The Legal Novel Themes

Recurring elements and themes

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

As the legal novel developed during the twentieth century, certain characteristics emerged to distinguish this type of fiction from the broader categories from which it emerged, such as crime or detective fiction and conventional thrillers. Although both prosecutors and defense attorneys have served as featured characters, it is more common to find protagonists operating outside large organizations such as district attorneys’ offices or large law firms. Having them operate essentially as loners or parts of small teams such as Perry Mason’s group of associates allows writers to focus on their personal struggles to get at the truth. When main characters are part of a larger organization, such as Rusty Sabich in Presumed Innocent or Mitch McDeere in The Firm, they are often placed at odds with superiors and coworkers to heighten the sense of conflict. Frequently, they are forced to break through the bureaucracy that surrounds the practice of law or expose corruption within the profession. In many instances they take an active role in solving crimes, often incurring great personal risk.

Two major forms of plot development dominate the genre. The first type is similar to the mystery novel: The lawyer-protagonist is cast in a role similar to the detective, forced to discover facts and expose criminals. In the second scenario, both the criminal and the crime are revealed early in the novel, and readers’ interest lies in discovering how...

(The entire section is 529 words.)