The Client | Critical Review by James Colbert

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of The Client.
This section contains 624 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

Critical Review by James Colbert

SOURCE: "Grisham's Latest: Passing Judgment on The Client," in Chicago Tribune—Books, February 28, 1993, p. 7.

In the following review, Colbert provides a negative assessment of The Client, characterizing Grisham's works as "bland and inoffensive,… the literary equivalent of pureed potatoes or Muzak."

On a literary level, there is little to recommend John Grisham's new novel, The Client. The characters are wooden, and the plot is contrived. The pace is plodding and because the book never gathers any momentum, it seems painfully overlong.

It hardly seems worth the bother to read such a book—much less review it—but as the jacket of The Client proudly states, Grisham has written "three consecutive number-one bestsellers"—A Time To Kill, The Firm and The Pelican Brief—and "has become one of the most popular authors of our time." And that claim can be substantiated by a trip to any chain bookstore, where John Grisham posters and displays and whole racks of his books abound. That being the case, one has to wonder why such undistinguished work enjoys such popular success.

In The Client a black Lincoln appears in the woods where 11-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother are playing. The driver has come to the woods to kill himself, but before he does, for reasons that are hard to fathom, he tells young Mark that he is a lawyer, that his client, Barry "The Blade" Muldanno, has killed a U.S. senator, and that The Blade has put the senator's body in concrete under his, the lawyer's, garage. This knowledge transferred, Mark escapes and the lawyer kills himself—which makes Mark the witness needed by Roy Foltrigg, the ambitious U.S. attorney who is prosecuting The Blade for the senator's murder.

Foltrigg "was the prosecutor, the people's lawyer, the government fighting crime and corruption. He was right, justice was on his side, and he had to be ready to attack evil at any moment…. He had pushed hard for a speedy trial, because he was right, and he would get a conviction. The United States of America would win!"

Well, maybe, maybe not. The outcome depends on whether Foltrigg can get Mark to divulge where The Blade hid the senator's body—a task made considerably more difficult when the boy hires a lawyer who is willing, for one dollar, to devote her entire practice to him.

And so it goes. Mark is threatened by the bad guys. His family's trailer home is burned. Held in detention, he may, after all, have to tell what he knows. But perhaps Mark can extricate himself. All he has to do is convince his lawyer to help him with his escape, scare off three Mafia leg-breakers, back down the bungling FBI and work a deal to go into the Witness Protection Program.

If all that sounds a touch improbable, even for a precocious 11 year old, it is. So the question remains, how does such a book appeal to millions of fans, as Grisham's previous novels have done and as this one seems likely to do.

Well, in our consumer-oriented society, as any advertising person will tell you, there are certain items—including quite a few books and movies—that sell not because they are distinguished in any way but because they are bland and inoffensive, in this case, the literary equivalent of pureed potatoes or Muzak. And what John Grisham has attained is the perfect pitch of Muzak.

That is not to denigrate Grisham's achievement, for a product such as his can be created only if one has a certain marketing acumen. But if it is sad that such flawless lack of distinction achieves such success, one still wonders whether that occurs because the consumer has an innate taste for blandness or because the market is so good at selling particular pieces of it.

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This section contains 624 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt