Tidewater Review - March 2012

The Litigators

reviewed by

Anne Stinson

The Litigators by John Grisham. Doubleday. 383 pp. $28.95.
There are rich lawyers and poor lawyers. Grisham opens his novel with the latter group – “a boutique firm,” as its partners call it. The firm specializes in two things: quickie divorces and DUIs. The staff also numbers two: Finley and Figg, a mismatched pair of losers who work out of a bungalow in a seedy part of Chicago.
Finley and Figg bicker constantly. Two other live creatures round out the rumpled unit – Rochelle, who answers the phone, shields the men from angry clients and bill collectors; and the resident dog, who shields the office from nightime thieves, arsonists and drunks. The dog’s formal name is Ambulance Chaser, AC for short. He’s always the first to hear the siren of an ambulance and alerts anyone in the office to dash into the street to sign up a client before the competition beats them to it.
Setting up a contrast, Grisham segues to the other extreme, the rich lawyer. David Zinc’s job in a corporate legal firm with 600 lawyers is cubicled into two floors of a downtown building. David, a boyish 32-year-old, is a Harvard Law School graduate who is in a crisis.
Put simply, he doesn’t want to go to work. For the last five years he’s been slaving over 100-hour work weeks, stressful demands, office politics and frustration. He’s never been assigned to follow a case in a real courtroom. He doesn’t have any time to spend with his adored wife. It’s time for David to bolt!
That’s a big step. Well, not too big. Just around the corner is a small pub with a sympathetic owner/bartender named Abner. Abner recognizes the signs of human crisis. Clearly, David needs to get drunk, and that’s Abner’s long suit.
He takes good care of David, feeds him breakfast, then lunch and all afternoon he monitors David’s drinks and naps. Just before 5 o’clock, Abner rouses David gently, tells him to go home and sleep it off. Tomorrow he can come back and settle his tab. Abner is a real gentleman.
All this action is in the first 34 of 383 pages, mind you. Not to spoil the tempo of the book, still, this is just the backdrop of sly humor.
The reader will want to stop and read the pages again that paint a wonderful encounter as David strikes up a conversation with an ancient dowager (age 93) on a bar stool close to his seat. His opening gambit? “Do you come here often?” It’s the first hint that Grisham is setting up a wild ride for everybody.
Shooed out by Abner just before Happy Hour, David is in a taxi, too intoxicated to have made any plans, but he sees a billboard with a big ad for F&F law firm. That solves his immediate problem, giving him an answer to the cabby’s repeated query, “Where to, sir?” Hence, they plunge into the down-scale underbelly of Chicago and stop at the front porch of F&F, the “boutique” law firm.
As David stumbles through the door, AC is howling and barking hysterically at the wail of an ambulance. David collides with AC, Oscar (Finley) and Wally (Figg) in their dash to the street and their haste to sign up eyewitnesses, perps and victims before their neighboring competitors grab the case.
David catches the attention of both F&F partners by picking up a hunk of metal from the collision and yelling that he’ll use it on anybody who tries to interfere with “Our” ownership of the case.
It’s been an exhausting day for David. He has walked away from his $300,000-a-year job, stayed drunk all day and talked himself into another job with unknown (if any) salary. After five miserable years at Rogan Rothberg’s (R&R’s) sweatshop, the pace and quirky attitudes at F&F render David ecstatic.
It doesn’t take long to learn the ropes. Oscar is the pessimist, the grouch with a nagging, disagreeable wife. Wally is the unreliable optimist, often manic about a great idea that will make them all rich and a maddening habit of cheap tacky advertising schemes like having their firm’s prices printed on Bingo! cards.
Because of the constant bickering between the partners, the person who really runs the office is Rochelle, who lives in the neighborhood and loves her job because it keeps her away from her noisy apartment. She controls the phone, so she makes the rules and keeps the peace, more or less.
Oscar is interested in the failing health of a Burmese child, the son of his friends. The little boy has brain damage from lead painted toys. Wally is trying to locate enough victims of Krayoox, a dangerous medicine with fatal side effects, so the F&F firm can sue the pharmaceutical company that makes it. David is involved in both searches.
They’ve never had a big trial before, so they blunder through preparations, hiring a doctor whose total occupation is testifying in favor of the side that pays the most. His reputation, David hears, is so shady you wouldn’t trust him to prescribe lip balm.
Dr. Borzov is only one of the hazards involved in a mass tort case. The big Pharma that makes Krayoox has hired the biggest star defense lawyer in the crowd at R&R, David’s old firm. She is a gorgeous woman, and a brilliant veteran of the courtroom. Oscar and Wally are nowhere to be found, and David is left holding the bag.
It’s classic John Grisham at his magic tricks again, constructing a torture cage for the hapless good guy. All the chips are piled against him. His goose is cooked. And then Grisham yanks off the sparkly silk cloth, and ... POOF!
As the author has done in 22 previous novels, the climax in The Litigators is not what the reader anticipates. Indeed, the reader is temporarily confused – did the good guys win or lose? Or neither? Or both?
For a lively dinner party, in advance, ask your favorite litigators to read this delightful novel before the dinner date and then quiz them (between the soup and the fish course) on its veracity - or its literary license. Or just have fun with it over pizza. Grisham’s pretty mellow.

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.