The Racketeer – by John Grisham (2012)

The Racketeer

If you love novels that involve lawyers, wrongful imprisonment, murder mysteries, and hiding from the government, you’re going to enjoy this Grisham book. It begins with Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer who has been stripped of his license, serving a ten-year sentence in a federal facility. Convicted of money laundering- which he did not do – he now spends his time as an informal jailhouse lawyer, looking at other inmates’ cases to see if they have any basis to appeal their sentences.

When a federal judge is murdered in his mountain cabin get-away, Malcolm believes he knows who did it. If he can just convince the FBI of the identity of the murderer, he may have the rest of his sentence commuted. But as it turns out, the story isn’t quite as cut and dried as first thought. Does Malcolm have the right man? If he’s wrong, what are the consequences?

The Scandal – by John Grisham (2016)

The Scandal - by John Grisham

 

Just when I thought John Grisham had wrapped up his “Theodore Boone” series, he published another great story about the kid lawyer. Growing up with two lawyers for parents, Theo isn’t just any kid. He’s only 13, but knows the law and court procedures better than most adults. His friends frequently ask his advise on matters of a legal nature.

Usually Theo doesn’t mind going to school, but this week is different. All week he and the other 8th graders from the three schools in town will be subjected to the state standardized tests. Everyone dreads the tests: the students who feel the pressure to get high scores, the teachers who will be evaluated on their teaching skill based on the results, and the parents who fear their children may be labeled as “slow” if they don’t do well. When the week is over and the results are in, something doesn’t seem quite right.

All the lovable characters from the first five books are included. There’s April, the friend whose dysfunctional family problems never end. There’s Mr. Mount, their favorite teacher, and Mrs. Gladwell the principal. There’s Theo’s parents, Woods and Marcella, who are constantly debating and discussing things. There’s Judge Yek, who is still in charge of Animal Court. And of course there’s Uncle Ike, as crazy as ever.

I did notice that Theo has remained the same age through all six volumes of the series. It would seem unlikely that so many stories could come out of one year, but hey, anything is possible with fiction. Don’t let the young age of Theo keep you from reading this book. It’s an enjoyable, quick read that tackles a subject that I have not seen in the fiction realm. Pick up a copy today at your local library!

The Deposit Slip – by Todd M. Johnson (2012)

The Deposit Slip

 

Jared Neaton is a self-employed lawyer who is just short of totally broke. One day a former colleague gives him a tip about a case in his Minnesota hometown that needs a lawyer. He can’t take it himself, he says, because of a conflict of interest. So Jared drives out to talk to Erin Larson, the woman needing legal representation.

Erin’s father has died recently. While going through his security box at the local bank, she finds a receipt for a deposit of ten million dollars. Erin is stunned, as her father was a simple farmer with no money to speak of. She shows the receipt to the bank manager, who can find no record of the deposit or the account it was put into. Where did the $10,000,000 come from, and where is it now?

I enjoyed reading this legal mystery. It had a good pace to it, and kept me glued to the story until the last page. My favorite parts of the book were the courtroom scenes, and the chapters when Jared was in Europe, chasing down the only person who might reveal the truth. It was rather like a Grisham novel with a simpler plot. I appreciated the fact that it was an extremely clean read – no swearing, bedroom scenes, or gore. This novel – which is the author’s first – gets two thumbs up from me!

To Kill A Mockingbird – by Harper Lee (1960)

To Kill A Mockingbird

“To Kill A Mockingbird” centers around the Finch family in the small fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The head of the household is Atticus, a widower and a lawyer, a man of deep religious and moral convictions. He has a son – Jem, a daughter – Jean Louise (Scout), and a black housekeeper – Calpurnia. Atticus is older than most fathers of young children in town, and the Finch family lives in a neighborhood of mostly senior citizens, so the children grow up mostly playing by themselves and being around older people. The first 80 pages or so focus on the day-to-day life and conversations of the Finch family, and set the base for the rest of the book.

Then the story really takes off. Atticus becomes the defense attorney for a black man charged with attempted rape of a white woman. As it is the 1930’s, there is still widespread segregation and mistrust between the two races. Many in town consider it disgraceful that Atticus is trying to get Tom Robinson acquitted. The racial prejudice affects everyone in town, either directly or indirectly.

