Seems I have been exploring more fiction recently and reading popular authors that I have not read before. Completing my first Robert Ludlum novel and being disappointed but then embarking on my first Stephen King read, my love for excellent fiction was reaffirmed. Somewhere between those two reads is John Grisham’s “The Street Lawyer”.
Grisham doesn’t strike me as a terribly sophisticated writer but his general stories can be entertaining. I know this, not from having read his books before, but from watching the films based on his books including: The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, Runaway Jury, and The Rainmaker.
“The Street Lawyer” has not been made into a theatrical movie, however there is a reference to a TV movie on imdb.com that apparently was going to be a show but never took off.
The plot centers around a hard-charging corporate lawyer, Michael Brock, who is on the proverbial gravy train at his Washington DC law firm, Drake & Sweeney. He is in line to make partner and more than likely reap millions over the course of his life as a result of his work. His marriage to Claire, an aspiring neurosurgeon, has been slowly disintegrating over time. Brock’s life changes forever when a homeless man calling himself “Mister” enters the offices of his firm with a gun and takes a bunch of the lawyers hostage including Brock.
As the police arrive outside, Mister begins to ask the lawyers the most uncomfortable of questions. How much money did they make last year? What percentage of that amount did they give to charity? More, how did they help the homeless? The lawyers are terrified. At gunpoint, Mister makes them answer as the hostage standoff continues.
Long story short, a police sniper finally takes out mister and ends the stand off. Brock is shaken from this encounter, haunted by the questions that Mister was asking and becomes curious about the homeless man’s story. He traces Mister back to a homeless shelter in Washington DC. Eventually he meets Mordecai Green, a tough advocating lawyer on behalf of homeless people.
Brock has a Frank Capra-esque crisis of conscience and decides to quit his high profile attorney spot at the firm and join Green fighting on behalf of the disenfranchised. He sees horrific tragedies and the indifference of society toward them. The strength of the work is creating empathy for people who are homeless and giving us a small glimpse into the complexity of this societal issue.
Grisham’s heart is certainly in the right place here. The skill of his writing never reaches a fine literary level but the story that he has spun kept me turning the pages. To his credit, the climax of the novel does not involve a courtroom showdown as I expected but a tense negotiation over a settlement.