Friday, October 05, 2007

What do you like?

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.

3 comments:

Timothy Fish said...

For what my opinion is worth, I think that if a book is a legal suspense then it should focus on the law. Having a character who is an attorney is not sufficient, the problem or solution must have legal issues. A trial is not required. A legal issue could just as easily be something to do with building codes down at city hall, and rather than an attorney, the main character might be an building inspector. That sounds more like a legal comedy than suspense, but the problem would still be focused on the law, so it would be legal.

The formula for suspense is very simple. Make the reader think that something bad is going to happen. When things are the bleakest for the characters the reader is the most happy. Putting a character on trial for murder is a surefire way to convince a reader that the character is in real danger of getting fried in the electric chair, but there are other things that can be done to create suspense as well. Suppose, that our building inspector is an evil guy who is working with others to use his position to gain control of a section of land at price that is much lower than normal. Now there may be a resident who stands to get hurt very badly if her house falls in value. As long as the reader thinks she is in trouble, but desires for her to get out of trouble, we have suspense.

Robin Caroll said...

What I like to see in a legal thriller is that the law is used in the plot. Or a legal firm, like in The Firm. That's just me. That's why I loved A Time To Kill....the characters drove the story, but the law played a vital part in the plot.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

My favorite legal suspense fiction usually has a trial or some sort of race against the clock--and lawyers and judges and justice. In The Pelican Brief(Grisham,) there is this ever-tightening noose. I really like military law, too.But always, always I like to see this good vs. evil--justice for all. My favorite novel of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird and that is not legal suspense, but in some ways there is that suspense as several things are coming to a head and it happens in the courtroom where this injustice occurs.

I love your new header! It is perfect. The colors are good and Janet did an awesome job.

Can't wait to read your legal suspense!

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