Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Runaway Jury: John Grisham

I have never read Grisham before and, seeing as the cover boasts that he is 'the world's most popular author', I thought I'd give this one a go. I enjoyed the film version but they clearly made some big changes to get it to the screen.
Being Grisham, this is a court-room thriller, or rather, it is a jury drama, as most of the focus is on the members of the jury. Nicholas Easter is clearly delighted to have been selected for jury service in a huge trial for liability and damages against a tobacco company. As the trial unfolds and the plaintiff attempts to prove that cigarettes are often too addictive for smokers to quit despite knowing the health risks, Easter and his mysterious accomplice, Marlee, gradually work at the other jury members until they are certain they can deliver a verdict whichever way they choose.
Marlee is in constant contact with one Rankin Fitch, a shadowy, manipulative figure who uses means both fair and foul to try and ensure that the tobacco company wins the case. If it were to lose the industry as a whole would be liable for endless further such cases and might be financially ruined. He is very interested, then, when Marlee contacts him to say that she can swing the vote his way, for the sum of ten million dollars.
This is the stepping off point for Grisham to leave the solid ground of the courtroom and postulate about all manner of skulduggery and manoeuvring most of which is frankly beyond the realms of the believable. Whereas the first hundred and fifty pages keep the focus tightly on the realities of such types of litigation cases, the remaining three hundred pages unravel the real and replace it with farcical, barely credible scenarios. Jury strikes - would a judge really tolerate such behaviour or would he be far more likely to threaten the jurors with contempt of court? The latter, surely. And as for Nick Easter's ability to escape the motel where the jury is eventually sequestered for the remainder of the trial, in the first place the security would be far heavier than described, and in the second he'd be facing criminal charges himself when caught.
Are all of Grisham's novels too long? I got the sense that this tale had been stretched a little too thinly in the end. Perhaps his publishers pay by the word. It is a shame that I came away feeling so disinterested with the novel as Grisham's actual writing style is good. He does not need to flaunt how clever he is for the reader, unlike Dan Brown, but he does manage to impart quite a lot of specialised knowledge. Maybe the problem for me is that this is not the sort of novel I generally read. Were I a regular thriller reader then perhaps I'd have been gripped throughout. As it was, I was gripped by the initial idea and then grew bored as things became more and more ridiculous. No wonder they changed the ending of the movie.

1 comment:

  1. Must be an enjoyable read The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.