Imagine my surprise on the afternoon of June 12 to find, of all things, a shiny new jury summons waiting in my mailbox, nestled against the usual deluge of bills, catalogs, and mail for people who once lived in my house and apparently do not understand how the mail forwarding system works. I was called to partake in that most odious of civic duties – one of the few ventures about which Americans of all stripes are often in complete agreement: none of us want to do it. The juror’s room is a cross-section of society, a random and comprehensive sampling of ages, races, and of varying social status – and all uniformly, undeniably miserable. But, hey, at least there’s coffee and a fair amount of time to catch up on that reading list you’ve been neglecting.
That is, in fact, the one silver lining of jury duty – there is a whole lot of waiting around. What better way to spend your time in this hallowed purgatory of civic obligation than to dig into a good book? To that end, the books below are a solid mix of courtroom thrillers and true-crime tales, the perfect sort of page-turners to hopefully get you in the mood should you be selected to serve on a jury – or at the very least to help the time go by a bit faster.
Far better known for its two on-screen adaptations – a 1957 version starring Henry Fonda and a 1997 made-for-TV version starring Jack Lemon – Twelve Angry Men nonetheless began its life as a well-regarded novel. The story of a lone holdout on a jury determined to give a guilty verdict is a finely crafted character study and examination of inherent bias. Read the book to get even deeper into the movie’s premise.
It would be impossible to compile a list of must-read courtroom thrillers without mention of John Grisham; I could essentially recommend Grisham’s entire bibliography. But one of Grisham’s most recent also happens to be one of his best. With The Whistler, Grisham is firing on all cylinders. The story centers on Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct, who finds herself in the middle of a potentially deadly tangle of judicial corruption. And never one to rest on his laurels, Grisham has yet another thriller hitting bookstores on October 24.
The People v. O. J. Simpson
The Run of His Life is the definitive account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Published less than a year after the infamous verdict in a trial that piqued public interest to a truly extraordinary degree, the book is a deep dive into every level of the case. It is remarkably candid and compulsively readable and also served as the basis for “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
This uncontested classic and Pulitzer Prize Winner centers on small-town defense attorney Atticus Finch, called to defend a young black man accused of raping a white woman. The story is told from the perspective of Atticus’s young daughter, Scout, and remains a remarkably insightful view into race relations in America. Whether rereading the story or picking it up for the first time, To Kill a Mockingbird is a remarkable piece of twentieth-century literature.
As both defense attorney and former Federal Prosecutor, Scott Turow intimately understands the ins and outs of a courtroom. That insider knowledge is on full display with Presumed Innocent, which centers on a married prosecutor whose affair with a colleague makes him the number one suspect when said colleague is brutally raped and murdered. Presumed Innocent is a tense and intricately woven thriller that served as the basis for 1990 film of the same name.
Sitting firmly in the category “stranger than fiction,” Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil really does have to be read to be believed. It may be a piece of nonfiction documenting a real-life murder – one that resulted in no less than four trials – but Midnight reads like a page-turning Southern-Gothic fever-dream populated by larger-than-life characters of near-Dickensian eccentricity by way of Mark Twain and William Faulkner.
This debut novel from bestselling author Brad Meltzer carries readers behind the scenes of the nation’s highest court. Ben Addison is a new clerk for a respected Supreme Court Justice, but soon finds himself under threat of blackmail after a single mistake puts his entire future – and possibly his life – at stake.
Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney operating his shoe-string law practice from the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car, defending clients of all stripes in the various far-flung courthouses of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his latest case working for a Beverly Hills playboy accused of attacking a woman is not the slam dunk he originally thought it to be. In fact, it’s far more complex – and dangerous – than he could have imagined. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name starring Matthew McConaughey.
Graeme MaCrae Burnet
Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, His Bloody Project is a fascinating take on the classic epistolary novel documenting a vicious triple murder in the Highlands of 1869 Scotland. The novels shifts between witness statements, newspaper accounts, court transcripts, and the memoir of Roderick Macrae, the accused murderer. It is a twisting, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
A series of seemingly random and brutal murders sent shockwaves through Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 and would eventually be at the center of one of the bizarre murder trial that would capture America’s attention. Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders and relied on an initially thin trail of circumstances to connect a wannabe pop singer and cult leader named Charles Manson to the horrendous murders. Helter Skelter – one of the bestselling true crime books of all time – documents that trial and Bugliosi’s dogged pursuit of justice in the case.