The Way Home by George Pelecanos

I meant to include this post a couple weeks back when I had decided to spend a bit more time writing about books for a week, rather than the TV/movies that tend to dominate this blog. I wound up busier than expected that week, and never got around to it. My essential point about Pelecanos as an author is that while he doesn’t write “LEGAL THRILLERS” he does write books that are more legally relevant than most legal thrillers. This is because Pelecanos tackles many of the underlying issues of the criminal justice system.

I was reminded of this when I had a client sentenced yesterday, and things did not go quite as I had desired. In the simplest terms, the sentencing was based on surface harshness rather than underlying realities. And, whenever I read something by Pelecanos, these underlying realities are ones that he writes about better than anyone I’ve been exposed to.

Admittedly, my exposure to writers is constantly evolving and my love for page-turners where I don’t need to think also eats up a lot potential discovery of new writers. But, anyway, The Way Home is a book that if you simply read the summary of without knowing Pelecanos, you’re probably not going to be inclined to leave with the book.

Summary!: dude finds 50k in the floor while remodeling a home. He doesn’t want to take the cash, but, alas, he’s not alone. He has a partner in the home to convince not to take the cash. People come to claim their cash from the home (what timing!), dudes die and things go south as Chris Flynn has to find THE WAY HOME.

Basically.

So, yeah, if you’re not a reader of Pelecanos, I really don’t see how that summary is going to lead to buying this book. Which, is not me ripping Pelecanos. It’s just to say that if you don’t go into this experience comfortable that you’re going to get damn good characters built around this cliched plot, you might not go into it at all.

Pelecanos takes these characters from their time in juvenile incarceration, to their early 20s where they begin to either put that past behind them, or continue to fall to the same mistakes. What he creates is an environment where you begin to understand his characters better than most novels present. In doing this, you ask yourself questions about that environment, without Pelecanos providing a direct prompt. He delves deeper into the roots of criminality than most writers and he does it in a package that will undoubtedly leave you in thought.

Pelecanos is an important writer to me. Like I said in the open, without writing direct legal thrillers and using crime as a backdrop, he does a better job of bringing the reader to think about the criminal justice system and the role it plays in society. Are the desired effects of that justice system playing out? Why or why not? How do those choices affect the communities in which they are designed to protect?

Pelecanos creates characters that allow you to examine these issues.

What the hell happened to John Grisham?

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to read a book where a character gets wrongfully executed after a lengthy fight with the legal system, only to have it revealed the character was indeed wrongfully executed…all the while, the reader completely couldn’t care less emotionally about the character?

If not, you probably haven’t read The Confession by John Grisham. A book in which the author seemingly set out to answer just that question.

Look, there was a point in which I loved John Grisham. I’ve read everything of his outside of the kids books he is now writing, and some of the non-legal stuff. And, even then I did read A Painted House and Bleachers. Unfortunately. You don’t read that many of one authors works unless at some point there was something real there that I absolutely enjoyed. I can tell you that The Client was the first book I’ve read. I can also tell you the exact location I was when I read one of the Klan scenes in A Time to Kill.

So, there undoubtedly was a point where I considered Grisham really good at what he did. But, reading his work these days, it just feels like he is on auto-pilot. Is it completely silly for me to sit here and criticize that? Absolutely. I wish I had the ability to have an inherent grasp on how to pace a novel so well that he can continue to write a lot of predictable stuff, with fairly vapid characters and not have people call him on it.

But, at the same time, I’ve absolutely read The Associate, The Appeal, The Broker and The Last Juror and can’t tell you a damn thing about them. They resonated with me none. I had high hopes for The Confession as the subject matter was something that should be thought provoking and it seems to be close to Grisham on a personal level. Grisham is active with the Innocence Project, and frankly anything that he can do to bring attention to that great work is undoubtedly needed. I just couldn’t help but not give a damn about the book, though.

I don’t know the exact point in which I think Grisham fell off, but, if I name The Testament, The Brethen, The Street Lawyer, The Summons and The Last Juror, I probably couldn’t really tell you much about them. But, I did enjoy those more than the recent ones that I couldn’t tell you much about.

A Time to Kill is one of my all time favorites. I loved The Client, loved The Runaway Jury, but, he’s been crazy formulaic for a long time now. Yet, I’ve read everything. So, I guess, really, I’m not sure if that says more negative about him or I…and I’m certainly leaning towards myself.

Seriously, why can’t I quit John Grisham?

