10 Legal Thrillers on Alafair Burke’s Bookshelf

Editor’s Note: Alafair Burke is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels, including THE EX, LONG GONE, and the Ellie Hatcher series. She is also the co-author of the Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark. Their latest collaboration is THE SLEEPING BEAUTY KILLER. A former prosecutor, Alafair is now a Professor of Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.


I like books about lawyers. Where real trials are long and often dry, novels can skip all the boring stuff and show only the juicy parts. Even when lawyers aren’t in court, their work is rich with story potential: gathering evidence, winning over reluctant witnesses, delving into all sorts of long-buried secrets. Here are a few of my favorite legal thrillers.

Defending Jacob
by William Landay

I love books that bend genre. DEFENDING JACOB’s legal heft and realism reflect William Landay’s expertise as a former prosecutor, but the novel tells a lawyer’s story from an intensely personal perspective. It’s as much about family, loyalty, and community as it is about the American legal system. It’s also a darn good thriller.

Presumed Innocent
by Scott Turow

While too many courtroom thrillers substitute legal jargon and evidentiary spats for character and plot development, Scott Turow showed us that the twists and turns of a criminal trial could make for gritty drama. PRESUMED INNOCENT is also a remarkable use of the unreliable narrator. If you’ve never read this classic, pick it up.

The Bone Vault
by Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper showed readers that prosecutors aren’t always the stuffed-shirt hindrances so frequently depicted in fiction. This entry in a consistently strong series takes readers behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History.

A Time to Kill
by John Grisham

I loved John Grisham’s breakout novel THE FIRM, but my favorite is his debut, A TIME TO KILL. I still use its wonderful closing argument when I teach first-year criminal law.

The Lincoln Lawyer
by Michael Connelly

Criminal defense lawyer Mickey Haller is neither saint nor scoundrel. He’s also like no other lawyer depicted in crime fiction, working every angle from the back of his car. Michael Connelly shows us the daily work of a trial lawyer, all the way down to his choice of office supplies.

Ransom River
by Meg Gardiner

RANSOM RIVER is not exactly a legal thriller, but it starts out with an attack on a courthouse. Adventure follows for juror Rory Mackenzie. There’s a reason Stephen King wants the world to know that Meg Gardiner’s all that.

Dead Ringer
by Lisa Scottoline

This is one of my favorites in Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato & Associates series, where the all-female law firm always brings suspense and humor.

The First Counsel
by Brad Meltzer

In THE FIRST COUNSEL, a young attorney in the White House Counsel’s Office dates the President’s daughter. What could possibly go wrong? Law and politics together in one page-turning package.

The Emperor of Ocean Park
by Stephen L. Carter

How can I possibly leave out a book featuring a law professor? Yale law professor Stephen Carter provides a searing portrayal of both academic and judicial politicking.

Gone, But Not Forgotten
by Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin’s a pro, both as an author and seasoned defense attorney. Added bonus: Every book feels like a visit back to my beloved Portland.