I finished The Street Lawyer: A Novel by Grisham. John Published by Dell (2010) Mass Market Paperback, while I was in NYC a week or so ago. There were things about this book that I really liked. It told a very believable story about street people and their circumstances and those of people who try to help them, sometimes with success, sometimes not. It takes place mostly in Washington, D.C., an appropriate setting for highlighting the contrast between the haves and the have-nots. It was apparent that a lot of research went into the book to make sure that the facts of how things happened were accurate as well as ways in which different levels of government trip over each other, sometimes negating the desired outcomes.
The narration begins in a very matter-of-fact manner as the main character walks blindly into an extremely tense and dramatic situation that has a most unsatisfactory ending for him. Everyone expects him to take a day off and get over it but he can’t put it aside. He slowly, tentatively, gets drawn into the world of street people.
As the story progresses, some of the stories are sad, even tragic but the novel itself isn’t in any way maudlin’. The characters are believable and the way the main character, the lawyer, almost falls into his role of street lawyer (first by commiting a criminal act, then deciding it is the lesser of two evils), reluctantly at first, then with more determination as he traces the connection from the death of 5 of the most vulnerable in our society to a coldly calculating action of a member of his own law firm. This, also, was a readily acceptable scenario. He meets many people who are living in cars, church basements when it’s too cold, and even under bridges. The point was rather driven home when I got off the elevator at the 13th floor in my hotel in NYC one evening to find a homeless man sleeping on the bench under the windows between the elevator banks. Talk about coincidence. I think Grisham was really trying to motivate his readers to see what is happening around them and get involved.
I read the book right to the end but have to admit it didn’t have the kind of suspense I usually associate with Grisham. It wasn’t that I couldn’t put it down but I didn’t really know how it was going to end and I wanted to know. The story was very good though — Grisham’s style and clarity pulling all the different strands together in characteristic fashion — and I recommend it. I think it’s a large part of who he is and gives a balance to the body of his work. Maybe the ending will surprise you. It did me. It’s available in paperback and kindle at Amazon.ca.