by John Grisham
Remember the movie The Lincoln Lawyer based upon the book of the same name by author Michael Connelly? Well author John Grisham certainly does. Grisham's novel Rogue Lawyer uses the same premise and seemingly even the same hero-a well, roguish, attorney who operates out of his vehicle, practices situational ethics, stays one step ahead of upset clients and angry law enforcement operatives, and has a black Man Friday of exceptional loyalty and impressive physical stature. Grisham doesn't try to hide the Connelly influence. In some respects I guess you could call it more of a tribute or deliberate tip of the hat as the title character, Sebastian Rudd, likes to read Connelly novels in his down time.
As mentioned Sebastian is the defense attorney of last resort for people who have run out of places to look for help. Some of the people Sebastian represents include victims of police brutality, mobsters on death row, and mentally challenged teens wrongly accused of horrible crimes. It doesn't matter to Sebastian (professionally speaking) if a sanctimonious ambitious politician was caught in bed with a dead woman AND a live boy. Sebastian is still going to fight to make the state prove its case. Sebastian insists on trying to force the state to obey the law down to the last little detail. If need be Sebastian will cheat in court or stretch the law to its breaking point, especially when he knows the state's representatives are also lying. This makes Sebastian less than popular with prosecutors, judges, and cops. Sebastian's courtroom adversaries have tried to make his professional life hell, get him disbarred or get him found in contempt of court. But cops often take Rudd's opposition more personally. They have tried to kill Rudd or his buddy Partner on at least three separate occasions. But as Rudd says they're still standing...or still ducking. Not all of Rudd's clients are innocent. Many of them aren't. Grisham uses this novel to articulate all the reasons why it's important to constrain the power of the state to put people in prison or deny them of life. So that portion of the novel was intriguing. It wasn't didactic.
Like many heroes in these books Rudd has a chaotic personal life. He doesn't really have much of a romantic life, what with living in his van and experiencing constant death threats.
His ex-wife Judith is also a lawyer. Judith is almost a caricature of the man hating feminist witch. Judith's law firm is staffed and run by women only. They make a living suing men for sexual discrimination or sexual harassment. Judith came out as a lesbian shortly before the dissolution of her marriage with Sebastian. Judith has little in common with Sebastian besides their child and a similar taste in women. Judith is a bit embarrassed that she ever found Sebastian attractive and TRULY can't stand that she has a son with him. Although Sebastian and Judith can briefly manage not to curse each other out during their infrequent meetings, they really do have a mutual hate for each other. Judith has primary custody of their son, and tries every trick in the book every day of the week to terminate Sebastian's parental rights. Sebastian views himself as providing the last bit of healthy masculinity that his son is likely to see, because his son lives in a home with two mothers who dislike any expression of masculine behavior. As this book is told in first person from Sebastian's POV we don't really get an unbiased take on Judith. She may well be a ***** on wheels but it would have been nice to get her take on why she dislikes Sebastian so much.
Although this is a short novel it reads more like a series of short stories. Sebastian is no tough guy but there are some concepts and people that he's willing to fight for and die for if need be. He's an investor in MMA fighting and knows how to handle himself when things go south. As mentioned there's a fair amount of social commentary within this novel, most poignantly about the increasing societal tendency to militarize police forces while granting them virtual immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability. The particular SWAT incident created in the novel could have been any number of real life occurrences.
Once you accept the fact that this is not a new story by any stretch of the imagination, and that the characters are more suited for movies than for novels, and that Rudd is at least somewhat unlikable , you can still enjoy this story. Grisham has a way of writing that makes legal questions and controversies accessible to non-lawyers. I thought the plot was stronger than some of the characters. You'll want to know what happens next, which I think is probably the most important characteristic for any story to possess. This was a fast read. Grisham gets across his characters and ideas without much delay or flab.