August 27, 2013

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:50 pm

coverThe standard ingredients are there: there are lawyers, law firms, a person who wants to be idealistic; and yet, somehow, this feels a little different. It explores the world of the Street Lawyers, who, in spite of a degree that can help them make a lot of money, dedicate their lives to helping the poor and downtrodden with their legal troubles. Idealism? Sure. But it kind of works.

The story starts explosively enough, unlike many other Grisham novels. (Think Pelican Brief or The  Summons) The story takes off almost from the first page itself. Michael Brock, very successful lawyer in a very high paying law firm called Drake and Sweenie, with his foot firmly near the top rung of the corporate ladder (he is due for partnership shortly) at a young age, has his life turned upside down in five seconds, when a seemingly deranged man holds them all as hostages in his own law office. Luckily, he gets killed by a very sharpshooting sniper from the police.  Before that incident, he had a wife who was a surgeon but his was a troubled marriage.

Once this happens, he realizes how close he came  to death and everything he did no longer seems that important. He learns that the man who held them up was De Von Hardy,  with a mental problem and that the hostage taker was not even armed! (He threatened bombs and gun but never showed it).

When he sets out to find more, he meets the Street Lawyer Mordecai Green in Harlem, who lives and works in an impoverished, makeshift, law office, fighting for the poor who are unjustly vacated from homes they had occupied by greedy landlords. When he goes to a charity kitchen to meet some of Mordecai’s clients, he meets destitute family Lontae and her kids, one of whom, Ontario (wait, what? ) captures his mind. On his next trip, he learns that they were evacuated from their homes (in the middle of winter) and Ontario froze to death with his family.

Michael now begins to question all his beliefs in his life. His overachieving brother Robert is very disappointed and tries to ‘straighten him out from this madness’. Father and mother exude disapproval. He then joins Mordecai and Abraham, another lawyer, and Sofia, the administrator as a lawyer, resigning his six figure salary. Not only that, when he realizes that the company he belonged to had resorted to questionable means to evict poor people from a housing complex to rebuild into commercial property, decides to sue them himself!

The method he used to achieve proof is in violation of the law and so he himself gets into trouble with the law. His wife cannot understand why ‘he went to seed’ and leaves him.

The story is populated by other lovable characters, like Ruby the drug addict who is struggling to stay sober so that she can visit her daughter, the sweet tempered Megan, who helps out the poor in community kitchen, his partner Arthur who tries to get him disbarred from the profession for stealing a file related to the scam etc.

Yes, it is a preachy subject, as you can tell from the description above, but in spite of it, the story is well told and you get immersed into the story. The hallmark of a good writer, like for instance the TV series Modern Family – you almost do not recognize the sermon at the end – or even like another of Grisham’s work The Rainmaker.

A good read. Let us say a 7/10

– Krishna


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