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[834] The King of Torts – John Grisham

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“Were these people so blinded by the money that they honestly believed themselves to be defenders of the poor and the sick?” (Ch.15, 164)

As the title implies, the book is about a down-and-out public defender turned mass tort who brings lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their defective drugs and rakes in millions of dollars. From a mysterious source he also benefits from inside trading of the stocks. Soon Clay Carter takes on other cases and is noticed across the country as he amasses case after case against these companies, until he jumps on one bandwagon too many, compelled by greed, and starts making mistakes.

The book is off to a more gripping start as Carter learns about the conspiracy behind a drug with fatal side effect. Then it trickles to a tedious pace with long repetitions. It goes on about the indecent practices of mass torts, their shameless advertising and solicitation, ripping off their clients of their rightful settlements by charging huge fees. It’s a predictable book with little thrill element. Clay’s character is flat—it’s not like a good person was being corrupted by money, rather it feels like the author doesn’t know who the character is. The errors in judgment concerning the waste of money and lack of caution are more than unbelievable. I only recommend it if you need a no-brainer book that carries you over a long airport layover.

470 pp. Dell Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[717] Sycamore Row – John Grisham

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” Herschel and Ramona and their families glared with hatred across the aisle at the group of blacks, who eagerly and somewhat smugly returned the looks. Their girl Lettie had been chosen to receive the money, and they were there to fight for her. But the money belonged to the Hubbards. Seth had been out of his mind. ” (Ch.12, p.156)

When a reclusive timber tycoon hangs himself from a sycamore on the edge of his estate, his handwritten will, which leaves the bulk of his fortune not to his two adult children and grandchildren but to his black housekeeper, induces a fierce legal brawl. Knowing the case will be a real sticky matter, Seth Hubbard had selected a young attorney named Jake Brigance who, three years earlier, had secured the acquittal of a black man accused of murder for killing the racists who raped his daughter, to handle his case.

Everything is about race in Mississippi . . . A simple black woman on the verge of inheritng what might be the largest fortune this county has ever seen, and the decision rests with a jury that’s predominantly white. (Ch.10, p.128)

Down with lung cancer and had just weeks to live, Seth Hubbard sent his new revised will, which will cut off his children altogether, to Brigance, instructing him to defend it “to the bitter end.” He knew it would scandalize the whole community, which, even in 1989, could not abide the idea of a black woman inheriting a fortune. But it’s also natural that the jury will take a dim view in the transfer of wealth outside the family, let alone when Seth Hubbard was very sick. A more conventional will, which rewards the Hubbard children and excludes Lettie Lang, has predated the handwritten one. Its existence raises the questions about Hubbard’s testamentary capacity: was he out of it on drugs? Had he been unduly influenced by Lettie? Hubbard was such an enigma that inferring any kind of motive is tricky. It’s Brigance’s job to advocate in favor of the last will and to follow its terms. As investigation on both sides of the trail dig deeper into the past, neither of them is prepared for the true reason behind the suicide and the change of will.

The bigger picture of Sycamore Row is that law is indistinguishable from the history of race in the South. In this novel, the law burdens us with secrets that must be revealed, but the most brutal acts can be balanced by an unexpected act of salvation. Grisham portrays racism as something poignantly inveterate and deeply rooted in our perception. This is a multi-layered legal thriller that evolves and branches off to new direction until the end. The courtroom drama proceeds at a terrific pace, from the gathering of information to selecting jurors. The real drama evolves as Brigance solves the mystery of what Seth Hubbard carefully orchestrated his suicide and bequeathed all his fortune to a black housekeeper who had taken care for him the last three years. What unfolds is how the wrongful acts of the past have continued to haunt and reign over the heart of the present. Grisham leads the reader through the intricacies of the probate process and a brilliant courtroom challenge filled with legal nuances.

642 pp. Dell Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[707] The Firm – John Grisham

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” Tired? I’m dead. In the past three weeks I’ve been a janitor, a secretary, a lawyer, a banker, a whore, a courier and a private investigator. I’ve flown to Grand Cayman nine times, bought nine sets of new luggage and hauled back a ton of stolen documents. I’ve driven to Nashville four times and flown ten. I’ve read so many bank records and legal crap I’m half blind. And when it’s bedtime, I put on my little Dustbusters shirt and play maid for six hours. I’ve got so many names, I’ve written them on my hand so I won’t get confused. ” (Ch.33, p.427)

The Firm is not a courtroom thriller like A Time to Kill, but more a tale of conspiracy full of paranoia-driven events. Mitchell McDeere graduates from Harvard Law and is about to begin his career as a lawyer. Lured by money and associated perks, he finds himself as a tax lawyer in the Memphis law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke, one that has carefully vetted him and made an offer too good to refuse.

At first it’s all legitimate work. But quickly the firm controls Mitch’s life and encroaches on every aspect. Mitch manages to work 16 hours a day, and as soon as he starts he is up to his ears in deadlines. The firm is demanding and exclusive. Social life revolves around lawyers and partners in the firm—almost like a cult. Before the McDeeres even suspect any sinister undertakings under the cover of a legitimate law firm business, a senior partner invites them out to dinner while his crew wire the house and tap the phone. This slow build of the story really builds the suspense and creepiness.

