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YA-- While sneaking into the woods to smoke forbidden cigarettes, preteen brothers Mark and Ricky find a lawyer committing suicide in his car. Mark tries to save the man but is instead grabbed by him and told the location of the body of a murdered U. S. senator--a murder of which the lawyer's Mafia-connected client is accused. Witnessing the successful suicide sends Ricky into shock and Mark into a web of lies, half-truths, and finally into refusal to tell the confided secret to the police. Mark accidentally but fortuitously hires a lawyer, Reggie Love, who steers him through a maze of FBI agents, legal proceedings, judges, ambitious lawyers, and hit men. Love's 11-year-old, street-smart client defies the judicial system to protect himself and his family. This thriller is unique in its theme and in its suspense mixed with humor. A sure ``all-night'' read.-- Katherine Fitch, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Burke, VA

Fans of the bestselling Grisham will be pleased to note that he is once more on Firm ground: his latest legal thriller offers a clever, compelling plot coupled with two singular protagonists sure to elicit readers' empathy. Eleven-year-old Mark Sway, taking his kid brother for a smoke behind their Memphis trailer park, witnesses the suicide of a lawyer ``driven crazy'' by a lethal secret. Before he dies, the man confides to Mark where the body of a recently murdered U.S. senator lies buried, and the game's afoot. Trailed by the police, the FBI and assorted Mafia types (the deceased politico was the victim of ``a successful New Orleans street thug''), Mark retains--for one dollar--the services of Reggie Love, a 50ish female lawyer. This uncommon attorney-client relationship adds an affecting, unusually humanistic layer to the novel's tension-filled events. Mark, raised by a divorced mother and wise beyond his years, thinks chiefly in terms of movies and TV; Reggie, a street-smart survivor of an acrimonious divorce, is often unsure whether to hug or slug her precocious client. True to form, Grisham employs just enough foreshadowing to keep the suspense rolling (``Neither of them could know that . . . ''), and propels his action at the requisite breakneck pace. Occasional plot improbabilities and stylistic quibbles--a few fuzzy characterizations; overstatement of already obvious points; Mark's sporadic adult phraseology--will not deter readers from enjoying a rousing read. 950,000 first printing; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections; Reader's Digest Condensed Book selection. (Mar.)

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