from my bookshelf: anatomy of a murder by robert traver


this is the OG murder trial novel. the story takes place in the upper peninsula of michigan. paul biegler is an ex-district attorney who loses reelection and is faced to deal with his struggling solo law practice that is held together by the seams and the assistance of his secretary, maida. biegler assumes the rest of his days will be spent fishing and feeling sorry for himself when he receives a phone call from lieutenant manion’s wife who desperately needs his help because her husband is behind bars for the murder of barney quill. biegler recruits parnell mccarthy, an alcoholic who was a brilliant legal mind in his younger years, to assist him as the case unwinds, revealing a multi-layered story that ultimately results in a captivating trial. the author, robert traver, is an ex-michigan supreme court justice, and spares no details that law enthusiasts will appreciate from start to finish.


“Law is one of the last citadels of wavering conservatism in an untidy world and the offices of most lawyers reflect it.”

“As I looked at my man the wry thought flashed over me that despite our dearly hugged illusions of civilization and culture, all our talk about tolerance and fair play and detached social objectivity, most of us have but two reactions to the people who cross our lives: we either like or dislike them on sight. it is as simple as that.”

“The Lecture is an ancient device that lawyers use to coach their clients so that the client won’t quite know he has been coached and his lawyer can still preserve the face-saving illusion that he hasn’t done any  coaching. For coaching clients, like robbing them, is not only frowned upon, it is downright unethical and bad, very bad. Hence the Lecture, an artful device as old as the law itself, and one used constantly by some of the nicest and most ethical lawyers in the land.”

“I’m a lawyer, not a juggler or a hypnotist nor even a magician or boy orator. When I undertake to defend a man before a jury I want to have a fighting legal chance to acquit him.”

“A lawyer caught in the toils of a murder case is like a man newly fallen in love; his involvement is total. All he can think about, talk about, brood about, dream about, is his case, his lovely lousy goddam case.”

“Just as a lawyer needn’t love his client, to adequately represent him, so he doesn’t necessarily have to believe in his moral or legal innocence. But sometimes it helps, and it was helping now…”

“We smoked and watched silently and I reflected with lazy unoriginality that the main trouble with the world was the people in it. Someone had said it more floridly if not better: ‘Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.'”

“…for all its lurching and shambling imbecilities, the law–and only the law–is what keeps our society from bursting apart at the seams, from becoming a snarling jungle. While the law is not perfect, God knows, no other system has yet been found for governing men except violence. The law is society’s safety valve, its most painless way to achieve social catharsis; any other way lies anarchy.”

“The law is the busy fireman that puts out society’s brush fires; that gives people a nonphysical method to discharge hostile feelings and settle violent differences; that substitutes orderly ritual for the rule of tooth and claw. The very slowness of the law, its massive impersonality, its insistence upon proceeding according to settled and ancient rules–all this tends to cool and bank the fires of passion and violence and replace them with order and reason.”

“Lofty abstractions about individual liberty and justice do not enforce themselves. These things must be reforged in men’s hearts every day. And they are reforged by the law, for every jury trial in the land is a small daily miracle of democracy in action.”

“Lawyers were something like actors, I reflected: their range was limited by the play; they had to take the script as they found it; they dared not change the words or tinker with the dialogue. When they did they became either ham actors, on the one hand, or else shysters.”

“But these facts, however melodramatic, skimmed by the surface, were in themselves merely the tip of the iceberg at sea; it was the ‘inner facts,’ the heart of the case itself, that teemed with the stuff of real mystery, the deepening tangle of dark impulses and mixed motives of real men and women.”

“One of the endless fascinations–as well as frustrations–of the law are the constant surprises–both good and bad–that its practitioners get from their clients and witnesses.”

“My steps rang hollowly along the deserted upper corridors, and it occurred to me that there were fewer places in the world lonelier and emptier than the precincts of a country courtroom between terms of court.”

“‘The lack of knowledge of people, our lack of human communication, one with the other, may be the big trouble with this old world…'”

“After a long arduous trial one is not only physically exhausted, but the overchurned mind itself grows buttery and numb; the goaded emotions are whipped to a watery whey; there is simply nothing more to give–one is at last not unlike a battle-scarred old boxer finally reduced to a sparing bag.”