By Robert Begam
Take a real and familiar frame - lawyers, judges, courtrooms - present them with a suspenseful issue, make the stakes big, and you have a recipe for a novel, film or TV show that will attract attention. The courtroom genre in novel form became very popular with the first works of John Grisham and Scott Turow in the '80s - about the same time my first
published by McGraw-Hill, hit the book stores.
But long before the '80s, fictionalized courtroom stories were popular. To Kill a Mockingbird
and Anatomy of a Murder
are two good ones that come to mind. Go back even further to Dickens with Tale of Two Cities
and Bleak House
, or to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice,
where the stakes involved a pound of flesh, high enough to attract even the most cynical Elizabethan audience.
All of these courtroom stories involved people with whom the audience could identify. Suspense was created by not knowing how the case would end. In the better stories, the issues transcend the litigants immediately involved. For example, in my recently published novel, Long Life?
, the issue is provocative: Is the victim dead, or is he cryonically frozen awaiting reanimation? There are other issues as well. Is cryonics scientifically feasible? Will it ever be? What ethical problems might it cause? Does it raise legitimate religious issues?
The overriding issue, however, involves what the victim and his doctor, who is accused of first-degree murder, were really doing. What was the motive? The prosecution claims that the defendant was engaged in a colossal scam to extort millions of dollars. The defense claims that she was engaged in the ultimate scientific endeavor - not the battle against a disease such as AIDS, cancer or Parkinson’s, but the battle to extend life beyond its normal limit, to achieve immortality, indeed, the battle against death itself.
And what better arena to explore these issues than the crucible of the courtroom?