Saturday, February 20, 2010

Grisham: You Can't Read Just One

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

The Associate by John Grisham
(F GRI Main and Avoca; CD F GRI Main; SSB F GRI Main)

Ah-h-h.  Grisham is back and doing what he does best, fast-action legal thrillers.
The Associate reminds me of his earlier stories:  suspense, twists & turns that keep you glued to the page from the beginning.  There are shadowy figures, an idealistic young Yale law student, and corruption. 
At a ball game being coached by future lawyer Kyle McAvoy, thugs show up with a video of an alleged five year old rape accusation.  They blackmail him into taking a law job with a huge Wall Street firm which is handling a multibillion dollar military lawsuit.  As a new associate, he is first buried in billing.  Key people are manipulated and a friend dies a mysterious death.  He is expected to steal, lie and furnish information that could get him sent to prison, if not outright killed.  He plays cat & mouse with his handlers and, having read spy-thrillers, he uses spy techniques and tries to disrupt their plans. 
It’s a page turner.  I couldn’t help but root for McAvoy.  Young, idealistic, wanting to work in a small office, helping society. The little guy pitted against a sinister well-organized group with possible government ties, not to mention a gigantic sweatshop of a law firm that would just as soon throw him to the dogs.  And of course, there is a romance with Dale, a former teacher turned lawyer who shares his small cubical at the firm. 
Turning the tables on the bad guys is fun to watch.  Spy stuff.  Good ole boys, small time lawyer involvement, competing law firms…Oh, yeah!

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
(F GRI Main and Avoca; CD F GRI Main)

When I think of Italy, American style football usually doesn’t come to mind.  Apparently, there are football fans everywhere, including Italy.  That is the premise of this fun novel from John Grisham.  Not his usual heart stopping thriller – more like a second helping of spaghetti.
Third-string NFL quarterback, Rick Dockery, becomes a laughingstock when he single handedly loses an AFC Championship game with just minutes to go and a 17 point lead. His long suffering agent can only find a football team in Italy that is interested in hiring him.   So off to Italy he goes.
Not able to speak or understand a word of Italian, Rick finds himself the starting quarterback of the might Panthers of Parma, Italy.  His teammates are colorful.  One is the local judge, who has the police bring him by just to say” hi.”  Rick, himself, hopes to start a new life.   There is a romance along the way.  And the underdog Panthers challenge the powerhouse Bergamo Lions for a shot at the Italian Superbowl!
Ah.  The food.  The countryside.  Grisham is very descriptive of both. 
The story is about redemption.  Going from an apathic NFL player, Rick comes to love the Panthers, his team mates and his new country.  Satisfying as a good Italian wine on a cold winter night.

The Broker by John Grisham
(F GRI Main & Avoca; SSB F GRI Main & Avoca; CD F GRI Main)

Reading Grisham is sort of like eating cookies: one leads to another.  And before I knew it, I read three, one right after the other.
In The Broker, Grisham is back to the unexpected and pitting the little guy against the big boys.  The twist is that the “little guy” was once an extremely important lawyer and lobbyist.  He was known as the “broker” because he had access to all levels of government.  Here however, he has been in prison for 6 years when the book begins.   
An unpopular president pardons Joel Backman as a parting shot to his critics.  The CIA director had pushed for pardon, mostly to see who would kill Backman first.  Before going to prison, Backman had represented three computer hackers who had accidently hacked into a secret satellite surveillance system.  No one is sure of the country that originated it.  However several countries are interested in obtaining access to it.  The hackers died mysteriously.  While in prison, Backman was safe.  Free, the Israelis, the Saudis, Russians and the Chinese all want to “talk” to him.  The CIA gives him a new name and identity.  Send him to Italy – and arrange for him to learn Italian.  They try to keep him under their thumb, until they are ready to leak his whereabouts to the interested parties.
It is cloak & dagger.  Slowly, Backman transforms.  Once a power broker, then from prison life, holding on to the apron strings of his CIA handlers, to escape and into his own.  Phew.  He also becomes a nice guy along the way with a budding romance with his Italian tutor.  They just might make it.  At least I hope they do.
I think Grisham must love Italy.  In both Playing for Pizza and The Broker, he is both a tour guide of small-town Italy and has a love affair with the food.  Both of which I enjoy.  They are fun books, and you want to read them while ordering Italian.

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