorney, Martha, the book is as much about the players as it is about a case: how far will one person go to get what they want and who are they willing to hurt in the process? It also brings up many questions about justice and fairness in the justice system. Packed with plot twists, this is a novel that blends several thriller genres together in a unique way.
Defending Jacob by William Landay (Bantam Books)
A suburb is stunned when a young boy is stabbed to death in a local park. For Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, the greater shock is the accused murderer — his own shy, awkward teenage son, Jacob. Barber believes Jacob is innocent, but as pressure and evidence mount, the ensuing murder trial becomes the ultimate test of parental devotion: How far would you go to protect your child? And how well can you know your own children? A book that will make you rethink everything you know about legal thrillers, the law, and family, it has just launched as a streaming series on Apple TV+ starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell.
Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue by Jules Mermelstein (Marblestone Publishing)
Meet Joshua Frankel, a defense attorney who knows firsthand that truth, justice and the law do not always align, and is willing to step outside the law in pursuit of justice. In this first book of a new series, Frankel’s case is that of a wealthy widower who claims he is being framed by the NSA for the murder of his wife. It seems a bit far-fetched to Frankel, but it’s up to him to figure out the truth — a task that, as it turns out, will put him and his team in grave peril. Throw in some international intrigue and government corruption, and you get a thriller from the dark side of the legal system full of tension and danger that will keep you guessing — and turning pages — until the very end.
Feared by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s)
The crack legal team of Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato may need lawyers of their own this time. That’s because several fledgling lawyers not hired by their firm are suing them for reverse discrimination and the complainants’ attorney, aptly named Nick Machiavelli, is determined to win at all costs. The duo soon figure out that Machiavelli manufactured the entire story and entrapped the law firm’s only male lawyer, John Foxman, into admitting sexual discrimination. Not surprisingly, murder enters the picture, further ratcheting up the stakes and suspense, as our stalwart heroines fight for everything they hold dear. This one blends psychological and legal thriller into an exciting and suspenseful mix, and demonstrates how far some attorneys will go to get the last word.
The Eighteenth Green by Webb Hubbell (Beaufort Books)
Billed as a Jack Patterson Thriller, this fast-paced, twisty legal thriller set in D.C. tests the lengths the government will go against someone. The government will imprison an innocent person, use the media to have that person convicted in the court of public opinion and, because that person knows too much, stand by as that person is murdered in prison … and label it a suicide. It starts with a corpse on the eighteenth green of a Chevy Chase, MD, country club. It ends in the Washington D.C. Press Club with Patterson exposing how, breaking the law, the U.S. government and a government contractor sold a weapons system to an ally, which used it to kill an innocent man … and how the U.S. government then framed his widow. Here, it’s the government that’s on the take.
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