The Client sucked me in and never let me go. When I was in eighth grade, my mom recommended this book to me from her extensive John Grisham collection, and I was captivated from that point on. Law and politics aren’t really my thing, but this book sure made them infinitely more appealing!
Eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother Ricky were sneaking some cigarettes in the woods near their trailer park when they witness the suicide of Jerome Clifford, the lawyer for Barry “The Blade” Muldanno, the mafia member who has been accused of murdering a U.S. senator. Ricky goes into shock and gets hospitalized while Mark is forcibly left with the knowledge of where the dead senator’s body is, making him the target of both the FBI and the mafia. Desperate, Mark hires lawyer Reggie Love with a $5 retainer fee, and the two have to do everything they can to get out of a potentially life-threatening situation.
Mark is one of the most interesting child protagonists I’ve ever read about. He’s like an adult stuck in a kid’s body – even at a young(er) age, Mark was able to save himself, his mom, and his younger brother from the abuse of his alcoholic father. He steals cigarettes from his mom, so he’s not the perfect kid by a long shot, and his bad habit is what gets him into this mess in the first place. But throughout the book, I was drawn to Mark’s grown-up-too-fast personality. His street smarts and jabs at the adults are entertaining and help lighten the otherwise dark themes in The Client.
Reggie, the lawyer that Mark hires, is a strong woman with a troubling past. I love how she handles the people around her, and her interactions with the FBI agents, Mark’s mother, and the other lawyers showcase her confidence and expertise in her work, even though she’s only been a lawyer for four years. Even though Reggie and Mark’s relationship isn’t emphasized in the story, I can tell from their ongoing conversations how quickly their friendship developed.
The Client only spanned a few days’ time, but for both me and Mark, it felt like an eternity. The plot is not as fast-paced as I expected, but there’s an undercurrent of urgency propelled by the lawyers, the FBI, and the mafia. Grisham tells the story from multiple perspectives, so knowing what Barry Muldanno knows and what Mark doesn’t know is kind of frightening and really ups the suspense. And I usually don’t like to get into politics and law, but the legal aspects of the story are also pretty intense, and Grisham was able to elucidate the workings of the legal system in an interesting way.
This is the type of book where you root for the protagonist but know deep down inside that a happy ending may or may not happen. I thought that the ending was well-crafted and realistic, but also left much to one’s imagination. There’s only so much you can do when the mafia is after you, right?
The Client is a gritty and suspenseful story about a young boy against the world, and it keeps you rooting for the good guys. Grisham effortlessly incorporates legal concepts into the story in an understandable and an engaging manner, and the gripping plotline and well-crafted ending makes this a solid read.