Monday, May 20, 2013

Book 124, Cayman Islands: "The Firm" by John Grisham

So yeah, I tried reading Dr. Florence Goring-Nozza's One and One Is Two: Caribbean Thriller. First off: it's not a thriller: it's a dreary little self-centred memoir talking about how the Caymans were oh so nice before they became a rich international banking centre with no taxes. Second: it's incredibly badly written. Run-on sentences galore. No sense of self-awareness. What an idiot this author is - the doctorate, believe it or not, is from the Yale School of Divinity. Yep, she's a preacher. Sigh.

Of course I do favour the practice of reading from the national literatures of the nations I'm surveying, but this project is also about filling my brain up with the best lit the world has to offer. So why not a nice American thriller instead?

I haven't watched the 1993 film version of The Firm - rather mind-boggling to realise Tom Cruise has been an action star for twenty years now - but I have read Grisham's later novel The Runaway Jury, which I thoroughly enjoyed while in a backpacker inn, maybe in Tel Aviv or Brazil, not sure where.

The similarities between the two are striking. Thorough knowledge of the legal profession and practice, of course, but both also have young, handsome male protagonists on outlaw missions; invisible but kickass dames on the side, and a healthy distrust of big corporations - Runaway Jury is about a guy rigging a jury to convict a tobacco consortium in a class action lawsuit; The Firm is about a Memphis-based law firm that works for the Mob and ices every associate or partner that they think might blab to the FBI. Big money all over the place, destined to be brought down hard. Some relevance to the contemporary economy (which of course TV producers have attempted to take advantage of).

Honestly, one does develop a soft spot for Mitch McDeere early on in the book - a tall, athletic 25 year-old, born into poverty and crime but with the drive (and insomnia) to put himself through Harvard Law School, working in a convenience store to pay the bills, offered the job of his dreams with a six-figure salary and then suddenly discovering how deep in shit he is, with the firm (Bendini, Lambert & Locke is its name) blackmailing and surveilling and threatening to murder him on one side, and the FBI tailing and tantalising him and telling him that if he doesn't bend, he'll eventually be caught out and jailed forever, on the other. Oh, and he's got a pretty wife, too. Raises the stakes.

Some words about the movie, which I've read up about on Wikipedia. Tom is very pretty indeed in there, but I can't take him seriously in there after all the silly Scientology. Also, what irks me is how the ending's been made really happy, with all loose ends tied up and Mitch still able to practise law, not having broken his vow of client confidentiality, etc. The book's all about him as an individual on the run, breaking free of the bounds and escaping to... you guessed it: the Cayman Islands.

Nothing much to say about the islands themselves, except their status as a tax shelter, the snorkelling and diving, and I guess a bit of random info about the population of British whites and comfortable blacks (the book uses "Negros" on occasion, surprisingly) and pretty mulatto women and Jamaican Red Stripe beer and roast shark. Oh yeah, and the bit about the only KFC on the island catering to Americans, since no-one on the island actually rears any chickens - that was fun.

Some storytelling devices which I wouldn't have recommended my students, but I suppose I'd better digest them. It's not a bad thing to be able to write a bestseller, after all.

And I'm back in the Western Hemisphere again. Not an awful return trip, I suppose.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote: 
Avery wiped the sweat from his forehead. "This place has always attracted pirates. Once it was Blackbeard, now it's modern-day pirates who form corporations and hide their money here. Right, mon?"

"Right, mon," the driver replied.

Next book: Ron-Luc Nickell's Food Plane Soup: The Desert Island Letters, from the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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