legal

Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction-2016

 

Harper-Lee-Logo

 

Attica Locke's “Pleasantville” won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Other nominees were:
Chuck Greaves' “Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo”
Kermit Roosevelt's “Allegiance”

 

The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction was established to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “To Kill A Mockingbird," written by former Alabama law student, Harper Lee. For the past six years, the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal have partnered to award the prize to a published work of fiction from the previous year that best demonstrates “the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.”

 

The 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction was awarded in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, and Locke received a signed copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird," as well as $3,000 and a feature article in the ABA Journal.

 

Locke joins previous winners:

 

2011 – John Grisham, “The Confession”

 

2012 – Michael Connelly, “The Fifth Witness”

 

2013 – Paul Goldstein, “Havana Requiem”

 

2014 – John Grisham, “Sycamore Row”

 

2015 – Deborah Johnson, “The Secret of Magic”  

 

Congratulations to all!  :-)

 

Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction 2015

 

Harper-Lee-Logo

The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction was established to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “To Kill A Mockingbird, written by former Alabama law student, Harper Lee. For the past five years, the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal have partnered to award the prize to a published work of fiction from the previous year that best demonstrates “the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.”

 

This year’s finalists were:

 

“My Sister’s Grave,” by Robert Dugoni   (reviewed here)

“Terminal City,” by Linda Fairstein  

“The Secret of Magic,” by Deborah Johnson  

The winner was Deborah Johnson's "The Secret of Magic."

Congratulations to all the finalists!

 

Previous winners:

 

2011

John Grisham, “The Confession”

 

2012

Michael Connelly, “The Fifth Witness”

 

2013

Paul Goldstein, “Havana Requiem”

 

2014

John Grisham, “Sycamore Row”

 

 

The 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction was awarded in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3, and the winner received a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

 

“Ransom River” by Meg Gardiner

 

Book Cover - Ransom River

In Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River,” lawyer Rory Mackenzie reluctantly returns home to Ransom River, California, after funding for the charity for which she worked, dries up. There was no place else to go, but her memories of the people in the place she grew up still haunt her. And she immediately gets called to jury duty on a high profile case. Not a great start to her homecoming.

 

She is chosen as juror #7 and settles in for the duration, notebook in hand. From Rory’s point of view, the capital murder case looks like an easy win for the prosecution, given the obvious false testimony of the two police officers on trial for killing a teenaged burglar. (The officers were having an affair, the teenager broke into the house on a dare, and everything went south.) The jury is watching a crucial piece of evidence, a video of the shooting itself, when two men storm the courtroom and take everyone hostage. Shotguns are very convincing persuaders as the jurors and spectators are threatened into following orders, and the casualties mount.

 

The action rapidly unfolds and the hostages are rescued, but the question remains, what did the kidnappers want? Rory had tried to signal for help from the courtroom windows and becomes a suspect for her troubles. The cops have her in their sights, needing someone to pin the courtroom debacle on. Her skanky relatives show up, and add to her misery, feigning interest in her well being, but looking as if they want to cash in on her sudden fame. The dead teenager’s father, a local crime boss, thinks she knows more than she’s telling.

 

But, Rory doesn’t know what she knows, except that the past is encroaching on the present in ways that terrify her. Seth, her old boyfriend (childhood friend and a former cop) gets involved and he’s about the only hope she has for getting at the truth. Gardiner has created another strong, yet vulnerable, young woman in Rory Mackenzie – worthy of her own series of books, although “Ransom River” is a stand-alone – and Seth is a convincing complement to her.

 

 

There are a number of twists and jaw-dropping surprises in “Ransom River,” and several well-written, deliciously slithery characters. Old friends may not actually be friends and help comes from unexpected places.

 

If I mention which people truly gave me the creeps and made me wonder if I really wanted to read into the night – that would be telling. I quashed the creepy feeling and kept going. Gardiner has a knack for writing ‘stay-awake-reading’ and I did need to find out how Rory got out of each of her dangerous situations. The reason behind the courtroom drama is much more complex than it first appears, and the ensuing action is non-stop in this intense thriller, as greed rules the day.

 

I must say that Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River” has an ending that will blow your mind. Hopeful and a little scary at the same time.

 

Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "The Memory Collector," here.

Please visit www.meggardiner.com for more information about her recent book releases, awards and appearances.

 

 

 

 

“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - CONVICTION

 

Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.

 

Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.

 

Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.

 

But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.

 

The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.

 

The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?

 

Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.

 

At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.

 

“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.

 

There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.

 

This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.

 

Read the review of "Wrongful Death" here. Go to www.robertdugoni.com for information about all of his projects and where you can catch his next terrific writing class.

 

 

“Guilt by Association” by Marcia Clark

 

Book Cover - Guilt by Association

Rachel Knight is an L.A. prosecutor in the Special Trials unit of the D.A.s office. She handles hi-pressure, complex, high-profile situations, a job that never seems to have down time. She’s top in her unit, winning tough cases because of her ability to outsmart the defense attorneys and to see that justice is done. She’s a workaholic and she loves every minute.

 

When one of her closest colleagues, Jake Pahlmeyer, is found dead in a rat-hole of a motel, next to a teen whose nude photo Jake had in his pocket, Knight is profoundly shaken. She doesn’t believe any of the rumors flying around and seeks to find a reasonable explanation for Jake’s presence at the grim crime scene. She has little support – she’s even told to stay out of the inquiry more than once. But, of course, she can’t.

