Friday, September 12, 2008

The Appeal by John Grisham

Forget Playing for Pizzaand A Painted House, The Appeal is exactly the page turning, legal thriller John Grisham's fans expect and love. Even though I'm still a slow reader (see my profile), I finished the 358 pages in two days.

However, the book breaks some new ground and offers a few surprises. For starters, as the title promises, the story opens at the end of the trial. I doubt John Grisham has ever presented such a black and white case.

The plaintiffs are poor folks from a small Mississippi town where a large pesticide company illegally dumped pesticides into the aquifer until the city pipes delivered a "stream of grayish water" and the city "prohibited the drinking of its own water." When they put in sprinklers at the city park, "the grass turned brown and died."

The plaintiff lawyers were a local husband and wife team, with small children, who cared for these poor people, many of whom were dead and over a hundred still suffered with cancer and might die soon. They lawyers sold everything they had and more to finance the trial.

The defendent, a large chemical company owed by an egotistical billionaire, had cut corners, lied, bought off the regulators, and ultimately moved the entire operation to Mexico when the regulators could not be stopped any longer.

As I said, black and white. As expected the jury found for the plaintiffs with damages and punitive penalties. Here we are at page 12!

The thriller revolves around a effort by the defendants to elect a friendly judge to replace one of the nine Supreme Court judges, and thus guarantee the appeal will be found in their favor. As might expected, the campaign is anything but friendly.

Without spoiling the ending, Grisham's many fans and new readers alike will find the ending to be a real surprise. One of the hallmarks of many Grisham novels has been the ambiguous endings. He seems to be saying that legal cases are never black and white, and the job of great lawyers and judges is to find the compromise that recognizes the issues on both sides. This ambiguity and ability to bring both sides to the table has been one of the thing that separated Grisham for other authors of thrillers. That, and his excellent characters.

This book breaks that trend. This book has an opinion. As the book jacket says
The Appeal ... will leave readers unable to think about our electoral process or judicial system in quite the same way ever again.
In this important election year, this is a good book to read as you observe the 21st century election process.

1 comment:

Canada said...

"The Appeal" focuses on the high-stakes game of judicial appeals by following the appeal of a mega-million dollar toxic tort verdict that figures to destroy a chemical corporation and shake up Wall Street. But, its a lot cheaper for Krane Chemical to buy a Mississippi election (MS elects judges) than it is to pay the judgment, and if the right judge gets elected then the jury verdict at trial is moot.

And that's politics, Grisham seems to be saying. Of course, judicial seats and funny business were the driving force behind "The Pelican Brief." Some similarities exist: a party with an interest in a particular case takes the system into their own hands through political connections, dirty tricks, and (in "Pelican") murder.

But, this is a book steps away from that earlier Grisham tome, away from the worlds of David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, and the rest. Where "Pelican" belonged in that other category of formulaic fiction that relies on well-trod and overarching portraits of Washington, politicians, and high-stakes business that seem (whatever subtext may be lingering) to be designed to entertain; here, Grisham clearly has something stuck in his craw, he thinks something is rotten and he wants to expose it. There are no mobbed-up corporate firms, international assasins, or KKK murderers. The villians here are political spin-doctors, campaign wonks, and board room raiders.