What to Read Next: Crime Dramas
Issue #306, featuring Dostoyevsky and Martin Clark
Happy Friday, readers!
Legal dramas have been some of the most successful and defining novels in the history of American fiction. From To Kill A Mockingbird to the more recent dominance of John Grisham and James Patterson, it’s a genre that always has a place on the bestseller list.
I tremendously enjoy crime fiction (it’s among my most-read genres every year) but don’t read much in the way of legal procedurals. I changed that just a bit this fall by reading one all-time classic and one lesser-known title by a new-to-me author.
Let’s jump into the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Martin Clark.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Published: 1866 | Pages: 551 | Genre: Fiction (Crime)
“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”
One of my big reading gaps — at least in terms of classics — has long been Russian great Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He’s routinely considered to be one of the greatest novelists ever, so I figured it was well past time for me to give it a shot. Though The Brothers Karamazov is usually counted as his best work, I started with Crime and Punishment and loved every bit of it.
Birthed from Dostroyevsky’s own experience in a prison camp, the story looks deeply at a single individual’s crime as well as his internal torment about that crime (i.e. the “punishment”). It gets at the agonizing psychological heart of guilt as powerfully as anything I’ve ever read.
That’s not all it does, though — this story offers readers a lot. It’s a crime drama (there is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game that keeps the plot going), a meditation on society and redemption, and a brilliant philosophical treatise on madness and justice. I had no problem immediately seeing why it’s an all-time classic.
Crime and Punishment is plenty long, but never felt interminable, as plenty of lengthy character-driven novels do. And while I wouldn’t say the plot is always exciting, it offers just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning at key moments — I absolutely kept reading, in part, to answer that timeless question we ask of fiction: What happens next?!
Though it’s generally grim — a defining feature of classic Russian novels — Crime and Punishment never felt hopeless. I don’t quite know how Dostoyevsky managed that, but he did. I’m glad to include this title on the 2024 Big Read roster and am excited to dig in a bit deeper the next time around.
The Plinko Bounce by Martin Clark
Published: 2023 | Pages: 280 | Genre: Fiction (Crime)
I hadn’t heard of this book or author before reading a lackluster review of John Grisham’s newest title. (That review mentioned Plinko as a much better alternative.) I realized it had been a really long time since I’d read a courtroom drama and immediately went to reserve this one from the library.
I was hooked from the start by the snappy courtroom scenes and (mostly) believable characters. Our protagonist is a long-time public defender who’s been unwittingly sucked into a grisly murder case that isn’t turning out to be as cut-and-dry as it initially seemed.
As with any good legal drama, Clark offered a great balance between the courtroom, the law office, and the somewhat extralegal goings-on of the characters. What was most interesting was how Clark treated the crime itself. Though it’s described in detail in court, we never get a first-hand look at what actually happened. The mystery and the plot are more about how justice is perceived and argued than about the truth itself.
Honestly, this is one of those books where neither the characters nor the specifics of the story will stay with me for a real long time, but I sure enjoyed the entertaining reading experience. Ultimately, The Plinko Bounce made for a few days of perfect bedtime reading. And sometimes that’s all you want or need out of a book.
Thanks so much for reading. I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.