 

Jake’s cases are divided up and Knight is given one of his toughest – the rape of the daughter of a politically connected doctor. The doctor points the finger at a gang member the daughter was tutoring, but Knight, ever the skeptic, feels the facts don’t support the ‘too-easy’ theory. The family lives in a gated community, so access is limited and checked. It’s a mystery that needs to be solved before an innocent young man, however gang-connected, is railroaded.

 

As we get to know the quick-tongued, extremely bright Rachel Knight, we realize that she will never let the opinions of others slow her down, that she will protect the victims, that she is tough-skinned, but soft-hearted when it comes to the children and underdogs in the cases before her. She is shot at, threatened, bruised, finds her car vandalized, is compelled to wear a bulletproof vest, and yet still keeps after the truth in the two puzzling investigations. 

 

Yes, THAT Marcia Clark, has written a taut, complex legal thriller in “Guilt by Association” that never sets foot in the courtroom. Clark brings her prosecuting experience into play as we follow Knight through the gang areas of L.A. and in and out of jails, as Knight plays ‘bend-the-rules’ to her advantage even with the threat of suspension hanging over her head, as she interacts with her co-workers, as she navigates the surprising twists and turns of the sometimes ugly story of life on the street.

 

The supporting cast in “Guilt by Association” is fully developed and as interesting as Rachel Knight. The beautiful, commitment-phobic Special Trials lawyer Toni, the tough-as-nails, savvy Detective Bailey Keller, the hunky cop Graden Hales, and the compelling victims – all have distinct voices and realistic parts to play in this well-written novel. As we read the banter between the friends, we see people we’d want as colleagues, people who roll their eyes at each other’s gaffes, people we’d like to see in a sequel.

 

Marcia Clark spoke at a Crimewriters’ conference I attended and I now have an autographed copy of “Guilt by Association.” Please visit www.marciaclarkbooks.com to find out more about her other Rachel Knight books, as well as the non-fiction title that explores Clark’s role in the O.J. Simpson trial.

 

 

 

 

“The Brass Verdict” by Michael Connelly

 

 

The Brass Verdict CoverI discovered this book (and author) while at Thrillerfest, a thriller/mystery/suspense  writers’ workshop held annually in NYC during July. During breaks between sessions, Barnes and Noble opens a store for the guests, both writers and speakers. I rubbed elbows with bestselling author, Steve Martini, who was checking out the competition and buying books like the rest of us mere mortals. He picked up “Brass Verdict” and I followed his lead.

 

“Brass Verdict” is a gritty legal thriller featuring a lawyer (Mickey Haller) and a police detective (Harry Bosch) who bring scum to justice.

 

Each character has been featured in a Connelly series of his own, but in “Brass Verdict,” the two work on the same case, not always together. Bosch is the investigating detective dealing with the murder of a lawyer and Haller inherits the dead man’s practice. That inheritance places Haller in danger and also gives him a chance to try his biggest case yet. Bosch will stop at nothing to catch the lawyer’s killer and Haller just might be his prime suspect.

 

Bosch and Haller are both flawed in their own grumpy, wrinkled way, each has interesting baggage and the pairing of the two characters is terrific!

 

In the big reveal near the end of the book, we find out why they have been brought together in “Brass Verdict.” The novel is so well crafted that I became a big Connelly fan and have read several other titles since, most notably "The Lincoln Lawyer" and "The Black Echo."

 

Connelly famously sat in on poker games (playing himself) in “Castle,” the TV show, and when he once ribbed the fictional author about only writing one book a year, I wondered how many Connelly himself, had written. The man is prolific, having published twenty-five novels in twenty years. Fifty million copies of Connelly’s books have sold worldwide and have been translated into thirty-nine languages. He has won the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, and Macavity Award, among several others.

 

For more information about Connelly, his various series as well as movies based on his books, visit www.michaelconnelly.com

 

 

 

 

“Innocent” By Scott Turow

Book cover - Innocent

 

When a bestselling author returns to a book he wrote twenty years ago (“Presumed Innocent”) and writes a sequel to it (“Innocent”), we wonder whether he might just have run out of new ideas. In Scott Turow’s case, that wondering would be dead wrong.  What Turow has done is lift the art of the sequel to new heights.

 

Rusty Sabich, now a sitting appellate court chief judge, has been accused of murdering a second woman in his life and Tommy Molto, prosecuting attorney, is out to get him again, this time with a bigger grudge and bigger stakes.

 

Both men are at the top of their careers and neither wants to lose the case, because the loser’s life achievements would be forgotten in the media bloodbath that follows. But, Molto knows in his heart that Sabich was guilty the first time and got away with it. Sabich has secrets to hide and Sandy Stern is back as Rusty’s lawyer, trying to keep his client from tossing away everything.

 

Nat, Rusty’s son, plays a pivotal role in this courtroom drama – no plot spoiler here, but it’s a good one! Can a family ever recover from the fallout of a criminal case? Do the rifts caused by affairs ever heal? Do the children caught in the middle ever forget? Are people doomed to hold onto their flaws throughout life?

 

As I lay awake through the night reading “Innocent,” I was gripped with the questions: Did Sabich do it this time or didn’t he? And…my mind began to doubt whether he really did do it in “Presumed Innocent” after all.

 

Enough information is given about the case in “Presumed Innocent” to inform the reader, so "Innocent" can be a stand alone, but don’t let it be. The first book was a genre breaker and a great read as well. If you can’t find “Presumed Innocent” on the shelves anywhere, pick up a DVD of the Harrison Ford movie of the same name to catch the dynamics that drove the old rivalry between the major players.

 

For more information about Scott Turow and his body of work, visit www.scottturow.com