Grisham is back, and not surprisingly he's addressing one of the hottest topics of our time: the jury system. The plot is under wraps, but the catalog copy observes ominously: "Every jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him."
Grisham is either remarkably prescient or just plain lucky; because with public concerns about the tobacco companies heating up, and two major nonfiction books currently garnering a lot of attention, he has come up with a tobacco-suit novel that lights up the courtroom. In a Mississippi Gulf Coast town, the widow of a lifelong smoker who died prematurely of lung cancer is suing Big Tobacco. Enter Rankin Fitch, a dark genius of jury fixing, who has won many such trials for the tobacco companies and who foresees no special problems here. Enter also a mysterious juror, Nicholas Easter, whom Fitch's army of jury investigators and manipulators can't quite seem to track-and his equally mysterious girlfriend Marlee, who soon shows Fitch she knows even more about what's happening in the jury room than he does. The details of jury selection are fascinating and the armies of lawyerly hangers-on and overpaid consultants that surround such potentially profitable (to either side) cases are horribly convincing. The cat-and-mouse game played between Nicholas, Marlee and Fitch over the direction of the jury quickly becomes hair-raising as the stakes inch ever higher. As usual with Grisham, the writing is no more than workmanlike, the characterizations are alternatively thin and too broad, but all is redeemed by his patented combination of expertise and narrative drive. What makes The Runaway Jury his most rewarding novel to date is that it is fully enlisted in an issue of substance, in which arguments of genuine pith are hammered out and resolved in a manner that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. It's a thriller for people who think, and Jesse Helms won't like it one bit. First printing of 2.8 million; major ad/promo; Literary Guild main selection. (May) ~ Mystery