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(Jump over to read a review of Skipping Christmas)
(Reviewed by Kam Aures OCT 21, 2003)
"The road to Rake Field ran beside the school, past the old band hall and tennis courts, through a tunnel of two perfect red and yellow maples planted and paid for by the boosters, then over a small hill to a lower area covered with enough asphalt for a thousand cars. The road stopped in front of an immense gate of brick and wrought iron that announced the presence of Rake Field, and beyond the gate was a chain-link fence that encircled the hallowed ground. On Friday nights, the entire town of Messina waited for the gate to open, then rushed to the bleachers, where seats were claimed and nervous pre-game rituals were followed."
Fifteen years after he had been an All-American quarterback on this very field, Neely Crenshaw is returning to Messina for a vigil for Coach Eddie Rake's impending death. Eddie Rake represents the Messina Spartan football dynasty. He coached the team for thirty-four years and during that time he boasted an impressive record of 418 wins, 62 losses and 13 state titles.
Every night for the past week, Rabbit, the assistant athletic director turns on the field lights as a tribute to this town hero. The lights will turn off when Eddie Rake passes on. One by one, former Spartan players trickle in to sit in the bleachers. As old friends reunite and different generations become acquainted, the former team members relive old games and ponder over their love-hate relationship with Coach Rake. They play an audio tape of one game in particular that stirs a lot of memories and emotions in all of the players that were involved. It was the 1987 Championship Game versus East Pike. At the half, the Spartans were losing the game with a score of 0-31. Something, however, had happened in the locker room during halftime. When the team returned to the field, not one of the coaches made an appearance. The reason why was unknown to anyone except for the players -- until now, fifteen years later, secret is finally revealed.
This was not the only controversy surrounding Rake's career at Messina. Rake was known for his grueling practice sessions and one day he pushed too far. In 1992, Scotty Reardon, a sophomore, was running one of Coach Rake's torturous bleacher exercises and collapsed and died. The cause of death was ruled to be heat stroke and Coach Rake was fired from his coaching position after the incident.
Rake was a very controversial coach and the mixed views expressed by the players toward him is interesting as Grisham draws out his character. Grisham's writing style really makes us feel like we were a part of Messina Spartan football during the "glory days." When he writes about moments in games past, it is so detailed and descriptive that the reader is able to get a clear picture of the circumstances and of the events that took place. Coming from a small town where high school football was a big part of my life, I could truly relate to this novel and found it interesting. As it is a rather short novel, for the most part it made for a very fast read; however, there were some parts of the story that seemed to drag a little. As far as John Grisham's writing is concerned, I do not feel that Bleachers is one of his better works. I yearn for more of the "old John Grisham," the legal thrillers and courtroom dramas like The Firm, Runaway Jury and The Pelican Brief. In my opinion Grisham is the best author in that genre and should return to writing those types of novels.
- Amazon readers rating: from 536 reviews
Read an excerpt from Bleachers at the author's website
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"The King of Torts"
(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran FEB 20, 2003)
Some would also say that Grisham has been off his game as of late. His last two books, The Summons and Skipping Christmas did not meet with the universal acclaim from his long-term readership. Perhaps it is because he has been trying something different, which I think is somewhat justified considering they were his 13th and 14th books respectively in less than 20 years. King of Torts is a little different also. Yes, there's still the hard-driving but ambitious young lawyer who is at the center of so many Grisham novels. In this case, it's Clay Carter, low paid grunt worker in Washington D.C.'s Office of the Public Defender. What's different is that we don't see Clay rising above all odds to help his client or triumphing over his nefarious partners. What we do see is the slow unraveling of a character consumed by greed.
Clay starts out as likable, he's hardworking and committed to bringing his mostly impoverished and drug-addicted clients a fair shake in the legal world. He's vaguely dissatisfied though, both with work and with his girlfriend, Rebecca whose aggressive parents keep pushing for a permanent partnership. We never really see Clay and Rebecca's relationship in a functional light, although their reputed love is one of the prime plot devices in the later part of the book. After being tossed, unfairly in his eyes, a seemingly random murder case, Clay is visited by a Mephistophelean character who calls himself Max Pace. Pace has evidence that Clay's case is not random but is rather the result of a drug Clay's client, along with several others who also committed murder, took while in rehab, a drug that causes random and uncontrollable rage. Pace offers to help Clay leave OPD and set up his own law practice so he can get the murder victims a quick settlement, and in the meantime take a huge payoff from the drug company.
