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1998, Arrow, pbk
Every now and again a book or film comes along which changes your perception of how the world could be. As I had only ever come across multi-million selling author John Grisham as the name behind the film of his hit The Firm (and an uninspiring performance from Tom Cruise) I was not expecting great guns from this book.
Michael Brock is about to undergo a life changing experience. A top attorney in firm in Washington DC, he turns up for work one day and innocently crosses the path of Mister, and homeless man with a stolen gun. While Michael survives the encounter, Mister does not and Michael is prompted to investigate the grudge he held against his employer, Drake and Sweeney.
While the original premise may seem quite simple - even in Washington, a landlord must give a tenant 30 days notice of eviction by law - the efforts of Drake and Sweeney to cover up an illegal eviction ensure that the story does not die with Mister that day in their plush office. What gives this novel a hard edge is Grisham's approach to the issue of homelessness. Instead of giving an account of one person's life on the streets, he looks at it through the eyes of a 'street lawyer' - one who works for the homeless.
The system in the US sounds a nightmare, with budgetary cuts and police 'sweeps' rounding up people and moving them on and out of predetermined areas. It is a subject not usually tackled by Hollywood or a blockbuster. Its strength is the vision of Mordeccai Green and his colleagues, who run a Street Legal Centre, played out against the personal journey of Micheal Brock, as his gives up his telephone number salary to join them. It was actually inspiring reading this book, page tuner although it is. The tone is optimistic and Grisham guides us through a harsh and complex subject matter with a sure hand. Brock realises he has the power to change this and provide material support to people who need it the most. . Due to his assiduous research and gifted story telling, I have a feeling that if I were to read an activist's handbook for fighting homelessness, no one would much disagree with Grisham. As Mordeccai remarks, Brock is a radical now he has moved from corporate greed to public service, whatever his personal politics are. The skill of Grisham is that he has married this with a blockbuster thriller that will sell in shedloads.