It has been nearly twenty three years since John Grisham wrote his first novel and it has been nearly ten years 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). This is due in part 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 he 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 named 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 dubious firm run by two attorneys who should have been disbarred before the book even began. After one of the partners stumbles upon a mass torts 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. Unfortunately, Grisham wastes all these opportunities.
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, but what he ends up doing is putting 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 on 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 the old Grisham in parts of the book, and if you’re a dedicated enough fan, that may just be enough for you.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 26th, 2012.