I read somewhere, a few weeks ago, that there is such a thing as Grisham’s Law. And although I could find only a single definition—once you’ve started reading a John Grisham novel, it is impossible to put it down—this reminded me I had an unread book of his lying around, The Testament.
What a disappointment. The first quarter of the book is used to introduce a huge ensemble cast of heirs, which is then used nowhere in the book, at least not seriously. What’s worse is that none of the heirs differ from each other. Not only could Grisham have scrapped them (almost) all, it would probably have made for a tighter story—one good guy versus one bad guy.
Every character is a parody. The lawyers in this book are all painted as greedy, law breaking miscreants. The alcoholics in this book are painted as being constantly on the rebound. And the believers in this book are being painted as labels. No matter how much I rack my brain, I fail to remember a single interesting character.
The protagonist, an alcoholic lawyer called Nate O’Reilly, manages to redeem himself and kick his habit by becoming a Christian (this would be a good time to cringe). He penetrates the impenetrable swamps of the Pantanal in Brasil in order to find the last heir, death lurking around every corner, except that as a reader you know Grisham won’t kill off his hero, not halfway the story. That neatly kills off any lingering suspense the book might have retained.
The rest of the novel is one dreadful string of self-contained events. In the rare occasion that Grisham seems to want to build up suspense, he tends to get bored with it and opts for a quick way out.
I still finished the book. Don’t ask me why. I felt like… like the writing must simply get better at some point. And then when it was clear it wasn’t going to get better, I had already invested too much time. Or perhaps I could not put it down because of a universal law at work.
Here is a tip: if you must read about believers, read Morris West.
Last second update: this is not a negative critique of Grisham, merely of this specific, auto-pilot work. I hugely enjoyed reading The Firm and The Client, and watching the film based on The Pelican Brief—all three novels, I might add, belonging to his earlier works.
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