When Is A Legal Thriller Not a Legal Thriller?

Is there such a thing as a psychological legal thriller?

When I was a little girl, there was one thing we were not allowed to do in our house: talk during The Perry Mason Show. Seriously. When Perry Mason was on TV, my sister and I were required, if we wanted to watch it and of course we did, not to say a word. During the commercials we could ask my lawyer stepfather questions, like: What does immaterial mean? And do you think they know that Hamilton Burger sounds like hamburger?  And we yelled “objection” when our other siblings tried to steal our seats.

But when the actual show started again, back to complete silence. Reverential silence for the story.

Earl Stanley Gardiner’s riveting Perry Mason (and his courtroom colleagues) became the entryway to my love of legal thrillers. I never lost that joy:  Scott Turow and John Grisham and Michael Connelly. The incomparable John Lescroart and my hero David Ellis. Anatomy of a Murder and 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution and Compulsion and Inherit the Wind.

Is my brand new The Murder List a legal thriller? My editor asked me that, and my answer was: not exactly. Yeah, the main characters are lawyers, and it has a courtroom scene or two. And a tiny bit of jury. But mostly? It’s psychological suspense. Gaslighting. Manipulation. Deception. I suppose lawyers do that—and yet…. One early reader said it best: “If John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline had a book baby, this would be it.” Perfect.

The Murder List isn’t about the law. It’s about winning. It’s about three people who use their knowledge of the legal rules to come up with the life verdict they’re seeking: revenge, love, loyalty, and power.

Is there such a thing as a psychological legal thriller? That’s my new genre. A psychological domestic suspense that just happens to include a legal puzzle piece.

I started wondering: when is a legal thriller not a legal thriller?

And I found some perfect cross-genre shelf mates.


Defending Jacob

This isn’t about the law, it’s about family. Take a prosecutor who understands the system and a murder that shocks a suburban town. Take an everyday loving family and the secrets some of the family members hide. And the explosive possibilities that ensue. Though William Landay’s instant classic is full of procedure and testimony and legal wrangling, this heartbreaking story is a clash between love and the law—and how someone sworn to uphold both of them must battle the demons that conflict produces.


A Time to Kill

This isn’t about the law, it’s about racism. A 10-year old black girl is raped by two white men. In a rage, her father kills them. And goes on trial for murder, represented by white lawyer Jake Brigance.  A white judge named Omar Noose denies a change of venue—leaving Jake to face an all-white jury deciding the fate of a black man who killed two white people. The Klan shows up.  Brigance, disheartened, fears for the verdict. His client tells him that as “one of the bad guys,” he has an influence that a black man won’t. Via John Grisham, Brigance gives a closing argument that is still chilling, eloquent, and so timely that its theme might be used this very minute.


Miracle Creek

This isn’t about the law, it’s about the pressures on immigrant families. And about motherhood.  When an explosion at a medical facility ends in tragedy—who is responsible? Angie Kim’s poignantly elegant structure takes us day by day through the entire murder trial—but her shifting points of view make us realize we can never get the entire picture from just one person. That behind each witness’s testimony is a roiling secret life, with dreams and fears and unspoken conflict.


To Kill a Mockingbird

This isn’t about the law, it’s about honor. Okay, and about justice, and racism, and equality. The main character is a lawyer, and a pivotal scene or two takes place in a courtroom. There’s testimony and unfair objections and a jury that’ll chill your soul. And sure, legions of students have chosen law school because they wanted to be just like Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch. But “just like Atticus” doesn’t mean knowing how to Shepardize citations—it means knowing how to be an honorable person.


Erin Brockovich

This isn’t about the law, it’s about the environment. And the toxic injustice of economics. And about how David can beat Goliath. Yeah, in Susannah Grant’s screenplay, David is Julia Roberts, and that might’ve helped. But the real Erin Brockovich has been quoted as saying the movie is about 98 percent accurate—and Julia-as-Erin soldiers not only through the legal quagmire and financial obstacles set by the powerful PG&E, but also the weary defeated attitude of her lawyer-boss, all to battle for the families allegedly harmed by the toxic contamination of their water. This story proves you don’t need to be a lawyer to fight for justice.


The Verdict

This isn’t about the law. It’s about power. And money. How much is it worth to the Catholic Church and its mega-hospital corporation to cover up their lability for the death of a patient? Barry Reed’s chilling Boston novel takes us behind the scenes of a seamy battle to win a case by pouring money and influence into it—the sinister power of the legal machine. Though the courtroom testimony is shocking and heartbreaking, it’s the personal struggle of the hapless (and penniless) attorney Frank Galvin that make this a riveting classic.


