Is the Legal Thriller really dead? According to a July 27, 2015 article in Library Journal, The Journal reports that, at Thrillerfest X in New York City July 7-11, 2015, there was a debate over the question by the “Where Legal Thrillers are Headed” roundtable, a discussion which has been kicked around since July 2013 when Slate Magazine declared the legal thriller, and its close cousin, the courtroom drama, officially killed by Hollywood. The panel’s answer to the question was a wishy-washy “No, they’re not dead,” but the Journal went on to report that “The inherent drama of the courtroom assures that, even if lawyers aren’t today’s most beloved professionals.” However, according to the Journal, “The number of agents at Thrillerfest looking specifically for legal thrillers seemed low.”
Author Alafair Burke, in his March 2012 blog post, “Putting the thrill back in the Legal Thriller,” contends that, “Perhaps trying to replicate the success of groundbreaking novels like Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, publishers had over purchased and over promoted courtroom-centric novels by lawyers who managed to turn the term “legal thriller” into an oxymoron.”
However, given the recent revolution in publishing, where, according to Digital Book World, 50% of all book sales are online sales, legal thriller authors like Paul Levine and Clifford Irving are finding a resurgence of interest of the books on their backlist in electronic sales. Paul Levine’s Bum Rap is the number two best-selling book in the legal thriller genre, knocked out of first place by To Kill a Mockingbird (#27 in the Kindle Store) after the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (#3 in the Kindle Store) in July 2015.
My conclusion? Don’t hold your breath waiting for the demise of the legal thriller. For some reason, which escapes us lawyer-authors who write them, people are fascinated by the law and its application to life situations. Perhaps it is the mystery that surrounds a profession whose language appears to be foreign to most people, or human curiosity in general, but the legal thriller should be around for many years to come.
Kenneth Eade is the author of the Brent Marks Legal Thriller Series and the Involuntary Spy Espionage Series. He offers free books and prizes to those who sign up for his mailing list at: http://kennetheade.com.