Book Review: John Grisham’s “The Firm”

August 21, 2010 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

My first John Grisham novel, The Associate, was a shocker, and I said as much in my review of the book here.  However, several Grisham fans who commented assured me The Associate was an anomaly, and that Grisham’s other books, especially his older ones, were much better and advised me to give them a go.

And so, roughly 6 months after The Associate, I decided to read a Grisham “classic”.  My first choice was his debut, A Time to Kill, but I couldn’t find it on special.  Instead, I found a copy of The Firm at a bargain bookstore (it was part of the Grisham “Gold” Collection) and dived straight into it.

Most people should be aware of the basic plot, so I won’t go into it too much.  Young Mitch McDeere is a hotshot Harvard graduate with a pretty wife and a jailbird brother.  After fielding a bunch of offers from the big Wall Street firms, he chooses a small but tight-knit and extremely exclusive firm in Memphis — because they paid better than anyone else and the perks were great.  But of course, as he settles in, Mitch realises that not everything is as it seems and that once you join The Firm, you can never leave.

To my great surprise, The Firm was actually very good.  It had a good premise, interesting characters; it was well-plotted, meticulous with details; and it was exciting and suspenseful.  A real page-turner.  Everything The Associate was not.

I suppose the biggest compliment I could pay is that it was the first book in a while that I actually wanted to keep reading and find out what would happen next.  While it was far from perfect, The Firm was still a cracking good read.

Written 18 years apart, it was interesting to see the parallels and differences between The Firm (1991) and The Associate (2009).  They are both about young hotshot lawyers who join powerful law firms with great ambition and excitement, but soon find that they are in over their heads.  But the main difference is that The Firm, though relatively raw and unpolished, really gives you a sense of Grisham’s passion and enthusiasm for the story.  On the other hand, to me it was clear The Associate lacked those qualities, and as a result was dull and lifeless.  The Associate whinged endlessly about the atrocious hours worked by young associates, but Mitch McDeere in The Firm worked even longer hours and loved it.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of the changing attitudes of today’s top lawyers, or maybe it’s a sign that Grisham is getting tired.

Anyway, The Firm has whetted my appetite for more vintage Grisham.  Any suggestions on what should be next?

4 out of 5

[PS: The Firm (published in 1991) is a book that has always stuck in my mind for a couple of reasons.  First, I saw the 1993 Tom Cruise adaptation at a time when I was too young to understand it, and when I got older, it was one of those films that I made a mental note to re-watch when I had time (I did re-watch it recently and it wasn’t quite as good as I imagined it, and it was also very different to the novel).  Secondly, it was burned into my brain when I watched that horrible 1995 Pauly Shore movie Jury Duty, in which he unwittingly borrowed a number of adult films named after popular movies in an effort to beef up his legal knowledge, and one of them was “The Firmness” (another was “Three Men and a Maybe”).  I don’t know why, but I always find that funny.]