Inherit the Wind 

This isn’t about the law, it’s about the right to think. When John Scopes—named Bert Cates in the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and in the 1960 film—deliberately breaks the law and teaches his class about evolution, the townspeople of Dayton, Tennessee, are scandalized, outraged, and calling for Cates’ head. His trial—which in real life had Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan facing off about the freedom to teach evolution—makes us contemplate freedom of speech and freedom of religion and peer pressure and the right of each person to choose their own beliefs. The screenplay is still widely read, and if you watch the movie, the appearance of Gene Kelly as H. L. Mencken is an extra treat. The stage directions set the time as “not too long ago,” but as the playwrights themselves wrote in 1951: It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.

* * *

Okay, fine. So these great stories, my shelf-mates, are also about the law. And the legal system, too. And, kinda, so is The Murder List.  But if you’ve testified, “Oh, I don’t read legal thrillers,” I say: “Objection.” You do.

About The Murder List

Law student Rachel North is the ultimate reliable narrator—she will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right thing. She’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston’s defense bar. And her internship with the powerful District Attorney’s office is her ticket to a successful future.
Problem is—she’s wrong.

Rachel. Jack. Martha. Who is next on The Murder List?

And in this cat and mouse game—the battle for justice becomes a battle for survival.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Murder List by Hank Phillipi Ryan!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The Murder List Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/when-is-a-legal-thriller-not-a-legal-thriller/ beginning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) August 12, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 12:29 p.m. ET August 26, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


  1. John Smith

    Poor, deluded reliable narrator!

  2. Keenan Powell

    I loved your back hall scenes. They felt so real!

  3. Hank Phillippi Ryan

    Oh, thank you! How wonderful! x

  4. Ramona Long

    A legal thriller includes all the courtroom, cops, and criminal stuff, but it also has a broader moral or social question at its center–as you pinpoint above. It’s the “it’s really about” part that makes them deeper and more fun to read.

  5. Daniel M

    sounds like a fun one

  6. Tina Myers

    Would love to read. Awesome cover.

  7. Anne

    Clever novel from a very talented and creative author.

  8. Suzanne McMannis

    I’m not wrong and I want to win.

  9. Paul Gada



    I am guilty your honor for reading all these books!

  11. Jackie

    I have been trying to win this book. I so much want to read it. I want to find out what really goes on between the husband and wife.

  12. Pat Murphy

    Legal thriller or not? Let me decide.

  13. Brandy Ybarra

    I’m now really excited for your book!

  14. Pearl

    This story is unique and extremely intriguing.

  15. paul klumbach

    sounds like a great thriller to be read by all….

  16. Renee Morgan

    I would love to win!

  17. Jeanna

    Sounds like a good read!

  18. cathleen penner

    love this kind of stories

  19. guterson189

    Very excited to read this book! Looks like a fascinating read.

  20. Daniel Weber

    Sounds good.

  21. Jason Carlson

    Books looks great!

  22. Teresa Gostynski

    Sounds interesting. I do plan on reading this one!

  23. elvinoray

    looks great!

  24. Daniel Cuthbert

    Anything with a shakily-reliable narrator has my vote for a great book! This certainly looks like it will be a bit of a thrill ride!

  25. Mary Duncan

    Sounds interesting!

  26. ravensfan

    I would love to win this book.

  27. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  28. Beverly Laude

    You mentioned some of my favorite books, so I really want to read yours now!

  29. Dawn Newsome

    Sounds right up my alley! Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.

  30. Kiley Cooper

    This sounds amazing!

  31. Rena

    Good story

  32. Susie

    Edge of my seat!

  33. Michelle Watler

    looks like a good one!!!

  34. Caren Luckie

    Sounds like a good read!

  35. Birgitta Handford

    This makes me think and analyze different stories and what they really are all about.
    Digging deeper!

  36. busybehr

    It would be awesome to win this book!

  37. Mary Kearney

    Sounds interesting!

  38. Susan

    This sounds amazing! Would love to win a copy.

  39. Tom Mars

    Sounds really good

  40. Jean Hogue

    This looks like an interesting read. Would love to win.

  41. Hester Mayo

    Total intrigue!

  42. Portia Asher

    Thank you for the opportunity to win.

