John Grisham is in arguably the best writer in the genre of legal thrillers (though my favorite book in the genre is Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow). The Runaway Jury is the first Grisham novel that I read and from then on I made it a point that I read one of his novel every three months or so. This novel published in 1996 is Grisham’s seventh novel and has also been made to a successful Hollywood movie starring John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.
The Runaway Jury is an attack on tobacco industry and the arguably improper practices they follow to hook kids into usage of tobacco (though in the movie version tobacco corporations are replaced by gun industry). But Grisham simultaneously unveils the malpractice of using litigation only for the financial benefit of certain individuals instead of causing a change in the functioning of system. The novel follows a high profile legal suit filed by Celeste Wood, whose husband died a victim of lung cancer allegedly due to smoking, against Pynex, a huge tobacco corporation in Mississippi, where jury is presumed to be favorable to such cases. Rankin Fitch, a consultant hired by four of big tobacco companies is out to influence the jury by hook or crook because a defeat in such a case can seriously harm the reputation and make them vulnerable to more such suits. At the same time Nicholas Easter, a prospective juror with a mysterious agenda in his mind starts plotting to influence fellow jurors with the help of Marlee, a woman from outside. What follows is a psychological battle between the two using the jurors which culminate in a nail biting climax.
The Runaway Jury is told in a very descriptive way, with many pages dedicated to court hearings where the harmful effects of tobacco to health and ethical issues of tobacco usage is described. But in the case of this novel these descriptions helped me very much in appreciating the story, the motives of many characters and generally about the way American jury system, which is quite alien to me, works. This novel is considerably different from many of Grisham’s other works that I have read in one aspect. In most of his novels the good guy- bad guy divide is very visible. The author’s stand about several social issues also is very clear. But here it is vaguer. We don’t root for Tobacco industries for sure, but those on other side are also not there for any noble purpose. All in all The Runaway Jury is a solid story about a social cause told with an unbiased approach with certain very interesting characters inhabiting it. It may be a bit slow paced compared to other works of Grisham, but is a rewarding read with a great twist in climax.
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