Book review: The appeal, by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My wife likes reading courtroom dramas and whodunits, so when I was looking for a birthday present for her this one seemed eligible. But John Grisham’s books are a bit of a lucky dip. His early novels, like A time to kill, The pelican brief and The client were very readable, and I read The Client twice, the second time after seeing the film.
But then he seemed to run out of inspiration, and some of his middle books were so boring that I couldn’t finish them. I suspect that he was under pressure from his publishers to produce and just wrote any sort of junk to get them off his back.
But this is one of his better ones. Perhaps he had more time to write it, and though it seemed a bit clichéd at first, it livened up after that. Yet it is neither a whodunit nor a courtroom drama. Most of the action takes place outside the courtroom, and you know whodunit because he planned it all beforehand. It’s about business, law and politics, and about a businessman’s attempt to circumvent the law by political manipulation after his firm is sured for dumping toxic waste. Normally I find that kind of thing quite depressing — the daily newspapers are always full of political sleaze like this. Grisham makes it look bad in America, but after 16 years in power the ANC in South Africa has descended to that level too, so it’s more than fiction, it reflects real life.
And in that respect it resembles The ugly American, which was a kind of exposé of American foreign policy, though after 50 years it doesn’t seem as though anyone has learnt very much from it, and a lot of people who use the phrase “the ugly American” don’t seem to realise that he was one of the good guys. Grisham does the same thing for the domestic political scene. Fiction, of course — none of this happened, and he made up the people the products, the places and the circumstances. But things like it happen. I suspect that in the days before the Internet I might have thought it pretty far-fetched, in a “you can’t fool all the people all the time” kind of way, but you can see exactly the same sentiments expressed by characters in the book being paraded on the internet as well.
Fiction, yes. But it is quite depressing to reflect that so much of it is true.