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The Client

26 Jun
    “The Client” released in 1993, is the fourth novel from John Grisham in the Legal-thriller section. Playing behind the trailer park in the woods of Memphis, eleven-year old Mark Sway and his 8-year old younger brother Ricky, watch a Lincoln, park in the clearing in the woods. Out comes a man with a garden hose who pushes one end of it into the exhaust and the other end into a window and closes it. After watching several such suicide attempts (killing by Carbon Monoxide poisoning) on TV, Mark realizes what is happening and crawls to pull the hose out of the exhaust pipe. After the third attempt of putting back the hose, the man catches Mark crawling across the grass and drags him into the car. 
    Just moments before the death, the man reveals himself as Jerome Clifford, lawyer of infamous mobster, Barry ‘The Blade’ Muldanno, who is accused of murdering an U.S Senator Boyd Boyette. He tells Mark that he has been hiding a terrible secret which could solve the murder mystery and indict Barry. Since Barry would kill him anyway, Clifford wants to end his life in his own terms. Barry had previously told Clifford that he buried the body in the concrete under the boat in Clifford’s garage, when he was on a skiing holiday in Colorado. All this time, Mark watched Clifford drinking and he escapes the moment he dozes off with the help of Ricky. When Clifford wakes up and finds that Mark is missing, he gives up and puts a bullet to his own head. Ricky, on watching the suicide goes into shock and ultimately coma. Mark informs the police about the incident who in turn find proof of Mark being inside the car. This raises doubts in the mind of police that Clifford might have revealed information about the case to Mark.
    Mark is thrown into dilemma that if he ever reveals the information to police/FBI, then Barry’s henchmen would kill his entire family. But if he decides to hide the information, he has to face the wrath of the publicity-seeking public prosecutor from New Orleans Roy Foltrigg, who might even jail him for contempt. A chance incident leads Mark into the office of advocate Reggie Love – an old lady with a 5-year old experience in handling law. Mark is placed under a juvenile-home from where he escapes. Barry’s henchmen burn Mark’s trailer and warn him of dire consequences. Mark decides to search for the body along with Reggie, to confirm if the story is true. The rest of the plot is about Mark finding out the truth in Clifford’s dying words and the consequence he has to face behind the truth/lie or whether Barry’s henchmen get to Mark before he can find out the truth.
    The story as such is decent but the characters in the book are forgettable. A smooth-talking 11-year old is hard to believe. A brother who goes into coma in the first part, a mother who is weak, two antagonists in Barry and Roy who do nothing to provide the thrills are big let downs. A not so intriguing plot is also on the downside. A 5/10 for this one.

The Firm

21 Jul

    It requires just one good book to bring an author into limelight. John Grisham did just that in 1991, with his second novel, “The Firm”, a legal/suspense thriller genre in which he specialises and thrives.
    The main character and the story’s protagonist is Mitch McDeere, an idealistic young law graduate, fresh out of Harvard Law school. He is married to his high school sweet-heart Abby and has a brother Ray serving a prison term. Mitch on holding huge offers from law firms from The Wall street and Chicago, attends the interview of Bendini, Lambert & Lockre, a small firm specializing in tax, without much excitement. The scales are tilted in their favor, as they are an exclusive law firm, with a huge pay packet and amazing incentives, unmatched by the other firms. They provide a house with a very low interest rate, a BMW and even pay off his student loans. Now who in the right mind would ignore such an offer??  
    Its idyllic life at Memphis at first. Then Mitch is shocked to find two of his colleague’s death by accident at Cayman islands. His doubts begin to increase when he finds the company has a zero turn over rate which means -> You arrive at Bendini, Lambert & Lockre for work and you leave it, if ever, only in a coffin. 
    To confirm his suspicions, Mitch hires Eddie Lomax, a private investigator, an ex-cell mate of Ray to investigate about the death of the attorneys. He learns from Lomax about the unnatural death of three of the other associates and partners of the firm –  hunting, diving, car accident and suicide. Lomax is murdered soon after he gives Mitch the report. His suspicions are raised when Wayne Tarrence, an FBI agent warns him not to trust any body at the firm and that he is being monitored and under surveillance at every moment. When Mitch mentions about the incident to the board, they ask him to ignore but tap his home and car to which they have access. Soon after the incident, he is sent to Cayman island on a business trip where an encounter with a girl leads to problems.
    Mitch finds out that the firm is operated by the Morolto crime family of Chicago. And there are sweat-files for associates just acting as a cover up, as, much of the illegal handling is done by the partners of the firm. Now comes the biggest dilemma Mitch will ever face in his lifetime…
Should he help the FBI by becoming an informer and help them by collecting evidence against the firm which in-turn might cause him to lose his legal career to which he worked so hard for, then enter the witness protection program and lead life under an alias or even in worst case face death of himself, Anny or Ray? Or Should he stay put with the firm and forget about the incidents, which might lead to him getting indicted and face a jail term when the law enforcement eventually procure the evidence against the firm?
    Mitch eventually picks his values over the money and decides to help the FBI. The rest of the plot is about how Mitch gathers evidence for the conviction, with the firm on his trail and ready to go to any lengths to keep the cover-up. Will lose his high paying comfort living life? What will happen to brother Ray, whom the mafia might target as an act of getting back at Mitch??
    The plot is amazingly well set after this and moves at a brisk space. The choice Mitch makes and the decision he takes affects not only his life but the life of his wife, brother and the entire law firm. It throws up interesting moral questions of standing up to the values we hold true. Also ones love to the family and to what lengths one can go to protect them. “Deception” is the highlight of the book. The twist in the plot is good too to be ignored. Loved reading this one. It is a must read for non-Grisham fans too. I would rate it 8.5/10.