  43. Nancy Lutz

    This new novel sounds great!

  44. Karen Parisot

    I love books with lots of suspense, and “The Murder List” sounds like it’s absolutely brimming with it.

  45. R Hrizuk

    Sounds like a great book

  46. Jill K. Porco

    Looks intruiging. Would love to win it!


    I would like to read this book.

  48. Jessica Feher

    I wouldn’t object to reading this book!

  49. Amber

    Would love to read The Murder List! It sounds like an amazing book that will keep you guessing until the very end!

  50. Tammy French

    This sounds like my kind of book…most definitely! Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

  51. Lori

    How could I not read this book – “If John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline had a book baby, this would be it.”

  52. Barbara Bibel

    This sounds great. I always love your books.

  53. Nicole Seabolt

    Love this genre

  54. Mary Woods

    I appreciate not only the review of this book but also the shelf-mates. More good books to read.

  55. Jamie Rasmussen

    I want to read The Murder List.

  56. Cindy Filippone
  57. Shirley Evans

    This book looks like an awesome read. Would love to win The Murder List. Thanks for the chance.

  58. Kim Charba


  59. becky Shemeley

    I’ve been hearing so much about this book lately~ sounds great~!!! Already on my GoodReads list!

  60. Jenny smith

    Sounds interesting.

  61. kathy

    I can’t wait to read it. I love psychological thrillers!

  62. Virginia Campbell

    I am a longtime fan, and I would love to read “The Murder List”! Hank Phillippi Ryan is the Julia Sugarbaker (as played by the unequaled Dixie Carter on “Designing Women”) of the thriller-writer world. Beautiful, stylish, vibrant–also intellectual, whip smart, feminine, and downright fearsome!!! Nobody messed with Miss Julia, and nobody better mess with Ms. Hank. Zap-Zing-Zowie–SHE’S AWESOME!!!

  63. Shirley Hughey

    Psychological thrillers are right up my alley

  64. verona a kruse
  65. verona a kruse

    Love a good mystery

  66. Karen Terry

    Sounds like a good read.

  67. Theresa

    I love reading books like this!!! I can’t wait to read it!

  68. Julie

    Psychological Suspense with a little courtroom drama…Sounds like my kind of book! 💜

  69. Susan Robinette

    I’d love to win this book – it sounds great.

  70. Glen Davis

    That’s a good list.

  71. Phyllis Bernstein

    Can’t wait to read The Murder List

  72. Efriedme

    Can’t wait to read this!

  73. Christine White

    This Boston girl would love to read this read all your other books!

  74. downeaster

    I need to read some books by this author

  75. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book. Thank you for the chance.

  76. Marilyn Wilson

    I would love to win this book.

  77. Emma Cazabonne

    This mix between legal and psychological thriller sounds fascinating. Thanks for the chance to win

  78. sue

    This sounds great, I love the Perry Mason reference!

  79. Denise Moore

    Love the cover. Sounds interesting!

  80. martin bodnar

    Thanks for the chance to win……

  81. Jamie Rutland Gillespie

    This sounds so good! I would love to win and read/review this book. Thanks for the chance!

  82. Lesa Neace

    Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  83. Jackie

    Intriguing! Looking forward to reading this new thriller.

  84. Shelly Garnett

    This sounds very good

  85. Karen Hale

    I used to watch Peery Mason with my grandfather and got hooked on legal thrillers, too. I would love a chance to read a good new one.

  86. Mei Chong

    I hope to read this book!! Thanks for the chance to win it.

  87. Suzee

    Looking forward to reading this book, nothing better than a thriller.

  88. Jackie Wisherd

    I would enjoy reading this book.

  89. Etta Wagner

    I loved the last book and look forward to reading this one.

  90. DebP

    Earl Stanley Gardiner’s Perry Mason! I remember my parents watching the original TV show (black and white), and that the theme would creep me out. Scariest TV theme ever.

  91. Jean Boe

    Sounds like a book I would like.

  92. Kaye L Killgore

    This sounds really interesting. Would love to read it

    • Pam Walrath

      Yes, please!

  93. LuAnn Morgan

    I’ve been following the talk about this book and I would love to read it.

  94. Terry Pearson

    Please toss my hat in the ring !

  95. carloshmarlo

    We love Hank and her books! Thanks so much for the chance to win The Murder List!!

  96. Nina Wang

    This one sounds very good! Thanks for the chance.

