Not too many years ago, an influential editor told me that the legal thriller was dead. Readers were bored. They wanted to read about ‘real people’, not a bunch of lawyers.
Well, since then, readers have proven that editor wrong. They have fallen in love with Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller, watching the defense attorney struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of a daughter who does not understand how her father can put dangerous people back on the streets. They could not put their books down as William Landay told the masterful story of Defending Jacob, about a prosecutor who comes to fear that his own son committed a grisly murder.
The list of hardworking, successful, thoughtful writers who continue to mine the world of attorneys for top-notch fiction is too lengthy to possibly complete, but to name a few: Linda Fairstein, Phillip Margolin, Lisa Scottoline, Paul Levine, Marcia Clark, Steve Martini, Richard North Patterson, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, Brad Meltzer, Stephen Carter. Oh, and last time I checked, John Grisham and Scott Turow still sell a whole lot of books, and new readers continue to discover the joy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know – and are supposed to keep – our darkest secrets.”
I often joke that the term ‘legal thriller’ is an oxymoron. Most of my time in a courtroom was spent waiting around, the New York Times crossword puzzle tucked discreetly into my case file. “Objection!” and “Hearsay!” do not make for good dialogue. So why do we keep following stories about lawyers?
Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know – and are supposed to keep – our darkest secrets: our family situations, our finances, our worst sins. They owe duties of loyalty to clients, even when they don’t want to, and despite the demands of their own moral compass and those of the people they care about.
It’s within this context that I situate my tenth novel, All Day and a Night, which tells the story of a wrongful conviction claim from the perspectives of both recurring character NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and a young defense attorney named Carrie Blank, who, oh yeah, is also the sister of one of her client’s supposed victims.
All Day and a Night has been described as a combination of police procedural, courtroom drama and psychological thriller. To defy easy categorization is the highest praise I can ask for.
Alafair Burke is an American crime novelist, professor of law, legal commentator, and a former district attorney. She is the author of serial novels featuring Portland, Oregon prosecutor Samantha Kincaid and NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. All Day and a Night is published by Faber & Faber. Read more.