The Pelican Brief

21 Jul
    “The Pelican Brief” is the 3rd novel in the line of Legal/suspense thriller genre by John Grisham, released in 1992. The plot begins with the assassination of two supreme court justices. Justice Rosenberg, a liberal is assassinated outside his posh home and Justice Jensen, a conservative is garroted to death inside a DC porno house to which he is a member. The Oval office, FBI and the general public find no connection between the two murders as the two justices were with different ideologies with Rosenberg approaching his natural death.

    The stories main protagonist, Darby Shaw, a 24 year old student of Tulane Law School, begins her research on the murders, by going through the records in libraries for similarities between the two men. And the only thing in common between the two is Environmentalism. She takes a stab in the dark and relates the case of oil drilling in Louisiana marshlands that is supposed to come to hearing in Supreme court. The marshland is a major habitat of an endangered species of pelican. She names Victor Mattiece, the oil tycoon as the main suspect. Darby believes the judges were eliminated so that the president, who is close to Mattiece can appoint new judges, who can inturn favor the project. She names the report – “The Pelican brief”.
    Darby’s boyfriend and her guide, Thomas Callahan, shows it to his friend, a FBI lawyer Gavin Verheek. Darby is shocked to find herself in mortal danger after the assasination of both the men. She becomes the witness to a murder intended for her. Meanwhile, in the white house, Fletcher Coal, The Chief of Staff, plans a big political and voilent cover-up to the President’s connection to Mattiece, which would be politically damaging. The FBI wants to bring Darby in for protection but she goes on a run to avoid the same fate as her deceased boyfriend. She contacts a young and ambitious journalist, Gray Grantham, who wants to shoot to fame by reporting a scandal bigger than Watergate. Grantham helps Darby in piecing the deadly puzzle.
    The story moves at a fast pace as the plot thickens and is about whether a young law student can expose a big scandal and indict none other than the President of US and a big Oil tycoon for murder of the 2 Judges? Can Darby survive to tell the tale? Can she come back to live her life or is she supposed to live under cover for ever? This is a gripping tale from Grisham. As usual, the author along with the law as main theme, brings in a sub-theme to the story. In this story it is environmentalism. But there is a similarity to the ending as “The Firm“. I would rate it 6/10.

A Painted House

1 Jun
    John Grisham’s 12th novel “A painted house” released in 2001, is the first novel to deviate from his standard legal-thriller genre. This is a contemplative and slow paced story. The plot is in rural Arkansas, and the year 1952. In a small county called The Black Oak, Luke Chandler, a 7 year old, the story’s protagonist is the person eyes through which we see the plot unravel. Luke belongs to a family of cotton farmers with 80 acres of land for rent. They live in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents Pappy(Eli) and gran(Ruth) in a little house that’s never been painted. The family leads a simple life with hard-work but at the same time pessimistic about their future. These farmers are totally dependent on rain gods and nature in general. The Chandlers are in such an ungrateful profession that with a good crop, they break even, with no extra debts need be taken. But with a crop failure, family goes deeper into debt and this happens almost every year.
    When the cotton is ready to be picked, the Chandlers get The ‘hill people’ and the Mexicans to work for them. Luke works in the farm and gets paid for harvesting the cotton like any other worker. Life sails wonderfully with amazing homemade and homegrown food and, baseball games to be followed. As a football fan, he loves Cardinal jacket and begins saving money from his earnings.

    The plot moves idly until Luke finds the arrogant Hank of “hill people” and the switch-knife wielding cowboy, the two main villains in the plot. Luke witnesses two murders, watches his feelings for Tally(Hank’s 17 year old sister) rise, the romance blooming between cowboy and Tally, witnesses the birth of uncle Ricky’s illegitimate child and last but not the least, floods devastating their crop. In the midst of all this, Hank’s retarded brother starts painting the Chandler’s house using his own earnings to buy paint.

    A 7 year old kid experiences things that even grown men do not in a life time. He has to bear a lot of secrets, which if revealed could alter the fate of not only his but other families in the county as well. Luke’s Mom is interested to move to the city to lead a better life. Will the floods and the debt finally tip the scales in her favor and the family breakaway from being another generation of debt-ridden cotton farmers? Will Luke say good bye to his beloved grandparents and his town forever?

