Most books fall into a particular literary genre, and Jury of One is no exception. It was an easy call to designate it as a “legal thriller.” The protagonist is a judge, there is lots of courtroom drama, and at stake is the chief justiceship of the state supreme court.
But it takes more than that to have your book earn a place among the novels that attain the coveted status of legal thriller best sellers. The first ingredient is what reviewer Brandi Upton said in a recent posting: “I could not put this book down!” She isn’t saying she can’t put any legal thriller down, but she couldn’t put THIS ONE down. Why?
The answer is ingredient number 2: grab your reader early. Recall that in the first chapter of Jury of One, “The Shooting,” we witness a tense confrontation with Judge Borders, Alana Morgan and her ex-husband Toby, who is both armed and drunk. You know after page one that this will not end well, but who will be the victim?
Ingredient number 3: keep the reader turning pages. As astute reader John Strasburg noted in his five-star review, “Jury of One could have gone on for another 300 pages–easily, and I would have been there for every bit of it.” After reading Chapter 1, most readers would be curious about how a man like Dan Borders got into such a spot, so on to Chapter 2. You don’t learn in Chapter 2 how Dan ended up at the shooting, but you do find out how Dan and Alana met, and you immediately sense some chemistry that is going to be problematic for a married man like Dan.
The next critical ingredient, which all legal thriller best sellers have in common, is characters you care about. We admire Dan for his virtuous (so far) life, and we sympathize with both him and his wife, Claire, for the challenge posed by her MS. We like Alana’s spirit in overcoming a tough childhood and some early missteps to put herself on a path to success. The prosecutor, Jillian Pillai, is a dedicated public servant trying to make a name for herself in the rough-and-tumble world of the criminal justice system, still largely dominated by men. If we don’t care about these folks, we don’t much care what happens to them, and we stop turning pages.
The last ingredient is action. Courtrooms are the boxing rings of modern life, and the reader has a ring-side seat as Dan decides Alana’s fate while she battles her own lawyer to keep her commitment to him, made the night of the shooting. Most readers will put themselves in the position of the characters, wondering what they themselves would do.
As an author, I can attest to the challenge of grabbing a reader’s attention and holding it for 300 pages. It isn’t easy, but when it works your book just might find itself among the legal thriller best sellers, and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.