I have a great fondness for John Grisham books. When you have read a few of them, they often have a certain feel to them. Like a pair of old trainers or a nice pair of jogging pants. Not particularly something you would choose to be out in public in, but quite reassuringly, even comfortably, familiar. They usually have a quite convoluted plot with a lawyer or a courtroom thrown in somewhere. So The Runaway Jury promised more of the same, and that is exactly what it delivered.
The story revolves around a court case in which a widow sues a tobacco company for the death of her husband. Whilst it mainly focuses on the actions of a Juror named Nicholas Easter, a law school dropout, and his partner Marlee, it also gives us many of the details of the wrong doings of the tobacco companies over the years, from deliberately advertising to kids to keeping the nicotine levels deliberately high just so as to keep people addicted. Between the sleazy behaviour of the lawyers from both sides, the preachy message that we are all going to hell in a hand basket, and the mystery surrounding our protagonist I really did experience déjà vu, was it flash backs of The Pelican Brief, The Street Lawyer, The Firm and almost every Grisham book that I have read… Alas I could see how it was going to end before I had reached the half way point.
This did not detract from the experience that I will admit to expecting when I picked up the book (Metaphorically as I actually listened to it on audiobook). It was like a journey where I knew the destination, I found myself with a cast of characters in whose company I felt reassuringly familiar and scenery in which I did not feel I was visiting for the first time. However the ride was good, it did not take too long but I was entertained along the way.
It does raise a number of poignant questions though.
First, should it be up to an individual whether or not to smoke at all? We protect society from other drugs and vices which after all kill far fewer users.
Second, if a person chooses to take up a habit that is universally understood to be bad for you, do they have the right to sue the makers of the product that ultimately goes on to kill them?
The second question can be flippantly answered, but there are a number of subtleties that a blanket response may miss, for example it can not be argued with that many smokers get hooked whilst being young enough that we consider them to be too young to make other important decisions such as voting or getting married so should they be held responsible for the decision to start smoking? Is it reasonable to say that it is up to the individual to stop before they do any long term damage, when they are addicted both physically and mentally?
I’m not sure the book helped me get any closer to answering these questions, but it did make me consider them.
I would say that again this is not a classic work of literature that will live on in the annuls of time, but nor does it pretend to be. Much like not every film can be Citizen Cane, this one would probably be closer to an Erin Brockovich.