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Best Legal Mystery Books

Top 25 Legal Mystery Books

Our guide to the Best Legal Mystery Books

Two couples live next door to each other, and the husband of one couple gets close to the wife in the other relationship. Of course, this can only lead to murder. In this early (and one of the best) Perry Mason books, Perry has to defend the wife whose husband cheated on her. Perry is the archetypical defense attorney. He will go to any lengths, including those tactics which are illegal, to get his client set free. Of course, nothing is as it seems. Perry, along with Della and Paul, must get her off. Gardner knows what hes talking about, since he was a lawyer himself, one of the youngest men ever admitted to the bar. While Gardner has been called formulaic by some, hes still one of the best legal writers around.

Why It Made the List  Gardner is the grandfather of legal thriller. He wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels and short stories over his career, starting in 1933 and ending with his death in 1970. Along with the novels were the movies, radio show and TV series that made Perry Mason a household name. This book has been made into a movie and into a television episode. 'Read It If You Like' defense attorneys, puzzle plots

Books in Perry Mason Myst... Series (50)

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Not only a best legal mystery, this is likely to be on the lists of best American novels. The story is simple. Scout is the daughter of Atticus Finch, one of the few lawyers in a small town. Hes known for his sterling reputation and his idealism. When a black man is accused of raping a white woman, the town goes into mob lynching mode, and a lone Atticus has to stand up for the mans rights. The book was set in the time of Jim Crow laws and much like Harriett Beecher Stowes book did, it shone a light on the tragedy of mans inhumanity to man.

Why It Made the List  Harper Lees guardians made a big splash in the news when they announced another book had been found written by Lee, who was best known for only writing this single novel. However, the released book, Go Set a Watchman, turned out to be an early version of Mockingbird, replete with a racist version of Atticus. The reviews were not good, and people were upset to see that Lee had written an early version in this manner. The episode did show what a great editor can do for a novel. 'Read It If You Like' Small town mysteries, Southern mysteries, child protagonists

Books in To Kill a Mockin... Series (2)

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In a ripped from the headlines case, Samantha Brinkman is asked to defend a well-known decorated LAPD officer against a charge of murder. Shes running a small practice and the notoriety of the case appeals to her desire to put her firm on the map. She takes the case with some trepidation though. The victim is also well-known as a much loved TV star. So the medias attention on this case will be intense, especially as Samantha starts to have doubts about the innocence of her client. Like the best defense lawyers though, Samantha does everything in her power, regardless of the rules, to help save her client. Will it be enough or is she working for the wrong side on this case?

Why It Made the List  Marcia Clark is best known today as the prosecutor in the OJ Simpson Murder case. After the state lost its case against the former NFL player, she turned to writing fiction. Shes written a number of legal thrillers, of which this is the most recent and one of her best. She obviously knows her way around a murder trial. Of course, in fiction, she can make the jury vote whichever way she wants. 'Read It If You Like' Celebrity authors, prosecutors

Books in Samantha Brinkma... Series (2)

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The legal thriller had started to wane in popularity when Scott Turow published his first book. Its the tale of a prosecutor who is handed a case, the murder of his former lover. Since Rusty Sabitch is already married, he has no desire to announce why he cant take the case. So he starts to investigate. When the facts come out about the affair, he is removed from the case as a prosecutor and added as the main suspect. Of course, since its a thriller, the evidence against him begins to mount as the book goes on and now Rusty has to investigate the case to prove his innocence. Why It Made the List  This was Turows first book, and is likely one of the best legal thrillers of the 20th century. The books film rights were purchased before the book was even published, and the film was made starring Harrison Ford as Rusty. The movies popularity made Turow a household name and his other works have shown up on bestsellers lists ever since. 'Read It If You Like'legal thrillers, twists at the end

Books in Kindle County Le... Series (9)

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Andy Barber is a district attorney in Massachusetts. Hes been on the job for 20 years, and has a pretty wonderful life with his wife and 14 year old son, Jacob. All that changes when one of the sons friends is killed in a particularly brutal crime in the park. His body is covered with leaves, looking like a spur-of-the-moment crime. Barber is on the case and involved with every aspect of the crime until it becomes obvious that Jacob may be guilty of the crime. Barber is taken off the case, and chooses to defend his son in court. The family begins to fall apart as the doubts creep into the marriage and in their belief in their son. Of course, since this is a legal thriller, there are lots of hidden secrets and twists and turns along the way.

