I just finished rereading John Grisham's The Rainmaker. I can't tell you how many times I've read the book and seen the movie, but it's been several times years ago. As I was doing my research for writing this legal proposal, reviewing legal suspense that we own and analyzing what makes it work (in my mind), this one jumped off the shelf and screamed read me.
As I read, I kept trying to figure out what worked. Why do I reread his stories? I knew teh ending once I got going a few chapters, but I didn't care. I wanted to take the ride again. I wanted to suspend belief and root for the kid right out of law school as he took on the big, bad insurance company. I wanted to cry with Dot at her son's funeral and then at the end of the trial.
I think there are a couple things that Grisham does well. He sucks you immediately into the point of view of his character. And because you immediately care about the main character, you care about how the story will unfold. And then he does what Donald Maas recommends. Things get worse and worse for the hero. Some of it from his own stupidity and some just life being rotten.
And there's usually a mentor of some sort to make the plot believable. I'm not sure I buy that a judge would help as much as the judge in that book, but there's still the idea of someone there to guide the young lawyer and protect him from himself. And I was willing to suspend any disbelief because....
He creates a strong sense of David v. Goliath. By the middle of the book, young Rudy couldn't be anymore isolated as he takes on the insurance company if he tried. Literally everything has been stripped away from this kid...and then...
There's this big pay-off. And the reader cheers, high-fives Rudy, and celebrates the success of David taking down Goliath. But the story doesn't end there.
Nope. There are a couple more laps on the roller coaster before he lets us off. And in the end in this book...as happens in many of his...Grisham's hero is disenfranchised with the law and moving on to happier places. Hmmm.
I wonder just how many folks writing attorney novels used to be attorneys but abandoned ship because it didn't meet their expectations. I can name quite a few!