They lure you with the money. They smother you with work that looks legitimate. Then, after a few years, you’ve unwittingly become a part of the conspiracy. You’re nailed, and there’s no getting out. (Ch.2, p.321)

When approached by the FBI, Mitch realizes he is edged between a rock and a hard place. The FBI is determined to infiltrate the firm, owned and run by some crime powerhouse, with Mitch’s help, in hopes of collecting information on certain shady clients. Mitch himself become suspicious of the morbidly high mortality rate of the firm. Three lawyers died in dubious circumstances, and two just perished in a diving accident in the Grand Cayman. Together with the secretary of a private investigator, who also died at the hand of the mafia that run the firm, Mitch is on a roll to secure incriminating evidence of the firm, constantly dodging, outsmarting, and getting ahead of his enemy.

This place is eerie. I can’t put my finger on it, but those people make my skin crawl. (Ch.15, p.192)

The Firm is a page-turner, with all the decoys and talking in codes, dodging, and espionage. But the story-line doesn’t launch itself into the epic thriller that the plot threatens to become. It starts very promising, with the sleep-building suspense and claustrophobic atmosphere of the firm, but crumples into a muted, ambivalent ending that doesn’t do justice to all the clandestine meetings, prowlings, and dangerous pursuit. There’s a lack of detail regarding the crucial money laundering activities, almost non-existent legal talk and proceedings. Good read, and not as good as A Time to Kill.

527 pp. Dell Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[705] A Time to Kill – John Grisham

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” But the system was not working now. It was conspiring to keep him in jail, to break him, to make orphans of his children. It seemed determined to punish him for performing an act he considered unavoidable. ” (Ch.16, p.208)

A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s first novel, is a riveting story of retribution and justice set in the South. Not only does it evoke the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, it resonates even in the present and puts the Ferguson incident into perspective.

The tiny (fictional) town of Clanton, Mississippi, is shocked when two drunk and drug-addled viciously assault and rape a ten-year-old girl. They try to hang her but fail to kill only because they could not find a bridge from which to throw the child. Tonya Hailey sustains both physical and emotional damage. The thugs have wrecked her little body and ruined her mind. They are quickly arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, and assault, when the girl’s father, a decorated Vietnam veteran, takes the law into his own hands and kills the men outside the courthouse.

You just don’t shoot a person, or persons, in cold blood, and then tell the jury they needed killing, and expect to walk out of the courtroom. (Ch.8, p.100)

The case is complicated by the fact that the victim and her daughter are black while the two dead thugs are white. The young, up-and-coming lawyer, Jake Brigance, is confronted by the most difficult case: a black father has killed two whites who gruesomely violated his daughter. Not only is he has been prejudiced by every person in the county, he is subjected to a trial that is gauged by white standard. The issue is assurance of fairness—because of he racial divide, a black father and a white father would not have equal chances with the jury, let alone a predominantly white jury. The trial of Carl Lee Hailey is therefore a high-profile, volatile, controversial case that arouses passion for and against the defendant. It also brings forth opportunistic lawyers trying to chase the case from Jake Brigance to get public exposure. Carefully orchestrates his defense, Brigance relies on the crucial point of justifiable homicide by reason of insanity. The depiction of legal preparation is brilliant.

It was their lives the State was attempting to justify. Who would miss them except their mothers? Child rapists. Drug pushers. Would society miss such productive citizens? Wasn’t Ford County safer without them? (Ch.40, p.613)

A Time to Kill is a provocative read that grabs you from the start. Grisham raises very thought-provoking questions on races and justice. It’s more than just a page-turning legal thriller. He creates a social fabric through a colorful array of caricatures. The blue blood mentor, the hot-shot defense lawyer, a big city millionaire pimp, the ambitious smug DA, the Klansmen, the church reverend—all play their parts into the diverse perspectives and prejudices revolving around a case where the stakes are high and the pressure continued to build. The book is an intense social commentary that begs the question: can justice be truly color-blind?

655 pp. Dell Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Nail Biter

“So, he’s directly under your care, then, Doctor?”

“I suppose.”

“And what is his diagnosis, Doctor?”

“I really don’t know. I have a lot of patients and—”

“Paranoid schizophrenic?”

“It’s possible, yes.”

“Now, Doctor, I want to make this clear for the jury. In 1975 you testified that Danny Booker was legally sane and understood exactly what he was doing when he committed his crime, and the jury disagreed with you and found him not guilty, and since that time he has been a patient in your hospital, under your supervision, and treated by you as a paranoid schizophrenic. Is that correct?” (Ch.40, A Time to Kill)

A legal thriller that pushes me to the edge of my seat is exactly what I need on a rainy, order-take-out kind of night. John Grisham is really good. It’s more than a page-turning legal thriller. He creates the whole social fabrics and all the contradicting forces and opinions to a most pivotal case.

Grisham Cherry

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This book really puts Ferugson in perspective for me. A black guy takes justice in his own hand after his little girl is raped and assaulted by two white kids. It’s not so much a holiday read but it’s a good story. I have now read popular novelists like Gillian Flynn, Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child, and Scott Turow, John Grisham by far comes out as the top. He doesn’t just tell the story, but constructs a social fabric of all who involve with contradicting causes. I’m surprised this was his first novel.