The Firm | Critical Review by Bill Brashler

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Firm.
This section contains 596 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bill Brashler

Critical Review by Bill Brashler

SOURCE: "Corporate Lawyers Who Lead Wild Lives," in Chicago Tribune—Books, February 24, 1991, p. 6.

Brashler is an American novelist, short story writer, biographer, and critic. In the following review, he praises Grisham's characterizations and literary strategy in The Firm.

Love a lawyer—no easy task in these litigious times—and you are usually enamored of a trial lawyer. At least in literature, where the zealous defender or prosecutor pursues the law in its purest form and shines on the page. Corporate and tax attorneys, those steel-lapeled "of counsels," usually languish in mahogany suites, out of metaphor's eye.

But that was before L.A. Law and other entertainments came along and somehow injected intrigue and spice into the lives of those on retainer. They do have blood as well as billable hours, as it turns out.

John Grisham's The Firm takes things a step further. It gives us Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a smug, rich Memphis, Tenn., tax firm so corrupt it makes the sleaziest ambulance chaser look honorable.

Bigwigs from BL&L appear on page one of this adept first novel as they try to recruit young Mitch McDeere, one of Harvard Law School's brightest. "It's an impressive firm, Mitch," says senior partner Oliver Lambert. "We're small and we take care of each other."

Do they ever. Their offer is $80,000 plus bonuses, a low-interest mortgage loan and a leased BMW. In return, McDeere simply has to work his tail off—70-hour weeks are expected—and toe the firm's line. By 45, he'll be a multimillionaire.

Of course, all this is too good to be true. Then again, so is Mitch McDeere. Brilliant, tireless, witty and married to a looker, he also wows the firm's most insufferable partners and bills great heaps of hours.

Imagine McDeere's surprise when he is approached by an FBI agent who tells him that his new firm is rotten to its wingtips and that the recent vacation deaths of two partners were not accidental. The firm, McDeere later learns, is an active front for a Chicago—where else?—crime family.

Grisham is a criminal defense attorney in Mississippi—how does he know so much about the corporate law types?—and The Firm works on just about every level. Though it asks the reader to chew large chunks of disbelief in the name of collusion, conspiracy and ruthlessness, it makes up for that with savvy, crisp portraits of lawyers on the make. And McDeere is a likeable straight arrow who—even though he joined this crew in the first place—throws just enough back at his bosses to put us on his side.

What is impressive about the narrative is Grisham's ability to show us the schemes of the bad guys along with those of the innocents. This is not a mystery, but a well-paced and, at times, harrowing thriller. We are a small half-step ahead of McDeere and wife, but at the mercy of the villains and the train of events.

Grisham's villains shine, mainly because he has given them dimension and intelligence. The FBI's hat is not totally white; and even McDeere has his own agenda when things get tight.

There are glitches, however. We are to believe that the firm's lethal agents see and hear McDeere wherever he goes, yet he somehow conveniently manages to meet secretly with his few confederates and plan his survival. There is also a delicious diet of coincidence that books like this depend on.

But none of the nits, and the absence of even a grain or two of humor, keeps The Firm from reading like a whirl-wind. Grisham knows his lawyers and hands them their just desserts. And how often does that happen?

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This section contains 596 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bill Brashler