The central character of John Grisham’s 1993 bestselling legal thriller The Client is 11 years old and about three decades more streetwise than all the adults in the novel.
Here’s the story: Mark Sway and his younger brother witness the bizarre suicide of an attorney whose client had murdered a U.S. Senator. Before killing himself, the attorney tells Mark where the mob buried the body.
While his mother stays with his brother, who’s being treated for traumatic shock, Mark retains a lawyer who specializes in helping kids caught in the legal system.
Police, FBI, and the federal prosecutor put pressure on Mark to tell what they’re sure he knows, while the mob try to make sure Mark can never tell anything to anybody again.
Grisham’s rip-snorting legal thriller provides the all the required threats, wiretaps, chases, murders, and explosions to keep readers on the edge of their seats until they read the last page.
Only then will they realize Grisham played them for suckers.
Dear reader, not all bad guys are stupid jerks. Nor are all police, FBI, and juvenile protection workers stupid jerks. And there just might be a doctor or lawyer Mark’s intellectual equal, although his attorney, Reggie Love, is probably not that person.
Night Over Water centers around a largely forgotten piece of 20th century aviation history: the luxury aircraft the Flying Clipper, which could land and take off from the ocean.
In Ken Follett’s novel, a few days after Britain declares war on German in 1939, the Clipper takes off on a 30-hour flight to New York. Some of the passengers are trying to avoid the war, others are trying to escape their pasts.
Weather conditions had to be just right for the Clipper. It couldn’t take off or land unless the waves were less than three feet high. Unless stars were visible, the aircraft had no way to navigate and could run out of fuel. Conserving fuel often meant going through storms rather than around them.
The spark for the drama is the presence on the plane of a mobster being returned to America for trial. His gang have kidnapped the pregnant wife of the Clipper’s engineer in order to force her husband to have the plane land in the ocean off Newfoundland where they can rescue him.
Follett’s characters are types familiar to novel readers. It’s the setting that produces the drama. Few writers can milk the drama from an historical setting to entertain and inform as Follett can.
As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.
Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.
The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.
His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.
Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.
The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.
The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.
The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.
In Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield takes a plot that appears to be plodding off in one direction, gives it more twists than a bag of pretzels, and turns out a story that seems perfectly plausible.
As the curtain rises, old Hector Champion is giving a dreary dinner to distract himself from worry over the results of medical tests he will get the following day. His dinner guests include a nouveau riche financier, the financier’s current mistress and her husband, Hector’s nephew, the woman the financier wishes to marry, and the woman who had wanted to marry Hector some 50 years before.
As the party breaks up, Hector gets a telegram from his black-sheep sister who scandalized society years before by running off with her brother-in-law.
Bromfield leaves Hector at home fretting and follows the guests home.
Before 24 hours are up, the financier breaks up with his mistress and proposes to another woman, Hector’s nephew marries his actress girlfriend, two people are murdered, the mob puts a contract on one of the murderers, and the cuckolded husband is in a fair way to be fingered for the other murder.
By dinner the next evening, 67-year-old Savina Jerrold has straightened out all the remaining muddles, including Hector.
By Louis Bromfield
Frederick A. Stokes, 1930
1930 bestseller #10
My grade B+