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The Client (1993)

by John Grisham

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,86373623 (3.62)47
#1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLER Eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother are sharing a forbidden cigarette when a chance encounter with a suicidal lawyer leaves Mark knowing a bloody and explosive secret: the whereabouts of the most-sought-after dead body in America. Now Mark is caught between a legal system gone mad and a mob killer desperate to cover up his crime. And his only ally is a woman named Reggie Love, who has been a lawyer for all of four years. Prosecutors are willing to break all the rules to make Mark talk. The mob will stop at nothing to keep him quiet. And Reggie will do anything to protect her client--even take a last, desperate gamble that could win Mark his freedom . . . or cost them both their lives.… (more)
  1. 20
    Defending Jacob by William Landay (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These legal thrillers are heavy hitters with emotional depth, developed characters, and frightening revelations. In both, the plot revolves around a young boy's involvement in a murder investigation and trial.
  2. 10
    My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (ShannonMDE)
    ShannonMDE: I think My Sister's Keeper had the feel of early John Grisham back when he wrote about people instead of corporations.
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Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
A story of lawyers, judges, courts, police and the Mafia. Sounds ominous but in reality is a comedy, at times frustrating. ( )
  delta61 | May 29, 2022 |
Great book! ( )
  staceyftwo | May 3, 2022 |
John Grisham

The Client

Arrow, Paperback [1993].

12mo. 458 pp.

First published, 1993.
Arrow edition, 1993.
8th printing per number line, undated.

=============================================

The movie brought me here. I had some hopes the novel would improve on its fanciful story and flat characters. And it did. Compared to A Time to Kill (1989) and The Pelican Brief (1992), The Client is a step back. But even its dullest pages are more gripping than the finest scenes in the movie.

Some massively implausible moments remain on paper as well, unfortunately. The major one is the cartoonish gangsters. These are the same soft pals from the movie. What’s the big deal about whacking a kid? Some mob! Everybody, not just Mark, is scared of these guys; the cops, the FBI, even Judge Roosevelt. And they are really not that scary. Switchblade threats and burned trailers, indeed! Really dangerous people don’t make threats or give warnings. They act. And if they are really good, you don’t have time to be scared. In defence of the novel, Paul Gronke is endowed with some spark of decency. He is a thug all right, a master of extortion, but not a mafia man and not a killer. Barry Muldanno is supposed to be both, and he is a comic rather than a scary figure. Dumb as he may be, quite unnecessarily hiding the body of the US senator murdered by him, Barry should be at least a ruthless killer. Had he been one, however, there would have been no novel.

Other great defects that remain are the Truth Trope and the Corpse Comedy. Both are better handled in the novel than in the movie, yet both still derail the book into the realms of fantasy.

The movie does take the Fifth Amendment, but the novel clearly explains why this is not an option (briefly, because Mark isn’t accused of any crime; he just has relevant information about one). It is never really explained, however, just how serious a crime perjury is. Because people lie. A lot. In general, people lie their heads off. Many of them, probably most of them, would have no trouble lying under oath in court unless they are likely to be punished for that. That lying in court is far from being unusual is confirmed even by the greatest insiders. “I believe nothing,” says Judge Harry Roosevelt from Juvenile Court, “until it is told to me, under oath, in my courtroom, and then I believe about ten percent of it.” (How could you not love that guy?) Despite some vivid descriptions what a relief it is to tell the truth after many lies, the Truth Trope is anything but convincing on the whole. It’s obvious why Grisham used it, though. As with the Meek Mob, there would have been no novel without it.

As for the Corpse Comedy, meaning the attempt of Mark and Reggie to play gravediggers if not body snatchers, it is by far the most senseless part of the plot. Here, indeed, Grisham ought to have thought of something better. The whole thing drags quite a bit and finally becomes a farce. It is not a grand example of our fundamental irrationality. It is merely an example of our stupidity; perhaps an even more fundamental characteristic, but not one to relish at the climax of a thriller. The fact that both characters are aware they are making no sense doesn’t really help the matter:

‘This is completely crazy, Mark’
‘I know. It’s been a bad week.’