    The highlight comes when Luke invests his savings to buy paint to complete the house painting instead of buying the Cardinal jacket. Simply put, “A painted house” is a story of 7 year old Luke losing his innocence and becoming a man at heart. A 6/10 rating for this one.

The Last Juror

31 May

    The Last Juror is the 17th novel and a legal thriller from John Grisham, released in 2004. The story begins with Willie Traynor, a 23 year old college dropout from Memphis, arrives in Clanton, Mississippi in 1970 to work as an intern in “The Ford County Times”. The chief editor Wilson Caudle, famous for his obituaries drives the Times to bankruptcy after years of negligence and struggle. By then,  much to the towns shock, Wilson now fondly called Willie buys the newspaper through his wealthy grandmother. Willie continues with the good obituaries and starts writing obituaries even of blacks at a time when the racism was still at a high in the county. Willie then befriends Callie Ruffin an elderly black woman, one of the finest citizens in ford county who has 7 of her 8 children holding PhD’s and begins visiting her for her wonderful home cooked meal.

    The town is stunned with the rape and murder of a young widow Rhoda Kassellaw by Danny Padgitt, of the infamous mafia Padgitt family, who stay in Padgitt Island a few kms off Ford County. The murder is witnessed by her two young kids. The Padgitt family is renowned for everything illegal, working under a legal Timber yard name. The Times covers the entire episode with front page news and Willie is threatened for the same. Danny is subsequently arrested and Miss Callie is called for jury duty in a packed court house trial. Danny threatens the entire jury in open court with death if he is convicted. The jury finds Danny guilty but finds it difficult to assign death penalty. So, he is sentenced to life in prison.
    9 years on, Danny is paroled for good behavior and then the killing of the Jury begins. 2 Jurors are killed by sniper hits and another maimed by a letter bomb. Everybody fears for the other Jury members while Miss Callie reveals to Willie that only the jurors who were against the death penalty are being killed. The police naturally arrest Danny and bring him in, but is assassinated during the trail. The story is about who killed the Jury members?  Who assassinated Danny? Will the Padgitt family extract revenge by killing Miss Callie and the remaining Jury members? Will Willie pay for the bold news published about the trial? Will the small time newspaper ford county times survive?
    The book covers the beautiful relation between a 23 year old Willie and 59 year old Miss Callie, racism in a small county much similar to the concept of untouchables or low caste or low race seen across much of the world, the dilemma that a religious person faces about the concept of a death penalty to a murderer, the news reported and working of a small time newspaper firm and most importantly a young college dropout making his mark in an unknown skeptical town. I would rate it as 7/10.

The Street Lawyer

15 Dec
    John Grisham’s 9th novel released in 1998 hits a raw nerve into the reader with this Legal thriller. Michael Brock is a wealthy anti-trust lawyer at Washington DC law firm Drake & Sweeney. The plot starts with a homeless man calling himself “Mister” enters the office holding a loaded gun and what appears as dynamite around his waist. He takes nine lawyers hostage including Michael. He is eventually shot by a sniper while Mike who acts as Mister’s messenger tries to pick up food. But before his death, Mister asked questions about how much each of the lawyers earned which could be said as filthy rich and how much they had donated to the homeless which turned out to be close to nothing.
    These questions make Mike uncomfortable and he decides to pay a visit to the 14th Street Legal clinic where Mordecai Green, Sofia Mendoza and Abraham Lebow work as lawyers-cum-social workers for the homeless. A few days later, Mordecai calls Mike and asks for a favor to help the homeless shelter which is filled to the brim in the cold February winter. Here, he meets a family of  a single mother and four children. He buys gifts to the family (a few essentials and toys) to give it to them the next time he meets. But, they perish in a car, which they use to sleep at nights, inhaling carbon-monoxide while keeping the engine running to keep themselves warm. This is the tipping point in Mike’s career.

    Mike finds about the illegal eviction at a warehouse bought by the TAG group that was being sold to the postal service. He is helped by Hector Palma – a paralegal for Braden Chance who handles the real estate division. These evictions forced Mister, the family and 15 other people back onto the cold capital streets. Mike steals the file from the firm and joins the 14th Street Legal clinic. Then Mike and Mordecai sue Drake & Sweeney for $10million for illegal eviction and the death of the family. Meanwhile the firm does everything in its power to get the file back with the help of DC police. Mike also befriends Ruby a homeless woman and a drug addict, fighting for the right to visiting her son, who is with his foster parents. The story goes about how Mike can get accustomed to the his new life as “street-lawyer” from the life of a rich lawyer in a big firm. and how he can help people like Ruby to get out of their addiction. The debate about the file and about Mike’s legal career and his life goes on for a long time. The file is the most crucial of elements in the story. Whether Mike returns the file and saves his career or does the firm, terrified of trail, reaches for a settlement is what the story is all about.

    A good read and it can be easily applied into our lives. We have to think over about where we are in our career paths and whether we are truly happy with our work. The most important being what we are doing to help the needy. I would rate it as 7/10.