Book review: The Litigators by John Grisham

The Litigators
by John Grisham
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011

The Litigators is a book of contrasts. Young lawyer David Zinc has had enough of the corporate grindstone and literally runs away from his job at a prestigious Chicago law firm and by chance winds up at Finley & Figg, a two-bit (or “boutique” as its owners call it) ambulance-chasing outfit where advertising is done on bingo cards. David helps his new friends snag a client in a car wreck, whereupon they offer him a job even though he’s never seen the inside of a courtroom. David’s new life contains no money and a constant reminder of what he’s let himself in for when he sees how his new colleagues operate (lower than low). But his new employment is refreshing compared with the evils he’s left behind, and everything begins to go right for him in his personal life.

As well as many wickedly funny contrasts between corporate greed and simple survivalist greed, this tale is one of two law cases. Wally Figg, always looking for the megabucks, gets involved in a massive tort action against a drug company. David, on the other hand, meets a friend of his wife’s whose maid’s little boy is in a coma, possibly a result of poisoning from lead toys. The differences in approach of Wally and David are extreme, leading to perhaps rather predictable outcomes (in both cases, a bit of an anticlimax after great build-ups).

The Litigators is a very easy read, full of fascinating insider legal details, crafty strategies, and glimpses of the horrifyingly corrupt life at the top of America’s big businesses and their legal “minders” as well as all their surrounding sharks – exactly the sort of book one would expect from John Grisham. The contempt lawyers have for their clients as people, from the top to the bottom of the barrel, is shocking. (The behaviour of clients is often not much better once they see the dollar signs flashing.) Less effective throughout is the characterisation, David and his wife being particularly bland.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Read other reviews of The Litigators at: The Observer, The Washington Post, Bookreporter, and Mysteries and More from Saschatchewan (by Bill Selnes, a lawyer).

19 thoughts on “Book review: The Litigators by John Grisham

  1. I’ve never read a John Grisham I have to say, not watched any of the films. My library always has plenty of copies though and I see them being borrowed all the time. The contempt the lawyers have for their clients reminds me of the Goldman Sachs ‘muppets’ comment. A bit sad but not really surprising.

    • One nice thing about his books is that he is always firmly on the “liberal” side, using books to expose a lot of corrupt corporate practices. Yet the situations he portrays are not black & white. He’s great to read, though some of his books are inferior to others. This particular one is quite a good, typical example. And indeed, I thought of that Goldman Sachs affair as I was reading this novel.!

  2. Maxine – Thanks for the excellent review. One of the things I’ve liked about the Grisham novels I’ve read is the way he highlights what I think of as the social realities of litigation. He uses the law, too, as the context for discussing larger social issues. I’m glad you enjoyed this one even if the characters aren’t quite as fleshed out as you’d have liked.

  3. Very nice review. I haven’t read a Grisham in over a decade and this is as good as any a time to read some of his more recent books. A gripping storyteller, no doubt.

    • Thanks, Prashant. I haven’t read a Grisham for a few years either, as I’d gone off him a bit & his past few have been in different genres. But this one was in the library the other week and I’m glad I picked it up.

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  5. Maxine: As you might anticipate I noted the comment on lawyers having contempt for their clients! I do not believe there are more cynical lawyers than any other occupation that has clients, patrons or customers. I recently read another legal mystery, Felony Murder by Joseph T. Klempner, in which the lawyer went well beyond representing his clients. Most of Grisham’s lawyers have little grey. They are usually black and white. Another more balanced portrait of lawyers occurs in Robert Rotenberg’s mysteries.

    • Thanks, Bill, I shall look out for those books, as I haven’t read any by either author. I’m currently reading Defending Jacob by William Landay which is shaping up to be a very good legal mystery/drama.
      John Grisham does not have it in for all lawyers. In this particular book, David is a perfect knight of a lawyer! But I am sure you are right, that there are nasty people in all professions, as well as nice ones.

  6. I have read nearly all of John Grisham’s fiction, except for the last couple, only because I’ve expanded into global mysteries, thanks to the compelling blogs I’ve been reading for the last few years. I don’t think he has it in for lawyers, usually only for corporate or corrupt individuals or firms. In The Firm, he exposed a mob-related firm, but the hero is a young attorney. So, too, in The Rainmaker, where the attorney is representing a family which was betrayed by a health insurance company, and he exposes an enormous scam. That book is quite good, educational even and very witty.
    I learned a lot about the U.S. death penalty system through reading Grisham’s The Chamber. The defense attorneys and those who represent capital case defendants are portrayed quite well.
    There are many others with good portrayals of honest attorneys.
    This one sounds like a good book for a peaceful vacation weekend, if I can pull myself out of Scandinavia, Italy or away from Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, which I’ve just begun.

  7. Also, on Grisham, his portrayal of a principled woman lawyer, played well by Susan Sarandon, in the film of The Client, is compelling. She puts a child’s well-being above her own.
    And in his first book A Time to Kill, the lawyer is a good guy and so is the unfortunate law student. They are both people with integrity.

    • Thanks, Kathy, I enjoyed The Firm and The Rainmaker, and the one about the man who relocates to Bologna (mainly for the descriptions of Bologna) and one or two others. I hated The Chamber, though – could not bear the descriptions of excecutions, etc.

  8. I’ll tell you, Maxine, that although I have opposed the death penalty since I was old enough to think it through, Grisham’s book The Chamber clinched it. I probably skipped the worst scenes, as I usually do, but the descriptions of how the system works taught me quite a bit.
    The fact that sheriffs from throughout Mississippi come to celebrate executions, bring beer and food and cheer is something I’ll never forget.
    This is not a book I loan out to friends but it did play a role in my education on this issue, so I thank Grisham for that and hope that it influenced others, too.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I didn’t need to be convinced, I’ve been opposed to it since birth (!), so I found the book unnecessarily harrowing, even more so when I learned that the botched execution (that eventually “worked”) was based on a true incident, according to the author, who claimed not to have exaggerated anything. I think I also found that book did not work well as a piece of fiction, too “stacked” in favour of one view. Some of his other books work better from that point of view, though plotting has often been a weak point, eg the hilarious (unintentionally) The Pelican Brief.

    • I’ve always had a weakness for them. Loved Presumed Innocent (Scott Turow) but though I’ve read about 4 of his other books, he never bettered it in my opinion.

  9. Presumed Innocent was Turow’s best work, I concur.
    The “botched” execution is a true story. It happened in Florida. It’s happened more than once in the States. The Florida incident not only involved a “botched” execution, but if it’s the same story I read about recently, the person was innocent.
    There was a recent news story about a woman and her husband who were both arrested, convicted and then put on death row for years. Her spouse was executed. She languished on death row. Finally, the real culprit confessed. She was released after having spent years there, and having her parents raise her children. Then she went on to meet and marry a man who’d been on death row in Ireland. They now both live on a small farm in Ireland and travel in the U.S. and elsewhere speaking out against the death penalty. I saw them both on Democracy Now run by Amy Goodman.

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  11. I absolutely adored this book. After The Confession, it was good to see something a little more light-hearted and humourous by Grisham.

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