Lots of new stuff in the novel makes it superior to, if not more believable than, the movie. Some of it is relevant only to the plot, for example the background of Senator Boyette and his incidentally fatal connection to Barry Muldanno. This is almost a short story on its own. But most of these bonus tracks Grisham saves for the characters. This is where the novel differs most significantly from the movie.

Mark Sway is far more compelling than the brat version on the screen. He is really remarkably mature for an 11-year-old; occasionally almost too mature, one is tempted to add. Mark’s role in the family scandals is made much more explicit than in the movie and goes a long way to explain this early maturity. Smashing your father’s face with a baseball bat is quite an experience to have at the age of seven. Some crying and lots of television culture are included to remind us that Mark is, after all, just a kid. That he is not an ordinary kid is most tellingly shown in a few passages of which neither the screenwriters nor Brad Renfro knew anything whatsoever. For example:

Mark was a thinker, a worrier, and when sleep came and went or wouldn’t come at all, he went for long secret walks. He learned much. He wore dark clothing and moved like a thief through the shadows of Tucker Wheel Estates. He witnessed petty crimes of theft and vandalism, but he never told. He saw lovers sneak from windows. He loved to sit on the hill above the park on clear nights and enjoy a quiet smoke. The fear of getting caught by his mother had vanished years ago. She worked hard and slept sound.

He was not afraid of strange places.


Reggie Love is also a stronger character, at least from a professional point of view, than the somewhat awkward and mincing creature in the movie. The subplot with the president of the “sweatshop” whom Reggie threatens to sue for everything from unlawful discharge to sexual harassment is unique to the novel and a powerful illustration of her legal prowess. From a personal point of view, Grisham could have done better. We are told Reggie is very frank about her personal trials and tribulations, but we are not shown that. Others spin the yarns about her ill-fated marriage, delinquent children and close encounters with unhealthy substances. The relationship with Mark is less prominent, but also more honest from the beginning, than in the movie. There is a fair share of weeping, yet, somehow, no overdose of melodrama.

The Reverend Roy Foltrigg, “a political whore whose only talent with the law was in the courtroom where he preached to juries and quoted scripture”, is also less prominent but more memorable than his screen version. Grisham achieves rare balance here. The Reverend is a richly comic figure, not least because he is completely devoid of sense of humour and blissfully unaware what a pompous fool he is. On the other hand, Grisham will convince you that the Reverend Roy, for all of his antics, is not a man you’d want to mess up with, especially not when a big murder trial is at stake. For one thing, he has a hot line to the FBI director Voyles (yes, the same guy from The Pelican Brief; this is the Grisham universe); for another, when it comes to legal troublemaking, his tenacity should not be underestimated. Unlike the movie, however, the Reverend is not at all redeemed in the end. Grisham is bolder than his screenwriters.

Mark’s mother is not the zany dame from the movie, either. She’s older and more mature than the hysterical teenager (mentally at least) in the movie. Several very minor characters were rightly skipped in the movie but do make an impression in the novel. One such is Slick Moeller, a tabloid hack who knows more than the police and never betrays a source. You may despise his nosiness, but you must admire his skill; in short: the archetypal version of morally ambiguous character. Nothing like this is Willis Upchurch, a lawyer (sort of) who makes even the Reverend look like a paragon of virtue:

He took only sensational cases with lots of headlines and cameras. Nothing was too repulsive for him. He preferred rich clients who could pay, but if a serial killer needed help, Upchurch would be there with a contract giving himself exclusive book and movie rights.

[...]

He grinned at himself in the mirror as he tied his ninety-dollar tie and thought of spending the next six months in New Orleans with the press at his beck and call.

This is why he went to law school!


