[BOOK REVIEW]A rare misstep for John Grisham

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[BOOK REVIEW]A rare misstep for John Grisham

Ray Atlee, a law professor at the University of Virginia, is an unhappy man. He has arrived home in a small Mississippi town in response to a summons from his father, a prominent judge and community dignitary. He finds his father dead of natural causes in his decaying mansion. Ray's brother is a ne'er-do-well who has been in and out of detoxification facilities for most of his life.

With those premises, and considering the abilities that John Grisham has demonstrated in his earlier books, I settled in for a good read. And settled in some more. And some more. The good read never happened.

Once the scene is set, the story proceeds in a series of chase scenes, not quite as blatant as a Roadrunner cartoon, but not as humorous or as suspenseful either. Someone is after Ray after he discovers a bundle of unexplained cash in his father's home, and Ray is searching for the money's source and for his pursuer.

Is Ray going to keep the cash? And will he reject ill-gotten gains? That moral ambiguity should provide a gifted writer like Grisham ample opportunity to develop a good novel, but we are treated to detailed explanations of how casinos detect cheaters and superfluous diversions into Ray's love life. The ending becomes obvious far too early, and is rather prosaic when it comes.

My sister in the United States loaned me the hardback last fall with no imprecations about returning it to her quickly; now I understand why. In our family, good books once loaned are seldom returned.

I haven't given up on Grisham. As soon as I remember to whom I entrusted my copy of "A Painted House," reviewed here a few months ago, I'm going to reread it and wait for Grisham to try again.

by John Hoog

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