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February 23, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | February 23, 2009 |

Well, this was a pleasant surprise!

When I uncovered this book, lying forgotten in the depths of my parents’ bookshelf as I scoured for new reads, I came very close to putting it back. Grisham? Sigh. Another legal thriller with the predictable courtroom scenes, cliched lawyers, and painful bumps from the repeated slamming my head against a desk for being stupid enough to read another one of these.

So, you see, I was a bit predisposed to hate it. And then I remembered I had only read one Grisham book before, The Rainmaker, and it had been about 10 years and perhaps my memory was a little clouded from bad movie adaptations of Grisham’s books. So I bucked up and gave it a try.

And boy, did I feel like an idiot for hating on it before I knew anything about it. Because while this wasn’t a brilliant book, it was a hell of an entertaining read, well written and crafted, and I zoomed through it in only a couple of days, enjoying every bit of it.

The book hits the ground running. An incredibly rich, incredibly mean old man named Troy Phelan is about to die and reveal his new will to his heirs. He hates all six of his children and his three ex-wives, and they hate him in return. Each of his sons and daughters squandered the money they received when they turned 21, they’re failures in every sense of the word, with massive amounts of debt they hope to be relieved of when their father dies. Of course, the evil old man decides to screw his children one more time and leaves them practically nothing, signing over his fortune to an illegitimate daughter no one knew existed.

Ha-HA! Evil old man for the win!

And that’s just the first act. The rest of the book takes turns between telling of Phelans’ lawyers’ attempts to find the illegitimate daughter in the depths of the Brazilian jungle (where she is a Catholic missionary to the native tribes there) and the Phelan heirs’ battle to get their father’s money. Surprisingly, both plots are equally engaging and entertaining. The scenes in the jungle, though they take place for the most part on a dingy river boat, are exciting and Grisham does a great job of setting the scenery and taking us into the Brazilian jungle. The scenes in the courtrooms and the lawyers’ offices are just as interesting, as they try increasingly nasty means of getting at the money. Grisham makes some nice parallels between the natural, frightening dangers of the jungle and the even scarier brutality of the lawyers, cynical, greedy and completely despicable.

Grisham really sets a great rhythm for the story, and it never slows down or becomes bogged down in legalese or ridiculous courtroom scenes. It’s fast-paced and keeps you guessing what’s coming up next, making it a fast and overall entertaining read. I was honestly surprised and pleased to find out that Grisham wasn’t a hack, as I feared he would be (I’m not even sure WHY I was afraid he was, I don’t exactly recall anyone ever hating on his work) and that he’s a good writer who clearly knows what he’s doing. I’m not sure if I dare pick up another one of his books but I’m glad I tried this one. There’s my crippling fear of disappointment and losing my respect for a writer I suddenly like showing up. I should know better than to be this pessimistic, shouldn’t I?

This review is part of the Cannonball Read (5K) series. Details about here and the growing number of participants and their blogs, from which these reviews are pulled, are here. And check here for more of Figgy’s reviews.

Cannonball Read (5K) / Figgy

Books | February 23, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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