More Grisham for your Mill

John Grisham is nothing if not prolific, but far be it from moi to complain about that, as it would be an example of the pot calling the kettle black. In recent years John has branched out into non-fiction, and more recently into teenage fiction with his Theo Boone kid lawyer series (now in its third iteration). Grisham is broadening his audience base, and perhaps creating new clientele for the future. I’ve now read two of the three teen novels, and they are quite good. Indeed, in some respects they are better than some of his recent stock n’ trade law thrillers (e.g. The Litigators). What I like about the Boone series is Grisham does a rather good job of seeing the world through a young bright teenager’s eyes, and since the man is north of 50, that takes some creative imagination.

In the most recent installment of these novels Grisham continues to keep it short and sweet (217 pages, and easy reading), staying very conscious of not using too many 25 dollar words that make teens glaze over. ‘The Abduction’ is as advertised, a story about a young teenage girl named April who is a friend of Theo Boone, and seems to have been abducted from her home—- or was she? The plot of this novel is not too complicated, but it does retain your interest throughout, as you do have sympathy for April, a shy but bright girl whose parents are certifiably crazy (the father being a burned out rocker still trying to hit the big time even though he’s in his 40s).

There is one element in the story which is not terribly plausible, namely what happens with the alleged villain, and how he just seems to appear at the right (or wrong) time, but apart from that, this is a fine and appropriate piece of writing with classic Grisham traits— long on adventure, short on description, and not given to overly length dialogue either. Parents will enjoy reading this along with their kids, if they can tear them away from their video games, as among other things it shines a light on a normal family that has two working parents—- both lawyers, and helps us see how they keep it together.

The second novel which has come out even more recently is Calicoe Joe, and here Grisham, writing largely for adults, returns to a theme he loves— namely sports. Calico Joe is the story of a young phenom from Obscursville Arkansas (i.e. Calico Rock) who makes the big leagues in the early 70s with the Cubs, and hits the scene with a bang, setting all kinds of records right out of the box. But the story is told through the eyes of the son of a NY Mets journeyman pitcher Warren Tracey, Paul, who idolizes Joe Castle. Of Grisham’s three attempts at sports fiction, this one I would rank second behind the story about Americans playing American football in Italy in the ‘pizza league’ and definitely ahead of ‘The Bleachers’ which was a bit of a snooze.

The theme of this latest Grisham novel is actually not so much sports as forgiveness and reconciliation, and it is interesting to see how Grisham, who is a Christian, approaches that subject in this novel. Once again this is a short novel, only a little over 200 pages and finished last Christmas, and for those for whom our national pastime is not past it’s time, its a very enjoyable read.

The challenge for Grisham is to find new fresh subject matter and present it in an engaging manner. Calico Joe succeeds on that criteria, but you should not expect the pathos or intrigue of Grisham’s crime and legal thrillers, in this baseball book. For me, it was easy to identify with baseball card collecting Paul Tracey who himself dreamed of playing in the big leagues some day, though not in regard to his have ambivalent feelings about his father, who was frankly a rather abusive and negligent father. If you want to see an excerpt of this novel, go to the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, and see if you enjoy what you find there.

John Grisham, whatever you think of his ouevre, is probably the best selling American novelist of any kind in the last twenty years, and this is no mean feat, as there is plenty of good competition. If you ask me, one reason for his success is that his novels parallel the rise of the increasingly litigation crazy American public, with its growing crop of ‘personal injury lawyers’ brazenly advertizing for your business on the TV. These guys give good lawyers a bad name. Grisham, by in large, presents us with the better side of the legal profession, providing some reassurance to an increasingly frightened America that justice can sometimes be done through the courts, and also the hard work of good lawyers, like for example Grisham himself, or, say my uncle 🙂

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