Book Review: The Appeal

As I was browsing books at a Hudson News in the Portland, Oregon airport terminal, I smiled to myself because it was the first time that I had ever bought an “airport book” to read while traveling in an actual airport. Don’t get me wrong, I have read many such books. They are fairly short, easily digestible, and have brisk enough pacing that every cover editor feels the obligation to bandy around the workhorse clichè “page-turner.” There was a particularly fruitful stretch when I was between the ages of 11 to 14 where I must have read upwards of 600 of them; Robin Cook and Michael Crichton (may he rest in peace, that’s a different post altogether) scientific thrillers, Tom Clancy military thrillers, Ian Fleming and Clive Cussler action-adventure novels. Then there were the mysteries. I read all of the current writers, Janet Evanovitch, J.A. Jance, Patricia Cornwell, Lilian Jackson Braun, Carolyn Hart. I read all of the old series: Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe. Then I discovered the magic of British mysteries: G.K. Chesterson, Agatha Christie, P.D. James…
I just drifted completely off track. The point I want to make is that I have read more than a few legal thrillers in my day. I have even read more than a few written by John Grisham.And that is the reason why I am so puzzled by his latest offering, The Appeal. The narrative of, as you might guess, an appeal from original verdict to supreme court decision, is certainly compelling, and several times I thought to myself, “Wow! That storyline could be a whole book on its own.” And that is perhaps why the work as a whole does not work. It reads like the outline that John Grisham writes for himself before he goes about his work focusing the narrative and fleshing out all of the details.
I have always thought that his strength as a writer has been anchoring his clever legal fictions in extremely authentic and relatable protagonists. Who could forget such memorable narrators as Rudy Baylor, such ruthless opponents as Rankin Fitch, or such nebulous enigmas as Marlee? Indeed, it is this reason why I enjoyed Bleachers so much. I thought it was an opportunity for John Grisham to dispense with the contrivances of his thrillers and just write characters.
The Appeal holds no such characters. Many characters feel half-written, and I could imagine any number of them being the protagonists of their own novel. Instead they, like the attenition of the reader, are abandoned and never found again.

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