Friday, October 30, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Travers

"A riveting courtroom drama of rape and premeditated murder. Pits a humble small-town lawyer against a hard-headed big-city prosecutor. Emotions flare as a jealous army lieutenant pleads innocent to murdering the rapist of his seductive, beautiful wife. Packed with drama, passion and intrigue." Sounds like something John Grisham wrote, doesn't it? But this bestseller was from 1958 and was penned by Robert Travers, which is actually the pseudonym for Michigan attorney, prosecutor and judge John D. Voelker. The story is based on an actual murder case in which Voelker served as the defense attorney. We read this book together to fulfill Dave's "Random Author" selection in the Take-a-Chance Challenge. For the most part, we agreed with the description above. The contrast between the small-town lawyer and the big-city prosecutor constantly reminded us of "A Time to Kill", right down to the older, hard-drinking, retired lawyer co-conspirator. Unfortunately, Mr. Travers could take a lesson from Grisham in brevity and pacing. This story tended to get bogged down in legalese and unnecessary detail, the "red herrings" tended to be more pointless distractions than intriguing false leads, and there were a couple of points that were never clearly explained. Surprisingly the story is still timely for today, including the conflict between the military and civilian factions of the town. We had fun with the outdated idioms and the changes in moral standards - the army officer's wife was accused of being promiscuous because she took off her shoes in public. We also were fascinated with the discussion of psychiatry as a new and, perhaps, unreliable branch of medicine. There was an unexpected amount of humor in the story which kept us from skimming over the wordy, rambling sections for fear of missing a great one-liner. The ending had enough surprise to make it satisfying and an over-all enjoyable read. We would give it 3 stars - point off for endless blabbering and point off for predictability. This evening's plan is to watch the movie version starring Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott and Lee Remick. We'll let you know how the two compare.
Update: Once again, the book is better than the movie - and it honestly surprised us this time. Since we weren't overwhelmed with the book, and the movie featured an all-star lineup, we really thought there was a chance for the movie to outdo the book. We also hoped it might even clarify a couple of points we didn't follow in the book, but those points must have confused the script writers too, because they either left them out or changed the story. The story was mostly in tact, but it lacked the complexity and detail of the book. Had we watched the movie first we probably would have enjoyed it more but, as usually happens, once you've read the book the movie just doesn't measure up.


  1. I had no idea the movie came from a book which is silly of me since most good movies start that way. I do love John Grisham novels too. This one sounds like it would be fun to read just for the comparison to Grisham.

  2. Although we didn't give the movie or the book rave reviews, the book is still worth the time so if you get the chance to read it, take it. We would be interested to see if anyone else sees Travers influence in Grisham's books. Thanks for your comments.