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

Vanished by Danielle Steel

cameo of child at center of gray and black dust jacket
The child is gagged.

Vanished is a totally atypical, can’t-put-down mystery from the queen of romance novelists, Danielle Steel.

The story is set in 1938 just after Kristallnacht in Germany and while the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was still fresh in American minds.

Marielle Patterson is the devoted mother of four-year-old Teddy, and dutiful wife of multi-millionaire Malcolm Patterson, for whom she had worked briefly as secretary. Both parents adore Teddy and are polite to each other.

Just hours after Marielle had accidentally run into her ex-husband at a church on the anniversary of the accident in which they lost their just-walking son and unborn daughter, Teddy is kidnapped from his bedroom.

Marielle’s ex-husband, Charles Delauney, is charged with kidnapping. Marielle doesn’t believe Charles could be the kidnapper, but all the evidence points to him.

When the case comes to trial, Marielle’s past marriage, divorce, and the mental problems after losing her children are made public. Malcolm blames Marielle for the kidnapping.

Without family or close friends, Marielle comes to rely on an FBI special agent for emotional support through an ugly trial in which the prosecutor tries to make it look as if Marielle is to blame for the kidnapping.

Steel wraps up the story in manner both hopeful and realistic.

Vanished by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1993. 304 p.
1993 bestseller #6; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Presumed Innocent

A large red fingerprint is at center of “Presumed Innocent” book jacket
One bloody fingerprint

Scott Turow begins Presumed Innocent with Rusty Sabich, Kindle County’s chief deputy prosecutor, relating his usual opening speech to a jury in a criminal case.

It is their job, he always says, to determine “what actually occurred.”

When Carolyn Polhemus, another deputy prosecutor, is found raped and murdered, Randy’s boss, who is fighting for his job in a hot election, assigns the investigation to Randy.

The boss doesn’t know Randy had a brief affair with Carolyn, who dumped him a few months before.

When Raymond Horgan loses the election, the newly-elected prosecuting attorney acts swiftly to show voters they made the right choice.

Randy suddenly finds himself accused of Carolyn’s murder.

A lawyer himself, Turow uses his insider’s knowledge of the legal system to allow readers to get a close-up look through Randy’s eyes at the police, the prosecution, the defense team, and the judge.

We see even Randy’s most loyal supporters entertain suspicions about his guilt as as his case sometimes takes on the appearance of a political rivalry.

Readers, too, may wonder if Randy is guilty.

Turow gets details right without sacrificing a good story. He ends with Randy presenting his closing argument, not to a jury but to himself.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ©1987. 431 p.
1987 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

‘Rage of Angels’ could never end happily

Dark red rose drips blood on front dust jacket of “Rage of Angels” by Sidney Sheldon.
Blood drips from the rose.

In chapter one of Rage of Angels, after “interminable years of law school,” 24-year-old Jennifer Parker on her first day on the staff of the Manhattan District Attorney does something totally implausible for which she faces disbarment and even prison.

If you can get past that first chapter, the rest of Sidney Sheldon’s novel Rage of Angels is not bad. (Its shortcomings probably are less glaring in the 1983 TV miniseries.)

Jennifer is so in love with the idea of being a lawyer that she is persistent, hard-working, and willing to learn from her courtroom mistakes.

She’s not so good at learning from her bedroom mistakes.

Jennifer is infatuated first by lawyer Adam Warner, who keeps her from being disbarred.

She has a child by Adam, but she never tells him about Joshua for fear of ruining Adam’s presidential bid.

Later she becomes infatuated by Michael Moretti, a Mafia boss whose business operations are very badly hurt by Adam’s anti-corruption schemes.

Jennifer makes a mess of her personal life and refuses to take personal responsibility for the consequences.

Fortunately, Sheldon avoids the amateur writers’ mistake of pasting a happy ending on a story that couldn’t possibly have a happy ending.

Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon
W. Morrow. 1st ed. ©1980. 504 p.
1980 bestseller #3. My grade: C+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Leave Her to Heaven nail-biting tale of jealous wife

A stodgy New England writer meets a sultry siren with a screw loose, setting the scene for murder and mayhem in Ben Ames Williams riveting novel Leave Her to Heaven.

Richard Harland meets Ellen Berent in New Mexico where she has come with her mother and sister to scatter her father’s ashes. Richard is fascinated by Ellen but something about her troubles him.

He decides he’ll remain a bachelor.

Ellen has other ideas.

Writing off her finance-lawyer, she maneuvers Richard into marriage, telling him, “I will never let you go.”

Ellen is jealous of Richard’s younger brother, Danny; of her sister, Ruth; of Richard’s friends; of his writing — of anything that takes Richard’s attention from her.

There’s a series of unfortunate accidents.

Danny drowns.

Ellen’s baby is stillborn.

Ellen herself dies of acute gastritis.

About two years later, Richard marries Ruth. They are just home from their honeymoon when Ruth is charged with Ellen’s murder.

To show Ruth’s innocence, her lawyer must show Ellen committed suicide. He puts Richard on the stand and probes the details of his deteriorating relationship with Ellen.

Leave Her to Heaven is well-plotted with keenly-drawn characters. Pristine New England forests provide stark contrast to Ellen’s poisonous malevolence, making this spine-chilling, can’t-put-down reading.

Leave Her to Heaven
By Ben Ames Williams
Houghton Mifflin, 1944
429 pages
1944 bestseller #7
My Grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Anatomy of a Murder Is a Keeper

Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Murder is courtroom drama at its best.

Lieutenant Frederic Manion shot Barney Quill to death in front of a room full of witnesses in Quill’s hotel bar before turning himself in. Manion says Quill had raped his wife.

Paul “Polly” Biegler dislikes Manion on sight, but since he lost his bid for re-election as county prosecutor, he needs income, and Manion needs a lawyer. Polly gets his secretary and an aging, alcoholic lawyer to help him defend Manion.

The only legal defense open to Manion is insanity.

At the trial, the novice prosecuting attorney is “assisted” by a savvy lawyer from the Attorney General’s office. It’s a fight to the finish—with the real excitement coming after the verdict.

Polly is an unlikely hero. Gentle, middle-aged, and funny, he pursues wily trout instead of luscious babes and remembers (sometimes) to water his mother’s plants while she’s away.

Anatomy of a Murder has mystery, courtroom drama, humor, a sprinkle of romance, and a generous helping of memorable personalities. Despite the passage of a half century, the story still rings true except for one thing: it’s impossible to imagine a murder case going to trial today in less than three months.

Anatomy of a Murder
by Robert Traver
St. Martin’s 1958
437 pages
Bestseller #2 for 1958
My grade: B+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni