bookspluslife

August 31, 2014

Book: A Painted House by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:27 am

A very unusual story from John Grisham. Not a lawyer in sight! No court cases, no legal aspects. But John shows that he can tell a simple story of a Southern US family with as much verve and panache as he can weave his lawyer stimagesories.

The story is that of the Chandlers: Luke, a young boy who is into baseball and who dreams of making it big in the game is the main character. His elder brother Ricky is away in an army posting and we learn later that he made a girl pregnant. There ia  dad and  mom with an interesting dynamic between them. Mom is not very happy to be in a farm struggling to make ends meet but the patriarch, Pappy who is the grandpa of Luke, exerts a huge influence and control over this joint family and so it is not easy to up the sticks and go.

Pappy the grandfather lives life farming cotton and gets Mexicans who come from across the border to help him. Without their help he is sunk. Also, he goes and collects them from a main square and if he goes too late, he will not get anyone. This year, he has got the help of the Spruills. Among them is a man called Hank who seems to be brutal

Tilly who lets Luke see her naked and takes him to peek at the delivery of the girl whom Rick had made pregnant. Cowboy, who gets beaten by Hank but whom Tilly has a crush on.

In a fair, Hank downs the man who challenges everyone for duel. Cruel, wicked dude.

Jimmy Dale the city cousin and his uppity wife Stacy. Afraid of snakes and made to sit in the pot in terror by Luke. A fun interlude about city folks and their oh so superior manners.

Storm hits the town. Then Luke discovers TV and his world opens up!

Hank, the troublemaker, is made to leave and Cowboy kills him on the bridge seen only by Luke. He is terrorized into keeping quiet, and then Tally runs away with Cowboy, not knowing that she is his brother’s murderer!

The house is being painted by Luke after hearing snide allusions about the state of the house from some other townsfolk. This becomes the metaphor for the story. The cotton fields get flooded and the Mexicans leave early, having nothing to pick.

Painting job is finished by Luke. The house painting nears completion.

Lovely little book, with none of the usual courtroom drama that Grisham is famous for, but nevertheless a very intimate and absorbing look of a family of farmers.

The final, agonizing decision to move to a big city with parents, leaving grandma and grandpa alone is well told, and the economic necessity of doing so also comes out well.

A new topic for John Grisham and I should say he has handled it well. I will give it a 7/10

– Krishna

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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

July 18, 2013

Book: The Summons by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:35 pm

imagesA very typical John Grisham book indeed. The story revolves around Ray Attlee who is a law graduate who prefers to teach in a University instead of practice in a courtroom. He is also a hobby plane enthusiast and has acquired his solo license and likes to just take a Cessna up in the air above the clouds and enjoys the sense of complete peace and solitude that comes with it.

Unmarried and unattached, he lives a comfortable life on his salary, and even has teamed up with a few of fellow enthusiasts and just bought a plane that he co-owns with the rest.

His father is Judge Reuben Attlee. A strict judge, who rules without fear or favour, straight as an arrow, revered by the community – in small town Clanton – as a demi-God. But Ray and his brother Forrester felt always that the judge completely ignored the family. He had no time for his children, he dominated and neglected his wife until she died. But now, old and weak and retired long ago, he lives alone, almost estranged from both his sons. The sons live in different cities, away from the famous father.

Forrester has gone down another path in life, becoming a drug addict, living wildly, disappearing for a while from view and reappearing, checking out of rehabs after the family checks him in – fully addicted to drinks and drugs and even facing some jail time.

One day, Ray is summoned by the Judge (the father), and when he reaches his home, finds him dead. He discovers a few boxes in the store room stacked with cash, estimated to be 3 million dollars, with no explanation in the will or anywhere how the money came to be. As Judge Attlee has spent almost all of his money in charities, it is even more mysterious. Ray decided to hide the money, so that his wayward brother would not get this to spend on drugs or worse, and there starts a dreadful sequence of events. Someone came by, who missed the money and trashed his house. He is followed everywhere, and any storage space where he stashed his money is known to his unknown enemies, who send him pictures of the last garage or storage space he used.

Ray’s investigations reveal only one gap in his father’s illustrious career: a quiet work he undertook in a faraway city on a tort law, the details of which are missing from all records. Ray decides to pay the defense lawyer in that case, who is living in the lap of luxury due to a very successful career, convinced that the answer to the mystery is there.

The story keeps your interest and is also populated by people like Harry Rex, a four-times-married lawyer friend of the Judge who is the executor of the will (only the house is left by the Judge in the official will, left equally to both sons). At times, it seems to stall, as many of Grisham’s novels do, and pick up pace, only to slacken a bit again. The ending of the book is more interesting than other Grisham novels, hiding a very nice suspense till almost the end.

I would give it a 7/10

 

— Krishna

 

April 30, 2012

Book: The Chamber by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:32 pm

This is a slightly unusual book by John Grisham’s standards – at least the formula of his stories I have seen so far. There are no courtroom battles, there are no high and mighty experienced lawyer brought down by an upstart but idealistic rookie lawyer. And yet it is a moving portrait.

This is the story of Sam Cayhall, a Klansman. He is a third generation Klansman, his father and his grandfather both having belonged to the Klan  in the South, when the Klan was dominant and the culture was one of segregation.

He engages in several acts of vandalism against property belonging to supporters of black empowerment. When with another accomplice called Rollie Wedge, he attempts to bomb the offices of Marvin Kramer, a Jewish lawyer who fights against acts of violence against the African American people. The bomb is intended to just destroy the offices and is set to go off early in the morning  when the lawyer is still  at home, the act goes horribly wrong and the bomb explodes  killing Marvin who had reached the office early as well as his twin children Josh and John Kramer. Sam is  caught. Rollie escapes undetected.

Sam is arrested twice but could not be convicted but he is caught a third time, and this time it looks like justice will be done. He is convicted and sentenced to death by the Gas Chamber (and thus the title). He petulantly fires his own lawyer firm ( because it is a Jewish firm doing his defence pro bono as a part of the charity) and resolves to fight on by himself.

When he has spent seven years in prison and his death sentence seems imminent, a young lawyer (I did not say there was no rookie lawyer in the book!) takes up his fight on behalf of the same company that Sam rejected. His name is Adam Hall. We learn that he is the grandson of Sam, through Sam’s estranged son Eddie, who did not agree with the violent and partisan beliefs of Sam and moved away from him, going so far as to change his name. He commits suicide, leaving his family devastated. Eddie’s sister, Lee, became Lee Carman after marrying a wealthy industrialist, but could not escape depression and guilt due to her father’s past and its childhood influences on her. She became an alcoholic and ended up living alone, divorced from her husband. Adam and his sister, Connie, are protected by Eddie from even knowing about Sam in their childhood and Adam learns of it only when Eddie kills himself.

Adam battles family history, learns secrets that makes him despise his grandfather even more, and is yet determined to save him, with the help of Garner Goodman, the experienced lawyer who had represented Sam before.

The story has several subplots and is told well: Adam learning the sad truth about his family and grandfather; Discovery of Lee and the new family Adam finds, and the subsequent discovery of the deep trauma in Lee and her alcoholism; the brilliant campaign by Adam and Garner Goodman to save Sam; Sam’s change of views and his reaction to his own death undergoing changes slowly; Adam’s own family history unfolding slowly – all of these come out very well.

The story is fascinating and shows the horrors of living in the Death Row very well. It shows the hopelessless of the  situation, the reaction of fellow inmates when they learn that Sam’s execution date has been set. It also involves Nugent, a pompous prison Warden, McAllister, a scheming, populist governer and other interesting characters.

The end is really moving, and is well told. John Grisham’s technique of telling the crime as it happened creates a wave of hatred for Sam in the minds of the reader but conveys the situation of the crime in a convincing manner. To turn that hatred around to pity and compassion for the same man towards the end of the book is a real mark of a very gifted writer and John achieves this remarkable feat.

I think that all in all, it is a great book. There are moments in there where the story seems to stall a bit but never for long. It is a good read, if you like Grisham’s style and is a fan already. I would say a 7/10 will not be out of place for this book.

— Krishna

April 5, 2012

Book: The Client by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:44 am

A satisfying read. The story takes off right from the beginning, almost from the first page onwards. Mark Sway, with his brother Rickie Sway is hiding in a park trying to smoke a prohibited cigarette, when fate throws him a curve ball. A down and out lawyer commits suicide in a car in front of him, but not before telling him a terrible secret. This secret puts both the FBI and a criminal gang in pursuit of Mark.

