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Book review: <i>The Firm</i> by John Grisham



Perhaps having read Patriot Games recently has given me a certain intestinal fortitude/high tolerance for pulp. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t hate The Firm anywhere near as much as I thought I would. Not that I’m advocating the reading of John Grisham as such, but it really wasn’t as bad as all that.

The story

Mitch McDeere is young, bright, keen, fresh out of law-school, and “hungry”—which is the descriptive term bandied about ad-nauseum at the beginning of the book. He is being head-hunted by several firms who wish to begin his career as a lawyer, but the one that ends up snaring his interest is Bendini, Lambert and Locke, a small firm in Memphis. They put an offer on the table he can’t refuse; having been poor for his whole life, it looks like everything is about to turn around for him and his wife, Abby. They get a new car, a low interest mortgage, and he starts on an extremely high salary with lots of bonuses. And life is good.

But is it? Mitch has to work extra, extra hard for his money, and he is determined to be the best. Abby makes friends with the wife of one of the partners, and starts to get a bad feeling about “the firm”’s policies on child rearing and women working; encouraged and discouraged respectively. When Mitch begins work, two of the lawyers at the firm are killed in a boating accident. Mitch quickly discovers the two unfortunate lawyers had dealings with the FBI... and they weren’t the only two. They also weren’t the only two fatal accidents. Then, Mitch is approached by the FBI. The firm isn’t all it seems, and they want his help. Suddenly, Mitch and Abby are playing a dangerous game. They don’t know who to trust, and what they do know is more than enough to get them killed...

The style

Like I said above, this isn’t too bad. I’m not advocating Grisham’s immediate receipt of a Pulitzer or anything, but at least his writing is fairly engaging. The whole book only took me a couple of hours, and I did find myself curious about where it was all going and wanting to read on. On the other hand, I’ve already read the bloody thing, a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t remember any of it. So Grisham doesn’t get points for originality or memorability. However, onwards to the specifics:

The Firm is written in the third person limited from various perspectives, which provides the reader with more knowledge of what’s going on than each of the characters. It’s a good technique because it gives the reader a sense of urgency and affinity with the main characters, knowing something they don’t know that could affect them and hoping they will find out in time. The plot line moves along quickly, and as an added benefit to the story line Grisham deliberately keeps certain plot developments out of sight so that although the reader is reading everyone’s movements, there is still a twist at the end. Not bad.

The characters are all annoying, unfortunately, to varying degrees. Mitch’s motivation and little internal monologues are really very irritating; he seems so two dimensional and simple even when his actions denote selflessness and complexity. This could have been a technique to popularise the book, but it seemed a bit trite. Furthermore, the sex scenes between Mitch and Abby were atrocious. Embarrassingly bad. At least there wasn’t much detail; Grisham cut away movie-style from the action. But I really have a personal aversion to the expression “tried to kill each other” as a euphemism for sex. I mean, really. And furthermore, the last line of the book, which I won’t quote in case it gives to much away, has to be one of the weakest endings I have ever read. On the other hand, at least I stuck it out to the end.

My final comment is that the whole book had an irritatingly sexist vibe. Grisham was trying, bless his heart, to come across as a believer in equality by drawing attention to the sexism in the firm and making Abby and Tammy active and vital participants in his plans. However, Mitch’s attitude to women left a lot to be desired and I couldn’t help but feel this was once again down to Grisham writing with the hope of having a movie out of it... which of course, he did.

Who is this book for?

Someone looking for mindless pulp. Or someone who has just finished reading Patriot Games and decided they wanted something a bit classier.

If you like this book, you would also like...

John Grisham isn’t short of other publications you know. Go nuts.

In short

Title: The Firm
Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Island Books
ISBN: 044021145X
Year published: 1991
Pages: 501
Genre(s): Legal thriller, Airport novel
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