Review

The Appeal

by John Grisham

After a two-book hiatus, John Grisham has returned to the genre
that regularly places him on bestseller lists: the courtroom
thriller. In the ’90s his novels sold more than 60 million
copies, and he was one of America’s --- and the world’s
--- most popular novelists. The Mississippi native broke from the
courtroom fictional mold in 2006 to write AN INNOCENT MAN, a true
account of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, convicted of murder and
sentenced to death in Oklahoma but exonerated after a lengthy
post-trial investigation of their case. Grisham’s 2007
effort, PLAYING FOR PIZZA, told the fictional tale of an American
football player whose career sunk to the level of playing in an
Italian semi-professional football league.

In the early years of his writing career, Grisham produced
page-turning thrillers featuring characters who were associated
with the legal profession. The success of these books assured
advanced first printings in the millions. His stature as a
bestselling author allowed him to undertake a major change in
style. While maintaining the thriller aspect of his writing,
Grisham’s work began to exhibit a social conscience on legal
issues that became the subtext of his novels. It might be the death
penalty, or class action lawsuits, or the bane of the tobacco
industry, or the manipulative process that has become the American
jury trial. The addition of controversial legal and social issues
to his works had no measurable impact on sales. From 1994 to 2000,
Grisham occupied the #1 spot on bestseller lists at least one week
of each year. No other writer has achieved that honor.

THE APPEAL, Grisham’s newest thriller, has for its
underpinning social issue the method by which the majority of our
nation’s judges are chosen, and the evil that is creeping
into that system by the perfidious infusion of large amounts of
money into the judicial election process. The story begins in a
small-town Mississippi courtroom, where a jury returns a
$41-million verdict against Krane Chemical, a national corporation
that has been found to have polluted the drinking water of the
small community where they operated a chemical plant for decades.
The company is controlled by Carl Trudeau, who, from his penthouse
in New York, vows that not one penny of the judgment will ever be
paid. It means little to Trudeau that he could pay the millions
owed by his company from petty cash. Everyone who has crossed his
path in the litigation will be destroyed.

Trudeau discovers that the way to accomplish his goal is to make
certain that Krane Chemical will be victorious on the appeal of the
jury verdict. To ensure victory, he launches a surreptitious
campaign to elect a Supreme Court Justice in Mississippi who will
tip the balance of the State’s highest court in Krane’s
favor. In recent years, judicial campaigns in the states that elect
judges have become free-spending battles among trial lawyers,
insurance companies and major corporations. In THE APPEAL, Grisham
paints a chilling picture of how elections are being manipulated by
both sides in a battle for control of the courts. While it is clear
to the reader what side the author favors in this debate, the
portrait is disturbing regardless of one’s position. Justice
is for sale in our nation, and the result is not encouraging.

THE APPEAL is thought-provoking and scary. It is clear that this is
an important legal issue for Grisham, and to some degree his fervor
influences his writing. No character can be as evil and conniving
as Trudeau. No attorney can be as naïve as Ron Fisk, the young
lawyer selected to be the candidate of the business community. And
no lawyers can be as saintly as Wes and Mary Grace Payton, the
husband and wife team who have beaten Krane Chemical at trial. They
are a combination of Jimmy Stewart and Mother Theresa, and no trial
lawyer in America can rise to that level.

Overall, though, THE APPEAL is yet another great Grisham work. From
its opening courtroom scene to its Faustian ending, it is a
page-turning gem, worthy of a writer whose position on the
bestseller list is a given. The thrill of reading a John Grisham
novel and coming to its conclusion is heightened as the reader
ponders where the author will go next as he uses his skill as a
writer of great fiction to highlight and promote discussion of
important legal issues for his audience.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 24, 2011

The Appeal
by John Grisham

  • Publication Date: January 29, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385515049
  • ISBN-13: 9780385515047