Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Appeal – John Grisham

© 2008 Doubleday, New York

Welcome back, Mr. Grisham. The old saying is “Write what you know.” And John Grisham has finally taken that advice. Not to say the attorney/politician/author/little league coach knows nothing about Italy, pizza, or football, but after Playing for Pizza I was ready for one of Grisham’s crank ‘em out legal thrillers. The Appeal was just the ticket.

The entire city of Bowmore, the whole “Cancer County” of Cary County in southern Mississippi in fact, is waiting on pins and needles to hear the verdict in the case of Jeannette Baker vs. Krane Chemical. The story that follows is a roller coaster ride following the high of a record-setting judgement, and the appeal that ensues.

Good guys and bad guys are easy to spot in this tale of conspiracy and politics. Krane Chemical (and big industry altogether), led by the rich and unscrupulous Carl Trudeau are definitely bad guys. Struggling lawyers for the plaintiff Wes and Mary Grace Payton (of Payton & Payton) lead the entire victimized town of Bowmore as they fight against the evil empire of Krane who knowingly and willingly contaminated the drinking water of Cary County by illegally dumping toxic waste behind the Bowmore plant. Incidents of fatal cancer skyrocket in and around Bowmore literally killing the town. Jeannette Baker’s losses are greater than most losing both her husband and her son to the chemically induced cancer.

Upon the record-splitting judgment in favor of Mrs. Baker, Trudeau takes steps to purchase a Mississippi Supreme Court justice—through the shady avenue of judicial elections. Incumbent Sheila McCarthy is targeted and labeled as liberal, though her nine-year record shows her to be thoughtful and even in her pursuit of upholding Mississippi law from the bench.

Unknown Ron Fisk is chosen by a secret “election fixing” group to replace McCarthy in an effort to reduce the number of frivolous, high-liability lawsuits in the state. The book follows the original verdict and its fallout, through the election campaign that just happens to take place after the verdict but before the appeal can be heard by the Supreme Court. Finally, Grisham ties everything together in a short section that reveals the opinion of the Court. (Spoiler Alert) The question is will the new Justice, Fisk allow his emotions, his pocketbook, or his judicial understanding to win out?

The book reads easily, as with most of Grisham’s legal thrillers. It ends with more sense of resolution than some. Readers will find it either a refreshing getaway for a day or two, or will be angered by the outcome. The emotion of A Time to Kill is hinted at toward the end of the book, but not fully appreciated. Nice, fluffy summer fare—three and one-half reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, May 27, 2008

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