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What’s it about?

This is the story of starry eyed Mitch McDeere, supposedly an idealistic young law graduate who is searching for the legal "Firm" that will match his outsize talents. Trouble is, what he’s really looking for is an outsize pay packet to match his rapidly developing lawyerly ego. Not surprising, given that he is near the top of the class at Harvard, where the world is not just his oyster – he wants the whole jeweller store!

Not that this is a bad thing for the reader, because Grisham well knows the fascination we all have for seeing how the other ".1%" live. This is a world we know about as well as the inner workings of the Vatican - hidden behind chrome and glass, where everyday values go right out the window (if the windows in these office towers could be opened!).

Mitch is bright, but not bright enough to see what is really going on in the firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke – and we won’t tell you either (don’t you just hate it when a reviewer gives away the twist in the plot?). Needless to say, not everything is as it seems in this very high-priced Memphis law firm. And of course, young Mitch is going to get caught up in one big mess before the book has run its 500 pages.

We see the difference between his old student world and the corrupt new kingdom of the law through his conversations with a hardened veteran of the firm who lacks any scruples – besides making money. You find yourself wondering where it will all end – and pretty soon the answer is frighteningly clear.

When it was released, this became the best-selling legal thriller since Scott Turow’s "Presumed Innocent". It launched Grisham on a career that nearly a decade later shows no sign of decline.

The pluses

It gets you hooked from the start, a hallmark of most Grisham novels.

Although we sense that something is not quite right at the firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, we’re still fascinated – is that the way lawyers really act? Are they really that corrupt? Is it true that they worry about themselves first, before the best interests of their clients? The answers are worth the read.

And most interestingly, as the blurb on the cover suggests, have they made Mitch an offer he should have refused, but it leaves us with an interesting question: what would you have done in his situation?

We also liked the ending – see the movie and tell us which ending you preferred, because in the film it’s a lot more wholesome.

The minuses

The twist is a little obvious, and expected, once it’s revealed. Not that you would be able to say what it is exactly, but there is certainly something a bit fishy in all the temptations that are placed before Mitch. And it takes the author too long to get there.

Although we are clearly meant to feel sorry for his plight, here at Law in the Lounge we wondered whether Mitch might have been a little on the greedy side. It’s tempting to take some pleasure at his situation, but that might be what the author wanted.

Maybe Mitch should have taken the advice of his brother – you always have to pay in the end! (by the way, did the ending really need to go for so long, like an eternal chase scene?)

The legal point

Let us take you by the hand and into the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School, where Mitch has earned his gold-plated stripes. The oldest existing Law school in the United States, it is also the most prestigious, so no matter how much Mitch might complain of the hardships of his poverty stricken student days, he’s really landed in Santa’s Xmas bag.

Harvard tries to prepare its students for far more than a career in the law, though Mitch McDeere seems more interested in the money than a life of public service. It prides itself on training future Third World leaders, future politicians (what would a Kennedy be without his Harvard law degree?), and the captains of industry.

The Harvard Law Library is the biggest (law library) in the world with nearly 2 million books in its stacks; there are 1800 students; about 70 Professors. No doubt Mitch’s favourite course was Corporate Finance!

And what’s this about the Cayman Islands and "tax shelters"? Yes, banking is the mainstay of these three islands in the Caribbean. So what’s a tax shelter (no, it has nothing to do with getting out of the rain)? A tax shelter, in fact, comes in a number of guises: it can be when tax is deferred till another year, when you might have less other income and therefore less tax to pay; or, as in the case of "the Firm", a way of avoiding tax altogether by an essentially illegal means, or a means that skirts the edge of the law but really keeps the taxman’s hands out of your pockets.

About John Grisham

You know that bank that John Grisham was laughing all the way to? – he bought it!! He’s the Bill Gates of legal fiction; the Rupert Murdoch of thriller writers; the Stephen Spielberg of…..well, you get the idea! By any standards, he has achieved a remarkable success, so much so that his publishers proclaim him the world’s best selling author.

He was born in Arkansas (pronounced "Arkansaw"), the same state that Bill Clinton calls home. He got a degree in accounting (handy now that he has all that money to count!) and (tick, tick, tick…) yes, Law, from the fabled "Ole Miss" (a University in Mississippi).

Now, most lawyers go on to practice in a pretty dull routine – surrounded by wills and land titles, they spend their days buried in more paper than a recycling centre. This might be good enough for your everyday hack, or even your ego-driven corporate type, but Grisham had different ideas.

Like the actor that longs to direct, there is an author deep inside many trial lawyers. In some ways it goes with the territory – after all, most legal arguments are a fiction in themselves. You strut the stage of the court, pulling the threads of a plot together to make a persuasive story. Isn’t that what they say a novel is from the reader’s point of view – a willing suspension of disbelief? In other words, if you connect the dots, and make it seem real, the reader will go along for the ride. And as any trial lawyer will tell you, that’s pretty much the same thing you want from a judge and jury.

Grisham was born in 1955, which makes all those baby-boomer lawyers with a mid life crisis all the more sick with envy! He worked as a criminal and personal injuries lawyer for 10 years, and as a sideline, got himself elected to the State House of Representatives to boot! But it was not law or politics that really challenged his overactive intellect – in 1984 he started to write his first novel, and three years later A Time To Kill was finished.

By the time that first novel was published he was well into The Firm. He could not have imagined how this enterprise would forever change his life, and would set the trend for the new wave of legal fiction. And if he saw himself as the alter ego of Mitch, the hero in "The Firm", who better to star in the film role than Tom Cruise?

From there it was one roller-coaster success after another. Each new novel goes straight to the top of the best-seller list, to be closely followed by a hit movie . The Pelican Brief was published in 1990, The Client in 1993, The Chamber in 1994, The Rainmaker in 1995, The Runaway Jury in 1996, The Partner in 1997. It seems like an annual event nowadays – if it’s Spring, there must be a new Grisham on the shelves! Often the paperback is released at the same time as the new hardcover – and they both occupy the number one spots on their respective best-seller lists.

Our verdict

This book achieves its one clear aim – it places the hero in a moral dilemma, and we, the readers, want to get him the hell out of it! It takes us deep into a world of tax lawyers and top of the line Harvard graduates, where anything is possible and the power drips off every page.

This novel is the child of the "Godfather" and "Presumed Innocent" – the characters are not really likeable, but we want to know more about them, how they think, and what drives them to be the way they are (answer – power, money, revenge at life).

If you are looking for a racy legal thriller that seems authentic in its detail and takes you for a hair-raising ride, this is it! Some of the crew here at Law in the Lounge were a little put off by the glamour and the obvious plot twists, but that doesn’t mean they were willing to put it aside!

A sure fire read if you like this sort of thriller. Especially good for the beach, or after the kids have gone to bed.

Read this: The legal information contained above is intended to be general information about the law. It is not a substitute for legal and other professional advice. Lawscape Communications P/L does not accept responsibility for loss to any person, who either acts or does not act because of this information.

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