Ethan Casey is a Seattle-based international journalist, frequent public speaker, and author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Book: The Brethren by John Grisham

John Grisham gets a bad rap, especially from literary snobs but even from people who enjoyed reading him but call him formulaic. He can be formulaic, but only when he's under deadline pressure. My theory is that during the 1990s he found himself on a commercial treadmill where his publisher was pressing him for a novel a year. One can discern a pattern where he was writing one good and relatively non-formulaic novel, then a formulaic one, then another good one, another formulaic one, etc. The best Grisham novels in my opinion are A Time to Kill (his first and, in some ways, still his best, despite being a bit rough around the edges), The Chamber, The Testament, The Last Juror and his latest, The Broker. The one that breaks the mold - and the very best of all his books - is A Painted House, a lovely story of childhood in the provincial South in the 1950s.

All of which is prelude to saying that I've just finished reading The Brethren, published in 2000. It's not one of Grisham's very best, but it's not a bad one like The Street Lawyer either. The Brethren is formulaic but good. It's especially impressive to read it more than five years after it was published and appreciate the prescience of its themes: Islamist terrorism and post-Cold War geopolitics, a fixed US presidential election. It's also interesting to note how the character Teddy Maynard, the long-serving, wheelchair-bound CIA director (seemingly loosely based on J. Edgar Hoover), recurs later in The Broker. I get the sense Grisham is trying to move away from his earlier lawyer books and toward novels with more international themes, which is all to the good. I really admire his ambition to make the most of his commercial good fortune by stretching himself and developing his storytelling craft. To my mind, Grisham is the best kind of popular novelist.

No comments: