Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2015)
Quirky lawyers as protagonists make for fun reading if they are three-dimensional and believable. Take Mickey Haller, “the Lincoln lawyer,” from Michael Connelly’s series. Haller, a defender of bottom feeders like drug lords, bicycle gang members, and drunk drivers, uses his Lincoln Town car as his law office. In John Grisham’s 2015 novel, Rogue Lawyer, the main character, Sebastian Rudd is similar to Mickey Haller. Sebastian Rudd is a sardonic and brazen guy who definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer, but he is a very, very smart defense attorney.
Rudd’s personal life is a mess, and has been for quite some time. His ex-wife, a beauty named Judith Whitly, five months into their stormy marriage, left Rudd for a stunner, named Gwyneth. Despite the fact that his wife is a lesbian, the couple managed to produce a son, whom Judith had named Starcher. Although Rudd realizes he is not great father material, he doesn’t want to be a failure as a father figure, especially since Starcher is being reared by two bitchy, argumentative females. Therefore, he is relentless in the continuous custody battles that Judith subjects him to and continually warns her that she will never get the satisfaction that she seeks against him.
In the 36 hours a month that Rudd is allowed to see his son, he gives the boy exciting experiences like going to a brutal cage fight (Rudd owns a large piece of a gritty young fighter named Tadeo), and Starcher loves it. Rudd warns the boy not to tell his mother where their son has spent the evening, but when a brawl breaks out due to Tadeo beating up the referee, Starcher’s picture is taken and plastered all over the media. Wham! Judith drags Rudd into court for another custody hearing and continues the pattern of their volatile relationship.
Rudd is an iconoclast in the way he speaks, in the way he dresses, and in his choice of space for his law office. He is brazen, even to judges when he defends clients whom he believes are innocent. He wears his long, graying hair in a ponytail, which he hides under the collar of his shirt when he needs to look presentable.
As the novel opens, Rudd is defending Gardy, a not so appealing looking fellow who is charged with the brutal slaying of two little girls. Rudd lays it out for us, “I’m being paid by the State to provide a first-class defense to a defendant charged with capital murder, and this requires me to fight and claw and raise hell in the courtroom where no one is listening.” Rudd knows that in the public eye Gardy has been convicted already.
Rudd explains why he has chosen to defend what the public refer to as “scum.” His philosophy on the justice system is this:
It’s just as well that we don’t believe in fair trials because we damn
sure don’t have them. The presumption of innocence is now the
presumption of guilt. The burden of proof is a travesty because the
truth is often lies.
Defending such clients is a liability that Rudd deals with carefully. After”they” shot bullets into his ground floor apartment, Rudd moved into a tiny apartment on the 25th floor of a high rise downtown. When his office is firebombed, Rudd decides to buy a custom-built van, complete with amenities such as a nice desk. Because it is unclear as to who his enemies are (could be disgruntled clients, could be cops who despise him, could be almost anyone) he figures he is safer as a moving target than in an office.
Rudd doesn’t collect many friends in the course of the story. The one dependable human being in his life is his chauffeur, Partner, who also serves as his bodyguard. Partner, a man of few words, is loyal and always there when Rudd needs him.
The structure of the novel works quite well. Most books about lawyers focus on one case that dominates the life of the attorney. In Rudd’s case we move quickly from one case to the next one, to the next one. This technique keeps the book moving.
To describe the core of Rudd’s character, I will use his own words to define him. “I am often a sanctimonious asshole when my clients are dead guilty. Give me an innocent man, though, and I reek of arrogance and superiority. I realize this and struggle mightily to give the impression, to the jury anyway, that I am actually likable. I don’t care if they hate me, as long as they don’t hate my client.”
So yes, I found Rudd to be a bit of an asshole in the way he deals with people, which is why he is pretty much friendless. However, his calculating mind usually brings his clients to a successful conclusion, which is his redeeming quality.
It is clear at the novel’s end that Rogue Lawyer is only the first in a series about Rudd and his unusual antics in a court of law. Grisham, as always, is a solid storyteller, and Rogue Lawyer is well worth the read.