The books all lawyers should read. Part Two: the really not bad at all

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Who can forget the furore among the middle classes when the 2011 Booker Prize panel – inexplicably chaired by former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington – declared that what they were really looking for was a book that would fairly ‘zip along’.

All across Islington, flat whites were dropped upon slate tile floors as the literati struggled to come to terms with this notion. Could a page-turner really be considered prize fodder? What’s with this ‘readability’ nonsense, anyway? I mean sure, that did all right for Dickens, but aren’t we beyond all that now?

Yet, as any true reader knows, there is a place for the ripping yarn and the tall tale, and that place is right alongside any number of impenetrable Modernist tomes. No lawyer’s library is complete without tales of legal and criminal derring-do to while away the odd twenty minutes when the iPhone is silent, and so – after our peerless selection of ‘the Good’ – here is the ‘really not bad at all.’

Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty (2013)

Louise Doughty spent many days loitering in and around the Old Bailey to give her latest thriller a powerful sense of veracity. From the nooks and doorways around Temple where our heroine grapples unwisely with something of a bounder, to the minutiae of court procedure, this novel might prove something of a busman’s holiday for the criminal barrister were it not genuinely gripping.

If nothing else, it serves to emphasise what our mothers always taught us: if a stranger just happens to know a quiet spot in a Westminster crypt where he can take your stockings off undisturbed, things are unlikely to end well.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie (1926)

‘Ackroyd’, as it’s known to Christie aficionados, is the one you whip out when genre fiction is being unjustly derided. “There’s no innovation in crime novels”, says the book snob. “ACKROYD!” comes the response. “Of course you can’t expect to encounter the gestalt in a mere murder mystery”, they say. “ACKROYD!” we reply (possibly hurling the hardback).

Impossible to describe without risking an epic spoiler, let me merely say this: if the denouement doesn’t make you shriek “WHAT NOW?!” you’re doing reading wrong.

Pretty much everything by John Grisham

Ah, John Grisham! Prince of the daft American legal thriller, supplier of work for Tom Cruise and sundry other A-listers! He who had the sheer audacity to use the title ‘King of Torts’, thus making solicitors across the land feel faintly like a character in Game of Thrones!

Rarely dull and frequently silly, they are almost certainly less exasperating for British lawyers than American ones, since liberties with the actual administration of justice are marginally less likely to make you want to poke your own eyes out.

Cover Her Face, PD James (1962)

PD James is no longer a mere crime novelist. An honorary bencher at Inner Temple, she is known for delivering electrifying lectures to baby barristers, and doing a great deal of work on human rights in the States.

‘Cover Her Face’ was her debut, introducing the sexily melancholy Detective Adam Dalgliesh, with his sexy penchant for poetry and his sexily tragic past. One for those secretly yearning for a police force consisting entirely of Darcy lookalikes who recite Tennyson over corpses.

The Godfather, Mario Puzo (1969)

The iconic film trilogy had its origins here, with Mario Puzo’s epic novel spanning 11 years of the Corleone dynasty.

Amid a cast of unforgettable characters – without whom we could not have had ‘The Sopranos’ – there lurks consigliere Tom Hagan. Adopted by Vito Corleone as an orphaned street urchin, he grows up to be a brilliant lawyer and ruthless mafia lynchpin. Do try to avoid wheeling out his most famous quote: “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”

The Red Riding Quartet, David Peace (1999-2002)

David Peace has a following as loyal (if not as large) as that of George RR Martin. The Red Riding Quartet is uncompromisingly grim, and draws together true crime, conspiracy theory and fiction into a multi-layered series of interlinked plots, each more gruesome than the last.

With its bleakly atmospheric evocation of Yorkshire and detailed depicture of the Yorkshire Ripper’s crimes, one imagines that tourist trade in the area took rather a nose dive in the early 2000s.

Unable to face the novel? Watch the TV adaptations. Maybe alone. Just before bed. No, really – they’ve got that lovely Sean Bean in. Sleep tight!

The Inspector Maigret Novels, Georges Simenon (1931-1972)

Not for nothing have the Maigret novels been likened to Chekov and Kafka. Even the most affirmed book snob would be hard pressed to find fault with these slim, elegant, existentially charged novels featuring the French detective Maigret and his pipe, overcoat and absolutely indefatigable liver.

He solves crimes largely by gazing into endless glasses of various alcoholic beverages in smoky bars and cafes, intuiting all over the place. Truly a man worthy of the epithet ‘hero’.

The Rumpole Novels, John Mortimer (1978-1996)

Horace Rumpole, doughty criminal barrister with the admirable motto “I never plead guilty”, is one of those fictional characters so well-known it’s difficult to recall whether one has read the book, seen the TV series or encountered him arguing with his wife (“she who must be obeyed”) in a café off Fleet Street.

Created first as a television character by barrister John Mortimer, and based (so he said) on his own father, there is still a Rumpole to be found in many a firm and many a chamber – and underestimate them at your peril.

Dissolution, CJ Sansom (2003)

The first of CJ Sansom’s historical crime novels introduced us to Matthew Shardlake – hunchback Lincoln’s Inn lawyer dodging murder and intrigue during the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

The novel’s sense of time and place is so remarkably evocative that taking a stroll across Lincoln’s Inn Fields is never quite the same again: it’s tempting to look up at a leaded window and imagine seeing Shardlake bent over his desk, scribbling by candlelight.

A way to really learn something about the Tudors without having to read ‘Wolf Hall’.

The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connolly (2005)

Michael Connolly’s Lincoln Lawyer series has a devoted following both in the UK and in US – we’re talking just shy of 90,000 ratings on Goodreads. They feature criminal defence lawyer Mickey Haller who drives about in a Lincoln (which I understand to be some sort of American vehicle) specialising in all sort of wheeling and dealing among the underclass.

When handed his first big case in years, can Mickey Haller step up his game and save not only his client but his own skin? Let’s just say this is not the last we hear of Mickey and his motorcar.

Next Week: The Ugly (featuring Ian McEwan.) SP

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