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The King of Torts Hardcover – February 4, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Grisham continues to impress with his daring, venturing out of legal thrillers entirely for A Painted House and Skipping Christmas (the re-release of which this past fall was itself a bold move) and, within the genre, working major variations. Here's his most unusual legal thriller yet--a story whose hero and villain are the same, a young man with the tragic flaw of greed; a story whose suspense arises not from physical threat but moral turmoil, and one that launches a devastating assault on a group of the author's colleagues within the law. Mass tort lawyers are Grisham's target, the men (they're all men here, at least) who win billion-dollar class-action settlements from corporations selling bad products, then rake fantastic fees off the top, with far smaller payouts going to the people harmed by the products. Clay Carter is a burning-out lawyer at the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) in Washington, D.C., when he catches the case of a teen who, for no apparent reason, has gunned down an acquaintance. Clay is approached by a mysterious stranger, the enigmatic Max Pace, who says he represents a megacorporation whose bad drug caused the teen--and others--to kill. The corporation will pay Clay $10 million to settle with all the murder victims at $5 million per, if all is accomplished on the hush-hush; that way, the corporation avoids trial and possibly much higher jury awards. After briefly examining his conscience, Clay bites. He quits the OPD, sets up his own firm and settles the cases. In reward, Pace gives him a present--a mass tort case based on stolen evidence but worth tens of millions in fees. Clay lunges again, eventually winning over a hundred million in fees. He is crowned by the press the new King of Torts, with enough money to hobnob with the other, venal-hearted tort royalty, to buy a Porsche, a Georgetown townhouse and a private jet, but not enough to forget his heartache over the woman he loves, who dumped him as a loser right before his career took off. Clay's financial/legal hubris knows few bounds, and soon he's overextended, his future hanging on the results of one product liability trial. The tension is considerable throughout, and readers will like the gentle ending, but Grisham's aim here clearly is to educate as he entertains. He can be didactic (" `Nobody earns ten million dollars in six months, Clay,' " a friend warns. " `You might win it, steal it, or have it drop out of the sky, but nobody earns money like that. It's ridiculous and obscene' "), but readers will applaud Grisham's fierce moral stance (while perhaps wondering what sort of advance he got for this book) as they cling to his words every step along the way of this powerful and gripping morality tale.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Page-turningly compulsive" Daily Mail "Grisham reigns supreme... another tremendous tour de force" Sunday Express "A rollercoaster ride" The Times "This novel has incident to burn, a clean, pacy style and a conclusion that will blindside the reader" Telegraph --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (March 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385508042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385508049
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (780 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, John Grisham was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby--writing his first novel. Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker, John Grisham as a child dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn't have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.That might have put an end to Grishams hobby. However, he had already begun his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller. Grisham's success even renewed interest in A Time to Kill, which was republished in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Dell. This time around, it was a bestseller. Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year (his other books are The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, The Summons, The King of Torts, Bleachers, The Last Juror, The Broker, Playing for Pizza, and The Appeal) and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 225 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, A Painted House, The Runaway Jury, and Skipping Christmas), as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Sebastien Pharand on February 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
John Grisham began his writing career with a bang, publishing one great legal thriller after the next, a feat that brought him to the top of the publishing world very quickly. But in the last few years, his legal thrillers have been less than steller. Aside from his sweet, heartwarming A Painted House (which, ironically enough, was not a legal thriller), Grisham's novels have been on the boring side. Now, he returns with his yearly offering, a fun little novel called The King of Torts, a novel that brings him once step closer to regaining his title of King of the legal thriller.
In the book, we find a young public defendent named Clay, who is given the opportunity to earn 15 million dollars with just a few months's work. Soon enough, he is thrown into the world of mass litigation, where lawyers sue big corportations with thousands of claims. The millions start pouring in and Clay soon finds himself at the top of his game.
But what goes up must come down, a thing Clay does not seem to know. Halfway through the story, Clay realizes that he's in way over his head.
In Clay, Grisham creates a character you will both love and hate. His rise to success his fun to watch, but his downfall is much more interesting. It's the part in between that's problematic. Because, while Clay is on top, he becomes so obssessed with money and fame that he becomes a character you will despise. It's hard to like someone who's complaining about life when they own a yacht, a million dollar house, a penthouse in the south, and their own 45$ million jet. So when his downfall arrives, it's hard to feel sympathy for Clay.
