Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scott Turow's 5 best legal novels

Scott Turow is the author of legal thriller Presumed Innocent and eight other bestselling works of fiction including, most recently, Innocent, the sequel to Presumed Innocent. His non-fiction writing includes Ultimate Punishment, a reflection on the death penalty.

At FiveBooks, he discussed five favorite legal novels with Christine Thomas. Their dialogue about one classic to make the list:
Why does the 1924 book Billy Budd top your list?

It’s Herman Melville and it’s kind of great. It’s a clear classic. It’s a pretty simple tale except for its clear gay subtext, which I think would be pretty obvious to contemporary readers but probably was not to Herman Melville. And it’s about the extraordinary divide that sometimes arises between law and justice.

How does it explore that best?

Well, there’s Captain Vere, and vere, of course, translates from the Latin as truth, and I think it’s his last journey. Billy Budd, who’s basically being, in today’s view, homosexually harassed by Claggart, the master-at-arms, strikes Claggart, and of course a seaman cannot strike an officer. And even though the provocation is clear to Vere, Billy is executed. But it absolutely breaks Vere’s spirit, and if I’m recalling – it’s been a while since I’ve read it – he dies with Billy Budd’s name on his lips.

So from an attorney’s perspective, it’s a great reminder that law and justice don’t always meet?

I read Billy Budd long before I went to law school; it stands on its own as simply a classic piece of literature about the war between duty and morality. It was the last thing Herman Melville wrote and he hadn’t written any fiction for quite some time. And the other thing that’s always interesting about Melville is he’s always had a noticeable fascination with the law. His father-in-law was Lemuel Shaw who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts. Melville wrote about the law throughout his career but most famously in Billy Budd.
Read about the other books Turow touts.

--Marshal Zeringue