22 March 2012

Lawyers and Writers, Oh My!

Whether they are prosecutors, defense attorneys, ambulance chasers, or out and out shysters, lawyers have become a major part of the mystery genre. Comedians have made careers from joking about lawyers, but mystery writers with a background as lawyers have been the ones laughing all the way to the bank and to the New York Times bestseller lists.

One of the first American lawyer as sleuth characters was Mr. Ephraim Tutt, created by Arthur Train in 1919. Mr. Tutt, a "wily old lawyer who supported the common man and always had a trick up his sleeve to right the law's injustices", appeared in several volumes of short stories from 1920-1945.

What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
One is a slimy, bottom dwelling scum sucker. The other is a fish..

Erle Stanley Gardner practiced law for two decades before creating the most recognized name of a lawyer in literature, Perry Mason. Mason debuted in 1933 in The Case of the Velvet Claws. More than eighty novels, a series of movies in the 1930's, a radio show and the acclaimed television series, "Perry Mason" starring Raymond Burr which ran from September 1957-May 1966 followed. As the dapper lawyer whose skilled examination of cross address, Mason deduced the real culprit when the police could not and practically compelled the guilty party to confess on the witness stand. Burr became the quintessential Perry Mason and reprised the rolein a series of made-for-TV movies in the 1980's.

If you are stranded on a desert island with Adolph Hitler, Atilla the Hun and a lawyer, and you have a gun with only two bullets, what do you do?
Shoot the lawyer twice.

Scott Turow was a former assistant United States attorney before he became a successful writer. His first legal thriller published in 1987 was Presumed Innocent featuring Rozat "Rusty" Sabich accused of murdering his colleague, prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus.

D. R. Meredith worked as a legal secretary for her lawyer husband. Her first mystery concerned a body discovered beneath a large barbecue pit during a city celebration in The Sheriff and the Panhandle Murders published in 1984. Meredith writes the John Lloyd Branson mystery series from her home in the Texas panhandle, beginning with Murder by Impulse, published in 1988.

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
How many can you afford?

Linda Fairstein is a former prosecutor specializing in crimes against women and children and served as head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office from 1976-2002. Her mystery series feature Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper.

Richard North Patterson was a trial lawyer who won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his first legal thriller, The Lasko Tangent, with his character, U. S. Attorney, Christopher Paget.

What's the difference between a dead dog in the road and a dead lawyer in the road?
There are skid marks in front of the dog.

William Manchee is a Dallas attorney who writes a series about a Dallas attorney, Stan Turner.

William Bernhardt is a Tulsa former attorney who writes the Ben Kincaid legal thrillers.

Southerner John Grisham is a handsome former lawyer who writes tales about (sometimes) Southern lawyers who invariably are portrayed by handsome actors with or without Southern accents. (But the stories are always accented by backgrounds of knowing the laws and how people break them and try to get away with it.)

Whether you are interested in reading about a lawyer who is out to right the injustices of the world or simply one trying to do the best job he can for his client to one who will take any case he can get just to pay the bills, the mystery world has something out there just for you. And often, one of those lawyer-types are the ones writing them. Thank God for lawyers. Without them, comedians would have to find someone else to make fun of and the readers everywhere wouldn't have half as much fun in the bookstores finding a great thriller to curl up with on the couch.

*** Many thanks to comedian Jason Love for authorized use of his great cartoons. Find him at jasonlove.com and doing a terrific standup comedy routine when he isn't writing his own brand of lawyers jokes and cartoons.


  1. Very clever, Deborah!

    Presumed Innocent is one of the best whodunits ever.

  2. Good piece. who knew there were so many scribbling lawyers?

  3. Ahemm . . . .

    To paraphrase Groucho Marx (and as, I believe, the only barrister on SleuthSayers) "I resemble these remarks."

  4. One of my favorite legal sleuths is Kate Wilhelm's Barbara Holloway. And you've focused on Americans, but British mysteries abound in barristers and solicitors: for example, the late Sarah Caudwell's superb series, starting with Thus Was Adonis Murdered.

  5. Herschel Cozine22 March, 2012 16:02


    As a lawyer you have endured the slings and arrows of the masses I am sure. But it is so much fun to pick on you guys. One can't do that with plumbers and barbers, etc.

    99% of the lawyers give the rest of you a bad name. I am sure you are in the 1%.

    No offense.

  6. Made me chuckle and think. Great post Deborah!

  7. Mellville Davisson Post (himself an attorney) wrote one of my favorite series of stories about 19th century lawyer Colonel Braxton. They were collected as "The Silent Wittness." And bravo to the much-maligned lawyers out there.

  8. I've been laughing along with the rest of you on this thread (and article) and I am not particularly thin skinned about my chosen profession (indeed, check my bio -- I list myself as "recovering attorney.") However, I have been brooding over Herschel's post -- I hope that he got the numbers reversed and does not ACTUALLY mean that 99% of the attorneys give the rest a bad name. While I appreciate being relegated to the 1%, I can't believe that anyone truly believes that 99% of the attorneys out there are "bad". That would sweep very broadly.

    If there IS sentiment for that percentile division demarcating "bad" and "good" I will be happy to address the matter in more depth in a Tuesday article somje weeks down the line.

    Still smiling here, but a bit perplexed.

  9. Herschel Cozine23 March, 2012 19:35


    An old joke I read somewhere. Not true, of course. In real life, I am sure you are right.

    I don't know why lawyers, doctors and blondes became targets for this kind of thing.


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