Mark’s brother lands in the hospital due to shock and his mom loses a job because she has to be near Rickie. That’s when Mark sneaks out and hires a lawyer to ‘help him’. The lawyer, Reggie Love, has been practicing all of four months!

With the FBI trying not-so-ethical methods to get him to speak, and with the mob snapping at his heels, Mark feels lost and confused. If he tells the Feds what he knows, he will be killed by the mob in revenge. If he does not, he may be thrown in jail for obstruction of justice. Even his lawyer does not want to know exactly what he was told!

The characters sparkle in the story and the little vein of humour one noticed in The Rainmaker  (Reviewed here before) seems to pervade this story too. The suspense is kept up throughout and the spectacular legal pyrotechnics are there too. In contrast, this one does have a satisfying ending, unlike the limp ending of his earlier Rainmaker.

The story is tautly told, with interesting characters populating thestory (Judge Harry for instance, and Momma Love) to keep it intereting.

A good read and it definitely deserves a 7/10

— Krishna

March 29, 2012

Book: The Rainmaker by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:11 am

Not to be confused with the Rain Man movie, of course.

The story revolves around Rudy Baylor, a young law student who is about to write his final year law exam, and is worried about whether he will get through his final exam and about where he will find a job.

When he undertakes a community service activity as a part of the law course, he ‘advises’, under the watchful eyes of his professor, some clients who are too poor to hire a lawyer of their own. One of them turns out to be a Mrs Bird, who confides in him that she is worth twelve million dollars!

Another of the clients is Donny Ray, who is dying of cancer. He needs a bone marrow transplant, and the insurance company, Great Benefit, does not grant, as it is not “covered by the policy”.

When Rudy Baylor finds that he has no job and that the only job he briefly managed to get was so that Mrs Bird’s case could be snatched away from him, he joins a shady underworld type lawyer who happened to dispense legal advise to the owner of the bar which he worked for part time.

When the pair also disappears, fleeing from the law, Rudy is once again on the streets, with the two cases he garnered from the charity work, and with an assistant who cannot pass the bar exam no matter how many times he has tried!

Now, this story is told in a humorous style, with a self deprecating undertone that very well describes the anxieties of a law student, the uncertainty about the future, and the disillusion that sets in when the ideals of the law as taught by his university clash with the realities of the lawyer’s life.

It is a great fun to read, and the major courtroom battle he embarks on is a lot of fun to read.

I did not like the ending, as I thought that it was a ‘cop out’ and did not fit the rest of the book, which was wonderful. A romantic interest seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought.

All in all, a nice read. I would recommend it as a first book to those of you who want to try out Grisham. (No Grisham fan would have missed this book, I bet).

So, I would give it a 7/10

— Krishna

March 20, 2012

Book: The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:18 am

One of the best known books by John Grisham. If you know John’s books, you will also know that it is written in a lighter style. The story’s purpose is to entertain. Again, almost always set in the legal world which John Grisham, as a real life lawyer, knows well.

The story is about Darby Shaw, who is a law student and is in a relationship with a much older professor at the same Law School, Thomas Callaghan. She develops a theory – a brief – about the gruesome murder of two Supreme Court judges, and later, she and Tom both discard the theory as ‘not practical’. Tom, impressed with the way the brief is written, passes it on to a friend in FBI (a lawyer friend of his) who passes it on to the FBI chief Voyles, since he does not have time enough to prepare a serious report. The chief, with his own axe to grind against the President, passes it on to the President and his autocratic adviser and power-behind-the-throne guy Coales.

I personally thought that the story moved slowly until the bomb blast in the car, but that could have been just me.

All hell breaks lose when Darby Shaw is targeted for killing and Thomas ends up getting killed. Suddenly she is on the run and fights to stay alive against an all powerful mafia that claims the life of the FBI lawyer friend of Thomas as well.

Suddenly the report she has discarded as ‘far fetched’, and known as the ‘Pelican Brief’  seems to be uncomfortably close to the bulls eye!

Add in an internationally acclaimed killer called Khamel (based by Carlos?), a billionaire with a dream of making even more money, rivalry between spy services of US, a President who is more concerned with image and a chance to play Golf than in serious administration issues, and you have a potent mixture.

Interestingly woven story, taut, but no food for thought. Just go for the ride.

Let us say 6/10

— Krishna

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