I guess it’s mainly because you know there is greatness there. That’s obvious. With each new book, I keep hoping to be taken back to a time where Grisham took some risks with what he was writing. It just hasn’t happened.

The Last Legal Book I read…

Last week, for some reason, I said the words, “It’ll be book week here.” This is part of an, albeit weak, attempt at “Book Week.”

We’re going straight up Book Review time to kick things off. I have a couple posts on books ready for the rest of the and I didn’t want to start this off with something akin to “yo, I hear Harper Lee wrote a fantastic book!” So, we’ll start with the last Law Book I read, which was The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly.

Like the prior Connelly book that delved into the law rather than focusing on the cops-side of things, a Connelly legal book is a bit less about the murder that his star, Mickey Haller, is defending, and more about the looming potential for more murder.

I could have figured out where the trial was going if I only had the foresight to punch the book title into Urban Dictionary. (Spoiler Alert: don’t punch the book title into Urban Dictionary). Connelly is best known for his Harry Bosch series of books that date back to the early 90s. Bosch is a detective. Haller is his brother, but, Haller doesn’t piece that together until the end of this one, despite their working together and Bosch, who has knowledge of their being brothers, not saying something like, “I’m your brother, man.”

This seemed a bit more of a legal drama than the previous attempt, as I think Lincoln Lawyer (now a movie!)  was a bit too much like a Bosch-series book, and this one I really found myself connecting with Haller a lot more. The looming murder loomed a little less, I guess. This was more along the lines of standard legal fiction, in a good way.

Here’s where the Haller series is a good read for the legal stuff: His courtroom moments are really good. There are definitely moments where it seems like Connelly is just fitting evidence/facts to what he wants his characters to accomplish, in the sense that as a lawyer I read it and see what he’s doing, but, would know how to respond and his lawyers don’t…yet, overall, there are some really good tendencies in this book. The biggest is probably the way in which Connelly writes misdirection as a trial technique.

It’s fun seeing Connelly write for a defense attorney after all those Bosch books where trust of the legal system is a bit lacking. Like most Connelly books, I don’t think they are great, but, they are paced phenomenally and you’re likely not going to regret having spent the time reading it. Connelly is also solid with generating characters where you want to see what happens next. Haller’s recovery from pain killer addiction in this novel, and his hiring a new driver based on that was a good addition.

I feel like Connelly has pumped out a ton of material and is finding new ways to event himself, the Haller series being one, compared to other writers that we’ll touch on this week in that regard. Connelly has a good grasp on the creative sense of criminal defense work, and that shines through in this book. Overall, a good read.

Borders Books Closing

A big story this week in Michigan was the announcement that Borders Books would be closing. This is disappointing on a lot of levels. The obvious being the immense loss of jobs, particularly for a Bookstore that opened their first store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But, also from a larger sense. Everyone knows that bookstores are threatened by Amazon and those eReading things.

Forbes has an article up about what the demise of Borders holds for the bookstore business as a whole. I do hope that most of what they write, about how Borders over-reached and went beyond just books, is right. I like doing a lot of things from my cell phone. I’m not sure if I want to read books from it, though.

Then again, part of the reason why I say that is I’m not even tempted to get an e-Book when the prices are what they are currently. Seriously…right now on Amazon you can get a Hardcover George R.R. Martin for 19 bucks and the Kindle version for…gulp…15 bucks. That book is their #5 current Hardcover bestseller. Their #6 is a book that goes for 15 bucks hardcover and $13 on the Kindle. In fairness, the #2 bestselling Hardcover is only 8 bucks on Kindle. But, that book is already out on paperback. If you peruse other paperback bestsellers, the Kindle price is actually MORE expensive.

Which amazes me. I don’t think Bookstores or actual books on paper will die with those kinds of prices, but, books have certainly spent way too many hours late night in the ER.

This might be the point where you ask, why am I reading about a bookstore on a Law Blog? To which I respond simply that you must have missed the Ghostbusters II clip we had up on Friday. But, yeah, if part of the reason I am keeping this blog is to revive my interest in writing, it kind of follows that I enjoy books. And, bookstores. But, in the early days of this blog, I too have neglected them at the expense of Television and Movies. Sure, maybe books lack the same appeal the movies do, but, that would change once Michael Bay really sat down and devoted himself to figuring a way to get CGI into a print form, right?

Anyway, next week, we spend some time with books. It’ll be book week here. I’ll probably talk about John Grisham. A lot. Can’t wait.