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Book Review: The Litigators

JOHN GRISHAM'S new novel The Litigators is lighter than his early legal thrillers but every bit as entertaining. It has characters that are less menacing and less competent but more amusing, along with a plot that unfolds more comfortably than it does in The Firm, The Client or The Pelican Brief.

As he did in his 2003 bestseller The King of Torts, Grisham exposes the exorbitant fees and associated greed that fuel mass torts. The existence of these class-action lawsuits is to award compensation to victims for personal injury, but lawyers and law firms often plunder the benefits.

Recovering alcoholic and four times divorced, Wally Figg resorts to unscrupulous new lows in his quest to drum up clients while chasing any opportunity to make easy money.

Taciturn and tight-fisted, Oscar Finlay is Wally's senior partner in the budget 'boutique' Chicago law firm Finlay and Figg. While Wally chases easy money, Oscar longs for prestige and financial security.

Meanwhile, Harvard graduate David Zinc is a cog in the huge and oppressive legal machine of Rogan Rothberg. He despises his work and the people he works for. Ground down at just 31 years of age, David crumbles completely and escapes the "glistening phallic monument" where he works up to 80 hours a week by telling his boss, Roy Barton, to kiss his ass.

Realising that he actually needs a job, David stumbles into Finlay and Figg and is hired after he drunkenly, but successfully, wards off competitors as Wally and Oscar solicit business from a car wreck.

As he follows Wally in trawling the morgues and hospitals looking for business, David gets involved in gathering cases for the national class-action lawsuit against Varrick Labs for their cholesterol-lowering drug Krayoxx, which Wally believes causes strokes and heart attacks.

With competition for Krayoxx cases across America gathering speed, Wally's questionable ethics and stuttering competence are at the forefront of Finlay and Figg's $100m lawsuit against Varrick. When the case starts to fray at the edges and Varrick choose Chicago to defend their drug in a Federal Court, they hire the best of Rogan Rothberg's litigators -- headed by the attractive Nadine Karros.

It's here that Grisham is at his strongest, ensuring that the humour, irony and courtroom antics are entertaining as the plot plays out.

Meanwhile, a case that David stumbled upon while defending exploited foreign workers provides the real reason why compensation for personal injury is necessary. A five-year-old Burmese boy suffers toxic lead poisoning leaving him in a coma with substantial damage to his kidneys, liver, nervous system and brain.

Grisham knows how to grab and hold the reader's attention and his prose is tight. The outcomes of the cases are well handled and the theme of the small firm versus the power and money of the large corporation surfaces but mutates slightly.

There's some suspense though it's a relatively light read. However there's good humour throughout. The author makes time to reflect on greed and responsibility, as well as the law versus justice. The characters are entertaining and the plot moves at a good pace.