Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Litigators - a mixed bag

book review

Book: The Litigators
Author: John Grisham

It has been nearly twenty three years since John Grisham wrote his first novel; it has been nearly ten since he wrote one that was actually worth reading. Yet, whether they lack character development, or a compelling storyline, or even an ending, his books continue to sell by the bucket load (that too in oversized buckets capable of holding millions of copies), in part due to readers like me who just don’t know when to give up. I have read each of Grisham’s legal thrillers since first discovering his work in the ‘90s, and despite my better judgement, still continue to dutifully visit Grishamville every year even though the idea that Grisham is – or at least was – a good storyteller is starting to wear thin in the face of ever diminishing evidence.

So has his latest novel, The Litigators, managed to rejuvenate my faith in the author whose books used to be one of my favourite guilty pleasures?

A typical John Grisham affair, The Litigators once again takes the ‘little lawyer versus big corporation’ idea and runs with it. In the midst of a meltdown, a young lawyer, David Zinc, walks out of a high paying job at the world’s third largest law firm, and into a world of ambulance chasing at a “boutique firm” specialized in “hustling injury cases”, and run by only two attorneys/partners who should have been disbarred way before the book even began. After one of the partners stumbles upon a mass tort case against a drug company, he tries to turn the opportunity into a get rich quick scheme, embroiling the firm in a massive lawsuit that they then struggle to cope with. Meanwhile, David also pursues a lead poisoning case separately, fighting for the five-year-old son of Burmese immigrants who suffers severe brain damage after playing with a lead-tainted set of plastic toy teeth.

The novel has a promising and gripping start, which, coupled with the book’s underlying wit, offers a well of opportunities to the writer. The opportunity the writer has chosen, however, is neither the most original, nor the most interesting road that could have been taken.

The main plot isn’t very riveting, and the sub-plot is just too convenient. What Grisham seems to have wanted to do was contrast the two situations; what he has done is put together two stories that drain the suspense out of each other. So as far as legal “thrillers” go, The Litigators is disappointingly devoid of thrill. As for the characters, you’ve met them all before in one form or another. And yes, the writer has played off of the negative stereotypes of lawyers yet again, so there are no surprises there either.

That said, The Litigators is still better than most things John Grisham has written recently. It may be a predictable and formulaic legal drama, but there are glimpses of old Grisham in parts of the book, and you are likely to enjoy the novel, especially its wry humour, perhaps even more so if you can’t figure out where the story is heading.

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 26th February, 2012

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