Why It Made the List  The book tackles some big questions. Fourteen year olds are tried as adults in Massachusetts. The book delves into the idea of charging middle-school students as adults and the ramifications of doing so. 'Read It If You Like' children in jeopardy, long buried secrets, twists at the end

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David Wolfe is a lawyer who is investigating a possible run for Congress except the past is about to catch up to him. During law school, hed had a passionate affair with a Palestinian woman. The problem is that Wolfe is Jewish, and the affair will likely not be understood or only seen through the lens of Middle Eastern politics. The situation becomes worse when the woman is suspected of being the mastermind behind the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister in San Francisco. She had asked for a meeting to renew their acquaintanceship but now Wolfe is watching his life crumble around him. Hes doubtful of meeting her, because he feels that he would be drawn back into a relationship with her. However, when she is accused of the crime, Wolfe decides to take her case.

Why It Made the List  The book looks in-depth at the situation in the Middle East. The sides are shown with compassion and will make the reader think about the situation in a new light. Its always great when a book can make the reader think as well as entertain them. 'Read It If You Like' political thrillers, Middle Eastern politics, long-ago romances

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Based on a true murder case, A U.S. Army Lieutenant is jailed for murder. His defense is that the victim had raped his wife, and he had killed the man as revenge for that act. Theres never any doubt in the readers mind that the soldier killed the man. The question is whether the story of the motive is true. Paul Biegler is called by the wife to defend her husband. Biegler is a former DA who has been replaced by Mitch Lodwick. Of course, if Biegler takes the case, hell be facing the man who took his job.

Why It Made the List  Traver hailed from Michigan, and the setting for the story is as realistic as they come. The time and place are a part of the story. Additionally, the courtroom scenes were meticulously written and utterly gripping. The only real question in the book is the motivation of the people involved, and of course, no one is what they seem. The lawyer slowly learns more and more about his client and the wife. Its no wonder this was made into a best-selling movie. Well worth the read. 'Read It If You Like' Courtroom scenes, character motivations

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Set in the South, as many of these books are, the story tells of two men who brutally rape and almost kill a ten-year old black girl. The men are white and part of the impoverished culture of the South. After the father, a decorated war veteran, learns of the two mens identities, he guns them both down. Hes put on trial for murder, and Jake Brigance must defend the man. Since its the South, everyone and every issue group gets involved. The KKK and the white supremacy groups want to string up the defendant. The ACLU and other groups want to make sure that justice is done in town. Grisham looks hard at the idea of vigilante justice, but just as hard as the ideas of race and equality in the south. The towns politics play a large role in the book, and all of that keeps the reader guessing until the last pages.

Why It Made the List  Its Grishams first book and Grisham is one of the top legal mystery practioners today. The movie was a blockbuster featuring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Kevin Spacey. Definitely worth the time to check out the movie as well as the book. 'Read It If You Like' small town crimes, revenge, racial motivations

Books in Lucien Wilbanks Series (3)

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Ben Tyson has a great life, a good family, a loving wife, and a job he loves. Now hes about to lose all of that. A book has been published that recounts all the horrors of the Vietnam War, and in it, Ben is blamed as the driving force behind an atrocity during the war. The men have sworn themselves to secrecy. Except now this book has opened the old wounds. The government wants to close this affair as quickly as it can to minimize the bad feelings, and Tyson is an available scapegoat for the crimes. The Army recommissions him just so that they can try him for the crimes. Tyson has an attorney, but is the man up to the task of beating the US government and their legal team?

Why It Made the List  A hard look at the atrocities of war, and Vietnam in particular, the book doesnt pull any punches on the crimes of war. The specter of My Lai hangs over the book as a fictionalized version of that event is played out on the pages. 'Read It If You Like' Military justice, long ago crimes, research and crimes

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Its hard to imagine Truman Capote in Kansas. The literary gadfly was best known for his biting wit and his gossip, which were legendary. However, Capote noticed a small article in the New York Times about a murder in Kansas. The Clutter family had been slaughtered, all of them in their home one night. The case seemed motiveless and the police had no suspects. Capote spent time in Kansas, researching the case and trying to meet the residents of the town. However, it took Harper Lee (of To Kill a Mockingbird) fame to visit and help ease over his rough edges with the people of the town. While the book could not be published until a resolution to the case came about, Capote had a bestseller on his hands, the first in a new genre of non-fiction that reads like a novel. 

