Lisa Scottoline’s top 10 books about justice

Lisa Scottoline is a former trial lawyer in a prestigious Philadelphia firm and the bestselling author of twelve previous novels including Dead Ringer, Killer Smile and Devil’s Corner. Her latest novel is Dirty Blonde and features a young, female judge with a secret.

“I write novels about justice, a rich and compelling subject because it always involves the great themes – the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, and love and hate. I also teach a course I developed called Justice and Fiction at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in which I trace views of justice in fiction. Here are some of the books I teach. If you read them, you’ll get the short course – without the tuition!”

1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The perfect starting point for discussion, introducing the notion that law and justice aren’t always one and the same, and exploring the drama that lies therein. Shakespeare was ahead of his time, and The Merchant of Venice is a modern and moving portrayal of the effects of discrimination and injustice on the human psyche.

2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha’s brilliant and innovative mystery – and her first bestseller – celebrates its 80th birthday this year and breaks the rules even as it makes them. For mystery freaks like me, it’s the Holy Grail.

3. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

Traver, himself a judge writing under a pseudonym, deepens the characterisation of his main character, Paul Biegler, who has a love for fly-fishing and an uneven employment history, yet still tells the compelling story of Biegler’s defence of a soldier accused of murder.

4. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, and The Boy Who Followed Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Just when you think you know who the good guys are, Highsmith puts you in the mind of the murderer – and makes you like him way too much. Not since Paradise Lost has evil received such good press.

5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lee, a lawyer herself was also the daughter of a country lawyer and it’s impossible not to see her admiration for the profession embodied in Atticus Finch. He’s well-mannered, a great father, and a terrific defence lawyer who fought for justice, defending an innocent black man in a town marked by virulent racism.

6. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The late 60s was a time of social upheaval, and the decade was revolutionary in the law, too. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided Miranda v Arizona, reversing a conviction on kidnapping and rape charges, because the defendant had confessed without being told he had a right to a lawyer. The Miranda decision set free a confessed rapist, and the public wondered, what is justice if a guilty man goes free because of a technicality? Hasn’t the world gone topsy-turvy if the criminal walks and the police are admonished? It’s no accident that on the heels of Miranda follows Michael Corleone and, in The Godfather, the heroes are killers, the cops are crooked, and nobody leaves the cannoli in the car.

7. The Firm by John Grisham

The can’t-put-it-down story of callow lawyer Mitch McDeere, who’s lured by the siren song of the BMW to a rich law firm that will pay him well to join – and will kill him if he leaves. Grisham scores points for being one of the first authors to focus on the life of lawyers outside of the courtroom. News flash: lawyers are people, too.

8. A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr

This award-winning book is one of those rare non-fiction accounts that reads like a page-turner. Harr tells the story of another a callow lawyer who redeems himself when he risks personal ruin to represent a group of residents in a toxic chemical case. The difference is, this time, it’s true.

9. A Certain Justice by PD James

The incomparable PD James offers the incomparable Adam Dalgliesh, who must solve the murder of barrister Venetia Aldridge a female lawyer who’s not easy to love. James manages, with a master’s touch, to make us consider the nature of love, family and, ultimately, of justice.

10. Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer

Any Rumpole is a perfect novel, not only for its view of justice (and wifedom), but also for another deft stroke in the expertly-drawn characterisation of one of the most beloved barristers of all time. And the Rumpole series proves book after book that humour and justice are not as doomed a marriage as one may think. Humour brings the reader closer the main character and gives justice a human face. In my view, there is no higher or better goal.


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