Picks and Pans Review: The Client
Ever since Grisham turned himself into a one-man mystery factory (four books in five years), his fans have been waiting for the inevitable downslide. Well, this book isn't it.
For starters, it's not a true mystery: The crime, the motive, the criminal are all immediately revealed. The suspense comes from a formidable array of characters far quirkier and more endearing than any Grisham has previously presented. Indeed there are times when it seems the author has been reading Elmore Leonard.
At the heart of the novel is 11-year-old Mark Sway. A wily survivor, Sway lives with his chain-smoking single mother and his younger brother in a Memphis trailer park. Years ago he helped Morn get rid of the father who had battered them all. These days he watches too much TV and sneaks too many smokes—and it's a combination of both that gets him into trouble.
When brother Ricky, 8, blackmails Mark into taking him down to the woods for Ricky's first cigarette, the two become unwitting witnesses to a suicide. But first Mark tries to prevent it and in doing so, gains access to a dreadful secret. Before lawyer Jerome Clifford puts a gun to his head, he tells Mark where his client, Barry "the Blade" Muldanno, has buried the body of a U.S. Senator. That's info the FBI and a highly ambitious New Orleans district attorney desperately need—whether or not revealing it puts Mark and his family in jeopardy.
With his brother thrown into shock by the experience in the woods, and his mother, as usual, unable to cope, Mark is on his own. Until, that is, he hires Reggie Love, a middle-aged female lawyer whose life has been, if possible, more miserable than his own.
How Love and Sway, relying on her determination and his knowledge of cop shows, outwit both the Mob and the lawmen makes for amusing—if somewhat nerve-racking—reading. Though The Client lacks the page-turning drama of The Firm and The Pelican Brief, it more than compensates with a newfound Grisham humor and slapstick energy. And in Reggie Love, Grisham has created a truly memorable heroine, and one well worth a return visit. (Doubleday, $23.50)