Grisham’s old devices still in great condition

A lawyer walks into a bar. Wait, wait, I’ve already heard this one. You probably have, too, as it’s one of the first scenes in the latest John Grisham novel, “The Litigators,” and one of the most frequent criticisms of Grisham is that all of his books are the same. We’ll get to that later.

Anyway. The lawyer, named David Zinc, is a Harvard Law School graduate who spent five years toiling in the sweatshop that is the big city corporate law firm, Rogan Rothberg. One day, the pressure overwhelms David and he literally runs out of Rogan Rothberg, deciding instead to spend the day celebrating his escape in a bar. After a long day of drinking, David hails a cab and somehow stumbles into the law firm Finley & Figg, the last place he ever expected to gain employment, but suddenly his last hope for a job.

David has gone from the 93rd floor of one of the world’s most prestigious law firms to the attic of a two-man operation that literally chases ambulances. The two partners are Oscar Finley, a broke, washed-up former cop caught in a loveless marriage, and Wally Figg, a badly dressed, sleazy alcoholic who is willing to sleep with attractive female clients in lieu of a fee. This is not a problem, though, as there are few clients.

The law firm of Finley & Figg advertises on park benches and on bingo cards (though Oscar puts his foot down when it comes to television ads). But Wally’s hope is to strike it rich with mass tort litigation — in other words, find several clients all affected by lead paint or asbestos or a faulty consumer product, organize a class action, and sue a massive company. Then settle for millions.

This dream seems to be realized when a client tells Wally about a cholesterol drug called Krayoxx, which appears to cause heart attacks. Oscar, Wally, their disgruntled secretary Rochelle and their newest associate, David, round up several Krayoxx “victims” and join a huge class action suing Varrick, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Everyone expects a quick settlement but then Varrick decides to litigate a single test trial — against the law firm of Finley & Figg. Oh, and Varrick is represented by none other than Rogan Rothberg, David’s former firm.

Overmatched and underfunded, lacking the facts and a single day’s worth of federal court experience, David, Wally and Oscar prepare for battle!

I can almost hear you yawning.

Yes this book is similar to other John Grisham works. They’re all a little similar. A lawyer who escapes life in a massive corporate law firm? Think back to “The Street Lawyer” and “The Associate” and even to “The Partner” and “The Firm.” A tiny law firm suing a huge corporation? That sounds a lot like “The King of Torts” and “The Appeal.” Innumerable comparisons can be made to past works and nearly every character — from the hard-nosed judge, to the vicious malpractice attorney, to the undefeated opposing counsel, to the well-known, loud-mouthed mass tort lawyer, to David’s beautiful yet brilliant wife — has been used before under a different name.

These criticisms are easy to make and easier still to prove. And I pretty much agree with them. Except I don’t call them criticisms — I call them compliments.

It is constantly asserted that John Grisham writes cheap, airport novels; it is constantly asserted that all of his books are the same. But I like his template! Grisham’s books may not be the most intellectually stimulating (though some of them are), but they are witty, intelligent, timely and, above all, entertaining.

Often, I am not reading to enjoy my chardonnay while pondering the nuances of society or the mysteries of the universe. I am reading to be entertained and John Grisham does that better than anyone. Even among his detractors he is called a superior story-teller. Grisham’s writing is engaging, suspenseful and, notably in “The Litigators,” funny.

“The Litigators” has been acknowledged as one of the lightest of Grisham’s legal thrillers. The characters (with perhaps the exception of David) are all caricatures of themselves and the plot proceeds almost as a farce, with Wally’s scheming putting the firm on thinner and thinner ice. When the ice finally cracks, the reader is utterly captivated.

I have read every single book John Grisham has ever written (usually more than once) and they are all outstanding in their own way (except “Skipping Christmas” but we won’t get into that). Many of these novels can be dismissed as merely enjoyable but a few (“A Time to Kill,” “The Chamber,” “The Street Lawyer,” “The Appeal,” “The Confession”) eloquently address pressing issues such as homelessness, vigilante justice and the death penalty.

Yes, some of Grisham’s books are similar. But they’re all very entertaining and that’s what counts.

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