I’ve always wanted to write a legal thriller ever since discovering the likes of John Grisham. Legal thrillers can be captivating, authors who write them can roll stories out in their sleep, and they make big bucks. To some extent, they can be considered "snack books" (as my English teacher says), or books with no literary merit and basic covers, because they are so common. I don’t read legal thrillers that often, but I can only wonder how legal authors keep finding inspiration when the genre has such a presence in the book world. The effort it takes to write one is even more staggering to me, as the qualification is that you, obviously, have to be or previously been a lawyer. Otherwise, prepare to take the BAR exam or spend money on extensive research. But even then, it’s amazing how lawyers who aren’t involved in criminal law can write good crime thrillers.
Robert Bailey is a civil defense lawyer in the Huntsville area, who is two books into a legal thriller series. His first novel, The Professor, involves a pre-law teacher at the University of Alabama getting laid off from his job through an unusual series of events. Down on his luck and jobless, The Professor is approached by an old friend who asks him to be the plaintiff in a suit against a trucking company, as one of the company’s drivers collided with the suer’s family and killed everyone involved. The Professor turns down the case and hands it over to a former student of his, insisting that he is too old to get back into trial law. When his student is duped by a system rigged against him, The Professor suddenly finds himself at the helm of the biggest case of his career.
The Professor is a no-nonsense page turner. It keeps the reader invested by throwing in as much suspense and mystery as possible. The story involves a perfect example of how companies try to get away with murder, literally. Dramatic irony is cleverly used throughout the story as our main characters are fooled out of victory. There are countless moments where the reader simply wants to reach inside the pages and tear the villains to shreds. All the while, Bailey ties every scenario together. The firing of The Professor, the lawsuit, and all those involved are addressed by the end of the story. There’s even some emotional struggle tied in from the main characters. Though Bailey covers the main details, there are still a few areas unaddressed. The ice is almost spread too thin in terms of the number of characters involved in The Professor’s trial, and a few instances left my head scratching. However this is Bailey’s first novel, and these characters could show up again in books following, so I won’t be too quick to judge
Bailey also panders to his Alabama audience by visiting many locations in the state, and even southern Tennessee. I was reluctant to invest myself in the story, as it’s clear from the get-go that it’s set against the backdrop of UA, something I’ve grown up seeing my entire life; it’s cultural in this state. To me, it’s dull and boring, but Bailey’s story is so investing the location doesn’t matter in the long run. Even then, though I’m overly familiar with these locations, it doesn’t change the fact that they are still close to home.
I can’t imagine how one balances a law career and the creative capacity to write a novel based on that career, but Bailey doesn’t leave any boxes unchecked. He knows law inside and out, and The Professor shows that he is invested in what he does and can use it to tell a great story. Though some aspects of the novel seem basic or nuanced, and there a few grammatical issues, it doesn’t keep the story from feeling any less compelling. Even if crime novels aren’t your thing, give this novel a read for a guaranteed good time. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
You can purchase The Professor here.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; November 2016