Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rogue LawyerRogue Lawyer by John Grisham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Like many, this trial is not about the truth, it's about winning."

John Grisham's Rogue Lawyer (2015), an extremely readable novel, has left me with strongly ambivalent yet mainly negative feelings. I am impressed by Mr. Grisham's cynical view of the justice system and his condemnation of power-abusing police, corrupt prosecutors, unprincipled judges, and clueless jurors yet I strongly dislike this book because the author shamelessly caters to the readers in that virtually all threads of the plot end well so the book feels customized to satisfy the readers' expectations and maximize the sales.

Sebastian Rudd, a "street lawyer", is a defense attorney in a "dismal, backwater, redneck town," who lives in motels and often works from a van as he is frequently threatened either by criminals or by the so-called innocent people who hate him for defending worst of the worst criminals. Many stories are interwoven in the novel: Mr. Rudd is defending a man accused of murdering two little girls. He meets with his ex-client, a convicted crime lord and killer, just hours before his execution. He is also defending an elderly victim of a horribly botched SWAT operation. He is juggling these and several other cases while being involved in an ugly custody battle with his ex-wife.

The quite interesting if occasionally implausible plot serves as a pretext to paint a convincingly grim picture of the entire corrupt justice system, which is always in the service of politics, and where cases are decided not based on truth or guided by the idea of justice but rather by political aspirations and expediency of the key players. Also very strong is the derisive portrayal of "warrior cops", the SWAT team members, men who are emotionally still teenage boys in love with military fatigues, face paint, and powerful weapons, who love to shoot at anything because it is even more fun than playing shooting video games:
"These guys think they're part of an extreme, elite force, and they need their thrills, so here we are in another frantic hospital with casualties."
The author chastises the so-called innocent people as well. While Mr. Rudd is often asked "How do you represent such scum?" some people don't just ask, they want to punish the lawyer for defending the most heinous criminals. Yeah, lynching would be a good solution. The jurors get their share of ridicule too: for their excitement at participating in the trial, for their simple-mindedness, and for strange hierarchy of values like when they value a dog's life more than that of a human. I like the passages that describe the voir dire procedure. Having personally been a part of such a procedure during jury duty I can attest to the realism of the depiction: potential jurors lying through their teeth to get on the jury, panting and salivating at the prospect of meting out punishment and putting some excitement in their lives.

I admire Mr. Grisham's smooth writing and plot construction. But this fairy tale for adults - characters we root for always win and bad guys lose all the time - is so slick, so nauseating in its pandering to the reader's expectations, so blatantly commercial that I find it below par.

Two stars.

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