The Rainmaker

business-like engraved plaque says “The Rainmaker”
Cover is a visual joke.

The rainmaker of John Grisham’s novel of that name is law student Rudy Baylor. Rudy’s first job disappears even before he’s taken the bar exam, leaving him broke, homeless, and jobless in an already-saturated job market.

Fortunately, Rudy is a guy people want to help.

The owner of the place where Rudy tends bar part-time knows a shady lawyer who’s hiring.

An elderly widow Rudy met while giving free legal advice to senior citizens has an apartment he can rent cheaply.

And a couple he also met through his pro bono work want to sue the insurance company for refusing to pay for the bone marrow transplant that could save their son’s life.

Rudy isn’t stupid.  His law school courses taught him theory, but not what he needs to know. He’s immature and unprepared to practice law.

While Rudy gets on-the-job training in law, Grisham has some laugh-out-loud lines at Rudy’s expense, but he lets the lad learn about how to be a decent human being.

Unfortunately, Grisham also has Rudy fall for a woman whose husband abuses her. The love interest isn’t necessary and nothing about Kelly’s behavior suggests a good outcome for the couple.

It’s a minor misstep in an overall fine novel.

The Rainmaker by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1995. 434 p.
1995 bestseller #1; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Chamber by John Grisham

author, title, set in marble
Like marble, the law is inflexible.

John Grisham’s The Chamber is real as death and almost as irresistible.

In 1967, Sam Cayhall helped bomb the law office of a Mississippi civil rights activist. The lawyer’s two sons were killed in the blast.

Sam was tried for murder twice; both trials resulted in a hung jury. In 1979, he was tried a third time, convicted, and sentenced to death.

In 1990, Sam’s execution is weeks away when a young lawyer, Adam Hall, asks to work on the case.

When he was 16, Adam learned that he was Sam’s grandson. Adam’s father, Eddie Cayhill, had fled to California, changed the family’s name, and committed suicide.

Now Adam tries to keep his grandfather from the gas chamber, while he pieces together his family history.

Sam is not the easiest client to work with; Adam is inexperienced and cocky. As they count the days to the execution date, each gives up some of his pride.

However repellent they find Sam’s criminal past, readers will find it hard not to want to see him reprieved.

Grisham ends the story in the only way it could end, leaving readers to ponder the messes that people make of their lives and the impossibility of solving human problems by legal means.

The Chamber by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1994. 486 p.
1994 bestseller #10; my grade: A+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Client by John Gresham

gold medallion bears words “The Client” and image of blind justice holding scales
Justice is blind. Lawyers are dumb.

The central character of John Grisham’s 1993 bestselling legal thriller The Client is 11 years old and about three decades more streetwise than all the adults in the novel.

Here’s the story: Mark Sway and his younger brother witness the bizarre suicide of an attorney whose client had murdered a U.S. Senator. Before killing himself, the attorney tells Mark where the mob buried the body.

While his mother stays with his brother, who’s being treated for traumatic shock, Mark retains a lawyer who specializes in helping kids caught in the legal system.

Police, FBI, and the federal prosecutor put pressure on Mark to tell what they’re sure he knows, while the mob try to make sure Mark can never tell anything to anybody again.

Grisham’s rip-snorting legal thriller provides the all the required threats, wiretaps, chases, murders, and explosions to keep readers on the edge of their seats until they read the last page.

Only then will they realize Grisham played them for suckers.

Dear reader, not all bad guys are stupid jerks. Nor are all police, FBI, and juvenile protection workers stupid jerks. And there just might be a doctor or lawyer Mark’s intellectual equal, although his attorney, Reggie Love, is probably not that person.

The Client by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1993. 422 p.
1993 bestseller #2; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Pelican Brief, a novel

Shadows of a man and a pillar against a marble wall
Whose is the shadow?

Although John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief is described as a legal novel, it reads like an Ian Fleming–Stephen King cross.

The plot is about an attempt to pack the Supreme Court with justices who will be favorable to a new Louisiana oil drilling operation that will mean billions to a secretive donor to the Republican president and extinction to the Louisiana brown pelican.

In a single evening, a professional hit man kills the court’s oldest justice, a liberal, and the court’s youngest justice, a conservative. The FBI is baffled. What reason could anyone have for killing that pair of justices?

Law student Darby Shaw spends a couple days in the library and whips out a cui bono analysis. Her law prof/lover gives her “pelican brief” to a friend in the federal government, who passes it on.

Suddenly the prof is dead and assassins are after Darby.

Darby contacts a Washington Post reporter; together they fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

The bad guy who manipulated the president gets his comeuppances.

Darby and the reporter go off to the Virgin Islands together.

And the President is left practicing his putting in the Oval Office.

The whole thing’s too implausible for fiction.

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1992. 371 p.
1992 bestseller #2; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Firm by John Grisham

Man with briefcase climbs marble wall bearing sign THE FIRMJohn Grisham’s 1991 bestseller The Firm is a legal thriller as irresistible as it is implausible.

Headhunters from a very exclusive law firm specializing in tax work recruit Michael McDeere with a financial package he can’t refuse.

Mitch and wife, Abby, move to Memphis, knowing he’s expected to work 60-80 hours in a normal week, more during tax season. The job is worse than either expects and in ways they don’t expect. The secrecy, security measures, and loyalty requirements begin to threaten their marriage.

Mitch notices that five lawyers who had worked for the firm died in suspicious circumstances.

When a man identifying himself as an FBI agent tries to recruit him to give insider information, the firm’s management says it’s a government attempt to get clients’ confidential income information.

In a secret meeting, the FBI director personally tells Mitch a different story.

The story races to a thrilling, big-screen worthy climax.

It’s only the morning after that readers will realize they were suckered into not noticing that no one working the hours Mitch is supposedly working without the firm noticing a fall-off in his performance could possibly have engineered the outcome Grisham presents.

That morning-after realization is a sign of a superb story-teller.

The Firm by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1991. 421 p.
1991 bestseller #7; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Burden of Proof

Gold type picked out with red on black background substitutes for art
Legal story is artless.

Scott Turow’s  The Burden of Proof is a novel about the people—lawyers, judges, cops, and clients— who facilitate or impede the administration of justice.

Alejandro “Sandy” Stern arrives home from a business trip to find his wife has committed suicide.

Sandy seems to be the only person shocked.

Sandy’s major client, Dixon Hartness, is the proprietor of a commodities trading firm who is routinely in trouble with federal regulators. He’s in deep trouble now: Federal prosecutors suspect he has been using his insider knowledge and possibly clients’ funds to make a killing in futures trading.

Sandy has reasons to worry. Dixon is not only his sister’s wife, but the employer of his daughter’s husband. And Sandy’s wife wrote Dixon a check for nearly a million dollars just before her suicide.

Sandy solves all the mysteries, not because he’s such a smart lawyer, but because people trust him. Even if Sandy works for disreputable clients, he personally is an honorable man.

I found Burden of Proof impossible to put down. The story’s financial and legal issues are as timely as the morning’s news. Besides that, Turow’s characters are such believable people that you feel you’d recognize them if you met them on the street.

The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow
Farrar Straus Giroux. 1990. 515 p.
1990 bestseller #3; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni