Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Do You Recreate the Legal Thriller?

Having just published A QUESTION OF PROOF, a legal thriller with twists and turns not resolved until the very last sentence, I’ve had some experience with the genre.  And being a lawyer by training, I probably have a leg up on legal intricacies.  But I would suggest that the legal thriller is only effective if it is a story about the people involved, with the legal system, say a murder trial, being the inexorable peril they confronting them.  Peril is the essential ingredient for any thriller, and an all-powerful legal system is a fearsome form of peril with some form of loss at stake for the defendant and, at its most intriguing, those around the defendant.  The threat can run from the loss of something the defendant holds dear to, at its most fearsome, death by a jury’s decree. 

In A QUESTION OF PROOF, Susan Boelter is charged with murdering her newspaper-publisher husband, who was divorcing her and appeared to be on the brink of taking everything from her, including custody of their thirteen-year-old daughter.  She asks Dan Lazar, a renowned criminal defense attorney, to defend her.  But he faces two obstacles to taking on her defense: He is about to lose his license to practice law due to trumped-up charges of witness tampering; and, more important, he and Susan are lovers.  The legal system has provided the hurdles and dangers, but they are only the means for exploring the acts, motives and relationships of the people trapped within it.  I say the story remains unresolved until the very last sentence, but that sentence relates to Susan and Dan and their relationship, not to a legal outcome.  If readers care about their story, they will be engrossed in discovering their fate until the very last word.

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