While researching for the betterment of my current WIP, I sought out books to read in which the main characters were female, defense attorneys since my main character is a retired defense attorney. I wanted to find out how the authors structured their books, what language they used, and how much legal procedure they detailed. I found two series worthy of recommending.
Under the name Perri O’Shaughnessy two sisters write as a team, Mary O’Shaughnessy, a writer, and Pamela O’Shaughnessy, a former defense attorney. The series, stared in 1995, is still ongoing. Lake Tahoe, a riveting character, and its surrounding mountains attracts summer and winter tourists to the area. Since I’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, I found the setting interesting.
The main character, defense lawyer and single mother of a twelve-year-old boy, Nina Reilly, lives with her brother and his wife and carries a heavy caseload. Nina constantly juggles her work, personal life and motherhood, and sometimes she drops one of them, making her life a mess. Her clients at times lie to her, putting her in a tenuous legal position, but her own behavior, such as concealing evidence, does as well.
In Obstruction of Justice, Nina witnesses the death of an abusive father while hiking on a mountaintop, which she shares with the dysfunctional family and her hiking partner (and potential lover) a D.A. The apparent natural death by lightning strike of the abusive father should relieve stress, but the family remains on edge. Nina empathizes with the mother of the family, who is trying to keep her family together while suffering from the effects of abuse. When the deceased father’s father also dies, the prosecution, her D.A. hiking partner, makes a case against the grandson.
The case provides enough twists to be entertaining, and yet I found few characters evoked my sympathy. Nina’s empathetic responses to the family borders on unprofessional behavior. This emotionalism may or may not be realistic, but I found myself unable to identify with her. While investigating the case, her PI (and old flame) interviews a woman, who becomes the object of his sexual obsession. Imagine my surprise to find that I considered him the most sympathetic character. In the end, I found the plot satisfying, and I wondered if the intensity of trial lessened my enjoyment of the book and the main character even if it provided realism.
Kate Wilhelm, author of the second series, writes in various genres and has won three Nebula and
The Barbara Holloway series is set in Eugene Oregon, and her defense practice takes her to smaller towns set nearby. From reading about the series, the book I read, Desperate Measures, appears to be representative of the books in this series. Ms. Wilhelm started the series in 1991 and although she took a hiatus from 2008 to 2011, she continues to write it.
Barbara’s father is also a defense attorney, from whom she learned her trade. But she establishes her own practice and at times they compete. In Desperate Measures, after the murder, there is a lag period while the police investigate. Meanwhile, separate clients appear on her and her father’s doorsteps. Both clients think that the police will arrest them of murder. Before either is charged, the lawyers proceed to investigate. Father and daughter end up investigating to identify each other’s clients and conceal evidence from the other. When a second death takes her father’s client to the grave, they form a team using her father’s trusted PI to make a defense for her client and to investigate if the second death is also a case of murder, pitting them against the coroner and converging their cases.
The investigation is interesting, and Barbara’s client is a unique and sympathetic fellow. Born with a birth defect that multiple surgeries have not alleviated, her client’s face still gives him the appearance of a monster even though he is intelligent and possesses a wry humor. Barbara must defend him against prejudice originating in his horrific appearance that sullies the prosecution’s case.
Although one of the Perri O’Shaughnessy series authors practiced as a defense attorney, if I were to choose between the two series, I’d pick Ms. Wilhelm’s series to read. Both are admirable and good reads. To me, it is either a case of Ms. Wilhelm doing her homework well and/or that she excels as a writer, again proving that it is the author not the story upon which storytelling success rests. And that determination gives me faith that I can write a story with a defense attorney main character, when I, like Ms. Wilhelm, never attended law school.