One last thing that impressed me in this novel but not in the previous two I’ve read by the same author. This is the atmospheric description of places. St Peter’s Charity Hospital, an “architectural horror” built over the years without rhyme or reason, is almost a character of its own. The same might be said of the Juvenile Court, inextricably linked with the career of Harry Roosevelt, yet a place rather special, “a converted high school blocks away from downtown with little parking and few janitors and more cases per judge than any other docket in the world [...] the unwanted stepchild of the judicial system.” Had he been a science-fiction writer, Grisham might have written a modern dystopian classic in which the world is reduced to nothing but an endless series of courtrooms in which litigation, the major occupation of the human race, flourishes beyond belief. He almost did here for a page or so, meanwhile providing us with a priceless glimpse into Judge Roosevelt’s mind:

The higher courts were still there, and Harry Roosevelt was still here, in the deteriorating building known simply as Juvenile Court. There were much nicer courthouses in Memphis. On Main Street the Federal Building, always the newest in town, housed the elegant and stately courtrooms. The federal boys always had the best – rich carpet, thick leather chairs, heavy oak tables, plenty of lights, dependable air conditioning, lots of well-paid clerks and assistants. A few blocks away, the Shelby County Courthouse was a beehive of judicial activity as thousands of lawyers roamed its tiled and marbled corridors and worked their way through well-preserved and well-scrubbed courtrooms. It was an older building, but a beautiful one with paintings on the walls and a few statues scattered about. Harry could have had a courtroom over there, but he said no. And not far away was the Shelby County Justice Center with a maze of fancy new modern courtrooms with bright fluorescent lights and sound systems and padded seats. Harry could have had one of those too, but he turned it down.

Harry remained to roam “the roach-infested corridors” of the Juvenile Court Building. Because he genuinely believes that improving the lives of abused children is the most important job in the world. One may be doubted if he always conduct the sordid affairs of the Juvenile Court with “a great deal dignity”. But one may be reasonably sure he always achieves the best results under the circumstances. This is yet another place where the novel makes the movie non-existent. Harry appears briefly on the screen, most notably to correct the Reverend’s quote from the Bible, and we learn very little if anything about his character or career.

Grisham’s legal coverage is vast in every direction, be it buildings or people. At the one end of the spectrum are people like Reggie Love and Harry Roosevelt who would work for little or nothing to see justice done. These deserve admiration; even if sometimes their methods are questionable and their arrogance off the scales, their ideas of justice are sound and, on the whole, likely to increase the total of human happiness. At the other end are people like Roy Foltrigg and Willis Upchurch, mere publicity stunts and the greatest legal scum imaginable. Grisham regards them with a healthy dose of delicious sarcasm that barely hides his contempt.

There were times, while reading, when I had a feeling Grisham was about to lose himself in that maze of subplots, locations, minor characters and legal details. Now and then, it seemed he would fail to maintain the pace and the tension. But he never did. Suspension of disbelief is required throughout, occasionally in rather high doses, but nevertheless The Client is a fine piece of fiction: consistently entertaining, often thought-provoking, occasionally (and rather unexpectedly) moving. ( )
  Waldstein | Apr 22, 2022 |
Ugh, this was so so bad. I cannot count how many times I wanted to scream 'just fucking lie!!!!". Just fucking lie and all this mess doesn't happen. What is this idiotic decision making and 'oh no you cannot lie in court (because apparently you'll be struck by lightning or smth the moment you do); instead let everyone know that you KNOW this horrible secret and live your life in fear forever, that's much better than one fucking tiny lie'. UGH. ( )
  alissee | Dec 8, 2021 |
Not my favorite Grisham book by a long shot. I've found most of his books engaging, but this one just wasn't believable. It's a Disney made-for-TV type of book, or probably just a good book for the Young Adult crowd. The book's hero is an 11-year old boy, and his dialog and and his manner of interacting with adults is too unbelievable. He goes out and hires a lawyer on his own, he tells off the FBI, takes on the Mafia, tells his 52 year old lawyer what to do, etc. I just wasn't buying most of it. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
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Mark was eleven and had been smoking off and on for two years, never trying to quit but being careful not to get hooked.
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#1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLER Eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother are sharing a forbidden cigarette when a chance encounter with a suicidal lawyer leaves Mark knowing a bloody and explosive secret: the whereabouts of the most-sought-after dead body in America. Now Mark is caught between a legal system gone mad and a mob killer desperate to cover up his crime. And his only ally is a woman named Reggie Love, who has been a lawyer for all of four years. Prosecutors are willing to break all the rules to make Mark talk. The mob will stop at nothing to keep him quiet. And Reggie will do anything to protect her client--even take a last, desperate gamble that could win Mark his freedom . . . or cost them both their lives.

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