This is the first time I have read a Grisham novel. I like a decent whodunnit but I'm not so hot on thrillers.
Mark and Todd are law students, incurring staggering levels of debt to graduate from a private law school with little prospect of getting employment. Fellow student, manic-depressive Gordy, explains to them and his girlfriend Zola, child of illegal immigrant parents, that the billionaire who owns the law school also owns the student loan company. Then Gordy's body is fished out of the river.
So it starts in a fairly conventional manner. Each character is introduced and each has conflict in their background. Plus they have these crushing debts. And we have a sinister villain lurking in the background.
But the story arc from there is unconventional. The three friends set up an illegal law firm, illegally hustling drunks and drivers at the courts, charging thousand dollar fees to get potential sentences quashed or delayed or reduced. The danger is that each time they stand before a judge they might be asked to show their licences to practise law, which they don't have, and find themselves facing felony chargers. Then they move to personal injury cases and then to represent fake clients in a class action against a bank owned by the evil billionaire. To scam him. Because the irony is that although he is breaking no laws, they are breaking many.
The strapline on the front cover says 'There's one last chance for justice'. It might be argued that what these three law pirates are doing is just because they have been ripped off by the nasty billionaire. But what they are doing is charging poor people fees for legal representation when they are not licensed to offer that. So they aren't Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich, but bandits stealing from the poor. Deliberately so. "Affluency was to be avoided ... Those with money were more likely to know a real lawyer. Poor folks would not ..." (p 170) These three make rather shabby heroes.
The picture it paints of America is of a land drowning in laws, a place where you sue some who is suing you because, you claim, they are suing you contentiously, a place where it seems almost impossible to walk down the street without breaking some ordinance. It isn't surprising that drugs and violence is so prevalent. Where everyone is trying to scam everyone else and where, whenever anything goes wrong, it is an opportunity for further litigation. A place where you have to incur terrible debts to have the opportunity to work long hours just to service those debts. A rat race.
But what surprised me was how the plot meandered. One minute it is about the debt scam, the next about being crooked lawyers. Then we go back to the scammers. And alongside all this, scarcely interacting except for the female character, is the story about illegal immigrants. This book rambled.
Having said that there was plenty of tension; Grisham knows how to keep you reading. Furthermore, it was good that he didn't need to resort to cheap dramatics such as gunshots and shadowy conspirators to achieve the page turning. There was excitement every time a character stood up in court, not knowing if this might be the moment of their unmasking. That's something to learn.
An interesting novel ... but not really a thriller. September 2018; 374 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57