  97. Mary Costea

    Love her books.

  98. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  99. Rose Jones

    I read most of those books and would like to add one more to the list.

  100. rd6066

    Looking for a good mystery read.

  101. Janet Johnson

    Ha, Everything legal is psychologically thrilling

  102. Kathleen PETGEN

    I having a book in my hands!

  103. Steve

    Looking forward to reading this.

  104. Karey L. Newton

    Her books are really good.

  105. Cindy Filippone

    This really seems like a book that I probably would not want to stop reading. Thanks for the opportunity!!!

  106. Brad

    Nice list. The book sounds great!

  107. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  108. Faith Creech

    Really looking forward to reading this book! Heard so many good things about it! Thanks for the chance to win!

  109. Rebecca Joy Mensinga

    This sound amazing! The Murder List sounds like you book that I will love!

  110. Ann Leazenby

    Well now you have my attention! Always up for a good crime/court read!

  111. Robin Langelier

    This sounds like a very intriguing book. I thank you for giving me the chance to win this book. 💜

  112. M Thompson

    Sounds interesting, nice prize to win. Thanks

  113. Janice Milliken

    This book will undoubtedly keep me up past my bedtime!

  114. Joye I

    This one sounds really good. Always looking for different authors to read

  115. Robin Weatherington

    I would love to read this!

  116. Daniel M

    looks interesting

  117. Linda McCutcheon

    I would love to read and review The murder List!

  118. Ali Danko

    I’m quite intrigued!

  119. Emily Catan

    The Murder List sounds like a great thriller loaded with interesting twists and turns. Would love to read it.

  120. Peter W.

    List me as a winner! Yes!

  121. Theresa Blundell

    This books sounds amazing!

  122. Erika Acosta

    OMg! This book sounds great! What an awesome opportunity!

  123. Rhonda Stefani

    A wonderful combination of two of my favorites, legal drama I’ve read many of & psychological thriller I’ve read even more of. This sounds so great, I’d love to read it! Please count me in!

  124. amy marantino

    Looking forward to The Murder List

  125. Brandy Holmes

    Would love to read. Looks aesome. Thank you for the chance!

  126. Vivian

    Sounds like a great read. I’m adding this one to my TBR list!

  127. Angie Simmonds

    I love psychological thrillers AND legal thrillers!

  128. Margie Shaw

    I’ve seen this advertised all over and it’s one I have to get my hands on to read!

  129. Erica Stafura

    This one sounds great!

  130. Mary Duncan

    Sounds intriguing

  131. Pamela

    I would like to read a book by this author. Sounds like an awesome story!

  132. pat zashkoff

    Would love to win this book!

  133. himlover

    My book friends are buzzing about this title. Added to my list!

  134. Patricia Reed

    This book sounds amazing. So far on my TBR list but would love to win a copy to read it sooner.

  135. Susan Morris

    I also grew up watching (and reading) Perry Mason. I am all for the psychological legal thriller genre!

  136. Lynelle Troyke

    Sounds like my kind of book!

  137. Saundra K. Warren

    It’s on my TBR list!!

  138. Nancy Wolfe

    Your latest book sounds delightful. Congratulations!

  139. Marisa Young

    Loved the article. Love the author. I can’t wait to read this book.

  140. Beth Lechman

    Sounds intriguing! Thanks for the opportunity to win.

  141. Sheila Broocke

    Sounds like an awesome read!

  142. Joyce Benzing

    Thanks for the giveaway.

  143. Helen Allman

    Looking forward to it

  144. TCasteel

    Sounds like this one’s right up my alley. I’ll add to my ‘must read’ list.

  145. Penni E

    Looks interesting!

  146. Darlene Slocum

    Miss Ryan’s books are well written and very good reading.

  147. Shellie Duffy

    Legal thrillers have always been my favorite! Can’t wait to read this one!!

  148. Janet Gould

    Great list of books. This one looks great also, can’t wait to read it.

  149. Beth T.

    Scott Turow is such a fine legal writer, from One L to his novels. Most people list Grisham, but when I see Turow on a list of favorites or influences I know I’m in good hands.

  150. Christal M

    Looks like a great read!

  151. Laurie Sandretto

    Thank you for the article.

  152. Trina Jackson I

    Sounds like a good book to enjoy.

  153. Cindy Linden

    I love this series

  154. Kris Kaminski

    Haven’t given legal side a try yet, but this one sounds worth a try!

