Quick Review: ROGUE LAWYER by John Grisham (Doubleday/Hodder)

GrishamJ-RogueLawyerUSAn interesting new character

On the right side of the law. Sort of.

Sebastian Rudd is not your typical street lawyer. He works out of a customized bulletproof van, complete with Wi-Fi, a bar, a small fridge, fine leather chairs, a hidden gun compartment, and a heavily armed driver. He has no firm, no partners, no associates, and only one employee, his driver, who’s also his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddy. He lives alone in a small but extremely safe penthouse apartment, and his primary piece of furniture is a vintage pool table. He drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun.

Sebastian defends people other lawyers won’t go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid rumored to be in a satanic cult, who is accused of molesting and murdering two little girls; a vicious crime lord on death row; a homeowner arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house. Why these clients? Because he believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial, even if he, Sebastian, has to cheat to secure one. He hates injustice, doesn’t like insurance companies, banks, or big corporations; he distrusts all levels of government and laughs at the justice system’s notions of ethical behavior.

Rogue Lawyer is a pretty good novel. It’s not Grisham’s best, but he manages to cover a lot of ground. The author does this by writing a series of loosely-connected cases, each touching upon a hot-button topic in American law and politics: warrior cops, tort reform, MMA fights, child custody, prison policy, and a few others. It’s an interesting novel, but flawed and not as gripping as some of his previous work.

GrishamJ-RogueLawyerUKIn fact, it felt a little bit as if Grisham had some things he wanted to get off his chest — especially about the militarization of police forces — and crafted a story in which he could include all of these issues. This approach had the unfortunate result of making Rogue Lawyer not the smoothest or most gripping novel. It was episodic, and not as immersive as I’ve found most of his previous books. Some sections and chapters dragged. A novel about the militarization of cops in the US would have been fascinating, but it only formed a relatively small portion of the novel. (Although, the police force in the unnamed City of the novel do plague Rudd’s movements for most of the novel — including in one really unlikely way…)

Grisham spent a long time describing MMA fights and culture, but conversely very little on the cases Rudd is meant to be working on — which is probably why most readers were there in the first place. The author’s interest in MMA is clearly new, and he is obviously fascinated by the sport and culture that’s arisen around it. But, his prose injected quite a bit of bro-like testosterone into the story, which felt a little unnatural, given what I’ve read of his in the past.

Rudd is an interesting new character, and I would certainly be interested in reading more about him and his interesting approach to practicing the law — he’s cynical, operates in the various areas of grey that can be found or created in the US legal system, and doesn’t like most of his clients.

So, in sum: a good novel, but by no means Grisham’s best. If you’re a fan of the author already, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading Rogue Lawyer. If you’ve somehow never read one of his novels, I’m not sure this would be the best place to start.

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Rogue Lawyer is published in North America by Doubleday, and Hodder in the UK. Grisham’s next novel, The Whistler, is due out later this year, from the same publishers.

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