Why It Made the List  Capote created his own genre to complete this book, which is now typically known as literary non-fiction. The book reports the facts of a case, but the language is the same beautiful prose found in novels. While theres some speculation regarding the complete accuracy of the book today (he edited for maximum impact, rather than accuracy), Capote did create this form, which is still used today. 'Read It If You Like' True crime, literary fiction, literary non-fiction

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Bennie Rosato is a lawyer in a two-person firm. The other partner, and her ex-boyfriend is murdered. Since hed just announced that he wanted to dissolve the partnership, Bennie has motive aplenty. An assistant, Eve, is the other partners new squeeze, though Bennie is still the beneficiary under the partners will. She becomes the main suspect in the case, but she still has hope of beating the rap. That is until a drug manufacturer is also killed and then shes seen as a major threat. She has to go on the run in order to clear her name and put the pieces of her world back together. She enlists the help of another lawyer, Grady, to dig through the paperwork, which seems to indicate that the partner had been planning on dissolving the partnership for quite some time, and taking Eve with him.

Why It Made the List  The author has written 17 books and has won the Edgar. Shes one of the authors on the list who used to be a lawyer, which gives her books a realistic edge to them. 'Read It If You Like' person on the run, protagonist as the main suspect

Books in Rosato and Assoc... Series (11)

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Michael Garrick is the counsel to the president, and he also happens to be dating the first daughter as well. Hes developing feelings for Nora and developing a bad case of conflict of interest as the same time. The presidents daughter has some issues of her own as well. On a date, Nora takes control and loses the Secret Service detail that is assigned to watch her. Perhaps that wasnt such a good idea, because they witness something on their night on the town. This murder plot is tied to the White House, through the pair is not sure how. Michael wonders if it leads to the top of the heap, the President himself and Noras father. It becomes hard to trust anyone as he tries to get his life back under control.

Why It Made the List  After Watergate, everything seems possible with politics, and this book takes that to the extreme. The plot involves the payment of money to have someone killed, and it might point to the president. 'Read It If You Like' political plots, White House setting, murder for hire

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Talcott Garland is loosely based on the author, a conservative African-American law professor. In this story, Garlands father is a rejected Supreme Court nominee, due to his friendship with a reputed mob boss. The father dies of an apparent heart attack, and the mob boss shows up at the funeral, making his son wonder about the truth of the allegations. Talcott decides to investigate his fathers death in more detail, and quickly discovers that there is more to the death than originally thought. The FBI is suddenly interested in him. He finds a series of clues like a scavenger hunt that lead him on a dangerous trail. His life is threatened and his career is on the edge as well.

Why It Made the List  This was the Today Shows first book club selection, which brought it to the publics attention. This was Carters first novel, which makes it all the more impressive. The book is fairly unique in that it describes the lives of upper crust African American families in business and in the Ivy League. 'Read It If You Like' Ivy League mysteries, family secrets, political mysteries

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Marty Kalish is the narrator of the story and also the man accused of killing his lovers husband. The victim was abusing his wife which adds to the motive for Kalish. Since the book is told in first person, the author has to be honest (or relatively so) with the reader. So we know that Marty isnt exactly blame-free in the mess he finds himself in. He was at the scene of the crime. He manipulates evidence. He changes his story repeatedly to make himself sound sympathetic and guilt-free. The question remains: Did Marty commit the murder or is he just not telling the reader everything he knows? Thats what his lawyer has to determine and eventually the reader as well.

Why It Made the List  The book won the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America for Best First Novel. The typical courtroom thriller is shown through the eyes of the lawyer, not the client. The clients perspective should tell too much information, including their own innocence or guilt. This is a daring exception to that rule. 'Read It If You Like'unreliable narrators, courtroom dramas

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The Leavenworth Case was Greens first book and likely her best. Shed spent six years polishing this novel before it was published in 1878. Since the legal thriller wasnt really a genre yet, the book was subtitled A Lawyers Tale. The story was set in New York City, where Horatio Leavenworth, a retired businessman. Is murdered. Ebenezer Gryce is a junior lawyer at the firm that handled Leavenworths business. He begins to look into the case and eventually solves it. Published nearly a decade before Sherlock Holmes appeared, Green relied heavily on the nascent field of forensics. The book contained information on the angle of the wound to indicate the height of the assailant and ruling out suicide by the angle of the gun held by the deceased. Why It Made the List This mystery was the first written by a woman, the first detective novel written in the United States. Most of the works up to that point had been short stories, following in the steps of Edgar Allan Poe. It was also one of the first novels to be declared a best-seller, a sign of the times with trains connecting the United States for distribution. Agatha Christie said in interviews that the book had helped inspire her to write mysteries. 'Read It If You Like' Victorian novels, puzzle plots, and legal thrillers

