Mississippi criminal defense and personal injury lawyer turned state House of Representatives member turned acclaimed novelist John Grisham is world-renowned as the king of the legal thriller, with a long back catalogue of intriguing and action-packed courtroom tales.
Even those who've never read a Grisham thriller have probably come across one, as many of his tales have made their way to the big screen, with Hollywood doing numerous adaptations, usually with big name and high-wattage actors in the lead roles, eg Tom Cruise (The Firm), Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts (The Pelican Brief), Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones (The Client), Matthew McConaghey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock and Kevin Spacey (A Time to Kill), Matt Damon (The Rainmaker) and Gene Hackman (The Chamber).
But Grisham's latest effort takes something of a turn; it's a legal thriller for young adults, with a teenage boy as the hero. Thirteen year old Theodore Boone dreams of one day becoming a great trial lawyer and spending his life in the courtroom. But even though he's only just ticked over into the teenage years himself, Theo already tries to carry himself and act like a lawyer, even administering advice to his classmates. He hangs out around the courtroom and knows every judge, policeman, and court clerk. His parents are lawyers, and Theo even arranges for his Government class to have a field trip to watch part of a sensational murder trial that has gripped the small city of Strattenburg. But he soon finds himself much more involved than he intended when he finds out a truth that could stop a cold-blooded killer going free. A truth no one else knows.
Can Theo find a way to ensure justice is done, when doing so might put him and his family in grave danger?
Theodore Boone is a well-told, fluid and exciting story. It's clearly written for a young adult audience, as at times the narrative is fairly linear and straightforward, without all of the layers and subtext that adult fiction (at its best) can have. A perfect introduction to legal thrillers for its target young adult audience, it's still enjoyable for adult readers as well. Grisham does a great job providing enough courthouse and legal detail to inform and intrigue readers, without ever overwhelming or slowing the storyline. Theo is a terrific main character, and it's easy to get caught up in his adventures and troubles - he could in fact make a good spine for an ongoing series, although Grisham has never been known to write recurring characters.
Either way, Theodore Boone may be Grisham’s first young adult tale, but I certainly hope it won't be his last.