Real-life court cases—from the trial of O.J. Simpson to the more recent conviction of Derek Chauvin—captivate the public’s attention and keep millions glued to their TV’s, so it’s not really a surprise that some of the best thrillers are also set in the courtroom.
In this post, we’ll explore 10 of the most riveting legal thrillers that will keep you guessing, and sometimes point out a few critical flaws in the justice system.
10 Must-Read Legal Thrillers
Below are 10 must-read legal thrillers that will keep you engrossed in all the courtroom drama.
1. The Firm by John Grisham
This John Grisham bestseller was adapted into a 1993 film starring Tom Cruise as Mitch, a young, promising lawyer. He signs with a firm that leases him a BMW, pays off his school loans, arranges a mortgage, and even hires a decorator for him and his wife.
But it soon becomes evident that most of the firm’s clients are on the wrong side of the law, and when the FBI comes calling, some partners are willing to kill anyone who threatens to blow their cover.
2. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
This 1958 classic was written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker based the novel on an actual murder case in which he was the defense attorney.
Paul Biegler is a DA on his way out of office after the people of his small town have elected a new hero. Soon he’s given a chance to prove he’s as good at defending as he is prosecuting, but he’ll have to closely examine the seething emotions beneath the surface of his tranquil town.
3. Mistaken Identity by Lisa Scottoline
Attorney Bennie Rosato’s newest client is accused of murdering her own lover, a police detective. Bennie is shocked to see that her client, Alice Connolly, looks exactly like her, and even more stunned at the claim that she is Bennie’s identical twin.
This legal thriller combines courtroom drama with an emotional exploration of family, as Bennie takes on a case that may unlock the secret of her own identity.
4. Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow
When Rafael Zhettah meets Tieresse—a billionaire philanthropist and sophisticated bombshell—knows he’s found the one. But just as he feels his life has begun again, Tieresse is brutally murdered in their home, and Rafael is convicted of the crime and sentenced to death row.
But once he recaptures his freedom, Rafael will stop at nothing to bring justice to those who took everything from him.
5. Every Reasonable Doubt by Pamela Samuels Young
Vernetta is tasked with defending a socialite on trial for murder. She’s not thrilled about working with Neddy McClain, but the two women must join forces against a ruthless prosecutor and endure the uncertainties of trial, the pain of betrayal, and unimaginable pressures.
Meanwhile, their client’s case starts to interfere with Vernetta’s personal life, including her marriage.
6. A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos
Nearly 15 years ago, prosecutor Jessica Yardley’s husband went to prison for a series of brutal murders. Just as she’s finally managed to move on and create a new life with her daughter, a new series of homicides has all the markings of her ex-husband, Eddie’s, crimes.
The FBI asks Jessica for help catching the copycat killer, which means she must meet and collaborate with her ex-husband, and Jessica must decide who she can trust.
7. Contempt by Michael Cordell
Lawyer Thane Banning has spent five years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Now that he’s finally out, he’s hounded with death threats from the victim’s family, and must also face a corrupt DA who has a grudge to settle.
When another innocent man’s life is on the line, Thane returns to the court room one more time to ensure justice is served—and this time, he’ll have to break a few rules to come out unscathed.
8. A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson
Stella Sandell is an ordinary 18-year-old from an upstanding family, except that she’s just been accused of the brutal murder of a shady businessman 15 years older than her.
Stella’s parents, a pastor and a criminal defense attorney, must defend their daughter, all while struggling to understand why she is a suspect in the first place.
9. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. But a pair of murders has Darren traveling back to his home state, to the small town of Lark, where a black man from Chicago and a local white women have both been found dead.
The murders have stirred up a lot of resentment and have Lark’s long-standing racial tensions at a boil. Love, race, and justice intersect in this legal thriller by a writer and producer of Fox TV’s Empire.
10. Clean Hands by Patrick Hoffman
In Clean Hands, Elizabeth Carlyle’s New York law firm is working on a high-stakes case when a phone containing all of the most important, secret documents goes missing.
The files get into the wrong hands, and someone starts blackmailing the firm. It gets even worse when stories about the documents get leaked to the press, and a tragic suicide appears staged, hinting that something even murkier is going on beneath the surface.
Is To Kill a Mockingbird a Legal Thriller?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a classic legal thriller in which a Black man is accused of assaulting a white girl.
It explores the case from the point of view of a child, and delves into themes of racial injustice, gender roles, and the loss of innocence.
What Is a Legal Thriller?
A legal thriller is a subgenre of the broader thriller genre. This type of crime fiction typically focuses on an investigation, legal proceedings, and the impact that a case has on the characters.
The protagonist in a legal thriller is usually a lawyer, as their actions ultimately determine the outcome and impact for other characters’ lives—the question is always if and how they’ll be able to save the day.
Who Writes the Best Legal Thrillers?
John Grisham is one of the most popular and successful writers of legal thrillers.
He’s one of only three writers to sell two million copies on a first printing (along with J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy), and nine of his novels have been adapted for the big screen. Check out a list of Grisham’s best legal legal thrillers.