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What was the deal with…? Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

January 27, 2022

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver was okay. That’s my book review. It was okay.

Anatomy of a Murder was a 1958 bestseller in the United States and then it was made into a really popular movie a year later. It was a supposedly the first (or one the first) courtroom legal thrillers. I wanted to like this book. I paid for it with my own money, so I had incentive to like it. If I had borrowed it from the library, I wouldn’t have cared as much, but I spent $3.00, so I care… a little bit.

Anatomy of a Murder was kind of overwritten. It felt like it had a 250 page story in a 500 page novel. It was 500 pages, and it felt like 500 pages. The first half is overwritten prose with a lot of hammy dialogue. Maybe hammy dialogue was the rage in 1958. I like hammy dialogue, but I prefer it in moderation. The second half is 250 pages of courtroom drama, and the details are exhausting, with some more hammy dialogue thrown in.

Courtroom drama details might have been a novelty in 1958, but I used to watch Law & Order (the real one) back in the 1990s. None of the stuff in Anatomy of a Murder is new anymore. Still, I can’t blame a book written in 1958 for being copied over the last 50 years. It’s good to read the source material.

I’ve never seen the movie version of Anatomy of a Murder. I know nothing about the movie. I purposely avoided looking at the back cover of my copy because it had the cast of the movie. Now that I know who plays the main character, I’m glad I didn’t know. I don’t like visualizing Hollywood actors/actresses when I read books. It was okay when I pictured Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch while I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s almost a requirement to visualize Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. But Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is an exception.

Last year I ripped the cover off of my copy of The Shipping News because it had a picture of Kevin Spacey on it. I didn’t want to visualize Kevin Spacey. Now that I’ve read The Shipping News, I think that Kevin Spacey was miscast. I haven’t even seen the movie, but I still think he was miscast. On the other hand, I can see the actor who played the main character in Anatomy of a Murder doing a good job, but I’m glad that I didn’t visualize him.

I bought this copy of Anatomy of a Murder for $3.00 at a used book store. The book is falling apart a little bit, but I held it carefully when I read it. I didn’t throw it around. Even if I find the book a bit dull, I’m not going to beat it up like I beat up The Shipping News. My copy of The Shipping News with Kevin Spacey on the cover deserved to get beat up. I usually don’t beat up books, but that Kevin Spacey cover had it coming.

Anatomy of a Murder author Robert Traver was a former lawyer, and when former lawyers write novels, they tend to write legal thrillers. I’m a former English teacher, but I’m not writing an educational thriller. Nobody wants to read about teachers. Teacher drama isn’t as interesting as courtroom drama.

For example, there was the time a kid farted really loudly during my lecture about gerunds, and there were a bunch of accusations and counter-accusations about who dealt it and who smelt it and who denied it and who supplied it. Even though I’m all for swift justice, even I believe that the accused must get a fair hearing before the classroom tribunal before being socially ostracized.

That kind of thing is entertaining for a page or two, but you can’t sustain a novel with it. I don’t think anybody would read 500 pages of that.

Then there’s the occasional (white)teacher saves (not white) student story, but those stories are kind of sappy and they’re not my style. I don’t think any kid farted in Freedom Writers. I’ll admit, one of the characters in my novel (that I think will be finished soon) is a teacher, but teaching is more like an annoyance to him than his identifying trait.

Maybe back in 1958 Anatomy of a Murder was cutting edge courtroom drama. You have to remember that back then television was black & white with only three channels. There was no cable. There was no internet. Movie theaters had one screen. Elvis Presley was controversial because he shook his hips. You had to talk to the operator to make a phone call (maybe that was in 1938, not 1958). And the phone had to be plugged in to the wall. And the phone was just a phone.

I can’t blame Anatomy of a Murder for being cutting edge in 1958. It’s not this book’s fault that it got copied by a bunch of other legal thriller authors. Even so, 500 pages was a little long.

2 Comments
  1. I love Gregory Peck, but I always pictured my grandfather as Atticus Finch….and any book with kevin spacey on the cover deserves to be mutilated (which makes me sad, because I was a huge kevin spacey fan)

    • That’s cool that you picture your grandfather as Atticus Finch. If you pictured Kevin Spacey as Atticus Finch… that might be a problem.

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