Tide Turns on Legal Eagle John; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

IWOULD call it the Peter Mayle syndrome...

That's the situation where an author bursts onto the scene, sells millions of books, is praised to high heaven and sees their work transferred to TV or cinema.

Then, almost as quickly, the tide turns. The writer's literary out-put is derided and he comes in for criticism from all quarters.

It happened to the author of A Year In Provence and Toujours Provence - and now it is happening to John Grisham.

The man who single-handedly put the legal thriller on the literary map suddenly finds that his reviews are no longer as fulsome as they were.

Film adaptations of his books - even those starring heavyweight actors like Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon - have won only a lukewarm reception.

Now the literary critics are sharpening their knives and aiming sniping comments at his new novel The Street Lawyer (Century pounds 16.99).

Grisham's ninth book tells the story of a young lawyer who finds himself at the centre of a hostage drama in which a desperate, homeless man is killed.

The incident prompts Michael Brook to re-examine his cushy life and question the values of an existence built around relentless work and lavish rewards but empty of emotion or meaning.

He leaves his top-flight law firm and takes a job as a street lawyer, helping the homeless and the dispossessed with their problems in the face of a monolithic and uncaring bureaucracy.

In the course of his transformation he uncovers a guilty secret about his old employers and sets out to make them pay for their lack of interest in the thousands of people left powerless on the city streets.

Subtlety is not the strong point of this particular morality tale - it never is with Grisham - but the author, as ever, builds a powerful story which rips along at a cracking pace.

The points may be made with clumping obviousness - Big Business Bad, Poor Homeless People Good - but this is an entertainment after all and not a sociological tract. …