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Fancy a smoke?
The Runaway Jury - John Grisham
Member Name: Ayesha-`
The Runaway Jury - John Grisham
Advantages: An intelligent read
=== The Story ===
Set in a place called Biloxi in Mississippi, the ninth tort case against a tobacco company is about to take place, and the whole world is watching. Well, America at least, but aren't they the world these days?
Sorry, anyway... jury selection has begun its tedious processes. A bunch of very ordinary people are due to be picked from a bigger bunch of very ordinary people, to do something really quite extraordinary. Twelve jurors will be chosen to look at all the evidence of one particular case, but their decision could affect the entire future of litigation against tobacco firms. Both sides have their own jury consultants, who will dig as much as they can to find out everything about these people. The tobacco companies, those with much more money and much more at stake, have clubbed together to form 'The Fund', enough money, surely, to do whatever it takes to ensure that they will never be held liable for the damage their products may cause. Fitch is their director, and he and his consultants are researching the jury candidates thoroughly. Jury selection is a crucial point in the trial, but this time they may not be getting all the information.
Once the jury are seated and the trial begins, they start to realise that something very strange is going on. Slowly, it appears that the jury are behaving, often collectively, in a very bizarre manner, but no one can explain why. Then Fitch is taunted by a young woman with a pleasant voice, Marlee, who may have the power to affect everything. The only trouble is, he knows nothing about her, only that she seems to know more than anyone about the jury.
This is a story that constantly moves its focus from one character to another. At times there are too many characters for me to really remember who is who, but often at a point that it does not really matter. As long as you know vaguely who's side that person is on, or that the person is part of the court process, the book still makes perfect sense. This is true all apart from the very start of the story, because already it is jumping about and at that moment you just want to set the scene. This I found a little frustrating, and so it took me a little longer than usual to really get into the story. Say, a month or two (try not to laugh). The plot reminds me of a game of chess. There is a game I have played since the age of four, and am still terrible with. I am not a strategic person and have always wished I was. If you are anything like me, you will be constantly wondering why on earth this character did that. You know it is leading to something, but it's a headache trying to figure out what. Perhaps for others, this might prompt you to think of what you would do in their shoes, but I'm not sure you can even tell what shoes some characters are wearing through most of the book.
=== The scary world of spies, bugs and phone taps ===
Human rights are high on most people's agendas these days (except for people like Mugabe, of course). Here in the U.K. we are already being told that the government are watching our every move out in public, and can easily utilise current legislation to justify intrusive measures. We hate the thought of it, generally, although some may believe it makes us safer. Nobody likes to think of their privacy being jeopardised. But imagine, as occurs in this book, that there were people other than the government who were doing such things. How could we know? Even if we did know, what on earth can we do about it? This book really makes you cringe on the edge of your seat at the thought of some of the things that happen. Everything from hidden photography to full-on break-ins. Definitely not one for those easily made paranoid.
=== The debate ===
It is hard to say throughout the book whether Grisham personally favours smoking and the smoking industry or not. Obviously the ending will lean one way or the other and this may indicate something of his views, but had it been something you could pick up on during the bulk of the book I think that mysterious element would have been lost. What is and is not the law is something very different to what we believe in, but when a case is heard by a jury, the whole point is that that jury can intervene where it deems proper to do so. So a person who has been systematically abused over a number of years and then methodically plans and carries out plans to kill their abuser may be a murderer at law, but the jury can decide, behind closed doors, not to convict. In the U.S., unlike here in the U.K., the jury is also able to determine the level of damages set in a civil trial. Not only can they decide whether or not a defendant is liable, but if so, how much the victim deserves in compensation, and whether the defendant should be punished further with punitive damages.
