Friday, May 16, 2008

The Appeal

After the non-fiction The Innocent Man and the non-legal Playing for Pizza(both of which I didn't read), John Grisham is back on familiar turf with The Appeal, a legal thriller. I found his last novel in this genre, The Broker, to be a rambling travel guide passed off as a legal thriller and The Appeal is definitely a step up from that.

The Appeal begins where Grisham's own Rainmaker and movies like A Civil Action and Erin Brokovich ended - with a jury awarding a huge sum to the plaintiff in a lawsuit against a big company. Here the company is Krane Chemical and the plaintiff is a woman Jeanette Baker, who lost her husband and son to cancer brought on by drinking the water polluted by Krane. The damage is huge for Krane since the entire county - nicknamed Cancer County now - has a lot more people affected by the polluted water and waiting in the wings to sue the company. As they appeal the case(which will take it to the Mississippi Supreme Court), Krane's CEO goes to a secretive company which promises to replace one of the 9 current judges in the Supreme Court with a more sympathetic judge, which will ensure that the lawsuit will be rejected.

Grisham manages to make a Supreme Court judge's election as interesting as a Presidential election. The way in which a no-name candidate is groomed and made a strong contender is fascinating and with Presidential campaigns now going on, a number of parallels can be drawn with the campaigns in the book and in real-life. Both the way the candidate himself is convinced and the way his campaign is conducted are interesting and show the importance of perception and how much can be done with money. There are some smooth operators in play and they way they operate is scary but interesting.

Grisham's characters lack the depth or shades of gray that would make them interesting and the lack of subtlety is amateurish. Its also pretty clear where the author's sympathies lie. When the characters are bad(like the people at Krane), they are really evil - they lead fake lives, they are bad parents, they don't care about anything except money, etc. - and when characters are good(like the husband-wife team arguing against Krane), they are almost saintly - they are the perfect family, they are religious, they always look out for their friends and so on. The man picked to become the judge ends up being the only interesting character as he struggles between his conscience and the allure of the post.

The book doesn't proceed exactly as expected and goes on beyond the point where we expect it to end. But the ending then is more than a little disappointing. Grisham takes things in the direction we expect with a particular incident but doesn't follow up on those expectations. This breaking of our expectations is usually a good thing but not here since the eventual ending feels rushed.


At 2:52 AM, Blogger Raju said...

Yet to read this one, but I agree with you totally on 'The Broker'. I developed an allergy to John Grisham after reading that.

At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of the early Grisham works and am reading a book now that reminds me of those great earlier pieces of quality legal fiction. It's called Lifetime Loser by James Ross and it's really inspiring me to know all there is to know about the legal thriller genre. James writes his novel like those early Grisham works, riveting stories complete with all the deceit, corruption, and sleazy characters you need to keep the pages turning.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger na_an said...

"The Summons" is written well and a good read.

At 11:51 PM, Blogger Anu said...

I thought Grishams earliest books was his most rivetting.Even though Rainmaker was a favorite, i always felt "The Chamber" took us to a place that very few authors tread. Hopefully he gets back in form after this one

At 7:25 AM, Blogger D.E.V said...

anu, i have read "The chamber" before..found it to be highly depressing and very difficult to read right till the end. i've vowed never to read anymore of Grisham's novels after that...Even his non fiction novels like "The painted house" had a depresing feel and had an very abrupt and unsatisfying ending...

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

raju, 'the broker' had almost the same effect on me since it kept me away from grisham for 3 yrs :)

peter, "great earlier pieces of quality legal fiction" - totally agree with u there :)

na_an, didn't like it too much :)

anu, 'the chamber' is the one grisham i haven't read among his earlier books. remember reading the synopsis and feeling that it might be a bit too heavy for me :)

skanda, the abrupt and unsatisfying ending would be the right descriptor for this book too :)


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