Thursday, March 9, 2006

A Review of The Firm by John Grisham



It's hard to believe that it's already been more than 15 years since The Firm by John Grisham first hit bookstore shelves. Even if you've never read the book, surely you've heard of it. That's because it was wildly successful, remained on the bestseller list for months on end, was turned into a major motion picture starring Tom Cruise, and basically launched Grisham into the coveted stratosphere of being one of those authors who will always have their next book published, no matter what the content. I saw the film first, and thought I was getting the whole story. I actually didn't even pick up the book until recently, and I was surprised at the significant differences between it and the movie. But more on that later.

The Firm belongs to the "legal thriller" genre that has since become all the rage not only in novels, but also in television shows and movies. The main character is a young man named Mitch McDeere who is a recent graduate of Harvard Law School. Since he is a very bright guy and finished near the top of his class, he gets several very good job offers from various law firms all over the country. However, rather than choose to work in a big city like New York or Chicago, McDeere opts for Memphis. That's because he received an outstanding offer from a firm called Bendini, Lambert & Locke. The salary, a brand new company BMW, nice house, vacation timeshares in the Caribbean, and the promise of a fast track to partnership were too tempting for the McDeere (who spent many years of financial misery as a student) to pass up.

Things start out great for Mitch and his wife Abby. In fact, both can hardly believe their good fortune and are very happy -- at least for a little while. But then things quickly start to unravel.

For starters, Mitch notices odd things about the firm. For example, no one ever leaves Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which he finds strange considering the generally high turnover rate in the industry. In addition, senior partners in the firm start asking him to do not-so-legal things such as fudging data here and destroying documents there. However, Mitch is reluctant to believe that his dream job is too good to be true, so he goes along for the time being.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Abby is becoming a bit restless because of all the long hours Mitch is putting in at the office. She thinks maybe accepting this job wasn't such a good idea after all and wants Mitch to reconsider, but he resists. That of course makes her unhappy and leads to a whole subplot about the couple's marital problems.

Although it takes Mitch a while to catch on, he eventually realizes that there's a lot more to Bendini, Lambert & Locke than meets the eye. The information that he discovers about the firm, coupled with the illegal deeds he has been asked to perform, combine to place him in a very precarious situation. The plot twists and turns from this point forward, and you'll have to read the book to find out what happens to Mitch and whether or not he manages to extricate himself from danger.


The book is very well-paced throughout and doesn't have many boring spots. It's a quick and easy read. Grisham's writing style is to the point without being overly terse or cliche. In addition, Grisham's background as a lawyer allows him to litter the book with a lot of details and information that make the circumstances seem all the more authentic. It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of a law firm and to see what life is like for a certain class of people.

There are a couple of negatives to the book as well. First of all, a lot of the events seemed pretty implausible and were merely contrived to serve the story. I know that all novels are contrived to a point, but in The Firm, these contrivances are rather noticeable and sometimes disrupt the flow of the book. A second thing I didn't like about the book was the ending. I obviously can't give it away here, but I don't think the ending Grisham chose to go with was a very natural outcome of the preceding action.

Incidentally, if you have watched the movie but haven't read the book, then you might be interested in knowing that the movie follows the same path as the book until about the halfway point, and then it diverges from Grisham's plot points and pretty much goes off on its own. The ending in the film is entirely different from the ending in the book, so you might want to read the book just to see how the author intended for the story to end.

Overall, I have to say that The Firm is a great book to read if you just want to enjoy an entertaining story. It's basically the equivalent of a "popcorn movie" that pulls you in because of the exciting action. That kind of story is ok on the surface, but if you start to evaluate it too closely, the plot holes reveal themselves and the moment is ruined. As long as you don't ask yourself "Could this really happen?" too many times, you'll most likely find The Firm a worthy way to spend a couple of days.

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