My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s interesting that I’d read John Grisham’s latest novel The Litigators just as the promotional blitz for the NBC series based on his first huge bestseller The Firm is kicking into gear. Based on what I recall of The Firm and having read the latest Grisham offering, I honestly think the premise of The Litigators has far more promise and potential as a weekly television series than The Firm does. (Of course, The Firm has name recognition and a Tom Cruise movie in its favor, so I can see why NBC might go for that over this one.)
With Grisham, it seems like every other novel these days is great and then the next one is kind of a disappointment. Unfortunately, it appears The Litigators is that next one that was kind of a disappointment.
It’s certainly not due to a lack of trying by Grisham. At this point, it’d be easy for him to go on auto-pilot and churn out a legal thriller a year following a standard formula as many big-name best selling authors are content to do (I’m looking at you James Patterson). Instead, Grisham seems willing to push new boundaries with his novels. In the case of The Litigators that push is toward a more satirical and humorous novel than many of his previous installments. And while that take works in the first several chapters, it begins to wear a bit thin by the middle third of the book and I rapidly found myself losing patience with the story down the home stretch.
It’s the story of a Finley & Figg, a lower scale firm that could best described as ambulance chasers. Wally Figg has always dreamed of the high risk, high reward work of class action law suits and when he stumbles onto a potential one involving a cholesterol drug from a pharmaceutical company with a history of settling before the trial hits the courtroom, he eagerly begins signing up cases. He also casts his lot with a big name litigation firm to try and put some fear into the company.
Onto the scene of Finley & Figg comes David Zinc, a young lawyer at a corporate firm. Riding the elevator to his 97th floor cubicle one morning, David decides he’s had enough and walks away. After a day spent drinking in a bar, he stumbles into Finley & Figg and takes a job there to find out the other side of being a lawyer.
Of course, there’s an inevitable worlds-colliding conflict from the two sides, from which much of the humor stems. But Grisham offers up more than just a bit of humor from his eccentric characters. He offers some real insight and commentary on the world of mass tort litigation and the positive and negative impacts of it. During the story, David stumbles across a potential lawsuit where someone has genuinely been harmed by corporate negligence and the world of litigation will have a positive impact on a family and the community instead of just being done for the sake of a quick profit via settlement. Those portions of the story are far more effective and interesting that the world of mass tort as seen through the drug company storyline. (And it’s also abundantly clear where Grisham’s sympathies are).
It’s just too bad that the novel isn’t better than the sum of its parts. During the middle and last third of the novel, I couldn’t’ help but wonder if this premise might be better served as a short story or novella.
It’s not a terrible book, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not quite up to the level we’ve seen from Grisham in his better works.
But the good news is that given his recent pattern, his next book should be a lot better.