What Happened to Suspense?

The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham (2022. Random House Audio)

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to quibble too much about the author, a trained trial lawyer like me, setting up a death penalty case in Mississippi circa mid-1970s without an alternate (or two) on the jury. Maybe he inserted that detail and I missed it while listening to this novel via Audible while walking the track and working out at the local “Y”. Maybe not. There were a couple other instances (like the fact that the District Attorney’s second-in-command, a witness to a fatal bombing, sitting as co-counsel at the bomber’s murder trial) that didn’t ring true. But it’s fiction, right? So I’ll give the dean of trial thrillers a pass. 

But what I won’t give the author a pass for is the lack of any real suspense, surprise, or tension within this long saga of the Delta underworld. Oh, I was interested in Jesse, the protagonist DA’s battle to bring sanity, values, and peace to his birthplace by taking on the Dixie Mafia. I also was intrigued to an extent  and by some of the antagonists and other supporting characters. But after spending much time setting up the characters for the anticipated twists and turns inherent in Grisham’s best work (e.g., The Firm) once good and evil squared off, other than one unfortunate death (no spoiler here!), this tome plods to a very dull, unsatisfactory conclusion. 

The narration is typical for this author and is acceptable genre prose. The dialogue, read by the narrator, is fine. But what this story lacks is heart: a deep-seated, emotional bond created between the book’s fictional characters and the reader. Readable (or listenable) for certain but nowhere near the best of this author’s legal thrillers or those of others in this category. I recently re-watched the movie version of TheVerdict, a faithful rendition of Barry Reed’s classic courtroom drama. That story and The Firm, both on the page and on film, are what we who write legal fiction should strive for. Sadly, this effort falls short of reaching such a such lofty perch on the library shelf.

3 stars out of 5. Not sure if book clubs want to tackle this one or not.



About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.