  155. Tiffany

    This looks good

  156. Karen Minter

    Author Ryan is an amazing writer – another intriguing book I look forward to devouring!

  157. julierod22

    Love your books! You have the ability to pull you in and feel like part of the story. Thanks for the giveaway

  158. joel timmons

    Definite. Must. Read. Thriller

  159. Jeanne Kennedy
  160. Rachel Rachielles

    Definitely a book I want to read.

  161. Rebecca

    This is my favorite genre. I love to read them and then pass them on to the ladies and gentlemen in the cancer ward or in the low income housing by me that can not afford by me. The smiles are AMAZING!!

  162. Roxanna Buck

    I can’t wait!!!

  163. susan beamon

    I remember watching Perry Mason and reading some of the books. Good to be reminded about them.

  164. Anne

    I watched Perry Mason and still do. Thanks.

  165. april

    Intriguing and wonderful. Perry Mason lives on.

  166. Tammy

    I love thrillers of all kinds and have read many of these books. Loved every one that I have read!

  167. Theresa Blundell

    This one sounds really intriguing!

  168. Portia Asher

    Heaven help me, I’m out of books to read..

  169. Karl Stenger

    Sounds suspenseful.

  170. Portia Asher

    I need a book to read..

  171. Paul Gada

    I love lists

  172. Jackie Wisherd

    Would love to read this book.

  173. Christal M

    Would love to read this!

  174. Natalie Amos

    Sounds good!

  175. martin bodnar

    thanks for the chance to win!

  176. Karishma S

    legal thrillers are my favorite. I just finished reading A Nearly Normal Family. Would love to win this book!!

  177. jean jackson

    I’m hooked on “unreliable narrator” novels! Sometimes I wonder if I would narrate my own life reliably. Probably not.

  178. lasvegasnv

    interesting post

  179. Emilie-Louise Davis

    This sounds like a great read and I would love to have a copy! Thank you for the opportunity!

  180. Jackie

    I so walk to read this , after just listening to the first chapter of this book I was hooked.

  181. Nicole Seabolt

    Can’t wait to read

  182. Verna Gass

    Sounds like my kind of read

  183. Peter W.

    I want to be on the winner’s list! Yes!

  184. Michael Carter

    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  185. Michelle Willms

    I love psychological thrillers. The ability to manipulate is frightening and it’s terrifying how sometimes how “the truth” can be a subjective thing. I cannot wait to read your newest book. It sounds delightfully terrifying.

  186. Darlene Slocum

    I have had my eye on this one. I like Hank’s books. Very well written.

  187. Mary Duncan

    Sounds intriguing!

  188. Robin

    I have read all your previous books, and look forward to this one. Keep up the great work

  189. Jack Erickson

    I would add Herman Wouk’s “Caine Mutiny’ to your list of psychological legal thrillers. Junior officers on the USS Caine are called to testify against their captain, who was relieved of duty during a Pacific typhoon when the captain’s orders would have lead to the sinking of their ship. One officer led the mutiny, and now must testify in court against his commander why he committed this crime.

  190. Tiffany

    This sounds great

  191. Kimberly

    A psychological legal thriller. I love that description and this book sounds right up my alley.

  192. Diane Furst

    Thanks for adding to my very long tbr list. All of the books mentioned, including yours, sound great. I see some great reading happening this winter.

  193. Lori Mohre

    I would LOVE to read “The Murder List” ~ My favorite genre is psychological legal thriller 📖

  194. Mary Proctor

    Your description of Perry Mason viewing , was MY childhood! When my grandmother and he brother joined us for dinner and to watch the show, I -at 10 years old- was forced to remain silent! Those were the days! Now, during the reruns, my grandson questions me about everything on the show, and I’m loving it again, but not in silence. Thanks for sharing that. Now may I win the book?

  195. Jenny

    I have been wanting to read this book since I first found out about it!!! Would love to win it here!!! 🙂

  196. Saundra K. Warren

    Been on my list for quite awhile now!

  197. Heather Hart

    Sounds like a great read!

  198. Tiffany

    This looks great

  199. Barbara Fish

    I really want to win this book.

  200. Lida Bushloper

    Presumed Innocent had me hooked on this genre. Thanks for the great roundup.

  201. Connie Houghtby

    Sounds good.

  202. Dianna Young

    Would love to win this one!

  203. martin bodnar

    Thanks,again,for the chance to win!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.