The King of Torts is typical of the perception most people have of John Grisham. It portrays two lawyers, one honest and one corrupt. The twist in this tale of litigation and intrigue is that the main character is both lawyers.
Clay Carter is a burnt out public defender, an honest man who has failed to fulfil his dreams. While defending an insignificant murder case, Clay stumbles by chance on the negligence of a drug company. The obligatory ‘mysterious stranger, in the guise of Max, offers him the opportunity to initiate litigation against the drug company.
It transpires that the murderer participated in an unauthorised drug test, initiated by the drug company, unbeknownst to any of the participants in the test. This particular drug caused some people to commit murders and acts of violence, and the drug company wants to cover up. Clay is given top secret information, and successfully sues the company, at the company’s own initiation.
This starts his meteoric rise to become Washington DC’s new King of Torts, as he quickly amasses over $100 million in fees. His thousands of clients receive relatively small settlement claims, and the reader sees the start of his even more meteoric fall, long before Clay himself realises it.
In this respect, Clay is not the main character at all. Rather, the main character is the horde of greedy lawyers who practice the lowest form of law, the mass tort litigation.
Grisham leaves no doubt what he thinks of these lawyers. He exposes Clays willingness to compromise his own professional integrity and high moral values. He lives off the seeming good fortune of his clients, who in reality are betrayed by the system that is supposed to protect them.
This is a fast paced, edge of the seat legal thriller. As is expected from Grisham, there are surprises and twists. Questions lead to answers, which raise more intriguing questions. While sickened by he world he has fallen into, Clay continues his assault on the world. The goodness in his soul is kept alive by the fact he shares the wealth with his friends, in a manner uncharacteristic of the real sharks of the world. This leaves the way open for his redemption later, when the expected fall comes.
The King of Torts is a modern parable and a criticism of a corrupt and exploitive legal system, and is Grisham at his best.