About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

“G” is for John Grisham (Part Two)

On Monday I put up a short profile of John Grisham’s legal career. Tonight I am looking into his legal mysteries. In these books I can see several views Grisham holds on the practice of law and a few thoughts of my own.

In his books you can see his dislike, even disdain, for the legal factory approach to the practice of law of many huge firms. In The Associate (Kyle McAvoy grinding away in New York City) and The Litigators (David Zinc toiling in Chicago) he vividly portrays the all consuming billing expectations of the big firm.
At the same time he has little regard for the mass tort plaintiff lawyers of America. To Grisham they appear to be the equivalent of the traditional big firm in their devotion to money and using, sometimes abusing, the law in a rush to generate huge earnings for the lawyers. In The King of Torts he portrays a young lawyer, Clay Carter, caught up in the maelstrom of mass torts.

Having participated in some national class actions in Canada I find Grisham over-states matters with regard to mass torts. Major class actions have gained awards for people who could never have afforded individual lawsuits. There are few individual lawyers able to pursue a single case against a major company without fees as Grisham does in The Rainmaker. I hope Grisham find a worthy class action in a future book.

Grisham appears to have his highest regard for the lawyers of small firms pursuing justice for their individual clients. The Litigators is probably the best example. He is not blind to their faults. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are shown as just as grasping for money as big firm and mass tort lawyers but Zinc, after leaving the big firm, is a young lawyer doing the best he can for people in trouble in the small firm.

In my review of The King of Torts I said:

Grisham follows his formula that a lawyer's greed will not ultimately profit from shifty or unfair practice.

Grisham dislikes lawyers who use their position as lawyers to exploit law rather practice law. One of my least favourite of his books, The Broker, best illustrates this opinion as former power broker and lawyer, Joel Backman, is unexpectedly pardoned but then pursued by many powerful interests.

I have often thought his best books were those which returned to lawyers in small firms in his personal heartland of the southern U.S.

A Time to Kill is an exceptional story of the collision of justice and prejudice in Mississippi. From struggling to sell the initial 5,000 copies Grisham says it has gone to sell 16,000,000 copies.

I thought The Summons and The Appeal effectively evoked the South as well.

Next to A Time to Kill I think The Last Juror is his best southern legal mystery. Among the issues covered are new relations between black and white Americans a generation after A Time to Kill.

I regret that the lawyers opposing his protagonists are rarely shown with virtues. The negative approach, most evident in The Confession, makes for a sharper divide but I prefer Robert Rotenberg’s approach of respect for lawyers on both sides of the courtroom.

He does use his books to express personal legal views. His opinion on the death penalty has evolved. From the Guardian article referred to in my last post:

Even as a criminal defence lawyer, who had handled murder cases although not capital cases, he says he didn't really think about the issue until researching The Chamber on a Mississippi death row. "I was talking to the chaplain in the holding room, a tiny cell where the inmate has his last 30 minutes of life before they walk him next door. It is a very cramped, dark and surreal space. The chaplain said to me: 'John, you are a Christian?' I said yes. And he then said: 'Do you really think that Jesus would condone what we do here?' I said 'No, he would not'. The chaplain nodded, and in that moment I did a 180 on the death penalty. It was a remarkable feeling."

The Confession was a searing indictment of a rush to judgment and injustice in a death penalty case.

Continuing from the Guardian article:

But if I can take the wrongful execution of a man in Texas to make people stop and think about this rush to execute people that we have in this country, I will. If I have access to a soapbox, then the least I can do is occasionally use it."

I have always found Grisham a credible writer of trials with a remarkable ability to create interesting lawyers.


  1. Thanks for this review of Grisham's books. I have probably read them all but not all of them stick in the memory - or I can't match titles to books (for example, I enjoyed the one that mainly took place in Bologna, Italy). I hated The Chamber rather for the same reason as I did not enjoy Roslund-Hellstrom's Cell 8, in that it rams the point home repeatedly and too much.....in my case, preaching to the converted. The polemic overtook the story. Another one I thought weak was The Pelican Brief as the plot does not work. But as you write, many of these books are great courtroom dramas and I've enjoyed reading them. Like you, I hope he returns to the mass tort, from a more balanced perspective. (Though funnily enough only yesterday my husband received a letter from a US law firm urging him to take part in one of these as a claimant....Wally could have written/sent it .....as he's been to the US many times for work, but I am not sure how they got his name as he is just a working scientist ;-) ).

  2. Bill - Thanks so much for this thoughtful discussion of Grisham's legal mysteries. I agree that Grisham is at his best when he paints a picture of a small law firm. As you point out, it's not that he makes the characters who work there perfect. But in my opinion the reader feels the sense of the passion for a case a little more. And without a doubt (in my mind anyway) A Time to Kill is Grisham's finest work.

  3. Introgued to hear on Grisham changing his views on capital punishment. One of the things that I disliked about A TIME TO KILL was the fairly clear subtext that murder can be alright as long as only the right people get killed - which is a variant on a piece of "Dirty Harry" irony which seems utterly indefensible to me.

  4. Maxine: Thanks for the comment.

    I think the book you liked was The Broker which I did not like. We all have different preferences.

    I found The Chamber subtler than yourself. I thought the book by showing the condemned was far from innocent asked if some murderers deserve to die.

    If your husband owns shares in a mutual fund there is a good chance one of the stocks currently or formerly in the fund is subject to a class action.

  5. Margot: Thanks for the comment. When Grisham is back in Mississippi you can tell he is at home. All the southern characters feel real.

  6. Sergio: Thanks for the comment.

    In a Time to Kill Grisham succumbs to the temptation to justify murder. I wonder if Grisham could have built a career if he had condemned the murder in response to the rape.