Part of John Grisham's popularity no doubt can be traced to his skewering of the legal profession. Now he has shrewdly taken on another loathed group: the insurance industry.
Rudy Baylor, impoverished third-year law student, meets his future clients Dot and Buddy Black on a field trip that his class in Legal Problems of the Elderly (affectionately dubbed Geezer Law) takes to a Memphis senior center. Here he reads the Stupid Letter—wherein the Great Benefit insurance company refers to policyholder Dot Black as "stupid, stupid, stupid" for continuing to file a claim requesting a bone-marrow operation for her dying son. The letter will be key evidence in the David vs. Goliath lawsuit that Baylor soon files against Great Benefit.
A fully satisfying courtroom drama, The Rainmaker is most notable for its engagingly oddball characters. They include chain-smoking Dot and her nonverbal, "not right" husband, Buddy, who spends his days boozing in an old Ford Fairlane parked on their back lawn, and the ambulance-chasing attorney Bruiser Stone.
Grisham's writing has improved dramatically; passages in The Rainmaker are reminiscent of Pat Conroy. Only a subplot involving Baylor's crush on a battered wife seems strained. Still, this is Grisham's most barbed book since The Firm, and it is by far his most entertaining. (Doubleday, $25.95)