Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham

By Meg Curtis, PhD

“Street Law” sounds scruffy, like “street sense.” Grisham’s version takes desperation—plus guts and brains. Like The Litigators (2011), too, this novel (1998) hurls the reader into a double crack-up. First, a homeless desperado takes hostage a pack of corporate attorneys. Immediately thereafter, one of his hostages becomes a desperado as well.

Cause-and-effect works like chain mail in Grisham’s novel. At arm’s length, the homeless appear destitute and helpless. Up close, their resourcefulness claims their hostage’s allegiance. Become one of them, and respect climbs link-by-link. Stay with them long enough, and knights in armor can’t wait to charge into a legal tournament.

The knighted here begin with Mordecai Green, a huge black lawyer with Frederick Douglass’s gift for rhetoric and compassion. “Free the slaves!” he seems to thunder on every page with his liturgical rant and political cunning. Read this book just for the glory he sheds. Read this book because you’ll never meet his like again—unless Grisham devotes a series to knights errant.

The crack-up king becomes Green’s squire, an apprentice laboring in the poor vineyards of law available to the homeless in America. This is Grisham’s cause here, and he runs with it all the way to a conclusion you won’t see coming, no matter how many books you’ve read by Grisham. But keep reading him because a degree in Grisham is almost equivalent to a Juris Doctorate.

Take the finesse away, Grisham seems to argue in this novel, and what remains outshines mahogany tables, Italian suits, pointed boots, and the most expensive automobiles. Take it away—tow it, if you need to—because the Law supplies its own ideals. Somewhere, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp. If you’re a lawyer, you light it for her. Then see the homeless cry with joy.

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