I've just finished reading more than 250 pages of filler with nothing worth mentioning at the end of it all, except that the ending "majorly" sucked.
Essentially a sordid tale of big business and politics vs. big verdicts and class action lawsuits, it begins nicely, and gathers steam, then proceeds to continue blowing hot air at the reader until the unsatisfactory quickie ending.
While there's some food for thought regarding how the legal, political, religious and business arenas may all be connected, there's more garnish than meat in a story which could have been cut by about 100 pages of the filler, and sweetened with about 50 more pages of conclusion for dessert.
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS)
1. Large company dumps chemicals in rural community
2. Water changes color
3. People get sick
4. Some die
5. Small law firm files lawsuit
6. Large verdict awarded
7. Big business takes over
8. Money talks
9. Once again, Grisham gets tired of his own rambling and wraps up story in indecent haste leaving most of his ends dangling
10. His ends aren't pretty
I'd like to sue for 50% of my money back, plus loss of productive time, legal costs and mental trauma, and also for punitive damages, but I guess I'd lose on appeal.
Rated: 2.5 stars for half of a good book
The Innocent Man
Amanda Richards, March 21, 2008
on February 26, 2008
Grisham has written some wonderful books. Unfortunately, The Appeal is not one of them. He has a point which is that elected judges create a problem and an opportunity for abuse. We all agree. By the way so do appointed judges.
The plot has been described by others. My issue with this effort is that everybody was predictable. The good folks were perfect. Plaintiff lawyers who will bankrupt themselves for a case they believe in. Not like many plaintiff lawyers who I have run into. The company and its owners are completely bad. When a character such as the general counsel of the company looks to be a little interesting he is ignored.
Grisham in my view has always had the ability to develop believable characters who were interesting. All the leading characters in this book were boring and too much of a stereotype.
John Grisham will be ending his absence from the New York Times Best Seller's List (fiction) with the arrival "The Appeal." Grisham's first legal thriller since the Broker (2005) is a gripping and compelling read that will be hard to put down. It is also timely since it highlights the underbelly of today's election politics.
The story centers on a small Mississippi law firm who wins a big verdict over a chemical giant, Krane, that has spread carcinogenic pollutants. Krane, fearful that this verdict, if not overturned, would set a precedent that would eventually destroy it, goes into action. It files an appeal that will find its way to the state supreme court, and hires a "dirty tricks" firm to unseat a sitting justice believe to be unfriendly. This is a viable strategy since Mississippi elects their Supreme Court justices and 69% of its voters know little about the court's candidates.
The "Appeal" provides a believable primer on how to rig an election - pick a victim; promote an unknown candidate with no visible record; and ambush the victim by painting him/her as a extreme ideologue (this liberal judge will destroy the family). Done well...and the election process is subverted.
This is Grisham's thirteenth legal thriller since "A Time to Kill" which was published in 1989. He has been a master at putting urgent moral issues on center stage for all to consider. He has succeeded again in "The Appeal."
on February 8, 2008
Evil uncaring chemical baron Carl Trudeau's company has been poisoning the city of Bowmore's drinking water for years. After people start coming down with cancer and related ailments, the company cuts and runs to Mexico leaving hundreds of people ill and dying and the ground water contaminated. A scrappy altruistic attorney couple(the Paytons) sues Krane on behalf of a widowed client and wins a sizeable settlement. Carl Trudeau chooses to fight back, using his deep pockets and political connections.
I wanted to like this story, but I felt the good guy characters-particularly the attorneys -(the Paytons), were annoying. They were a little too perfect, a little too altruistic... It was very saccharine. The Paytons were both such Mary Sue's I didn't identify with them at all. Ironically, I liked the antics of the evil villains more because at least their plots and plans were entertaining.
Overall this was a decent book, but I found the simplistic character development aggravating.
on February 16, 2008
I've followed Grisham's career for years, enjoying everything from his legal thrillers to his novellas. Sure, some of his more recent legal outings have faltered ("The Brethren" was awful, for example), but I've hung in there. Recently, he released "Playing for Pizza," and I thought this might be his attempt at regaining a second wind by doing something offbeat. Offbeat, indeed. I cannot recommend that particular book to anyone, based on the milquetoast lead character and his refusal to learn, change, mature, or give a decent story.
With the arrival of "The Appeal," I once again let my hopes soar. I heard some good feedback from a bookstore owner. I bought the book, and--to my thorough amazement--breezed through the first hundred pages in one sitting. The old Grisham was back, I told myself. This might be one of his best in years. All the pieces were in place for a great story.
Although "The Appeal" is nothing original, I was hooked by Grisham's portrayal of David and Goliath characters. The giant: Carl Trudeau, owner of a company that has illegally dumped chemicals into Mississippi waters and earth, resulting in cancer, leukemia, and the lost lives of many local townspeople. The midget: Payton & Payton, a law team of husband and wife who have risked everything to bring about justice. Grisham paints both protagonists and his antagonist with skill and empathy. Trudeau and his shallow trophy-wife were the villains you love to hate. I kept turning the pages.
As usual, Grisham takes issue with something in our legal system and makes a moral or political point. Here, he mixes familiar ingredients from "The Firm" (manipulation), rants from "The Chamber" (capital punishment), and bits from "The King of Torts" (huge settlements). Where he falters is in his shifting of focus from David and Goliath to a host of other participants in the drama. What starts as great fiction turns into a mishmash of thinly veiled non-fiction. After page 120, I could've sworn I was wading through portions of "The Innoce nt Man" (a decent non-fiction title, by the way). I wanted a novel, though. Sure, I had expected a "message" from Grisham, but I'd also hoped to follow strong characters from first to last page.
My verdict, like the supreme court in this book, hung in the balance to the very end. Maybe the climax (never a Grisham strength) would redeem the faltering storytelling. Maybe I'd be swayed back to the fondness I felt for the first third of the story. Instead, Trudeau, the love-to-hate villain, turns into a cartoonish character ("he laughed and rubbed his hands together"...an actual quote). Then, Grisham throws in an uncharacteristic deus ex machina to tease, then trick, the reader.
I have to give the book two stars for pointing out huge flaws in the election system, regarding campaign funds and the ability, in essence, to purchase a judge--a fact that still remains in over thirty states. All of this makes readable non-fiction. And for many pages, I thought that's what I was sifting through, because it had strayed so far from the norms of good fiction.
Will I get my hopes up again? No. Will I buy the next Grisham? I think not. He apparently has forgotten how to care about his characters for more than half a book. In so doing, he has left me feeling the same.
on January 29, 2009
I picked up a copy of "The Appeal" to make the 8 hours I had to wait in the airport go a little faster, and it served its purpose. The time went by quickly. I enjoyed the book very much. Then, I got home and decided to sit down and finish it, and that's where things got ugly.
The end of this book and even the message from John Grisham himself at the end of the book leave the reader to only one conclusion: "The Appeal" is not a legal thriller. Instead it is a propaganda piece that has big business involvement in politics between its crosshairs. I'm not saying I don't agree with the point Grisham makes here, but I bought this book to be entertained. At the end of the day, the actions of the heros end up meaning absolutley nothing and make the reader feel like they just had 400 pages of their life wasted.
Grisham is back to his roots with a return to legal drama in "The Appeal." The question is though, is he really back? "The Appeal" does not quite make a return to the same idiom that Grisham made his own with early classics like "The Client," "The Pelican Brief" or "The Firm." By comparison, I would put "The Appeal" in the grouping with "The Chamber," and "The Runaway Jury," the legal high-wire acts that have something to say about politics, life, and the quasi-legal/quasi-political space they occupy.
"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.
This time, it is political. Or, maybe, Grisham just loves personal injury lawyers (aka "trial" lawyers) -- contrast his very sympathetic protagonist in "The King of Torts" with the pictures he has painted of sharks in suits from "The Firm," louses in "The Brethren," and small-time nickel and dimers in "The Client" and "The Rainmaker."
That type of characterization has always been something of a weakness of Grisham's, relying too heavily on emblematic types (i.e., Denton Voyles - the G-Man, Fletcher Coal - the operative, Khamel - the assassin) that are familiar to any reader from go: requiring no development and acquiring no depth. But, in "The Appeal," Grisham returns to his roots with some really winning characterization. Like the development of the McDeeres in "The Firm," or Reggie Love in "The Client," the couple that serves as plaintiff's co-counsel on the central case of the book are developed in more depth - a real strength in "The Appeal." But again here, he takes a very friendly - and I would say unpopular - view of pi attorneys.
All in all, I would say to prepare for a more mature Grisham, whether that becomes less appealing or unpalatable to some remains to be seen. This book - coming as it does on the heels of "Skipping Christmas," "Playing for Pizza," "The Bleachers," and "The Innocent Man" - is reflective of an author who has decided to embark on a different course. There is little of the sensational in "The Appeal," in fact, it embellishes the naturalistic element that some of his earlier work hinted at. This is nitty gritty: no glitz, no glamour...save a few gratuitous Gulfstream jets.
Whatever else it may be, this is Grisham's most realistic (that is to say in terms of literary style - not necessarily plausibility) fiction work. But, it still reads quickly and promises to move off of shelves even more quickly.
on February 21, 2008
John Grisham has written some very good novels, but this isn't one of them. Not even close. The villains are so transparently evil that the reader can almost see them twirling their mustaches and hear their evil chuckles. And the heroes are just too too nice, with nice kids, who go to a nice church, and do all sorts of nice things.
I have no sympathy for chemical companies that dump carcinogens. I think the owners should pay through the nose and go to prison. That's not the point. Nor do I sympathize with a lawyer who gets sucked into an obvious scheme to overthrow a perfectly competent supreme court justice. But such topics should be treated with some modicum of subtlety. There is nothing subtle about "The Appeal." As a result, the book isn't of much interest at all.
The characters are predictable. Ditto the plot. The atmosphere isn't much at all. It's just one long mad tirade. Let's hope for better out of Grisham's next book.
on March 3, 2008
I want to remember The Firm, The Broker, The Trial Lawyer ....they were engaging and objective, without any obvious political bias.
However the latest work by Grisham is basically full of political propaganda with some plot around it.
If you think that trail lawyers are white knights and underdogs, unions have no political power, and businesses exist only to pollute and abuse workers - pay for 350 pages that have little else. I was bored with it after the first 50 pages... too bad, I have been a Grisham's fan for decades.-
on January 15, 2009
This predictable and tedious novel redefines the legal thriller. Apparently, plot twists and interesting characters are no longer required in this genre. All you need is a cliche plot, an evil company, some innocent victims, an oppressed do-gooder lawyer or two and some legalese. Put them all together, shake, stir and pour. However they spill out onto the page is just fine.
I wouldn't consider myself an overly discriminating reader, but Grisham has fallen so far from the days of The Firm and A Time to Kill that it just renews my disappointment every time he cranks out a mediocre book like this.
You will not be surprised by anything in this book; not the plot, not the characters, nothing. It was a chore getting through it and I wouldn't have made it if not for a long layover during my holiday travel. Not worth the purchase. Not even at a half-off store. Not even worth checking out from the library.
If you're new to John Grisham, go read anything he wrote more than 10 years ago. Since then, he's been in mass-production mode, cranking out as many books as he can to cash in. I don't blame him, but I hate him for it.