Summer might be halfway through, but there’s still another month and a half. Plus, who knows? You might not have had a chance to take that well-deserved beach vacation yet.
That’s why, in this post, I’ll be sharing five great legal fiction books that you can add to your summer reading list (or shall I say “beach reading list”?). I’m also limiting this list to one book per author (Sorry, John Grisham. I love your work, but this exercise would be way too easy otherwise).
1. The Street Lawyer (John Grisham)
Probably the most prolific author of legal fiction, you can’t really go wrong with one of John Grisham’s works. He’s published enough stories that it could fill even a Top 20 or Top 25 list.
At first, I wanted to select either his first novel A Time to Kill or his most successful one The Firm. Both were even adapted to the big screen, and they would have been perfect additions to a summer movie list. Several other novels of his, such as The Pelican Brief and Runaway Jury, also received film versions.
But that would’ve been too easy, which is why I went with one that’s a bit less well-known.
The Street Lawyer narrates the story of a rising star in the legal world who comes crashing down to earth. A bit reminiscent of The Firm, this novel tells how Michael Brock, a lawyer with a cushy job and a near-guaranteed partnership, went from being at the top of his game to an almost unpaid advocate for the homeless after a seemingly chance violent encounter.
There’s a great deal more nuance to the plot than what I just described, but spoilers. You’ll just have to read to find out 🙂
In any case, if you loved The Firm, or any Grisham novel, you’ll absolutely enjoy The Street Lawyer.
2. Disclosure (Michael Crichton)
Written by the same author as Jurassic Park, Disclosure takes place at a fictional computer hardware manufacturing company. I was torn between whether to suggest Disclosure or Airframe. In the end, I decided that the former had a stronger legal fiction case (no pun intended) than the latter, which was more about technical compliance and investigative journalism.
Crichton, possibly my favorite author overall, was well known for thoroughly researching the details for the settings of his novels. For instance, in Jurassic Park, he dives deep into what was considered modern genetics and paleontology at the time.
In Disclosure, he does the same thing. Published in 1994, he describes a complex vision complete with cell phones the size of credit cards, storage devices that store 600+ books, and databases you can virtually walk around, guided by a wise-cracking personality.
At the time, such a vision was the realm of science fiction. But little did readers know that it wouldn’t even be 15 years before the vision came true.
That being said, the main plot may be difficult for some to read as it deals with workplace and sexual harassment, as well as the challenges of workplace politics, power structures, and conflicting statements without witnesses. According to Crichton, he had based the story on a real case.
For a softer take (if you think the novel would be a bit too much for you), Disclosure was adapted into a box office success starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
3. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
I’m not usually the biggest fan of Victorian-era literature, let alone Charles Dickens. To be honest, I find him excessively wordy, especially if we’re talking about a light summer read. That being said, he was an extremely talented writer, despite being a bit on the verbose side, and could craft impressive stories.
A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorites of his (surpassed only by A Christmas Carol). And there’s something kind of cool about being in London, Paris, or even the coast of southern France and reading this novel, especially when you recall that July 14 is Bastille Day, which marked the start of the French Revolution.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot (because spoilers), but one of the main characters frequently finds himself running afoul of the law, usually through no fault of his own. What really gets me though are the opening and closing lines of the book, which are among my favorite in English literature. While it’s possible to google both of them, I suggest reading the book instead 😉
4. The Caine Mutiny (Herman Wouk)
So far on this list, we’ve had contract law and lawsuits (The Street Lawyer), an in-company mediation (Disclosure), and courtroom drama (A Tale of Two Cities). These are more formal applications of law.
But what happens at sea where laws and jurisdictions don’t formally exist, especially during wartime?
As the saying goes, normally, the captain’s word is law. Captains are often given considerable leeway when dealing out non-judicial punishment. Yet if the captain is the one committing the offense, how can they be made accountable for their actions? And what if those actions jeopardize the crew?
The Caine Mutiny discusses these issues, the intricacies of wartime military law, and the moral and ethical decisions that captains make at sea against the greater backdrop of World War II in the Pacific. And contrary to other famous stories featuring mutinies (i.e. Mutiny on the Bounty), this mutiny is more legalistic instead of violent.
Wouk’s novel, which grew from his personal experiences during WWII, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize before being made into a film with Humphrey Bogart.
5. A Just Determination (John G. Hemry)
Although Hemry (also known by the pseudonym “Jack Campbell”) is probably more known for his Stark’s War and The Lost Fleet science fiction series, his foray into legal fiction is just as impressive. What distinguishes A Just Determination from the others on this list is that it’s not only legal fiction. It also fits into military science fiction, just like his other works.
For those who enjoy legal and procedural dramas, A Just Determination is what you might get if you combined JAG and NCIS with Star Trek. In fact, all the novels of the Paul Sinclair series, of which this is the first, could be described as “JAG in Space”.
That makes it perfect for summer reading, right?
To quickly sum up, Ensign Sinclair, who just graduated from the Academy (by the way, according to his bio, Hemy is a graduate of Annapolis), is assigned to the USS Michaelson, a ship whose mission is to prevent foreign vessels from intruding into U.S. space. Sounds a bit like a modern carrier?
Anyway, when the Michaelson’s captain destroys a civilian perceived as hostile, Sinclair must testify against his commanding officer at the ensuing court martial. However, thinking the charges are unjust, Sinclair is forced to contemplate whether or not becoming a witness for the defense is worth risking his career.
There are many other books I would have loved to have added to this list, but, alas, there’s only so many weeks left to summer. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy at least one of the novels I listed above.
I’ve read each one multiple times, and even though I know what’s going to happen, I can’t help but turn the page. On the one hand, it’s exciting to be so caught up in the action on the page, but on the other hand, it really destroys my sleep schedule 😅
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