Books in Mr. Gryce Series (17)

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This is not a legal thriller in the same sense as Perry Mason or some of the other legal eagles on this list. Randolph Mason is a highly intelligent and equally unethical lawyer. His clients are always guilty, and he is tasked with getting them set free. Theres no worry of justice being done in these short stories, as this is a short story collection, but instead the character does his best to allow his clients to get away with murder. In the first story of the collection, a gold miner kills his partner, takes all the money and the girl. However, she turns out to be a blackmailer, ,and now the miner must get himself out of a jam.

Why It Made the List  These stories appeared from 1896 to 1908, and as can be imagined, they were highly controversial for the time. Lawyers who help pervert justice were not approved of, especially in cases where the author gives explicit instructions on how to get away with murder. The good news is that snice these stories predate the current copyright laws, they can be found in eBook editions for free or next to nothing. Check them out. 'Read It If You Like' Shysters, legal maneuvers, guilty clients

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Ephraim Tutt is one of the nicest lawyers youll ever meet. Hes known to take cases with no fees for underdog clients. Many of the stories, most of the Tutt stories are short stories, are battles of the little guy against the corporations and wealthy of that era. The location of the stories varies from Manhattan to Pottsville, where Tutt calls home. In New York, Tutt sees the diverse and often discriminated against members of society, in what is a fascinating glimpse into the society and the justice system of the early 20th century. Most of the stories turn on arcane bits of law that Tutt uses to win his cases. Hes not the loud orator type of lawyer, but his knowledge of the ins and outs of the law allow him to win his cases.

Why It Made the List  Arthur Train knew his stuff. He started his career working in the New York District Attorneys office. In addition to the dozens of stories about the kindly lawyer, Train wrote some of the first true crime books to appear in America. 'Read It If You Like' hard-luck stories, pro bono work, nice lawyers

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Since most of the thrillers on this list deal with matters of life and death, there arent many that also include a dollop of wit and humor. However, the Rumpole series does just that. Barrister Horace Rumpole defends the underdogs in court, people who are unlikely to find justice in the legal system without help. Hes happy with the life hes made and the choices in his career; however, his wife wants a more tony lifestyle. Some of the cases involve murder, but other crimes are equally Why It Made the List  Most books go from print to television or the movies. However, the Rumpole series began as a BBC series. Mortimer was actually the writer of the scripts for the show. He had the idea to novelize the works. The show (and the books) were a huge hit and the TV show had 14 seasons before it stopped. However, it can still be seen on TV as well as some streaming stations today. Rumpole did not have a published case that was not a TV episode until 1995. 'Read It If You Like'British mysteries, legal mysteries, British humor

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Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper gets involved in a case that centers around the New York Public Library. Shes called to the scene of an alleged assault against Tina Barr. Despite the neighbors testimony, Tina, who works in with rare books at the public library, denies everything. End of case that is until another person is murdered in the same apartment and dies clutching a valuable book. Cooper has to get involved with the case, and she meets the Hunts, who are benefactors of the library. The case seems to center around a rare copy of Alice in Wonderland and the people who want to possess it.

Why It Made the List  Fairsteins books tend to include New York landmarks, and this case is no different, but the New York Public Library is complete with tunnels and passageways that make it feel more Gothic at points. Fairstein herself is a former chief of the sex crimes unit in New York as is her character and the verisimilitude shows.

'Read It If You Like' New York City locales, bibliomysteries, library mysteries

Books in Alexandra Cooper Series (18)

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Lawyer Ben Kincaid is trying to make ends meet now that he doesnt work for the best law firm in Tulsa. In fact, hes out on his own in the rather downtrodden part of town. His clients dont have the money to pay him, or want to barter goods or services with him. None of that helps, because he needs the cash. His old law firm helps out in an unexpected way when one of the legal assistants at his old firm becomes the main suspect in a murder case involving an ex-client, who happens to be mob-related. That doesnt go over well with the establishment. Bens old boss is the judge and the FBI has set their sights on the assistant regardless of the facts.

Why It Made the List  This series was one that portrayed the high cost of staying true to yourself in the world of law firms and billable hours. The downfall of Kincaid in this book makes the reader very conscious of how difficult it is to go against the more established firms as a small legal practice. 'Read It If You Like'White knights, fighting against the odds, mafia murders

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Paul Madriani has a client who appears guilty at first. Dr. Crone is a well-known medical researcher. The victim happened to be his much younger, former lover and a co-worker. She had recently dumped Crone, and it appeared as though she would be leaving his research team as well. Making the case even more solid is the fact that materials on her body, which had been thrown into the San Diego Bay, match similar materials in Crones garage. However, since this is fiction, the case cant be that open and shut. A witness commits suicide and leaves behind evidence that would seem to acquit Dr. Crone. Madriani has to rethink his case with this new evidence.

Why It Made the List  Martini is about the perfect blend of lawyer and writer. He has a law degree, but then worked as a journalist, and then switched to a legal career, where he started in private practice, served as a representative for the bar association, and as an administrative law judge. He then started writing novels, of which this is the sixth entry in this series. 'Read It If You Like' lawyers as writers, courtroom drama

Books in Paul Madriani Series (15)

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This is the third of the DA series by Gardner. In this book, the victim is shot twice by two different guns, and presumably two different attackers. The DA has to come up with a way to determine which bullet entered the victim first so that the correct killer can be prosecuted. It doesnt help that the suspect is defended by a ruthless defense attorney, and the former DA is out to get the current office holder. Theres a lot going on in this book, but in the end, most of the plots are tied up neatly, which is a hallmark of a Gardner book. Why It Made the List  The character of AB Carr is the antithesis of how Gardner depicted a defense attorney in Perry Mason. Sleazy and unscrupulous, he wormed his way into readers hearts and ended up appearing in several more entries in the series. Gardner has two books in the list, just because he wrote so many legal thrillers over the course of his 40 year career in writing.

'Read It If You Like' Sleazy lawyers, DAs on the ropes

Books in Doug Selby Series (9)

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Laura Di Palma is a lawyer on hard times. She has opened up her own firm and is waiting for a big break. She might have it when she gets a visit from a woman who has been visiting a sex therapist. The therapist has videotapes some of their sessions and is now selling the tapes as entertainment, in clear violation of the confidentiality and privacy laws. The client drops the case, but then the therapist asks for Laura to represent him in a separate matter. Before she can decide, she gets a call from the therapist who says that hes in trouble. She rushes to find the man, but its too late. He and several dancers have all been killed. Now Laura needs to solve the case to keep out of jail.

Why It Made the List  This is an Edgar nominated series by another author/lawyer. This is the fourth of her five books in this series, which is sadly almost out of print these days. Her books are tightly plotted and intricate in their knowledge of the law. 'Read It If You Like' San Francisco locales, lawyer as sleuth, down-and-out lawyers

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This is another of the very few humorous mysteries on the list. Tax law is not by nature a funny topic for discussion, but in the hands of Sarah Cauldwell. She writes about Professor Hilary Tamar, whose gender is never specified. Hilary may be a mans name in England, so the reader is left with yet another puzzle to contend with. Cauldwell was known for donning mens garb to protest men-only organizations. The method of murder in this case seems to be death by tax code, as a member of a close group of lawyers learns that her volume is found next to dead body. The series uses tax law, especially in the matter of inheritance, for the motives for murder, since Cauldwell, a lawyer herself, worked in the tax field. Why It Made the List The books were sporadically published over the course of two decades with the last one in the series of four novels coming just the year before her death. Her books in the series were nominated for the Anthony award, winning the award for her third book in the series. 'Read It If You Like'British mysteries, comedic mysteries, legal mysteries

Books in Hilary Tamar Series (4)

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Mickey Hallers business, despite the high-profile cases that hes solved, is suffering some hard times. As a result, Haller begins to work in real estate law as well as his other businesses. When hes defending a woman whose home is being foreclosed, she is accused of shooting and killing the banker responsible for the foreclosure. However, as he starts to investigate the crime, he learns that the banker was involved in some shady deals and possible blackmail schemes. So the pool of suspects is large, but the police dont want to follow up on them. Theres a long intense courtroom drama in this book, and Connelly gets is right.

Why It Made the List  Connelly is one of the best-selling mystery authors of the last thirty years. Hes tied this, his second series of which this is the fourth book, to the Bosch series by having the main characters be half-brothers. The Lincoln Lawyer was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughy as Mickey Haller. 'Read It If You Like'lawyers on the go, lawyers having a hard life, Los Angeles lawyers

Books in Mickey Haller Series (6)

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