There are many things to love in this classic novel – the close brother-sister relationship of Jem and Scout, the quirky character of the neighbors, the mystery of the man across the street, the depth of Atticus’ nature, and the two sides to Calpurnia. The amusing conversations of the children are mixed into the story to keep it from becoming too heavy and depressing. The account of the trial is very well written, and makes Atticus shine.

But the thing I enjoy most about this book is the way Atticus speaks to his children, as if they are grown-ups not children. He instills in them a love and respect for people of all racial and social groups. It doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest when others disagree with him and mock him. Atticus teaches his family to walk to the beat of a different drummer, and to not be afraid when trouble comes.

Excerpt:

“Scout,” said Atticus, “when summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse things . . . it’s not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down – well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down. This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong . . .”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong . . .”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer – by John Grisham (2010)

Theodore Boone - Kid Lawyer

Theodore is the only child of a husband-wife lawyer team in the small town of Strattenburg. His father handles real estate deals, his mother divorce cases. He hangs out at his parents’ office after school, and is well-known at the local courthouse. Conversations at dinner often center around the law. At 13 years of age, Theo already has a better grasp of legal matters and defense strategies than most adults. His dream is to become a skilled lawyer like his parents.

Theo’s fascination with everything legal earns him the nickname “kid lawyer”. He answers classmates’ questions about the law. He also goes to the courthouse with his friend April to offer moral support. When the trial of accused killer Pete Duffy starts, the government class is allowed to see the opening arguments. Theo is immediately fascinated with the case, and gets personally involved.

Grisham’s first novel for pre-adults is a fun read. I enjoyed the unusual-ness of the Boone family. His close friendship with April, whose life is rather messed up, added to the story. Lastly, Theo’s crazy Uncle Ike was terrific. This story can be enjoyed by readers spanning middle-school, high school, and adult ages. A copy of this book can be found in the teen or young adult section of your local library.

The Testament – by John Grisham (1999)

The Testament

 

Troy Phelan, a cynical billionaire who has grown tired of living, jumps from a skyscraper after signing a simple will that leaves his massive fortune to an illegitimate daughter whom his family knows nothing about. Only a pittance is granted to his other children, and not a penny to his ex-wives. Rachel Lane has grown up not knowing her father, and is a missionary to a remote tribe of Indians in South America. The majority of the book covers the search for the elusive missionary, and her reaction to the inheritance.

Nate O’Reilly is the lawyer that is sent down to Brazil to locate Rachel. His life is a total mess – twice divorced, estranged from his children, in trouble with the IRS, and newly released from a detox program. The sub-story line about Nate’s life is just as intriguing as the main plot of finding Rachel. The stories intertwine perfectly as Nate and Rachel finally meet.

The book switches back and forth from the United States, where the Phelan children are legally contesting the will, to South America, where Nate is traveling through the Pantanal area looking for Rachel. He encounters difficulties of all varieties, making it a hellish trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Testament”, both in book form and as an audiobook. Frank Muller is the narrator, and performs to perfection. His reading is animated, as if he really is the character he is reading. Mr. Muller was the narrator for a number of popular novels, but was injured in a serious motorcycle accident in 2001, from which he never fully recovered. He passed away in 2008, leaving “The Testament” as some of his finest work. Whether you read it in printed or audio version, you’re sure to find this one of John Grisham’s best novels.

Gray Mountain – by John Grisham (2014)

Gray Mountain

 

The latest Grisham novel begins in Manhattan, where Samantha Kofer is a lawyer in a mega firm, working 90 hours a week. Then the recession of 2008 hits, and the job is gone. She finds pro bono work in the small Appalachian town of Brady. Instead of just doing paperwork in an office, she is now meeting the actual clients – ordinary people who find themselves in desperate situations and need her legal expertise.

I enjoyed reading a Grisham novel with a lead female character, which Mr. Grisham has only done one other time that I can think of (The Pelican Brief). Samantha is someone that everyone affected by the housing crash of 2008 can identify with. You share her sense of dread as she watches things fall apart, her despair as she loses her job, her anxiety as she job-hunts, her resignation to a less glamorous lifestyle, and her adjustment to a new way of life.

Although this is not Mr. Grisham’s best novel (The Testament, Runaway Jury, and Sycamore Row are my favorites), it is certainly a book you will enjoy from cover to cover.