Showing posts with label John Grisham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Grisham. Show all posts

09 July 2017

The Thrill is Gone

by Leigh Lundin

John Grisham novels draw me in; I enjoy them immensely. The Firm especially appealed to me because it struck close to home, following my stumbling upon massive fraud within one of the largest Wall Street firms. In imaginative moments, I picture a dark, violent response turned into a Hollywood thriller. I could have found myself in a dastardly plot, on the run for my life with a miniskirted damsel as vice presidents and accounting drones dropped dead around me. Excited movie audiences would gasp between mouthfuls of popcorn, women would cry, and children would whisper, “He’s so bwave.”

Twists of tension hallmark a Grisham tale. Some of his novels are sensitive and many explore societal issues, but I most enjoy his thrillers, those with brain versus vicious brawn.

During the holiday, I sat down with The Whistler, which promised to be a thriller. Meh, not so much.

Not every book from a great author turns out brilliantly. S.S. Van Dine said writers should stop after six novels, because no author has more than six good mystery books in him. There’s truth in that and Van Dine went on to prove his own point. He wrote twelve novels, but critics felt the latter half dozen were decidedly inferior.

Problem Number 1

Grisham set his novel in Florida. Mere Mississippi madness can’t match Florida’s lunatic weirdness, no more than New York neurosis nor Indiana insanity can. Florida floats alone in its own sea of bizarre psychosis.

Take for example our governor… please. This man committed the largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history… the most sizable medical corruption ever. The fines alone amounted to $1.7-billion, which left him plenty remaining to buy a Florida governorship. We, the real loonies who ignored his corruption, voted him into office not once but twice.

Rick Scott, largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history
Florida Governor Rick Scott, largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history © Miami Herald

Thus when Grisham’s novel promises the largest judicial fraud in the history of America, the bar is set historically high. The New York Times reviewer failed to grasp this, but the multi-millions discussed in the story don’t come close to real-life frauds, not by Florida standards. Cons and bunco-artists have long prospered in the Sunshine State where mere six and seven figures are pocket change. If Grisham hadn’t promised biggest, hugest, worstest fraud, then we Floridians might have more easily suspended our disbelief.

Problem Number 2

I wanted more characterization, particularly of its heroine, Lacy Stoltz. While the author shortchanged many characters, Grisham delivered better with her short-lived partner, Hugo Hatch. Grisham colorfully describes Greg Myers/Mix, a disbarred lawyer, but abandons him halfway through the book.

Characterization of minor characters shouldn’t come at the expense of major inhabitants, especially the criminal mastermind behind everything, barely fleshed out by the end of the novel. We also learn little about the whistle-blower who started it all.

As for corrupt Judge Claudia McDover, I award a C. The main issue comes from her worrying if a man she sent to death row was truly guilty. Listen, John, we in Florida love to send even innocents to Old Sparky and Gassy Gus and believe me, officials don’t fret about it, they brag about it. Get with the program, man.

I lost count at the number of bitter divorcĂ©es in the novel, five or possibly six. Male writers think the way to a woman’s heart is to capitalize on putative anger towards men. Whether this James Pattersonian model is correct, I leave to readers.

Of all the characters, Lacy’s obnoxious, protective brother comes across as the most real. He’s the one guy we can picture in a love/hate way. If all characters were constituted this well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Problem Number 3

Thrillers should feature thrills or at least suspense. At no time did I believe the heroine’s life was in danger. Her one brush with death came and went so suddenly, neither she nor we had time to fear for her.

Our disbarred lawyer Greg Myers disappears, presumed taken out by the bad guys. Then we’re told he might remain alive, sucking the air out of that danger. His girlfriend’s safety is more problematic, but that’s quickly resolved.

The tension ramps up a little regarding the whistle-blower. Thanks to the foresight of an alarm system and home security cameras, that risk proved minimal. It's no Pelican Brief.

The Firm set a high standard of suspense and tension. When people talk of an exciting Grisham novel, that’s the one that comes to mind. If The Whistler hadn’t been billed as a thriller and hadn’t overhyped superlatives of corruption and badness, it would fall comfortably in the drama arena. As it’s presently marketed, it’s a thriller absent of thrills.

The Grisham We Know and Love

But wait, all is not lost. It’s still an interesting read and Grisham gives us a little of the social commentary he’s noted for, particularly about Florida’s death penalty, which sounds much like my own writings.