So in this case, a novel portraying a trial against a tobacco company is the perfect opportunity to introduce and review the debate on smoking. Grisham embraces this completely. When witnesses declare their evidence, we understand their thoughts, the things they would like to say behind their words, and the corresponding thoughts of those listening. When people discuss the trial, they do so comprehensively, in a way that takes into account their personal views and lifestyles. There are not just two perspectives in this book, but numerous points of views that approach their reasoning from completely different angles and come to conclusions that others may find ridiculous. We can at least appreciate how or why people may feel differently about an issue, something I sometimes prefer to being bombarded with 'evidence' that apparently proves their point. By the end of the book I really wasn't so sure myself where my own opinion lies.
=== Characters ===
I think there are a few interesting characters in this story, but some stand out a lot more than others, some we learn more about and others become quite vague and left to the imagination. The latter few are the ones you are most likely to read about, then see on film and think, 'that's not how I pictured them!'
My favourite character has to be Fitch, a person I would never like in a million years if I met him. You can see the very expressions on his face, even sense the tension he must cause when in the presences of his staff. In all I think he is the best developed character in the story. Whereas the emotional secrecy necessary to keep certain other characters more vague in terms of personality, this one is unrestricted. I suppose as a result, Grisham goes a little overboard and the character almost dominations much of the book. But maybe this is intentional. Maybe his torn up personality is a metaphor for the antisocial nature of smoking and the smoke industry. Maybe not.
But he certainly is memorable.
=== Writing style ===
The book was quite a slow starter for me, and I'm not really sure if this is because the writing style used throughout is not such an easy read when you are unfamiliar with the book, or because to begin with it is hard to follow the jumps from one character's perspective to another. I would think it is the latter. As with most books, the writing style does form a part of the suspense, but only a very small part, so that it does not get annoying, as stories often do when every sentence leads to a question. The language is fairly simplistic, although at times Grisham forgets is potential audiences and throws in perhaps a little too much legal jargon. At times I did think, had I not just studied law and accounting, this would not make much sense to me at all. There is also a lot of stock exchange talk, and at some points I got quite confused and just ignored sections, but everything makes some sense by the end. As long as you understand the basics, the book can be followed.
=== Structure ===
As I mentioned before, I am generally a terrible slow reader. In fact, I can write faster than I can read. I don't have problems with reading individual words, but with sentences, especially lengthy ones, I lose track quickly. I can read the same paragraph several times sometimes and still not know what I just read. This book overall keeps to reasonable length words, sentences and paragraphs. The chapters are generally broken down into chunks and the story is such that you can keep putting it down and picking it up later without much trouble - unless you find yourself hooked, which, with the level of suspense in this book, is possible. The book follows quite a standard structure. There are just over forty numbered chapters in all, roughly four or five pages in length each - although the chapters are obviously based on stages in the story, rather than length.
=== Conclusion ===
So, I've made it to the end of the book, and what did I think? Well, to give you an idea, I was smiling, although perhaps this was more due to my achievement. The ending is not so much of a climax as I had hoped for. You don't get that sudden 'wow' feeling of everything falling into place and suddenly it all makes sense. The ending drags out just a little too much and to be honest, the novel might have been better with a few bits sliced off. Still, most loose ends were tied up nicely. There were just a couple of elements of the plot that seemed to have been forgotten, but they were really red herrings.
I had seen the film adaptation of the book years before, on television. At that time I had read another of Grisham's books, so already knew roughly what to expect. I can't claim one to be better than the other, and I can't remember enough to say what was different. But I do think they both had very different strong points, and this works mostly because of the formats. If you've read it, it would be good to watch it and if you've watched it, you might like to read it. As a whole I expect the novel will be much more memorable and more likely to force you to think about each step, rather than sitting back and passively taking it all in.
Today this book is likely to set you back about £6.99, and as the image shows, it has with rather a luring cover with a male shadow figure and a darker 'courthouse' background. Maybe this was intended to give the book a more sinister, or mysterious feel, I don't know. But don't judge a book by its covers, anyway.
This concludes my review, thanks for reading.
(Also on Ciao)
Summary: A story that gets to the heart of the smoking debate