There’s something about a courtroom trial that can add a great deal to the suspense and tension in a crime novel. And that makes sense if you think about it. For one thing, trials are adversarial, and that conflict adds to a story. For another, even when the outcome of a trial seems like a ‘sure thing,’ that doesn’t mean anything is really guaranteed. Lots of things can happen. So, it’s not hard to see why an author might include a trial in a story.
For instance, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird contains an important trial. And those who’ve seen the film adaptation will know that there’s possibly more suspense in the trial in that version. Oh, wait – my apologies. I really can’t discuss this book. It’s been on many Banned and Challenged lists since its publication, and I certainly wouldn’t want to address a topic that might not be appropriate. Well, no worries. We’ll move right on.
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a fictional re-telling of the murders of Herb Clutter, his wife, Bonnie Mae, and their children, Nancy Mae and Kenyon. The killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, are – oh, sorry! This book, too, has been on many Banned and Challenged lists. That means it contains topics or language or something that might not be considered appropriate. I really can’t discuss it here, and certainly wouldn’t want to do so if it offends. It’s a shame, too, because there’s a solid set of trial scenes in the book. Well, I’d better think of some other examples.
Ah, yes! There’s John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. In it, Clanton, Mississippi attorney Jake Brigance takes on a very difficult case. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for shooting the two men who beat and raped his ten-year-old daughter, Tonya. On the one hand, vigilantism cannot be condoned or excused. On the other hand, there’s a lot of sympathy for Hailey. Wait a minute. Oh, I’m so sorry! This book’s also been challenged many times, and banned as well. With its language, topic of sexual assault, and other problems, I’m not surprised. And I certainly wouldn’t want to discuss a book that wouldn’t be seemly. So, I’d better try to find other examples. Pshew – this is getting a bit difficult.
Hmmm…let’s see…. Oh, I know! A murder trial is the central focus of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. Puget Sound fisher Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, Jr., who’s also a fisher. Alvin Hooks will prosecute the case, and Nels Gudmundsson will defend Miyamoto. As the story goes on, we learn that – Oh, my!! I did it again! This book, too, has been challenged and banned. Well, the last thing in the world that I’d want to do is upset or offend anyone who might consider this book inappropriate. So, I’d better not say anything more about it.
This is getting more and more difficult. Maybe I ought to go the unconventional route and mention a trial that never really happens. You can read about it in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, which introduces his famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. In the novel, Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the strange murders of two American visitors to England. Holmes finds out who – I can’t believe this! Once more I’ve made the grave mistake of bringing up a book that’s been on Banned and Challenged lists. I am sorry, folks. I don’t want to run the risk of using a potentially offensive or inappropriate book. It’s a pity, though, because there’s an interesting aspect to the plot that explains why the trial never happens.
It’s very hard to discuss ideas, themes, or much of anything else when you’re not free to read and discuss the books that you want to read and discuss. When books are banned or challenged, that makes it all the harder for people to read, learn, and grow from what they read. Even this admittedly satiric example shows, I hope, how hard it is to talk about something when one’s not free to mention relevant books.
This week in the US, it’s Banned Books Week. Banning books hurts us all. If you’re kind enough to read my blog regularly, then you may remember that I bring this topic up every year during this week. And I’ll continue to do so until I don’t have to any more. It’s that important.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marc Almond’s Satan’s Child.