Grisham briefly describes Florida’s Starke death row (there’s a self-descriptor!) where 400 men are warehoused in 6×9×9 un-air-conditioned cells, designed to make their remaining time on Earth as miserable as possible.
“Only California had more men on death row than Florida. Texas was a close third, but since it was more focused on keeping its numbers down, its population was around 330, give or take. California, which little interest in executing people, had 650. Florida longed to be another Texas, but its appellate courts kept getting in the way. Last year, 2010, only one man was lethally injected in Starke.”

“Total isolation leads to sensory deprivation and all sorts of mental problems. Corrections experts were just beginning to recognize this, and a movement to reform the practice of solitary confinement was struggling to gain momentum. Said movement had not made it to Florida.”
I’ve touched upon my AmerInd background and mentioned my parents’ disdain for the politically correct ‘Native American’ and ‘Indigenous American’ labels. Grisham is more comfortable writing about First Nation people than many writers. My family couldn’t have agreed more with his observation.
“The term ‘Native American’ is a politically correct creation of clueless white people who feel better using it, when in reality the Native Americans refer to themselves as Indians and snicker at those of us who don’t.”
I award The Whistler a 6.9.

Your View

Have you read The Whistler? What is your opinion?

21 September 2015

The Little Murders

by Susan Rogers Cooper

We who write and read at SleuthSayers share a common bond: We love a good mystery. There are a lot of reasons people come to mystery: escape from their own lives; the purity of the store – good vs. evil; or simply because of the entertainment value.

There are those of us who only like cozies, and those of us who prefer our mysteries hard-boiled. And those who'll read anything they can get their hands on – that's the category I put myself in.

I admire people like John D. MacDonald and John Grisham who deal with the big murders – the corporate crime and national intrigue that leads to someone's untimely death. But those are not my stories. My stories are about the little murders, what we do to each other, to those we love and those we fear, for very personal reasons.

For years I was a trainer for new volunteers at Crisis Hotline in Houston. One of the exercises I taught the new trainees was a way to empathize with suicide calls. I told them: Start taking things away from yourself – your home, your family, your job, your friends, your health – until, in your imagination, you can feel that point where you might consider suicide.

That's the way I deal with the little murders. What would it take for you to commit murder? Not self-defense or defense of a loved one, or even a stranger – that's not murder. But under what circumstances could you see yourself calculating to take a human life? Planning it? Putting that plan into action?

A lot depends on the kind of person you are – or the kind of character I'm dealing with. What could seem a very legitimate reason to take a life to one person, to another is total insanity.
As writers we want to be clear as to motive – whether someone slept with someone else's spouse, or the dog down the street told them to do it. As readers, we need to feel satisfied as to the whys and wherefores. We want answers.

12 March 2013

Gone South (Again) -- Play Ball!

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida --  Spring Training Home to the Washington Nationals
by Dale C. Andrews

    One of the things about posting articles for over one and a half years on SleuthSayers is that my annual habits begin to reveal themselves.  Nowhere is this more evident than during the winter months.  As I have written before, my wife and I, as we approached retirement, most looked forward to escaping the east coast during the months of January and February.  We are blessed with the fact that our elder adult son lives with us and his slightly younger brother lives close by, so there is no problem each winter with leaving the cats and the house behind along with the weather. 

    This year, like last year, we escaped for ten days in the Caribbean in January, and were under sail on the Island Windjammer ship Sagitta when my birthday rolled around.  Then we were back in the District of Columbia or two weeks before leaving for the Gulf Shores of Alabama, where we encamped for 5 weeks in a condo overlooking the beach and the Gulf.  We have spent most of a short twelve days back in the D.C, survived a final winter snow false alarm, and are now poised, once again, on the brink of our final winter trip – to watch the Washington Nationals in Spring Training in Viera, Florida.
Our Smart Car exits the Autotrain (to general laughter)

    As great as the prior winter escapes were, in many ways this one is my favorite.  Instead of driving our larger “road car” south, as we did when we travelled to and from the Gulf Shore, on this trip we drive our convertible two-seater Smart car the 20 miles to Lorton, Virginia, and then board the Autotrain for an overnight trip to Sanford, Florida, about 50 miles from the cottage we rent across the street from the beach at Cocoa Beach, Florida.  We will be there for one week, then catch a few days in Orlando re-acquainting ourselves with “the Mouse,” and head back to D.C. at the end of March, hoping to have finessed our way through winter once again.

