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Very Much Back on Form
on 30 October 2013
John Grisham keeps veering between writing exceptionally bad books for children (the Theodore Boone series) and outstandingly good legal thrillers for adults. This comes into the latter category.
We were first introduced to Jake Brigance, an idealistic and very poor lawyer, in A Time to Kill. He is still practising law in a small town in the deep south of America. Things are not going all that well for him. After his triumph in the murder trial which featured in A Time to Kill, the Klan has burned down his house and he, his wife and young daughter are living in reduced circumstances. The insurance company is refusing to pay for his destroyed house. Work (or paying work) is almost non-existent. The outlook is pretty bleak.
Then something happens. Seth Hubbard, an elderly (white) man in the final stages of lung cancer commits suicide, by hanging himself. The day before doing that he writes out a new will naming his black housekeeper as principal beneficiary and specifically excluding his children and grandchildren. He posts the will to Jake, whom he has never met, and charges him with the duty of championing it. Though no one realised it during his life time, Seth was a very rich man. His estate is worth more than $20M.
Seth's rather disagreeable son and daughter decide, not surprisingly, to challenge the will. They, in a rather quaint American phrase, "lawyer up". Before too many days have passed the town's court house is packed with greedy lawyers, all on contingency fees, who are determined to prove that Seth didn't know what he was doing when he left his vast fortune to a black servant.
It would be wrong to say more about the plot, save that the end is entirely predictable (and none the worse for that). But what I can say is that the story is wonderfully gripping, the characters are very well drawn and no fan of Grisham will be disappointed.
All is not perfect. The refusal of Jake and his wife to keep any alcohol in their house does make one rather irritated by them. When they entertain the daughter of Seth's housekeeper (a young woman eager to become a lawyer who has presciently been given the name "Portia") to dinner, they express momentary distress as she presents them with a bottle of wine (but good manners win the day and they drink it). It seems that, even in a small town in which almost everyone goes to church every week, the modern American way of referring to Christmas as "Holidays" has taken hold (can that really be true?). And, this crops up in many Grisham novels, the judge and his favourite lawyer (Jake) spend endless hours together, without any of the other lawyers being present, deciding how the case should be run (if that is really what happens in America it is truly dreadful).
The court scenes are splendid. The story is one which you have to read to the end.
I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent novel.