The story is predictable, yet fun to read. Maybe the book would have been better had Clay been faced with harder, more problematic challenges and situations. As it is now, The King of Torts is a fund read that doesn't require much involvement from its readers. A good beach novel, but not much more than that.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Silver Springer on February 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Fans of John Grisham's earlier legal works should be pleased with this thriller set in the complex, greedy world of tort lawyers. You can't help but like and hate the main character, lawyer J. Clay Carter II as he changes from a low paid but dedicated attorney in the D.C. Public Defender's office to a high powered, freewheeling and greedy corporate lawyer. When the chance to cash in on 6 settlements for a new drug gone wrong lands in Carter's lap, he is lured into the jet-setting life of other wealthy attorneys looking for quick settlements. Even though you may not approve of their motives, the tort world is fascinating and a great story. As Carter buys into the lifestyle with a personal jet and home in the Carribbean yet seems unconcerned about settlements for his clients, you want to shake him. But those who rise quickly can fall the same way and the novel ends in a satisfying way.
Lots of subplots, interesting characters and fast paced action keeps you on pins and needles until the end of the story. I think this is a four star book, not quite at the level of his earlier works (The Firm and Pelican Brief) , but a huge improvement over later works such as The Summons and The Brethren.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's always hard to read a book that has a lead character with few redeeming qualities, and the King of Torts is no exception. While the story is fascinating in its details about tort law, class action suits, and class action lawyers, who come out rather like comic book characters, it is not particularly gripping, as Clay Carter's roller coaster ride is completely predictable right to the end. This is a modern morality tale about money, greed, and power, and a very average one at that. Don't skip reading it, but don't expect a lot either.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Randyll McDermott on February 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lately, John Grisham's books have been pretty bad. Skipping Christmas, A Painted House, The Brethren and The Summons were very forgettable. The King of Torts is different. It is a rags to riches story in which you can't help cheering for the protagonist, Clay Carter. As the novel begins Clay is stuck in a dead-end job as a public defender. In a hard to believe plot leap, Clay is contacted by a "fireman,"(a person hired by big corporations implicated in lawsuits to get a settlement) Max Pace who gives him the opportunity to make millions of dollars. Clay gleefully accepts this opportunity and is soon a hotshot multimillionaire with a private jet, house on St. Barts, Porsche and bimbo girlfriend. But of course, this couldn't last... The King of Torts seems to me as an illustration of the contempt in which Grisham holds the profession of mass tort lawyers. It's a quick, great read that will be sure to please fans of Grisham's and also those just looking for a thrilling read.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By R. Shaff on February 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like several reviewers, I have been less than enthralled with Grisham's latest legal thrillers. His last thriller, THE SUMMONS, in my opinion, was a yawner. However, after a brief sojourn into classic fiction with A PAINTED HOUSE and SKIPPING CHRISTMAS (which I highly recommend), Grisham has clawed his way back into the arena that made him the King of Legal Thrillers. THE KING OF TORTS is classic Grisham, in the form of A TIME TO KILL, THE FIRM, and my all-time favorite, THE PELICAN BRIEF. While KING OF TORTS still doesn't quite measure up, it is incredibly good.
What makes THE KING OF TORTS so good is the conceptual elements fans have grown to love about Grisham's thirllers: an underdog young attorney, a mysterious and clandestine protagonist, greasy "ambulance-chasing" attorneys and unscrupulous corporations. In the end, as always, it's all about the dollar.
Our "hero" in this thriller is J. Clay Carter II, a low-paid public defender in Washington, D.C. Clay has a well-to-do fiancée, Rebecca Van Horn who, along with her pugnacious mother and father continually nettle Clay to take a more lucrative job. His future in-laws are everything Clay despises. When he wontonly rejects Mr. Van Horn's offer of a corporate position making more than twice his PD pay, Rebecca dumps him for an geeky Ivy Leaguer.
Concurrent with his personal life heading south, Clay has just been ambushed into handling the defense of Tequila Watson, a young black man who shot a friend named "Pumpkin" (lively names). Although totally unmoved, Clay is intrigued as to why Tequila can't remember killing Pumpkin. It's as though his mind has been washed away...with drugs, Clay suspects.
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