Our rental cottage at Cocoa Beach
    But while the Autotrain and Cocoa Beach are terrific, what I truly love about this trip is its underlying theme:  the return of baseball, and the boys of summer.  It is difficult to understand what it is like to be a Washington, D.C. baseball fan without having lived through the last 40 years here.  Those years included a 33 year stretch without any baseball at all.  Remember that we lost the Senators twice:  First to Minneapolis, then to Texas.  In the intervening years there were repeated attempts to lure the nation’s pastime back to D.C. – one year it became so liklely that the San Diego Padres would relocate here that baseball cards were issued for that team, re-named the Nationals – but all of the previous attempts ultimately failed, generally as a result of a veto by Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who persisted for decades in the smug belief that if he held us captive long enough Washington D.C. fans would embrace the Orioles as their own.  Sorry.  We didn’t.  There are some things that even hostages will not do.   

    All of this is background to explain how our household, and much of Washington, has embraced the return of baseball to the Nation’s capitol.  As Laura Ingalls Wilder observed, joy is always best when it follows sorrow.  Our thirst was quenched following a very long drought. 

    Last year in an analogous post I recounted some recommended readings that embrace the national pastime and that are great preparation, read in early spring, for what is to come with the boys of summer.  This year I thought I would add at least two more gems to the list, each by well-known authors who also apparently can’t get baseball out of their minds this time of year. 

    First up, Stephen King.  King is a long-time victim of baseball fever.  His 2004 non-fiction volume Faithful is based on his correspondence with fellow novelist and co-author Stewart O’Nan, both rabid Red Sox fans, throughout the course of the 2004 season and ending with Boston’s trip to the world series.  King has also penned two short works inspired by baseball, 2010’s Blockade Billy, about a mythical 1957 catcher who, for reasons best told by King, has been erased completely from baseball history, and 2012’s A Face in the Crowd, also co-written with O’Nan, a long short story recounting what happens to a baseball fan who begins to see long-departed acquaintances from his past seated around him at the ballpark.  But while each of these works can serve to establish King’s baseball credentials, to my mind his finest baseball-related work is the 1999 novel The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, the story of a girl lost in the woods who is counseled, in her imagination, by Gordon, the real-life Boston closer from the 1990s, and is ultimately inspired to “close” the novel as Gordon would have a game.  A great read for spring.

    Batting second, John Grisham.  Long before attending law school Grisham dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals and to this day he is a big supporter of little league teams in Mississippi and Virginia.  His non-legal 2001 quasi-autobiographical novel A Painted House features a narration punctuated by family gatherings around the radio to listen to Harry Caray’s play-by-play of St. Louis Cardinal games.  (Yep, that’s where Caray was, paired with Jack Buck, prior to his Chicago days.)  Even though baseball is only a supporting character in A Painted House, the novel is a fine spring read.  But Grisham truly excels with his 2012 novel Calico Joe, inspired by the real-life story of Ray Chapman, the only ball player ever killed by a pitch.  For a National’s fan like myself the novel proved prescient soon after it was released when, in the summer of 2012 rookie Bryce Harper, the team’s boy wonder, and the closest thing we have to Calico Joe, was beaned on purpose by Philly pitcher Cole Hamel for no reason except that Harper was new, young, eager and poised for greatness.  Like the pitcher antagonist in Calico Joe, Hamels self-servingly defended his action as nothing more than a lesson in “old school” baseball.  Former Phillies pitcher Curt Shilling (and, one would suspect, Grisham, as well) had a better word for it – “stupid.”  That lesson is learned in Calico Joe – another great read as we await opening day.

    Time to pack.  I am off to Florida.  Play ball!

(Next week acclaimed mystery writer Terence Faherty joins SleuthSayers, alternating Tuesdays with me.  Terry’s accomplishments – including authorship of both the Owen Keane and Scott Elliot series of mysteries and numerous awards—leave my own scant efforts in a pale cloud of literary dust.  But at least we have this:  Terry and I both love a good pastiche, as anyone who has read Terry's recent  short story A Scandal in Bohemia (EQMM, February 2013) knows full well.  And this we also share:  an understanding that the rules of constrained writing, once mastered, can also be bent.  This extends not just to plot, such as in Terry's re-imagined telling of Conan Doyle’s Bohemian Scandal, but to writing styles as well.  I noted in my last blog Churchill’s admonition that ending a sentence in a preposition was something “up with which he would not put.”  And here is Holmes dismissing the sanctity of the rule in Terry’s Bohemian pastiche: 
The wording of your note is out of character with a true free spirit.  “A matter up with which he can no longer put,” indeed.  Only someone sitting on a particularly rigid stick would go to such lengths to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.”
I am certain we are all looking forward to welcoming Terry to the SleuthSayers ranks!)