Truth and lies play out in courtrooms where the stakes are high, the twists and turns are unpredictable, the characters are at their most vulnerable and so much depends on the verdict. So what better treat than to sit down with a must-read legal drama and get lost in the pursuit of whodunit and why?
From the innocent to the guilty, the rightly to the wrongly accused, here’s our pick of the most thrilling in the genre…
12 of the best courtroom dramas:
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
Yvonne Carmichael has a seemingly perfect life. That is until she meets a stranger in the Houses of Parliament and begins an affair that will tear her perfect life apart. Adapted by the BBC last year, this psychological thriller is an insightful examination of the choices we make and the values we live by. It’s a compelling, cautionary tale exploring truth and judgement and the ability each of us have to deceive ourselves with our own version of the truth.
No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister
Martha and Becky are sisters who love and trust each other… At least they thought they did. But when the unthinkable happens and Martha’s child dies in the care of Becky, the siblings are thrust into a court case to uncover the truth of what really happened to the baby. Exploring themes of parenthood, families, care and culpability, this story is as tense and suspenseful as it is moving. A truly original thriller.
The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach
A murder. A murderer. But no motive. When Fabrizio Collini brutally murders a prominent manufacturer in a Berlin hotel and refuses to give his motive it’s left to his lawyer, Casper Leinen, to uncover the terrible truth. But how easy is it to deal with the past? Picked by the Sunday Times as one of the 50 best crime and thriller books, this is a fascinating and insightful thriller full of political and historical explosiveness.
Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
A couple’s world comes crashing down around them when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. With his wife convinced of his innocence and the barrister for the prosecution convinced of his guilt, this is a complex and timely story about marriage, masculinity, power and privilege. A tour de force in the genre that’s well worth a read.
You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood
Barrister and author Imran Mahmood’s debut novel puts the reader in the jury box at a trial where a young, black man from South London is accused of murder. But at the denouement of the trial, having sacked his QC, the accused embarks on a radical closing speech which calls into question four weeks of evidence. Chosen for the Radio 2 book club and as one of the Telegraph’s Best Crime Novels of the Year, this is one of the most original thrillers of recent times and deserves to be devoured.
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his wife in the celebrity murder trial of the century and con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn is defending. But as the trial begins a series of sinister events leaves Eddie doubting they’ve got the right man. What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury? Fans of John Grisham and Lee Child will devour this page turner – watch out for the clever hook and the ingenious climax.
The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
Two Supreme Court Justices are murdered and legal student Darby Shaw things she’s found the answer. But when she writes a legal brief demonstrating the political motives behind their murders, more people are killed. Can Shaw discover the truth before her fate is decided for her? A masterclass in thriller writing by one of the crime writer greats. Many fans may have seen the 1993 film, but nothing beats the original story.
The Crossing by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch left the LAPD in less than ideal circumstances. Now maverick defence lawyer Mickey Haller has asked him to cross over ‘to the dark side’ and help on a case for the defence. This is Bosch as we’ve never seen him before, in danger of betraying the principles he’s built his whole career on. With horrifying villains, dark murders and court scene pivoting on captivating minutiae, you’ll find it hard to find a police procedural more engrossing.
The Blotting Book by E F Benson
Morris Assheton, a young man in love, finds himself in deep water after his threats to a man smearing his good name are called into question when the slanderer is murdered. Morris is arrested and his innocence is tried in a courtroom battle. Written in 1908, this is one of the earliest examples of the genre that will transport you to a genteel era in language, tone and atmosphere. A vintage murder mystery well worth getting whisked away with.
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
When an eight-year-old boy is found dead and his eleven-year-old neighbour is accused of his murder, it’s left to Daniel Hunter, a London solicitor and champion of lost causes, to examine the life of the accused in order to save it. This is a psychological thriller that’s emotionally wrought and littered with twists and turns, and one of the most readable thrillers of recent times.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
The nine million-copy bestseller tells the story of Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, a prosecuting lawyer, charged with the brutal murder of his co-worker, Carolyn Polhemus, and his long and bitter court battle. Is he really innocent until proven guilty? One of the greatest genre novels of the 1980s, made even more popular by the film starring Harrison Ford. Clever, unpredictable and a real page turner.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Scout and Jem Finch are the children of Atticus Finch, a white lawyer hired to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of the rape of a white woman. The narrative is told through their eyes, as a coming-of-age story meets darker themes of racism, good and evil. An instant bestseller when it was first published in 1960, it achieved critical acclaim and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. An undeniable classic, there should be a copy on the bookshelf of every fiction fan.
Have we missed any of the best courtroom dramas? Let us know in the comments below!