From there it's but a few short steps until Clay is dubbed "The King of Torts" by a local magazine. Pace feeds Clay tips from drug companies and Clay launches class action lawsuits aimed at the manufacturers and their insurance companies. Think breast implants, or the diet drug fen-phen in the real world. This was the most interesting part of the book, seeing how these slimy mass tort attorneys really operate. It boils down to threatening a huge company with a lawsuit, forcing it to settle, then dividing the settlement (minus attorney fees of course) between all the plaintiffs. Those attorney fees are at the heart of Clay's undoing. He goes from earning less than $40,000 to raking in over $100 million, all without setting foot in a single courtroom. Along with the money goes all the accouterments of the fabulously wealthy, a Georgetown townhouse, a Porsche Carrera, and a Eurasian girlfriend, Rebecca having dumped him to marry "the worm," as Clay calls him.
It is when Clay buys his own private plane, a Gulf Stream G-4 with "leather, mahogany, and brass trim everywhere. A kitchen, a bar and restroom in the rear; the latest avionics up front for the pilots," that you know Clay is about to meet his maker, so to speak. Throughout the book as a matter of fact, Grisham strings in enough ominous warnings about the perils of money that you know it is only a matter of how hard and how fast Clay will fall. Fall he does of course but Grisham still likes his characters well enough to force them into any really dark outcome, which leaves the reader somewhat unsatisfied, as if he couldn't really make up his mind how to end the book. We are more clear, however, about Grisham's view of the mass tort system. He has one seemingly honest attorney recount, "Class actions are a fraud . . .Mass torts are a scam, a consumer rip-off, a lottery driven by greed that will one day harm all of us . . .The people who'll get harmed are all the future plaintiffs out there, all the little people who won't be able to sue for bad products because you boys have screwed up the law."
This is not the thriller I was expecting, but still I enjoyed it well enough and as I think so will his fans, except say maybe tort lawyers. They're all probably off in the Caribbean
anyway, sailing around on their newest yacht.
- Amazon readers rating: from 642 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The King of Torts at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- A Time to Kill (1988)
- The Firm (1991)
- The Pelican Brief (1992)
- The Client (1993)
- The Chamber (1994)
- The Rainmaker (1995)
- The Runaway Jury (1996)
- The Partner (1997)
- The Street Lawyer (1998)
- The Testament (1999)
- The Brethen (2000)
- A Painted House (2001)
- Skipping Christmas (2001)
- The Summons (2002)
- The King of Torts ( 2003)
- Bleachers (2003)
- The Last Juror (2004)
- The Broker (2005)
- Playing for Pizza (2007)
- The Appeal (2008)
- The Associate (2009)
- Ford Country: Stories (2009)
- The Confession (2010)
- The Litigators (2011)
- The Racketeer (2012)
- Sycamore Row (October 2013)
Theodore Boone series:
- Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (2010)
- Theodore Boone: The Abduction (2011)
- Theodore Boone: The Accused (2012)
- Theodore Boone: The Activist (May 2013)
Movies from Books:
- The Firm (1993)
- The Pelican Brief (1993)
- The Client (1994)
- A Time to Kill (1996)
- The Chamber (1996)
- The Rainmaker (1997)
and an original screenplay:
- The Gingerbread Man (1997)
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- Visit the official Web site of John Grisham
- MostlyFiction.com review of Skipping Christmas
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Broker
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Confession
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About the Author:
John Grisham was born in 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas; his father was a construction worker, his mother a homemaker. He majored in accounting at Mississippi State University and after graduating from law school in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.
One day at the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.
Then he began his second novel, The Firm. He became an overnight success when he sold the rights to Paramount Pictures for $600,000. The Firm also became the bestselling novel of 1991. The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller.
Grisham publishes one novel a year and six of his novels of been turned into films. He also wrote the original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.
Grisham lives with his wife Renee and their two children, Ty and Shea. The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm in Mississippi and a plantation near Charlottesville, VA.