Thursday, September 30, 2010

The King of Torts

The King of Torts is the 10th book I've read by John Grisham. I suppose that makes him one of "my" authors although he has his share of let downs. Ever since I read The Firm years ago, I've looked for that magic once more but so far they've always seemed to fall a tad short.

I'm still not exactly what to make of this one. It is one of the better ones of Mr. Grisham's works that I've read, despite the nit picking that I'm about to do. It's a page turner for sure and I kept reading way past my bed time. That has to be a good sign right? Mr. Grisham does have a way of writing page turners; his language is for the common man, his chapters are fairly short so it's easy to think, "just one more chapter." * * SPOILER ALERT ** Sorry about this spoiler but its difficult to discuss this work without it. This novel could easily be classified as a tragedy in that we watch young attorney Clay Carter rise from a humble life in the Public Defender’s Office in Washington DC to become the newest "King of Torts", suing huge drug companies and others on behalf of wronged victims...only to have his empire crash and burn around him at the end. * * END SPOILER * *

As I said, it's a page turner but I do have some issues with the novel. The characters (particularly the protagonist) didn't always respond and behave the way I expected based on the first third of the book. In other words, I had come to know him pretty well through the various scenes and see how he reacts to events. But occasionally he does things completely out of character, yanking me right out of the narrative. Coupled with that, a couple of times I felt like the author was not treating me, the reader, with respect. I'm not a lawyer but in the course of the novel, we get a good dose of what tort litigation is all about and how it works, at least for a layman's perspective. But when a technique served well in the first part of the book, and the protagonist was well satisfied with the results, he tried it again and for no apparent reason it didn't fly the next time. It's as if the author ignored the investment the readers would make with the characters in order to make sure the plot worked as he wanted. As an example, there is one crucial court drama happening in the background during the final third of the book. * * SPOILER ALERT ** It's crucial to the plot and to what happens to our protagonist. We, the reader, along with the protagonist are led down the path of just how great it's going for our side, how amazingly the lawyer is skewering the opponent’s expert witnesses, how the jury is eating it up, and when the jury comes back with the verdict...we lose. That's it. No explanation. I know you can just never really tell with a jury but it seemed contrived by the author to disrespect the reader in order to get the ending he wanted.  * * END SPOILER * *

Yes, I am being hard on Mr. Grisham. But I'm sure his bestselling book sales will withstand my criticism just fine. And I expect a lot from him. The book was still fun to read and I'll keep reading him (I have at least 3 more on my shelves). But I'm still hoping for that great one.

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