Rogue Lawyer
A novel by John Grisham
Book review by Jules Brenner
Doubleday, released 10/20/15, 352 pp., $28.95
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At least one reason legal thrillers almost always make for engrossing reading is that writers in this genre explain the law as it applies to a case and to the client. Tactic by tactic, the criminal defense attorney explains critical legal issues to the accused that he or she is defending. And, if the lawyer is the narrative voice, you get even more engagement with legal strategies and the lives that are at stake -- including the laywer's! It's a natural way to enhance the drama through enlightenment.

Such tales also tend to come with colorful and dramatically engrossing characters on both sides of the law for the hero to grapple with -- especially when the outcome of a trial isn't to the liking of the criminal client. How often do we think about how dangerous a profession criminal defense is? Well, Grisham brings that reality to the forefront with enough satiric humor to make a suspenseful story entertaining on every page.

The rogue enlightener here is Sebastian Rudd, an attorney who practices his profession in his own unique way: he works out of a bullet-proofed van for an office, has a driver-bodyguard whom he calls "Partner," and a credo to primarily represent clients who are getting a bad rap and little to no justice from the system. At least as far as he determines. His aim in life is to unmask a system that's more prone to cover up its mistakes than submit its decisions to a higher standard of truth.

In one such instance, he defends a father who was awakened in the middle of the night to confront a SWAT team wrongfully invading his home and causing the death of his wife. The father needs a lawyer because he picked up his gun before he left his bedroom and shot at what he thought was an invader -- a felony in the eyes of the prosecution. And there's no extenuating circumstances. That is, until Rudd gets into it.

But when this good lawyer is buried in his case-load by day, his nights are devoted to the promising mixed martial arts fighter whom he's backing as an investment. Arcing over other issues, this turns into the main plot line and leads to the book's emotionally charged climax, which has a lesson or two along the way.

Also running through all this is a crime boss on death row who Rudd refuses to represent under threats the mobster makes which he's capable of having carried out. Rudd is also contending with his ex-wife over his court-determined visits with his second-grader son who lives with mom and her female husband. This crude, loathsome woman just wants the boy's father to... well die and go away.

Grisham, whose name is virtually synonymous with legal thrillers that show up on best seller lists ("Gray Mountain"), scores an episodic but immensely readable adventure through the court system of a typical city (which remains unidentified).

My takeaway (after a swift read), is the idea that a criminal defense attorney may need a safe house, a bodyguard and a closet full of nerve and courage. It left me thinking.

If you don't yet own Rogue Lawyer and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.