Writing Wednesday — 10 Favorite Novels About the Law

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

This month I’m celebrating the publication of my first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Two weeks ago, I shared the backstory of how the book came about and linked to my list of Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law, first published in The Writer in September 2013. The editors asked me for a list of favorite novels about the law, published in a sidebar. And you know what? Though I’ve read hundreds of novels since then, I don’t know that I’d change a single one.

Herewith, one lawyer-writer’s list:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960) – None of us will ever be Atticus Finch, but we’re better for trying.

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson (1995) – Trial and prejudice, with brilliant courtroom dialogue.

The Firm, John Grisham (1991) – A newbie with a dog named Hearsay outwits his wily bosses—what’s not to love?

Rumpole of the Bailey series, John Mortimer (1978-2009) – Taught me everything I know about the British legal system.

Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987) – The epitome of the legal thriller.

Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver (1958) – A classic by a Michigan judge, basis of the fine and fiery movie.

Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman (2003) – A castoff Barbie, a missing baby, and two young girls—a heart-breaking look at juvenile justice.

If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him, Sharyn McCrumb (1995) – Domestic violence is nothing new.

The Trial, Franz Kafka (1925) – Still gives me the chills.

The Indian Lawyer, James Welch (1990) – A tale of anger and revenge, beautifully told.

Got a favorite book or movie touching on the law?

Saturday Creativity Quote

“Instead of writing what you know, find out what you know by writing. … All fiction is political, even if it’s not deliberately so. I don’t write about elections and their consequences, but my characters make choices in their lives, and every choice is a kind of political act.”


– novelist and short story writer Hilma Wolitzer, in an August 2021 Washington Post interview with her daughter, novelist Meg Wolitzer, on publishing at 91 a short story collection with a new story written after the death of her husband from Covid and her own hospitalization

Saturday Creativity Quote

The Browsing Bison, welded sculpture, The Bookstore, Dillon, Montana

“It has been said that the detective story flourishes best in an age of anxiety and pessimism, simply because we then have the greater need of the solace it offers.”

– P.D. James, British novelist and politician (1920-2044)

Dame Phyllis said that in 1993. She was on to something, wasn’t she?

Celebrating Books, Crooks & Counselors!

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

Ten years ago today, my first book was published: Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. I actually first saw it in late September, at a display inches inside the book dealers’ room at Bouchercon, the international mystery convention, held that year in St. Louis. Screaming may have been involved.

The book had its origins in my dual life as lawyer and fiction writer. Other writers often asked me questions about the law: How can my character get a search warrant? Can this character inherit from that one? Who is Miranda and why are are we always warning her? So I created 160 Q&A covering 12 topics from Trial and Error to Research and References — and yes, the book proposal included the whole darn list, though they changed a bit as I wrote and under the probing of my editor, Kent Sorsky. (He’s responsible for me expanding a couple of questions about judges into a full-fledged section of the book.)

I was beyond thrilled when BCC, as I call it, won the Agatha Award the next year for Best Nonfiction, over books about Sherlock and Agatha and Sookie! The award meant I’d correctly identified a niche and filled it. Writers, like lawyers, live and die on our judgment, and that stamp of approval of mine kept me committed to writing my own mysteries, while continuing to help other writers get the facts about law straight in their stories.

leslie budewitz agatha award winner

And even though the book is ten years old now, it’s still pretty darn relevant, IMO!

For years now, I’ve been talking to writers’ groups about common mistakes writers make about the law. Here’s my list, as originally published in The Writer magazine in 2013, along with a few resources for getting it right. (Sisters in Crime members can watch my webinar in the online archives. And if you’d like me to speak to your writing group, drop me a line!)