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The Legal Thriller: Courtroom Experience Is Key! by Nancy Allen

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Let’s welcome Nancy Allen whose recent novel A Killing at the Creek is about to be published. It’s the second book in her Ozarks Mysteries series released today.

In this guest post she talks about the significance of her legal background in writing her two books.

The Legal Thriller: Courtroom Experience Is Key!

I’m a lawyer, and I write legal thrillers, novels of mystery and suspense that involve a courtroom setting.

For my money, the best legal thrillers are written by attorneys: actual courtroom veterans. Think Scott Turow and John Grisham. They can create an organic courtroom scene, because they know whereof they speak.

Granted, many police procedurals are penned by authors without a law enforcement background; and authors write medical thrillers without going to medical school. So why do I maintain that you must be a lawyer to write a legal thriller? Because courtroom experience is crucial.

The first time I read Grisham, I was a young lawyer. In A Time to Kill, he depicted a courtroom scene where things went awry. I marveled at the accuracy of his prose, the description of the tension and the inner thought processes of a trial lawyer when a case falls apart. He nailed it.

I try to bring that genuine and tangible character to my books. Prior to writing my Ozarks Mysteries series, I spent fifteen years in the courtroom, representing the State of Missouri and the Greene County Prosecutors Office. During those years, I tried over thirty jury trials: murder cases, sex crimes, major felonies, gaining intimate knowledge of the trial process, from an insider’s perspective.

In my first Ozarks Mystery, The Code of the Hills, my protagonist Elsie Arnold, a county prosecutor, is assigned a difficult incest case involving child victims. Heaven knows I had a wealth of experience to bring to that novel: when I started as assistant prosecutor, I was the only woman on staff. They handed me all the sex cases.

In my new book, A Killing at the Creek, Elsie prosecutes her first murder case, against a fifteen-year-old defendant. As an attorney, I carried a similar burden, prosecuting a sixteen year old juvenile for murder in the first degree.

The law is a complex body of rules, and knowledge of the legal profession is gained slowly, through the practice of law. But the events that unfold in our courtroom, the justice and injustices that are dealt create a natural environment for drama, and for storytelling. Just ask Grisham. Or Turow. Or me.

About A Killing at the Creek (#2 of Ozarks Mysteries): Prosecutor Elsie Arnold loves her small-town home in the Ozark hills, but she’s been waiting for a murder to come along and make her career. So when a body is found under a bridge, throat cut, Elsie jumps at the chance to work on the case, even if it’s alongside the brash new chief assistant, Chuck Harris—and her latest flame, Detective Bob Ashlock.

But when the investigation reveals that the deceased woman was driving a school bus, and the police locate the vehicle, its interior covered in blood, the occupant and only suspect is a fifteen-year-old boy. Elsie’s in for more than she bargained for.

Win or lose, this case will haunt her. No one has successfully prosecuted a juvenile for first-degree murder in McCown County. If she loses, it’s her career on the line and a chilling homicide unresolved; if she wins, a boy’s liberty will be taken from him before he reaches his sixteenth birthday.

Harper Collins-Witness Impulse | 02/17/2015 | ebook

Nancy Allen practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She’s tried over thirty jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. A Killing at the Creek is her second novel.

An eclectic blog with an affinity for the speculative.

*Republished under a Creative Commons Attribution3.0 United States License (

Layers of Thought (Shellie) / CC BY 3.0



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