Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver, St Martin's Press, 1958, 437 pp
At #2 on the 1958 bestseller list is this story of a murder and trial, set in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The legal thriller has become a staple in current fiction but was a fairly new genre in the 1950s. Compulsion, a 1957 bestseller by Meyer Levin was the beginning, but Levin had a journalism background while Robert Traver had been a practicing lawyer and judge.
The writing is clunky and wordy but Traver goes quite extensively into all aspects of preparing a case, selecting a jury, and the differences between the approach of a prosecuting attorney versus a defense attorney. He also manages to make what I consider a dry subject interesting.
The murderer confessed to his crime and turned himself in on the night of the murder, so our hero, former DA Paul Beigler, plans his defense around a variation of the insanity plea. The reader gets instructed along with the judge and jury, on the workings of such a plea.
Because of some intriguing side stories about the murderer, his wife and the victim; because a rape preceded the murder; because the setting is integral to the plot, it was all in all a satisfying read. I could see the "surprise" ending coming but the tension of the trial was good and taut.
An Otto Preminger movie from 1959 with James Stewart and Lee Remick features Duke Ellington as the piano player in the bar and includes some of his tunes.
Another piece of the puzzle regarding fiction in America falls into place for me.
(Anatomy of a Murder is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)